A Long, Hard Look (Chapter 40)

It’ll make more sense if you start with Chapter 1

We piled into Millie’s car and drove to Sam’s apartment, just a few blocks from the Mills Building. I felt like a school of fish, swarming from the office to Millie’s to Sam’s to who knew where.

Fish do that when there’s a shark chasing them.

It didn’t seem necessary to be secretive about going up to the apartment. Either Gertrude was watching us or she wasn’t, and I didn’t have a brilliant way to avoid being spied on by someone who meant it. I couldn’t even keep her from coming into my apartment and cutting me open.

The apartment was dark. I stopped Sam from turning any lights on. “I know it feels silly and melodramatic, but let us find places to hide before you turn lights on, before you call Gertrude.”

Millie was already walking toward the short hallway. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to hide somewhere I can sit down. I’ll take the bedroom, but you two young folks should be close enough to act if anything goes awry.”

Smiling an odd smile, Sam crossed to the end of the hallway and opened a door. “Plenty of room for both of you in here, if you don’t mind my vacuum.” She held it open and made an exaggerated wave toward it with her other hand.

“It seems a little, um, small.” I wasn’t sure about getting into a cramped closet with Darcy just now. We’d have to stand there together for who knew how long.

“Do we have to go in now? Unless she’s already on the stairs, we could just wait a bit, couldn’t we?” I couldn’t tell if Darcy was hedging or being logical.

Sam put her gesturing hand on her hip. “Look either we’re doing this or we’re not. I’m standing out here where the knives and crazy people are. You two can’t bear to cuddle up in a dark closet for fifteen minutes?”

Millie chimed in from the bedroom. “Darcy, dear, it’s inconvenient, I know, but this is our only chance, and it must be done correctly. I suspect you’ll be safe with Phil.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear her chuckle. Pretty sure.

Flouncing to the closet, Darcy stuck her tongue out at Sam. “I’m not afraid of him. I just think this is all getting silly.” She stepped in, maneuvered around the vacuum, and made a “Well?” face at me.

I am not suggesting I objected to being in a dark cozy place with an attractive woman. What I was worried about was what happened when we came out. And I don’t mean tackling crazed blondes with stilettos. There are more permanent entanglements I didn’t want to think about right now.

But I’m a good soldier, and I can march on an empty stomach or hold a hill top with the best of them.

Still, stepping into that closet and watching Sam close the door was about eleven times as hard as it should have been.

“I thought Sam didn’t know where to find Gertrude.” Darcy was barely whispering, but her face was against my chest, head tilted back so she was almost whispering right into my right ear. I could hear her just fine.

“Been trying to remember that. Best I can come up with is that we never got around to it. She derailed me before we got there.” I kept my head level so I wasn’t breathing down into her face.

“Was it intentional?”

“Was what intentional?”

She made a little growling breathy sound. “Did she derail you before you could ask whether she knew where Gertrude was?”

I was having a hard time breathing myself. We needed to be quiet, but the closet was getting warm and stuffy.

“It didn’t seem intentional. It seemed like she was raging against Gertrude and sad about Gilbert and willing to help.”

“So you trust her?” She was moving around, trying to get comfortable.

“Lean back against the wall and be still.”

She moved, then squeaked. “There are hooks or something.”

Instead, she leaned forward. Her left arm slid behind my back, and her right slid up my chest to my just below my shoulder.

“I’d rather lean this way, if you don’t mind.”

Was it a question? Was I supposed to answer? Did I mind? How should I know? I’m a man in a dark closet with a woman I’m drawn to who has her arms around me and her head on my chest. The male brain is not designed to operate under these conditions. Mine failed, exactly as expected.

Without my brain to interfere, my arms went around her, and my head rested on top of hers. Neither of us said anything, just leaned against each other and listened as Sam paced, then got a drink, then sat in the big chair right next to the closet door and dialed Gertrude.

“Hey, where have you been?” I couldn’t make out any sound from the other end of the call. Just pauses where Sam listened.

“It is too my business. Literally. I could have lost my job. Gilbert did lose his job, and in case you haven’t been paying attention, lost more than a job.”

More listening.

“I’ll tell you, if you’ll shut up for one minute. What I’m going to do is get a good night’s sleep, and first thing in the morning I’m going to walk into Daddy’s office and tell him that his precious pet Gertrude was responsible for this gefuffle he’s found so very embarrassing. Do you know he offered to pay for information about who did this?”

This time I could hear a voice. A loud, unhappy voice. I couldn’t hear the words, only the tone. The tone reminded me of scantily clad blondes with sharp knives.

“Oh, he’ll believe me all right.”

“Proof? Why would I need proof? He’s rabid over this. He’s looking for a dog to kick, and it won’t be me. Shut up and listen, Trude. You almost cost me my job. I had to work hard to fix this mess. You don’t know what it’s like, having to work every day to pay the bills, jump to his tune and not even be treated like a daughter.”

The voice hissed and squawked. It should have reminded me of a flock of geese, but I couldn’t get the picture of armed Amazons out of my mind.

Darcy must have felt me tensing up. She put her hand on the side of my face. “Shh. It’s okay.” She slipped her left hand out from behind me and put both of them on my shoulders, and then snuggled her face into my shirt again.

“Maybe when he has you arrested I’ll move into the penthouse and see what it’s like to be a real daughter again. But whether or not I get anything out of it, you’re going down, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

She hung up the phone, and without a sound, yanked the closet door open.

I’m afraid she caught Darcy kissing me.

I’m afraid I was kissing her right back.

Read Chapter 41

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