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Published by Ilium Books
Copyright (c) 2013 Mark Troy
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Rule Number Three
Paul was not his real name. He could be Paolo or Pablo, or, more likely, something entirely different. A person who wants to assimilate will anglicize his name, but a person who wants to hide will change names completely.
Ava Rome is my real name. I protect people who need to hide.
I met Paul and his father in the house they rented in an exclusive area of Honolulu.
“My father is a wealthy and powerful man in our country, Miss Rome,” Paul said. “He has powerful enemies.”
They didn’t name the country and I’d agreed not to ask. I guessed a South American nation. They spoke either Spanish or Portuguese. Not being a linguist, I wouldn’t know which.
Paul spoke good English, lightly accented. Later I learned he had spent most of his life in exclusive private schools, insulated from his father’s business.
He sounded better than he looked and he looked incredible. Average height, wavy dark hair, perfect teeth to go with his gorgeous features, and the lithe build of a soccer player. A striker, maybe, a position requiring explosive speed. I figured him about mid-twenties. He wore an open-neck sport shirt and chinos. He rocked the chinos.
You start thinking like that you should leave.
But I didn’t. I was drawn to the gold cross below his throat, framed by the open collar of his shirt. It was small and delicate such as a woman would wear. I wondered if the cross had belonged to a woman in his life. His mother, perhaps. If so, I liked him for it.
I didn’t like anything about his father.
“Who are your enemies?” I asked.
Paul translated the question into his own language for his father who dismissed it curtly.
“My father says that is not for you to know.”
“If I’m to protect you, I need to know the threats.”
“If there’s a threat,” Paul said.
“You don’t believe you’re in danger?”
“My father has become more than a little paranoid,” Paul said. “Who wouldn’t, given the life he lives?” He shrugged and flashed me a sheepish grin. “Between you and me, the danger is mostly in his imagination.”
I scanned the lanai. At the ocean end, two men played cards at an umbrella table. A third man leaned against the bar in the living room. A fourth man maintained a watch near the front door, out of my sight. He’d been about to pat me down when Paul intervened. Four men, one type. Dark slacks, white sport shirts, cheap hair cuts. They were bulked up, but not muscled-up. Their handguns printed under their shirts. They’d do a good job against a normal threat, but wouldn’t last long against professionals.
They wouldn’t last long against me.
“These aren’t imaginary thugs,” I said. “Paranoia often has a basis in fact.”
“The laws in our country are weak and ineffective. To stay in business, my father has to be strong. Murder, kidnapping, these are the means employed by his competitors. My father does not wish it, but it is what one must do.”
Paul translated our exchange for his father and then turned to me with the older man’s response.
“My father says his oldest sons—my half-brothers—follow in his footsteps. Two of them are dead.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said.
Paul said, “They chose their course. My father accepts that, but I’m the youngest and he wants something different for me. He hopes I’ll be a scholar like my mother.”
As Paul said, “mother,” his hand moved toward the cross at his throat. Barely perceptible. He might not have been aware of it. Just a simple hand-heart-brain connection.
“And you?” I asked. “You want the same?”
“Of course. I came here to finish my degree at the university.”
Paul explained he was working on his master’s degree in renewable natural resources. He’d already made some progress through correspondence and courses at another university, but needed a semester of residence here. His father insisted on a bodyguard during his stay.
“Why can’t your father’s men protect you?”
Paul laughed. “The thugs? Look at them. How do you think they would fit in on campus? You see them and you know what they are. Why don’t I advertise I’m the guy the kidnappers want?”
Paul was right. A good professional doesn’t call attention to herself or her principal. Personal protection rule number three.
Paul continued, “I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere with these guys. You, on the other hand, would fit perfectly on campus, like another student.”
“I’m fifteen years past college.”
“Graduate student, maybe. Young professor, for sure. And not only on campus. Any restaurant or club, we’d have no trouble getting in. Nobody would guess you were a bodyguard. They’d think you were my date. And such a date! I’d be the envy of every man.”
“You want arm candy? You have the wrong professional. Try an escort service.”
“Arm candy? I don’t understand.”
“A trophy to hang by your side. Somebody who looks good and makes you look good, like a hot girlfriend or a phony bodyguard. All show to make you feel important.”
“That’s what you think I want?”
“You said yourself you don’t believe you’re in real danger.” I started to leave, but Paul stopped me.
“Wait, don’t go. I was making bravado. Can you blame me? I’m talking to a pretty woman.”
“Bravado gets men killed. Lose the bravado or you die. You have to decide if you want arm candy or a professional.”
“Professional,” Paul said. “We want you. We checked you out. My father has connections. They told us you’re the best. You come with military training. Can you protect me?”
“Can you follow my directions without question?”
“I don’t want to be a bubble boy.”
“How safe do you want to be? Give me a number. One to a hundred.”
Paul thought about it.
“Life has risks,” he said. “No risks? What kind of life is that?”
“What’s your number?”
“You sound like an insurance agent.”
“I insure lives.”
“I can take risks. Fifty percent?” He reconsidered. “Too low. Seventy-five? On the high side. Somewhere in between I think.”
Typical answer for a young man. He hadn’t lived long enough to understand mortality.
“Twenty-four hours in a day,” I said. “Fifty percent means I protect you until noon and you die at one. Seventy-five percent, you live until six.”
“I get it,” he said.
“You want to be one hundred percent safe, you stay here, inside this house.”
Paul shook his head. “I have to go to class and meet with my professors.”
“Of course, but we keep public appearances to a minimum.”
“No problem. I have a lot of studying to do.”
“We stay away from restaurants and night clubs.”
“I’ll get a lot of work done.”
Paul engaged his father in a brief discussion. His father made an even briefer phone call.
Paul said, “About your fee.”
“I haven’t agreed yet.”
“Please check your bank account.”
I opened my own phone and logged into my bank. My account balance had grown by an obscene amount. Not enough to retire, but enough to be selective about the cases I take on.
“Half,” Paul said. “Yours to keep just for listening to us. The other half will be deposited if I am still alive at the end of the semester.”
“This is probably small consolation, but if you’re dead, I won’t be alive to spend the money because they’ll have gotten to me first.”
“Then you’ll do it?”
Paul’s father wanted to get back to his own country. He and his men were fish out of water. I agreed to start that day.
I packed my Sig Sauers, extra magazines, and the clothes I would need for an extended assignment. Then I arranged for a car and a skilled driver who knew how to vary the route and drive fast. With a driver, I’d have my eyes and hands free to spot and react to any threat. Paul and his father said some emotionless goodbyes. The old man and his thugs left and I moved in.
Paul had a room upstairs facing the ocean. I took the room next to his. A live-in cook and housekeeper, named Malia, occupied a room on the ground floor. The driver did not live on site. He’d be on duty during the day and on call at night.
Paul and his father had rented the two-story house with security in mind. Video monitors covered every angle of the yard and the drive from the road. High walls surrounded the property on three sides. The fourth side sat atop a rocky promontory above the beach, which was accessible only at low tide.
The driveway and gate on Kahala Avenue posed the bigger problem. Walkers, joggers, cyclists and tourists frequented Kahala for its scenery. The constant stream of people made monitoring futile. We would have to keep the gate closed and locked.
Using Paul’s class schedule, we worked out times and places he’d be for the upcoming week. A university contact arranged to get me the rosters for all of Paul’s classes and the list of students in his program. I also wanted Paul’s transcripts from his previous schools, but those were protected by privacy rules. My contact said he’d try, for which I had no doubt I’d pay a high price later.
The first week went easy. Paul dove into his studies. We had breakfast and dinner together, cooked by Malia, at the house. We lunched on campus between classes. The lunches were the periods of maximum exposure. The rest of the time he went to class and met with his professors. When not in class or meeting professors, we went to the library where he had a carrel. More studying after dinner.
In personal protection, you inevitably have periods when everything goes according to plan. These are periods a professional fears most. You fall into a routine. Complacency replaces the awareness that comes with a new job. Your skills erode.
I ran background checks on all of the students in Paul’s classes and all of his professors. I changed our schedule daily to keep my mental skills sharp. The house had an exercise room with free weights, a treadmill, and a universal gym machine. While Paul studied, I worked out a couple of hours each day to stay physically ready.
On Friday, Paul’s department held a reception for new graduate students.
“Rigetti’s giving the party,” he said. “I can’t refuse.”
Rigetti was Paul’s major professor.
“Here’s how we’ll work,” I said. “You stay close to me, but no touching.”
“Why no touching?”
“I can’t have access to my gun impeded.”
“So where will you carry your gun?”
“I’ll have it. That’s all you need to know.”
Rule Number Two
Professor Rigetti had a hillside house on St. Louis Heights, an area of modest homes with expensive views of Diamond Head and the ocean. The driver let us out in front and parked, eyes on the house.
We walked into a lively party. Small groups of people made cocktail-infused conversation around pupu platters and trays of sushi. Our entrance was noted right away. The volume of conversation dropped a few decibels and dozens of eyes turned in our direction.
Why not? We looked good together. Paul wore tan slacks and a two-tone Italian sport shirt. His gold cross gleamed against his smooth skin. I had on a calf-length skirt and a silk blouse. I carried a lock-blade knife and a 9mm Sig Sauer out of sight.
A middle-aged man with a shock of dark hair and gray temples detached himself from a knot of three and came over.
“Paul, so glad you came. We were beginning to worry you’d gotten lost.”
Paul introduced the man as Dr. Rigetti, his mentor, and me as a friend.
“You couldn’t have picked a better man,” Rigetti said. “We’re excited to have him in our program.” He stepped back and appraised me. “And he’s obviously picked well, too.”
Rigetti got us drinks–margarita for Paul, tonic and lime for me. We made our way through the room. Paul knew some of the people and was meeting others for the first time. I knew some of the names from the background checks I’d done. I knew who liked to speed, who liked to drink, and who had misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession. I knew more damaging things, too. I didn’t know of any who might be a threat to Paul.
I caught a lot of glances directed our way. Some were appreciative and some were envious and I quickly realized the appreciation wasn’t reserved for me, nor the envy for Paul. Of the two of us, Paul was the more candilicious. He made me look good.
More than half of the graduate students and a few of the younger professors were women. Most were unattached; two were lesbians. The single, straight women had an air of desperation about them that they directed toward Paul.
One woman acted on it. She was an associate professor, recently granted tenure, about my age.
“Paul,” she said. “Tell me about your research. I think I can help you.”
She put her hand on his arm and pulled him towards the lanai.
“Do you mind?” she said to me.
“Not at all. I’d like to hear, too.”
I insinuated myself back into position between them, forcing her to relinquish her hold. She regarded me with annoyance.
“We’re going to talk science. I know you’ll be bored.”
“Actually, you don’t know that,” I said.
We’d reached an impasse. I wasn’t going away and she wasn’t going to give up Paul. For me, it was business. For her, it was biological imperative.
“Okay, then,” she said. She started off towards the lanai. “Oh, wait,” she said.
She wheeled around, faked a stumble, and emptied her glass of red wine on me.
“Shit!” I yelled.
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry,” she said.
The wine soaked the left side of my blouse, dripping red.
“You need to take care of your blouse with some club soda,” she said. “I feel terrible.”
“I’ll get some,” Paul said.
“No, you stay,” I said. “Dr. Cougar here will feel better if she gets it.”
I put my sweetest smile on my face. A hundred watts of candlepower. It would turn ice to water. “And a towel, please.”
My smile didn’t melt the good doctor. She stared at me coldly for a second. “Some other time, Paul.” Then she turned on her heels and stalked off.
Rigetti, the host, produced a bottle of club soda. “Towels in the bathroom,” he said.
Personal protection rule number two: A professional doesn’t leave her principal.
“Screw it,” I said. I took the club soda from him and poured it on my blouse. The soda diluted but spread the stain. I widened my target. Soon my top was wet, sheer, and revealing.
Rigetti hovered around and apologized, his eyes glued to my breasts. A professional doesn’t call attention to herself or her principal. We left soon after.
On the ride back, I increased my vigilance, not because of a greater threat, but because I was angry and not ready to talk. Paul sensed my anger and kept quiet. He might have thought my anger was directed at him, but he was wrong. I was angry with myself. I’d missed something important and needed time to process it.
At the house, I dismissed the driver and went through the routine of checking the locks and the security system before changing my clothes. My blouse was ruined, but that was a small price for my failure.
I found Paul drinking a beer at the island in the kitchen when I came down.
“We need to talk,” I said, taking the stool across from him.
“Sorry about your blouse,” he said. “I feel responsible.”
“Fuck the blouse. I screwed up. You’re an attractive guy. Young, handsome, smart. I saw that but I didn’t think it through. Women go for you. They will come at you, like this evening, and I’ll be in the way.”
He smiled. “That’s a problem?”
“Yes, for two reasons. One, the frustration-aggression link. You dangle something desirable out of reach and people try harder to get it. They might resort to dangerous tactics.”
“Dangle,” Paul said through a grin. “You’re making me sound like a pervert. What’s reason number two?”
“You have needs. You aren’t a monk. If women find you attractive, you undoubtedly find some of them attractive.”
“I get by just thinking about where you carry your gun.”
“Be serious. You might want to date and I need to find a way to give you space and still protect you.”
“From a girl friend?”
“From a threat to your life.”
“Ava, my father’s enemies hire the same kind of men my father hires. They’re interchangeable parts. Whoever comes after me will have a thick neck and a small brain.”
“That’s what you expect. The smart enemies will send someone different. Maybe even a woman.”
Paul drank from the beer bottle. “So far this is all hypothetical.”
“I don’t deal in hypotheticals.”
“So when you say I’m attractive, you’re not speaking hypothetically?”
“What just happened tonight?”
“Dr. Walters, the woman you call Dr. Cougar, goes after all the younger men. No secret in the department. She wanted youth, not me.”
“She’s not the only one. I see the way women look at you when we’re on campus.”
“And you haven’t pointed them out to me?” Paul clearly enjoyed this turn in the conversation. “Give me an example.”
I thought back to some of the incidents I’d noted and dismissed as youthful elemental attraction. “The girl working the serving line in the student union, for one. You must have noticed her.”
“No,” he said.
“Well, she noticed you. Not once but every time.”
She was a student worker, blonde and cute. Paul caught her attention on our first visit. Her eyes lighted in surprise and then darkened as she saw him filling a tray for both of us. Later, I caught her giving us a hard stare. At first, she turned away. The last time, she held the stare and mouthed, “I hate you.”
“These young girls don’t interest me,” he said. “I like a woman with intelligence and experience. Someone like you.”
“Don’t even think about it, Paul.”
“Is it age? You’re about the same age as Dr. Cougar.”
“It’s not about age. You’re my principal. I wouldn’t be able to do my job properly if I became involved with you.”
“I’m sure such things happen in your profession.”
“The outcomes are never good. The principal or the professional, or both, end up dead.”
Paul leaned forward on his elbows.
“You are always so serious,” he said.
“My job is serious.”
“I think you probably have a sense of humor when you’re not working. I bet you’re a lot of fun.”
He fingered the cross at his throat.
“Is she still alive?” I asked.
His eyes narrowed in confusion.
I nodded towards the cross. “You were thinking about her just now.”
His face colored in embarrassment. I’d uncovered a secret.
“You touch the cross whenever you think of her. You needn’t be ashamed. Is your mother alive?”
“No,” he said. He visibly relaxed now that his secret was out.
“Tell me about her, Paul.”
“God, you’re a smart detective, Ava. Yes, I was thinking about her. She viewed her job as protecting me. Like you.” He gave me a boyish grin. “Mama had a great sense of humor except when she was being protective. Then she was all seriousness. I’d tease her but she wouldn’t get it. Sometimes she’d get mad.”
“She cared for you, Paul.”
“I remember most her remarkable beauty and intelligence. I see her every time I look at you, Ava.”
This time I blushed.
“Look, Paul, I have some emails to answer.”
“Right. And I have a couple chapters to read.”
Rule Number One
I was dangerously close to violating the number one rule of personal protection: A professional doesn’t get involved with her principal. I was teetering on the brink, but still had time to pull back, still time to save both of us, though I’d have to leave him to do so.
Hawaii, being a small state, doesn’t have many protection specialists. Most are phonies, arm candy types. I’m not bragging, simply making a realistic assessment, when I say I’m the best in the state. If I liked Paul too much to keep working for him, I also liked him too much to pass him on to a phony. The professionals I’d be comfortable with make up a small and exclusive club. I opened my laptop and put out feelers. Then I climbed into bed.
Sleep didn’t come easily. I thought about Paul in the other room, a single wall between us. He was too young for me by at least a decade. The incident with Dr. Cougar stuck in my mind. I was not that person. Not yet, anyway. Could I become her? I didn’t know. The dangerous nature and close proximity of personal protection caused a daily adrenaline rush. With such a mix, we could easily misinterpret signals and confuse our emotions. By the time I drifted into sleep, I had convinced myself to leave him.
The next morning I learned how difficult leaving would be. The professionals on my list were in high demand. Of the feelers I put out, all but one declined and he would not be available for six weeks.
I could control my feelings for six weeks, after which I would assess the situation. If I made it that far, I was certain I’d make it all the way. I’d backed away from the brink.
Paul walked in on me doing skull crushers in the workout room. The skull crusher is a triceps extension done in a prone position with dumbbells. I used a stability ball instead of a bench, feet flat on the floor and my shoulders on the ball. Using the ball tightens the core at the same time that it works the triceps.
Paul said, “That looks hard.”
“It’s supposed to tighten my core,” I said.
“From where I’m standing your core looks plenty tight.”
“Looks aren’t everything. It’s about making muscles more efficient.”
“They look plenty efficient, too.”
“You can’t ever tell until you get into a fight.”
“Or into bed,” he said.
“I’m preparing for the fight.” I quit the exercise and racked the weights.
“I’m studying too much,” Paul said. “I need to work out. Maybe we could work out together.”
“Of course,” I said. In some far corner of my mind an alert flashed, “Brink! Brink! Brink!”
We worked out for the rest of the hour. Paul was in fine shape and soon we pushed each other to higher weights and more reps. By the time Malia had breakfast ready, our bodies were slick with perspiration. I picked up a towel, which had been covering my gun, stuck the gun in my waistband and mopped my face.
“Now I know where you keep your gun,” he said. “I’m disappointed.”
Malia had set the breakfast on the table at the far end of the lanai. The lanai extended from the living room to the ocean end of the property. A pool occupied the center, surrounded by a deck of gray slate. We skirted the pool, Paul leading the way and me padding barefoot behind.
The sun had cleared Diamond Head and now drenched the ocean end of the pool in pale gold while leaving the end near the house in shadow. The slate deck felt cool on my feet in the shade, but turned hot when I stepped into the sunlight. The change in temperature caused me to glance down. That’s when I spotted a blood droplet on the slate. More drops marked the deck beyond that. My eyes followed a trail to Paul who continued walking.
“Paul! You’re bleeding.”
He stopped and turned. The trail continued past him. The blood wasn’t his.
“Get in the house, Paul.” I drew my gun.
I herded Paul and Malia into the master bathroom upstairs, which we’d earlier designated as the safe room. Then I went back outside to check for intruders. The lanai held few hiding places. In a matter of minutes I’d searched and cleared every one of them. Satisfied, I turned my attention to the blood drops.
They were recent but not fresh, probably deposited in the night. Whoever left them had come onto the lanai from the ocean. The edge of the pool had a smear of blood. Someone with an open wound had come onto the pool deck and attempted to clean the wound in the pool.
I followed the trail to the edge of the deck where the property ended and a lava face dropped steeply to the ocean. Waves crashed against the rocks with enough force to send the occasional spray up to the deck. The tide was high. Anyone attempting to approach from the sea would need a boat. They would face a difficult climb and would risk being thrown against the rocks by the waves. Low tide was a different matter. The receding waves at low tide exposed a narrow strip of sand connecting larger beaches stretching away in both directions. An intruder might approach on the sand, but would still have to time the waves. Incoming waves would inundate the beach with enough force to cause injury to anyone caught on the rocks.
I gave Paul and Malia the all clear and told them what I’d found.
Paul said, “Must be a beach walker, looking for a path up.”
“No. Whoever it was came at night with no moon. Probably not a casual stroller.”
“An opihi picker,” Malia said. “These rocks get plenty ophihi. The pickers, they come at night at low tide.”
Paul had never heard of opihi. Malia described them as tiny shellfish, a kind of limpet, which cling to the least accessible coastal rocks. The pickers tended to be small and wiry with the nimbleness of a mongoose and the fearlessness of an NFL special teams player. The scars on their legs and arms gave them away.
“Very dangerous work,” Malia said.
The explanation satisfied Paul. “So you think one of these pickers got hurt on the rocks and came here to clean up?”
“I don’t think anything,” I said. “I’m considering the possibility.”
We reviewed the video capture from the security cameras, but, with no moon, the video showed only a dark shape on the deck. The shadow stood still for a while, as though getting its bearings, and then moved slowly to the pool. Starlight reflecting off the pool gave more definition to the figure, but not enough to determine something as basic as gender. The visitor appeared small in stature, as an opihi picker might be, but even size was illusory. Had the shadow come closer, it might have been clear enough to give us some identification. Instead, the only usable information on the video came from the time stamp. A check of local tide charts confirmed the intruder had come at low tide.
Low tides happen twice a day. The next one would be around 6:20 in the evening and the one after that around 3:30 in the morning. I planned to be on watch at those times.
In the afternoon, my contact came through with Paul’s academic record. His grades in high school and college had been exceptional. Mostly A’s with an occasional B. Paul’s grades didn’t surprise me; the number of schools he attended did. All were private, residential academies in the United States, Australia and South Africa. At no school had he stayed more than a year. He’d left three of them in mid-term. Were he from a military family, the movement would have made sense. As he wasn’t, it raised questions.
In the evening, I took up a post on the ocean end of the lanai from which to watch the receding tide uncover the only path a resolute attacker might take to the house. I didn’t expect an attacker in daylight and none appeared. Only a few resolute crabs crossed the beach.
The sun, a blood red ball, had already dropped low in the west, painting the underside of the clouds pink and the tops purple. The view was spectacular. Behind me another spectacular view emerged from the pool. I resisted the urge to turn around. I heard Paul stop at the chaise where he had a towel. A minute later, Paul stood beside me, a beer in each hand.
I shook my head at his offer. “Duty.”
“Not even one to celebrate this sunset?”
“Nope. Thanks anyway.”
He reached behind me to set the extra beer on the table. I smelled chlorine from his body. His hand grazed the small of my back and lingered on the return.
He didn’t protest when I pushed his hand away.
“Gorgeous, don’t you think?” he said. “Like a postcard. Sunset, ocean, palm trees. A beautiful woman.”
Only superior willpower kept my eyes on the exposed rocks and sand below, while my side vision filled with his dark hair and bare shoulder.
“I read your transcripts,” I said, “from your other schools.”
“You’re spying on me?”
“I’m protecting you. The more I know, the better job I can do.”
“You got them without my permission?”
“Your grades are excellent. You can be proud of them.”
He shrugged “I worked hard.”
“Why did you change schools so often?”
Paul paused and drank some beer. “Think we’ll get a green flash?” he asked.
The green flash is the holy grail of Hawaiian sunset watchers. It’s a quick emerald burst at the instant the last edge of the sun sinks below the water. Some people say the flash is a myth. Others say it’s an optical illusion. Nearly everyone agrees the conditions have to be perfect.
“Maybe,” I said.
“Whoever sees one gets a kiss from the person they’re with.”
“You’re making that up. It’s not part of the legend.”
“You sure?” he said. “If not, it should be.”
His smile was bright and beautiful like the sunset itself. I turned away quickly.
“Tell me about your schools.”
“Right. I think I would have liked them if I’d stayed. Met some great kids, but not well enough to keep up, you know?”
“Why didn’t you stay?”
“My father and his paranoia. He’d get into some business mess and decide the family had to go to ground. Or he’d get word that an enemy had sent a kidnap team after me or someone else in the family. More often than not, the threat turned out to be a wild rumor or an unreliable source trying to score some money in exchange for information.
“They never gave me any advance warning. I’d get called to the dean’s office where a couple of my father’s tough guys and his counselor would settle any outstanding fees and throw in a little extra for the school’s cooperation. One time they woke me in the middle of the night. I was in my pajamas for the entire flight.”
“Lot of instability for a teen-ager,” I said.
“I like to think the experience strengthened me.”
All of a sudden he yelled, “That’s it! The flash!”
He pointed to a spot on the horizon where a second before the sun had disappeared.
“Ava, did you see the flash?”
I would have said, “no,” if his mouth weren’t covering mine. His lips were strong and insistent. He threw his arm around my shoulder and pulled me against him. Our bodies rubbed against each other as his tongue explored my lips.
I wanted to open to him, to taste him. I wanted to feel his pressure on the exact spot between my legs.
I wanted it to be right.
I pushed him away firmly.
“We can’t do this again,” I said.
“Of course not. The excitement of the flash. It won’t happen again.”
“Paul, I’ve been thinking about bringing someone else in on this job.”
“Like an associate to help you?”
I shook my head. “To take my place.”
An expression I hadn’t seen before darkened his face. I’d hurt him and I understood why. His life had been one of sudden change and I was about to force another one on him.
“Ava, you’re going to leave me?”
“It’s for the best.”
“Why? Because of this? Because of what just happened?”
“No. Yes. Yes and no.”
“This was just fun, Ava. That little kiss didn’t mean anything.”
“No. A kiss always means something, Paul. I know it meant something to me and I think it meant something to you.”
“So what? What’s a kiss between friends?”
“I told you, Paul. We’re on dangerous ground. I can’t get involved with you and still protect you. I like you too much to risk your life.”
“Okay. We’re not involved. We end it right here. Done.” He karate chopped his palm. “It’s done. The relationship is dead.”
“I wish it were so easy.”
“For me it is. I think you’re over-reacting, Ava.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Not for a few weeks. I have to make the arrangements. I’ll leave you in good hands. Even better hands, in fact. I promise, Paul. Believe me.”
“Right,” he said. “I’d better change. Malia will have dinner soon.”
He took his towel and stomped off to the house. I stayed on the deck until the purple glow on the horizon had faded to black. The feel of his lips on mine didn’t fade so quickly.
At dinner, Paul said he understood and accepted my reasons for leaving. End of discussion.
Around three o’clock in the morning I returned to my post at the end of the lanai a half hour before the next low tide. Near total darkness enveloped me like a warm shroud. Low clouds had moved in to block even the starlight. The easterly trade winds had ceased and a warm, humid breeze blew from the south, what the locals call kona wind. A kona portended bad weather.
My senses had been reduced to the sound of the waves and the feel of the breeze. All I could do was wait and listen and hope to surprise an intruder before he surprised me. From time to time, I swept the face of the rocks below with my flashlight whose beam barely reached the water.
If the intruder intended to return, this would be the time. The combination of darkness and tide would not be so favorable for another two weeks. If he were seriously injured, however, he might use the two weeks to recover and refine his plan.
I favored Malia’s theory. The intruder was most likely an opihi picker, but protection is not a job of probabilities. The least probable scenario is usually the most dangerous scenario. So far, the greatest threat to Paul appeared to be Dr. Cougar’s desire. The greatest threat to me was my own desire. Each time my eyes moved in the direction of his darkened window my flesh awakened with the tactile memory of the friction of our bodies when we kissed.
I terminated the watch when the tempo of the waves signaled the incoming tide. In the east a thin line of gray light had drawn a horizon, but the deck remained shrouded in the dark night and sultry air. My mood matched the weather. My clothes stuck to my body with the humidity.
At the house, I stripped and got under the outdoor shower. The cold torrent hit me with a shock. I shivered and danced for a minute until my body adjusted and the water did its reinvigorating magic. I remained under the shower a few minutes cleaning the salt spray from my hair and draining the tension of a night vigil from my body.
The eastern sky had turned pale gray, but the struggling light had not yet cut the darkness surrounding the house. I retrieved my gun and clothes and carried them to the workout room, which opened onto the lanai and where Malia kept towels.
The second I entered the dark room I sensed I was not alone. It might have been an intake of breath or a shift in posture. I dropped my clothing bundle and sidestepped quickly into the room away from the door where I was outlined in the lighter rectangle.
“Who’s here?” I shouted and raised my gun. I sidestepped away again. “Identify yourself.” I moved again and dropped into a crouch.
The lights came on. “Don’t shoot, Ava,” Paul said. He stood in the doorway from the hall.
“Shit, Paul! I almost shot you.”
“Look at you. Naked and wet, with a gun.”
“Are you alone?”
“There’s only me and you.”
I stood up. Malia had stacked the towels on a table close to the door where he stood “Hand me a towel, Paul.”
“And ruin this beautiful dream?” He made no move to the towels.
“What if I’d killed you? How beautiful would the dream be then?”
“But you didn’t.”
I stepped over to the table. Paul put out a hand to stop me and I slapped it away.
“We’re not playing games, Paul. You had no business down here.”
I wrapped myself in terry cloth. The towel did an inadequate job of protecting my modesty.
“I thought about you all night, about you leaving, and I couldn’t sleep. Then I heard a noise out here, the shower, I guess, and I came to investigate.”
“To investigate,” I said.
“You came to investigate.”
“I thought you might be in danger.”
“You’re not hearing me, Paul. You do not investigate strange sounds or sights or smells. I investigate them. If somebody’s going to be in danger, it’s me.”
Paul hung his head. “I know and I don’t like it. What did you tell me when I hired you? Something about a consolation that if something happens to me you’re already dead. How’s that a consolation? I don’t want anything to happen to you. The only thing worse than you leaving would be if you stayed and you got hurt or killed.”
“Paul, this is my job and I do it well.”
“I know. So I think you’re right. You should find a replacement. After that . . .” He shrugged. “We could have this other relationship I want and I think you want, yes?”
“No promises, Paul.”
“Of course not. The only promise I want is for you to be safe.”
“It will be a few weeks.”
“Here,” he said. He unclasped the chain around his neck and offered the necklace to me. “I want you to have this.”
“I can’t take this, Paul. It means so much to you.”
“Please, I insist. For protection. This cross protected me these years. It can protect you.”
I must have looked skeptical because he said, “Hah, You think this is a silly superstition.”
“No, I think it’s sweet,” I said.
“So you’ll wear it?”
“Sure.” I presented my back to him. “You’ll have to help me. My hands are occupied.”
“You can drop the towel,” he said.
“You’ve had your peek.”
“The vision will be forever burned into my mind.”
He fastened the chain and his hands lingered on my shoulders.
I stepped away and faced him. “You need a cold shower.”
At that moment, Malia came into the room.
“Oh,” she said. “Pardon me.”
“It’s okay, Malia. We’re finished here.”
“Yes,” she said. “You’d better see this.”
I followed her into the kitchen.
Malia had the television tuned to the morning news. “Look,” she said.
The newscaster stood in front of a satellite image of the Northern Pacific. The Hawaiian Islands curved from the center towards the upper left of the screen. A large cloud formation pinwheeled below the islands and a hurricane warning crawled across the bottom of the TV screen.
“Hurricane Hana,” Malia said.
For most of the week, the weather service had been tracking a Pacific hurricane following a southeast to northwest path about two hundred miles south of the Big Island. On that path, the storm posed no threat to us.
The newscaster said, “This was Hana’s position as of ten o’clock last night. The U.S. Weather Service is now reporting that during the night, Hana turned north. This is her new position as of just a few minutes ago.”
The image refreshed to show Hana due west of the Big Island and directly south of Oahu. Her projected path pointed north.
“Hana’s coming at us.” Malia said.
“Like an express train,” I said.
The window in my room afforded a view of the pool deck while I dressed. Daylight illuminated the deck now, though the sky was heavily overcast. Down below, Paul stood under the outdoor shower, letting the water cascade over his perfect body. The sound of the waves crashing against the point carried up to me through the open window, completely drowning out the sound of the shower. I realized Paul had lied.
Hana posed a dilemma. Head to a shelter or shelter in place. Protection is all about securing your surroundings. I’d have no control in a shelter. The potential for a total breakdown in order worried me. Think Superdome after Katrina. Staying in the house offered more control.
I didn’t worry about being blown away because the house had been constructed of concrete and rock. I did worry about our position on the coast and the danger from a storm surge. We were high above the sea, the highest point on that stretch of coast, in fact. The wave would have to be twenty feet high to reach the house and thirty feet to reach the upper level. NOAA put the chance of waves higher than twenty feet at ten percent. Paul’s safe number was down to 90.
I figured we were in good shape to ride out the storm. The greatest danger comes not from the storm but the aftermath when electricity and water are down. We were in good shape for that, too. The house had a generator to power the security system, the lights, and the refrigerator after the storm.
I sent the driver for batteries, bottled water, ice and duct tape. Malia had family on the island so she went to be with them. When the driver returned with the supplies, I dismissed him. Paul and I set about preparing the house. We moved all portable plants and furniture inside. We filled every available container with tap water and we taped up the windows.
The storm’s outer bands arrived early in the afternoon. Fat, heavy drops exploded on the lanai and turned the calm surface of the pool into a seething cauldron of tiny fountains. The wind began to gust, bending the palm trees in front of it and hurling rain against the windows with the force of gravel.
I did another check of the doors and windows before returning to the kitchen, which had become our command center. Plumes of ocean spray spouted high into the air at the end of the lanai.
“She’s not even here yet,” Paul said.
He was right. The satellite images on TV showed the eye wall still out at sea. We’d be the first to know when Hana made landfall.
The images on the security monitors bounced wildly as the wind buffeted the outside cameras. The cameras in front caught tree limbs sailing through the front yard.
“So we wait out the storm, right?” Paul said.
“Are you worried?”
“Not a bit. We have a strong house, lots of supplies. I’m safe in your hands.”
“I hope so.”
“Relax, Ava. We can’t do anything about the weather. Not even bogeymen will be out in this storm. How about some wine?”
“No wine for me, Paul. I’m still on the job.”
Paul took a bottle of red wine from the rack and found an opener.
“Didn’t you hear me, Ava? I said relax.”
“Sorry, Paul, I can’t. Don’t you see the danger? Your life, both of our lives, are at stake.”
I had taken a position in the living room behind a sofa watching the approaching storm through the taped-up lanai doors, well back from them. The clouds blocked out most of the light leaving us in twilight in the middle of the afternoon. The water came at us in sheets and poured down the glass like a waterfall.
Paul came up behind me and slipped an arm around my waist.
“Our lives aren’t at stake,” he said. “Not in this weather. You know that.”
“Take your hands off me, Paul.”
“Ava, you know you want me. That’s why you’re here.”
“We talked about this, Paul. We agreed to wait.”
“The way you showed yourself to me this morning wasn’t an invitation to wait.”
“You were spying on me.”
“You knew I was watching. That’s why you got naked. Don’t lie to me, Ava.”
“Stop, Paul. This isn’t going any further.” I tried to pull out of his grasp without hurting him, but he held firm.
“No, you stop, or you’ll get your face cut.”
Something sharp poked my cheek. He moved it briefly into my field of vision and I caught a glimpse of a waiter’s cork puller. The puller had a nasty little blade on the end for cutting the foil on a bottle. He pressed the tip of the foil cutter against my face again.
“You don’t want a scar,” he said.
He was right about not wanting a scar, but if he thought I was afraid of getting hurt, he was wrong. If you’re going to defend yourself, you have to overcome fear of injury and I had. I expected to get hurt, but I didn’t need a gratuitous injury. I needed to wait for my opening.
Paul forced me forward a step and pinned me against the sofa.
“It doesn’t have to be like this, Paul. We can talk about what we both want.”
“I want your hands on the top of the sofa, Ava. I want you to relax and enjoy this. If you move too fast you might puncture an artery. It would be your fault you know.”
I put my hands on the sofa and Paul slid his left hand, the one that was around my waist, to my gun. He pulled the gun from my waistband and dropped it onto the sofa in one quick move, never taking the foil cutter from my cheek.
Having disposed of my gun, he slid his free hand under my top and my bra. He began with gentle strokes but his touch quickly became rough. All the while he caressed my cheek and my carotid with the foil cutter.
“This necklace looks pretty on you, Ava.”
He nicked my cheek with the knife. Not a deep puncture, but enough to hurt. It was a rapist’s controlling tactic, but he’d hurt me and I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “See what happens when you move?”
“I’m not moving, Paul.”
Hana’s intensity increased by the second. The glass doors rattled with the force of the wind and rain. Hana had made landfall.
Paul seemed oblivious to the storm. He ceased mauling my breasts to grab a handful of my top and pull it taut. Using the foil cutter’s blade he began to split my top down the front.
That was Paul’s mistake. I bent my head and clamped my teeth on his hand. Paul screamed and dropped the foil cutter. I pivoted and delivered my elbow to the side of his head. If I’d had more room, my elbow might have rung his bell or even put out his lights. Still, I had enough force to back him off.
The house lights flickered and went out. The television screen went blank.
Paul threw a backhand slap at me. His fingers raked my face, taking some skin, as I arched away. Paul was strong and fast. He followed the slap with a soccer kick that caught me in the side and knocked me against the sofa and forced the breath out of me. He grabbed my hair and yanked me to the floor where he quickly fell on me, straddling my hips, pinning my legs.
I reached to gouge his eyes, but Paul had clearly done this before and anticipated the move. He leaned back just beyond my reach. His longer arms and superior position allowed his punches to reach me. The first one glanced off my cheek. He followed that with a flurry of punches. I covered my face and head with my arms and deflected most.
Rapists are driven by power, dominance, hostility, feelings of inadequacy, and enough other labels to fill a shrink encyclopedia, but don’t you believe a rape is not about sex. It’s about any or all of the above and sex. Paul mistook my defensive posture as submission and a signal to get on with the sexual attack, He finished the job on my torn top, ripping it open with both hands and casting the material aside. The same with my bra.
An open jaw breaks easily. Offer a guy a cigarette and, when he opens his mouth to receive it, nail him with an uppercut. The result will be spectacular and messy. I didn’t have a cigarette, but I did have my breasts to offer. I arched my back and tightened my core at the same time I uncovered my face and brought my hands to my waist. He was focused on what I presented and not my hands. He went for it. I exploded from my core and drove my doubled fists up like doing the skull crusher move. My fists connected with the point of his chin. Even the noise of the storm didn’t drown out the loud crack of bone breaking. Blood and spit and some of his perfect teeth pelted my face. He rose up and then rolled to the side with some help from me. I rolled with him and drove my knee into his groin, just to seal the deal, though at that point Paul wasn’t feeling anything.
I hurt in about a dozen places where he’d hit and kicked me. I was bleeding from the scratches and the nick on my face, but no broken bones. I scrambled to my feet, quickly retrieved my gun and raced with it to the refuge of the kitchen. My heart pounded. My body felt flushed and sweaty. During the rape, I’d focused all of my senses on surviving. Time had slowed and the noise of the storm receded. Now my senses rebounded. The storm raged outside the house and inside of me. The world began to spin. I steadied myself against the counter and forced myself to be calm, to fall back on my training. The reactions to trauma are well documented. I checked off the ones happening to me. Feeling guilt. Check. Shame. Check. Stupid. Check.
The torrential rain washed the entire pool deck in water. More ominously, an occasional wave broke over the edge of the deck. The light was too dim to tell how high the ocean had risen, but not so dim I didn’t see the action of waves rolling toward the house. Small waves. For now.
Alone in a house on the edge of the world, buffeted by a storm, with a rapist on the floor.
My cell phone didn’t work. My gun, which had many times provided a sense of security, was useless in this situation.
The assessment of my circumstances had been rapid and automatic, the result of years of military training. Once this was over, I’d have time to appreciate it. In the meantime, I needed to secure Paul, for my safety and his.
I returned to Paul’s inert form. He was out and would be out for a while, but his injuries needed immediate attention.
A heavy pounding on the front door caused me to jump. Exaggerated startle response. Check. The pounding was too regular to come from wind or debris. An unmistakable cry accompanied the pounding,
“Help me! Please, help me!”
I left Paul and went to the foyer. With the security system down, I had no way of seeing the visitor without opening the door. I readied my gun and pulled the door open.
A woman stood on the stoop, poised to strike the door again with a large rock.
“Oh thank God,” she said.
“Drop the rock,” I commanded. Except for the rock, she appeared helpless and frightened.
“Please let me in.”
“Drop the rock or I’ll shoot,” I screamed.
She dropped the rock behind her. I pulled her inside and slammed the door.
The woman shrank against the wall and hugged herself tightly, lucky to be alive. Mud and rain soaked her clothes and matted her hair around her face. Twigs and other debris clung to her.
“What are you doing out here?”
“My dog got out. I went to find him.” She was trembling. The words tumbled out of her mouth. “I thought I saw him by your gate, but then the storm hit and he ran off again. And . . . and then a tree came down and I got scared. Please, you have to help me.”
“I can’t do anything about your fucking dog. What’s your name?”
“How did you get through the gate, Emily?”
She carried a compact LED light, which she played across my body.
“You don’t have a shirt on.”
“Answer the question.”
“I just pushed on the gate. It didn’t open at first, but then the lights went out in your house and when I pushed again it opened.”
That made sense. The gate was tied into the security system. When the system went down, so did the gate’s locking mechanism.
“Why do you have a gun and why are you half-naked?”
“Never mind,” I said. “I need you to come with me. I need you to do everything I tell you. If you do, you’ll be safe. Do you understand?”
“Use your light,” I said. “Walk ahead of me.”
I directed Emily into the living room. She moved unsteadily, limping noticeably.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
“The wind knocked me down.”
Emily’s beam picked up Paul’s unconscious form on the floor. She stopped.
“What happened to him?”
“I told you, never mind.”
“Was he in a fight?”
“It’s none of your damn business.”
I directed Emily to kneel beside him and keep her light on his face. I stuck my gun in my waistband and knelt beside her.
Paul’s jaw was broken and swollen. If he weren’t unconscious, he’d be in severe pain. His mouth had filled with blood, which dribbled onto the floor. He would likely choke on it. I put my fingers in his mouth and scooped out the accumulated blood, spit and teeth. His tongue bled profusely. He’d bitten it nearly in half so only a few strands of tissue connected the back to the front. I moved his tongue forward to keep the airway clear.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Emily said.
I picked up my torn bra from the floor and took Emily into the kitchen. While she retched in the sink, I wet a tea bag and filled one bra cup with ice from a cooler. We both went back to the living room, Emily in the lead again.
She said, “He tried to rape you, didn’t he?”
I didn’t answer. We resumed our positions next to Paul.
“He tried to rape you and you fought him off. He ripped your shirt and bra.”
“Shut up and give me some light.”
I placed the tea bag against the severed part of his tongue and pushed it against the inside of his cheek to keep the bag in place. Tea has tannins that aid in coagulation. Paul needed his tongue sewn back on, but surgery was out of the question for now. I positioned my ice-filled bra cup under his jaw and used the straps to secure it to his head.
Emily said, “You have scratches and bruises. I don’t know why you’re trying to help him after he hurt you.”
Emily had pulled her hair back from her face. Recognition came to me.
“I’ve seen you,” I said. “You work in the student union in the serving line.”
“Sure. I’ve seen you, too. What’s he to you?”
“He’s my client.”
“What do you do for him?”
“I’m protecting him.”
“Protecting? After what he did to you? This monster?”
She was squatting close to me. I gave her a hard shove on the shoulder and at the same time yanked her right ankle up. She yelped and landed hard on her ass. I drew the gun and covered her.
“Don’t move. Pull your pants leg up. The right one.”
She did so slowly. A gauze patch covered the outside of her leg from about mid-calf to her ankle.
“Remove the bandage,” I said.
She peeled the gauze back to reveal an ugly, partly healed gash.
“How did you get hurt?”
“I slipped on some rocks,” she said.
“Where? Here? Two nights ago?”
Emily didn’t answer. In the dim light I couldn’t see into her eyes, but I guessed I’d have found the same hate she’d shown me in the union.
“What did you want?” I asked.
“I wanted to kill him,” she said fiercely.
“No. That was just a test. I decided it was too dangerous.”
“But trying to get in during a hurricane wasn’t?”
“I thought you’d go to a shelter, so I waited outside to follow you. By the time I realized you weren’t leaving, it was too late.”
I ordered her to roll over so I could pat her down. Didn’t find anything.
“You intended to kill without a weapon?” I asked.
“In my purse. I lost it between the gate and the house when I fell.”
“Who do you work for?”
Emily rolled back up to a seating position.
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do. Who hired you to kill him?”
“Nobody. He raped my sister. He killed her.”
The fierceness in her tone told me she was telling the truth. Or believed she was. And I knew Paul was capable of rape.
“How do you know Paul raped her?”
She aimed her LED light at the cross on my throat. “That necklace belonged to Patricia.”
“He said the necklace was his mother’s.”
“He lied. He gave it to Patricia and then took it after he killed her.”
I thought back. Had he actually said the cross belonged to his mother? I couldn’t recall. Some serial rapists mark their victims by giving them gifts and then keeping the gifts as souvenirs. The realization that Paul had marked me hurt more than his beating.
“If he killed her, why isn’t he in jail?”
“He was young,” Emily said. “Still a juvenile at the time. Patricia was a teacher at the school, just out of college. The school didn’t want a scandal. Later I heard the school got a lot of money from his family to cover up the incident. Paul’s family even threatened the school officials.”
Paul had charmed Emily’s sister with his good looks, maturity and wit. Although her sister was flattered and infatuated, she did not take the relationship as seriously as Paul did. Emily’s description of Patricia revealed we had much in common, beginning with our ages relative to Paul’s and including some features such as hair color and height. Everything fit together. Younger man, older woman in some position of authority over him. Leaving school suddenly. The school records scrubbed.
“I think he raped others,” Emily said.
“At least six,” I said, recalling all the schools he’d left early.
“We should kill him now,” she said.
“We’re not executioners.”
“I can’t believe you’re still protecting him.”
The storm pummeled the lanai doors. A wave slammed against the glass and pushed the doors inward. The latch held. Water came in from beneath the frames. The storm surged above the pool deck. No telling how much higher the water would rise or how much more pounding the doors and windows might withstand. The seepage from the last wave spread across the floor to where Paul lay.
Paul stirred and moaned in pain. He opened his eyes and tried to speak but emitted only a squeal.
“Stay still, Paul. You’re hurt bad. You try to talk, you’ll hurt more. We’ll get you to a doctor when the storm’s over.”
“No,” Emily said. “He doesn’t deserve a doctor.”
Paul tried to rise but the pain from his injuries evidently defeated him. He moaned again.
Another wave hit the doors and more water came in.
“We have to get him upstairs, Emily, or he’ll drown.”
“Let him,” she screamed.
“Shut up! He’s my principal. I keep him alive. It’s what I agreed to.”
“Agreed to? You’re keeping your agreement with him?”
“You want justice for your sister? We get him to trial.”
“He won’t go to trial,” Emily said. “Don’t you understand? He’ll get away like before. He’ll buy and threaten his way out. He’s got family who will make sure he gets out.”
“Not this time. Not while I’m around,” I said.
“Get up,” I said to Paul. “Crawl if you have to.”
“‘ou ‘on’t ‘ow ‘oo ‘ou’re ‘ugging ‘ith,” Paul said.
Without a tongue, it’s hard to make consonants, but I got his message. So did Emily.
“See?” Emily said. “There’s your agreement. Shoot him now.”
“It’s self defense. He tried to rape you. You defended yourself. They might not even find the body if the storm takes it.”
“Either help me or get out of the way.”
Paul rolled slowly to his hands and knees. I covered him with my gun.
“Okay, Paul. Hands visible. To the stairs now, before the next wave. Emily, you go first.”
A loud pop filled my ears and a searing pain slammed me between my shoulder blades like a bat hitting my funny bone only ten thousand times worse and all over my body. Millions of little needles shot through me. My brain tried to give commands to my muscles to move, but my muscles sent contradictory signals. Hearing and vision slowed down. My mind fogged over and I couldn’t decide if I should stand or sit or fall.
I dropped my gun.
As soon as I splashed into the water on the floor, my mind cleared and I knew what had happened. Emily had hit me with a stun gun. Damn me for not checking her LED. Modern stun guns come disguised as lights, phones and even pens. I’d had experience with stunners, so I knew what was happening.
The pain went away once contact with the gun was broken, but the effects lingered. The stun gun signals all of your muscles to go to work, not in a coordinated way, but all at once. My body ached like I’d done a gym session with every muscle group at the same time in just a few seconds. I lay helpless on the floor, incapable of summoning them into moving.
Emily picked up my gun and aimed it at Paul. Paul rose slowly from the floor. Before he could stand, the doors shattered and a wall of water and debris burst into the room. The surge lifted me up and carried me through the living room and dining room and slammed me against the wall.
I struggled to keep my head up, determined not to die this way. My muscles responded sluggishly. Two more waves tumbled me around. One pushed the sofa into me and I clung tight as the stun effect wore off.
Finally, came a lull.
As violent as the wind and rain had been, everything ceased. The sun broke through, bright and clear. The eye of the hurricane had reached us. Even the sea calmed enough for me to regain my footing. Bits of shattered furniture floated in nipple deep water. More dangers lay on the floor. Rocks, glass, twisted metal. I pushed slowly and carefully through the water until I found Emily in what was left of the kitchen. She had found refuge on the kitchen counter, curled into a ball. Although battered and bleeding, she was alive. I helped her up the stairs.
Once she was safe, I went back down to the flooded lower level for Paul. Sunlight filled the house, which was eerily quiet without the wind and the rain. Only the slapping of floating debris against the walls broke the silence.
I entered the workout room. The force of the water had overturned the universal machine and the weight rack. Two stability balls bobbed together in the corner. I stepped on a dumbbell on the floor. It rolled out from under me and I fell back into the water.
When I came up, Paul was there. He’d lost my bra under his chin and his jaw flopped loosely.
“Paul, I’ll help you.”
He gave a loud, inhuman wail and launched himself at me. His hands went around my throat and we went down with him on top. He had reserves of strength I didn’t have. My punches bounced ineffectually off his body. I couldn’t pull his hands away from my throat. My chest burned for lack of air. I flailed my arms in a desperate attempt to grab something. My hand contacted a dumbbell. I had little strength left and the water added resistance, but I managed to hit him in the head with enough force to knock him off me.
I burst to the surface gasping and vomiting. Paul floated face down in the water. I flipped him over and pulled him to the floating stability balls. His breathing was slow and shallow. I wedged a ball into the corner and draped his body over it to float him to the stairs.
Emily gave no help in getting him up the stairs. I twisted a long strand of duct tape from a roll left in a bedroom into a rope of sorts and hauled him to safety.
Emily watched me bind Paul’s hands and feet with the duct tape.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“We’re going to ride out the storm and then I’m going to turn him over to the police who will put him in a hospital to wait for trial and I will stand guard outside his door to make sure nobody pulls the plug on him. The son of a bitch is going to stay alive at least until the end of the semester. Then I will demand the rest of my payment from his father. I know I deserve it.”
“Do you really think he’ll pay up?”
“He will, or he’ll find out who he’s fucking with. He thought he hired arm candy, but he hired the wrong girl. I am not arm candy.”
“Let him die,” Emily said. “It’s what he deserves for raping my sister and other women.”
“Nobody dies on my watch.”
I removed the gold cross from around my neck. Its presence on my skin revolted me. I gave it to Emily.
“Keep it for when you get out of prison.”
She looked at me without comprehension.
“Let me lay it out for you, honey. First, you trespassed on my deck. Second, you tried to kill MY PRINCIPAL. Third, you hit me with A STUN GUN.”
I hit her hard. No nipple trick, so I didn’t break her jaw, but I did turn out her lights. Then I put on a tee shirt and welcomed the rest of the storm.
NOTE TO THE READER
Mahalo means “Thank you” in Hawaiian. So mahalo for choosing The Rules. I sincerely hope you enjoyed Ava’s adventure. If you would like more Ava, look for The Splintered Paddle, a crime novel from Five Star Publications coming in June 2014.
Connect with me online:
Facebook: Mark Troy
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Skywritermt
Aloha ka kou,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Troy grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Following college, he and his wife served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Thailand. From Thailand, the Troys moved to Hawaii where, after earning his doctorate at the University of Hawaii, Mark began writing mystery stories featuring a Honolulu private eye. Success, however, eluded him. A few years later, Mark took a job at Texas A&M University and moved his family to Texas, but left his detective in Honolulu to fend for herself. Fend, she did. His first novel, Pilikia Is My Business, was nominated for a Shamus Award for best first private eye novel. His short stories have been published in numerous magazines, ezines and anthologies. When not writing, Mark competes in marathons and triathlons.
Books by Mark Troy, available in the Kindle Store
Pilikia Is My Business, a novel
Game Face, a collection of short stories