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Authors: Rick Hautala

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“Is that what
happened?” the cop asked Claire.

She gritted
her teeth and shook her head.

“Yes. I think
so. I don’t know for sure…It all happened so…fast.”

The wailing
sound of the ambulance’s siren drew closer, and then its flashing red emergency
lights split the night.

 “Let’s get
you to the hospital and have you checked out first,” Officer Tompkins said.
“Then you can make a statement.”

She caught the
shifty glance he shot at Samael as if to say
: I know you were involved in
this, too…Maybe I should haul your ass in.
For whatever reason, the cop
certainly looked as though he’d taken an instant dislike to Samael.

“I’ll go with
you,” Samael said just as Claire started to turn to him to ask if he’d come
along. She couldn’t miss the look Sally gave at Samael as she stepped forward
and said rather loudly, “No, I’ll go with her. She’s my roomie.”

“You don’t
have to come, Sal,” she said. “I’m fine, and besides…”

She twitched
her head toward Samael to indicate that she’d much prefer having him come with
her, but Sally’s expression hardened, and she shook her head decisively.

“I’m coming,
and that’s final,” Sally said, sounding a lot like Claire’s mother.

“But you’ll
miss the concert. You’ve been waiting—”

“Fuck the
concert!”

Claire noticed
that Samael had the good sense to step back and stay out of this. That made her
feel all the more confident in her opinion.

“Seriously.
I’ll be fine,” she said, all but glaring at Sally wishing she’d back off. “Give
Alice a call. She can use my ticket. I know she wanted to go, too.”

Sally started
to protest again, but Claire cut her off with a sharp glance.

By now, the
ambulance had come to a wailing stop in the restaurant parking lot. The
entrance to the restaurant and the sidewalk were filled with rubberneckers.
Claire felt like a bug under a magnifying glass as she limped over to the back
of the ambulance. The EMTs were getting out a stretcher, but she waved them
off, saying, “I’m all right…I’m all right.”

Before she
climbed into the back of the ambulance, she glanced at Samael, who was standing
at the edge of the crowd, looking like he was trying to fade away. The eye
contact between them was intense, but it was impossible to read his thoughts.
He looked intrigued, angry, detached, and passionately in love, all at the same
time. Claire’s heart was racing as she stared back at him, wondering if he was
going to turn and walk away now that she had all the assistance she could need.

But that’s not
what he did, and that may have been the first step along the path to his own
destruction. Because, instead of walking away and figuring out another way to
get to Claire and possess her soul—if she was the person he was determined to
corrupt—he shouted to her loud enough to be heard above the noise of the crowd:
“I’ll follow in my car.”

Through her
pain and turmoil, Claire was nearly bursting with happiness when she called
back to him: “See you there.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter

 

2

 

 

 

 

Double Ditch

 

The rest of the night—the
ambulance ride to the hospital, the waiting in the ER, the statement to the
police, the hospital checkout at three A.M., including a brief talk with a rape
crisis counselor—all went by in a blur. The only stable thing, it seemed, was
Samael’s smiling face, glimpsed several times in passing as she was wheeled
from one examination room to another, to be prodded and poked and have blood
samples drawn and blood pressure and temperature taken and have the cut on her
foot swabbed with disinfectant, stitched up, and bandaged.

The absolute
worst time—the only time emotions welled up so much she actually broke down and
cried—was when she spoke with Louise Allen, the rape crisis counselor. Only
then did the stark reality hit her of what had happened—and what might
have…what would have happened—if Samael hadn’t shown up when he did.

Through her
stay at the hospital, her cell phone rang repeatedly. Each call was from Sally,
and every time she was able, Claire answered the phone and assured her roomie
that she was fine. Because the cut was on the outside edge of her left foot,
she would probably limp for a week or so. Other than that, after around three
in the morning, she was anxious to get the hell out of there and go home.

Nearer to four
o’clock—after how many final checkups, questions, and forms to sign—she was
dressed and ready to go back to the apartment. Still, the hospital personnel
kept her in a private room, sitting on another examination table and waiting.
After a while, a knock sounded on the door. The door opened only after Claire
called out, “Come in.”

Another
doctor—one she was certain she hadn’t already spoken with yet—entered with her
file in hand. He took a few seconds to scan the charts, flipping pages and
nodding as he read. Claire was amazed that they could have generated so much
information about her in such a short time, and she was anxious, now, to be on
her way.

“Looks like
you’re all set to be released, then, Ms. McMullen.” He took a small pad from
his jacket pocket and started scribbling on it. “I want to give you a couple of
prescriptions.” He kept talking as he wrote. “One’s so your foot won’t get
infected. The other’s a pain killer.”

Claire nodded,
determined not to use the meds if she didn’t have to.

When the
doctor was done, he tore off the prescription sheets and handed them to her.
She clutched them tightly in her hand and, at that instant, recalled the name
and phone number Samael had scribbled on a napkin for her…

Had it really
been earlier this evening…or last night, by now…?

God, it seems
like days ago!

She wondered
if she still had that napkin in her purse, but she doubted she would need it.
She was positive Samael would be waiting for her when she got out. Her major
concern was how much of a wreck she must look. Her hair was disheveled, and her
makeup needed a serious touch up. Maybe she’d get a chance to fix herself up
before she left the examination room. Already, she was anticipating how she
would react when she saw his handsome, smiling face again. She couldn’t help
but wonder if this incident had brought them close enough together so they
might venture a hug and maybe even a little kiss.

Her legs were
so rubbery they felt unhinged when she hopped down from the examination table
and stood up for the first time in what seemed like a very long time. The
sudden blood rush from her head made her dizzy, and she had to place one hand
on the edge of the table to help her keep her balance.

The doctor—the
name tag on his jacket read Dr. Levine—didn’t miss her momentary relapse, and
he said, “You’re bound to feel a little woozy from the pain meds we gave you
earlier, before we stitched the wound.”

Claire didn’t
remember being given any pain meds, and she had only a vague memory of them
stitching the cut on her foot, but she grunted and nodded.

She limped
horribly as she walked over to the door.

“Thank you…for
everything,” she said, all too aware of how lame she sounded. Doctor Levine
smiled and indicated the wheelchair by the door.

“Sorry,” he
said. “You’ll have to sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Begrudgingly,
Claire sat down in it.

As Dr. Levine
pushed her out of the room and down the corridor to the waiting room,
anticipation built about what she would say or do when she saw Samael. She was
frightfully aware of the ambient sounds of the hospital—the hushed voices, the
beeping of medical equipment, the squeaking of a wheel on a passing gurney.

She ran her
fingers through her hair, trying to compose herself as best she could for how
she—and he—would react.

When the doors
to the waiting room swung open with a whoosh, Claire quickly scanned the
people, assured she would notice Samael in a flash. Hell, she hardly knew him,
so why was she feeling so attached to him already?

Her pulse was
racing as she sat there, looking around. Then her stomach dropped with a cold,
nauseating rush when she realized—

No!…This can’t
be!

—that he
wasn’t there.

“Do you have a
ride home, Ms. McMullen?”

Doctor
Levine’s voice sounded like it was coming from miles away. When she looked up
at him, it was like looking through the wrong end of the telescope. He appeared
to be impossibly far away. A loud rushing sound filled her head as another,
stronger wave of dizziness swept through her.

She nodded and
said, “I’m all set,” but her voice sounded like someone else’s.

Maybe he
stepped out for coffee…or went to the restroom…or went outside to bring the car
around.

She wanted
to—she had to believe there was a reasonable explanation for why he wasn’t
there. Her expectation that they would lock eyes and rush to each other in a
passionate embrace now seemed so naïve…so foolish. After sitting there gaping
at the assortment of people seated and pacing back and forth in the emergency
room, she had to face the cold, hard fact.

He had ditched
her.

“Fuckin’ men,”
she muttered.

“What’s that?”
Doctor Levine asked, turning to her.

The momentary
rush of disappointment quickly passed. This was so typical.

“Oh,
no…nothing at all,” she said. “Thanks again for all your help.”

“That’s what
we’re here for,” Doctor Levine said.

Claire forced
a smile as she looked. He seemed nice enough. Good looking in a plain sort of
way. And a doctor, so he’s obviously doing well. Exactly the kind of prospect
her mother would want her to bring home.

Safe…Sane…Ordinary…And
oh, so boring…

“Don’t forget
to make a follow-up appointment with your physician to have those stitches
taken out in about a week.”

“Will do,”
Claire said, thinking how much he sounded like her mother.

“Well then,”
Dr. Levine said, and without another word, an orderly came up to them and
started pushing the wheelchair toward the exit door.  The doors automatically
whooshed open when they got to them. A cold, damp breeze blew into her face,
chilling her as she rose shakily from the wheelchair. Her left foot was
pounding with pain.

“Thanks,” she
said to the orderly, who spun the wheelchair around like he’d done this
thousands of times and darted back into the hospital.

“Great,”
Claire muttered when she realized it was drizzling. She was positive it would
start raining before she got back to her apartment.  The early morning air had
that feeling to it. Across the parking lot, the streetlights that surrounded
the perimeter glowed like huge, purple dandelion puffs against the gradually
lightening sky.

While still
inside the shelter of the entryway, Claire fished her cell phone from her purse
and hit the speed dial for Sally’s number. After four rings, the phone went to
message.

“Fuck!”

 She ended the
call and dialed again. This time—on the third ring—Sally picked up. She said
something Claire found impossible to hear.

“Hey, Sal…You
hear me?”

“Claire…?”
Sally mumbled.

“Can you—?”
Claire started to ask, but then she said, “Never mind,” and she cut the call.

“Screw it,”
she said as she slipped her phone back into her purse. After considering
calling for a cab, she decided to hell with that, too. Her apartment was
halfamile away. She could make it, even with her injured foot. So what if it
started to rain? She wouldn’t get all that wet before she got home. After
pulling her jacket collar tight around her neck, she stuck her hands into her
jacket pockets. 

That’s when
she felt the crumpled-up bar napkin.

A thrill went
through her as she withdrew her hand from her pocket, clutching the note. That
thrill, however, quickly shifted into irritation when she thought about how
Samael had dumped her.

“Fuckin’
asshole,” she whispered. She was tempted to throw the napkin to the wet
sidewalk where it would dissolve into pulp, but then she stuffed it back into
her jacket pocket…

Why don’t you
get rid of it,
she asked herself.

She didn’t
have a good answer, so she started walking.

Her progress
was slow because of her limp. Every other step sent a hot, tingly jab of pain
up through her ankle to her knee. A few late-night walkers or early risers
passed by, hurrying to get wherever they were going before it started to rain,
but they ignored her.

That’s a good
thing
,
she thought.

She didn’t
want some street creep to see her vulnerable like this.

Shoulders
hunched and trying her best to ignore the sharp pain, she was about a hundred
yards away from the hospital when the rain did, indeed, start falling. It was a
cold, late March rain that bordered on snow, and with the wind blowing in off
the ocean, it had—as they say—“teeth.” The pain in her foot radiated in painful
throbs up her leg. Within minutes, her hair was a tangled mess of wet curls
that clung to her face like slugs. The rain was coming down so hard it all but
obscured the streetlights around her. A few cars passed by, their tires hissing
like a nest of snakes on the wet asphalt. Their lights barely pierced the
downpour, and a dense mist began to rise as the cool rain hit the warmer
asphalt.

“Jesus…Christ…Just…Fucking…Great,”
Claire mumbled as she walked as fast as she could.

She walked
with her head down, heading toward Longfellow Square. The runoff from the
sudden downpour was streaming down the sidewalk in dark, shimmering sheets. She
was concerned that the bandage on her foot would get soaked through. That sure
wouldn’t help with the healing. But the doctor had given her extra pads and a
roll of medical tape, so she could replace it when she got home.

If I ever get
home
.

She was used
to walking around Portland—even late at night…or early in the morning—but her
apartment building had never seemed so far away as it did right then. The chill
bit through her jacket and jeans, and her teeth were chattering wildly. She
didn’t notice the car that had pulled up quietly a few feet behind her. She
jumped when the horn tooted three times.

At first, she
ignored it, thinking some yo-yo wanted to give her a hard time.

Eyes straight
ahead, she kept walking.

The car didn’t
speed up and pass her by. It kept pace with her, like a hungry animal stalking
wounded prey. Claire slipped her hand into her purse and gripped her cell
phone, ready to call 911 if things got bad.

The driver
honked his horn again, so Claire—still without looking—raised her middle finger
and shouted, “Fuck off.” She wasn’t sure if the driver heard her or not. She
didn’t care. All she wanted to do was get home.

But then, still
keeping pace with her, he hit the horn again—longer—and she was finally forced
to stop and confront this asshole before it went any further. She turned and
faced the car. In the rain, all she could tell was that it was dark and kind of
fancy. In the downpour, she couldn’t tell the make or model.

As she stood
there with rain beating down on her, the tinted window slid down like a thin
sheet of dark ice, shifting aside to reveal the darker depths below. All she
could see of the driver was a dark silhouette that looked like it had been
scissored out of the night.

“You look like
you could use a ride.”

She hadn’t
heard him speak many words since they first met last evening at Margarita’s,
but the shock of recognition hit Claire hard. She had to catch her breath.
After a moment, she leaned closer to the car and now saw that it was, indeed, a
sleek, dark Mercedes. 

It was the
same one she’d noticed in the restaurant’s parking lot.

The window on
the passenger’s side slid all the way down now, and by the pale green glow of
the dashboard lights, she could easily make out Samael’s features. When he
looked at her and smiled, his teeth caught the light just right and gleamed
with a faint iridescent glow.

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