Jobs Like That, Part 12 (the end)

23

I nodded and carried the two bags into the room. The bed wasn’t made. I laid the hanging bag on the mattress and set the duffel on the floor beside it.

A moment later she came in and led me into the bathroom. As the tub was filling, she removed the rough bandage I’d wrapped around my leg, then took a scissor from a drawer and cut away the right leg of my trousers.

She looked at the knife wound, then reached into the same drawer and took out a waterproof adhesive bandage, a bottle of alcohol and a cotton swab. She dabbed the area around the wound with alcohol, then applied the bandage. “We’ll bandage it properly after your bath.”

She helped me bathe, and afterward said, “We’ll probably be picking little bits of seashell out of your skin for a week. Are you all right?”

I only nodded.

The truth was, I’d never felt better.

She brought some clothes in from my bags, then left to go make breakfast.

After I got dressed, I padded barefoot back into the small bedroom and looked around.

My bags were where I’d left them on the bed.

But they didn’t look right there. If I was going to move in, I should move in.

I unzipped the hanging bag and opened the closet. There were plenty of clothes hangers. I set about hanging my shirts and trousers and the one suit I’d brought with me. Lastly I hung the bag itself on one end of the rod, its back to the wall.

On the shelf in the top of the closet was a set of sheets, a few pillows and a blanket.

I got those down and carried them to the bed.

I had the fitted sheet, top sheet and blanket on the bed in short order. I put pillow cases on two of the pillows and tossed them near the head of the bed. Then I went back to the foot of the bed and knelt. I was just about to tuck the top sheet and the blanket in when I felt a light touch on my shoulder.

I looked up.

“What are you doing?”

I stood and gestured. “Making the bed.”

“Why?”

“Well, because I have to get—”

“Aren’t you going to sleep with me? In my bed?”

No possible way did I hear that right. “What?”

Then she realized what was going on and grinned broadly. “Nick, I only wanted you to put your clothes in here while we’re getting cleaned up and eating breakfast. We’re together now, remember?”

“Oh.” I paused, looking for something better to say. “Okay.” It’s all I could think of.

I’d given up long ago on “happily ever after.” That sort of thing was fine for many people, but it wasn’t something that ever seemed to steer in my direction.

Yet here it was, staring me in the face.

I thought of Old Man Morgan and his “jobs like that” comment. Well, the nation could defend itself well enough without me.

Or not. I could go anywhere, move anywhere.

With Mary at my side, anything was poss—

Mary reached over and shook my shoulder lightly. “Nick. Nick, are you all right?” She paused. “Nick?” She frowned. “Nick?”

Why was she asking me if I was all right?

Then she blurred.

She blurred and was hazy.

And she disappeared.

24

I opened my eyes. “Mary? Mary!”

“I’m right here, Nick. I’m right here. Are you all right?”

I focused.

There she was. She was crouched next to my chair, my left hand between both of hers.

But how were we back in the bar?

No. We weren’t back in the bar. We’d never left.

I imagined it. I imagined it all.

My heart sank.

She squeezed my hand. “It’s all right, Nick. I’m right here.”

And I heard her all right. The roaring was gone. Or most of it.

I nodded. “I know.” So my neck muscles were working better. Good. I blinked. “Did I sleep?”

“Maybe an hour.”

I flexed my ankles. My feet moved fine. I tested my abdomen muscles, my thigh muscles, pulled my feet up to the base of the chair.

My body worked. And Mary was right there beside me.

A glass scraped across the bar.

Arancio was back there, tidying up. He seemed to be intentionally busy minding his own affairs.

I looked at Mary again and raised my right hand, reached across my body. I lightly caressed the left side of her face.

I wanted to tell her about the kiss. About riding in her Jeep. About everything. I said, “Do you have a Jeep parked out back?”

She grinned and nodded, then canted her head slightly. “How did you know?”

A low rumbling came to me through the open doorway. A reminder.

Mary was right there, but I’d received my invitation. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Did I?

Quietly, I said, “I just know. And I know everything’s all right.” I looked down along my legs. “I seem to be working again.” I forced a smile. “Here,” I said. “Let’s get me out of this chair.”

She straightened and took a step back, retaining her grip on my left hand with both of hers.

I braced my right hand on the base of the chair and pushed myself up.

I tested my balance. When I was sure I was standing all right, I pulled her gently into my arms and held her for a moment. When we separated, she stepped back.

The distant, low rumbling came again. Was it beckoning me?

I held her hands and squeezed slightly as I looked down at her upturned face. “Listen, Mary. Awhile ago—when I said we’ll have to postpone our talk—” I paused. “I—I have to leave soon.”

I hated myself for saying it even as I said it. That one simple statement was going to cost me everything I ever wanted.

But the woman was full of surprises.

She beamed up at me. “I know that, Nick. And I’m going with you. As soon as you’re able to travel.”

I shook my head slightly. “No, you don’t understand. What I mean, I have to head north. I have to—”

She squeezed my hands. Quietly, she said, “Baby, I know what you have to do, and it’s all right. It’s who you are. It’s who I am too. When I said I’m with you, I didn’t mean I’d wait at home.”

I almost frowned, and then a realization dawned on me.

Earlier, when she was talking about Ian, she said had certain skills. No, that she was very good at certain things. Same thing. She was capable. That’s what she meant when she said she was capable.

I grinned. “You’re capable?”

She nodded quickly, still smiling. “Explosives. You name it, I’ll evaporate it.”

I felt my jaw drop open. I guess we were both suited for jobs like that.

“So—”

“As soon as you’re ready, we head north. Now, are you ready to get out of here?”

“Let’s go,” I said, and we started toward the door. “But where?”

She laughed. “Well, we can go to my place if my car’s still out back.”

Straight out of my dream. But I had to wonder. “Can we stop at my house first? I’ll need some clothes.”

“Or we can just stay there,” she said.

I thought of my three rooms. But I already knew the rest.

I guess we wouldn’t need to finish our talk.

As I passed through the open left side of the double door, I noted the top hinge was loose. The door hung at a slight angle. Apparently the blast hit the edge hard enough to dislodge the screws about halfway.

Mary slipped loose momentarily and followed me through the narrow opening.

Arancio closed the door behind us as best he could.

I heard the latch click.

* * * * * * *

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