Here’s the thing…
Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.
I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.
But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.
Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.
There was no fanfare when I walked out of the hospital lobby and out into the cool afternoon. After the heat, we were due some rain, and looking up to the sky, it was imminent.
I hadn’t organized a ride and was hoping to get a taxi. It was probably the wrong time of the day. Standing in the curb, I noticed a black SUV pulling into the drive-through, distinguishable by the reflective windows. FBI or the state’s equivalent?
It stopped in front of me, and I stepped back, expecting a couple of Feds to get out. Instead, the passenger door window opened and I could see a woman at the wheels.
When she turned to look at me, I recognized the face instantly. Nadia.
No hello, how are you, beg your pardon.
I climbed in, and we were moving almost before I shut the door. The forward momentum did that.
“Is there a reason for this cloak and dagger approach? It’s good to see you, and all that, by the way.”
“I’m trying to keep under the radar. The sheriff seems to think I know more than I told them, which was nothing. I hope you did the same.”
“What would be the point? Alex and your brother took control of the narrative, days before we were found.”
“They did. Deceitful lying little…”
It was clear that just talking about them made her extremely angry, so I figured I should change the subject.
“When are you going back to Italy?”
It didn’t take long to realize she was heading towards The Grove, and we were not far from the Mall. I wondered if there was still a hold on the demolition.
“Soon. I have a few jobs to attend to before then.”
I was going to ask what jobs, but then decided I was better off not knowing.
“How did you know I was leaving the hospital?”
“I called, pretending to be your mother. She seems to spend a lot of time with Benderby.”
A sidelong glance at the girl I hardly knew, to say it was odd that she was interested in what my mother was doing was an understatement. I thought I had some understanding of the girl I’d come to like a lit more than I should, but now I wasn’t so sure.
“Does it matter?”
“You can see what Benderby is doing, can’t you?”
“Take me out of the equation, of course. Shiny new promotion and all, at work. She’s going to be disappointed all round I guess when I leave town.”
“You thought about going to Italy with me?”
“Anywhere but here. I don’t think Boggs’s death has sunk in yet. Mad as he might have been he didn’t deserve what he got.”
“You don’t believe he slipped and fell?”
“Nor does Charlene.”
“Charlene is naive.”
Charlene still believed the world wasn’t a corrupt place, and that the law was the same for everyone. The job was going to destroy her in the end.
“Or she might just find a way to bring Alex and Vince down, that is if you still think Vince needs to be taught the error of his ways. I didn’t think he would have the temerity to attach his own sister.”
“Neither did I, but my suspicion there was something wrong with him mentally was right. He crossed a line, Sam, and in my book, you cried that line, you don’t come back.”
Instead of heading straight on, where I thought she was heading for her beachside shack, we took the side road to the mall and the rear carpark.
The whole site was abandoned now, with the demolition halted. Even the security guards had abandoned the place, their demountable office closed, and in darkness.
She parked the car some distance from the side door we used on our last visit, behind the overgrown tree line that separated the staff carpark from the customer’s. The question was, what were we doing there.
As they say, the silence was deafening.
I didn’t know what to think. After everything that happened in such a short space of time, my head was still reeling.
I guess I should have been pleased that I worked put where the treasure once was and that we had solved the mysterious disappearances of Boggs senior and Ormiston. I wanted to tell the respective families, but given the threat of both Alex and Vince, and no doubt Benderby himself, made it difficult.
There was also the possibility no one would believe me since the evidence had been removed.
And there was no doubt the near-death experience had crystallized my desire to change my life, and definitely get away from this place which now seemed more like a prison than a home.
Then, there was Nadia.
I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams actually being in the same room as Nadia, let alone stealing a kiss. Just a touch of hands had the effect of sending an electric charge through me, and the thought of doing anything else almost made me weak at the knees.
I wondered if she had any idea of the effect she had on me.
A stolen glance showed her sitting relaxed, eyes closed, the hint of a smile on her face. What was she thinking?
A few seconds later I felt her hand touch mine, and it was like getting an electric shock. Almost instinctively our fingers intertwined. She opened her eyes and turned her head to look at me.
“I had a lot of time, back in the cave, to think about stuff I never really thought about before. You think you have all the time in the world, but the truth is, you don’t. Everything can be taken away from you in an instant, and all those things you said you’d do one day, never happen.”
“All part of the near-death experience. It got me thinking too. Everything I was going to do, one day. And for a little while there, I honestly believed I’d wasted my whole life.”
“It’s funny, or rather not funny, what you think was important, and really isn’t. We shared something nearly everyone else won’t or could, Sam.”
She held up her hand in mine. “Like this. A month ago, this would not have happened, you and I, not a possibility. I was too wrapped up in who and what I was, that overdose of self-importance and ego, when the reality was I am nothing more than just another speck on the landscape.”
“You’re more than that, Nadia.”
“To you, yes. To everyone else, no. I was brought up to believe the family was everything, but, in the end, it counted for nothing.” She sighed. “To them, I’ll be nothing but a girl. I can’t tell how disappointed I was, or repeat what I said to my father, or that which I now refuse to call my mother.”
I wondered what I could say that would make her feel better, but there was nothing in my word armory.
“If it’s any consolation, I want to go to Italy with you, and explore the possibilities.”
She smiled. “Summers are magic, you wake up, the early morning sun caressing warmth on your body, the tactile feel of the person lying next to you. It’s hard not to imagine those feelings coursing through you.”
Did that mean she had a boyfriend back in Italy? My have must have expressed my thoughts.
“You are the one in my thoughts, Sam. It’s you there beside me and has been since getting out of the cave. I know you feel the same about me.”
My heart missed a beat, or three. I could see us there, together, bodies entwined.
“Now hold that thought. We have one last job to do, and I think you’ll appreciate it.”
I hadn’t realized I’d stopped breathing and let out a long breath. If it were up to me, I’d be on the next plane to Rome.
Instead, it looked like we were going to make a final visit to the mall.
© Charles Heath 2020-2022