The Ethics of a Kiss
Arms felt the space between him and Rose, acutely. “What do you want from me, Rose?” he asked, peering at her with probing eyes. She stood across the room from him, holding her gun. “Arms, how keen you are in finding out my plans,” she said with laughter in her voice, resuming her playful and coy air with him. Rose took a step towards him then; he felt her taking him in with her eyes. She seemed to move into her own reverie, as she held the gun and began talking to him as if they were back together again, long ago and in love. She still stood, erect and tall, but he knew she was thinking; he recognized how her body changed and relaxed; he knew her intimately and he felt that intense physical draw for her well up in him again.
She went on, “life for me changed so much after we parted and I needed someone to lean on. Not for me, mind you, but for him, whoever that was; men need a good woman who they think will take care of them, but I just needed a man who could help me with enough money to make my own way in this world. Let men believe what they want, but in the end, women know all the secrets that men do not about life and living.” Here she paused and looked at him keenly. He felt her gaze, and looked right back at her.
Two fighters in the ring, circling each other, they were well suited for one another but without any way to traverse the impasse between them that was created so long ago. She continued, “and then I met Brendan, and he seemed different, more worldly and he was incredibly wealthy. I looked past all the other women, what did it matter to me whether he played around. He was good to me, gave me money and didn’t expect anything, until one day he expected too much.” She paused again; he knew she wasn’t going to tell him. There was something unpleasant, dangerous even that he was sure Brendan had done to her. It was enough for Arms that she was speaking to him about something painful in her past; he was sure he knew what it was because in not saying anything, she was saying everything to him.
He didn’t press her for more information. It was an unspoken knowledge between them that this moment in her life had changed her radically and set her on the path to crime that she could never stray from now that she was deep into it. This would be her life forever; she and he both knew it.
They stood on the sixth floor of Warehouse 1 as the dawn crept slowly into the windows that surrounded them, and he knew that this wasn’t going to end well for him. He wasn’t sure whether she would shoot him or not, but he knew she wasn’t going to let him take her anywhere. Then he felt something shift in the air; a tension that he barely recognized it had been so long. She came up to him holding the gun and pointing it directly at his chest. Still, he did nothing and they stood looking at one another, inches apart, not touching or moving, or even breathing, as Arms realized later when he thought about that moment again and pictured her in all her glory.
“You were always in my heart, Arms,” she purred leaning towards him and speaking softly into his ear. He could feel the gun pressed into his chest and her hot breath on his neck; he ached for her. His logical brain fought against this very physical need that he felt rising up inside him, but he didn’t move. Had she always loved him; he could never be sure, though he had once loved her deeply and unconditionally. Had he been mistaken all along, perhaps she had wanted something else. Either way, here she was now standing in front of him on the other side of his law and he was struck again by her absolute resilience and control.
Her radiant auburn hair fell in ringlets around her face, and he was again back in that wheat field in the California sunshine; lost in this reverie, he let himself dream, and his mind wander for a few brief moments before he called himself back, once again organizing his brain into rational thought. It wouldn’t do him or his friends any good if he let himself succumb to her at this point in the case. No, he needed to crawl out of this mire, and get his shit together.
Suddenly, the hand holding her gun fell to Rose’s side; he registered this movement, understanding instantly the choice that she was making and how his own life was about to change. Arms looked into her green eyes and knew that he was going to kiss her. She did not withdraw; she didn’t even move away from him, as he touched her face, brushing her curls with his hands softly. Her eyes were open and they looked into his with something akin to passion. He calculated every movement that he made as one too many, but she did not move away from his touch. And then their lips met and he could feel her body completely relax and lean into his.
He knew he was heading over the cliff into an abyss from which he could and never would return; she had given herself to him one more time; they had traversed in one instance that grey and amorphous place of pleasure and pain that had plagued their relationship from the beginning. He felt her lean into his solid, masculine body; his was a male force into which she poured herself as if she were some kind of hot, pliable plastic. And he accepted that this moment, this strange surreal moment would remain seared into his brain forever and that no matter what happened with the case, he knew he would never regret kissing her.
Bella & Jack
Bella was very cold, but was wrapped in a fur coat that Jack had handed to her when they had finally found their way to the second floor and the cold storage unit. Her life had taken so many twists and turns in the last couple of weeks that this last adventure with Jack hardly seemed out of the ordinary to her. Yet, it had been a strange and wild night, and she wished with her whole heart that she could go home. She missed her family desperately and hoped that her brother would find her soon, for she was convinced that it would be Sam who would finally discover where she was and rescue her.
Jack had saved her life, again. And now she knew why. He loved her and had told her so. She didn’t know how to feel; he was a stranger to her, but she felt beholden to him because of everything he had done for her. She thought about the previous hours and was astounded that she had managed to survive the whole ordeal. She worried about Alice and remembered the last glimpse of her, crying out for Bella as she was pushed back into the cell where they had been held for so long. Alice’s desperate cries reached Bella’s ears as she was led away by the man with the scar, along with Jack and the lecherous old, crippled man who kept touching her. She shivered at the thought of him and pulled the fur closer around her as she stood inside the cold storage unit waiting for Jack to return.
She didn’t know where he had gone, but she suspected it had something to do with the person they kept calling the Empress. Bella did not know where she was, or else she would have tried to leave and find her way home herself. Her thoughts went back to Alice and how she might be able to help her even though she was not sure what she could do. But Bella could not imagine leaving Alice behind and had tried to convince Jack to return and get Alice out of the cell-like room where they had left her. But Jack refused, saying it wasn’t safe and that the man with the scar would find them. Even Jack was afraid of this evil man, who clearly had no allegiance to anyone, except himself.
Bella looked around her and marveled at the beauty of the furs; in the cold storage unit, she had recognized some of the furs that she had asked Sam for so many weeks ago for Charlie. And now Charlie Martin seemed like a dream, and everything that came before this nightmare seemed like the most perfect life a girl could ever want. She was amazed that she even wanted to run away with anybody. No, she wouldn’t be going anywhere again; she only wanted to be home with her mother and father and to stay out of trouble.
But for now, she stood in a cold storage unit hiding from everybody as Jack went off to tend to his criminal errands. She thought back to just a few hours ago when she was with Alice, and she remembered the abject fear that she had felt when the three men came in to tell her to come with them. She tried to resist them, but the man with the scar grabbed her arm and forced her out the door. She thought it was best to not kick and scream this time, even though her instinct was to resist her captors, because she didn’t want to get hurt and she sensed that they were on some kind of determined mission. Jack, she noticed right away, tried to stand between her and the old man, but he couldn’t always show his devotion to her even in the short time that they were all together.
They moved as a group from the fifth to the fourth floor because the man with the scar had to pick up something for the Empress. Bella almost fainted from the smell when they entered and moved toward the killing room. Luckily Bella never saw the horror that her own brother witnessed because before they could go too far, they heard an enormous noise above them from the fifth floor, like a loud gunshot hitting metal. The man with the scar stopped short, and told them to stay there. He said he would investigate on his own, leaving Bella with Jack and the old man, who grinned gleefully at this news, for it was clear that he saw Jack as no threat to his wandering hands.
The man with the scar left and they waited and waited . . . and waited. The old man was getting antsy and kept shifting towards Bella slyly; Jack eyed the old man and put himself between the girl and the letch. And then came the moment when Jack showed his chivalrous love for Bella. The old man was getting tired of waiting and being thwarted; he was a man with no heart, no soul, and driven solely by evil and lust. He reached out and grabbed Bella, holding her close and running his hands over her body. Jack responded quickly, and in a moment, he had shot the old man; he aimed for his heart but missed and got him in the leg. The old man fell to the ground, crying out in pain and agony, and Jack grabbed Bella’s hand, running in the dark, following the warehouse wall to the opposite fourth floor stairwell. They had run past all the freezers without even recognizing them for what they were. Panting and barely able to catch a breath, Bella stopped short forcing Jack to stand still for a moment.
Her shock at what had just occurred kept her from being even astounded at Jack’s behavior; he had turned on one of his own and defended her life. Now she looked at him carefully for the first time; he was a good-looking young man, light brown hair and sweet features. He had a kind face, and hardly seemed like a person to be involved with such horrible people. But here he was part of a large crime ring, shooting people, and running for his life. Still, she was grateful. And then he took his chance as she was looking at him; maybe he misread her look or thought she would accept him in the moment because of what he had done for her, but it all came tumbling out of him quickly. How he had loved her from the first moment he saw her, and how he was pained every time the old man tried to touch her and how he would do anything for her, anything at all. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life, and he would always protect her.
Bella stood thinking rationally that perhaps it would be good to go down the stairs and get away from the old man who had just been shot in the leg, but who could probably rally his evil to come after them. She was barely listening to this young man profess his undying love to her. At the end of his confession he looked at her for some approval, and since she didn’t hear him talking anymore, she simply nodded. It was enough for him, and his heart leapt with joy. But reality set in quickly when they heard the old man yelling and moving towards them. Jack pushed Bella through the door to the stairwell, and waited for the old man to come into view out of the dark shadows.
At the first sign of movement Jack shot several times, a bit too wildly, and only managed to graze the old man’s head, but this was enough to drop him to the ground. Jack took his chance then and ran back to Bella and they both went down the stairs to the second floor. Jack knew enough about the warehouse not to go to the third floor with the animals. But he had never been to the second floor, being kept away from this side of the fur business, so was shocked to see the cold storage unit in the middle of the warehouse. He saw it as a perfect place to hide Bella and to keep her safe until he was sure that they could get away. He knew he had to go to the Empress and tell her something, he wasn’t sure what yet, but he was not going to hand over Bella to her like she had requested. “No one is going to touch the woman I love, ever again,” he thought to himself.
How foolish some men are, but Jack was indeed a good, kind man. He had just gotten himself mixed up with some bad people. He would prove to be solid and true, and in the end, Bella might consider him worthy of her love after all. But now they were two lost souls in the midst of a vast warehouse and Bella knew that all she wanted in the entire world was to be home.
Hog Flushes Out Evil
Standing by the killing room, Hog and Big Sam waited for more movement from the man they had seen dive behind the silent freezers. And then they saw a shadow cross in front of them and knew the man had miscalculated where they stood in relation to himself. Hog gave Big Sam a look, and nodded for him to go to the right. Hog would go to the left and together they would pen the man in and catch him by surprise. The two men parted and circled around the freezers on either side the killing room, moving quietly and carefully in order to make as little noise as possible.
Outside the sun was rising and rays were beginning to stream into the windows making the night ease and Hog’s life a little brighter. There would be less shadows to hide in now and he was sure they would find the man and get some information out of him about Bella. Hog circled around the bloody carcasses of dead animals and walked quietly towards the space where he believed the man was hiding. He could see Big Sam circling, his weight and girth proving a bit large for the small spaces between the freezers. “Well, it doesn’t really matter,” thought Hog. He had his pistol with him and was a crack shot, so he could take this guy down no matter if Sam was there or not. And then he saw a movement, and he cocked his pistol, ready to fire.
But the man held up a white handkerchief, and Hog could see blood on it. “Come out with your hands up,” he yelled out over the freezers. “Nice and slow, buddy, and don’t try anything,” yelled Hog, watching for any quick movements from the man. The crippled man stood up, but didn’t get very far. Hog could see him, and also could tell that he wasn’t quite right in the body. Sam, meanwhile, had squeezed his way over to the old man, and stood behind him towering like a giant looking down at his minions. “Hey, Hog, this is the guy who hired me to fence those high-end stolen goods I told you and Arms about,” yelled Sam across the room at Hog, his voice booming in the cavernous warehouse. The crippled man looked up at Big Sam from where he was behind the freezer and said, “I’m hurt, I need help. I was shot and left for dead, give a man a break buddy. I just need some help; can’t you see I’m bleeding?” But then he stopped because Big Sam was eyeing him closely and he could feel his piercing stare.
Hog came up to where the old man was talking to Big Sam and pointed his gun at him. Hog was perfectly aware of the conniving wiliness of all criminals and it was clear that this man was one of the worst. He wouldn’t mind wiping him off the planet in one shot, but it was “think first, shoot later,” and in this instance he had to abide by the motto in order to get the information he needed. And shooting a man in cold blood wasn’t his style, anyway. But he wanted to know where Bella was and he wanted to know now. He pushed his pistol into the man’s face and shouted, “tell me where Bella is, the girl who was brought into the warehouse,” and he watched as the man cowered at the sight of the gun. “Hey, I don’t know anything, I’m hurt I tell you, I need to get help. I’ve been shot in the leg, and I’m bleeding. Just help me.” The old man was pleading now, and seemed to be losing consciousness.
Hog didn’t have much sympathy, but he could see the blood pooling on the floor around the old man and he needed information before the evil bastard died on him, so he was going to have to help him. He looked around to see what was at hand to staunch the bleeding leg and get the man to his feet. He noticed blood on his face as well, but that looked like a superficial wound, and it didn’t seem to be the issue. The leg was the wound causing the problems at this point. “Hey, Big Sam,” said Hog, see if you can wrap that leg with the handkerchief and get the guy up and out of that space so we can talk to him. Let’s get a move on, and get going. We’re wastin’ time, and need to find Bella.”
Sam hauled the old man up off his feet in one fell swoop, and sat him on one of the freezers. He grabbed the bloody handkerchief from the cowering man and tied it around his leg; he was not gingerly about it, but no matter. It was tight enough to slow the blood down. And now Hog stepped in, and expected some information in return. When asked where Bella was again, the old crippled man sneered and said, “she’s been taken to the Empress, probably long gone by now. The Empress has a boat waitin’ in the port, and I know she was plannin’ on leavin’ this morning. She was leavin’ and takin’ the girl with her for collateral.”
Hog didn’t have any reason to disbelieve the old man, but he pressed him about the other girl. “We left her, she wasn’t worth anythin’, she’s on the fifth floor in a cell up there. The Empress didn’t want her, just the other girl for her beauty. I think she was plannin’ on sellin’ her to the highest bidder. Yeah, she’s long gone by now.” Big Sam didn’t like to hear this about his sister, and grabbed the old man and shook him like a rag doll on the end of a pole. Hog had to stop him or else he knew the guy wasn’t going to make it. The blood was seeping through the white handkerchief now anyway, and time was short. He was thinking fast, and trying to decide what to do. He might have a chance to catch the boat still, but he wasn’t sure and with Big Sam in tow he knew that he wasn’t going to get very far, very fast.
Maybe best to send Big Sam to find the other girl, and he would find Bella. “Yeah,” Hog thought, “that’s the best way to go. Leave this guy to die or put him somewhere, and send Big Sam upstairs to the fifth floor to get the other girl.” Hog turned to Big Sam now and said, “hey, put this fool somewhere, and then head upstairs to get that girl out.” Sam knew not to step into Hog’s plans when he was on the trail of finding someone, so he just said, “yeah, okay. I’m on it,” and he turned to grab the old man. However, in the moment that the two men were talking to one another the wily crippled man had slipped away. “He ain’t goin’ to get very far,” said Hog, and he clocked the man dragging his leg and moving as fast as he could away from them and towards the stairwell leading up to the fifth floor. “You’ll be up there soon enough Sam, just grab the guy again and throw him in the cell once you get the girl out. It’s an easy job for you. And I’ll go get Bella.” Hog felt like things were finally coming together and he was on the case; like a bloodhound he would hunt for Bella and find her.
Alice Finds Her Strength
Mere minutes had passed but it seemed like an eternity since Foil had sunk to the floor and Alice had put her sweater over the place where he was bleeding. She still had her hand pressed against Foil’s chest, his own large hand on top of her small one, as her mind raced about how to get them both away from the fifth floor and to some help. He was losing a little bit of color now and his breathing was becoming slightly labored. She looked around her, seeing the shipping containers dotted across the warehouse floor. Otherwise the place was stark and empty, with the exception of the body of the dead man who Foil had shot. The man with the scar on his face, who had menaced her and Bella so much was gone and she was glad. She had never known this feeling of gladness before from someone’s death, being a good, God-fearing Catholic girl, but now, sitting on the floor next to Foil she let herself feel utter relief.
As she tried to decide when they would move, she wondered, “had Foil come to the warehouse alone? Surely not, if his plan was to rescue Bella,” and she asked him, “who else is here? Did you come with anybody who we could find?” Foil turned his head towards her and spoke slowly, “yes, I came with two other detectives, my friends, Arms and Hog, and a guy named Big Sam. Yeah, we gotta find them.” Alice was relieved to hear that there were friends of Foil’s in the building, and now she was more determined than ever to get him on his feet and moving. “Where are they?” she asked with more forcefulness in her voice. “Hog is below us on the fourth floor, and Arms is above on the sixth,” said Foil, realizing that Alice was trying to formulate a plan. Talking for him was difficult, and he felt that every word, every movement was a strain on his life.
“Now with one man dead, there are only two more to be found, the old crippled man and the nice one, called Jack,” she said. “Three men came to take Bella away, I begged to go with her but they refused. They seemed to only want her, and said they were taking her to someone named the Empress. I tried to go after her, but they pushed me inside and slammed the door. There was nothing to do then, but cry.” Alice told this to Foil in a matter of fact way, as they sat there on the warehouse floor under the bright industrial lights. He registered “the Empress” as soon as she spoke the name, but didn’t say anything. Why trouble Alice with his own knowledge at this point and anyway, it would take too much energy to speak. Making a decision that down the stairs was better than up for Foil, she said, “let’s try to get to your friend Hog on the fourth floor.” It was clear to him that Alice was taking the lead for them both.
Alice was frightened but determined to do something; she looked at him closely, and asked, “do you think you can walk, Foil?” It was a question that caught him by surprise, only because for a moment he had thought he might just die then and there, but this young girl clearly had other ideas for him. She looked at him with concern and care; she brushed his hair back from his face and touched him gently on the cheek. He was slightly clammy, and this made her more convinced to get him to move soon. For if they stayed on the fifth floor he would bleed out and die. Surely it was her ethical duty to try to save this man; her faith and her sense of humanity drove her to help him.
Seconds were passing; she took a deep breath and drew her hand slowly out from under his, leaving her sweater in place. She wiped his blood on her dress, and stood up, ready to get him to his feet and on the move. She had decided that they would move down the wall of the warehouse slowly. If he could lean on the wall, and use her as a makeshift crutch, they could get to the stairwell and then move down to the next floor where, surely, she could find his friend Hog to help them. “Foil,” she spoke to him in an even voice, “let’s get you up on your feet.” She knew it was going to be an enormous task to get him to move, but she wasn’t going to give up on him.
The sun was rising now into a new day and as the rays hit the windows and streamed in through to the fifth floor, her blonde hair caught the light and seemed to radiate like a holy crown. He looked up at her, and marveled at her serenity, “is it the blood loss,” he thought, “or does she seem like an angel come to rescue me?” Perhaps he was delirious, but as she stood over him, he felt that he would be okay.
Summoning all his strength and will, and still pressing Alice’s sweater to his chest Foil leaned to the side and put all his weight on his left arm in order to push himself up, using the wall as support. He managed this better than he thought he might and was standing more quickly than he expected. Blood loss makes a man weak, but a strong woman can rally a man and Alice, though a small thing, had enough strength in that moment to bring him to his feet. Now it was a matter of moving forward, a mechanical endeavor that required Foil to literally use Alice to support himself and inch along as he tried to steady his breathing and focus on getting to the stairwell.
“It’s not too far now,” said Alice, coaxing Foil along with her voice and keeping her hand on him at all times; she feared that he might lose his balance and fall, but he kept going by sheer force of will. They were almost to the stairs and Alice was beginning to feel that they would manage after all, when someone rushed through and almost knocked both of them over. Foil groaned from the sudden movement and pain, which caused his chest to constrict and for him to struggle with his breathing. Alice almost fell to the ground herself, but recovered just in time to see the figure of the old, crippled man hobbling quickly onto the fifth floor of the warehouse. He turned and looked at them, his own body covered with blood, his eyes wild and crazed.
At the very moment the old man rushed through the door, Foil dropped his gun, but Alice had enough wherewithal to pick it up and in one deft move she was suddenly Foil’s protector. She stood in front of him, holding the gun out towards the old man, ready for anything that might come her way. Her swift movements caught Foil off guard for a moment, but he felt that he could do nothing to stop her. When the old man’s eyes registered them, he cackled with derisive laughter at the sight of the tiny girl holding a gun and the large man behind her, seemingly struggling to breath. “Oh, what easy pickins’ do we have here,” the crippled man sneered and scoffed at Alice. “So, you’ve escaped, have you? Well, you’re mine now,” he said in a lecherous, slimy voice. He moved towards Alice, making a sudden grab for her.
She shot once, just as Foil had done, and watched as he fell to the ground in a heap. She hadn’t even thought about what she was doing; it was instinct to pull the trigger. She looked down at her hands now and let the gun fall to the floor of the warehouse. “What had she done?” she thought. She stared at the bloody pile of clothes on the floor, and shock consumed her. She began to shake and sob, turning instinctively towards Foil, who wrapped his arm around her and held her as the tears came in great heaving sweeps of heartbreak and pain. This young girl suddenly ushered into the world of death by her own hands was distraught and inconsolable. Foil tried his best to soothe her, but felt his own strength slipping away in this moment of tragedy for Alice.