Short Stories

 

Fall North

By: Tim McLean

Crime, Fiction

 

 

 

Ed was told to go to Boston to bring back Rollo’s daughter. Ed had been to Boston before, knew his way around, and could be trusted to do what he was told. He was the best choice of all the boys. Pyres explained this to Ed twice, two more times than he needed to. Ed sat and drank his beer, not saying anything while Pyres rolled on.

 

‘In case somethin’ does happen, you know cops, you know how to get around. You know what you can and can’t do up there. The getting around is the big thing. Those streets are crazy up there. Little one-ways and shit. No numbers. None of the other guys would be comfortable.’

 

Ed drank more of his beer. If Rollo wanted him to go, he would go. He did know Boston, though he did not see it as all that hard to get around, but certainly a different story from the grid of Manhattan. Ed did not need any convincing or explanations from Pyres. In fact, he did not know what Pyres’ function actually was, or why a man like Rollo would keep Pyres around; but Rollo did everything for a reason, so Ed sat and drank and listened to every word Pyres had to say.

 

‘Can you leave tomorrow?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

 

 

Ed used the Merritt: There were no trucks allowed, and the leaves weren’t yet peak color – no tourists yet. He had a bag with three days worth of clothes in the passenger seat. In the trunk he had a Smith & Wesson 9mm automatic with rounds and three spare magazines.

 

It was a Friday, and the drive took just over four hours.

 

Ed kept the Chevy under seventy, traveling east now on the turnpike, still among the farms and hills of central Massachusetts. He reached for his phone and dialed a 617 from memory.

 

‘Yes?’ An Arab voice scratched in his ear.

 

‘Kurt. Ed. Busy?’

 

‘Oh, my goodness. Where are you?’

 

Ed read a sign. ‘Sturbridge. And closing.’

 

‘Oh, that is wonderful. Are you going to be staying? I am having a party tonight. All the old people. Many faces you know, they will be happy to see their son return. Are you well?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Will you be my guest?’

 

‘Yes, Kurt. I have some business that may cut the party short for me, but I wouldn’t miss it. I can’t stay with you this time. I am getting a hotel – ‘

 

‘The Charles. I will arrange it.’

 

‘No, no, thank you, Kurt. I’ll get something. It’s better this time if I handle my own arrangements. I am open to suggestions, though. I need to be close to Brookline.’

 

‘How about Newton?’

 

‘Yes, that would be perfect.’

 

‘Yes. The Sheraton, then. Exit 14.’

 

‘Oh, yeah. I remember now. What time?’

 

‘Oh, come early, if business lets you, my friend. Anytime after the sun goes down. Our friends will arrive after a dinner at the Pudding – can you believe it is still standing? This will give us time to talk. It has been a long time, Edward.’

 

‘Too long. I’ll see you soon.’

 

 

 

Rollo had named his daughter Eliza, which Ed thought was asking for trouble in the first place. The name made him think of sex and dirt and makeup. Ed had met her several times throughout the years, even drove her to and from school a few times, though he doubted she remembered it. He remembered her as a brat, yelling about things and swearing, even at an early age.

 

She was twenty now, and could not have thought Boston was far enough to run to or big enough to hide in. This must be a test, another push to see how far her father would bend. One day, thought Ed, Rollo would tell him to kill her. Rollo would give him the order while lining up a putt, or shuffling his papers, and Ed would do it.

 

For now, Rollo just wanted her hauled back down to the city. He had not even bothered to call Ed to Tribecca, to the sixth floor on Hudson Street, to tell him in person. Instead he got a long, slow hiss from Pyres in a bar on the West Side.

 

Alone in his room, Ed hung his jacket in the closet and laid out the pistol on the bed. He maxed out the handgun; fourteen Teflon-lined hollow point rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber, and nestled the silver bulk into the worn Miami holster, counterweighing the gun with two full spare clips. He placed the whole affair in the top drawer of his dresser.

 

Ed answered the knock on the door in a towel, and tipped the boy who bought him his dinner with a twenty.

 

‘Thank you, Mr. Forester.’

 

‘Yeah. Take it easy.’

 

Ed ate and watched the sun sink past the highway. He wished he had gotten a room on the other side, to see the orange bounce off of the Hancock and the river like he remembered it.

 

 

 

In the growing dark, the Chevy slid along Soldiers Field Road by the river, onto 16 at Fresh Pond to Alewife. Ed cut off onto Rindge Ave, past the projects, and crossed Mass Ave, with the holstered pistol secure under his driver’s seat.

 

Cambridge looked crowded and familiar, and there were already pumpkins on the stoops and ghosts in the windows as he crossed into Somerville. Outside of Davis Square, Ed parked the Chevy on a one-way and walked the block and a half to Kurt’s house.

 

The lights were on and the shades all drawn at the square triple-decker. Ed circled the house slowly, admiring Kurt’s landscaping efforts – a reasonable banzai station sat at the rear of the property. Two women he did not know passed by windows on the first floor, and then Ed finally caught sight of Kurt. He looked well, if perhaps heavier than three years ago. His glasses sat on his brown nose, threatening to fall, as ever. He gesticulated wildly to someone unseen, his eyes full of wine and mirth.

 

Ed turned at a noise at another window and grinned. A Rottweiler, his giant paws on the sill, was staring directly at Ed. His growl deepened so that Ed could hear him plainly through the glass. Kurt halted his pantomime and shot a suspicious glance out the window, unable to see a thing. Dog and man disappeared and soon the rear door opened.

 

‘Make peace with your gods, my punks. That sign out front is no lie! Bruiser! On!’ Kurt yelled his half-threat without direction as he loosed the animal. Bruiser bounded down the stone steps and straight at Ed, who stood still. As the dog closed, his growl slipped into an excited whimper and happy grunts. As Ed wrestled with the dog he saw Kurt peering towards them, unable to see, but with a smile spreading as he grew certain.

 

‘Oh, my goodness. My son, come out where I can see you, you handsome bastard devil. Stop making love to my Bruiser. And he calls himself an attack dog.’

 

Ed straightened himself, disengaging with the mass of dark fur and licking wetness. He stepped out of the night and into the small circle of light the porch bulb threw, Bruiser now at his side with a new master.

 

‘Ach. He was always more your dog than mine. Come here. You look well.’

 

The middle-aged man embraced the younger, and took him inside.

 

 

 

‘It is the real thing, and the best. I have a friend in Barcelona, you would like him, he dresses like you. He sends this to me for the holidays.’ Kurt poured them each a second small glass of absinthe. ‘Your business, it does not happen tonight?’

 

‘Not after this glass. I will take care of it tomorrow.’

 

‘Then back to New York?’

 

‘The plan is by Sunday.’

 

‘Then lunch. We will go to the beach and have the thin beef.’

 

‘Oh, god. I almost forgot. Of course.’

 

‘Yes. The real thing. There has sprung up many imitators in and around the city. It is ridiculous. One cannot hope to duplicate the taste. The setting is part of it. The sea, the birds. The sea salt, it gets into the beef.’

 

More guests began to arrive. Ed could hear them outside the study door. Bruiser was lying on his friend’s feet.

 

‘How are your kids?’

 

‘Morons. I do not know where we get them. It is worse than even in your years, Edward. They are morons, adrift in their idiocy. I try to keep them in the yard; out in the Square they will be hit by cars, or fall into the river.’

 

‘There must be a few, though.’

 

‘You were always my star. You know this, you were my favorite, my hope. A genuine sense for what is right and what is wrong. That, paired with a realistic knowledge of how the world works. In your years, Edward, it was not the intention that was lacking. All young people want to bring about a thousand years of peace and grass – you just thought you could do it by deciding it was the right thing to do. Marches.’

 

Kurt sipped at his green drink, letting it seep into his blood and color his memories. Ed was warm and happy from his first glass.

 

‘Ach. The world is a clawed serpent, my son. It is a mechanism for rending flesh and grinding love to powder. We are little bags of jelly, created for some reason that must be humorous on a level beyond ours, created and then thrown into this machine. Without us to mash and grind, there can be no machine – take heart! At least we are necessary, and that is something. But without this process, this torture, we are nothing. The most we can do is to harden ourselves, to use any means, even the basest, to carve out whatever temporary peace we can for ourselves. To postpone the rending. The pain.’

 

Kurt seemed to drift off, and then came back.

 

‘You. You always understood this. You, at nineteen, knew the claws and the cold. You had a halo of blood on your head, my son. The other Cambridge kiddies walked through the Square and peered at each other from inside clouds. They saw the cobblestones as soft, guiding hands – you saw them as they are. Bloody rocks.’

 

‘Bloody rocks.’

 

They drank.

 

Kurt gave in for a moment. ‘Oh, why did you not go to change the world? You were one of the only ones who knew how.’

 

‘Who says I’m not?’

 

‘Did you lose that part, half of the essential mix? Did you lose the urge to try to create peace? Or have you found a new way to see how the world works?’

 

‘No, professor. I still see how the world works.’

 

 

 

Kurt was soon deep in absinthe, too hard to find behind those old glasses. They joined the larger party in the living room. A few people were dancing. Ed left after being introduced to the first two couples, Kurt trailing after him ‘This was Edward! This was my one final hope! He is now a shadow in New York! Look on my failure! He is in politics!’

 

To Bruiser’s dismay, Ed stole out the way he had come in, and let the fall air clear him out while he walked to his car. More guests were arriving and parking illegally.

 

 

 

Ed slept in his room in Newton until six. Pyres had given Ed a photograph of Chris Hammond. He was thick and covered in tattoos; a Boston tough guy. This was the man that Eliza was pretending could take her away from Rollo and New York. Hammond was connected with the South Boston crowd, but only one or two steps up from a nobody. He drove cars, sometimes helped beat up on kids and old men.

 

Pyres had also given Ed a recent black and white photograph of Eliza, a well-taken one at that, in Ed’s opinion. It was flattering, and she was staring calmly at something off to the side, in the middle distance, as if listening to someone a few feet from her. Just in case you hadn’t seen her in a while. Might be a lot of bitches with this guy, don’t want you snatching the wrong one.

 

There was a Brookline street address scrawled on the back of a book of matches. Kid likes to party on Friday nights in Southie, but ends up back here at his Uncle’s place.

 

 

 

Ed, the Chevy, and the photographs fled along Route 9. He slowed as he entered the side streets of Brookline, the million-dollar dwellings of stone glaring down at him from behind the bent backs of landscapers scooping leaves into bags.

 

At number fourteen on a windy hilltop street Ed parked at the curb and walked down the drive. The house had been converted from a stable a hundred years before, sat well back from any other property, and commanded a view of Cleveland Circle. Ed could see most of the Reservoir, and behind that the Middle Campus of Boston College. The facade of the house was narrow, and two cars sat in the circular drive. A gray Toyota truck bore plates that Ed knew from memory belonged to Eliza – a gift last year from her father. The second car was a nasty bit of European speedcraft, crouching half on the grass and gleaming in its paint so that even the fallen leaves seemed to give wide berth as they rustled past.

 

Ed never slowed on his way to the front door. He reached it, found it locked, breathed deeply, and knocked.

 

Almost immediately a heavy-set Asian man opened the door a crack and began to speak. The words were crushed, however, by the oak door as Ed uncoiled his entire body square into it. His motion began in his heels, legs straightening to unleash his full potential upwards and forward into the heavy wood, driving with his shoulder and gripping his pistol firmly in its holster. Lucky, thought Ed as he felt the door connect solidly with the man’s mouth. A gout of blood stayed on the oaken corner even as the enormous man’s body lurched back to follow his head.

 

Ed stepped into the house, closing the door behind him and drawing his gun in the same motion. He trained the Smith & Wesson on the Asian, who somehow stayed conscious and on his feet. The bigger man wore a gun as well, but was concerned only with his face; his eyes wide and his giant hands held near his mouth. He gave high, hitching breaths, but said nothing.

 

Ed motioned with the gun and the man seemed to understand, and began to kneel down, blood falling from his ruined teeth. Ed circled immediately behind him and shifted his weight to throw a wide, fast kick. Ed’s boot was steel-toed, and connected at the man’s temple with a wet spank. The enormous body slumped to the floor, motionless. Ed snapped out the man’s revolver, thumbed out the cylinder and spilled the six shells out onto the marble floor, then tossed the gun into a plant.

 

The house was a line, one room behind the other, and Ed walked quickly through the foyer, a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen. The next door was small and closed, and Ed replaced his pistol before shouldering his way in.

 

Ed and the door splintered into the bedroom.

 

The room was dark, but the light that fell in through the broken door let Ed see enough. A shape moved towards him, and Ed let his arms and legs work by themselves; by touch. He gripped flesh in two places as hard as he was able and twisted Hammond’s body to his left and forced him through the doorway. Hammond began to yell something, then yelled in pain. Out in the light, Ed could see that Chris was indeed a big boy, dressed only in boxer shorts and mapped in Gaelic-style tattoos. Ed threw him to the tiles.

 

Back on the West Side, Pyres had explained to Ed precisely what Rollo had wanted done, and Ed had sat and listened and drank his beer.

 

Kick his ass. If you have to, kill him. But kick his ass, like you would a punk kid. Do it in front of her. Let her see you fucking humiliate this guy, treat him like a bitch. Let her see the big man she ran away to.

 

Ed put his pistol on the tough guy and called into the dark room for Eliza. She came out wrapped in a sheet. She looked genuinely scared, not the angry brat he seemed to remember. Ed told Hammond to get up. The kid had two or three inches and about fifty pounds on Ed.

 

Ed slid the clip out of the gun and raked the slide, catching the ejected round with a practiced motion, and set the whole lot on the kitchen counter. He backed off, and invited Hammond, showing his empty hands and turning all the way around once.

 

‘Come on, son.’

 

‘Motherfucker’ was all Hammond said as he rushed the older man. The kid was a brawler, exploding with speed. If he ever connected, he might be able to kill a man. Ed exhaled.

 

He let Hammond come to him, and he let the boy take a fast swing at his head. Ed leaned away smoothly, his upper body free of Chris’ tight punching arc. At the same time, standing firmly on his right leg, Ed snapped a left roundhouse – steel-toe pointing out – into the boy’s exposed rib cage. There was a noise like the popping of an ice cube.

 

Ed took one hop away and let the boy feel what had happened. Hammond began to shake it off, then fell to one knee. He glared at the older man, unable to understand how he had been hurt so bad so quickly. His mouth made a series of shapes.

 

‘Get up, boy.’ Ed was going through the motions, his heart not in it. Sometimes he enjoyed throwing his weight around, but the girl watching flattened it all out a bit. She saw that Hammond was hurt.

 

‘You son of a bitch’ she said to Ed. ‘Leave him alone. I’ll go with you, okay? That’s enough.’

 

Hammond had collected himself a little, and holding his right side he made another move towards Ed. Ed cut the distance between them and Hammond instinctively put his hands up to guard his face. Ed grabbed Hammond by his testicles, squeezing with more than half his strength. The boy shrieked, breathed, then shrieked again. He feebly clawed at Ed’s throat, but Ed kept the pressure on. He pulled and twisted as he squeezed. Hammond’s face was purple, and his eyes like baseballs. Eliza began screaming.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Ed saw her dart back into the bedroom, so he wrapped it up with Hammond, hauling back and giving him a right under the eye so hard it was a wonder the boy’s neck held. The kid sat down immediately, almost politely, and went to sleep.

 

Ed walked briskly into the bedroom to find Eliza struggling with some sort of nickel-plated small caliber handgun, trying to put bullets into it by jiggling the slide and swearing at it. Ed caught her hands and twisted the gun out. She cried as he twisted, and her shoulders began to slump. She snapped out of it, fooling Ed, and reached and scratched his face. She drew blood as she screamed at him, almost laughing. He hit her instantly with a right, and she bounced off the closet door on her way to the carpet.

 

Ed stood rock still until he saw the rise and fall of her chest.

 

Then he sat down and fiddled with the handgun and looked around the bedroom. Coke, some pot, but no needles. Rollo had been afraid that it was heroin with her now – her arms were pale and thin, but free of tracks.

 

Ed sat Eliza up carefully in the crook of his elbow, supporting her head. He ran his finger over the swelling that had already started under her eye. There was also a small cut where his knuckle had connected. He gently woke her with motion.

 

”Kay. Nuff. Wha?’

 

‘Easy. Stay awake, okay? Gonna feel worse the longer you stay out. Better to wake up now, so stay with me. We need ice. Can you stand?’

 

The two made their way into the kitchen, Eliza shaky on her feet but doing better than Ed had expected. Hammond lay in the same position in which he had landed. Ed put some ice into a sandwich bag.

 

‘You’re going to have to get some things together. You know you have to go home.’

 

‘Yeah.’

 

 

 

Ed had a look around as he gave her a little privacy. The house belonged to Hammond’s uncle, some Southie big shot named Fran Doyle. Fran’s sister was Chris’ mother, hence Useless Chris gets a fast car, some tattoos, and access to the house while Fran is away in Vegas.

 

The place was tastefully done for the home of a scumbag from South Boston. There were old, grainy photographs of the Brookline area from the 1800s. The place was mostly blacks and whites, and the green from enormous potted plants. Plenty of big windows used the view well. Must have hired somebody.

 

Eliza emerged dressed in tight slacks and a black stretch shirt. Over-sized sunglasses almost concealed the shiner that was forming under her eye. She carried a weekend bag.

 

‘That all you’re going to need?’

 

‘All I got.’ She gave a wincing glance at Hammond, who was beginning to grunt a little. ‘Where’s Chang?’ she said as they began to walk through the rooms of the linear house, but Ed did not answer. Eliza sucked in as she saw the giant man’s body. ‘Did you shoot him?’

 

‘No.’

 

Eliza looked Ed over. They left the house and began to walk up the drive.

 

‘What about my truck?’

 

‘I’m sure Rollo will buy you another one, or have someone retrieve it for you.’

 

‘Fuck that. I’ll drive it. I’ll follow you.’

 

‘Fuck that.’

 

‘No. Come – come on. I know you, right? What’s your name?’

 

‘Ed.’

 

‘Ed. Right. Dad talks about you all the time. You’re, like, the best at everything, right? Well, let me follow you. Where am I going to go? Chris’s family is going to kill me if I stay in Boston after this shit, okay? I’ll follow you, and that way my car doesn’t get left in front of a house where you killed one guy and beat on another guy.’

 

‘I don’t know if that man is dead.’

 

‘He looked pretty fucking dead to me, Ed.’

 

Ed looked around, and then back at Eliza. She was able to keep eye contact, and he was impressed. ‘You know your father.’

 

‘Yes I do.’

 

‘He is upset with you as it is.’

 

‘Yes he is.’

 

‘He is one more episode away from telling me to hit you, you know that?’

 

‘You already hit me.’

 

‘Kill you. Understand?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘You try to lose me, I will find you and kill you, understand?’

 

‘Yes I do, Ed.’

 

‘Do you?’

 

‘Yes.’ She moved closer to him. Ed’s point was made, but he did not move away.

 

‘It won’t make the slightest difference to me, you know?’ he said, lower now.

 

‘Okay. I’ll do what you want.’ She moved gently back and forth.

 

‘Stay right on me.’ Ed broke away and walked to his car.

 

 

 

Ed looked in his mirror every five or six seconds, willing her to stay behind him. They took Beacon Street through Newton and arrived together at the mammoth hotel. Ed noticed his face in the mirror as he got out of his car; three good gashes from Eliza’s fingernails framed his left eye. He donned sunglasses of his own, swearing quietly to himself.

 

 

 

Ed had a long talk with Pyres while Eliza showered; at least, what Ed considered a long talk. Ed pushed for someone to drive up and take her off his hands – he had some business to take care of here the rest of the weekend; personal things. He couldn’t be dragging a twenty-year-old girl around with him everywhere.

 

Pyres said he was sorry, but that there was nobody else. November was almost here, there were city elections, this was the busiest time of the year.

 

‘In fact,’ oozed Pyres, ‘We need you back as soon as possible, here. How long is this – personal stuff gonna take?’

 

‘The weekend. I will be back late tomorrow.’

 

There was a muffling, a scratching, then a silence. Then Pyres came back on the line. ‘Yeah. Mr. Rollo is anxious to see his daughter, Ed. This personal stuff better be real important – ‘

 

‘I can put her on a bus right now, she will be back in four hours. You can meet her at Port Authority at – ‘

 

‘Ed, Ed, please. You’re the professional, right? You were sent to get the chick and bring her back, not put her on a damn bus while you go sightseeing. Those fucking buses stop, you know? Pit stops, like, and what do we tell Rollo when she doesn’t hop back on, okay? No – if you have some things to do, just do them, but the girl stays with you, and comes back down with you.’

 

‘And her truck?’

 

Another scratching, then silence, then more oozing.

 

‘Right. Mr. Rollo wants you to handle that as you see fit, Ed. Get one of your Boston people to drive it down, or have it flat-bedded. Whatever, we’ll pay for it. Just get it and her down here by Sunday and we’re all right.’

 

We. We’ll pay for it.

 

There was a time when Rollo was the only one who spoke to Ed. Ed thought about killing Pyres with his hands, and then took his shirt off and did push-ups until he felt better.

 

He was breathing heavy from his workout when Eliza came out from the bathroom in a towel. She picked up the 8′ x 11′ of herself on the dresser. Ed prepared to answer any query about it, but none came. She put the photo back, thoughtfully, and then floated towards Ed without looking at him.

 

She came close to Ed, and ran her fingers over his chest and down his abdominal muscles. He didn’t move away.

 

‘Keep pretty trim for an old man.’

 

‘Not so old.’

 

‘Hmm. So when do we go?’

 

‘I have things to do. I have to meet someone today, run some errands tomorrow. we can leave after that.’

 

‘I like these scars.’ She whispered, pressing against him and kissing his chest. He was able to stay motionless for a minute or so, and then Ed picked the girl up and moved her to the bed.

 

The towel came off. She had a dancer’s legs and ass, but with full, young breasts that would not fall for twenty years. She worked at his belt and ushered him inside of her, as she did she released a long moan. They were loud and fast, and afterwards Ed took a shower of his own. He kept the bathroom door open, which blocked the door out to the hall.

 

When he was done she had dressed, but only into one of his t-shirts. He lay on the bed and she wrapped herself around him.

 

‘I can’t stay with my father.’

 

‘That’s not my problem.’

 

‘I’m going to run away again, and keep running until he doesn’t come after me anymore. Or until you come to kill me. Isn’t that your problem?’

 

Ed turned and held her face. ‘He is probably going to have you killed whether you run or stay, sooner or later.’

 

She was crying without making a noise. ‘I know. Ed?’

 

‘Yeah.’

 

‘Did he have my mother killed?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

She knew this but had never heard it. She looked toward the window. ‘Did you know her?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘What was she like?’

 

‘I didn’t know her real well. I was just a kid, younger than you. I was working for Stacks in Brooklyn, but we used to go to those parties. We’d bus the tables, run drinks. Rollo would come. Your mother was taller than him. Talked loud. She was beautiful, everybody seemed to like her. She drank Manhattans.’

 

‘What’s in a Manhattan?’

 

‘That’s whiskey with vermouth, the sweet kind, and a cherry, usually.’

 

‘Are those good?’

 

‘Yeah. That’s a classy drink.’

 

‘How did you start working for my dad? Why did you leave Brooklyn?’

 

‘Had an uncle up here. Ended up paying so I could go to college. Four years of that. Joined the service for another few years. When I came back, Rollo was running things. He offered, I took it.’

 

‘Do you like him?’

 

‘We’re friends.’

 

The two stayed wrapped and warm in each other, then made love again. This time they were slow, and didn’t get dressed again until after noon.

 

 

 

Ed met Kurt on Revere beach, where they had roast beef sandwiches – Ed really had forgotten how good they were. Bruiser was motoring around in wide circles, harassing seagulls.

 

‘There is a weight on your head. More than normal.’

 

‘It’s just work.’

 

‘Nothing you can talk about in specifics, I am sure.’

 

‘Sorry.’

 

‘I am used to it. Shed no tears for me.’ Kurt darkened. ‘Are you still there, boy?’

 

‘I’m still here, Professor.’

 

‘I believe you. But there is only a remnant now of what used to burn in those eyes. I myself was frightened of you now and again, dear boy. Certain comments, certain viewpoints. You looked like you could kill.’ Kurt laughed at the memory, but held Ed by his arms, then became sad and quiet. ‘Get out of what you are doing if it is taking you from yourself, Edward. Politics can do this to a man, especially a young man.’

 

‘Not so young.’

 

‘Ach. Yes. Not too old, either, though. Not so old as to be resigned, to be unchangeable. You know that.’

 

‘I do. I am further along than you might think.’

 

‘Ah! You are considering getting out?’

 

‘Yes. I believe I am. I have obligations yet to fulfill. But after – ‘Ed trailed off on his own.

 

‘Miles to go, eh? Well, that is wonderful. I wish you the best. Maybe you will decide to teach with me in Cambridge.’

 

‘I’m not sure I have much to teach. Much useful, anyways.’

 

‘You see how the world works, still. That is something, is it not?’

 

Ed looked out at the gray expanse of autumn ocean. ‘Thank you for everything, Kurt.’

 

‘Oh, my boy. It has always been my delight and my privilege.’

 

Kurt laughed; tried to force it on to Ed. He couldn’t, so he patted the young man’s shoulder twice while he looked at his shoes and the sand.

 

 

 

‘How old are you?’

 

‘Forty-one.’

 

‘Damn.’

 

‘I know. You thought older, right?’

 

‘Like sixty.’

 

He could feel her begin to enjoy his laugh.

 

And so he dragged her around. Ed saw Blake at the Quiet Man Pub, had a couple of beers and listened to stories – listened sadly, realizing Blake was now a drunk. Maybe he always had been. He was shocked to see Ed at first, but within a half-hour he was talking to him like they had been together for the past ten years. Eliza was happy to sit in a corner and eat a sandwich.

 

Ed failed to find a couple of people entirely. Katie O’Hare had moved to Philadelphia to teach music, and Sullivan had opened his own law practice in Los Angeles. Mr. Sullivan, Sr. told Ed the news after swearing, dancing then marveling at him. Eliza could see that the old man wanted nothing more than to talk with Ed for hours on end, but Ed would not even come in, though the offer was repeated three times. The old man physically pulled on Ed’s arms, but he wouldn’t move closer. Ed seemed like a vampire invited to Mass. When Ed and Eliza walked away from the large Sullivan home near Central Square, Ed seemed bothered.

 

‘He sounded like a pretty good friend of yours.’

 

‘Yeah. We did some great things together. I always got along with his dad, too.’

 

‘Yeah, it looked like it. Why didn’t you talk to him longer, or go in or something? He really wanted you to.’

 

‘Let’s just get going. The longer we walk and drive around here, the more chance we have of running into Hammond or his people. They’ve got to be looking for you.’

 

‘What are we doing? Just looking up your old college buddies?’

 

‘Yeah. You ever think about college?’

 

‘No. Yeah, but dad – Rollo, says it’s all bullshit.’

 

‘It is. Doesn’t mean you don’t meet good people.’

 

‘Hmm.’

 

Ed slowed his pace as they approached the car. ‘Are you ready to go?’

 

‘Yeah.’

 

‘Need anything?’

 

‘No. Let’s just go.’

 

 

 

Ed and Eliza moved seventy miles west in just under an hour, and then started heading south. Then Ed’s phone rang, and he listened to Pyres for a few moments. Ed listened to the slow hiss through the phone and watched clumps of orange trees hurtle past the car. He made a sound when he thought that Pyres wanted to hear one.

 

Ed said yes. Then he hung up.

 

Eliza watched her hands shake. ‘We’re going to pull over soon, aren’t we?’

 

Ed felt the tired weight of the gun holstered at his ribs, and scanned the woods on either side of the highway. It was bound to get more remote past Hartford. ‘Not for a while.’

 

As Eliza started to sob quietly, the trees hurtling by were at peak color, like in postcards.

 

 

 

 

 

Blues in the Night

By: Jennifer Jenkinson

Romance

 

 

It was a bright sunny afternoon with a fresh breeze blowing from the northeast. The small sloop was making a series of very short tacking maneuvers as it made its way gingerly up the narrow channel.

 

The forest marched down the steep rocky hillsides to abruptly meet the sea below on both shores. The tiny but sturdy craft was tossed precariously by the rip tides created in the close waterway. The sole occupant reset her grip on the tiller and brought the sloop around in yet another tack headed toward a little niche in the eastern shoreline. She was kneeling in the boat’s compact cockpit watching carefully ahead for any telltale clues on the water that dangerous rocks lay just out of sight below the surface. She held her course on a starboard tack until she was just past a rocky spur which broke the forest cover and actually spilled over into the sea.

 

When she was about eighty yards from the shoreline she abruptly swung the boat head to the wind bringing it to an almost dead stop in the water. After loosing the sheets on both her jib and mainsails, she quickly scrambled to the bow and let her anchor line out till she felt the anchor touch bottom. She then expertly continued to pay out enough of the line to properly set the anchor, allowing for both safe swinging room as the wind might shift and the expected change of depth as the tides came and went.

 

She had been so occupied with the business of sailing her small sloop, that she had not noticed that she had an audience. A tall slim young man in blue jeans, T-shirt and black leather bomber style jacket was sitting on the rocky spur smiling with open admiration at the sailing skill of the woman skipper on the neat little sloop. As she stood from securing the anchor and started to lower and tie down her sails, he arose and quickly walked back up into the trees behind him. So she never knew that her arrival had been noted.

 

 

 

When the sloop was secured to her satisfaction, Katherine went below and put a tiny kettle on the single burner in the diminutive galley. As she waited for the water to boil, she pulled a thick dog-eared ring binder out of a shelf to the left of the companionway and opened it to the last entry. This book served a dual purpose as a ship’s log and personal journal. She noted her time of arrival and location of the tiny sheltered anchorage, the weather which was close to perfection for a sailor and a personal note that this seemed a great spot in which to write and create.

 

Katherine was just past her thirty second birthday, short of stature with what she self deprecatingly called a well-rounded figure. She had short cropped almost boyish auburn hair and blue grey eyes. When not working at her research position at a Vancouver newspaper, she was usually to be found out on her tiny sailboat or bent over a computer keyboard creating either the poetry or short stories that her abundant imagination thrived on. Now she had the best of both pursuits as she’d recently purchased a new laptop that allowed her to enjoy both leisure’s at once.

 

When the kettle had boiled, Katherine made a large mug of steaming hot tea and taking the laptop with her, went back on deck. She made herself a comfortable workspace on the foredeck with her back leaning against a sail bag which in turn was propped against the mast. Before starting, she relaxed with the tea and surveyed her temporary neighbourhood.

 

The beaches were quite narrow strands, mere ribbons of sand between the water and the forest. There were a couple of other rock spurs which jutted into the channel but the one she was to the lee of seemed to be the largest and the only one which gave sufficient shelter to provide the one-craft size anchorage in which she lay. At first glance, the hillsides looked totally devoid of settlement. But when she looked more closely, she spotted at least four widely separated structures perched on the slopes and almost hidden by the forest cover.

 

 

 

One such structure, obviously a private home, albeit a large one, was nearly directly above her. She smiled inwardly thinking how often she had purchased a lottery ticket in hopes of realizing a dream home on the sea just like this one. Tea finished, Katherine turned to her laptop and let her imagination take flight.

 

 

 

Matt followed a well trodden path up the hill towards the big house perched above him. He shoved his hands in the pockets of the jacket as he moved in a long lazy stride. His short black hair matched the jacket and provided a contrast to his fair complexion. The eyes were perhaps his most outstanding feature, they were expressive of his every emotion and a very striking shade of green. As he made his way up the hill, he found himself wondering about the woman sailor who had chosen to anchor right in front of his house.

 

What made a woman want to sail alone and why was she here? Certainly, he thought, this wasn’t the middle on nowhere, in fact, they weren’t too far from Vancouver by either road or sea. But what brought this young woman to this spot all alone. He shrugged off the thoughts as he climbed the stairs to the deck and let himself into the house. He’d probably never know.

 

He went to the kitchen first to fill a kettle and make tea. While the water was heating, he checked his voice mail and found, surprisingly, only two messages. One was from his road manager who just wanted to get together sometime soon to go over details for next month’s tour dates and one from a fellow musician who congratulated him on the recent Blues Award. Neither message was urgent enough to be returned right away and besides, he thought, these few days alone are my time.

 

When the tea was made, he carried his mug downstairs to the studio with its big windows overlooking the water below. He sat down on a low overstuffed couch, picked up a six-string guitar and started to play.

 

 

 

At first he merely toyed with the instrument, running a slide up and down and picking out series of notes almost like scales. For Matt this was very much akin to the warm up stretches done by an athlete before a game. He found it both relaxing and therapeutic. The guitar almost seemed to cry beneath his skilled hands and slowly the toying became more serious and took real form. The words may come later but he was developing a melody that seemed to haunt him with its need to be played.

 

After running through the basic melody several times, he paused long enough to drink the tea which was getting quite cool then he crossed to the consul where he turned a recorder on to capture the developing work. When he stood, he glanced out the window and was able to see just the top of the mast of the anchored sloop. His earlier thoughts about the woman aboard flooded back.

 

“What brought you to my doorstep, hmm?” he mused aloud. He ran the fingers of one hand through his short hair causing one lock to fall across his forehead. He brushed at it ineffectually and went back to the guitar. The boat anchored below and its lone occupant were still in his thoughts and he found the only images that he could conjure were of water and sails. The music took on the fluid but powerful tones of the ocean as the melody really started to materialize.

 

Two hours later, he finally laid the guitar aside and padded barefoot back upstairs to start some dinner. He placed a couple of small boneless chicken breasts in a spice and white wine mix to marinate. Then he took some brown rice from a canister to cook it. He would then stir fry some vegetables; snow peas, onions, peppers and broccoli to add to the rice for a great side dish to the chicken.

 

While the rice was cooking, he went across to the large upstairs windows and his eyes were drawn again to the small boat below. He could see the whole boat from this vantage but no one was on deck. Katherine had also put away her laptop by now and was out of his sight below decks starting some dinner of her own. Hers consisted of a can of clam chowder and a sandwich made of thick home baked bread that she had made prior to departing on her cruise adventure. Matt found himself wondering again who she was and why she had chosen this locale for her anchorage.

 

 

 

Katherine was just finishing the few dishes from her solitary supper and was looking forward to a mug of the coffee she could now smell brewing. She intended to work into the evening and so had put a full pot into the coffee percolator. The smell of the coffee was enticing to one other soul that early summer evening.

 

Matt had gone for his usual after dinner stroll along the beach and his eyes were drawn to the little sloop in the sheltered alcove. The craft was laying almost broadside to the beach and he could see her sides were painted midnight black with a blue white moon and icy blue stars grouped near the bow against the black field. He was now very curious to know the name of the little boat and to know more about her owner.

 

As he strolled along the sand, his nostrils caught the scent of a rich and delicious smelling coffee wafting across the water. Perhaps he should go back to the house and make his own coffee, he thought, as the scent tingled his taste buds. Instead his pace became more purposeful and he made his way quickly down the sand to the very edge of the rocky spur. In the lee of the spur there was a very short wooden float which extended only about ten feet into the water and was held there quite firmly by two large chains which were fastened to two very thick and sturdy posts which had been planted securely into the earth. Tied to the float was a small wooden row boat which Matt would sometimes use to do a little fishing, a pastime that he found very relaxing.

 

Matt quickly climbed into the row boat and bent his back to the task of rowing out towards the anchored sloop. He glanced over his shoulders frequently as he pulled on the oars to ensure his course was true. The summer sun would not go down for another two hours nearly so he was not concerned about being on the water in the dark. He kept telling himself he’d just row around the sloop, give her a look then maybe head down the shore to the next rock spur and back. After all, he reasoned, he could use the workout. The deck of the small sloop was empty, as Katherine was still finishing up her dishes.

 

 

 

As Matt gave one last pull on his oars, he came alongside the sloop at her stern and got his first look at her name. Painted on the same black field in the icy blue paint with stars to decorate it were the words ‘BLUES IN THE NIGHT’ and Vancouver, Canada in smaller script beneath it. Matt chuckled out loud with pleasure. What a great name for a neat little cruiser like this, he thought.

 

Katherine jumped at the sudden human sound of Matt’s chuckle coming from so close to her. She recovered herself and cautiously took two steps up the companionway, just enough to see around her. However, Matt’s rowboat was low enough in the water that it was out of sight from this angle. Katherine moved right out on deck just as Matt shipped his oars and called out.

 

“Ahoy aboard Blues!” he called tentatively, then smiled when Katherine spun around towards the sound of his voice and he got a chance to see the lady sailor up close for the first time. Katherine, for her part, was a little off balance by his sudden appearance in the midst of her solitude but recovered her cool quickly.

 

“Hi, you startled me. I was below and didn’t hear you rowing up.” She was assessing the young man before her. He was very handsome and the little growth of goatee and mustache gave him an almost ‘bad boy’ look that she found somehow quite appealing. “Can I help you?” She asked, wondering just what he was doing here, had he come from the house on the hillside and was he who she thought he was? Even in the casual jeans and turtle necked shirt that he wore she was almost certain of his identity.

 

“Hi, I’m Matt. I live just there,” he said, pointing up the house above them. “I don’t have many visiting boats here. There’s really only room for one very small boat, likes yours, so….

 

 

 

Anyway, I smelled your coffee and was looking at your paint job. That’s an awesome name!”

 

He wasn’t quite sure what to say next and so fell silent.

 

“Thanks,” Katherine said, smiling inwardly to herself. Yes indeed, she thought, this was Matt Michaels, the blues guitarist. She had known that he lived somewhere just outside of Vancouver but never dreamed of meeting him in quite this fashion. She continued, “I like the blues and it seemed to work somehow, you know?”

 

Matt was boldly examining her as she spoke, and he liked what he saw. Even clad in an oversize sweatshirt and canvas cargo pants, she was still quite feminine and her blue grey eyes had a wonderfully deep and dreamy look about them like the stars on her boat. Katherine felt his scrutiny and became a little self conscious.

 

“So did you come to borrow some coffee?” she asked. He chuckled again, a rich sound that she thought suddenly made him seem older than she had at first guessed. She was trying to remember a recent article that the paper had run about him but all she could recall for sure was he had recently won some sort of award.

 

“Not really, but now that you mention it…I would sure love a cup.” he smiled winningly, “We could just say this is a visit from the neighbourhood welcome wagon, what do you think? Hi!, I’m Matt, welcome to the neighbourhood.” He winked at her and continued, “May I come aboard Skipper, ’cause that coffee smells too good to miss.”

 

She smiled broadly at his boldness. His green eyes flashed with enjoyment of the little game he was concocting and she found herself trusting him despite all the usual warnings she knew so well about strangers. Besides, she reasoned, he wasn’t really a stranger because she knew who he was, even if they’d never met.

 

 

 

“Well Matt, I’m Katherine.” She told him. “And, conveniently enough, I just made a full pot so why don’t we tie your dingy here and you can share a cup with me while you tell me all about the neighbourhood.” She had leaned over the transom and taken the little rowboat’s painter in hand. She tied it off securely to a cleat on the starboard corner of the transom. She then lowered the little two step ladder that would allow Matt to easily climb to the deck of the sloop.

 

Once Matt was aboard and on a level with her, Katherine realized he was quite a bit taller than she had first thought. He was very slim but beneath the fine features she could certainly detect a strength and solidity.

 

Matt extended his hand and they exchanged an almost formal handshake. Katherine was again conscious of his strength through the firm grip he took of her hand. He held the grip a little longer than necessary and caught her eyes in his sparkling green ones.

 

“So it’s official, Katherine,” he solemnly pronounced, “Welcome to the neighbourhood.” He broke into a boyish grin and added, “Now how about that cup of coffee?”

 

Katherine went below to pour the coffee. Matt made no move to follow her but instead was examining the rigging and fittings of the sloop. He was very impressed with the tidy little boat. She was very well maintained and every last line was coiled neatly evidencing the respect and care that her owner obviously felt for the craft.

 

“What do you take in yours?” she called from below.

 

“Just cream,” he replied. “Is that cinnamon I smell, too?”

 

“Yes it is. I like to put a little in my after dinner coffee. It really adds a nice flavour” Katherine came back on deck, handing Matt a large steaming mug. “Oh, I hope you like cinnamon.”

 

 

 

“Love it.” he grinned, “In fact, I kind of have a taste for spices of all sorts. Nutmeg and allspice are good in coffee too.” Matt followed Katherine’s lead and moved out onto the tiny foredeck of the sloop. There was a thick wool blanket spread out there which made it a comfortable spot to lounge while they talked. She put her mug in a safe but easy to reach spot by the mast and he did likewise. When she settled down, she was cross-legged Indian style. Matt sat beside her but stretched his legs out in front of him keeping his sneakers off the blanket.

 

“So Mr. Welcome Wagon, tell me about the neighbourhood.” she asked.

 

“What’s there to tell? I live up there. There’s a couple of other houses along the way there but I’ve never met the neighbours.” He shrugged. “I’m not really home very much and when I am I’m usually working. But the scenery here is beautiful and it’s just good, you know?”

 

“I know what you mean, Matt.” she said, staring into the mug that she cradled in both hands. “I love it out here too. Whenever I get the chance to get away for a few days, I get out on the boat and just look for a quiet spot.”

 

“So that’s what brought you here today.” he said softly. “I saw you arrive this afternoon. You’re a pretty good sailor, Kathie. You handle this little boat like a pro.” his praise sounded quite genuine and she looked up from the coffee and gave him a grateful smile.

 

“Thanks, she is a very forgiving little boat to sail.” Katherine told him. “I’ve been single-handing her for almost four years now, so we’ve kind of become used to one another.”

 

“That’s an interesting way to put it.” he mused, “Kind of like the way I feel about my guitar. Sometimes I feel that it’s simply a part of me, the music’s great when its like that.”

 

 

 

“Music is the most fluid and alive of all the arts.” she said with conviction. “I’ve always surrounded myself with all kinds. But I think I’m most partial to the blues because they seem to come from closest to the soul. I listen to a lot of Stevie Ray, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker and ……oh too many to mention.”

 

“Maybe even me, now and then?” he asked, with a twinkle in those green eyes. She felt a little heat rise in her cheeks with his words. She thought that she must sound rather contrived bringing up the blues like she had with Matt being an award winning artist.

 

Matt reached across and patted one of her knees. “It’s all right, Kathie. I know I’m not the only blues musician out there. There’s a whole lot of really great ones. And I wasn’t really expecting you to heap praises on me or anything. I really think it’s great to meet anyone who loves the music the way you obviously do.” He gave her knee one last squeeze before withdrawing his hand.

 

“I really must get to know your music better.” she told him, though her mind was still focused on the hand which had come close to caressing her knee, instead of a casual pat of reassurance.

 

Matt took the last swallow of his coffee and placed the mug back against the mast. “Well in that case, I’ll see that you get tickets to my next show. That coffee was superb.” He stretched his arms above his head, clasping his hands together as he did so, then took a deep breath and started to rise. “I should be heading back to the house. I’m trying to be more disciplined about working. Thank you for the coffee and the talk. It’s been a pleasure.”

 

They both rose and Katherine picked up both mugs as they made their way back to the stern of the vessel. Once there, Matt took the mugs out of her hands and deposited them safely on one of the cockpit seats. He turned and took both her hands in his and she felt the electricity of his touch as his fingers played subtly on her palms.

 

 

 

“It was great meeting you, Katherine.” he said, softly. His green eyes caught her blue grey ones and she felt the intensity and passion that simmered just below his surface. “Would you consider dining out tomorrow evening? I don’t mean “out” exactly. But, I’d be very pleased if you’d join me for dinner up at the house.”

 

Katherine’s heart almost skipped a beat. The combination of his hands on hers and the deep endless wells of his intense eyes were having an intoxicating effect on her. She managed to regain her composure and answered him with a smile.

 

“Yes, I’d like that very much.”

 

 

 

Katherine watched him as he made the short trip back to the little landing. After he’d tied the little dingy back in it’s place, he looked back across the water and gave her a quick wave before disappearing into the trees.

 

She went below and tried, unsuccessfully, to put the final verses on a poem about the wind and sea that she had started earlier in the day. Somehow, Matt had managed in a few short minutes to totally sidetrack her.

 

Katherine gave up the effort and decided to call it a night. She went up on deck to retrieve the blanket from the foredeck and recheck the anchor line. She glanced up at the sky studded with the millions of tiny points of light not seen from the city and marveled, as always, at the vastness.

 

When she was back below decks she pulled her journal from it’s shelf and sat down to sum up her day. But where to begin, she thought.

 

This is a great little anchorage. Just big enough for Blues and no one else! But now there is someone else!! Who would have guessed I’d anchor right in front of Matt Michaels house!!? My God but he’s gorgeous. I can’t believe he was even here….seems like a dream. Get a grip, girl. He’s just a guy…dinner…what is that? Probably has his own cook up there in that big house. Well, maybe I’m not being fair. I hardly know him. Oooohhh but when he touched me!!!

 

 

 

Above her, in the house on the hill, Matt played on into the late evening. Running endless tunes through his head, trying to play away his tension. He kept reviewing his encounter with Katherine trying to figure out just where and when it changed from idle curiosity to … what was it now? Infatuation? She was quite different from the kind of women he was used to meeting. Good lord though, he mused, she really was pretty, in a very appealing tom-boy kind of way. What would tomorrow bring?

 

He put down the acoustic guitar he had been playing. Instead he picked up the Fender Stratocaster, turned on the amp and let loose with a heart rending, gut twisting slow blues solo that left him finally drained both physically and emotionally.

 

Matt crossed his bedroom to the window which looked out over the water. There was no moon so the night was profoundly dark here away from the city lights. But he could see the little anchor light glowing brightly from the top of the mast of “Blues in the Night”. The sight seemed to reassure him and he sprawled across the big bed and slept.

 

 

 

Katherine didn’t bring much in the way of clothing with her when she sailed except the practical and serviceable shirts, sweat shirts and canvas pants that wore well for the kind of physical activity that sailing required. But she had come straight from the office to the marina on this trip so she had the dressy blouse that she had worn with her business suit that day. It was a very summery mint green and would look just fine with her blue jeans for a casual dinner date.

 

She made a quick and effortless trip to shore in her Zodiac inflatable with its small outboard motor. Matt was waiting there on the landing; this time helping her tie up the little craft. He then extended a hand and helped her out onto the float.

 

 

 

“I’m so glad you decided to join me.” he said. “I don’t get a chance to cook for a beautiful lady every day.”

 

Katherine recalled her musings of the previous evening about a cook and felt the heat rise a little in her cheeks. She smiled up at him, “I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for asking me”

 

They moved off the little landing and she followed his lead up the pathway through the trees to the house. The path climbed quite steeply in places and several times he took her hand in his to guide her in the tricky footing. Each time he held her hand, images flooded her mind of those hands holding her much more intimately and she wondered if somehow he sensed her imaginings.

 

They climbed a short wide wooden staircase at the side of the house which brought them up to a spacious deck. Matt opened the double french doors and ushered her in to the house. To her left was a dining area with a small round wooden table and four comfortably cushioned captains style chairs. He had draped the table with a fine white linen cloth and added a single tall blue taper candle to the center. He really was trying to impress, she thought.

 

To the left was a large living area, with floor to ceiling windows at the far end of the room looking out over the water. Katherine was drawn to them immediately.

 

“The view is spectacular from here.” she told him. He had crossed to the kitchen and now came back across the room with two wine glasses in hand.

 

“That’s one of the reasons I bought the house.” he replied, “Some wine?”

 

“Yes please.” she said, taking the glass he offered. She took a small taste of the delicate white wine and savoured the richness. “Mmm, this is very good.”

 

 

 

“Glad you like it. Hope you like seafood too.” He grinned, “You’re a sailor right? You do like the fruit of the ocean?”

 

“I do like seafood, very much, Matt.” she grinned back at him. “Besides, it’s not often that a handsome man like yourself cooks me a meal. I think I should be thankful”

 

“Oh I’m sure there are plenty of handsome men around who’d be happy to cook you dinner, Katherine.” he retorted, baiting her. “They’re probably lined up round the block!”

 

“Not my block!” she replied, with a rueful chuckle. She turned back to the window to drink in more of the view. He moved close behind her so she could actually feel his warm breath on the nape of her neck. She felt a sudden but very pleasant tingling sensation creep down her spine. He put one hand across her shoulder, pointing across the water to the south and west. Her eyes followed the direction he indicated but the rest of her senses were on the contact now between them.

 

“When you came up the channel did you see the rocks way down there on the other shore? There’s always a big group of seals there.” he asked her.

 

“Yes, I remember them well. They sure were noisy.” Katherine laughed a little nervously. Matt had dropped the hand that was pointing but made no move to break the contact between them.

 

“The fishing’s really great just around there. Those seals know what they’re talking about!” he laughed. “Come on. Let’s eat.” With one arm around her shoulders, he lead her back across the room and then pulled out her chair to help her get seated. The sun had all but gone so the candle light made beautiful patterns on the wall of the room as they began to dine.

 

 

 

He had made a light salad of romaine lettuce, almond slivers and raisins in a wine vinegar dressing to start. Katherine was quite surprised and found herself reassessing her opinion of him quite drastically. For the main course, he brought out shrimp and crabmeat which were served on a bed of fettucine with a rather delicate Alfredo sauce. The meal was totally tantalizing and the wine complemented it perfectly. As they ate, he put her at ease with his uncontrived interest in who she was and what she was about. She explained her job at the paper then added that she’d much rather write than research for others.

 

“Do you write then?” he asked, as he poured her a little more wine.

 

She chuckled almost to herself. “Yes I write. But most of it will probably never leave my computer’s hard drive. I’m kind of a perfectionist, so it’s never good enough to show to a friend let alone a publisher.”

 

“You have to step out there and take that risk.” he urged. “It’s like my music. You just reach a point where even if it isn’t perfect you commit to it, record it and move on.”

 

“That’s a great philosophy, Matt” she said softly. “Maybe I’ll do that …” Her eyes were sparkling in the candle’s glow and Matt was reminded of the stars on the boat.

 

“You have stars in your eyes, Kathie” he told her.

 

“I have a ‘star’ across the table.” she quipped back, and giggled. His laughter mingled with hers and he reached across the table and gently took the wine glass from her hand.

 

He then took her hand in both his, caressing it softly from the inside of her wrist to her finger tips. She trembled a little as the sensations of his touch traveled with electric speed to her core.

 

 

 

“You’re hands are so soft and small.” he marveled, thinking of his first impression of her as she sailed the little sloop so expertly all alone. “Would you let me read some of your writing some day?” he asked. “I’m not as intimidating as a publisher might be.”

 

“I could I suppose.” Katherine said quietly. “I will think about it Matt. It’s a kind offer.” He released his hold on her hand and smoothly started to clear their empty plates from the table.

 

“I’m not a harsh critic at all” he reassured her, “I’m awestruck by anyone who can express themselves in writing.”

 

Katherine took a deep breath and another short sip of her wine. Is it the wine that’s going to my head, she thought. All she wanted was for Matt to touch her, take her hand again. Instead, he merely put his head around the corner of the kitchen doorway.

 

“Hope you like strawberries,” he announced.

 

“Dessert too!” her surprise evident in her voice. “Thank you, I love strawberries. They are one of my favourites!”

 

He returned with the strawberries, sliced and served with ice cream and whipped cream. As he placed the bowl before her with a flourish, she became quite conscious of his closeness and fought an urge to reach out for him. Matt sat down again, stretching his long legs out beneath the table and folding his hands together across his stomach.

 

“You’re not having strawberries?” she queried, noticing that he’d brought only the one bowl.

 

“I thought perhaps you might share one or two of yours.” he told her, his green eyes twinkling in the candlelight. She lowered her eyes quickly from his, feeling a certain heat rise in her cheeks.

 

 

 

“Sure.” she whispered. She spooned out a mouthful of the fruit and cream extending her arm towards him. Matt took the proffered spoonful, leaning forward toward her a little but not altering his comfortable stretching posture. Katherine had to slide her chair closer to his to reach his mouth safely.

 

“That’s good.” Matt murmured, and she wasn’t sure if he was referring to the strawberries or not. She took a spoonful of the fruit herself and savoured the taste.

 

“Yes they are good.” she agreed. When she again extended her arm to feed him another spoonful, he unclasped his hands and grasped her wrist very gently. He extended one finger to caress the inside of her wrist again as he took the fruit into his mouth.

 

“Very good indeed.” he stated quietly. He rose and crossed to the big windows with his back to her. She was taken aback by his sudden departure which left her with feelings that were all mixed up.

 

Katherine toyed with the rest of the fruit and ice cream in the bowl, watching Matt’ back as he gazed out the dark windows. After a couple of more mouthfuls, she laid the spoon aside and wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin. His voice, when it came startled her.

 

“Had enough?” he asked, without turning around. It took her a second to realize that the darkness outside allowed him to see her reflection without turning.

 

“Yes thanks, Matt. It was delicious” She crossed the room to where he stood but stopped one pace short of being right at his side. She extended one hand and touched his shoulder.

 

“Matt, what are you thinking?”

 

He turned towards her all smiles, but the green eyes had a much heavier emotion apparent in their half lidded sultry look. She found herself drawn into them like a moth to a flame.

 

 

 

“I was thinking how strange it was that you came and anchored right here.” he said, he grasped both her wrists in his and pulled her towards him. She came willingly and found herself cradled against his chest. “You’re so completely unlike anyone I’ve met before,” He had not released his gentle hold on her wrists until he had guided them comfortably to hold him around his waist. When he did let go, he again gently caressed her with his fingertips.

 

Katherine drew in a breath and wondered would it be her last. She thought she could die right here and now in his embrace, in arms that were now enfolding her and gently caressing her back and neck through her blouse.

 

“Matt …” she started tentatively, but the words just escaped her.

 

“What love?” he murmured, his lips against her forehead, his warm breath making her head swim.

 

“Matt I want …” she again choked on the words. Her arms and hands held him very tightly as though she were drowning and he was her saviour. Matt placed several tiny kisses on her forehead, then spoke again.

 

“You want what, my love?” There he said it again, she thought. She reeled internally, feeling the emotional power in his every gentle and subtle touch. She raised her face a little to his, her head thrown back and neck exposed. One of his hands came up to cradle the nape of her neck and the other grasped her waist to pull her more tightly against him.

 

“You want what …?” he asked again, then as he continued to gently kiss her forehead, ears and cheeks he whispered softly against her skin. “You want me to kiss you some more? Like this, or this, or perhaps this?” He chuckled, but it was a soft and very kind sound. His lips nuzzled against her ear, he spoke again. “May I tell you what I want?” he asked.

 

 

 

“Yes” came her tiny voice. Her whole body now tingled with the intimacy of every contact between them. She longed to tell him how much she wanted him right now but speech was near impossible.

 

Again his voice softly caressed her senses, “I want to make love to you. I want to know every part of you inside and out. I want to make you feel something so strong that you’ll never want for another. I want you to cry out my name and I want you to know that I will cherish you. Do you want me to do those things to you?” His lips were still brushing her cheek and ear as he spoke these words. Her senses reeling, she could barely stand. Tears stung her eyes and her cheeks burned with the heat of her desire.

 

“Matt, I …” she faltered again over the words, but then his eyes caught hers and she saw herself reflected there in his desire. “I want you,” she whispered simply, “Make love to me, Matt.”

 

His mouth bent to hers then, finally. And she parted her lips and welcomed him. Below them, outside the windows was the soft glow of her anchor light beacon and across the room the candle guttered and went out.