If your best friend is a cat named Stella and you’re a crime reporter who’s looking for love…anything can happen.

Chapter Thirty-Three

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

When did I last eat?  I wondered to myself…breakfast had been sweet rolls and coffee…but I had had no lunch.

I had been abruptly woken up from my nap, hearing a text alert on my phone, announcing a press conference at the Minneapolis Court House.  I had had no time to eat…I barely had time to drive down there.

There had been a horrible drive-by shooting this past Tuesday and a little five year-old boy had been killed in the cross-fire between two local gangs.

The police had a suspect in custody and they had called a press conference.

I couldn’t 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.  Dinner had been a piece of cheese eaten on the way over to Hannah’s apartment.

What a life…the news never stops…and if you’re a reporter…neither do you.

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 Hannah.  No one would be surprised to see me…or if they were surprised they surely wouldn’t care.

When you go to the same bar week after week…you pretty much get to know everyone who works there… and they get to know you…or at least…recognize you.

It was sad, right?  But since both Hannah and I covered the crime scene in Minneapolis, we felt we had a justifiable reason to have fun whenever an opportunity arose…and that was usually on the weekends at Doyle’s.

Doyle’s also had a great house band…so there was live music and liquor.  What could be better when you’re twenty-four and single…right?

Well…….what would have been better…was to have not seen Bobby…”potential love of my life”…and flight attendant Tiff sharing passionate kisses every time the band took a break tonight.  Boy, I had that one figured wrong…

Oh well…life goes on.  I was always so optimistic 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 noticed the light was still on in Jake’s office…not that it mattered one damn bit to me anymore.

Something must have happened in the “Marlowe household” today…Jake was sporting a shiny, gold wedding band…with a diamond stuck on it for good measure.

He had been at the door tonight, checking ID’s and had greeted both Hannah and I when we came in.

He had given me a totally sheepish look when he noticed I had seen his ring.  I gave him a smile.  Hey, it’s who I am.

Hannah gave me a ‘look”…but did not say “I told you so…”    It’s nice to have good friends.

I looked around the club…waiting to feel normal.

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

Chapter Thirty-Four

Feeling better, I stood up and shrugged into my coat.  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 was…after all…a hardy Minnesotan.

I reached into my pockets for my gloves and then realized that I had left them on the front seat of my car when I had paused to put on lipstick before Hannah and I went into Doyle’s.

“See you next week, Teddy.” one of the dishwasher guys hollered at me as I passed through the kitchen.  I waved and pushed open the back door.

A blast of frigid air hit me and I immediately went into the bent-over, “huddle” position…familiar to anyone who has ever lived thru blistering cold winters.

I walked quickly across the parking lot to where my car was parked to begin my long trek home.

There would be no eating at the Minnehaha Grill tonight.  No eggs.  No bacon…and definitely no fun without Hannah.  What a bummer.  Oh, well.  I was pretty tired anyway.  It had been a long day.

The lot behind Doyle’s was huge and tonight we had no choice but to park way out on the perimeter since we had been running late.

Hannah had taken forever to get dressed.  She wanted to make a good impression on the band…and on her new ‘cop friend’.

“Amateur Night, Charlie,” she had said to me…as I tried to hurry her along.  Hannah was so beautiful she could wear a brown sack and look perfect.

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

Another arm came around my other side and a hand clamped over my mouth so tight I couldn’t scream and my struggling  was useless.

As I looked up, two more men appeared before me.  One of them had on a Grinch ski mask and the other one was wearing just a plain, black ski mask.

They swayed from side to side in an unsteady manner.   They had obviously 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 Thirty-five

Please, I silently prayed… let them just want the money.

But the man holding my arm did not release it.  He pushed it up even farther.  Was he trying to break my arm?  I tried to scream but only a muffled whimper came out.

The man in the Grinch mask walked over and picked up my purse, walked back and said something to his buddy that I couldn’t hear.

He looked back at me and then they both laughed…it sounded pure evil.  Now I was glad I couldn’t see their faces.

“Get her over behind those trees,” 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.   It was 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 got louder but I wasn’t able to twist around to see who was talking.

“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 these past couple of years to recognize 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 fought to get away.

Chapter Thirty-Six…The Final Chapter

“Charlie!  It’s okay.  I’m a police officer…I’m an undercover cop, MPD.  My name is Mike.  Mike Foster.”  The words were clear and simple and strong…meant to be calming.

His voice…it sounded so familiar…and then it slowly dawned on me.

It was the same voice as the one who had asked me last night if I was “driving home”.  I now remembered Hannah whispering in my ear…

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

I slowly turned around and looked up.  It was him.  My mind raced… no wonder he was with all those cops at the court house.  Of course.  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 lifted my face so he could look me in the eyes…

“Charlie.  It’s all over.  You’re safe now.”  He spoke very slowly, carefully choosing his words… 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.

Graphic 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 just 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 safety and warmth of his body.

After a few minutes, my tears stopped and I was shaking less.  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 Foster smile.  He had a great smile.

  “The End”