Samantha Caine aka Charly Baltimore sat on the porch, watching her daughter, Caitlin, throw a ball to her dog. After what they’d been through, only last winter, she should have known it would be impossible to deny Caitlin anything. Looking at it from that point of view, she was lucky Caitlin had only asked for a puppy. If she’d been a little older the whole thing could have been far more costly.
From time to time, the little girl looked up and reassured herself that her mother was still there. It would take a long time before she could go back to taking her mother’s presence for granted. She smiled and waved at her mother, who waved back, then resumed throwing the ball. Mira waved her tail and jumped enthusiastically to catch the ball in her mouth, before dropping it at her human’s feet.
It was getting dark and Sam really didn’t want to leave her daughter outside on her own. She ought to have started on dinner almost an hour ago, but hadn’t had the heart to call Caitlin and Mira inside. Regretfully, she got up, not quite as agilely as only six months ago. The injuries were taking a longer time to heal these days. It wasn’t just that she was getting older, which she was, no use denying that. The real problem was that she’d taken a much worse beating than before.
“Come on, Caitlin. Time to go inside. I have to make dinner and you, have to do your homework”
“Aw, mom, do I have to?”
“Yes, you do. Better make it now, or you’ll be too tired to watch your shows. Or – I could read you a bedtime story. But only if you finish your homework before dinner. Don’t forget to refill Mira’s dishes first.”
“Ok. Mira. Let’s go. And mom – I’ll take that bedtime story.”
To Sam’s surprise, the dog very obediently trotted inside, perhaps looking forward to dinner too. In any case, it was with relief she saw the dog and the girl vanish inside before her. She couldn’t stop herself from scanning the neighborhood, before closing and locking the door. Her boyfriend, Hal, kept telling her she was being paranoid, but what did he know? She went from window to window, unable to stop her reaction. This place was safe. No one knew who they were. As far as she knew, no one was looking for her. But old habits died hard.
Finally, her mind set at ease, she began to chop up the vegetables, making sure she didn’t suddenly frighten her daughter by pulling that knife trick again. She didn’t think Caitlin had ever been taken in by her explanation and she really didn’t want to remind the child of their traumatic experiences. In fact, she didn’t like to be reminded of them either.
Around eight, Hal returned. He came into the kitchen, put his arms around her and kissed her neck. Since Caitlin was already in her room, getting ready for bed, he moved in closer and whispered something in Sam’s ear. She smiled, but didn’t encourage him further.
“Your dinner’s in the oven. I hope you don’t mind, but we had ours. Caitlin needs to get to bed.”
“I know. It’s fine. Smells delicious.”
Sam smiled again, but somehow, this housewife routine was going stale. At first, she’d only been too grateful for this type of calm, uneventful life. By the time spring had given way to summer, the attraction of this sort of life had already begun to pale. Of course, she was glad to have been able to bring Caitlin to a safer place, but now that she had regained her memory, just being a little stay-at-home mom, didn’t satisfy her.
Not that she wanted to return to her old life. She was happy to let the doors to her past remain closed. Still, there had to be something else she could do.
Later, when Caitlin was asleep, she and Hal sat on the couch, pretending to watch an old movie. Her head leaned on his shoulder and his hands were moving up her legs. Hal was sweet. Part of her must always have wanted this sort of life, especially when she was very young. Now – there was a part of her that just couldn’t be satisfied with what he had to offer. That realization had been growing inside her for some time.
She didn’t want to leave him, but if she didn’t find a release soon, she didn’t see any other solution.
“Nothing. It’s just – this place, living like this – I’m getting bored. I think I’m going to look for a job.”
“Ok. That’s a great idea. Later on, we could go on vacation. That would be safe, wouldn’t it?”
Sam bit her lower lip. Airports and security controls probably weren’t a good idea, but if they just went to the coast or into the mountains, that would probably be ok.
“Yes, we could rent a cabin in the mountains or by the sea. Whatever you prefer.”
“I can’t take any time off right now, but – I was thinking if you like, why don’t you go away for a few days? Go into the city and do some shopping of whatever you like to do. That would be a change of pace. I don’t want you to feel bored and dissatisfied with your life.”
“You’re so sweet. Thanks. I might just do that. Then I guess I’ll hold off on the job hunt, until I get back.”
“Great. I’ll look after Caitlin and Mira.”
“I know you will.”
She kissed him a little more convincingly this time, but deep inside, she felt frustrated. If she did what she wanted right now, she was betting she’d scare Hal into wetting his pants. She had a hunch he wouldn’t see the attraction of slightly rougher sex. Still, this was nice too, even if something was missing.
In the morning, she began packing. She was so eager to go, she decided to go the following day, bright and early. As soon as she’d dropped Caitlin off at school. Explaining to Caitlin was the hardest bit, but to her relief, the little girl accepted her promise to call every night and to return after only two nights. She also mentioned the trip they’d all go on, a little later.
Finally, she was on her way. She put her bags into the trunk of the car and drove off, not even looking back. As soon as she was out on the interstate, she began to relax. She turned up the volume on the radio and even began to sing along to the loud, cheerful music. Not quite the kind of music she had listened to before her bout of amnesia, but a lot cooler than the insipid stuff the school teacher used to like.
Not until she reached the outskirts of the city, did it occur to her that this was where Mitch was living. Mitch Henessy, the man who had helped her find herself. The man whose life she’d saved a couple of times. She couldn’t help smiling as she recalled how scared he’d been of her. That guy, who she was betting didn’t exactly scare easily under normal conditions. Maybe he was more streetwise than tough, but still.
Before she even knew what had happened, she’d made the decision to get in touch with him again. She hadn’t known she’d been missing him and wondering how he was. They did check in from time to time. That was only natural, considering how much they owed each other, but she hadn’t seen him since he’d left the hospital, since she’d left the hospital. Their injuries had been roughly equally serious so they’d been discharged at about the same time.
When she got closer to the center, she stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank. She also picked up a couple of snacks, her old-new self, Samantha would have winced to see in her shopping cart. Charly – had eaten her steak rare and smoked her cigarettes without a filter. The new Sam was still more or less a health nut, but she did allow herself the occasional unhealthy snack and the odd cigarette. Light of course, and with filters.
After only a moment’s consideration, she went to the payphone and called Mitch’s number. The phone kept on ringing for so long, she almost hung up, feeling a mixture of disappointment and relief. At last, when she was about to give up, someone snatched off the receiver.
“Hold on a sec.”
She couldn’t help smiling again, as she recognized Mitch’s voice. It was as if she could see him, dishevelled and seedy, looking as if life had been letting him down, but that he was still hanging on, despite that.
“Mitch Henessy. Private Investigator. How can I help you?”
“Hi. Still working that pitch? I thought you made a fortune from telling my story?”
“Oh, you know, money has a tendency to slip through my fingers. Besides, my ex got most of it. I mean we do have a kid.”
“I know. How is he?”
“Yeah, I’m still hanging in there. What about you? Why all the questions?”
“Oh, you know, just checking in. Are you busy? I’m in the neighborhood and -”
“You’re in my neighbourhood? I almost said be careful, but knowing you, it’s my neighbors that will need to watch out.”
“You bet. Oh, not in your actual neighborhood, but in the city. I was thinking – it’s been a while since we saw each other and -”
“Now that you mention it. How’s the cat?”
“The cat? I got Caitlin a dog – Oh. Right. Caitlin and the dog are doing great. So, are you going to invite me over or will I have to beg?”
“That would be the day. I thought you were going to threaten to hurt me if I don’t tell you my address right away.”
“Yeah, that was a cheap shot. Sorry. Sure. I’ll be glad to see you. Oh, you’ll want my address, right?”
“Yes, I heard you moved to somewhere more upscale.”
“Yeah, but it didn’t work out so I moved back, to the same neighborhood. New place though. You can’t miss it, nicest place on Skid Row.”
He did give her the address after just a bit more talk. She could tell he would be pleased to see her and for some reason that pleased her too.
It took her a while to find her way there, but when she found it, she could only agree with his description. Skid Row alright. He must have spent all his money at an alarming rate. Either that or his ex had bled him dry.
She rang the doorbell, without having to frighten any neighbors. Mitch came to answer the door, looking exactly his usual self. His face was split by a wide grin.
“Come on in. Oh. You’re looking like Samantha again.”
“Hey. Want me to punch you in the nose?”
“Not right now. Maybe later.”
She couldn’t help laughing again. That was clever of him. Turning the fact that he felt intimidated by her into a joke.
They walked up the stairs and into his one-room place. At least it looked clean, if not very tidy. On the table there was an opened bottle of brandy. Without asking, Sam took a swig, then put the bottle down again. She hadn’t smelled any liquor on Mitch’s breath, so she was hoping he wasn’t on a binge. He was looking more or less healthy and clean too. There were no cuts or bruises on his face or hands, or arms for that matter.
“Well, it is dinnertime. Aren’t you going to offer me anything?”
“No need. You’ll just help yourself to whatever I got anyway. But feel free to take what you want.”
She studied him closely, making him break eye contact. The fact that he was still a little scared of her didn’t give her any satisfaction. Despite that, it felt great to see him again. Before she knew what she was doing, she reached out and hugged him. To her distress, he tensed up, so she let him go, feeling like some sort of freak.
He sensed her reaction and looked as if he was about to say something, then appeared to change his mind.
“There’s some stuff in the kitchen. I could call for takeout.”
“If you’ll let me pay.”
“Hey. This is my house. If I invite someone for dinner, I pay for it.”
Seeing that she’d offended him, she fell silent. Taking her silence as disagreement, Mitch again looked nervous, as if he thought she was going to beat him up for crossing her, even in a matter so minor. That hurt. She looked away.
“Whatever. Chinese or Italian. Nothing fancy. Actually, I’m in the mood for pizza.”
“Ok. There are beers in the fridge.”
She nodded vaguely and sat down, listening to him ordering their pizzas.
When the pizza guy arrived, Mitch paid him and brought the pizzas to the table. They’d already started on the beers. He sat down awkwardly on the edge of his seat, looking uneasy.
After the first few moments of intense joy at seeing her old friend again, a feeling of letdown had set in. After all they’d been through together, he still feared her.
They finished their meal in silence.
Mitch kept watching her out of the corner of his eye. Something wasn’t right. She was looking awfully blue. Maybe she and Hal were having some trouble. That guy was a wimp. No wonder he couldn’t keep her happy. She needed a guy who could – someone like – Mitch couldn’t really think of anyone who would be a good match for Sam. But clearly not that guy.
Sam looked up, startled. She’d been thinking of giving up, of getting back in her car, if it was still intact, and continuing on her way to the hotel. If she could get a room at this hour. She’d left it too late. The way she was feeling right now, she might as well turn right around and go home again.This wasn’t working out.
“Oh, you know. Everything’s fine really.”
She sighed. Maybe Mitch would understand.
“I don’t know. I’m getting restless. Bored. I’m itching to have something to do. Anything really. Nothing like -”
She didn’t finish the sentence. It wasn’t as if she wanted Mitch to think she missed killing people. That was part of what she liked about her new life. Not having to go out and kill people. And not having to keep looking over her shoulder all the time. Except she did anyway. She just couldn’t help herself. It was different now. With Caitlin and Hal and the dog. Now that she knew where she was from.
“Yeah. Figures. On the other hand, I always said you must have had a craving for that kind of life. Safe and wholesome. I was thinking that’s probably what you missed, growing up.”
She nodded. That was only too true.
“You do that, when you don’t have any security at home. When someone might wake you up and begin to use you as a punchbag or bounce you around the room like a basketball.”
Sam turned sharply. She’d heard a note in Mitch’s voice which hinted that his example was something he was used to.
“Is that how it was?”
“That was a loong time ago. I hardly remember. And I don’t even want to imagine what it must have been like to grow up like you did.”
“No, you don’t.”
Some of the earlier camaraderie was back, but Sam still thought she caught a glimpse of a flash of fear in his eyes. It was getting on her nerves.
“What’s the matter?”
“You’re awfully jumpy. Think I’m here to cut you or something?”
She leaned closer and again, Mitch retreated slightly. Impatiently, she got up and headed for the door.
“Ok. I’m leaving. Since you obviously don’t trust me, I might as well go.”
He got up to follow her and put a hand on her arm. Almost immediately he snatched his hand away.
Unable to make up her mind, Sam picked up the bottle again and took a few sips, then a few more. Wiping her mouth with her hand, she handed the bottle over to Mitch, who after some hesitation took a sip too. Reluctantly, she returned to her seat and sat facing Mitch.
They took turns sipping from the bottle, until it was almost empty. She looked around and saw that the light was almost completely gone. Damn. She’d forgotten about her promise to Caitlin. By now it would be too late to call her.
“What time is it?”
“Half past eight.”
“No more than that?”
“This place, it doesn’t get much light. It’s probably still light up on the hill.”
“Oh. Can I use your phone?”
She was hoping he didn’t say yes just because he was afraid of what she’d do to him if he’d said no. He merely gestured towards the phone, which was on a small table by the window. It looked as if it served as his home office.
To her relief, Hal didn’t sound too concerned. She could hear the sounds of some movie playing in the background. He’d let Caitlin stay up to watch a cartoon or something. She’d still be awake.
“Hi, is everything ok?”
“Yes. Caitlin and I have had dinner and now we’re watching a movie. You can probably hear her in the background.”
“Do you think she’d like to talk to me?”
“Of course. Caitlin. It’s your mom.”
Caitlin’s voice came on so quickly, Sam knew she’d been waiting for her call.
“Hey, sweetie. Are you having fun?”
“Yes. It’s great. We had all these snacks and – oh. Some healthy food too. And now we’re watching a really funny movie -”
“That’s great, sweetie. Do you think you’ll be able to sleep?”
“Yes. Mira’s going to be in my room and Hal said he’d leave the door open so I can call him if I need anything.”
“That’s good. Now go and finish that movie. Don’t stay up too long. Can I talk to Hal again?”
“Hello again. I’m going to put her to bed in a little while.”
“Are you having fun?”
She hesitated. Not really, but she was still glad she’d come, despite everything. In any case it was too complicated to explain.
“Yeah. It’s fine. You were right. I needed to get away for a while.”
“Good. See you soon.”
She hung up and returned to her seat.
“Everything ok at home?”
She knew it was getting late and she ought to go and find that hotel room, but she also knew that she didn’t want to. There was no one she could talk to, like with Mitch. She’d tried to talk about her past to Hal, but it just didn’t work. Maybe one day she’d be able to talk to Caitlin, but she didn’t want that. Her daughter knew more than enough about her past, or at least of what she was capable of, after seeing her in action.
She finished the last of the bottle in one single draft, staring defiantly at Mitch, as if daring him to object. He didn’t look as if he even wanted to. Something made her think of that time when she’d been trying to get his pants off. That had scared him too, but not enough not to turn her down. She wondered why she’d felt the urge to do that. Once she’d flashed him too, and she knew he’d liked that.
Without even knowing what she was doing, she was on her feet and closing the distance between them. Mitch was sitting on the couch on the other side of the table. She didn’t give him a chance to get away. Her hands began to move down to his crotch and got to work there.
“Hey. Someone’s had too much of my brandy. Ok, hold it right there.”
His voice held a strange mixture of pleading, fear and tenderness.
“Listen, what about your guy? Hal?”
“He’s the one who told me to come here. To blow off steam.”
“Did he say so?”
“He said I needed a change of pace. This is a change of pace.”
“I think he meant shopping. Come on, Sam. You’re drunk. You don’t want to do this.”
She covered his mouth with hers to stop him from talking. By now, she’d managed to unzip his pants, and was trying to slide them down to his knees. He kept trying to push her hands away.
When she had to break off to get some air, Mitch began to plead with her again.
She got on top of him and began to rub herself against him in a way she knew couldn’t fail to get his attention. Her hands moved up to his shirt and began to fiddle with the buttons. She couldn’t seem to get her fingers to obey her so in the end, she just tore it off. Burying her face against his neck, she began to suck the skin.
He was still trying to pull away from her, so she pulled back slightly and faced him again.
“Ok. If you can tell me honestly that you don’t want this, I’ll stop.”
His eyes looked feverish, and he licked his lips before continuing.
“I. Don’t. Want. You. To. Do. This.”
She pulled back slightly, trying to read the look on his face. His breathing had picked up and she thought it was from pleasure, not fear, but there was no telling with Mitch. It occurred to her that he might not have been quite as scared as she’d thought he was. Maybe he’d been so jumpy because he’d wanted this. A wide grin spread across her face.
He knew he shouldn’t have tried that with her. Not with her hands on approach. She’d see through his pretense right away. Resigning himself to what was about to happen, he stopped struggling. She was right. He did want it. Had wanted it ever since that time she’d been on her knees in front of him. Not like that, but – He just didn’t think she did.
At the time, he’d known how much pressure she was under and having watched her startling transformation, he’d also been under the impression she was seriously mental. That could still be the truth, but none of that changed the underlying facts.
He’d felt affection and pity for Samantha. Charly had frightened him badly. Sam – filled him with such desire, it had been all he could to, to try and hold her off. He should have known she’d interpret his reaction as fear. Not that he wasn’t terrified of her. That didn’t make her any less hot.
When she knew she’d won, Sam let herself go. Mitch might be scared of her, but he wouldn’t faint on her if she got a little rough. This was exactly what she’d been missing with Hal. The wild abandonment.
They slept until late. Mitch had been right. His place sure didn’t get much light, even in the mornings. But what this place lacked in terms of luxury, it made up for by being Mitch’s home. The fact that he was there with her made all the difference.
Guiltily, she caught sight of the tiny spots of blood which had gotten on the sheet. She must have been a little too – enthusiastic last night. But Mitch didn’t look as if he was complaining.
“Hey, you’re awake. Sorry about last night.”
“I mean about being so jumpy. You can probably guess why.”
“So you’re not scared of me?”
“Sure I am, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s one of the things I love about you.”
Sam smiled crookedly. Oh, yeah. That was one of the things the men in her life had better learn to love about her, because it was a big part of what she was. Too late now, to try and change her. Samantha had never really existed and Charly – had always wanted something else. So this was it. Sam was as good as it got. They’d have to take her or leave her.
She leaned over and kissed Mitch again, this time noting with satisfaction that he’d given up the pretense. He was returning the kiss with as much enthusiasm as she was putting into it.
“You know, what I was saying last night – about not wanting to imagine what you went through.”
“You’re right. Let’s not go there. If you knew, you’d be even more scared of me.”
“No, it’s ok. If you want to talk, I’m here. Really. Tell me anything you want.”
She was touched. Not that she’d actually take him up on the offer. Not in any detail anyway. Still, it was good to know that was how much he cared about her. She now recalled him telling her something about his childhood. About being abused.
“Mitch – what you said about being used as a punchbag. That was true, wasn’t it?”
“I always say, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
“What’s the use? My old man’s been dead these twenty years or more. The others – who knows? Probably dead most of them.”
“If you want to call them that. Some of them beat up on my mama too. ‘Till I got big enough to fight back. But I was one of the lucky ones. Some kids didn’t even make it. Others – doped themselves to death. I just – did what my mama did. Drink. So now you know why I’ve never been much of a success at my job.”
“What are you talking about? You solved my case. You kept at it for years. I think you did a great job.”
“I didn’t solve it. You did. Charly returned. Otherwise we still wouldn’t have known anything.”
“Without you, I don’t think I’d be here today. I know Caitlin wouldn’t still be around.”
“You got that all wrong, babe. You’re the one who saved my sorry ass, not the other way around.”
“Without you and Caitlin I would have given up. But you were there, both of you, and I knew I had to keep going, even if seemed impossible.”
Mitch regarded her thoughtfully, then reached out and fondled her face.
“I’m glad I could be there for you to save. Hey, want to come work for me as my bodyguard?”
Sam laughed. Actually, she might like that.
“Is that a serious offer?”
“I’d love to have you around all the time, to watch my back, but I won’t be able to pay you anything much and besides – aren’t you forgetting something?”
She kept getting distracted by the ripple of Mitch’s muscles under his glistening dark skin. Her fingers traced the outlines of his biceps, then his pecs. She found a nipple and pinched it.
“Ow. I said, aren’t you forgetting something?”
“And I said what?”
“Your kid. That kitty of yours.”
“Oh. Yeah. But you know, Hal told me to get a change of pace. I’m thinking I can do it here. He also thought my getting a job was a great idea, so you see, this could work out. On a part time basis.”
“Would it be safe?”
“What? Aren’t you the one who wanted me to be your – bodyguard. I love to watch your back. And your chest and your -”
Her fingers went on to illustrate her words. Mitch seemed a little apprehensive as she let her fingers idly move across his chest. She switched track and decided to check if he was ticklish. In that, she was disappointed. There was no particular reaction.
“Yeah, but I meant what if someone recognizes you? After I was on tv, telling the story to the whole country, someone’s bound to guess who you are.”
“Hm. Better not. I could just stick around here and watch your – back and everything else – right here. And if someone were to attack you at home, I could – take care of it.”
“There’s that, of course.”
“Then it’s settled.”
She moved down to his chest and began to bathe his skin with her tongue. When he didn’t make a move to resist her, she slid higher again and straddled him.
They didn’t get up until they were so hungry they had to have something. Struck by her conscience Sam called Caitlin again, then decided she’d have to do some shopping, or Hal would begin to wonder.
Mitch wouldn’t come with her, saying he preferred to get some work done. Sam had no idea how busy his investigating business was, but she didn’t expect there to be much, judging by the state of the desktop.
When she got back, she dropped her bags on the floor and leaned over to kiss Mitch. Today, he didn’t seem at all jumpy. She’d brought stuff to eat, but it was a long time before they showed any interest for that.
As they lay in bed, before drifting off to sleep, she realized she could talk to him. She told him things about her upbringing, about her training and about the hidden compartments in her brain, which were a necessity if she wanted to keep doing what she’d been doing and still remain sane.
In return, Mitch spoke about his childhood and even, a little, about the racial prejudices he’d grown up taking for granted.
In the end, they both felt they’d had a kind of release. Sam knew she’d be able to return home and begin to deal with the monotony of everyday life out there. She was hoping Mitch would pull himself together and make something of his business. In any case, she’d been serious about helping him out. She’d find a way of doing that, without placing herself at risk. Private investigating sounded like fun. Someone with her background could probably contribute a lot.
In the morning, as she stood in the doorway to say goodbye, she again reached out and pulled Mitch into a hard embrace. They kissed lightly and did their best to keep their distance.
“I’ll be back soon.”
“You know where to find me.”
“Off you go now. That cat will be missing you.”
“Do I need to throw you out? Leave already. Stay safe. See you later. Bye, Sam.”
He was right. She’d been about to tell him she loved him and that probably wasn’t such a good idea. If she let herself even think that, where would that leave her and Hal? At least she’d soon be back. Mitch would be there, waiting for her. Just like Caitlin was waiting for her at home. This just might work. On her way back, she’d switched on a station playing seventies rock music. She even sang along. Hal had been right too. The trip really had been a good idea.