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PART 28 * APRIL 2022 * A BATTLE of TIME

eborah’s eyes darted sharply toward the door.
She’d heard a clicking sound.

A key card being used at the door’s smart card reader lock. Mark must be back! Hurriedly she told Susan and ended their call. She sat up on the side of the bed expectedly. And waited. Still, the door didn’t open. What’s he doing she thought She heard it again. What? Is the key not working? Then it occurred to her. Maybe it’s not Mark.

Deb was frightened now, but not the type to sit and wait for trouble to come to her. She tiptoed over to the door and listened. Silence.

Should she try to look out? All was quiet now. Eerily quiet. “I know someone was at this door!” she whispered to herself. Her breath had become a little too rapid. Okay, calm down. She licked her lips. Yeah, you heard somebody but this isn’t home. It’s a hotel for Pete’s sake. People make mistakes. Whoever it was probably just realized they were at the wrong room. Everything remained silent. She returned to sit back down on the bed. Still nothing. W-h-e-w! she huffed out a sigh of relief. Glancing at her watch she noted that it was 2:35. Mark’s been gone a little over an hour, she calculated. Whatever. It probably won’t take him much longer.

At that realization, she admonished herself, Well, get a move on, girl! Don’t just be sitting here like you were when he left you. She chose a flirty babydoll nighty with a jagged hem that was made respectable by its navy blue color and non-see-through mesh from the new things he had bought and took a shower.

Feeling much more relaxed afterward she stretched out on the bed. Oh, I’m tired, she thought yawning. I’ve got to think and yet I don’t know what to think. Tessa is Susan’s sister? The man in the truck looked like Mark? And, ohhh, my house! She turned onto her side pulling one of the pillows up into her arms. She clung to it as if it were a protective lover and sleep overtook her.

When she awoke she felt a little disoriented. Trying to gather her thoughts while looking up at an unfamiliar ceiling… and swanky surroundsings: What? Wh-Where am I? Then it hit her. You’re at the Ritz. She rubbed her eyes and before she could marshal her thoughts she glanced over to her right. Mark was asleep facing her. She sat upright gazing at him. The sheet was pulled up to his waist. He looked so peaceful. This was the first time they’d been in bed together in ages. He was shirtless. His body looked prime. Lean and tanned. She picked up her watch from the nightstand. 9:40. I didn’t even hear you come in, she thought.

Easing out of bed she quickly moved on her toes (almost dancing, she giggled) to the bathroom. Then, looking closely into the mirror she zeroed in on a wrinkle! Under her left eye. Sss-shoot, that wasn’t there yesterday morning! Addressing it she mumbled, “Just you don’t get comfortable there. That new beauty cream I bought promises me that you’ll be gone in about four weeks. In the meantime ~” Well, she reasoned within herself, makeup helps.

Wait a minute! My beauty cream and makeup are at home. That thought jarred her. Home. What home?

You mean that crime scene place that you and Mark—? Suddenly a searing pain struck like lightning into her temple. She could “hear” the sound of glass breaking. She was shocked because she could see so vividly from memory that look on Mark’s face again, from so long ago. Vividly. Twisted and so angry.

She rubbed her temple in an attempt to make this dreadful flashback as well as the pain stop. And it did. Standing here now in the present she felt stunned and alone. She looked back at herself in the mirror and murmured, “Dear God, that’s been such a long time since that happened. Why? Why come back now?” Then last night’s events began replaying through her mind. Susan said, “I thought it was Mark that was going to kill you.” And her own voice asking “Susan? Does she know about me?” Susan replied, “Not yet.”

“Not yet,” Deb repeated. Mark’s gentle tap at the bathroom door interrupted her.

“Debbie? You alright?”

She opened the door wearing a faint smile. “Of course I’m alright. What’d you think? I’d try and flush myself or something after waking up and finding you in bed with me?”

He had a twinkle in his eyes and with that devil-may-care grin on his face, he shot back at her, ‘”Whatever do you mean. Mrs. Johnson?”

She felt herself blushing. He chuckled and his eyes moved slowly up and down her. Like a lamb before a wolf.

“That, uh, wow, that looks great on you.” He was biting at his lower lip gently and then he wet his lips with a flick of his tongue. Her spine turned to water and her stomach was doing somersaults. She blushed more. He moved in very close. “I ah, need to get in here a minute, okay?”

She smiled, although what she felt was irritated at herself for how easily she was flustered by his flirtatious come-on. “Alright, sure”, she answered him hoping she sounded nonchalant. “You know? I was just realizing that I don’t have my makeup.” She couldn’t avoid her arm brushing against his as she stepped out of the bathroom.

He closed the door.

She checked inside her purse and then yelled back to him, “Well, I do have my compact and lipstick that I had carried out with me but” — she heard the toilet flushing and then the shower turned on.

He opened the door though and said as he walked back into her view, “Okay baby.” That towel wrapped around his waist covering his essentials was so staged. And so delicious. But- There’s always a ‘but’ Deb thought wistfully.

He had gathered his shaving kit. The soap, white, and richly aromatic filled her senses. She had to work to give attention that he was saying something. “I’ll tell you what… What say we get dressed and go get some breakfast? Do a quick check to see what all you’ll need and we’ll do some shopping, too.” He topped it off with a wink.

“Really? We can?” She was excited, then caught herself. You little fool. Don’t act like such a willing victim, starved for his attention. You know how he is, she argued in her head. Truly I’m no longer starving for his attention or affection, she consoled herself. It’s just all the years of struggling and feeling guilty if I needed to ask for anything. And then, too, let’s face it, girl, Grandmother’s money from the ring is almost completely gone. How long do you have? You knew you were pushing it when you were intent on going out to Ruth’s Chris yesterday. It’s a good thing Mark paid last night or you would have had to have used your emergency-only credit card. Face it. You’re still very much dependent on Mark’s monthly deposits in the bank account and ~ oh, stop it! She could feel herself getting more upset by the minute. That’s the old Deb’s thoughts surfacing, she reminded herself. He was in there getting ready and she’d lost the last words he’d said due to her woolgathering.

And still, her thoughts rambled as she dressed. They reminded her, I married him. I did my level best to please him. Gave him kids, raised them, kept our home. HE BETRAYED ME! I’m not going to let his pretty little darling Tessa walk off with what’s rightfully mine. Nor him either! And he’s not going to use me — Her phone rang interrupting her.

She picked it up and was staring at ‘Unknown’ caller when Mark came rushing in. Although he was dripping wet he snatched the phone out of her hand. And answered.

“Hello.” He waited a minute and repeated, “Hello!” He looked at the screen. Call Ended. He turned tortured eyes on Deb, but said dully, without emotion, “He chickened out.”

Deb replied, “He seems to be getting antsy, doesn’t he? I mean, two calls yesterday and now this one?”

Mark moved to the sitting room. He picked up his own phone from the coffee table, and like magic it rang just as he took it into his hand. . “Yeah?” He listened a moment, then smiled smugly. He made a smacking sound with his lips while looking over at her. “Okay. Thanks, pal.” He ended the call.

There was something about his stare that prompted her to ask, “What is it?

“You’re right. He’s getting antsy. That Unknown number was Dave calling you.”

She swallowed trying to maintain her composure although it felt like every nerve ending she had was standing at attention. Stay calm. She took him in, her eyes moving slowly up and down him as he’d done to her. Two can play this game, Mark. Cat and mouse. “And pray tell how do you know that?” she asked.

“Because we put a tracer on your phone.” He almost purred.

He was enjoying this! Her face began a cool burn. She instinctively put her hand up to cover her throat. She feared that one of those awful red splotches would appear, betraying her nervousness. She wanted to say something, but what? Instantaneously she knew of course they would have done that. It made sense in order to catch the killer. Instead, he’d caught Dave. But now, Susan’s call from last night flashed into her mind. “Um, when did they do that?”

“Around four this morning. It should have already been done but —“. He didn’t finish. Instead, he noticed her pale face and stark expression and reached out for her hand. Taking it in his, he said gently, “Baby, I’m so sorry about all of this. Look. Here, take my phone. Use it. I’ll go finish up in the bathroom. Call him back and let him know you’re alright. I guess that’s only fair at this point.”

Taking his phone as he walked away somehow made her feel like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She stammered, “I-, I don’t know where he is. It said ‘Unknown’, so he wasn’t calling from his phone”.

“He’s at the hospital”, Mark yelled back from the bathroom.

She rolled her eyes and murmured low. “You know everything, don’t you?” Then she yelled back to ask, “Did you call Tessa and assure her you were alright?”

He didn’t answer. She didn’t push it.

She looked at his phone. How do I know you’re being upfront with me? This could be tapped too. Oh no, mister. I’ll call Dave when I’m good and ready and not before. She laid his phone down on the bed. And David! I was supposed to call you. Why didn’t you wait for me? And you called from another phone number that I wouldn’t recognize? Men!

But it gave her an idea. Hurriedly she slid into the new jeans and a sexy
v-neck black knit top. She brushed through her hair, grabbed up her purse, and took off down to the lobby. She approached a very well-dressed and sophisticated-looking woman that she spotted sitting there with what were obviously her grandchildren.

“Excuse me, Ma’am? What beautiful children.”

“My great-grandchildren” she proudly replied.

“Your great? Really?” That actually shocked Deb. “You don’t look a… a day over–”

“Fifty-five?” the lady finished it for her. They both laughed.

She volunteered, “I’m seventy seven. I married at a young age and I’ve always tried to make healthy choices. My diet I mean, exercise and staying up-to-date with things.”

Deb seized on that opportunity. “I wish I had”, she said. “Kept up with things, I mean. Maybe then I would’ve realized I didn’t do such a good job when picking out this phone of mine.” Pulling it out of her purse to show, she continued, “The battery is low this morning and—”

The woman interrupted her. “Well, don’t charge it here, my dear. Not with all the cyber antics going on. Rental cars and charging centers, etc. just aren’t safe.”

Deb feigned innocence, rolling her eyes and saying, “Charging centers. Are you kidding me? Well, what can I do? I needed to phone my doctor.” That worked like a charm. The woman responded, patting her hand while pulling her own phone out of her purse.

“Here. Use mine to reach him.”

“Oh thank you so much. I’ll only take a minute. I’ll just move over across there by that plant where I can hear a little better”.

The children were laughing and amusing themselves rather briskly. The lady smiled and said to the little girl, “Sarah, you two can have an ice cream treat when Granddad picks us up if you can stay quiet for two minutes”.

The children squealed “okay” as Deb was walking away. She glanced around again. How truly lovely this place is! Calling Dave’s messenger service she was stunned when the woman said, “Deborah Johnson? Hold please.” Only a second and Dave’s voice said, “Deb”.


Deb Connects with Dave

“Dave, thank goodness you picked right up. I have to hurry but I couldn’t stand to not call you back.”

“I’m sorry baby, I – Did I get you in trouble? I didn’t think that Mark would have your phone.”

“Yeah, well he, um he meant well.” She thought quickly and said, “I’ve been getting some obscene calls and so he—”

Dave broke in. “Yeah, I got one too.”

“You did?”, she asked surprised.

“Yeah. To tell you the truth, It sounded a lot like Mark but I really don’t think it was. He cussed me out and told me I’d better stay away from you!”

Deb’s heart was pounding. She felt scared and humiliated at the same time. “Well, I don’t know who”, – she stopped herself. “What’d you do?”

“I gave him back better than he dished out. I told him I’d see you any time I chose to.”

“Then what’d he say?”

“He didn’t. That part was weird. He started playing a song. ‘Sound Of Silence’. Then hung up without another word.”

“Okay. Listen, I borrowed this phone from a woman to call you. I’ll get a — Wait a minute. Dave? How’d he get your name and number and know anything about us?”

“It was just a matter of time honey. People tend to talk. And with the internet now, you can find out about anything you want to know about anybody almost. I myself know way more than you realize.”

An apprehensive chill ran down her spine. “For instance?”

“Like another woman named Tessa.”

Now her heart skipped a beat. “And?”

He sighed. “And about Susan’s involvement. Deborah, those two may mean well, but baby they’re going to get themselves killed. Especially Tessa. There’s this one Senator that —”

Deb spotted the woman standing up looking her way. A good-looking older gentleman was approaching and the children went running towards him. “I’ve taken too long,” she interrupted Dave. “We’ll have to talk later.” She quickly ended the call. No goodbyes. She was feeling panicky at so much being hurled at her.

She hurried back to the woman. “I’m so, so sorry. I had to get through the answering service. I didn’t mean to take that long.”

The woman accepted her phone back. “It’s quite alright, dear. Glad I could help.”

Deb’s mind reeled. She proceeded to the elevators and pushed the button. What floor are we on? The doors opened to an angry Mark.

“What do you think you’re doing?” He grabbed her hand and pulled her inside. “Deborah don’t you ever, and I MEAN EVER PULL A STUNT LIKE THIS AGAIN!”

“LOWER YOUR VOICE”, she yelled back. “I am not your child! And don’t treat me like I’m some kind of prisoner, either. I’m a big girl!”

“Then act like it! You stupid little –” He stopped.

He wiped his hand across his forehead. A light sweat had broken out.

She realized suddenly that he wasn’t just angry. He was scared. Scared for her! “Mark, I’m sorry”, she apologized.

He was struggling to recover. “You can’t take risks like that, Deb.” He was fumbling in his pockets. “I left my phone. Let me grab it and we’ll go get that breakfast we were talking about.”

“Mark? I called him. I didn’t like what Dave said.”

He raised his eyebrow on that one. “Why? What’d he say to you?”

“He’s been doing some checking and —“

“Checking? On us?”

“He’s a smart man. And whoever this maniac is has called him.”

Mark shook his head. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

As they entered the room he plopped down on the end of the bed. Deborah clinched and unclinched her hands.

“When was this?” he ventured.

“I don’t know. We didn’t get to finish the conversation. But Dave’s like you…in fight mode. He said the man cursed him out and played the ‘Sound of Silence’.”

Mark took in a good, deep breath. “He did, huh? What’d the Doc say to that?”

She didn’t know yet whether she should tell Mark all of it. The part about Susan and Tessa, but kind of absent-mindedly she said, as if she was hearing Dave’s voice, playing it back in her mind, “He said it’s a matter of time.”

“No. Not a matter of time, baby. It’s a battle of time. He’s going to kill again. I’ve got to find him. Stop him before he does.”

He went over to the window looking out at the city lights. “A storm’s coming. The lights have come on.”

It was getting dark as she stepped beside him to look out. In her mind, she heard Susan saying, ‘he looked like Mark’. Then, Dave: ‘it sounded like Mark’. But he didn’t think it was.


“Mark? Do you know who the man is?

His clear blue eyes stayed on the weather, but he nodded slowly. “He’s the other son my father had. The illegitimate one nobody was ever supposed to know about.”

To be continued.

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