Seroje stepped through her Tai Chi movements a second time. She felt no one watching. There was no faint step and no scent of jasmine since the old Chinese lady had already come and gone, completing her Tai Chi up on the hill overlooking the water as she normally did. Seroje finished, meditating for ten minutes, before stepping away from the water’s edge where she now liked to go.
Everything was changed. She parked in a different lot, sat on a different bench, and watched over the water in different places at Quiet Waters Park.
The park was changed too, feeling barren and stark. All the trees had lost their leaves, and the grass was brown. The garden areas were cleared of all plants, showing bare soil. The mobile café was closed for the winter since it only operated in the summer months. The tables and chairs were gone and so was the trailer they used to prepare food. The painter guy was gone too. He also only operated during the fair-weather days.
Seroje felt warm while she walked to her bench, but a few moments after she sat, she could feel the cool of the weather seep under her jacket. The weather was unseasonably warm for late October, but still too cold for sitting outside on a bench. Joggers that passed now wore light jackets. The dog walkers strode with purpose, intent on walking the dogs, not on trying to meet girls.
She’d seen the cab drive by earlier, but made sure she’d stayed out of sight. Tony kept trying to find her, she knew, but whether it was to thank her or not, she didn’t know and didn’t want to find out. He’d drive through the lots and sometimes walk around the park. One consequence of his walking through the park was he met a girl. Seroje saw them together a couple of times. Tony seemed happy, smiling a lot. He wasn’t wearing muscle shirts any more, but buttoned up collared shirts.
Seroje closed her eyes, raising her face toward the sun, trying to catch one last warm ray before she left. She felt at ease, enjoying the scent of dried leaves.
The bench shifted as someone sat beside her, irritating her since now she’d have to move.
Her eyes opened, focused and steady while she gazed down at the cement in front of her. Craig was the person sitting next to her, looking older and much thinner even though he wore a heavy coat. He was dressed in jeans and athletic shoes.
“You shot me,” he said in a quiet voice while he stared at her.
She said nothing, unable to move. Her breathing became short and shallow.
“And you helped me,” he said.
Seroje didn’t know what he meant and was in no mood for this sort of conversation. She just wanted to be left alone.
“OSLO is disbanded,” he said.
“I have no way of verifying that,” she said in a hoarse voice, but she already knew as soon as the network access to OSLO stopped working, a few days after she’d shot him. Although she’d gotten paid her September salary with her new raise.
“OSLO was my organization that was supposed to have been a watchdog for my own companies,” he said. “It got away from me.”
She didn’t want to hear his excuses.
“I didn’t know you worked for OSLO that night we met. I simply thought you were a hotel detective. After our first couple of dates, I thought you’d make a great addition to OSLO. I didn’t even know your last name until that night in the restaurant, when you gave it to the police. I looked you up after that,” he said.
His hands were shaking. She could feel his nervousness. He clenched his hands together.
“Pleasantly surprised, then unpleasantly surprised. Why was an OSLO employee doing detective work at a hotel? A hotel I didn’t even own.”
He watched her as if waiting for a response.
“It wasn’t until our second lunch at Sam’s when you said I was followed by someone from your company...my company, did I realized OSLO was a problem. I knew you worked for OSLO by then.”
He licked his dry lips, waiting a few minutes before he continued.
“You were drawn into all this because not only were you an OSLO employee, but because we were seeing each other,” he said, shifting toward her.
He took a deep breath.
“I didn’t realize how serious the problem was until that night you gave the ring back and there was the second attempt on my life. Yes, I figured out the restaurant shooting was the first one. You saved me. Both times. And you told me to fix it.”
He still couldn’t get his hands to stop shaking.
“You were tracking me,” she said in a low voice, remembering the ring.
“A bad habit from a bad relationship,” he said. “You weren’t telling me anything and wouldn’t give me your phone number. Sorry.”
“You got my phone number through OSLO,” she said in a faint voice.
“Yes. I had access to employee records. My employees’ records,” he said. “You worked for me. And neither of us knew it—at first.”
He paused, seeming to search her face.
“Quite a revelation to realize one of my own companies was working against me. Trying to get rid of me permanently so they could take over. Then the love of my life shows up. Is she working for me or against me? I hoped you were unaware of what was going on.”
“I didn’t know, at first,” Seroje said, now feeling sad.
“I—I...died,” he said with a pause. “A number of times on the operating table so I was told. Why did you call 911? You could have walked away, and I would have been dead.”
“I couldn’t stand the thought of rotting bodies in that room,” she said. “Would have been days before you were found.”
“Y—you still cared,” he said.
“I guess I gave you a fighting chance. But I was hurt,” she said.
“Understandably, but I couldn’t tell you what I didn’t know and by the time I started figuring things out, you no longer trusted me,” he said.
They sat for twenty minutes in silence, and he continued to watch her.
“And yet you kept saving me,” he said in a soft voice. “You kept OSLO so busy chasing after you that they weren’t paying any attention to me. Allowed me to set things up. To try and fix things. Got copies of all the records. Proof of all that they did. Then you must have done something because they cleaned everything up. Too late. I had it all if I needed it.”
He took a couple of deep breaths.
“You kept saving me, even after you shot me,” he said as he looked up and over the trees. “Didn’t have to explain to the police how Harold and Hank and two OSLO employees were shot dead with the owner almost dead beside them. All from the same gun. My gun. Looked just like another attempt on my life and the other four had gotten in the way.”
He paused and his eyes swept around the area again.
“I knew Hank and Harold had you. I got an anonymous phone call telling me,” he said as his eyes settled back on her.
“An Italian guy,” Seroje said.
“Yes, how’d you know? Never mind. Doesn’t matter now,” he said, and he took another deep breath. “I wasn’t planning on shooting them, until I saw how you looked.”
Craig paused to breath deep again, looking like he was having a difficult time holding in his emotions.
“You were bruised and bloody,” he said, his voice just above a whisper.
He paused again.
“The police were already on their way,” he said, now whispering. “I was fixing things like you told me to.”
“They passed me hiding in the bushes,” she said, still staring at the cement.
He remained silent as if waiting for her, giving her the time to sort out what she thought or felt. She was both irritated and pleased by that, since he was showing he’d learned from his mistake. He was the only one who knew that she needed the time to think. He was the only one who really understood her. She liked that. Really liked that.
“You have a photographic memory,” he said.
“You finally figured that out?” she said, but there was no anger in her voice. “How about the autism? No one figures that out.”
“Part of your ability,” he said. “And, yes, I figured out the autism early on. First date actually. Verified on the second date.”
“Intelligence and autism are not mutually exclusive,” she said in a statement of fact.
“You are extremely intelligent,” he said.
They sat in silence again.
“Drove my mother crazy,” Seroje said in emotionless monotone. “She didn’t understand. My dad didn’t care. I was raised by foster parents since I was seven. They didn’t understand either.”
“I used to be horrible to be around,” she said. “I learned. They beat it into me. Forced me to learn—otherwise, I’d be in an institution.”
“I see only the best of you,” he said in a soft voice. “I wish we could start over.”
They sat in silence for another thirty minutes. No one Seroje recognized passed by except for the man who walked his dog at the same time every day. He liked to ogle the female joggers, but his dog wasn’t cute enough to attract any of the women.
Seroje now knew what she wanted, and she knew what she wanted to do. He’d given her the time to decide. She stood, then knelt on the bench, straddling him and sitting in his lap facing him.
Tears were already welling up in his eyes.
“Yes,” she said, wiping his tears and giving him a gentle kiss. “I’d like to start over.”
He wrapped his arms around her, letting tears flow down his cheeks.
Seroje knew there were at least eight bodyguards surrounding them. She could hear their radio static and smell their aftershave. Craig was wearing a bulletproof vest. She smiled because she had no gun on her, not even her knife. She’d thrown away the purse. The guns were in her safe. The knife was in her car.
The bodyguards moved away, back toward the parking lot, as if they’d been given a signal.
“It’s okay,” she said. Her eyes were steady. “I love you.”
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