The Package

The prompt from the instructor was: “Write a story in which the protagonist falls in love with the antagonist.“. So, this happened, …

Barry was heading out to his car with his head filled with thoughts of Lincoln. The kid didn’t deserve what was happening to him, none of it was his fault. Just because Barry and Janice couldn’t keep their marriage together, little Lincoln’s world had come crashing down. In his little five-year-old mind it was somehow his fault. He didn’t love Daddy enough to keep him from leaving. Barry’s thoughts were as black as a person’s thoughts could be, or so he thought.

He had jury duty today. He had always felt compelled by civic duty to complete his jury duty when called upon, but today he was wishing he had tried to get out of it. It turned out, the case was a murder case and would likely go for weeks.

When he opened his car door he almost sat on it. There, sitting on the driver’s seat, was a package wrapped in plain brown paper. It was about the size of a cigar box and was tied with coarse twine like his grandma used to use. What the hell?

The whole scenario seemed sinister to him. He debated not opening it but couldn’t imagine not opening it. He decided to open it while standing in the door of his car, expecting to immediately throw it away, whatever it was.

When he pulled open the top of the box a bolt of terror shot through him. His knees buckled. He grabbed the steering wheel and seat back to try to check his fall to the pavement. He landed hard, bruising both knees and seeing stars when his head hit the running board.

~ ~ ~

She sat down at his table in the Starbucks as though they were old friends. He was holding the last card in the sequence, on which was written “get a latte at the Starbucks on Montrose”. It was the fourth card, the first three leading only to another card: first in the horrible package, then stuck in the grapes at a grocery store, then taped under a bench at the zoo, and finally in a book at the Library.

She smiled at him. If he hadn’t felt like ripping her throat out, he would have considered her beautiful. She had red hair, green eyes, lightly freckled skin covering a beautifully sculptured body. She was obviously an athlete. She said, “I hope for your son’s sake you didn’t contact the cops and you weren’t followed.”

“How could anyone follow me without it showing? You’ve been running me all over Houston.”

“I won’t waste your time, Barry. The men who have taken Lincoln are serious. We are offering a simple deal. His safe return for an acquittal or at least a hung jury in the trial.”

“You won’t waste my time! You won’t waste my time! And yet you start by telling me they are serious? I have my son’s pinkie finger in the car, and you feel the need to convince me they’re serious?”

Her eyes got round as saucers. She paled so much the freckles stood out in stark contrast. Her voice was a harsh whisper. “They cut off his finger?”

“Don’t pretend you’re surprised.”

She closed her eyes with an expression on her face like she was about to toss her cookies. Maybe she wasn’t an athlete. Maybe she was a professional actress. The ruse was very convincing.

“I swear to God I didn’t know they were going to do that. They said he wouldn’t get hurt if you cooperated.”

He wanted her to hurt, too, so he said, “the picture of him holding his bandaged hand up under his chin was a nice touch.”

He knew accomplished actresses could cry on demand, but he didn’t know they could hurl. She blew chunks all over the table top. She jumped up and ran for the bathroom.

~ ~ ~

The trial lasted for weeks. The evidence was overwhelming. No one in his right mind could have thought the guy was innocent. Barry drove the other jurors crazy with his insistence that the police were framing the guy. He kept insisting the DNA evidence was planted.

The first time they made love, he was convinced Susan was just using sex to get him to cooperate. He figured an actress who could hurl on demand could almost certainly fake an orgasm so convincingly.

Susan had promised him that when they let Lincoln go she would turn them in to the police and take her punishment for her part as the mouthpiece. He believed her. For the nine weeks of jury deliberation, he believed her.

During jury deliberations, he was so convincing that eventually two other jurors decided he might be right. When the judge announced the hung jury, it was a hollow victory. Until he had Lincoln back there would be no victory.

She was with him when she got the call telling her where they had left Lincoln. She was with him when he drove to the secluded woods where they said Lincoln was tied to a tree. She was with him when they found Lincoln’s lifeless body. She was with him when he cried until there were no more tears, his nor hers.

~ ~ ~

She kept her promise. Twenty strenuous weeks of wearing a wire while trying to get the guy to say something incriminating finally paid off. Facing life in prison, the guy turned on the others for a reduced sentence. Justice was served. Except, Lincoln was still dead.

She found him sitting at the same Starbucks where they had met. She walked slowly up behind him and whispered, “Would you like to say hi to your son?”

He whirled, seething with rage, only to be confronted with an astonishing sight. Her belly was huge. She had put on at least twenty pounds but glowed with health. The freckles on her skin had turned pink. He didn’t know that was possible. But mostly, the belly.

She had her coat pulled open to expose her belly. Only a thin knit shirt separated him from the living being within. While he stared, he saw movement. A kick. Susan giggled and said, “He’s obviously been looking forward to meeting you.”

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