|Breakfast at the Waffle Castle|
Cautiously, Fr. Kevin shifted his sore body to the left, hoping for a better view of what was going on across the room. The damn Sheriff was pawing his sister. It was simply unthinkable. Here he was...a road map of cuts and bruises. Exhausted and stressed to the breaking point. Bubbling over with remorse and guilt. One would think the man could cut him a break. Allow him a few hours of rest without worrying about some dude moving in on his sister. He moved restlessly on the mattress, untangling his legs from the sheets and blankets. The mousy squeak of the bed springs must have caught the Sheriff's attention, and he opened his eyes to find Kevin glaring at him.
Beckett put a single finger to his lips, signaling the priest to keep quiet. He removed his hand from that of the sleeping woman, slipped it gently under her blanket, and silently pushed himself off the floor. Stretching his lean frame, the Sheriff moved close enough to Kevin to keep the volume of his voice to a whisper, but still be heard.
"I'd hate to wake her up just yet. She had a rough night. Woke up in a cold sweat...bad nightmare, I guess." He twisted his neck to the left, and then to the right, seemingly trying to work out a kink. "I had to promise I'd sit with her until she fell asleep, and once she was snoring, I didn't have the heart to move, and risk startling her."
Kevin could feel his ears turn red and hot. He sincerely hoped the Sheriff didn't have any idea of what he'd been thinking a few moments before. How had he misjudged the man's good natured intentions? Embarrassed, he found it hard to meet Beckett's eyes. "Um...thanks Sheriff. That was awfully nice of you. I probably should have kept an eye on her myself. Must have...ah... dozed off. Sorry."
Beckett yawned, and pulled his off his sweatshirt. "No problem, Father. Happy I could help." He glanced at his cell phone to check for messages, and finding none, slid the device back in his pocket. "No news yet. I expect we'll hear something from my source in the next hour or two. Then we can plan from there. In the meantime, I think I'll wash up a bit. Feel free to catch some additional shut eye. I'll wake you if I hear anything."
"I'll be fine, Sheriff. You go ahead."
Shrugging his shoulders, the Sheriff headed toward the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Kevin propped himself on a stack of pillows, too agitated to sleep. He finished his morning prayers, and still jumpy, fumbled in the nightstand drawer until he found a copy of the Gideon Bible. He tried to lose himself in the serenity of the Scriptures, but his mind refused to cooperate. He worried about his parishioners, who, in a few hours, would make their way to Holy Family for morning Mass. They would find the Church dark, and the doors locked. And, if anyone bothered to check the rectory, they'd find more of the same scenario. He would have a lot to answer for, and no clue as to how he would explain his absence to the community, or his Bishop.
In the quiet of the room, Kevin could hear the water being turned off in the bathroom, and the low murmur of the Sheriff's voice. He was obviously talking to someone on his phone, and Kevin assumed it probably had something to do with their current situation. Knowing Beckett would only share minimal information, Fr. Kevin strained to hear the conversation. From his spot on the bed, he could hear only bits and pieces, so he leaned against the nightstand to be closer to the bathroom door. In the process, his elbow caught the base of the lamp, knocking it off the nightstand, and causing the glass base to hit the floor and shatter with loud bang.
Immediately, the door flung open and Beckett moved into the room, only partially dressed, his Glock pointed toward the bed. Across the way, Maureen was startled awake, her eyes saucers in her face, and her hands gripping the blanket. Kevin instantly froze, all eyes, and a loaded gun, on him.
"It was the lamp! Just the lamp! It fell off the nightstand." Kevin, face red, tried to stay still, worried about the gun in Beckett's hand.
The Sheriff lowered the pistol, and snapped the safety in place. "Damn it, Father! You and guns
don't mix. How did the lamp end up on the floor in the first place?" He retrieved his shirt and shoulder holster from the bathroom, and scowled at Kevin. "It's like I can't leave you alone for five minutes without you getting yourself into some kind of trouble."
From the sofa, Maureen spoke up, her voice shaky. "I can't do this anymore. I just want to go home." She threw off the blanket, and began to hunt for her shoes. "I'm leaving. One way or the other, Sheriff. If that criminal is out there, I'll...I'll...oh...I don't know what I'll do. But I can't stay here a minute longer." Her face was scrunched up, her lip trembling, and tears gathered at the corners of her eyes.
"Hang in there, Maureen. I've got good news. I was just on the phone with my source. It appears that Marzano and crew landed in New Orleans about thirty minutes ago. My source insists you're in no immediate danger." He buttoned his shirt, and pulled his arm through the shoulder holster, slipping the Glock into the empty spot.
"What do you mean 'source'? Are you saying you have a 'snitch' like person?" She sniffed loudly, and grabbed a tissue to blow her nose.
Beckett smiled, and answered, "Something like that. Although, only Hollywood uses the term 'snitch'. Anyway, it looks as if you and Kevin are off his radar." Making a sour face, he continued. "Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing for Cassie. Marzano is determined to find her, and dispense punishment."
"Cassie? What the hell does Cassie have to do with any of this? I thought that man was after Kevin?" She caught the look between Beckett and her brother, and crossed her arms in stubborn defiance. "Look you two, I've had enough of this macho bullshit...this 'you show me yours...I'll show you mine' crap One of you better damn well tell me what the hell is going on!"
The two men stared at each other in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Maureen expected her brother to be the first to crack, and was surprised when Beckett sat on the sofa and motioned for her to join him. "I wasn't purposely trying to hide things from you, Maureen. In fact, I was on my way to see you yesterday...to let you know what I'd found out about Cassie. That's when I ran into your brother. He told me some goofy story about you being out for the evening. He was acting so weird, I decided to ride by the rectory, and take a look myself. I wasn't sure what I'd find there. When I pulled up, I saw the sod was all torn up across the lawn. It looked like someone was dragged to the curb."
"That was me," Maureen explained. "I tried to be dead weight. So it would be harder for them to move me."
"Good girl. You did exactly the right thing. Because when I saw the lawn, I decided I'd better check the rectory. I saw the footprints on the door...as if someone had kicked it in, and through the window, I could tell the room was trashed. I knew then that Kevin wasn't telling me the whole story. I decided to follow him, figuring whatever he was up to, it wasn't good...and that you were probably not safe."
"Well, I'm thankful you did, Ted. But that still doesn't explain where Cassie comes in."
Becket sighed, and hands between his knees, began the whole Cassie saga, looking terribly embarrassed to be admitting his stupidity. Kevin sat silent throughout his story, and when the Sheriff came to parts that were cloudy because of a certain priest's lack of information, he looked away. He expected that his sister would not miss the opportunity to point out the Sheriff's male gullibility, and it was his turn to be surprised when she did the total opposite.
"Oh, Ted, you poor man!" She put her hands on top of his. "You must feel absolutely awful.
Picking through the carpet for broken pieces of lamp, Kevin couldn't believe his ears. Poor man? He must feel awful? If anyone here deserves Maureen's sympathy ... Annoyed, he flung the glass in the wastebasket harder than he planed, causing Maureen and the Sheriff to break off their conversation.
"You okay, Kev?" She looked over towards her brother, but didn't remove her hands from the Sheriff's.
"Just fabulous, Mo. Don't let me interupt your Oprah moment over there."
Beckett abruptly stood up, and pulled his hands away. "I appreciate your concern, Maureen. That's really kind of you. I'm just sorry that because of Cassandra Donaghue, you had to suffer as you did. If I could make it up to you, I would." He turned toward Kevin, " The same goes for you, Father." Gathering up the 223 and the black rifle case, he headed toward the odd back door. "Now, I'm sure you'd both like to get back home. We'll be leaving soon. Make sure you gather up all your things. I'll meet you outside."
Maureen slipped on her jacket, and pulled Kevin's sweater off the chair. "You need help, Kevin? It's going to be hard getting this bulky thing over the bandages."
Using the bed to push himself up, Kevin ignored her offer of assisstance. He was tired, crabby and sore. He hadn't had his morning coffee, and despite the whole shitty situation, he was starving. "No, Maureen. I'll do it myself. Just go and get in the car."
She pursed her lips, and tossed the sweater on the bed. Without another word, she turned and followed Beckett out to the car, leaving her brother to stew in his own discontent. He struggled for several minutes to pull his arms through the tight sleeves, and when he finally finished, realized that he had put the damn thing on backwards. Deciding he'd rather look stupid than put himself through that agony a second time, he slid the Bible back in the lampless nightstand, and joined his sister and Beckett in the car.
The back seat of the Mustang was no more comfortable this morning than it had been the night before, but the Sheriff had promised a stop for coffee and breakfast, and just the thought of that made him feel better. It was a bit before 7 AM, the air was crisp and cold, and some of the tension of the early hours had slipped away. They had moved from the back roads of the night before, and traveled via the interstate for about five miles, when Beckett pulled the car into the lot of the Waffle Castle. The building's stone facade came complete with fake wooden draw bridge, and large concrete dragon.
Maureen hid a smirk, and the three of them made their way to the restaurant. The hostess appeared to recognize Beckett, and hustled to seat them at a sunny table near an arched window, dropping the menus before she left. As they perused the selections, the waitress, a young blonde woman with a nylon uniform stretched across her ample bosom, stopped at their table, and threw an arm around the Sheriff."
"Teddy...long time, no see. How ya doin, baby?"
Beckett gave the girl his best smile, all teeth and dimples. "Hey, Jeannie. What's up, sweetheart?"
Kevin felt his sister stiffen next to him, and wished they'd had to stopped at McDonald's instead. The waitress gave Kevin and Maureen the once over, and turned her attention back to the Sheriff, nodding toward the siblings.
"You here on business, Sheriff?"
Ted folded his arms across his chest, and leaned back in the chair. "Now, Jeannie, hon, you know I can't tell you that. Besides, what makes you think I didn't drive all the way out here to see you."
"Aw, Teddy. You are so full of shit. Charmn'...but still full of shit." She pulled her pad out of her uniform pocket. "So, what can I get you folks?
Beckett was right. The waffles were delicious. And despite his sister doing a slow burn next to him, he attacked his plate like a man on a mission, guzzling an entire carafe of black coffee to wash it down. The Sheriff seemed to be enjoying his breakfast as well, while Maureen pushed her scrambled eggs into little piles along the edge of her plate.
Waitress Jeannie had returned to their table several times to refresh beverages, drop off additional butter and syrup, and to flirt outrageously with both men. She had run her hands through Kevin's red hair, and questioned him on whether what she had heard about 'gingers" was true. The Sheriff seemed to find the whole thing terribly amusing, but it embarrassed the hell out of him. He wondered if the woman was purposely teasing him because he was a priest, and then realized in horror that he wasn't wearing his Roman collar. Beckett had ended up cutting it off him the night before, because it had been soaked with blood from his nose. The blood had dried, and the cloth had stuck to his skin, requiring the Sheriff to slice the whole thing off with an elaborate pocket knife.
The woman couldn't know he was a Catholic priest, and from his outward appearance... the broken nose, the cuts and bruises, the dried blood on his backward sweater... probably thought he was some thug the Sheriff was hauling off to jail. And although she paid him some minor interest, it was surely Beckett she had in her sights. She was quite clever in the way she developed opportunities to allow him a glance down the the front of her uniform, and with every table visit, managed to handle some part of the Sheriff's upper anatomy.
If Kevin was able to notice the little romance going on though breakfast, he had to assume so did Maureen. He could tell from her body language that she was totally pissed, and he hoped they could leave without a scene. There was no doubt that if the situation had been different, his sister would have given Jeannie the Waitress a run for her money. But sitting at the table, her hair a mess, her cheek black and blue, and wearing the same rumpled clothes for two days, she apparently had admitted defeat. When the woman dropped the check off at the table, Kevin was relieved. With his belly full, and his caffeine fix attended to, he was ready to be on his way back home, still hoping to avoid an impending confrontation.
But as fate would have it, Jeannie the Waitress was not ready to give up. In a last ditch attempt, she bent over, giving all three of them a look at her generous rear, and with dramatic flourish, printed her cell phone number across the top of the check.
Folding the check in half, and pressing it into Beckett's hand, she drawled, "You be sure to give me a call, Sheriff. It's been way too long, sugar."
Beckett took her obvious come on in stride, and standing up from the table, whispered something into her ear that made the woman giggle, and pushed Maureen over the edge. Slamming her chair into the table, she stormed out of the restaurant, leaving Kevin a few steps behind her. He found her waiting next to the car, face grim, and arms crossed over her chest.
"Maureen, don't be up..."
"Shut up, Kev. I don't want to talk about it. Just leave me alone."
He wanted to offer a sympathetic ear, but the Sheriff's arrival at the car held him back. He unlocked the car, and Maureen tried to race Kevin to the back seat, but unsuccessful, was forced to take her place in the front next to Beckett. He could tell from the set of her face that she would have her say, and although it seemed cowardly, Kevin wanted no part of it. As they cruised along, he stretched out across the seat, and pretended to have fallen asleep, leaving Beckett and his sister to work out their differences without his input.
Attempts by the Sheriff to engage Maureen in conversation were met with terse, sarcastic, mono- syllabes, or with silence. Tired of her behavior, he lost patience, and complained. "For Christ sake, Maureen. What the hell is your problem now?"
"As if you don't know, Sheriff Beckett."
"I have no idea what you're talking about. You change moods so often, a guy needs a scorecard just to know when it's okay to speak to you."
Her cheeks flushed with anger, and she spat out the words. "You think this is about me? Okay Sheriff Romeo, tell me this...why the hell do you have your own personal motel room? A room stocked with disposable toothbrushes, and snacks, and God knows what else! It's totally creepy that you have some kinda 'love nest' hideaway."
He looked at her incredulously, and then grinned. "You actually think I bring women there? To..uh...I mean for the purpose of...um..seduction?" He began to laugh, and despite a dirty look from Maureen, he couldn't make himself stop. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and when he finally was able to speak, he explained. "Oh Maureen, that room is a safe house. A place I use to stash people I don't want found for one reason or another."
"You mean, like a witness protection kind of thing?" The words seemed to stick in her throat.
"Exactly like that." He reached over the car's console, and took her hand. "Be assured, my dear...that if I was planning seduction, it would be a whole lot more... memorable." Then he winked at her, a wink that held so much promise, she blushed a deep pink from ear to ear.
For all of thirty seconds, she seemed at a loss for words. Then, Beckett could see the wheels turning in her head, and she pulled her hand out of his. "Sounds all very nice, Sheriff. But what about that...that... waitress over at the Waffle Castle. I doubt she was one of your so called witnesses. Seemed more like a friend...a close, personal friend."
He chuckled. "Why Miss O'Kenney...I do believe you're jealous."
"I am no such thing! It's just the way that woman was throwing herself at you...well, it was disgusting. And frankly, from where I was sitting, you were eating up."
"And here I was... thinking I was just being polite. Jeannie is just... an aquintance."
"Right. That's why she insisted you take her phone number. Made sure we all knew it too."
"Is that what's bothering you?" He dug in his pocket, and pulled out the check from the restaurant. Crumpling it in his free hand, he rolled down the window and let the wind take it. "Satisfied? No more phone number."
The corner of her mouth turned up, and giving Beckett a wink of her own, she scolded, "Really, Sheriff. Someone in your position should know better than to litter."
From the back seat, Kevin grimaced, thinking that lame come backs were obviously something that ran in the O'Kenney family.
The rest of the ride back to Dollyville was uneventful. Maureen and the Sheriff seemed content to chit chat about things of little importance. For that, Fr. Kevin was grateful. He already felt like he'd eavesdropped on a conversation that was intensely personal. On the other hand, it gave him some sense of how things were between his sister and Ted Beckett. As her older brother, he felt the need to keep an eye on things. And if he couldn't convince her to return to her old life in Boston, then he damn well better keep her out of trouble here.
They pulled up in front of the rectory shortly before noon. It seemed to Kevin as if a life time had passed since he first got that phone call from Marzano. In actuality, it had been less than 24 hours. Now, there were only three items on his agenda. First, he wanted to pray in his church. In front of his altar. Deep, faith filled prayers of thanksgiving. Next, a hot shower. The kind that uses every drop of warm water in the tank. And finally, a nap. A very long one, with the shades closed, and a pillow over his head.
Beckett walked both Maureen and he to the door. For a second or two, there was awkward silence. What did you say to someone who, for lack of better words, saved your sorry ass? Someone who was willing to risk their own safety to see to you and yours? Fr. Kevin stuck his hand out, and Beckett took it. "Sheriff. Bless you. I can't begin to thank you for coming to our rescue without even being asked. I am forever grateful, and in your debt."
"You owe me nothing, Father. I couldn't have done anything else. I'm just glad it worked out the way it did, and that you're both safe."
Maureen looked first at the Sheriff, and then at her brother. Kevin knew a hint when he saw one. He excused himself, and went inside, closing the rectory door, and offering them a tiny bit of privacy.
Beckett spoke first. "Well, it's been quite an adventure."
"Adventure? That's putting it mildly." She tried to squeak out a laugh, but it came out flat. "Ted...I...I'm not sure how to thank you either. You probably saved our lives. Mine and Kevin's." She put her hand out to shake his.
Ignoring her outstretched hand, the Sheriff leaned in and took hold of her chin. He ran his thumb across the bruise on the right cheek, and then across her lips. She stood perfectly still, and he kissed her. Pulling away, he whispered in a low voice, "You take care of yourself, Maureen O'Kenney."
When she didn't answer him, he turned and walked to the Mustang, and seconds later, he was gone.
It would be the last time they'd see Ted Beckett for several weeks, and in that time, Maureen would think of a hundred things she could have said...should have said... before he left.
|Beckett and Maureen|
Copyright 2013 Victoria T. Rocus
All Rights Reserved