When I awoke, I was sitting on a love seat before a raging fire. She had buried me beneath a mountain of thick blankets and I was sweating. Somehow, she had wrestled me into the cabin. Whether I had helped her by staggering along or had lost consciousness outside, I couldn’t say.
I was disappointed to find Morpheus curled at my feet, watching my every move. As I began shedding blankets, he growled low and ominous. My eyes never left his. His never left mine.
“Welcome back,” she said from across the room. She was seated on a couch in a white terrycloth robe and matching slippers, a steaming beverage in her hands. “Nice to see you didn’t die of hypothermia in my house.”
I felt as though I’d been dragged behind a truck. “What time is it?”
“Three in the morning,” she said, “but it seems to me that I should be the one asking questions.”
I didn’t reply.
“Let’s just cut right to it,” she said. “You’re expecting me to ask you what you were doing sleeping in my car. You don’t think I know who you are, or what you’ve stolen or who you’ve stolen it from. You’re wrong on all three counts.”
She had my attention.
“The only reason you’re here and not in the police station or somewhere less pleasant is that I want in and it seems to me that you’re in no position to negotiate. Bring me in on this thing and I will help you, I can even help you sell it. Refuse my help and I’ll call the cops. Or maybe I’ll just call Brad Adams directly. I’m sure they’d be happy to know your whereabouts on this lovely evening.”
I studied her face and determined that she wasn’t trifling with me. Resigned, I said, “I had to stash it. I don’t have it with me.”
“Yes,” she said. “I figured that out.”
It was here that I made a discomfiting discovery. Beneath the blankets, I was as naked as Morpheus.
How she’d managed to remove my soaking wet clothes I didn’t care to wonder about, although with no sign of them hanging about to dry, I was in no position to dictate terms. On the other hand, she might not be so brazen if I took the lead where audacity was concerned. I stared at her and considered my course.
The first matter of business was determining how she knew who I was. I glanced round her cabin, to see if she lived alone or if there might be indications of a husband or boyfriend, but the overly feminine décor more than obliged an answer. Besides, she wouldn’t be sitting in her living room at 3AM with a strange man if there were, so I sought the answer to my next question: was she in some way related to Brad Adams? Blatant material wealth would have proclaimed she was, yet at closer inspection, although her home was decorated charmingly, the accoutrements were simple.
“You want the emeralds, do you?” My blunt question seemed to surprise her, as if she hadn’t known after all and I cursed inwardly, but she smiled and nodded.
“Well I knew you’d taken something that didn’t belong to you, though I wasn’t sure what, but yes, a few emeralds would be quite helpful, Joshua. Where have you hidden them?” Somehow, she knew who I was, but in a town as small as this one, halfway between Fairbanks and no-man’s-land, most people did know everyone else. I stared at her hard, trying to put a name to her face, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing her before.
“It’s Josh, and just how do you know me?” Sweltering under the six blankets still piled on top of me, I pushed all but one onto the floor and allowed the remaining one to slide to my waist. She smiled again and I didn’t miss her gaze as it dropped from mine to take in what the blanket had revealed. Years of working the woodlands had honed my physique and I wasn’t ignorant of the fact that most women watched me when I entered the diner or local tavern. I usually ignored them, well, most of the time, but it might just work in my favor now.
“You know it’s impolite to stare, don’t you?” My tone turned more teasing and her gaze shot back to mine, then slid sideways to the fire.
“I saw everything I wanted to see earlier, Josh. Now I’d like to see those emeralds you mentioned.”
“We can debate that point, but I’d like to thank you for not letting me freeze to death. Will you tell me your name?” My evasiveness brought her stare straight back to mine and she set down her drink as the demure smile curving her lips faded.
“You never were very observant.”
To Be Continued…
Fred Rock of Fred Rock Fiction recently contacted me to discuss a possible, extended collaboration during which time we would write a short story based upon a piece he had begun and then hit a wall. I read the portion he wrote (designated above and throughout these posts in italics ) and was immediately intrigued. Inspiration sparked, we set about sending the piece back and forth between us for several weeks, adding to the tale, discussing possible stumbling blocks, and finally editing the ‘masterpiece’. Our final story is now ready to be shared, which we shall do in increments for your reading ease (and hopefully enjoyment!)