Chapter 32

But…I was also foolishly hoping that maybe tonight would be the night that Bobby would come over during the band’s break and talk to me.  He was so cute.  Think Keanu Reeves with a guitar and a killer smile.

I had such a stupid crush on him even though it appeared that he maybe had a girlfriend. 

There was this gorgeous flight attendant from Delta (and yes, she came to the club in her uniform) who was without a doubt a ten.  Her name tag said, “Tiff”.  And yes, she kept her name tag on too…right on the shoulder of that oh so cute uniform.

During his break Bobby always went over and sat down with Tiff and her friends.  But I thought that last night he was heading in my direction until she crooked her little finger and signaled for him to bring her another drink…and so he did.

Some nerve, huh?  He wasn’t a waiter, for Pete’s sake.  But before he headed towards the bar he turned and had given me a super dazzling smile.

“Maybe he was trying to tell me something…like ‘I was going to come over to you but I have to do this to be polite…'” I pondered out loud.  Stella looked up at me.

“Wow.  That was an amazing stretch…even for you.  Hey, I have a better idea.  Just stay home.  With me.” Stella said.

I got on the bed and laid back against my pillows and closed my eyes, trying to bring up into my foggy, headachy brain last night’s smile from Bobby.  He had been smiling at me, hadn’t he?

I.  Am.  Never drinking that much again.  Ever.

Suddenly a memory flashed like a bolt of lightning in my brain.

A voice.  A man’s voice.

“You’re not driving tonight are you Charlie?”

And me, drunkenly oblivious to anyone but my own pitiful self, had waved a hand in the direction of the concerned voice and dismissed the question with what I thought was a brilliant answer.

“Driving?  Not tonight, babe.  I’m flying home tonight.  Simply flying.”

And then that’s it.  No more lightning bolts.

Chapter 33

Damnation!  Whose voice was that?  And Holy Crap!  He used my real name!  I have to call Hanah right now….or…maybe in an hour or so when I’m sure she will be up and in an agreeable mood to talk and maybe…alone.

Stella peeked her head out from under the covers.

“You look so cute under there.”  I said.  “I bet it’s really cozy.”

In the winter, Stella often burrowed under the covers on my bed and just poked her nose and ears out from underneath.  And…yes…I have several photos to prove it.  And…no…I was not a “crazy cat lady”.  I was pretty sure of that…at least not yet.

I started to move the covers so I could slide in next to Stella.  I kicked off my fuzzy slippers and carefully crawled in.

“Hey!  Don’t squish me!” said Stella.  And then she immediately closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Before my head hit the pillow, I looked one more time at that beautiful yellow rose.

And then to my complete surprise, tears welled in my eyes.  Hey!  What is this all about?  I usually don’t go down the teary,  self-pity road. I was more the “drown your sorrows in booze” type…and, thankfully, only once a year. Bu today I felt really, really alone.

“Me.  You have me, you know.” said Stella…who was actually not sleeping at all, but quietly listening to me…just like she always did.  She nuzzled a little closer to me.

“Indeed.  Oh, indeed.” I said and rolled over and meant to give some careful thought to all that was going on or not going on in my life.  But I fell asleep before one little thought could appear.

Chapter 34

LATER…

I was leaving Doyle’s a good twenty minutes after closing.  Everyone else had cleared out.  I had sent Hanah on her way with her new boyfriend, reassuring her that I was right behind her.  Her “new boyfriend” was the same guy she had met last night.

He was a first-year Minneapolis detective and drop dead good-looking.  Hanah was absolutely on fire.  She had talked of no one and nothing else all the way to Doyle’s…wondering if he would show up tonight like he promised.  She had also mentioned that she would probably be singing with the band.  Oh.  My.

And he had.  And she didn’t. Sing, that is.

They had been inseparable since the minute he walked in and I never got a chance to ask her if she knew who had called out my name last night.

Frankly, I was a little embarrassed to admit even to Hanah that I was drawing a blank about last night’s activities.

But then I discovered that I did not have my favorite pen…the one I always use to take notes.  I searched my purse for the umpteenth time and was not looking forward to pawing thru the rubble on the floor but I knew that was my next mission.

Even the bright white lights they usually put on to hurry us drinkers out into the forgiving darkness had now been replaced by the bar’s red, glowing security lights.

At most clubs, when the last note had been played, people quickly left in droves.  There were after-hour parties to go to and “romantic” hook-ups that needed completing.  But, I wasn’t going anywhere until I found that damn pen.

My dad had bought it for me when I was five years old.  He knew then he was dying and would not be around when I graduated from high school.  He died just before my seventh birthday.

Apparently, it was an old Peterson tradition to give a gold Cross pen to your son or daughter for graduation.  Even death was not going to stop my dad from doing just that.

As I was searching around underneath the nearby tables, I finally found it under some grubby napkins on the floor.  Nice.

When I stood up I got a little dizzy so I sat down and waited for my head to clear.

Chapter 35

I had only one whiskey sour tonight.  After last night’s drinking fiasco, I figured one drink tonight was more than enough.  But it had been a strong one.

When did I last eat?  Breakfast was sweet rolls and coffee…but no lunch.  I woke up from my nap hearing a text alert announcing a press conference at the Minneapolis Court House.

There had been a horrible drive-by shooting this past Tuesday and a little five year-old boy had been killed.  The police had a suspect in custody and they had called a press conference.

I could not miss this.  Day off or not, hangover or not, I had dragged my body down to the court house.  This one was my story to cover.  But what I did miss was lunch.  And dinner was a piece of cheese.  What a life…the news never stops…

I could hear the clean-up crew in Doyle’s kitchen so I knew I could go out the back door without setting off any alarms.. They all knew me and Hanah.  No one would be surprised to see me.

When you go to the same bar week after week, you pretty much get to know the employees.  And they get to know you.

It’s sad, right?  But since both Hanah and I cover the crime scene in Minneapolis, we feel we have a justifiable reason to consume alcohol on a regular basis and dance our heads off.

Doyle’s had a great house band.  Live music and liquor.  What could be better when you’re twenty-four, single and you love to dance.

Of course, I was always hopeful that I would meet someone.  You know…a really nice guy.  They had to go to bars too, didn’t they?  I was nice.  I was here.

Maybe I was just kidding myself.  Maybe I should start going to church.  Join a book club?  I liked to read…

I looked around the club, waiting to feel normal.

Wow.  This place is really weird when it’s empty.  Where’s the magic now?

Chapter 36

Feeling better, I stood up and shrugged into my coat.  But since I was so hot from crawling all over the floor, I didn’t think I needed to button up.  I could handle 20 below zero for a couple of minutes.

I reached in my pockets for my gloves and remembered I had left them on the front seat of my car when I had put on lipstick before Hanah and I went into Doyle’s.  Damn.

“See you Teddy,” one of the dishwasher boys hollered.  I waved and pushed open the back door.

I walked out thru the parking lot to my car to begin my long trek home.

No eating at the Minnehaha Grill tonight.  No eggs.  No bacon.  And no fun without Hanah.  What a bummer.  Oh, well I was tired anyway.

The lot behind Doyle’s was huge and tonight we had to park way out on the perimeter since we were running late.  Hanah had taken forever to get dressed.  She wanted to make a good impression on the band.

“Amateur Night, Charlie,” she had patiently explained as I tried to hurry her along.  Hanah was so beautiful she could wear a brown sack and look great.

As I walked to my car, I looked down to search around in my purse for my keys when suddenly a strong hand grabbed my wrist from behind and twisted my arm up behind my back.

Another arm came around the other side and a hand clamped over my mouth so tight I couldn’t scream or move.

As I looked up, two more men appeared before me.  One had on a Grinch mask and the other just had on a plain ski mask.   They swayed side to side in an unsteady manner, obviously they had been drinking…a lot.

“You be good now,” said the Grinch.  He was the taller of the two.  They both reeked of alcohol as did the man holding me captive.

“Jus’ let go of that pursh,” he slurred.  “An’ we’ll be on our way.”

I didn’t like the look of the long-bladed knife he had in his right hand.

I quickly let my free hand open and my purse fell with a thud to the ground.  I winced.  It was my brand-new Kate Spade bag.

 

Chapter 37

Please let them just want the money, I silently prayed.  But the man holding my arm did not release it.  He pushed it up even farther.  Was he going to break my arm?  I tried to scream but only a whimper came out.

The man in the Grinch mask picked up my purse and said something I couldn’t hear to his buddy next to him.

He looked back at me and they both chuckled.  Now I was glad I couldn’t see their faces.

“Bring her over to those bushes,” the taller one ordered.  And suddenly I felt my feet leave the ground.  My toes skimmed the rough pavement as the one holding me started to drag me to the darkest part of the lot.

I struggled to free myself but it was no use.  Every self-defense class maneuver I had ever learned flew out of my head.

I couldn’t believe this was happening to me!  My heart was pounding so fast, I thought I was going to pass out.

Then suddenly I heard another man’s voice.   Deeper.  Older.  Coming from somewhere behind us.

“I think you boys are done here now.  I’ll take over.”

But no one let me go.  I was still being dragged.  Was this a friend of theirs?

“Oh I don’t think so man.  But we can share,” sneered the one who had his hand over my mouth.  It was getting hard now to even take a breath.

Footsteps behind me on the gravel got closer but I wasn’t able to twist around to see who was there.

“I don’t share,” he said quietly.  Now he was right behind us.  “Let her go.  Now.”

And then I heard the unmistakable cocking of a gun’s hammer.  A big gun.  I had been around policemen long enough to know that sound.

Whoever was holding me, let me go so fast my feet hit the ground and I stumbled and started to fall forward.  I could hear the footsteps of my assailants running away.

New hands quickly caught me and kept me from hitting the pavement.  But still terrified, I struggled to get away.

Chapter 38

“It’s okay, Charlie.  I’m an undercover cop, MPD.  My name is Mike Foster.”  His words were slow and sure.

His voice triggered a memory in my brain and then it hit me.  It was the same voice as the one who had asked me last night if I was driving home.

“That Mike is sure a cutie.” Hanah had said last night, referring to Doyle’s cute bouncer as she had guided my drunken self out the door.

I slowly turned and looked up.  It was him.  He was the one I had seen at the court-house too!  Of course.  No wonder he was with all those cops.  He must have seen me and didn’t want to take a chance on blowing his cover.

“Mike…” I murmured under my breath.  “Right…”

He let me stand free for a moment as he put his gun away.  I swayed a little and he grabbed my elbow to steady me.

“Hey, take it easy.” he said softly.

Quiet tears of relief started to stream down my cheeks and I started to shake.  Shock and the freezing cold began taking their toll on me.

Mike pulled me a little nearer and tried to close up my coat, saying soft, comforting words as he fumbled with the buttons.

Then he stopped and took his hands and tenderly raised my face so he could look me in the eyes.

“Charlie.  It’s all over.  You’re safe now.”  He spoke very slowly to be sure I understood.

But I was so cold.  I couldn’t stop shivering and I couldn’t stop crying.  I just stood there unable to speak or move.

Images I had seen too many times from crime scenes I’d covered the last couple of years were flashing thru my mind.

I knew how bad this could have been.

“So cold…” I managed to whisper.

Mike gently pulled me next to him.  His jacket was open and he wrapped his arms and his jacket around me.  I could hear sirens in the distance.

“Thank God I was still here,” he said, his voice ragged with emotion.

I sighed and sank into the strength and warmth of his body.

After a few minutes, my breathing slowed and I stopped shaking.  But I didn’t want to leave the warmth of Mike’s arms.  And he didn’t appear to be in any hurry to let me go.

I pulled back just a little, looked up and asked, “The rose?”

It was the first time I had ever seen Mike smile.  He had a nice smile.

  “The End”