Susanne S. Bridenbaugh
Petals were everywhere. Scattered amongst the table, sofa, rug, and I noticed, the chandelier. Wrinkly little pale ivory petals that fluttered and danced like candy wrappers. She had been here. I wasn't sure I liked that idea; but it did excite me, the thought of her long legs striding about and the curve of her hands as she arced them and brought the petals to the air. I suddenly wished I had come yesterday so that I could smell her closeness. I wanted to pocket a handful, so that I could have something that belonged to her, and that scared me, to be so drawn to this woman. I drew my detective's armor about me to silence the accursed whisper of the petals.
"Detective O'Hearn, there's no forced entry." A young cadet by the name of Rick Marsh whispered to me. I had learned to lean my head toward him to hear. Usually I objected to this whispering of his as if we were on sacred ground, but now I was counting my blessings that he had been the only uniform available to me at the time; also he wasn't the sharpest guy on the force, which was to my advantage. The superintendent, a middle aged woman of middle class means watched us closely. I could spot a gossip fiend from yards away. The woman, who had introduced herself as Vivienne, was summing the scene up with glee.
My perpetrator wasn't a murderess, or a burglar, in that sense of the word. Nothing tangible was ever taken from the deceased last known address, to my knowledge. In fact, there would be no case at all, if the families were not outraged by the disrespect it conveyed to the family members and friends. This was my fifth summons. I felt myself becoming incapable of focusing on the perpetrator as a violator; inexplicably I was being drawn into her velvet darkness and I knew the desperation of a roulette wheel, with my life, career, and soul tumbling toward the finish.
I first saw her scarcely two months ago. I received the call and hurried toward the east side of town with its upscale housing, trendy restaurants, and shops. Pulling to the curb, I stepped out and made for the glassed doors of the apartment house, passing a woman on the way out. I was glad for the opportunity to slip in without calling up to the fifth floor; it somehow gave me an edge of surprise. She was tall, perhaps five foot nine or ten with long red hair that reminded me of the Irish setter I had owned as a child.
A showstopper, she was; in a blue linen pantsuit that to my practiced eye musta cost a mint. She looked as if she belonged to the place, and my sleuthing instincts went to hell as she turned those blue-green eyes on me and smiled, not stopping, not missing a beat.
After scoping the place out and returning to the place of entry I found the same white daisy petals trailing out the doors and in the direction of the cab she had just taken. I was more than blown over, I was devastatingly miffed that a woman could rob me of my instincts so thoroughly as if I were still in the police academy and twenty once again.
The kicker was I kept thinking of her. Day after day, I'd sit daydreaming, of bringing her in, placing the handcuffs that I knew would be too large for her delicate wrists, reading her rights in a low husky passion filled voice, glimpsing into her eyes and wishing I were dead, handing her over to the fat slob who happens to be police chief and watching him ogle ever nuance of her.
My first thought when I woke was she, when I laid my head down; when I was so deep into R.E.M. that my eyes bulged she would show up. I was brainwashed in subtle terms that defied definition. My life rapidly started revolving around a person I was to apprehend and bring to justice when I wanted nothing more than to stay within the silken walls she provided me in sleep.
I wondered at the strangeness of her; the ritualistic visitation as well as the petals and gifts sometimes left about the floor. It bespoke deepness; I yearned to peel back the layers and submerge myself totally and completely in her essence. I was losing a fight I never had a chance to win. I laugh at my weakness. I am a man who prides himself on self-control and discipline, reason and logic, stoism and determination. Who am I now? I cannot remember a single moment of total captivation inspired by anyone; past lovers, my ex-wife in all of our seven-year history. I was scared shitless by myself, and the demon that possessed me in her image.
I told no one of her. I should have the first time I laid eyes on her and had reason to suspect her, but I didn't. My mind draws funny little question marks in my mind as I muse this fact. Maybe I gave her the benefit of the doubt and if you know anything about detective work you know there is no such clemency. No notations condemn her in my pocket notebook that can be confiscated with in the codes and regulations of the department.
Two days ago I made a social call on a friend that has since left the precinct and law enforcement for good, so she says; an artist who drew composite sketches of fugitives and victims alike, who married a good friend of mine and has since retired the badge in favor of the bib of her infant daughter. I commissioned Eloise, the artist, to draw one last composite for me. No questions and no remarks were made, which led me to believe that Eloise had truly retired from law enforcement.
Only a quirksome-raised eyebrow indicated her curiosity in the matter, and although I tried valiantly to state the description of my Lady X in a professional and indifferent way, the attributes of my siren were stirring my imagination in an unholy tease. The resulting portrait was my lady incarnate. I filled in the gaps of my memory with what I saw each night in my dreams. Mayhap she had thinner lips or not so wide a mouth, I could only guess. I tried not to let my mouth gape open as she handed me the sketch, and so I rolled it gently so not to crease it and washed my hands so not to smudge a single line or curve. Once outside and in the privacy of my car, I unrolled it and studied every contour as if it were the Mona Lisa.
"How old is she supposed to be?" Darlene McGrady asked in her decidedly Scottish brogue. She was owner of a small Scot- Irish pub that was immensely popular with both the Irish and Scottish population as well as the other ethnic groups in the area. This was my umpteenth stop, so I knew the drill verbatim.
"Late twenties, early thirties." I replied.
"I see why you're so eager to find this lass." She grinned. "If she were to frequent this dive I would have more business than I could handle, yes I would." Darlene shook her head slowly." If she comes in here, I call you right away. Can't have her driving me lads crazy and half of 'em crying in their ale the whole night through."
She placed the photocopy beneath the bar and offered me something to guzzle, on the house of course. I declined, said my thanks and moved on. I was contemplating the next stop before I had my brown Oldsmobile unlocked. I had hit most every likely spot in a five-mile radius, but I was still thinking of the semi-obvious and not the obvious. I chuckled to myself that I should be looking in the various Voodoo and Occult shops in the city. I wasn't far from the truth.
I happened along a friend of a friend kind of lead. The type that makes you real uneasy sometimes----when you're at the right place at exactly the right time and you know what kind of odds those are when you live them every day. Two days later I found myself in a cozy little locally owned bookstore with carved lounging chairs set in the middle of the black painted floors. Bits of sculptured artwork from ivory to teak graced the end tables in an array of exaggerated positions of sediment and dance. Floor to ceiling shelves were spaced advantageously for both customer and owner. The check out counter, situated against the left wall, was long enough to place a few barstools and offer gourmet coffee. I pulled up a stool and requested a Colombian blend from the petite blond behind the counter. As she brought the steaming mosaic mug to my outstretched hand, I deftly brought the sketch to the counter top with my other hand.
"Could you take a look at this and tell me if you've seen her around? Maybe a customer?" I asked. "Umm, this smells wonderful." I added.
"Wanta try that with a sprinkle of cinnamon? It's really good that way." She smiled.
At that moment the counter became congested with a couple of customers with arms laden with books.
"Just a moment." She raised an index finger at me and smiled. I returned her smile and enjoyed her delicious blend of coffee and creamy shoulders above the black halter-top she wore.
It was as she rung up the first customer that the second in line, a middle aged woman in a long floral shift dress, tapped a long crimson nail against my sketch.
"I've seen her." She leaned her head to one side to better view the sketch which was up-side down from her. I hastily spun it in front of her.
"You have?" I inhaled.
"Oh yeah, I'm sure of it now." She kept studying the sketch. "I like to go to this little Wicca shop over on thirty-third, just the type of place that you can find rare books and other goodies. I've seen her in there a couple of times, and I may be mistaken, but I believe she knows the owner in more than a casual customerly way." She gushed, and then sheepishly added. "They seemed very chatty the times I've seen her there, and the red-head has access to the back of the store. Customers aren't allowed back there. There's a sign that says so.."
"She works there, maybe?" I suggested, my heart fluttering wildly.
"No, I don't think so. She's usually in and out in a matter of minutes. But I did notice something else; the couple of times I've seen her she arrives with a package, but then leaves with another different package." She smiled, delighted with her observance. "She could be a courier?"
I nodded my thanks as I fished for the appropriate president in my wallet. The blond was heading back over as I pushed the bill onto the counter.
"Oh no, coffee is complimentary." She reached for my mug. "Won't you stay for a bit?" Her fawn eyes swept me in appraisal.
I'm no slouch, this I know. I get my share of stares and glares and smiles.
I waved my hand in dismissal, "I've got what I came for." I tried not to sound so jubilant. I slid Lincoln's face toward her. "You keep this."
As I headed for the door I heard the blond calling out the time she got off, six or six-fifteen.but what can I say? I was already planning my next course of action, with my mind occupied with a thirst I desperately wanted to quench.
I don't remember the drive to Thirty -third Street, but I remember circling the block, finding the shop of question, circling again to find just the right spot to watch from, and unclenching my hands from the steering wheel.
This was me at my most insane moment, I thought; up until this point. How was I to know the full spectrum of madness that I would eventually know? I felt like my whole world was wrapped up in this madness. But damn! How good it felt to be so exhilarated and alive. Had I ever felt this fucking alive before?
I thought of the time I cornered a man for assaulting an elderly woman on the streets. He snatched the ladies purse and ran and true to my person and condemnation, I pursued him on foot. He led me down alleyways and crowded streets until we both met a roadblock called decision. He whirled on me and that's when I saw that not only was the purse he had stolen clutched in his hand but also a colt 45; and it was being drawn to my face in painstaking slow motion in my mind frame.
I don't know what my face registered, eminent doom? Faith? Fear? Anger? I honestly don't know, nor does it matter at this point. I was frozen with anticipation.
He cocked the gun with confidence, and pulled the trigger with finality.
Later it had proved to be a faulty bullet, a dud. I believe in odds, let me tell you, and never had I felt life so completely and undeniably alive and relieved.
I was a different bug under a different glass after that. I was always a buffoon of sorts, a bit more shy than most guys, or reserved if you feel more kindly toward the term. I had my own ideologies for that fateful day and I felt a strangeness too; as if I had defeated something. I went from novice to pro in about two seconds. I had developed the Superman complex. I took risks that other cops didn't take. I was foolhardy and fearless in the same stroke. I was voted rookie of the year and received awards that confirmed my invincibility. I lost a lot of myself, as well on that fateful day.
I became aloof from those I loved and cherished. My wife, Kate, an absolutely beautiful woman of considerable grace and charm, tried to hold things together for the both of us; for five years she struggled and cajoled, yearning for the man I used to be. It must have been hell for her. I had become a cocky, self righteous cop who went out with his buddies and stayed out playing the man's game of drinking entirely too much and womanizing until it became all to obvious. I became emotionless with her. I loved her. I know I did, but the metamorphosis into someone great and powerful was too great a temptation. At this reckless rate I ascended ranks and became a detective of some notoriety, all at the age of twenty -seven years.
The following year Kate left me; and after six months of separation, we divorced from each other. The crumbling ensued after that pivotal point. I came home to silence and my past, former self, ridiculed me relentlessly. I was a phony, and I had lost the only person who had really given a shit about me. I was still the devil may care cop of the day, but a pathetic, sniveling boy-child as soon as my feet entered our home, my home now.
I've drifted somewhat these past years, becoming a blend of past and present. I'm sure my peers now perceive the cocky Rembrandt attitude that I used to employ as confidence, and I tell them no differently, for it's no business of theirs. Like I said before: a median of stoicism and determination, and I have now discovered through this mystery woman, a recovery of my emotions from which I thought were forever gone.
The shop window had the usual tawdry bright orange lettering proclaiming the type of books one could find inside: Occult, Supernatural, Wicca, Extraterrestrial, Astronomy, Numerology, and Voodoo. A dark haired mannequin was poised, arms outstretched to implore potential customers to walk in off the streets. I noticed the dark wig was slipping, giving it a very benign appeal. I rather thought it spoiled the stores spookidy-doo theme; but what do I know of such things?
From what I could see the clientele was as varied as the J.C Penny's; all walks of life strode through those doors. I saw glitzy Fifth Avenue wives and mistresses, teachers with their book bags still on their shoulders, punks with rainbow hairspray and prolific tattoos on their person, power CEOs who always looked around before bolting either inside or out. I was quite amused; I knew where I was going to start heading on coffee breaks for a little entertainment.
I watched the rest of the afternoon and evening and wasn't too disappointed when she didn't materialize. I could've been out pounding the street still looking for a lead, after all. I had patience. I had patience because I knew that our paths would eventually cross.it was only a matter of time. I studied the composite for the hundredth time as I lay in the queen sized bed; and for the first time in weeks I didn't dream of the red head. For all I remember, I didn't dream at all.
The next morning I dropped by the precinct early, made a few calls for external purposes, and headed out. I was under no one's thumb actually and I had earned enough respect in the past years that no one dared question me or approach me on how I spent my time when out in the field. I spent Wednesday and Thursday much the same way, with no results in my search for my elusive lady. I spent hours in the late evening putting reports together and appropriating my job for my own conscience. My lack of sleep didn't seem to affect me. I dreamed of her relentlessly; sometimes she would come to me and kiss me so deeply that she inhaled all the air from my lungs, and I awoke gasping or moaning.
Friday morning I continued the watch from my Oldsmobile, coffee in hand, light jazz taking the edge off my sawed nerves. In spite of the strong coffee, I found myself drifting somewhere between sleep and drowsiness. The kind of sleep that leaves you unaware that you were sleeping until you jolt awake. I still had my coffee mug in hand when I startled, sloshing its warm blackness on the front of my blue oxford shirt.
I cursed foully, looked up and stopped mid-curse. There she was, like some apparition, hand on the door to enter the bookstore. I swiped at my shirt like a madman and collected myself before heading for the door of the bookstore. I had planned this out many, many times in my head. ' Don't blow it Gavin,' was my mantra.
Bells jingled announcing my entry, so much for being inconspicuous, I thought. My eyes darted the room but came up empty. I decided to browse. The dark wood of the ceiling beams were attractively carved with scrolls that matched in design the few support pillars, but the pine planked flooring ruined the grace if the garish lighting did not. Iron candelabras hung down casting a glow on the merchandise, and casting eerie shadows on the floors and the African ritual masks that hung on the walls. I inhaled the smell of incense and ancient books that drifted in the air and found it not repulsive, but nostalgic.
A young couple with vivid green spiky hair manned the counter, intent with the intimacy of their conversation and the other's hands in their back pockets. I grinned. I was just another closet freak out at daylight. I merged to the left, where the bookcases gave me great cover and allowed me to scope the area that included the storeroom and what I could only assume was an office door slightly ajar. Since I was in the occult section, I randomly picked up a title that I could hide behind.
Pretending to read the pages, I glanced upward toward the storeroom once again. Someone shuffled behind me, and I heard the swishing and thumping of
books being tidied. My eyes dove back to the book I held. Something caught my eye on the page, a sentence that I reread the instant I glanced over it:
"So now you know" a hushed voice blew into my ear. I looked up from the book into a pair of remarkable blue-green eyes.
"Now I know," I replied at a loss.
"Are you going to take me in, make my work a mockery?" still she whispered.
"No." I replied. "Are you going to make me beg to take you to lunch?" At which she smiled and entwined her fingers through mine as she led me to the door.
Susanne S. Bridenbaugh has loved the written word since the age of four, when her mother started teaching her to read the magical words that formed stories. A professed bookworm, she wrote stories as a small child and gave them to family members as birthday gifts.
She attended University of Alabama in Birmingham earning a degree in Dental Hygiene, while taking creative writing classes on the side. She has written radio commercial dialogue and business pamphlets, all the while inching her way to her dream of writing fiction full time.
She lives with her husband, Christopher, in doolittle-land: where a German shepherd, a cat, and five-foot iguana make their peaceful existence. Susanne is currently working on a paranormal mystery novel, which she hopes to complete by the year's end.
Visit Susanne's web site.
Published by permission of the author.
compliments of A World of Fantasy