By Mary Hagen
“Uh, hello,” I gasped. It started to rain again. Rivulets of water squiggled down my face as I stared at the hulk standing in front of me, his green Gortex jacket highlighting his very green eyes, his broad shoulders, and his dark hair sticking out from his hood. “How did you get here?” I mean “Why are you here? I thought you’d been poisoned.”
“I wanted to thank you. You saved my life.”
“Oh. Were you really poisoned?” I had enough questions to keep the conversation on track for an hour. This was just the beginning.
He shrugged his shoulders not giving me an answer. The rain came down in sheets. The night lights were on and the air turned even chillier. Oh for Phoenix. I shivered involuntarily and pulled my soaked collar higher on my neck. By now, I could wring water from my jacket, and my new black high heels squished every time I moved my feet. To say I was miserable would be the understatement of the year.
“I have the ticket you put in my pocket,” I said. “Want to join me on a tour?” Glancing over my shoulder, I noticed Annie no longer paced in front of the restaurant and the entrance to the old city, but the mean dark looking man still walked back and forth, his face hidden by the hood of his jacket. By now I had lost my motivation to visit underground caverns. The old buried city rang with sinister connotations.
Stan saw the man. I swear a dark cloud passed over his face. Don’t tell me that’s impossible with the dark sky and falling rain, but I saw it. He took my elbow and guided me
away from the underground city without a word. We walked to the corner, turned east and he propelled me up a series of steps. When we reached the next level, he asked, “Care to have dinner with me?”
How could I say no? If I had a list of physical characteristics I wanted in a man, he’d have an A in every column. Beyond that, I didn’t know him well enough to give him a grade and I had that warning from Mel. Thinking of her raised my blood pressure. She was enjoying sunny LA and I was drowning in rainy Seattle in the middle of winter. I no sooner had the thought than round hard pellets of snow pummeled my face. I’d never forgive her.
Before saying yes, I wanted, no needed to find a shop to purchase a rain coat, maybe like the one Stan wore. We could be twins. Hah. I’m five four and he’s about six two. He has dark hair, and you guessed it, with the name Sonya, I’m a fair-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian descent. Right now, my hair was dripping rivulets down my neck and undoubtedly looked dark. To add to my misery, my clothes were damp under my coat and sticking to my skin. I’m from Phoenix and have little use for rain gear so I didn’t want to spend big bucks on waterproof clothing.
Stan kept glancing over his shoulder and had little to say while he pushed me along the sidewalk. I watched for a thrift shop but didn’t see one. We walked up a hill to another level. By the time we reached the street, I was panting. I’m not use to hills.
The snow pellets increased. If I didn’t find better clothing for the weather, I’d soon turn to an ice statue. My uneasiness increased as we walked. How did I know where he was taking me? Maybe he was a serial killer. Mel had warned me, but wouldn’t she have told me to beware of Stan? No. Her voodoos weren’t that detailed. Besides, I’d soon be dead. I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering and I was shivering, first signs of hypothermia.
We reached a nice shopping center, expensive I bet, not the places I could afford, but I had to buy something to keep dry. Then I spotted a thrift shop sign.
“I need to step inside this store and get some dry clothing,” I said.
Stan stopped, glanced over his shoulder, and led me inside. The warmth of the store enveloped me like a blanket, but I continued to shiver. An elderly lady at a check-out counter, smiled.
“I need a rain coat. Do you have anything?” I asked.
She pointed to the back of the store. Stan settled his powerful body on a small folding chair facing the window. With her elbows on the counter, the lady rested her chin in the palms of her hands and stared at Stan. I hurried along the closely packed racks of everything from
dresses to bras, pausing along the way to pick out a rust sweater, brown jeans, a bra and underwear I thought would fit, dry socks, and a pair of well-worn rubber-coated boots. The jackets were on the last isle. I pushed hangers aside as I searched for, you’ve guessed, a green coat but found only a red one that wasn’t color-coordinated with the rust sweater so I looked again and came up with a brown one that would fit. When I turned to find a fitting room, Stan came toward me.
“Just thought I’d ask out how long this is going to take. I’ll call a cab. The rain has changed to snow.” His voice was impatient and he fidgeted with the zipper on his coat. He frowned, his green eyes appearing black in the dim light of the store, and he kept glancing at the front door.
“As soon as I try everything on, I’ll be done.”
“Okay.” With his shoulders hunched and his chin buried in the collar of his jacket, he returned to the chair by the register.
About twenty minutes later I had changed my clothes and shoes and wore the jacket. A bit too big, it would have to do with Stan pacing in front of the window watching every car that passed.
I handed the woman the tags from the garments. She rang up the total, twenty-five dollars. Not bad, I thought as I handed her two ten dollar bills, a five, and extras for tax.
“Would you have a plastic bag for my clothes and shoes,” I asked.
“You could leave them. I can dry them out and sell them,” she said.
Now, I had purchased my dress, coat, and black leather heels at a specialty boutique in Phoenix that cost a good portion of one month’s salary even though they’d been marked down seventy-five percent. Wet as they were, I intended to save them. “I’ll take them with me.”
She handed me two recycled Smith’s grocery bags that quickly bulged with my items.
The perusal of Stan's glance and his lopsided grin turned me to melted butter. I wouldn’t mind being held in his arms.
A taxi stopped in front of the store returning me to the moment. Stan took my sacks, held open the door, and we stepped outside into blowing snow. Traffic had slowed to nothing. Seattleites no longer walked the sidewalks. He opened the door to the taxi and shoved me inside. As soon as we left the thrift shop, the lights went out.
“Take us to the Japanese Restaurant on Sixteenth Street.”
“Japanese?” I blurted. “I thought we’d go to your restaurant.”
“Another night.” He settled against the back of the seat and put his arm over my shoulders. Adrenaline pummeled my veins. He gave me a mischievous grin. My nerves turned to quivering mush.
My new cell phone interrupted the moment.
“Mel,” I said. I smiled at Stan. “My aunt.”
“I hope you’re watchful,” she said.
“I am. Stan’s taking me to a Japanese Restaurant. It’s snowing.”
Exciting. She had to be kidding.
“Remember what I said.” How could I forget?
I asked how her presentation went and she told me “fine.” Then she whispered, “Do take care. Call me when you get to the hotel. I’ll see you in Phoenix in three days.”
Darn her. She intended to leave me here in this awful weather by myself to make all the arrangements for our upcoming tour offer. How could she?
The taxi stopped. Stan paid him, looked up and down the road, and offered me a hand out of car. We exited onto icy sidewalks and snow and hurried inside the door of the restaurant. Was this to be my “last supper?” I still didn’t know what to expect of him. But what could he want?
The Japanese waitress led us to a table and handed us menus. “Not the best night to be out.” The petite, beautiful girl with coal black hair and eyes to match gave Stan a beguiling smile. “I’ll be back to take your orders.” With hips swinging in a provocative way, she left us.
“Mr. Shimoda is a friend of mine. We recommend one another’s establishment. Tomorrow I’d like you to compare my food preparation to his,” Stan said. He smiled showing white teeth.
My heart almost jumped through my sweater and my stomach quivered. I hauled in my breath to stifle the pounding of blood through my veins. I’d see this hunk again.
I ordered wrapped salmon over rice and green tea followed by a dessert I couldn’t pronounce. Stan wanted shrimp tempura. “He dips them in his own recipe and then deep fries them to perfect. You’ll have to try one of mine.” He poured small cups of tea and looked into my eyes befuddling my mind. I blinked my eyes and prepared to ask him about his near miss with the poison and why someone wanted to kill him, but my throat was too dry to speak. I put the cup of tea to my lips.
“You should try sushi,” he said, his voice smooth like soft music.
“No thank you.” I’d read about sushi, raw fish prepared overnight, sometimes poisoning diners. I wondered if sushi had made Stan sick. I formed a question in my mind. Before I could open my mouth, Stan frowned and his beautiful face turned darker.
He looked over his shoulder and back at me with alarm, pulled out his wallet, laid several bills on the table, stood and said, “I apologize but we have to leave.”
Surprise must have registered on my face as he came around the table to my chair. I didn’t have time to protest. He helped me into my old new jacket, suggested I pull the hood over my head which I did. Too big, it drooped over my forehead and nearly covered my eyes, so I pushed it back, grabbed my soggy bags of clothes, and my mismatched purse. Turning around to follow him out of the restaurant, I choked back a cry of concern. The frightening looking man I’d seen at the entrance to the underground, sat at a corner table reading a menu, but I felt his eyes watching us.
Chapter 5 will be posted March 26.