Have you ever wanted to use the side of a downtown building as your notepad? Fletch had never wanted to spray paint anything until after he met Shannon. She never thought much about the sound a triangle makes when you strike it until after she met Fletch. She pushed a gun into his back as he left a tour bus and told him he had to go with her. Peeking over his shoulder, he smiled at her. And then everything went downhill.
“Hey! Are you okay?”
His voice filtered up through my senses. Pain thundered through my skull and rang in my ears so that he sounded like he was calling to me across a distance. He wasn’t though. He was right beside me.
Actually, we were handcuffed together.
I stuffed my free hand into my hair. There was blood. Head injuries always looked so much worse than they were. I was probably lying in a pool of blood. Squinting, I looked around. The light was gray and my vision blurred.
“Is there a lot of blood?” I whispered.
“Is there a bad bump?”
I glared at him. “But…”
As my vision cleared I saw his expression was amused, but he had looked pleased by everything that had happened that night. He had a smile on his lips and a chuckle in his throat. It had been infuriating. He even smiled at me over his shoulder when I held a gun to his back.
He grinned like that as he rattled our handcuffs. “Feeling sorry you didn’t put up more of a fight?”
“How did you know?” I said, my voice garbled as I coughed.
He was so loathsome. The whole time he had been insisting that he was Fletch Litman when both Natalie and I knew he was Carver Criche… the biggest loser/liar/weasel I had ever even heard about.
“What did you do to land yourself here, stuck together with me?”
I sighed. “It’s not important.” I needed to talk as little as possible. “Can you think of a way out of here?”
“No. The last thing I tried,” he said, picking up a brick, “didn’t go so well for me.”
Ironically, it was a brick just like the one that had made the crater in the side of my head. The last thing Natalie said was that she was on her way to the police station to tell them all about the kidnapping. After hitting me over the head, she had obviously handcuffed me to the loser/liar to make sure I didn’t bolt. If I actually believed her story about going to the cops, I would have been terrified. If I was a betting woman (and sometimes I was), I bet that Natalie drove to town and got a hamburger at a twenty-four-hour drive-thru. After raising her blood sugar, I believed she’d change her mind about going to the police. Hopefully, she would come back to the campground we had brought the liar/loser to and try to make a deal with the aforementioned weasel/rascal that didn’t involve the police.
The way I saw things, even with my banged-in head, the solution was quite simple. I couldn’t wait for Natalie to come back. I needed to get the rascal/weasel and me out of the camp kitchen. Breaking the handcuffs shouldn’t be too hard, considering where I bought them. Once we were separated, I could conveniently ‘lose’ him somewhere on the road back to Edmonton.
I looked at the brick he was bouncing in his palm.
In the camp kitchen, there was a stove with a chimney, intended for cooking. It was a million years old, and the weasel/liar had his hand in a hole in the bricks. The other end of the handcuffs was hooked around an even older grill. Natalie and I had done what we could to make sure he couldn’t dislodge it. Unlucky for me, I had quarreled with Natalie and now my hand was on the other side of the grill so that I was practically sitting in the fireplace, handcuffed to the most loathsome man. What could I say? I didn’t gamble on her being spunky enough to hit me in the head with a brick.
“So, you reefed on your handcuff and brought some of the loose chimney blocks down on you?”
“Yup,” he said pleasantly.
I must have missed that when I was outside arguing with Natalie. I didn’t know he’d made the slightest attempt to escape. It made me like him better because it made him seem more like a prisoner. This whole time he’d acted so… happy about being with us… like being kidnapped by Natalie and me was his idea of a party.
I was just about to crawl into the fireplace to see if I could get us uncuffed when I noticed the loser/weasel smiling at me again. It was hilarious for him because he knew that I was the girl in the ski mask with the horrible British accent who had ordered him around with a gun. Now the tables had turned and I was also a prisoner. He grinned wickedly at me.
“What?” I groaned.
“I’m sorry if I’m staring,” he said, attempting to conceal his amusement. “I just can’t figure out why you’re here.”
“Well, when we got here, you two asked me all sorts of questions like why wouldn’t I sign the contract and why I was such a douchebag. All questions that make no sense to me because I’m not Carver Criche. You went out. I didn’t hear your fight in detail, but then your accomplice attacked you. She dragged you in here, handcuffed you to me and we’re done? The chubby one left us here?”
“‘The chubby one?’” I repeated. Was that what he thought of Natalie? She wasn’t fat. She was just really strong, hence she had been able to knock me out with a brick. I’d never call her chubby. Talk like that was why he was a loser/rascal. “Someone asked you why you were a douchebag and you wondered why?”
He chuckled. “Do you think she’s coming back?”
I shrugged noisily.
“Why does that tick you off so much? That I called that woman chubby? She kidnapped me! I could call her a lot worse things, but chubby ticks you off? All things said and done, you have more reason to hate her than me. I didn’t make you bleed.”
I huffed angrily. “Yeah, well, I might not be very fond of her, but I’m really not fond of a man who only thinks about a woman’s sexual appeal.”
“And your boyfriend never thought about any of that stuff when he got together with you?”
That did it. I turned myself so my face was out of the fireplace and I could see his horrible, smug expression. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”
He smiled. “You’re more beautiful than your voice under the ski mask hints at, even with the fake accent. Did you know?”
My blush went crazy red. I turned away from him, but he kept talking.
“I’m not Carver. He is the producer for the band, Stark Mad? The band I was playing with tonight is called City of Vines and they were opening for Stark Mad, which is why I was on board their tour bus. I was just saying hi, and when I stepped off the bus, you two grabbed me. You got the wrong guy. I was a replacement drummer. I’m not even a member of City of Vines. When you were out cold, I showed your friend my social media profile and convinced her that although I bear a slight resemblance to Carver Criche, I’m not him. Then I gave her my money clip to handcuff the two of us together and leave. Lovely, isn’t it? Sorry that she won’t be back.”
I swallowed hard. “How much cash did you give her?”
“You had that much on hand? What is wrong with you?”
“It was my pay for the impromptu drumming. They paid me in cash twenty minutes before you picked me up.”
I felt like screaming. Natalie owed money everywhere. “You promised her you wouldn’t go to the police?”
“Yes, and I won’t. Not on her and not on you.”
Natalie probably would have done what he asked as long as he promised not to go to the police. The money had been a nice bonus.
“So, Fletch,” I said, steaming and feeling like I’d caught an even bigger weasel/creep than I’d originally guessed. “Why do you want to be handcuffed to me in a camp kitchen?”
“This might sound weird,” he said, his face out of my view, “but I’ve heard about you. The famous Shannon Bilx. That’s why it’s so confusing that you kidnapped me tonight. Why would Simon Crew’s ex want to kidnap me?”
“How do you know Simon?” I snapped.
“I’m his cousin.”
I refrained from making the tiniest sound. I knew Simon. He was what I would have called a lifer, meaning that he had pursued me off and on for two and a half years. I called all the guys who chased me for over a year, without concrete encouragement from me, lifers. No one ever lasted longer than three years. Simon reached his limit and said goodbye a few months ago, which was fine by me. I didn’t keep him around to flatter my ego, even though he did. Regardless of my non-interest, he had been a decent guy.
The thought gave me the sudden, unhappy idea that Fletch was telling the truth about not being Carver and that he might be a good guy if he was close to Simon.
“So, what do you want?” I asked coldly.
“I want to see what Simon found so loveable.”
I stuck my head around the corner of the stove and poked my tongue out at him. “Are you finding it?”
A slow satisfied smile spread across his face. He had me exactly where he wanted me.
I continued lashing out. “Or are you going to tell me how awful I am and how no man could ever love me? Don’t hold back. I’ve heard it all before. I’m not even pretty. You should start your tirade by insulting my butt. That’s where they always start.”
“I didn’t spend seven hundred dollars to badmouth you to your face. I’m here to correct you.”
I nearly died. “‘Correct me?’”
“Yeah. Do you think it’s okay to treat people like that? Simon loved you. Why treat his heart like your personal dishrag?”
“Look,” I said, preparing to defend myself. “I was not as bad to him as he’s let on. Let me tell you the system.”
“The system?” he asked with disbelief.
“Yes. The system. You’re going to hate me when you hear it, but you might as well get the whole story from my perspective. Everywhere I go, it seems like every guy I meet likes me.”
Fletch didn’t snort. He looked at me evenly, which helped me like him better.
I continued. “But doesn’t that seem arrogant? To naturally assume that every guy who meets me is instantly infatuated? I am full of myself, but even so, that seems crazy. Some guys are just flirty. They probably treat every woman they meet like that, right? So no matter what overtures of affection a man might put on for me, I always assume it’s nothing until he says something serious.”
“Like, ‘I’m in love with you’, or ‘will you be my girlfriend?’”
“So how do you treat a guy before he says those things?”
“Like nothing. I don’t hold hands with him or kiss him on the doorstep, or anything. Usually, I have a collection of guys I classify this way. Everything they do seems to indicate that they like me, but until they say so, I wait.”