Forced destiny creates a destiny of its own making.
I believe that every man walks a path based on choices. The quality of life is directly related to the quality of the questions we ask. In time, our destiny will be revealed to us all. At birth we are like sponges ready to absorb all the information the world throws our way. Over time, the sponge fills, and we must then decide a path based on what we know.
Is our meeting a random act of depraved misfortune? Or is meeting a destiny designed by the choices we make? If you knew I would be waiting, would you make other choices?
There is a point of no return at times. Have you crossed that line?
It was close to 7:30 in the evening, and Ben was still thinking about what Lisa Adams had said on the six o’clock news program regarding his absence from the show. It seemed as if the FBI were placing the lack of progress with the case squarely on his shoulders. Oh, it wasn’t specifically stated like that. They used fancy words and added a little slight-of-hand routine to disguise what they were saying. But it was made clear that Detective Benjamin Simeon was no longer part of the investigation. Sure, he was angry. Sure, he felt helpless. But there were two things that were bothering him even more. First was the fact that the people he was working with had betrayed him. Oh, they had said the right words. They had looked sad and done what they could to pacify. But nobody put up a fight to keep him around. The second was that he knew this change was going to cause a lot of problems with Mr. Smith. When something bothered Mr. Smith, people started dying. Somehow the FBI couldn’t understand that.
When the doorbell rang, it took a few seconds for Ben to realize what it was. Not used to having visitors at his place, he didn’t get to hear the sound all that often. When he opened the door, Sue Garrison was standing there with a broad smile and a bottle of wine. He could sense mischievousness in her eyes. He smiled at her, stepped back, and opened the door as an invitation to enter.
He started to say something, but she put a finger to her lips and shushed him to silence. Then she walked past him, brushing gently against his arm as she passed. Now that she sort of knew her way around his house, she walked straight to the kitchen and placed the un-opened bottle in the refrigerator. Like a puppy, Ben was following to see what she was up to.
At 5-foot-7, Sue wasn’t a short woman. But like anyone of that stature, she had to look up to see Ben’s eyes. When she wore her baggy police uniform, Ben had no idea how fit she might be. But now she was wearing civvies. There was no doubt that the woman before him was in better than good shape: she was gorgeous.
Sue turned around after making the deposit, and there stood Ben right in front of her. As she looked up into his eyes, any doubt she might have had quickly faded. She closed the space between them, placed her arms around his neck, and before he had any chance of protestation—not that he would have—kissed him full on the mouth. There was nothing tentative about the kiss. Sue wanted to erase all doubts, if there were any, as to what she had in mind.
Ben was not the quickest guy on the block when it came to being a ladies’ man, but even he could figure out what a kiss like that meant. He returned it with full and complete authority. It might have been a long time since his last intimate kiss, but like riding a bicycle, you never really forget.
The kiss lasted several minutes. Slowly Ben’s hands moved from her back, starting to explore her body. It had been a very long time since he had experienced such a beautiful feeling. He wanted to touch and explore every inch of her.
He touched her face, felt the soft texture of her skin. Her hair was silky and full, yet light to the touch. Her neck was small and fragile, and he placed his hands gently on either side. He started at her cheeks, kissing softly, then moved his hands down to her shoulders, her sides, the small of her back. The silk blouse she was wearing did little to hide the figure that lay beneath, and the skirt she wore hung loosely on her hips. He knew that he would soon see and touch the soft skin underneath, but he was in no rush. He wanted this moment to last and took his time getting to know the woman he held in his arms.
The kiss was broken eventually, and they looked into each other’s eyes, yearning for each other. He held her hand and led her up the stairs to his bedroom. They didn’t run. Every step was worthy of remembrance. The touch of her hand in his, the smell of the White Diamond perfume she was wearing—every facet of the journey needed to be remembered.
Standing together next to his bed, Ben wanted to kiss those lips again. He pulled her close, first touching her face tenderly with the back of his fingers. He slid them back so he could touch the softness of her hair and ran his fingers through it. He smelled her shampoo and then, grabbing a handful of her hair, pulled her head back so that her face was fully exposed. Her mouth opened to him. He leaned down and kissed her again, hard and passionately. His tongue entered her mouth, and they both felt the hardness of his manhood. He swelled as their bodies pressed together and the heat of the moment rose.
As much as he felt an urgency to strip her and let the fervor of the moment take its course, Ben—with what little cognizant thought he had left—wanted the pace to slow down.
He laid her down on the bed, kissing her as they went. His hands moved from her back, gently removing one article at a time, one slow, deliberate button at a time. He kissed her neck first then, as he unbuttoned each button of her blouse, moved the kisses down along the same path. Since he was out of practice with the one-handed bra clasp maneuver, he was grateful for her foresight, wearing one that had the clasp in front.
Her breasts were a vision of beauty, a work of art. They would rival those of any model or any actress he had ever seen. As he kissed, moving his face over them, he began to feel something that even surprised him: a sense of comfort and safety. He had not expected that. He knew Sue was a strong and willful person; what he didn’t realize was how much he needed the nurturing that she provided him.
Sue was not a passive lover. She wanted to know as much about Ben as he wanted to know about her. After letting him remove her clothing, she took the initiative and did the same for him. She laid him on his back, removed his shirt, and started kissing his neck and chest, using her hands to first unlatch then remove his pants. When that last act was done, she smiled from what she saw. All her young life she had said that size didn’t matter. She would soon realize that size, combined with proper use, could make all the difference in the world. All of her preconceived notions and physical limitations would be put to the test.
Making love is an experience totally different from having sex. She knew, as did he, that even though the words were never spoken, they indeed loved each other. It was true that they were physically attracted to each other, but this was much more. This may have been their first time together, but something wonderful inside her—it wasn’t just him—told her that there would be other times, maybe a lifetime’s worth.
After the explosive results of their first encounter, they lay together. Sue rested her head on Ben’s shoulder and Ben held her as close as he could. He knew what he was feeling inside, and he liked what he felt. For a brief moment he thought back to his wife and daughter. Instead of the guilt he expected, there was happiness. Instead of the remorse or betrayal he believed would sweep over him, what he got instead was a message from his wife: she approved of and had prayed for his happiness. Tears came to his eyes—tears of joy and relief. For him, life could be a happy experience again. He knew that now, and it was all because of this beautiful woman lying in his arms.
For the first time since she walked into the house, they spoke.
“It seems as if I have some wine in the fridge,” Ben said. “Would you like some?”
Sue rose up on her elbow and stared into his eyes. She smiled. “I thought you would never ask. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to be a good host or not. I mean, how long have I been here, and you’re just now asking if I could use a drink? Sheesh...a lady could die of thirst around here.”
Ben gave her a little pout, and she laughed.
“Well for your information,” he countered, “I’m usually a very good host. You distracted me from my duties. If there’s any blame here, it falls squarely on your shoulders.” He leaned forward and kissed her gently. Then, almost as if he were a playful bear cub, he bit down on her to make a point. She yelped a little, then pushed him harder than she had intended. Caught off balance and surprised by her strength, Ben fell backwards off the bed, landing with a loud thump on the floor. He lay there for a moment, then began laughing as if the funniest joke in the world was just played on him.
“I think I’ll go get that wine now,” he said with a groan. Standing, hunched over with a hand on his hip in geriatric grandeur, he padded nude out of the room, rubbing his sore ass.
Sue lay back on the bed, looking at the ceiling and thinking about one of the most memorable experiences of her life.
At nine that evening, Cheryl Johnson was sitting at the desk in her hotel room when the call came in. It was the director in Washington, and he was upset again. The director filled her in on the new circumstances taking control of the Smith case. As she hung up, Cheryl realized that Ben had been right all along. Maybe he was the best man for the job. She certainly hadn’t seen this one coming.
She picked up the phone, called the station, and with all aspects of diplomacy set aside told Captain Black what needed to be done. She would be there in thirty minutes and wanted Ben and him ready to take a ride with her to Sacramento. She would fill them in on the way.
Ben and Sue were sitting on the bed talking, enjoying each other’s company, and drinking their second glass of wine when the call came in. Ben had been expecting the call. He had no doubt that the man he had learned to despise would make a play to bring him back. He just wasn’t expecting it so soon.
“I have to go,” he told Sue as he hung up the phone. “Looks like somebody wants me to go to Sacramento about something new. I don’t know what time I’ll be back, but you’re welcome to stay if you want.”
“You go ahead,” she said, watching him get dressed. “I think I’ll go home for now. But don’t worry, I’ll be back whenever you want me. Just do me one favor, Ben.”
“What’s that?” He buttoned his shirt, started tying his shoes.
“Stop him,” she said. “Stop the sonofabitch before he decides to come after you.” Even though Ben hadn’t said so, she had a feeling that his leaving had something to do with Mr. Smith.
Ben didn’t need to respond to her request. She already knew that he would do everything he could. He just wouldn’t do it for the reasons she asked. He didn’t care so much about himself as he did about those closest to him. For them he would die if necessary. He kissed her hard on the mouth, turned without saying anything, and left.
Sue grabbed one of his pillows, pulled it to her chest, and held it with all her might. She buried her face in the pillow then breathed in, smelling the essence of the man she now knew she loved.
Though it actually took Ben a total of 23-minutes from the time the call came in till he arrived at the station house, Cheryl Johnson and Captain Black were already outside the building, waiting in the light drizzle for him to arrive. There were no pleasantries exchanged, only a car door standing open and instructions to enter so they could leave. They didn’t head out on Route 17 as Ben had expected. Rather, they headed for the small airstrip just south of town to catch a helicopter, already fueled and awaiting their arrival.
As they drove, Cheryl explained what had happened: the murders of the real estate woman and the bodyguard, but most importantly the missing daughter of California’s governor.
“I can understand the importance of the situation,” Ben said, “but what does all this have to do with us? It is, after all, a little out of our jurisdiction. Oh, and if I’m not mistaken, weren’t we removed by your director?”
“Yes. But what I failed to mention,” Cheryl stated flatly, “is that you are here as a result of a personal request of the President of the United States. It seems that your friend Mr. Smith has upped the ante, going to a level that even we can’t stop. The governor and the President are friends, and he asked a personal favor. Mr. Smith left a package for you, Ben. It says on the outside that you’re to be the only one to open it. He signed it in blood.”
“Jesus Christ, Cheryl. What the hell is going on here? You guys were supposed to know what to expect from this asshole. Everybody, even your director, wanted me out of it. Didn’t you guys see this coming? Jesus H. Christ.”
“I told you earlier that I didn’t agree with the director regarding your involvement,” she said, “but I have to take orders just like you do. And did we see it coming? Hell no, we didn’t see it coming. We expected him to do something. We expected some kind of power move. But we didn’t expect it to happen so fast. And we certainly didn’t expect him to go so high up the food chain to do it. Now let me ask you something,” she said, her anger surfacing. “Did you expect it? Did you know what he was going to do next? Did you think it was going to happen so quickly? Because if you did, then you are a hell of a lot smarter than I am.”
Ben hesitated, trying to decide if he wanted to share his thoughts with her regarding his earlier epiphany. Should he have already shared his thoughts about why Mr. Smith wanted him? Or would they think he’s nuts?
As if needing to purge himself, he told them about the cryptic message and what it had meant to him.
When Ben was finished, Cheryl looked at him, stunned by the information. She knew his wife and daughter were dead, but she hadn’t taken the time to look into the details of what had actually happened. She felt as if she had been slugged in the stomach and wanted to—somehow—express her sympathy to the man.
“I’m sorry, Ben. I didn’t know.” She didn’t know what else to say to him.
Captain Black saw his moment. “Look, you two. I know that everybody involved in this case is ready to start killing. Cheryl, I don’t know about you, but I can certainly see where Ben is coming from on this. It also makes sense that Mr. Smith would certainly have ample motivation if all of this were true. My question to you is how we find out who in the world might have a similar situation to Ben’s. But most important, how the hell can we find this out and keep it quiet?”
Cheryl didn’t wait long to answer. “The first thing we have to do is not say a word of this to anyone. The second is to do our research quietly, not giving anyone a complete criterion as to what we’re trying to find. We work piecemeal. Of course, everybody already knows that we’re trying to narrow things down. What they don’t realize is that of all the directions we’re looking, one set is infinitely more important than all of the others. We let everybody keep doing what they’re already doing. We just add another set of conditions to the project. I have a friend at Berkeley in the computer department that can find out information without the FBI being involved. I’m not going to tell you who he is, but I can tell you this: if the information we want is out there, he’ll find it.”
“There’s one little problem with the plan,” Ben said. “There already is one other person that knows about my theory: Sue Garrison. I think you’ve met her already. I wanted to bounce it off someone that I trusted before I made a total fool of myself. I’m sure she won’t say anything to anyone about it, but you needed to know.”
“You really think you can trust her?” she asked Ben pointedly.
“With my life, if need be.”
“Then you have to tell her that she is now officially on our new team,” Cheryl said. “We’re going to need all the help we can get, and right now, four people is not a very big group.”
“Are you sure that you want to do that?” Captain Black asked. “Sue is a good kid and all, but she doesn’t have the experience to do this kind of investigative work.”
“Are you saying that you don’t trust her?” Cheryl responded.
“Of course I trust her,” the captain said, “but I’m also responsible for her safety too. I just don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I also don’t want someone working this who doesn’t have the kind of experience necessary to know what to look for.”
“I don’t think anybody has the necessary experience,” Cheryl said. “Why should she be any different than the rest of us? The only requirements necessary for this job are trustworthiness and the ability to do whatever’s necessary to get the job done. Ben vouches for the former. Effort will determine the latter.”
They sat quietly as the lights of Sacramento came into view. They would be arriving soon. The conversation would have to be resumed.
Ben stared out the window and wondered if what he had just done was a good thing or if he had just made his life a whole lot more difficult.