One Night Only by Samj Chapter 10

One Night Only by Samj Chapter 10

Michelle frowned in dismay at the odd assortment of groceries making their way down the belt – she had remembered to get buns and tomatoes, but apparently by the time she had reached the meat counter she had forgotten to ask for hamburger. It looked like she had completely missed the cereal aisle, while picking up half a dozen cans of split pea soup. I don’t even LIKE split pea soup, she thought wryly.

The obvious inadequacies of her selections forced her to admit where her thoughts had really been – Danny. She knew he had been released from the hospital that morning, and wondered whether he was comfortable at home, whether he was being well cared for…and who was caring for him.

The cashier’s voice broke into Michelle’s thoughts. “Twenty-eight sixteen Miss,” she said tiredly.

Michelle handed over her credit card mechanically, her thoughts still dominated by Danny…as they had been almost constantly since her teary departure from his hospital room. She had run the full gamut of emotions – including compassion, hate, desire, fear – but more than anything she felt anger. She was angry that he had lied to her, angry that he had made her care about him, knowing that they couldn’t be together, and most importantly angry that he was making her doubt herself – for the first time since she’d moved to Chicago she was considering going back to Springfield.

“Sign here please,” the cashier prompted. Michelle did so, took her receipt, and pushed the cart with her bagged groceries toward the door.

You only made one little mistake – stop worrying about it.

She laughed without humor, oblivious to the stares of the other customers she passed. I slept with a mob boss. Twice! That doesn’t exactly qualify as a “little” mistake.

But it isn’t the end of the world, either. It sure as hell isn’t a good enough reason to go running back to Springfield.

“Why not?” she asked in frustration, before the startling sounds of slamming brakes and a blaring car horn brought her attention back to the world around her.

“Sorry!” Michelle called contritely to the driver while quickly pushing her cart out of his path.

Maybe Dad and Bill are right – maybe I just need to go home where it’s safe and where there are people who will take care of me.

She pulled her car keys from the pocket of her shorts and pressed the “unlock” button. Damn it! her rational side screamed. You’re perfectly capable of taking care of yourself, so stop this – NOW!

“Damn you Danny Santos,” she growled, flinging open the back door and shoving a bag of groceries onto the seat. “My life was totally fine until you invaded it.”

“Danny has that effect on a lot of people,” an unfamiliar male voice breathed directly in her ear, but she barely heard the words because of the cold metal pressing into her back.

“Turn around sweetheart,” the voice commanded. “Slowly; you don’t wanna do anything stupid here.”

Michelle’s entire body shook, and her breathing was shallow and erratic, as she turned to face her assailant. “Wh- wh- what do you want from me?” she stuttered, her eyes darting between the two well-armed thugs before her.

“We’re gonna go for a little ride, sweetheart,” the original speaker explained, clearly amused by Michelle’s palpable fear. He pointed to his left with the gun then trained it on her once again, “over there, the car’s waiting.”

Michelle’s legs felt like lead, but she focused all of her energy on forcing them to move. She had only managed a few steps when another figure appeared.

He was impeccable dressed in a dark suit and Italian loafers that Michelle thought must’ve cost more than her entire wardrobe. He immediately took control of the situation, addressing the thugs as though they were reasonable businessmen in the middle of a negotiation.

“Gentlemen,” rumbled the deep baritone, “there must be some mistake here.”

“No mistake,” the formerly silent kidnapper replied with false bravado, “there’s someone who wants to speak’ to Michelle.”

“Miss Bauer,” the man corrected, emphasizing the name, “is a personal friend of mine.” Fixing the two thugs with a glare that left no room for misinterpretation he finished evenly, “she’s very much under my protection.”

The men were completely shaken – they knew the consequences of returning without fulfilling their orders, but they could also imagine the consequences of kidnapping someone who was under this man’s protection.

While they mentally weighed their options, Michelle desperately tried to consider her own, but she found that her brain didn’t really want to cooperate. She wanted to press the panic button on her keychain and then run for the safety of the store, but she knew that the two thugs could out-run her. She thought about screaming for help, but this was Chicago and most people ignored the screams they heard on the street.

After what seemed like eons but was merely a matter of seconds, the first thug spoke. “We apologize, sir, for our mistake.” He bowed his head in a show of respect, nudging his partner to do the same.

The man opened his arms wide and said magnanimously, “Of course, it was a simple mistake.” His next words were a warning: “One I’m sure you won’t make again.”

“No, no, certainly not,” they both mumbled, staring at their shoes.

“Good, very good. Well, gentlemen, I believe that concludes our business here. If you’ll excuse us….” He tilted his head, indicating that he expecting the two thugs to leave – an order they were more than happy to comply with.

They walked slowly at first, trying to maintain an appearance of dignity, but practically broke into a run before they reached their car. Michelle’s rescuer watched them drive away, then nodded to two of his men, who followed the pair at a discrete distance; Michelle’s eyes never left her rescuer.

Once he was assured that the situation had been handled adequately, he turned his attention to Michelle. He spoke quietly and evenly in an attempt to keep her calm. “Do you know who I am Miss Bauer?” he asked.

She nodded silently, too afraid and overwhelmed to speak.

His words were tinged with a paternal concern as he asked politely, “Will you come with me, then, please?”

Again Michelle could only nod.

He took her arm lightly and led her to his car, where the driver stood with the door opened. “I promise you, Miss Bauer,” he assured her as he helped her into the car and took the seat opposite her, “you’ll be perfectly safe with me.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Danny sat on the overstuffed couch in the living room of his condo, beating his fingers against the arm-rest and providing a running commentary of his discontent with the flurry of activity surrounding him.

Carmen looked over at her son from across the room, where she was placing a get-well flower arrangement from one of the other “families” on the fireplace mantle.

“Daniel, please,” she exclaimed, her patience wearing thin. He waited expectantly for her to continue, somewhat surprised by her abrupt change of tone.

“Stop fidgeting,” she demanded. “You’re making me nervous.”

In response he swung his feet to the floor, intending to stand up and join the activity, but Carmen was at his side before he could do so.

“Danny, you need to rest,” she instructed, fluffing the pillows behind his back.

“This is ridiculous,” he muttered, running his hand through his hair in frustration. “I’m fine, Mama. That’s why the hospital released me.”

“You’re a lousy patient,” Carmen observed, sitting down beside him, “and they needed the bed. That’s why the hospital released you.”

Danny decided to try a different approach. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been shot -”

“Danny, are you giving your poor mother a hard time?” Ray asked, walking into the room and standing in front of the pair.

“Ray!” Danny practically shouted in enthusiasm. “Please tell me you’re here to spring me from the invalid ward.”

“Danny, you aren’t going anywhere,” Carmen reminded him.

“Ray, would you please tell her that I’m perfectly fine,” Danny implored.

“Do you really think Ray’s the best person to make that argument?” Carmen countered, recalling Ray’s most recent hospitalization.

“I didn’t come here to make any arguments,” Ray answered. “I just came over to watch the ball game on your extravagantly expensive satellite system.”

Danny reluctantly acknowledged his defeat. “Could I at least have a beer, then, if we’re watching a ball game?”

“Not while you’re still taking pain medication,” Carmen answered, unhappy that she had to keep denying her son’s requests. “How about orange soda instead,” she suggested brightly. “It’ll be just like when the two of you were kids and we’d go to watch Mick play at St. Michael’s.”

“Sure,” they both conceded as Danny reached for the TV remote and searched for the game.
*****
The Cubs were leading the Dodgers 2-1 when Danny’s right-hand man, Jimmy, appeared at his elbow. “Boss,” he whispered, “we have a problem.”

Carmen fixed Jimmy with a withering glance. “It can wait,” she commanded. “My son needs to rest.”

“Mother,” Danny warned. Turned back to Jimmy he asked, “what’s going on?”

“The police found an abandoned car at the grocery store on Harrison,” Jimmy related. “It looks like the owner was loading groceries when she just disappeared.'”

“And this is my problem because…” Danny prompted.

Jimmy swallowed audibly, wishing he didn’t have to be the one to tell Danny. “The car’s registered to Michelle Bauer.”

“Damn it!” Danny yelled, jumping off the couch. “Did anyone see what happened? How long has she been missing?”

“Danny, what’s the matter? Who is this girl to you?” Carmen asked, worried by her son’s frantic behavior.

Danny didn’t even hear her, his thoughts moving in a million different directions as he waited for Jimmy’s response.

Jimmy read from the information in his notebook. “Her credit card receipt was time-stamped 8:10 p.m., so it’s been a little less than three hours. None of the store personnel saw her once she left the building, and there aren’t any security cameras in the parking lot.”

“What about other customers?” Carmen asked, running through the usual list of questions even though she didn’t fully understand what Danny and Jimmy were talking about.

“No one reported anything unusual,” Jimmy answered respectfully, “and the store won’t release any info on the customers who might’ve come in or out around the same time.”

“I want that info,” Danny demanded, giving Jimmy his own hard glare. “And I want everyone out looking for her. Everyone!”

“I’ll get right on it,” Jimmy assured him, striding purposefully from the room.

Carmen stood up in front of the couch, her hands clenched into fists and resting on her hips, her eyes blazing with impatience. “Would someone please explain to me why we’re so worried about this girl?”

Ray, who had been quietly observing since Jimmy entered the room, decided it would be best to answer Carmen before Danny said something he would later regret. “Aunt Carmen,” he began, waiting for her to transfer her attention to him, “do you remember the resident who was sitting with me while Danny was in surgery?”

Carmen nodded, wondering if Ray would tell her what she wanted to know or simply relate some useless story from his parish work as he often did. “She’d been your doctor while you were recovering,” she recalled.

“And that was true, Aunt Carmen,” Ray continued, treading carefully. “But she knew Danny before that. They were seeing each other.”

Although Carmen was hurt that Danny hadn’t shared this news of this new relationship with her earlier, she knew that now was not the time to question the depth of his feelings for this girl. Instead, she would concentrate on helping her son.

“Do you think her disappearance is connected to your shooting?” Carmen asked Danny.

Danny had stopped listening to everything around him as soon as Jimmy left the room; his mother’s question didn’t even register. When he couldn’t reach Nino or Teresa, he threw the cell phone across the room and watched with some satisfaction as it crashed against the fireplace.

Ray was on his feet as soon as the phone left Danny’s hand. He grabbed Danny from behind and held his arms against his chest to prevent a further outburst. “Hey man, calm down, we’re gonna find her.”

Danny struggled angrily in Ray’s grip until Ray finally released him. “Back off, Ray, I’m warning you,” he growled, stabbing two fingers into Ray’s chest.

Carmen calmly repeated her earlier question: “Danny, do you think whoever shot you is responsible for her kidnapping?”

Danny kept shaking his head in response. “I dunno, I- I dunno,” he answered quietly, speaking mostly to himself. “But I do know this: either way, this wouldn’t have happened to her if she hadn’t met me.”

“I’ll get as many of my men here as quickly as I can,” Carmen offered, the kindly mother quickly replaced by the focused mob boss. “We’ll take care of this.”

“Even if Bernard’s behind all of it?” Danny challenged, unable to let go of the idea that the man who probably killed his father was now coming after him…and using Michelle to do it.

“I know that he isn’t Danny,” Carmen stated emphatically. “But if I find out differently, yes, I will take care of him.”

Danny looked skeptically at his mother.

Her voice was deadly steel as she spoke. “My children come first. Bernard knows that. And if he’s chosen to forget or ignore that, I’ll take care of him. I swear to you Danny.”

Danny felt a chill run down his spine and knew that his mother was serious. “Okay, then,” he said briskly, also adopting his “mob boss” persona, “let’s get moving.”

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