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The Cold Bite of Autumn – Posts 1 thru 11

November 2, 2010

The Cold Bite of Autumn

Dead wheels and lifeless bodies lay curled around an old oak tree. Crisp October air bit at Cheryl’s throat as she staggered down the country road. The Milky Way shot silent stares at her as the heels of her shoes clicked erratically down the asphalt. Puffs of breath hung behind her like tiny clouds, slowly dissipating into oblivion. One moment they’d been laughing, whooping it up at Ted’s expense.

In a blink of her eye, grim visages of death accused her of murder. All three men splayed around the car discarded marionettes, lifelines cut by callous disregard for good sense. Why death skipped over her screamed of mystery or fate’s cruel sentence.

She placed one foot in front of the other. Each step took patience and care. Something felt broken. Maybe her ankle. Maybe her leg. The pain when she placed her left foot to the road played pinball throughout her body.

Dull light from a rickety front porch competed with the heavens for attention. Cheryl focused her eyes as much as possible on that lonely bulb. She managed a low, guttural keening. Perhaps fate desired that she live. After all, she tried her best to kill them all, including herself. Yet, she crawled from the wreckage and struck out for life. If another life awaited her, surely these three men would seek her out, if for no other reason than to find out – why?

Cheryl stumbled past a decrepit gate and fell into the rocky yard. A scream of pain ripped from her lips despite her sense that she could not hurt anymore than she already did. Her hands dug into the hard soil so as to pull herself forward. Neither arm held enough strength to do any good.

The front door creaked and she pictured a little old woman afraid of her own shadow opening it. Instead, a burly man flung the door open, shoved the screen door and took the steps two at a time. In an instant he knelt beside her.

“What happened? Car wreck?”

All Cheryl could do was nod. She felt his hands probing around gingerly but with enough force that when he touched her ankle she cried out.

“That’s pretty messed up. Probably broken. Looks like you’ve lost some blood too. Do you feel cold?”

She nodded again, thankful her mouth was incapable of betraying her. She wanted to scream, “I should have died too.” Bastards. They were supposed to all die together. Her benefactor kept taking an inventory until he was sure there were no other major injuries.

“I’ll have an ambulance here in a second.” The man stood up, bound back up the steps and was swallowed by the dim lit house. His muffled voice trailed off into a silken mist as Cheryl lost consciousness.

The woman’s driver’s license said her name was Cheryl A. Socia. Thirty years old and blue eyed, the picture did not do her justice. From what Daniel Thorgrave could tell, she worked out, took care of herself and did not use or need make-up. The license said she was five foot six, but her fetal position on the ground made height impossible to see.

“Her friends are all dead,” the ambulance driver told him as he helped load her in the back. “Their car’s wrapped around a tree about a half mile down the road from here. She’s tough.”

He slammed the door shut and bound around to the driver’s side door and took off. Daniel hesitated, then grabbed the keys in his pocket. If her friends were all dead, maybe he could help her. Something in her eyes when they had their brief conversation disturbed him.

As he pulled out of the driveway, he shook his head and decided he had no sense whatsoever. Chasing after a near-dead woman he didn’t know because of a gut feeling reminded him of numerous other mistakes he’d made in his life. Hopefully this woman would turn out to be normal.

Daniel dozed off early around dinner time. Cheryl remained in a coma but the nurses brought him a tray without asking. As soon as she left, he settled back. Around ten o’clock he awoke, poked at the cold turkey and gravy and opted for the cherry pie instead.

As the last bite disappeared into his mouth, a white van parked and cut its lights – too quickly. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and took in the two men that climbed from their respective doors – passenger front door and the door directly behind the driver.

He glanced around the room for areas to conceal himself. The only apparent place was the bathroom. He needed something closer to Cheryl. He pulled the curtain far enough to place a chair behind it but not enough to make someone check to see if there was another patient in the room. He stood on the chair moved around and checked for squeaks or other telltale noises. Satisfied of its silence, he hopped down and rigged the nurse station call button behind the curtain.

He pulled out his pistol, clicked off the safety, and remounted the chair. One day he would figure out why all the troubled women fell his way. He smiled as the door creaked open. “I’m never bored,” he thought as hard shoes clicked to her bedside.

A moan jerked his head toward hers even though he couldn’t see her. The footsteps paused then quickly approached the bed.

“Samantha,” a man’s voice whispered. “Samantha can you hear me? It’s Harold.”

Another moan as well as movement of bed linens. Daniel imagined that guy trying to wake her up.

“Samantha, we hafta know what happened. Did they get the message out? Samantha.”

Another moan, this time more vocal. Daniel realized the jerk was shaking her.

“Dumb ass. she’s on more drugs than your local junkie,” he thought as he pulled back the curtain for a better view. Harold’s back faced him as did Cheryl or Samantha’s bruised face. Harold gave up shaking her and pulled a needle from his pocket.

“That’s all folks,” Daniel mused as he pressed the nurse call button. Almost immediately two distinct knocks struck the door followed by a third emphatic one. Obviously this meant Harold should depart pronto. He shoved the needle back into his pocket and fled out the door.

Daniel stepped down and rubbed his scratchy face with his non-pistol hand. Cheryl/Samantha moaned again. He flicked the safety back on and placed the gun in his pants as the nurse walked in.

“Is everything alright?” she asked as she checked Cheryl/Samantha’s pulse.

“She began moaning a few minutes ago. That’s a good sign, right?” He knew her moans meant she was coming out of the coma, but he wanted to play the concerned husband role to the hilt.

“Oh absolutely. In fact, we were getting concerned about her. The broken ankle and busted ribs are one thing, but head injuries and concussions are another. Her vitals are strong. Don’t worry, she’ll be ok.” The nurse gave him a reassuring nod and left the room.

“She’ll be ok until those goons find out whether this “message” was sent or not,” he muttered to the closed door. Time to plan his next move. Boy, Big Jim was sure going to be pissed at him this time.

Half a day later, Cheryl/Samantha opened her eyes. Daniel remained still to see if she could focus on her surroundings.

“Where am I and who the hell are you?” She squinted his direction and rubbed her left hand on her temple.

“The hospital – and I should ask the same of you. Is it Samantha or Cheryl?”

Her pause revealed a struggle with who she was speaking to and how Daniel fit into her web of lies.

“Samantha,” she decided.

“Nice of you to be so, shall we say – forthcoming?”

“Fuck you.”

“Harold came by to see you.”

An eyebrow betrayed her otherwise calm face. “Harold who?”

“If that’s the thanks I get for chasing him off before he injects you with something nasty, you need to find your manners.”

“You’re in over your head hero. You shoulda let him do it. Woulda saved all of us some trouble.”

“He and his buddy will be back soon. It’s been about eight hours. Why don’t you let me help you. I’m not asking you to tell me what this is all about, although it would be nice.”

“You’re dead just being in this room mister.”

“Daniel.”

“Daniel. Once they find out you’ve helped me, you’ll die. They will find out.” Samantha folded her hands on her lap and began to flex her fingers.

“That may be true, but I’ll take a few with me before I go.” Daniel collected some clothes he purchased for her after Harold left the building.

“No, you mustn’t.” Samantha’s face contorted in bloodless white lines and a set jaw. “They’re the good guys.”

If they’re the good guys, what’s that make you?”

An evil bitch, Samantha thought as she sized up Daniel. “Let’s just say I’m not the pristinely perfect lady. I have a few undesirable personality flaws.”

“Oh? For example …”

“I kill people for a living. I lie about everything and I don’t floss.” Daniel didn’t react and she didn’t like that one bit. She’d have to take a different tack.

“Did you kill those men in the car with you?”

He was cleaning his nails, not looking directly at her. This troubled her even more. He’s not looking for body language clues. “Yes.”

“I thought you lied about everything.”

“Maybe I am.”

“You’re not. Why take yourself out along with them? Was that the plan?”

He’s much too close to the truth. “I don’t think you need to know all this. Go away and maybe they won’t know you were ever here.”

“We both know it’s too late for that. If I’m going to go down, at least give me the satisfaction of knowing why.” Daniel looked up and met her eyes with a cool stare.

“You could be anyone. If I talk to you, I could spill secrets that would cause far too many problems. Especially if you’re the enemy.”

“Look Samantha, you’re the one who crawled up to my house broken and bleeding. If you singled your enemy out like that, then you are one incredibly talented agent. I just don’t want to be caught up in something without knowing the score.”

“Now who’s lying? You love not knowing what’s happening. It’s the thrill of the hunt.” Samantha vaguely remembered his house and the creaky screen door. The wreck felt like it happened years ago instead of days.

“Touche`.” Daniel stood up and tossed some clothes on her stomach. “Get dressed under the sheet in case the nurse comes in. We’re outta here.”

Once in the car, Samantha shrugged off the oversized coat with the floppy hood. Walking was out of the question for a while. Somehow, Daniel had requisitioned crutches for her and they left the hospital in plain sight – she in a wheelchair and Daniel pushing, toting a doting husband’s compliment of suitcases, crutches and make-up bags.

She had to admit he could be very resourceful. Where he came up with all the loot she never figured out. A good field agent would do the same. This worried her. Daniel promised to be more than he appeared.

“We’re headed for the mountains, in case you’re wondering,” Daniel said as the car woke to his key.

“Don’t tell me. You just happen to have a cabin up there.”

“No, but I happen to know someone who does and they won’t be using it anytime soon.”

“Do you make it a habit of barging in on other people’s property like that?”

“Only when I need to. This is a need to situation.” Daniel turned the radio down to a whisper and asked, “Why’d you kill them?”

“They had turned.”

“Money?”

“Does it really matter?”

“I suppose not. How long had you worked with them?”

“Four years.”

“Why aren’t you lying? I thought you always lied.”

“What’s the point? I only lie when I need to.” Samantha shifted in the seat. Her ankle ached from all the activity during there ‘escape’ from the hospital.

“So you decided to go out with them. They must have meant something to you.”

“Bastards. They welcomed me into the group. We were going to be rich. No one could touch us. Let the world go to hell while we all sit back, drink heavily and fuck like rabbits.”

“Were you tempted?” Daniel glanced her way. She felt his eyes study her face.

“Yeah.” She lowered her head and muttered, “I was tempted.”

“What made you decide to do the job. I presume you infiltrated them for that purpose.”

“I gathered information I couldn’t live with.”

“What kind of information.”

“Now you want me to lie. Let’s leave it at money, alcohol and sex wouldn’t be enough for me to be able to live with myself. They were into something nasty.”

“Fair enough – for now. We’ll need to hole up a while for your ankle to heal.”

“What about you? You appear to know way too much about my line of work. What’s your story?”

“I kill women.”

She shot a glance his way then felt her face flush when she noticed he’d seen. “Ok, that’s funny.”

“No really. I don’t lie. Women seem to die around me. I suppose it’s my engaging personality.”

“How do they die?”

“Not by my hand. They all seem to … have issues. Drugs, pimps, agents, husbands. You name it, I’ve seen it.”

“A dead babe magnet, eh?” She smiled for the first time.

“It ain’t all that funny lady.”

Daniel carried her into the cabin. Frost would surely cover the world in the morning. The pale sky was giving way to darkness. He sat her on the couch, went back to the car and fished out their minimal belongings – three bags of groceries and one bag of clothes. “I’ll get us better clothes tomorrow.”

“Hell, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.” Samantha laid down on the couch and propped her bad ankle up on the cushioned arm. “I think I’m going to like having a man wait on me hand and foot.”

Daniel grunted, strolled to the kitchen and began to unpack their food. “Mac and cheese ok for tonight?”

“Oh my god, a gourmet in the making. I’m not cooking so I suppose it will have to do.”

“What are the odds they are onto us already?”

“Took you a while to get there. You should have asked that before we left the hospital. We’re both as good as dead right now.”

“So what are they waiting for? If they know who I am, where we are and what we know, where’s the holdup?”

“They may be waiting to see if you get anywhere with me.”

“Isn’t that a long shot?”

“With what I know, they’ll gamble for the info.”

“Why don’t you just give it to them? What makes them want to kill you?”

Samantha rolled onto her side. She stared at the oak floor and said, “I turned.”

“You turned? How long?”

“Months. They had me as a target. We were almost there. The first of the money had already come in when I killed one of their assassins. I didn’t care. One more job and we were to be paid in full.”

“So these three guys meant a lot to you.”

“Only the world.”

Daniel stepped back and scanned the cabin. One room, one queen bed, one door. Substantial floor space, even with a small table, allowed a sense of openness. Claustrophobia might otherwise overwhelm anyone staying here for any length of time.

“They meant the world, and you turned. That means you thought they could pull it off.”

Samantha’s lips tightened and her voice thinned to an icy whisper, “what it meant was I thought I had a chance to get back a life.”

“My apologies,” he said as he put dry goods in the small pantry. “I didn’t know you were so emotionally involved.”

“Yeah, that’s something that doesn’t usually come with the territory does it?” Samantha laid back and stared at the ceiling. “I don’t know when it happened or how, but somewhere I lost my edge.”

“By edge, you mean your ability to distance yourself from feeling?”

“No, losing my desire to kill. Too many people need to die to make this world a better place. I knew I had no chance to kill them all and I also knew my contributions were limited at best, so what’s the point? I just wanted to settle down and forget.”

Daniel opened the door, hesitated and said, “I’m going to scrounge up some firewood. Back in a few.” The door clanked shut followed by footsteps fading from the cabin porch.

****************************************************
Tomorrow, a new, live story update. For now, you are caught up with The Cold Bite of Autumn.

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