A Legal Trap - Chapter 5

Author retains all rights to this original work of fiction.

March 10th 5:12 AM
I had managed to catch ten minutes of sleep on the way to the Scottsdale
police station. I was instantly awake when the car engine was turned off.
Paul looked over his shoulder at me to see if I was ready to go, I nodded
and followed Jacob out of the car. No one was talking and when we got to
the building Paul moved ahead to get the door for us, I smiled a 'Thanks'
- Jacob was still silent. At the front desk, Jacob told the officer
behind the Plexiglas that we were here to meet with FBI Director Keith,
who was working with Captain Barrett. The officer made a call and within
a minute, a Sergeant was leading us back to a command room.

We entered a brightly lit room, with computers around one-half of the
large table in the center of the room. There was tactical radio chatter
coming from speakers embedded in the paneled ceiling, which made me jump
the first time it crackled to life. Paul and I held back as Jacob shook
hands with who we assumed was Captain Barrett, then the FBI Director.
They talked for a couple minutes, while Paul looked over the computer
systems in the room. I could tell the police officers easily enough in
the crowd of eleven people crowded around in groups of two or three - they
had uniforms on, but the people in suits were either FBI agents or
Scottsdale PD detectives.

Paul slipped away and began talking to a suit - I felt a tap on my
shoulder. "Elizabeth, this is FBI Director Landon Keith..." We shook
hands, and while he was a nice looking man, his eyes and the way he
carried himself told me he was a serious law enforcement professional that
didn't put up with a bunch of crap - he commanded the room, even though
this wasn't his turf to command.

"Nice to meet you Elizabeth. Jacob's told me about your work on this, we
should have brought you on board sooner."

"Thank You sir... really Paul is the brains... and was... he got us
access to the email account that got us on the right track..." I was
trying to control my emotions, the cadence of my voice, enunciations, and
any nervous twitching I'm sure I was exhibiting. I'm sure I sounded
stupid but tried to look confident I knew the score.

"Excellent... I see he's already talking with one of my guys," Landon was
saying.

I looked to my right and could see Paul in conversation about something
with one of the FBI agents. I smiled at the Director with nothing to add.

"So, I was telling Jacob that since this is a multiagency investigation
and there is a lot of coordination we had to get lined up. I think we
have done a damn good job at that in such a short amount of time. Our
office in Santa Fe has triangulated, pin pointed the location, of the cell
phone number you provided. We have had someone on the house since after
hearing from Jacob earlier this morning with that number. The Santa Fe PD
team will be executing the extraction, shortly. We facilitated a search
warrant request with judge..."

"Com-check B-one-one... Ops channel 3. Copy..." a voice above us
interrupted the Director. "Eleven is 5 by... Holding outer orbit
Charles... Tact 1 - we are clear - viz twenty-five..."

"That's the air support. Sounds like they are probably getting close,
excuse me..." and the Director walked toward Paul, introducing himself and
shaking hands.

"I'm a little nervous..." Jacob said softly.

The energy in the room was thick and bristled with every radio
transmission. I could only imagine what it was like wherever Amber was
right now having all these people gather to go in after her. "Everything
will work out Mr. Wentz, this will be over soon..."

"I certainly hope so..."

March 10th 6:16 AM
"Command - Green... Go..."

The group of us in the conference room were now along for the ride,
blindly trying to make sense of the chatter coming from the speakers
overhead. With all the technology - why weren't we watching video from
officer POV cameras or some kind of drone feed from above? I could feel
the goose bumps on my arms rise and felt chilled in the crowded room.
Please be all right... Let no bad happen...

"POLICE! SEARCH WARRANT!"

"Breach! Breach!"

"Clear! Right! Go!"

Silence... Then. "Left... Clear! POLICE! SEARCH WARRANT!" There was
a long stretch of silence. "Got a basement..." The different voices made
me wonder how many people were on scene. A calm voice began speaking.
"Second floor, heat-signature moving... Back room south, small room,
bathroom... Still just the one..." Silence for five seconds - "POLICE!
SEARCH WARRANT!"

"Anders, down with Minks - Go!... Bowls, Jenner, up stairs, on me..."
Silence...

I wondered what was going on, where in the house they were. Did Amber
know we were coming for her? Would she be relieved? Would she put up a
fight? If they had the ability to pick up heat-signatures, why weren't
they just rushing toward it? Were there any others in the house? There
should be two people there...

I sensed Paul leaning into me. "Intense... They've got someone outside
the house, sniper probably, with the ability to see heat-signatures
through the walls. That's some futuristic shit... Not foolproof, but
some kind of magic..." His voice was low and I could feel the heat of his
breath on my neck. I wished he was holding me... I resisted the urge to
take his hand.

He moved a half step away. Oh well, at least he explained why they were
not rushing toward whatever they could see upstairs as a heat-signature.
They knew what they were doing and to err on the side of caution was
probably their mandate. I just wanted this to be over and I looked at
Jacob, he looked worried. The professionals in the room all looked like
they were listening to a commercial between football plays - calm, but on
edge as if ready to react.

"Down is clear! Securing one... Back..." No reply. What had just been
said made no sense to me and I had no idea which group of officers was
which now.

A hushed voice, lower than the previous ones. "Three doors... Sig left
South..." A pause followed by, "Confirmed, left South... Advised - sig
is prone now... No movement in 30..." The reply, "Left South, prone..."
There were two clicking sounds... "POLICE!"

"Clear... One unconscious... Bowls hold with the woman. Jenner on me."
The speakers were silent for nearly a full minute. "Clear up... Command,
we are clear... Repeat - clear... We have secured one... House is
clear, one mark. Minks - EMS up here now - left South... Fire hold..."

As if on cue the entire room finally took a breath. Paul and I hugged, I
could see a relieved look wash over Jacob's face over Paul's shoulder.
There were many smiles, but some serious faces were still working at
computers. The FBI Director was on his phone, the Scottsdale PD Captain
was going over something with another officer - wasn't this over? There
was plenty of chatter from the speakers above us now, but much more calm -
almost matter of fact. I tried to follow, but I checked out pretty much
after hearing they had 'the woman' - Amber was safe. It's over... I
could feel the tears well in my eyes.

March 10th 6:33 AM
It seemed like it took forever to get a status on Amber, but the FBI
Director relayed that the extraction team had found Amber unconscious in
the upstairs bathroom - we had heard that report live just minutes ago.
The initial report from the EMS on scene had been she was heavily drugged
- possibly sedated, her chest area was heavily bandaged, and she was being
transported to a hospital - nothing further. Jacob was on speaker phone
with Stephanie, letting her listen in to the FBI Director. Stephanie
interrupted to get the hospital name so they could be there when she was
arrived.

The FBI Director explained the guy we were looking for - was not found -
which I'm sure angered the Carsons and Jacob. It angered me... How
could this person do this to a child and leave her alone? The Director
said the Santa Fe PD would be processing the house and when they had more
information, he would be in touch with Jacob. Jacob spoke a few words to
the Carsons and said he would call them back. Then as quickly as the
call ended the Director shook our hands, Thanked everyone in the room for
a job well done, and walked out with Jacob.

I stood there relieved, but totally spent. This was hour what, twenty-
seven for me with barely any food or sleep. Augh... Not having captured
our 'Daddy' was disheartening. Where had he gone and why would he leave
Amber there alone? Did he know we were on to him? I looked around for
Paul, finding him with one of the FBI agents looking at something on his
computer. I took a step toward him as my phone began to ring... I pulled
it from my purse - it was a number I didn't recognize, but had a Seattle
area code '206'. "Hello?"

"Elizabeth, I'm going to get a ride with Landon. I will catch up with you
and Paul later."

"Yes... Sure Mr. Wentz. I'll let Paul know." I was confused as to why
he was calling me.

"Thank You for everything today Elizabeth, my family and I very much
appreciates everything you've contributed. Please call Janet, let her
know we found Amber - but nothing else."

"Oh, sure... Yes, I will... I can call her, sir..." And the line went
dead. Now I was twice as confused. Why hadn't he called Paul to say he
was catching a ride with the FBI Director? And, why did he want me to let
Janet know about Amber? How did he get my phone number? Janet? Paul?

I did not want to make the call to Janet... I looked toward Paul who was
still deep in conversation with two FBI agents now. Great! I don't want
to make this call... I looked at my phone and pulled up my recent calls.
I clicked on Janet's number from last night... I was sure I would be
waking her, but she answered on the first ring and sounded wide-awake.
"Elizabeth, is there news?"

"Yes... Ah, Ms. Larson we have Amber. The police were able to get
her..."

"That's amazing news! Oh, I bet the Carsons are so relieved. Thank
God..." she said cutting me off.

"Yes, I'm sure... they are relieved..." Janet sounded truly excited, why
was I so nervous right now?

"Is there something else Elizabeth?"

"No, I mean... well they've taken her to the hospital to be checked out.
I'm sure everything will be fine..."

"Oh... Yes, I can see where that might be a standard practice. What
hospital? I would like to send flowers."

"Ah, I'm not really sure. The police really didn't let me in on
everything going on and Jacob has already left. I can try to get that
information and call you back..." It was a lie. I knew the hospital in
Santa Fe Amber was being taken to, would Janet know I was lying?

"OK, do that Please. I would like to send flowers. How is Jacob?"

"Mr. Wentz is relieved, as are the Carsons. I think once Amber is
checked out they will be ready to move on." I felt like I was repeating
myself to at least provide Janet content on what was going on - as I was
required by her - but not Jacob. This was so screwed up...

"Well this is great news, really great... Do what you can to get the
hospital information for me."

"Yes Ms. Larson, I'll be sure to do that."

"Thanks for calling Elizabeth, talk to you shortly..."

March 10th 7:46 AM
Paul hadn't figured out I'd had enough standing around and wanted to go
back to the hotel, so I interrupted his little FBI computer boy love fest
and asked for the keys to the car. Twenty minutes later, he was tapping
on the driver's side window to wake me up and let him in.

"Sorry, was going over some stuff. Learned a few things too..." He
seemed very aroused with his FBI run in.

"That's good..." I replied sleepily. I rubbed my eyes and was surprised
how warm the car had gotten already.

"Warm in here, eh?"

Was he back to that mind reading shit again? "Yeah..." When he started
the car, I turned the AC up to high, which was going to make it hard to
talk - unless we yelled at each other.

"Oe humge?"

I looked at him as if he was speaking a foreign language - it was hard to
hear anything.

He turned the AC down. "You hungry?"

"Yeah, but I just want to go to sleep... Can we just go back to the
hotel?"

"Sure... Be there in ten minutes." He was smiling.

I wasn't in the mood for cheer, though we had plenty to cheer about. When
we got to the hotel we went our separate ways, politely as I was a little
more awake now, but I still just wanted to see big 'Z's' over my head.
When I got to my room I wasted no time cranking up the AC, stripping down
to just panties - tossing clothes and my bra wherever they may land. My
head hit the pillow and...

March 10th 4:18 PM
I was awakened at 11:00 AM by house cleaning - but they were smart enough
to see it wasn't a good time and left without having any conversation
about it with me. I was back to sleep within thirty seconds probably and
I looked through blurry eyes at the clock - after 4 PM... Augh...

I sat up slowly and just stared at the floor. I couldn't remember
anything I had dreamt, but I did like the color I had painted my toenails
- there was glitter in the polish and I could see the shimmer even in the
dimly lit room. I flexed my little piggies a back and forth and then felt
chilled. Crap, it was cold in here! I made my way to the thermostat and
turned off the AC - Yikes! Sixty degrees!

I remembered seeing a thick fluffy resort monogrammed robe in the closet
and pulled it on, it took some of the sting out of being cold. I headed
for the kitchen, grabbing a water, and plopped down on the couch. Turned
the TV on to see if I could catch the news, maybe Amber was mentioned.
Flipping through too many channels, I gave up. No news, at least not
local, so I settled on Judge Judy and really began to space out. I could
sleep a couple more hours I thought... Judy was ripping the plaintiff
apart - what an idiot - you should just keep your mouth shut dude...

I noticed the telephone message light was flashing and leaned over to pick
up the receiver, pressing 1 for messages. "Message 1...", a short pause.
"Hey, call me. Got some updates..." It was Paul, at least I was pretty
sure it was him. "Message 2...", pause. "Elizabeth... Please call me as
soon as you get this - I called your cell and there was no answer. I
would like the name of the hospital Amber is staying in, Thank You..."
That was Janet and she did not sound happy. I would have to deal with
that sooner than later. Augh!

I dialed Paul's room... He answered on the third ring. "Hey, you finally
up?"

I stared at Judge Judy blankly wondering how he knew it was me though I
hadn't spoke. "Yeah... I could use something to eat."

"Want me to pick something up and bring it to you?"

He sounded way too chipper and NO! seeing me in my current state was NOT
going to work. Was he out somewhere? No, I called his room. Come one
brain wake up! "No... Thank You though... You said you had updates..."
I tried to move the focus of the call elsewhere.

"Oh, yeah..." He sounded as if he was a little disappointed. "Amber's
probably back home by now I would guess. They checked out at the
hospital, no problems with the surgery or expected recovery. She was
released to the Carsons and according to Jacob boarded a medical flight
at around one-o'clock. The FBI was able to find the doctor who had done
her implant surgery, no charges are expected to be leveled as Amber was of
legal age. He is board certified, runs a respected plastic surgery
clinic. He's also being very cooperative - so that's a plus for him -
probably doesn't want bad press. He had to have met with Amber prior to
surgery you would think - so something still doesn't feel quite right
about that whole chain of events. I'm hoping there's more to the story,
but I guess the bottom line is the procedure wasn't done in some backroom
by a hack using pig intestines filed with used motor oil... "

My sleepiness was wearing off and I felt a pang of excitement hearing
Amber was probably home. I was happy to hear that she wasn't mutilated
either. "Good point about a pre-consult likely happening - no one
mentioned that? Is she talking about what happened at all?" I was going
to mention the pig intestine thing wasn't funny, but I didn't have the
energy. I mean really, how is that even remotely funny?

"Not that Jacob mentioned. Guess our 'Daddy' paid for the procedure with
a cashier's check last week - I'm sure the police or FBI will be looking
into that at some point. Still... I agree that whole chain of events is
off a bit. Surgery was done first thing Wednesday, so there were a few
days she could have met the doctor. Something to ask Jacob next time I
talk to him."

There was a long pause, and when I didn't speak, he kept the update
rolling. "Interesting twist - the police were able to pull a number of
prints from the house they found her in - which was an Air BNB. Matches
on three sets of prints found - of four sets they recovered. One woman
identified via her concealed carry permit prints - she had rented the
place two weekends ago. There were prints from two Mexican nationals -
but they had rented the place for two nights mid-week last week. The
people cleared via alibi and the Air BNB rentals owner. And finally a
good number of prints from the bedroom and kitchen they think is our guy -
problem is he's a ghost. No record of him found anywhere... I think they
pulled some DNA and were going to run with that, but if he's not on any
grid with fingerprints, then I doubt he's in some database based on DNA.
Who knows..."

Huh? How can someone be off the grid? I thought about it a little more -
guess that is not that big of a stretch. Stay out of legal troubles, what
are they going to have on him? "Do they have a description, a picture,
anything? Are they talking to Amber? Can she identify him?"

"Nope, nothing. Guess there will be a sketch artist working with the Air
BNB rental owner and one will eventually make it to the staff at the
plastic surgeons office. I'm sure Amber will go through the same kind of
thing when she's up to it... I haven't heard if she's said much to the
police yet." He paused. "Only thing in the house were clothes for Amber,
some with tags on them still. The guy didn't leave anything in the house
- it's like he didn't stay there or something. I'm curious as to whether
the Patreon video was shot in that house or some other location."

"Did Amber have a phone with her, like a burner thing or whatever... Like
you see on spy shows?"

"I think Jacob mentioned a second phone, but I don't know if they
recovered anything. Our guy's phone was recovered obviously, but I don't
know what was recovered from it - like pictures or other phone numbers.
Lot of investigation to come... This guy was awfully stealthy for your
run of the mill pedophile. That Patreon video did not to get his face on
film, so he's one spooky dude when you add all this up..."

I knew what he was alluding too - Transgender abductions, missing persons,
murders, or just young girls in general sold into the sex trade - this was
really some scary shit and our guy was certainly spooky and more. "Are
you working on any of this?"

"No, pretty much Santa Fe PD, Phoenix PD, and the FBI are doing all
the heavy lifting now. I'm just waiting to hear what Jacob needs me to
do, if anything, then, back to the real world..."

It struck me that I really didn't know much about Paul besides his focus
on finding Amber. Obviously he had a life outside of finding a
transgendered kid. I didn't even know where he lived, did he have family,
a girlfriend? Kids? How did he know Jacob? He didn't wear a ring - but
these days that didn't mean shit... Is this his business - private
investigations via computer forensics? I did know about his brother, that
was something, and that he knew a great deal about me - too much about
me... "So, I'm probably done here also... Did Jacob mention anything
about me?"

"No, I don't know much else... Any chance you'd be up for dinner later?"

Yes... I'd like to have more of a connection, more... Did he know I
wanted that or was he trying to be polite? "Sure, that would be nice..."

"Great, wanna meet in the lobby... Say five-o'clock?"

What? No... I'd barely have makeup applied by five! Meet in the lobby -
that's casual, friends meeting stuff, right? "How about five-forty-five?
I literally just crawled out of bed."

"It's a date then... I'll see you in the lobby at five-forty-five."

A date? Was he just saying that as a colloquial interpretation for two
people meeting? This wasn't like a 'date' date thing, right? He wasn't
picking me up at my room, so casual - like friends hanging out. "I'll see
you then..."

The line went dead and I felt a flutter in my stomach, a nervous energy
building quickly. Augh! Why is this so confusing?! I know it's new, but
does it have to be so riddled with newyness. I rolled my eyes, not a real
word dummy... I needed to get moving!

March 10th 5:39 PM
I had changed my outfit twice. Going from business casual to comfortable
- dressy jeans and a top. The skirt I had put on first was flirty, but
none of my tops really seemed to match and totally blew the vibe. Did I
want a vibe? What is my vibe? Was I trying to be flirty? No, I just
need to relax, be me. STOP OVER THINKING EVERYTHING!!

In the end, I went with the dressy jeans, flirty top, and heels. I prayed
I wasn't under dressed and when I rounded the corner to the lobby Paul was
waiting - he was dressed in jeans also, with a nice polo shirt and
loafers. Thank God!

"You look great..." He awkwardly tried to hug me. I patted his back a
couple times and the hug ended as awkwardly as it began.

"Thanks, I was hoping we weren't going on a dress-up date."

He chuckled. "I probably should have said something about where I wanted
to take you. That probably would have set the tone."

Huh? Tone? What does that mean? I felt defensive and afraid I was going
to look that way also. I reached into my purse for some lip-gloss, which
would hopefully mask my feelings as I tried to apply it and replied.
"Where we going?"

He was obviously excited. "I read some Yelp reviews on this hole in the
wall Mexican place - it sounds amazing! I really like Mexican food, you
do..." He looked uncomfortable. "I... I hope you do..."

He already knew I did. How? Facebook or some blog post I'd made? Don't
freak out... It's not bad that he knows this, relax... "I think you
already know I like Mexican food, don't you?"

Paul was squirming a little. "I... I saw a post you were tagged in on
Facebook. So, yes, I know you like Mexican food. I..."

I put a finger to his lips. "It's OK... We're good, let's go enjoy some
amazing Mexican food. I could use a drink after the last twenty-whatever
hours." I was smiling and Paul looked relieved I had let him off the
hook. Choose your battles was all I could think. In the scope of things,
it was somewhat nice he had found that out and wanted to make dinner
special on our 'date'. All good...

March 10th 7:13 PM
Dinner was amazing. The hole in the wall really wasn't much more than
four walls, a kitchen, bathrooms - which I think were out back. It took
us longer than expect to get here, but it turned out to be worth it - I
was stuffed. From the fresh tortillas made by three old women near the
kitchen entrance, to salsa I could literally drink out of the little bowl
provided - it was that good, to the loud salsa music blaring on tiny
speakers placed in fake plastic trees - saying this place was amazing really
didn't do it justice.

We had to wait about ten minutes for a table, but it really didn't feel
like that much of a wait. There wasn't a bar, so we milled around the
entrance with eight to ten others trying to get a table. Once seated we
agreed to ordering a mammoth margarita, which took up a lot of space on
the rickety steel table with wobbly legs. All the tables looked like
dumpster dive saves and I noticed several others with the same wobble
issue and the same margarita space problem...

When our food arrived - which was enough to feed four people - I could
tell things were loosening up a little, but the conversation needed a
different direction... "OK mister, no more Amber talk until... Until
tomorrow, agreed?" I blurted that out because he was starting to tell me
again about the same computer surveillance crap he'd told me once in the
car on the way here and again while we were waiting for the table.

He smiled. "Yeah, I can do that. Drink on it?"

I nodded and leaned in as he did to slurp the soupy mix of margarita with
two Dose Eques beers sitting upside down in the massive glass bowl of the
drink. I was smiling when I sat back, grabbing a chip and some salsa.
Damn this stuff was good!

"So, what do you do for fun?"

I looked at Paul and decided to mess with him. "Don't you know already?"
He laughed, not uncomfortably, more heartfelt... Too much alcohol in you
Mr. Kline? I could feel a very nice buzz working a nice warmth all over
my body.

"I deserved that... To be honest, I don't know a lot about your present
day activities - you run right?"

"Yeah, I burn off a lot of aggressions running."

"Probably sucks in the rain," he said biting into a street taco.

"I don't mind, it really frees up my brain cells after a long day of legal
research..."

"That stuff boring? I mean do you like it?" He leaned in to suck some
more margarita.

"Eh, it's a job. The people at Jacob's firm are nice. The money is okay
for now..." The look on his face made me think about being interviewed by
Jacob - was this conversation between friends or was he doing research? I
needed to flip this back on him. "You know, I don't even know where you
are from and you know more than enough about me... Tell me about you."

He was still smiling, maybe contemplating my request. "Well, I'm Paul..."
He reached across the table and we shook hands, I giggled - I had better
watch my margarita intake. "How old do you think I am?"

That threw me, but I guessed. "Thirty... Thirty-five..."

"Not bad... I'm thirty-six," a pause. "Do you think I'm single, married,
or divorced?"

Oh... He was younger than I had originally thought - which was about the
forty mark - but you always guessed less, right? Single or married? I
gave him a mock raised eyebrow look, like I was studying him. "Single
now, never married, had a long term relationship though that just didn't
work out."

"Really? What happened to that long term relationship?" He looked
genuinely interested now.

"I don't know, maybe you didn't do the laundry?" I replied, trying to
lighten this back up.

"Actually, I was married. She's a flight attendant, lives here in
Phoenix. We made it about three good years, six in total being married,
but we dated two before getting married. She's remarried now - he's a
pilot. I'm over it, but still a little sore she took the dog."

"Oh, I'm sorry... I..."

"It's OK, I'm really over it. The dog thing bugs me now and then..."

"So you lived here in Phoenix?"

"No, what gave you that impression?"

Paul still had an interested look on his face, not sad or annoyed,
interested in whether or not I could read him - maybe? "I just thought...
Well, since she was here in Phoenix..." I was beginning to feel
uncomfortable and I knew my guard was down due to the alcohol.

"Nah, I live in West Seattle. Born and raised. That's why I asked you
about running in the rain." He was smiling. "You look surprised by
that."

I was, all this time I just assumed he was from, I don't know - New York -
then Phoenix because of this ex-wife? My heart soared a little... I felt
a little more relaxed and the conversation really began to pick up. We
knew all the local stuff, so it made talking about ourselves easier I
think, well until politics crept into being the subject. We agreed to
disagree and moved on to other topics that were easier to discuss. I
learned more about Paul in the next hour than I ever thought I would -
like he played hockey, Sounders season ticket holder, his parents lived in
West Seattle, he liked all sorts of music, and still liked walking through
the Pike Place Market. He was so normal and made me laugh so much at one
point I was crying from laughing so hard.

"What do you think? Want to share another margarita?"

My eyes gave him a conspirator's look. "Yeah, but I doubt I would be able
to walk out of here..."

He got serious. "Agreed... I'm feeling it a little too and I gotta drive
us back. How about we check out the groovy hotel bar scene?"

I nodded and he made a gesture toward our server. We had been talking so
much I hadn't noticed the place was half-empty. What time was it?

March 10th 9:26 PM
I had tried to pay my share of the dinner bill, but Paul wasn't having any
of it - so as we entered the hotel bar I told him the drinks were on me.
I had picked up my shiny new American Express Corporate card and was hell-
bent on breaking it in I told him. He laughed, told me to surprise him
with a 'fancy' rum drink, and excused himself, heading toward the
restroom. I ordered two top-shelf rum and Cokes, then sat at the same
booth we'd sat in the night before.

"Our booth... So nice of them to keep it reserved for us." He pick his
drink up, raised it in a salute, and then took a sip. I could tell he was
thinking about it. "Tastes like a rum and Coke to me..."

I laughed a little, took a sip of my drink. "Do this..." I clucked my
tongue on the roof of my mouth. He did the same. We probably looked
stupid making clucking sounds, but he played along. "Any after taste in
your mouth?"

"No, should there be?"

"A good rum will go down smoothly, no harsh tingle in your mouth, but you
should have a nice after-glow. That's not scientific by any means, but
I've always found it to be true..."

"I always thought good liquor was served neat... I got no glow in my
mouth," he said smiling.

"Yeah, but they only had middle of the road stuff, so the Coke helps to
mask that it's really not the best stuff."

He laughed, which I appreciated. Paul was funny, could carry on a
conversation about anything and make you feel special the whole time he
was batting those hazel colored eyes at you. I've had way too much to
drink tonight... Don't think anything he might do that mindreading shit
on me...

March 10th 10:59 PM
We weren't the last to leave the bar, but I had yawned a couple times over
the last fifteen minutes - apologizing profusely each time - we decided to call it a night.
In total, I had two decent rum and Coke's, while Paul had finished his one, then switched
to beer - finishing two before we headed back to our rooms.

He insisted on walking me back and when we were past the front desk, and
in the hall to my room, I stopped. I put a hand on his shoulder. "These
babies need to go..." And I slipped off my heels. I shrunk a couple
inches and he was looking down at me. I think he said he was 5' 11" -
that was probably about right.

I wasn't sloppy drunk or anything, but I was giddy and feeling playful.
"You sir, may walk me to my room, if and only if you can..." I dropped my
heels, gave him a grin before I bolted down the hallway! "Can catch
me...." I made it to the first corner and looked back to see he had just
picked up my second shoe and was trying to recover from being left in the
dust. The race was on!

Nearing the elevators, I looked back and he was closing on me... Stairs!
I hit the door at half-speed, taking them two at a time. I was at the
second floor landing when I heard him entering the stairway. "Not
fair..." he complained, but I was through to the hallway, sprinting to the
end like some rowdy kid and made it to my door as he popped out into the
hallway.

He dropped a shoe, and looking at me. "Yeah, you cheat..." he said loud
enough for me to hear him and not wake the entire floor. He walked the
rest of the way, stopping a couple feet from me to curtsey with my heels
extended.

"Why, Thank You good sir..." I wasn't winded, but I was certainly wide
awake, heart thumping out of my chest, and pretty sure I was feeling that
alcohol buzz now.

"You're Welcome my lady..."

We chuckled a little, and I fished my key card from my purse. "I had to
run with my purse, if that's any consolation..."

"It's not...." He looked to be about to say something. "This was a lot
of fun. I needed the break from the past week of working this case...
See you in the morning?"

And as high, alive, alert, tingling with the buzz from too much alcohol I
was feeling - wishing he would just read my mind - it didn't look like he
was getting the message. I was trying to think as loudly as I could -
'Ask to come in...' - or - 'Kiss me...' I considered asking him to come
in, but resigned myself to his 'See you in the morning?' question was him
turning down what I was thinking - it was the end of the night. My mood
was broken now anyway, my spirit, I was crashing - crap...

"Yeah," I turned to swipe the keycard in the door, holding it ajar with my
foot, I turned my head toward him and smiled my best 'I'm so happy' smile.
"I had a nice time. Goodnight Paul..."

The door clunked heavily behind me and I was in an empty room, with
crushing silence blanketing me, sucking the best of the evening away...

March 10th 11:02 PM
I physically jumped at the tap on my door. I had been standing there
leaning against it for maybe fifteen seconds sinking into a dark, dark
place. I looked out the peephole - it was Paul. I tried to gain my
composure, confidence, opening the door slowly. "You forget something?"

Paul looked... He stepped to me, his hands reached to my waist, pulled me
to him, and kissed me...

::: --- :::

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Bronwen Welsh in proofreading
and giving me insightful advice. She is an accomplished author in her own right
and I appreciate her time more than I can say... Also a few other's who reached
out to help me correct minor Oops! on my part (check your emails). Thank You
All!!!



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