Tasha climbs out of her ordeal with the gang only to dive back into the deep end of trouble. She’s targeted by the gang and her greatest ally is her friendly, if a little bumbling, apartment manager, Greg. Unfortunately, Greg has theories about the police that don’t make her feel warm and cozy, and after another encounter with the gang she suspects he’s right.
How will Tasha get herself out of this mess? Will the gang drag her away into the dark streets, never to be seen again? Or will her hero come to her rescue in a cute pair of tight leathers?
I followed him down into the basement, but paused at the laundry room door. It was mummified with police tape so I couldn't look inside, but I still remembered every detail of that mess. Garrison stepped up beside me, and glanced between the door and me. "I hope you haven't had any nightmares from the experience."
I shrugged. "I'm not really sure. I think I dreamed about that guy who saved me, but he didn't seem so friendly in my dream." I looked over to him. "You think the police will find those guys who attacked me?"
Now it was Garrison's turn to shrug. "If they go to a hospital they might be found, but the gang members might know that and try to treat themselves. You said you thought one of them looked familiar?"
For a change of expression I nodded my head. "Yeah, but I'm not sure. Is anyone missing in the building?"
Garrison's lips pursed together and he glanced at the stairs we'd just come down. "
Truth be told I think I might know the man you're talking about."
My eyes widened. "And did you tell the police? Did they search his room?"
"Neither happened. I just have a hunch so all I did was knock on the door to see if he was there."
"No answer?" I guessed.
"Shouldn't you tell the cops? They might be able to get a warrant."
"I'll remember to do that, but first wasn't I going to get you something to open that hatch?" he reminded me.
"Yeah, and you still haven't told me what it was," I pointed out.
"I'd rather show you." He led me into his apartment and gestured to the table. "Have a seat while I look for it. It shouldn't take too long to find it." He disappeared into a side room, and I sat down in my usual chair. I admit I hadn't read a dictionary for a while, but after fifteen minutes he stretched the definition of ‘too long' too far. All that time I heard terrible sounds of boxes falling, glass shattering, and yelps of pain.
"Do you need help?" I called out to him.
"No, just fine," he shouted through the door. There was another shattering of glass. "Just, um, rearranging some things." I cringed when something heavy slammed into a wall and he yelped. What was worse than the noise was the silence that followed that last yelp. I stood and hurried over to the door, and gave it a knock.
"Ask me that tomorrow," came the groaning reply.
I opened the door and looked into a ten by ten space that more resembled a war zone than a storage room. Everywhere I looked were fallen wood crates and ones stacked as high as the ceiling teetering on the edge of making somebody's day very bad and painful. There was a broken mirror off to one side with the shattered remains on the filthy floor, and a dresser leaned against the wall with its drawers half slid open. In the midst of the chaos lay Garrison, or at least his leg. It stuck out from beneath a box and twitched every now and then.
"I think whatever you're doing could use a lighter touch," I commented
"Less words and more helping," came the muffled response.
I sighed and dug my way through the debris and carnage to him, where I tried to lift the crates. While I wasn't the strongest girl of my size I knew I wasn't a weakling, so I was surprised when I couldn't even budge a box. I don't know how he wasn't crushed beneath those heavy things. "What the hell are in these things? Cannon balls?"
If that single leg could have tapped its foot, it would have. "Just try to push them off," he advised me. I pushed and groaned, and added a few more sound effects before I managed to get most of the boxes off him. The last one on top of him was as light as a feather, but I still had to help him move it before I saw his pale face and heaving chest.
"You look like death warmed over," I told him.
"That explains why I feel like I have one foot in the grave," he quipped with a weak smile. I helped him up and pushed him toward the door.
"Let's get you warmed up so Death doesn't mistake you for his next client."
"But I didn't get your stick," he lightly protested as I guided him over to the kitchen table. I plopped him down in his chair and shoved a used but empty coffee mug in front of him.
"Tell me what it is and what it looks like and I'll find it myself while you get yourself some coffee," I suggested.
Garrison sighed and clutched the cup between his hands. "I was trying to get you a wooden stick with a hook on the end so you could grab the ring on the hatch. The last time I saw it was a couple months ago, and it was at the very back of that room."
"And it hasn't been heard from since then?" I teased him.
"Not so much as a bark from its wood."
"I admit I deserved that one."
"I could abandon you in your hour of need."
"You could, but you won't."
"Because I know you, and I know you're not the type of person to abandon others."
I raised an eyebrow. "That sounds suspiciously like stalker talk."
"I merely observe people. It's a hobby of mine," he corrected me.
"How about you change your hobby to brewing coffee and make us up some while I go solve the case of the missing stick?" I suggested.
"All right, but don't look in any of the boxes," he ordered me. You can guess what happened next. It's not that I wanted to snoop in them. Okay, I did want to snoop in them, but it was all an accident. Sort of. Kind of. All right, I'm lying about that, too, but it started out innocent enough. I walked back into the war zone intent on saving my missing comrade, Mr. Stick, when I happened to glance at the last box I'd pulled away from Garrison. The lid was slightly open, tempting me like a candy bar on a store shelf. Before I could stop myself I'd reached out and opened the lid a little further. Couldn't see anything. Then a little more. Still couldn't see anything. I gave up and flipped open those flaps to find funny dried flowers.
I pulled one out and got a good look at it. It was a purple color and had long, thin petals, usually five, that surrounded a thick center part that held the pollen producer. When I sniffed it there was a nice, faint, flowery scent to it, but nothing out of the ordinary. I turned back to the crate and rummaged through the whole thing, but all I found were more of those dried flowers.
"Looks like he has one healthy hobby," I muttered to myself.
"Did you find it?" Garrison called to me.
"One sec, I'm just revving up my chain saw to get through some of this mess," I shouted back. My curiosity wasn't quite satiated, not with those heavy crates sitting there mocking me with their closed lids. One of the bottom ones that lay on the floor had a broken corner, so I leaned down and peeked inside. All I saw were weights and dumbbells. "Just another healthy hobby," I whispered.
"I try to keep myself fit," came a voice right behind me. I jumped, high-fived the ceiling with my head and spun in midair to find Garrison standing right behind me. He had his arms crossed over his chest and a very mad, scary look on his face.
"A-and you do a, um, a great job," I complimented him as I looked over his thin, non-muscular frame. He wasn't amused, so I gestured to the flower box. "You have a very nice collection of dried petunias," I added.
He didn't crack a smile. "They're wolf's bane," he corrected me.
"Oh, um, well, they're very pretty."
"Is there anything else you snooped through?"
I hung my head. "No," I whispered in a voice full of remorse. I really shouldn't have been looking through a guy's personal stuff, especially after he specifically told me not to.
"Then if you're through snooping then maybe we can find that stick," he suggested.
I lifted my face and showed my expression of surprise. "You still trust me enough to give me the stick?"
"I believe in second chances," he replied, though the next words came out in a whisper. "Goodness knows I've needed them."
I smiled and gave him one of my bone-crushing hugs. "I won't let you down again!"
"But could you let me go?" he croaked.
"Oh, sorry." I let him go and scrutinized his appearance. "For a guy with such heavy weights you sure can't handle much."
Garrison nodded at the open flower box. "It's the flowers, I'm allergic to them," he told me.
"Then why are you keeping them around?"
"In case someone else is allergic to them."
"That is the weirdest explanation I've ever heard."
"I'll wear the badge with honor, but how about we find that stick? It should be against that far wall between those piles of crates." He pointed to where he was referring, and I saw two towering stacks of crates.
"You mean between those dangerous, leaning towers of crates?" I asked him.
"Are you trying to kill me?"
"Well, if I don't make it at least put some of those pretty flowers on my grave."
"You have a lot of faith in me."
"Just obeying your final request."
I rolled my eyes, and meandered through and over the maze of mess to get at the twin crate stacks. Sure enough between them, behind a couple of large maps covered in red ink, sat the legendary Stick of Hookerness. Get your mind out of the gutter. I grabbed the stick, swam my way upstream back through the mess and came out the other side battered and bruised, but not broken. I raised the stick above my head and gave a maniacal laugh. "Success!" I cried out to my companion.
"The mess isn't that bad," Garrison protested. I froze, whipped my head toward him and scowled. He nervously smiled and held up his hands in front of him. "Or maybe it was."
I grinned and lowered my weapon. "So where's that coffee?"
"This way, just be careful with that-ouch!" I'd accidentally swung the stick a little too close to him and bopped him on the head.
"I'm sorry! I didn't know it would reach you! Are you all right?" I stepped toward him with the weapon still in my hand and he stepped back. "That looks like a bad knock. Let me see it," I pleaded with him.
"Put the stick down," he ordered me.
I leaned it up against the wall next to the door and dragged him out of the room to his chair. I plopped him down in his seat and before he could protest I was on top of him. If I were naked I don't think he would have protested at all, but seeing as I was fully clothed and poking at a nice egg growing from his scalp he wasn't too thrilled with my attentions. "You're making it worse!" he yelped.
"Only because you're not holding still," I protested.
"I can't help it, my body doesn't like pain."
"I'll toughen it up."
"Even if it kills me?"
"Better you than me."
"I think I've heard enough to want another nurse, or a sedative."
"Is there a hammer around here?"
"On second thought, skip the sedative. Just kill me now-ouch!" I knocked his noggin hard, but this time on purpose. He cupped his hand over his bump and glared at me. "Mind if I get a last request?"
"You can't request to live."
"Actually, I'd like one last cup of coffee. It should be ready by now." Sure enough the sound of the percolating precious elixir of life finished in the coffee machine, and I fetched a mug for both of us.
I set the cups down in front of our chairs and sat down. "How about we call it a truce?" I suggested as I stirred coffee into my sugar. I wasn't too thrilled with the taste of coffee, but I loved any excuse to add sugar to a drink.
"Agreed, but on one condition," he replied.
I raised an eyebrow. "What sort of condition?"
"You can't tell anybody what you found in that room."
"You mean about the dry flowers and weights? Why would anyone care about that stuff?"
He shrugged and took a sip of his coffee. "Let's just say some people would be very interested to know my hobbies."
"You have some strange enemies," I commented.
Garrison looked straight ahead at his door and nodded his head. "That I do, and I'd rather they not find out too much about me." I leaned across the table and gave him such a careful scrutiny that he leaned away. "What?"
"Are you a dealer in the black market for weights and dried flowers?"
He choked out a laugh and some of his coffee. When he got a hold of himself he was all smiles. "You're a very strange girl, you know that?"
"So I've been told, but you can't believe everything everybody tells you."
"If enough people are telling you then maybe you should start listening to them."
"Nah, what do they know? They're just my boss, coworkers, psychiatrist, talking dog, and random stranger."
"I'm starting to see a pattern."
"Yes. Everybody who comes into contact with you has the same opinion as me that you're very unusual."
"You said weird earlier."
"One must be more diplomatic around a serial weirdo."
"Coming from the guy with a storage room full of black market gym equipment?"
"I bought them all."
"Off who? Your dealer?"
He chuckled and drained his coffee mug. "You have the wildest imagination. I noticed hints of it since you've been here, but I never would have guessed you were this funny."
"So. . .so you really think I'm funny?" I asked him.
Garrison smiled. "Why wouldn't I?"
"You did just call me weird," I pointed out.
He shrugged. "You act as though that was a bad thing."
I slumped down in my chair and sighed. "Sometimes it's not so much fun being funny, or at least trying to be funny. A lot of people don't have much sense of humor."
"Maybe they don't know how to laugh at themselves like you or I," he suggested.
"Maybe, but it's nice of you to say I'm funny."
"Like a breath of fresh air blowing through a meadow?" I froze, and he noticed. His humor dropped from his face and he half stood from his chair. "Is something wrong? You're as white as your sugar-coated coffee."
"I-it's nothing. I just remembered that dream I had earlier."
Garrison sat back down, but he wasn't satisfied with my reply. "With a face like that I'd say it was more of a nightmare."
I scrunched up my face as I remembered the darkness and shadows. The memories evoked the hot emotions I'd felt as I changed to something strange and terrifying. My face reddened and I pressed my legs together to stifle the lustful sensation swelling up from between my thighs. "I-I don't know what it was, but it's just a dream, right? Dreams don't mean anything."
Garrison leaned back in his chair and stared at me with a long, steady gaze. "Dreams are windows into the mind and soul. They mean as much as we can understand them." And I understood about zero of what he was talking about, so I slid out of my chair and shrugged.
"When philosophy gets into the conversation I know it's time for me to scram. Thanks for the coffee and company, and I'm really sorry about whacking you on the head."
Garrison nodded toward the storage room. "You forgot your stick," he reminded me.
"Oh, right." I hurried to the room, snatched the stick from the wall and swung around with myself rearmed. "And thanks for showing me the roof. It's got a great view."
"You'll have to overcome your fears and see the world from the edge," he suggested.
"So I can live my life there?" I teased.
He shrugged. "Maybe. It's interesting enough." I glanced around his humble home, and recalled his exciting life of fixing leaky faucets and refrigerators.
"Maybe we can both learn to have an exciting life," I pointed out.
"Maybe we'll do that together," he added. He was nice, but he and I hooking up was as likely to happen as Mrs. Peabody seeing a real monster.
You can probably already guess what happened that night.