‘The Game’ by Guest Author Alex Knight

Guest Author Alex Knight

Guest Author Alex Knight

There is a saying most of us are familiar with, ‘never kid a kidder’ and when you play the game it becomes a commandment: ‘thou shall not con a con artist.’ There is another saying, ‘never give a sucker an even break’ and generally we don’t. These are the two rules we live by and as with all rules, there are exceptions. We also have a couple of unofficial rules and those who have been playing the game long enough know to abide by them. We never infringe on each other’s territory or game. Michael’s on the Mile is one of the bars in my territory and I have several games. Since I confine myself to the ‘mile’ and never venture out of it, there is never any conflict between any of the other players and me.

Today I am playing the grieving widow, running a con on a mark at the bar, when a familiar face starts crowding me. In seconds I realize he’s targeting me. Obviously he doesn’t recognize me as one of the players. Then I think about how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other; perhaps he doesn’t remember me. I brush him off; he’s slow on taking a hint but finally gives up. I turn my concentration back to my mark.

The bait I dangle in front of him works and I set up a meeting for tomorrow at noon. Emotionally drained I head for home and the comfort that only a hot bath and a snifter of cognac can provide. It’s been two years since Carter died. It was his passing that gave me the idea of my grieving widow scam. Even though we had never had a marriage license, we enjoyed all the other marital benefits. I was inconsolable when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Thinking of him brings back memories and tears.

We met through a mutual friend ten years ago at a convention. Yes, con artists do get together and hold conventions. We discuss vacations, retirement, new con games and any players who are foolish enough to break the few rules we have. Those who do are usually run out of town fast. If they ever come back someone drops a dime on them.

One of the other things we discuss is temporarily working together if someone needs a partner for a particular scam. That’s what brought Carter into my life. He had the perfect game and needed a young female to help pull it off. I was young, daring and could think on my feet; I had a brilliant future ahead of me.  My old friend Professor Wiggins thought Carter and I would work well together. He was right. I don’t know if Wiggins is his real name and I doubt he was ever a professor but that doesn’t matter to me. For the eight years I was blessed to have shared my life with Carter. I owe Professor Wiggins a debt I can never repay.

Then it hits me and I remember who the player in the bar is. Scrambling from the tub I knock over my drink shattering the crystal, but that is the least of my worries. If I’m right I’m going to have to put myself at risk until this guy is caught in the act. I reach for the cordless phone just as Hunter begins to bark. I drop it back on its base and reach into the drawer of the nightstand for my gun instead.

The gun within reach, I step into black track pants and tee shirt. Once again I grip the gun and head for the patio door. In seconds I was out in the night air unnoticed. Hunter stopped barking and the sudden silence chilled my heart. My faithful companion is an excellent watchdog and not given to barking at squirrels or the neighbor’s wandering cat. Had the danger moved on, or is she incapable of issuing further warning? I crept along the perimeter of the yard, sticking close to the privacy fence. In the moonlight I could see Hunter standing sentry, facing north. I dropped to my belly and crawled across the open yard to be with her. Although she has ceased to bark something is still giving her concern.

“What is it Hunter?” I whisper in her right ear as if she can answer me. My eyes and ears strain to pick up whatever she is sensing. Her body is still tense so I know that even if our intruder has moved on, something is not right. There is still a threat to be dealt with. I give her the hand signal to stand down and I crawl to the back fence. From a distance they are invisible, but when you get closer there are peepholes all over the fence at various heights. Never intended for that purpose they were a design flaw that proved invaluable more than once.

I can see no sign of an intruder or anything suspicious, but I know something is wrong. Stretched out and seemingly relaxed, Hunter watches my every move; prepared for any signal I might give. How I treasure this dog for more than the companion she is. Barely over two years old, she was the last gift I received from Carter.

I needed to be on the other side of the fence and since I saw no one present, I decided to go for it. I gave Hunter the signal she was waiting for and she cleared the fence with ease. I find the hand and toe holds I need and I’m crouching on top of the fence in seconds. Dropping to the other side easily, I whisper in Hunter’s ear again. “Find it, girl.” She sniffs around and finds what she is looking for, the scent of our intruder. She stops at a huge elm and looks upward. It would be too easy for the intruder to still be there but if he were, Hunter would never have stopped barking.

I climb the tree looking for whatever it is that bothers Hunter. It’s not as easy as it should be and I realize I’m out of shape. When was the last time I worked out? Carter and I used to exercise several times a week in our gym. Surely I have been in it since he died, haven’t I? I wonder how long has it been since I have taken Hunter for a good run? She never complains but deserves better. I make a mental note to take her to the cottage this weekend so we can run along the beach.

On the branch ahead I discover a video camera fixed on my backyard and house. I’m relieved to see the red light is not on. Had Hunter’s barking chased him away before he could turn it on, or was he going to activate it by remote? My previous suspicion is confirmed, Marshall Peters is back in the city and not recognizing me as a player, I’m the first wealthy, young widow he has targeted.

I leave the camera where it is and return to the yard with Hunter. I spend a few extra minutes with her, reward her for a job well done and remind her to maintain a relaxed vigil.

This was step one of Marshall’s game and while I have to remain alert, there is no immediate danger. It’s time for me to go inside and make some phone calls. The first is to the Professor so he can get the word out to the regulars. If Marshall decides to try for more than one target at a time, the others will watch and interfere with his approaching any other victims. That is the easy call; the next one will be much harder.

“Whoever you are this had better be damned important, it’s 3 a.m.,” the husky voice growls in my ear.

“He’s back.” There’s no need to identify myself or to elaborate as to which ‘he’ I am referring. Never being one to drop a dime, I would only call about one person.

“Kate, are you sure?”

“I’m sure, I’m his target.”

There is a sharp intake of breath, and then Jack Edwards of the FBI curses and announces he is coming right over.

“Jack, you can’t. He has the house under video surveillance. If you want to catch him you have to play this out.”

“Are you still carrying?”

“What do you think?”

“Did you get a license like I told you?”

“You know this thing I have about licenses of any kind.”

He swears, warns me to be careful, tells me he’ll watch my back, swears again and hangs up.  Jack has been in love with me since our senior year, proposing many times and finally backing away when Carter and I became a couple. He proposed again a year after Carter’s passing. I told him I wasn’t ready to move on yet and he accepted that. Jack has also turned a blind eye to almost everything I did, as long as no one was physically hurt or filed a complaint. Since most suckers are too embarrassed to admit they’ve been conned, ninety-eight percent of them accept their losses and lick their wounds.

 

Marshall Peters was never one of the regulars and he refused to acknowledge our rules. He’d target several wealthy widows and separate them from everything they had. It was only after he left town that a number of bodies were discovered. Now he’s after me. Without knowing it he’s about to con a con and I am a much better player than he is.

I shower and get ready to meet Hector, my mark. He has made a fortune on a phony investment scheme and generally we would have no quarrel with that. The strike against him is that he victimizes seniors, robbing them of their meager pensions. If he had targeted the Wall Street barracudas, or others who could easily recover from their losses, we would have let him be. Hector’s scheme is not sophisticated enough to separate such shrewd operators from their cash and we decided that if he couldn’t play the game with honor, it was time to shut him down. That is another reason why Jack leaves us alone; we are the good guys in this shady business known as ‘the game.’

I arrive ahead of time. I always like to get a feel for the atmosphere and check out any possible complications in advance. I settle into the reserved booth and casually glance around for Jack. I know he’ll be lurking nearby. When he said he would watch my back I had no doubt whatsoever that he would. Even with my trained eye and the fact that I had known him for ages it takes me a couple of minutes to spot him, he is just that good. I have to admit that I feel better knowing he is already on the job.

Hector arrives and we start talking business over the first drink. My story is music to his ears. I tell him that I have money coming to me, but not fast enough to keep my house and all of the other luxuries to which I am accustomed. Alfred’s grown children have contested the Will and it could be a maximum of ten days before the judge makes his decision and the nightmare will be over. I give him a copy of the lawyer’s letter to read. When he sees that I am going to inherit a minimum of eight million dollars even if I lose, he almost licks his lips.

“So you see, even if his children succeed, I still walk away a wealthy woman. If the judge decides in my favor, I get it all.”

“Surely the banks…”

I wave him off. “I’m over extended now and the president is an old college chum of Alfred’s son. He won’t give me an extra minute over the deadline. I pay twenty thousand this afternoon or I’m out on the street tonight. I’m willing to pay handsomely on a short term loan, but the thought of dealing with loan sharks scares me to death.”

“Well I can certainly offer you a better rate of interest than the loan sharks and I’m friendlier too.” He is almost drooling.

“Yes, I can see that you are.” I shed a tear and smile my relief through trembling lips.

Handing me a hanky he says, “Now, now, no more of that. You are far too pretty for tears, my dear.”

I want to slug him but I know when he realizes what I have done, his smile will disappear fast enough. I see Jack grinning and wonder if he is listening to this.

Hector gives me a check in the amount of thirty thousand dollars and I give him the pink slip on the Porsche as collateral and my own check for forty thousand dollars, post-dated for ten days time. The pink slip and my check are as phony as the rest of my story; I just need his bank account number and he foolishly supplied it to me.

I agree to meet him for dinner later, leave the restaurant and head home for some quick computer sleuthing. One of the regulars gets me the bank codes I need and I am able to check the balance of his account in a flash. I figure this must be his petty cash account because he only has four hundred thousand in it and I know he has a lot more than that. Then I find the links to the other accounts. Tallying up the balances I realize that he has been busy indeed. Without ever doing an honest day’s work, he has over twenty-five million spread out in several different banks.

I transfer the money from one account to another. Once I’m certain that the trail is impossible to follow, I make the anonymous donations to the city’s homeless shelters and soup kitchens spreading money equally to all agencies. I don’t need any of it; I have more than I can ever spend. Sometimes I wonder why I’m still in the game but I already know the answer, I’m good at it and it’s the only life I know.

Carefully made up again, I enter the bank to present Hector’s check. The manager himself comes out to apologize and inform me that the account has insufficient funds to honor the check. He assures me that there has never been a problem with this account before and if I can wait until he contacts the account holder, it can probably be straightened immediately. I tell him that I will be meeting the account holder for dinner soon and will discuss the matter with him then. I have him put that humiliating ‘insufficient funds’ stamp on the check. I am going to savor the evening and the look on Hector’s face.

“I can’t believe you would do that to me, let me think that you were helping me. You let me walk into that bank knowing that the check was worthless.” I choke on that last bit and the tears are flowing nonstop.

“Nonsense, it must be a computer error. I have more than enough money to cover this.” Hector pulls out his cell phone and dials an 800 number. Pushing a series of buttons in rapid sequence, his face freezes. He dials another number and repeats the process and then another and another. He turns white. “It’s…it’s the computers, it must be.”

“No, the computers aren’t to blame for this one, Hector.  Easy come, easy go.” I smile, stand up and turn away, then turn back again. I add, “Tonight’s on me,” and throw down five crisp one hundred dollar bills, “be sure to tip the staff handsomely.”

Jack is driving the cab I jump into. “You never cease to amaze me, Jack.” I grin at him and he grins back.

“Nor you me. I hear the shelters and soup kitchens have an unknown benefactor to thank for some unexpected and extreme largesse.”

“Not completely unknown.” We both laugh and then Jack says that we are being followed. I tell him to take me to Winston’s; it’s my favorite little jazz bar. It is time for the grieving widow to cozy up to her would-be killer. He starts to argue with me and realizes it’s useless. Besides, unless they catch Marshall in the act, they’ll never get the goods on him or be able to stop him.

I think about the women who had been denied a second chance in life because of Marshall. I already have my own plan in mind for stopping him. As I look at the back of Jack’s neck, I realize that I am ready for my second chance. I suppress the urge to brush my lips against his nape and get out of the cab wondering what disguise he is going to don next in order to stay close to me all night. I smile feeling lighter in spirit than I have in a very long time.

I’m sipping bourbon on the rocks when Marshall approaches me. I hate bourbon, but what else do you drink with jazz, certainly not champagne? Marshall asks if he can join me and I look around the crowded bar.

“It’s pretty packed in here tonight, I guess you had better sit down before someone else claims that chair.” I give the briefest hint of a smile and that’s all the invitation he needs.

“You look familiar to me; don’t I know you from somewhere?”

“Gee, now that’s an original line if ever I heard one.”

“No really, I’m sure I know you.”

I let him pretend a bit longer and then offer, “I usually do my best drinking at Michael’s on the Mile.”

“Of course, that’s it. You were there with a date last night, I remember now.”

I dangle the carrot. “Hardly a date, just someone I was going to have handle some investments for me, I’m still thinking about it. I’ll start small and see what he can do for me before I give him any real money.”

He smiles that radiant con artist smile and says, “Perhaps this is where I should introduce myself.” He opens a gold-plated business card holder, withdraws a card and offers it to me.

I read aloud, “Peter Marshall, Investments Ltd.”  Gee, what a clever alias. “Well Peter this certainly is a timely encounter. Kate Simmons; pleased to meet you.” I extend my hand and instead of shaking it, he brushes his lips to it. Damn I’m going to have to scrub that one extra hard before bed tonight. I never use my real name with marks, but when the time comes I want Marshall to exit this world with my name on his lips. The jazz quartet starts a blues number called “Black Coffee” and while the singer is no Fitzgerald, she certainly does the song justice. I do a double take; Jack has replaced the piano player. His blue chip stock just went way up. I barely hear what Marshall is saying.

“You do eat lunch, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course. I’m just trying to remember if I have any commitments that might interfere.”

“Think about it while we dance.” He takes my hand and leads me to the postage stamp dance floor. I have to do this but I hate every second of it. This is compounded by the realization that I long to be dancing with Jack, long to be in his embrace. I snap out of it and focus Marshall. I smile into his eyes and he’s certain he has me. As I move against him seductively, I know I have him.

Brushing the raven locks away from my ear, he whispers that I am irresistible. I’m sure he means it, but I also know it won’t stop him from robbing and killing me when the time comes. I hear Jack hit a sour note and I know he hates this as much as I do. There is no turning back now; we are all caught up in the game.

I agree to meet Marshall for lunch tomorrow and promise that I won’t wear black.

“You look stunning in it, but I want to see you in some bright colors. In fact, we’re going shopping tomorrow, no more black for you, Kate.”

Resting my head against Marshall’s shoulder I sigh, “Perhaps you’re right, perhaps it is time to let go of the past.”  My voice rings with sincerity but I am thinking of the future and Jack.

“Atta girl.” He kisses me gently and I kiss back, tentatively and then with a promise of richer rewards. It was all part of the game.

I excuse myself and go to the ladies room. I am in the middle of gargling Marshall’s taste away when the door opens. I glance up in the mirror and my eyes meet Jack’s.

“You kissed him,” He accuses me.

“I had to,” I defend, “you know that.”

“Damn it Kate.” His voice is husky with passion and he pulls me to him.

“Pardon me, I’m sure.”  The inebriated patron glares at us as she hurries to the nearest stall, her need greater than ours.

The moment is lost. Jack thrusts some items into my hand and exits as quickly as he entered. I look down at the odd assortment I hold. There is a gold compact with the initials K.S. delicately engraved. How did he know I would use my real name, did he know me that well? The gold pen and the key chain also bear my initials and complete the set of goodies he has given me. I’m sure that each item contains a listening or tracking device. I put a house key on the weathered key chain and realize that not one of the items appears new. You have to hand it to Jack, he thinks of everything. I carefully arrange the items in my purse.

I return to an impatient Marshall and tell him I really have to get home. I have a dog to feed and need my beauty sleep if we are to go on a shopping trip as well as have lunch tomorrow. He pouts when I refuse to let him take me home, but I allow him to put me in a cab. I tell the driver my address and give Marshall a brief kiss through the window. It’s going to be extra strength mouthwash for me tonight.

I go through the motions when I get home in case the video camera has already been activated.  In fact, I have to do everything with the idea that Marshall is now watching the house. I feed Hunter, play with her and hum “Black Coffee” as I make my way to the back door. As good as Marshall is, he could not have gained access to the interior of the house without my detecting it and so far there is no sign of an attempt. I turn the bedroom light on and make sure I am caught in silhouette as I undress. I turn out the light and climb between silk sheets. I hear my cell phone vibrate on the nightstand and look at the message that is displayed on the screen.

‘Sleep well sweet Kate; Hunter and I are both standing guard.’ That is followed by, ‘nice strip tease’.

I hoped he was watching. I smile and kiss the phone, silly I know, but hey…it’s a girl thing.

I do sleep well. Any dreams I may have had are long forgotten by the time I open my eyes. I put my hair up in a high ponytail and pull a few strands loose, to hang down in careful disarray. The white terry robe is just long enough to cover what needs to be covered and nothing else. It came with a pair of white terry shorts and normally I wear them, but not this time. It’s time to speed things up; I’m in a hurry to get on with my life and that means dealing with Marshall first. I feed Hunter again and race around the yard with her for a few minutes. She understands this is not our normal routine, but she plays the game anyway. How I love this dog.

I go inside and have my first coffee of the day, strong and black, just the way I hate it. I need that bitter taste in my mouth to cope with the upcoming events. I shower and open the closet door to survey my wardrobe. It’s extensive, I have a complete set of clothes to go with every game I play, and then there are my real life clothes. Those are less elaborate and follow classic lines. I decide on a forest green sheath, put diamond studs in my ears and wear the good watch. It had to be good, it cost Carter fifty thousand dollars and retailed for much more. Although I have real and fake jewelry, I know Marshall’s eyes will be able to tell the difference in an instant. His livelihood depends on it.

Marshall picks me up on time and we head for the shops. I steer him away from the ones I normally patronize; choosing instead the trendier, more expensive places that I never enter. The last thing I need is a familiar sales clerk commenting on my recent purchases while ringing in the sale. It goes smoothly and we have lunch aboard his yacht. I agree to have dinner with him tonight and breakfast with him tomorrow. Before he gets any ideas, I tell him he can pick me up at 8 a.m.

“Have you made any more plans to invest with that fellow?” he inquires.

“No, I haven’t given him another thought. Can’t you handle my investments?”

“Of course I can Kate, if you want me to.”

I reach for his hand and look him in the eyes, “I want you to Peter, if you handle things for me I won’t have to worry about them.” I smile. My lips beg to be kissed, he doesn’t disappoint them.

“Maybe we can get the ball rolling tomorrow. Once the business is out of the way, we can take a short cruise.”

“I’d have to arrange for Hunter to be boarded in a kennel.”

“Arrange it for the day after tomorrow. Tell them to keep her for ten days; we’ll drop her off before we head for the yacht. We’ll also stop at the bank and put your jewelry in a safety deposit box. I don’t like the idea of it sitting in an empty house.”

The day after tomorrow means he is going to strike tomorrow night. Once he thinks he has his hands on my money he won’t need me anymore. If I talk about going on a trip and book Hunter into a kennel, I won’t be missed for well over a week.

“Peter, um, I’m going to need a large box. I do have a lot of jewelry.” I feign embarrassment as I say this.

“That’s okay honey; I’ll take care of it all.”

Yeah, I’ll just bet you would. I should be worried that if things go wrong tomorrow night will be my last on this earth. Instead, serenity washes over me. Regardless of the turn of events, I will be with a man I love, but will it be Carter or Jack?

Marshall drops me off so that I can prepare for dinner. My cell phone is vibrating and my heart sings. I know the message is from Jack.

“When you leave in the morning, don’t set the alarm. Even my people can’t get past it undetected.”

I smile; I know he will be shadowing me while the techs do their thing. It vibrates again.

“See you at Latina’s.”

I wonder how Jack knows where Marshall is taking me tonight when I don’t even know and decide not to worry about it. That he knows is the important thing. I dress for Jack, a burgundy silk number that makes my hair appear blacker and my eyes bluer. I promise God that if he gets me through this and gives me another chance I will quit the game and marry Jack. Right now that is all I want out of life. Well that and maybe a baby or two.

 

Somehow I get through dinner and the rest of the evening. No doubt Marshall thinks I am smitten with him, but my mind is on Jack. My body aches for his touch. I am losing my edge and force myself to stop this schoolgirl nonsense. Marshall takes me home and I kiss him at the front door, reminding him to pick me up at eight before I make my escape.

I hit the bathroom and gargle before I go out to see Hunter. She senses my mood and gives me what comfort she can. “You’ll love him girl,” I whisper, “I do.” I straighten up go back inside and repeat last night’s performance one more time. The phone vibrates and I read the instructions, committing them to memory. There is no warm message for me tonight, nothing to give me reassurance or comfort. Is it all business then, am I a means to an end? I refuse to believe that of Jack, yet why the sudden change?

Morning finally comes. I shower and dress in an ice blue linen suit. It matches my mood, but I wear a smile that belies my feelings. Sure it’s forced, but I am the only one who knows that. I haven’t slept and all I want is for this to be over. I decide to quit the game even if Jack doesn’t want me; I no longer have a taste for it. I leave the security alarm turned off while Marshall and I head for breakfast and the bank. My jewelry cases fill two suitcases and Marshall puts them in the trunk of the car.

“You do have a lot of jewelry, don’t you?” The calculator behind his eyes is working overtime. I am wearing different, more expensive pieces today. Marshall is certain he has hit the mother lode. I smile and say nothing. After we order breakfast, I use my cell to phone the kennel at the number Jack had supplied.

“Pamper Your Pet,” a cheerful voice answers.

“This is Kate Simmons…”

“Oh yes Mrs. Simmons, are you calling to arrange for Hunter’s shots? They’re due next week.”

Her perkiness annoys me. I wonder if Jack put her up to it or if she is always that annoyingly cheerful.

“Actually, I am calling to book her into the kennel for ten days starting tomorrow.”

“Tell them they’ll have her for two weeks and they can give her the shots while she’s there.”  Marshall instructs. He can clearly hear the other end of the conversation.

“Make that two weeks instead, and you can give her the shots while she’s there.”

“Okay Mrs. Simmons, it’s all booked. See you tomorrow.”

I hang up and smile at Marshall.  “Well that’s all taken care of. So we’re going for two weeks? Should I pack anything special?”

“Just that gorgeous smile of yours, honey.”

I cringe when he calls me honey. If I didn’t know any better and had been getting over the grieving process, I would have wanted to believe him. Several other women had and their mistakes proved to be fatal.  After breakfast we drive to the bank to put my jewelry away for safekeeping.

“Is this everything?”  Marshall asks.

“Except for what I’m wearing today and a couple of pieces I wanted to wear while we’re away.”

He laughs, “Women!  Honey you won’t need any jewelry where I’m taking you, and it would be a worry when we go ashore. We’d better lock this stuff up as well.”

“Okay, I guess.”  I remove the baubles I am wearing and hand them over, and then I make it even easier for him. “Peter, I should have you sign the signature card too. That way you can come by here first and pick something up for me if I need it for a special outing.”

He looks at me in astonishment. “You must be a mind reader; I was just going to suggest that. I want us to spend all our days together Kate, the evenings as well.”

“Oh Peter,” I simper, “You don’t know how happy I am to hear you say that.” I feel sick; breakfast is threatening to come back up as the taste of bile settles in my mouth. “Darling,” I almost choke calling him that but he never notices he is so wrapped up in his scheme. “I had better get home and start packing if we’re going out to dinner again tonight. And I have to call the services to cancel them for two weeks, as well as arrange for my mail to be held.” Now I know why none of his victims were ever discovered until he was long gone.

Marshall takes me home and I go through the motions of packing, in case he makes an excuse to come in when he picks me up tonight. I know I will be safe enough at dinner. He’ll strike in the late evening, when he thinks I am fast asleep. How do I know this? All of his alleged victims were found strangled in their beds. I wonder how he plans on getting past Hunter, was he planning on killing her as well or was he actually going to take her to the vet’s in the morning?

We dine at a sushi bar and I marvel at the lengths I will go to, to nail this bastard. I hate sushi; always have, but you’d never know it by my smile and inane comments. Marshall tells me this is his favorite place for sushi and I play right up to him.

“This is absolutely the best I’ve ever eaten.” I see Jack three tables over and wonder if he is enjoying my performance, my discomfort, or both. I want to slap that grin off his face. Okay, I really want to kiss it off, but he has been too businesslike the last twenty-four hours and it infuriates me.

Finally it is time to leave and we wait for the valet to bring the car around. A young lady stumbles into me as the heel on her stiletto breaks. “Your alarm has been reset.” She whispers.

“Are you all right?” I ask, as Marshall rushes to assist her.

“Yes, thanks. Sorry for bumping you. Thank you.” She directs this last bit to Marshall as he hands her the broken heel.

We get in the car and head back to my place. “Kate, I want you to promise to go straight to bed tonight. We’re going to have an early start in the morning.”

“No problem Peter, I could fall asleep right now.” My yawn is convincing.

“That’s my girl.” We pull into the drive way and I wonder if he will try to come in.

I turn to face him.  “Peter would you like…”

“Kate, I’d love to come in, but you have to get to bed.” He tilts my chin up and searches my eyes; I’m not sure exactly what he is looking for. Apparently satisfied with what he sees, he kisses me, deeply and passionately. The sheer hunger and longing in his kiss surprises me; it seems to surprise him as well. “I love you, Kate.” The emotion in his voice is real.

I think about that kiss while I gargle. Even if he didn’t kill me tonight, there is still tomorrow and all the tomorrows that follow. However long it takes him to make his move, I will be ready for him.

I go out to see Hunter, hoping that Marshall will not catch her off guard somehow. She needs to be in the yard when he comes, everything has to appear normal. I speak softly to her, reminding her of my love and what she means to me. With tears in my eyes, I promise her all that is in my power to give. I pray to God, begging him to let me keep my promises. With my back to the camera I blow the dog whistle; Hunter hears and obeys. She understands that there will be no hand signals this evening.

I undress once more in silhouette and turn out the light. Normally I sleep in the nude, but I am expecting company and a lot of it before the evening ends. They will get enough of an eyeful with me in a nightie  . Contrary to the show I had been putting on, I’m really not an exhibitionist.

I keep vigil for over three hours and wonder if Marshal has experienced a change of heart. Then I see it, something lands in the backyard just two feet away from Hunter. Meat! Poisoned or drugged? The difference will mean the difference between a quick or slow death for Marshall, if I have the opportunity to indulge myself.

I blow the whistle. Hunter goes over to the meat, sniffs it and picks it up in her mouth. She plays with it and when I whistle again she throws herself on the ground, playing dead. Her body hides the uneaten meat. Hunter is loyal and well trained; I know she wouldn’t eat that meat even if she were starving. I also know she will never disobey me. When Marshall tiptoes into the yard several minutes later, she pays no attention, continuing to play dead.

I get back in bed and wait for Marshall to make his move. He stands in the doorway for what seems an eternity; watching the steady rising and falling of my chest. Satisfied that I am sound asleep he approaches the bed. His hands encircle my throat at the same time my hand, hidden by the comforter, grips the gun. The pressure on my throat does not increase and that puzzles me. Does he want me to be awake so that I will know I am about to die? I open my eyes and look at him. He is crying, but still he holds my throat in his grip.

“How did you get by Hunter?” I am crying now too.

“I drugged her.”

“Drugged or poisoned?” I have to know.

“Only drugged Kate, I swear.” It has the ring of truth to it.

He still does not relinquish his grip on my throat. Nor does he increase the pressure.

“What about my alarm system?”

“I bribed an employee of the security company.”

Obviously Jack had a hand in that. The company I use is not the one whose decals mysteriously appeared on my doors and windows. I wonder how the FBI got past the video cameras. I wonder a lot of things. I wonder why Marshall doesn’t increase his pressure on my throat. I wonder why he doesn’t let go. I wonder where the cavalry is. I look in his tear filled eyes, willing him to speak, willing him to make a move.

Finally he says, “I can’t do it, Kate.”

I pull the gun from under the comforter. “I can.”

I fire and he lands on top of me instead of falling away. The gun goes off a second time.

There is nothing but blackness and then I hear Jack.

“Hold on Kate, I love you, don’t leave me baby, please don’t leave me.”  Doesn’t he know I already had? Doesn’t he realize I’m dead?

“Where the hell’s the ambulance?”  Jack’s voice is coming from farther away. It is too late for an ambulance. I watch him crying, cradling me and kissing me. He curses himself for not being here in time. He curses the multi-car collision that closed the freeway, temporarily trapping him. He curses Marshall Peters and he even curses me for being so pig-headed. I love him and I forgive him. I see the agents in the yard trying to rouse Hunter; she refuses to budge.

“We’ll have to call Animal Control; they can give her a tranquilizer and take her to the shelter.”

Suddenly I am slammed back into my body. I open my eyes. I try to speak.

Hunter comes out like, “Humph.” I try again.

“Hunter?”

I cannot turn my head, but look sideways at the whistle on the nightstand. Jack understands, picks it up and places between my lips. With the last bit of breath I can muster, I give my loyal and obedient canine the signal to relax.

I wake up in the hospital not knowing how much time has elapsed. Jack is here and he looks like hell. Hunter is with him and I can only imagine how Jack managed to pull that one off. Neither of them have slept or eaten by the looks of things. Then I notice the priest. I guess this is just a temporary reprieve. I lick my lips, wetting them to make speech easier.

“Last rites, Father?  Can I have a private moment with Jack and Hunter first?” As soon as I tell Jack I love him and give him the information he’ll need for Hunter, I’ll be ready.

The priest gives me a strange look and says “No.”

“Is there so little time left? Jack?”

“Kate, you’re going to be fine. The bullet ricocheted and there was a lot of internal bleeding.  Outside of your spleen, which had to be removed, none of your other organs were damaged.”

“But the priest…?”

Jack flashes a grin and a piece of paper.

“Oh yes, well this is one license you can no longer avoid. Father Ramirez is here to solemnize our marriage vows.”