Authors: Joleen James
A Short Story
By Joleen James
HOSTAGE HEART Copyright © 2012 Joleen James
All Rights Reserved
For my fellow writers, Gerri Russell, Gina Robinson, and Judith Laik. You've been with me since the beginning. Your friendship and support mean the world to me.
A Short Story
July, Washington Coast
She'd arrived in time for the sunset.
Kristi Palmer parked her car, exiting the Infiniti sedan. Before her, the cottage-style cabin beckoned, like an old friend, one she hadn’t had the chance to visit in over a year. The cabin seemed to sag a little in the dying rays of July’s sun, a victim of neglect. Driving rain, air heavy with salt and punishing coastal winds had all taken a toll. The cabin’s upkeep depended solely on her now. The knowledge made her heart heavy.
Since her mother’s death a year ago, she’d been unable to come here, to face the memories of a past she didn’t share with anyone now. She was utterly and completely alone. Maybe that was why she’d come here. She’d needed something real, a reminder of a life she used to have, a life filled with family, laughter, love.
Kristi removed the groceries from the trunk and navigated the steps leading to the deck, frowning when she noticed what appeared to be dried blood on the sun bleached steps. Over the years she’d seen countless birds, deer, rabbits, coyotes and even a bear on the property. The cabin was isolated; a passcode was needed to get through the gate at the entrance to the driveway, and once inside there were no neighbors. The cabin and surrounding beach grass and Sitka spruce trees had obviously become a playground for the wildlife living here.
Kristi walked the length of the deck, her eyes on the ocean. The sun hovered on the edge of the horizon, a magenta ball that turned the frothy waves shell pink. Fresh salt air filled her lungs and she took a deep hit, savoring the scent. Yes, coming here was just what she needed. She’d have time to reflect, to make peace with what remained of her former life.
At the sliding glass door, she inserted her key and stepped inside. Musty, familiar air greeted her. Kristi set the groceries on the kitchen table, then turned to roll up the bamboo shade. Again, she admired the view, the waves, the setting sun glittering like rubies on the water.
She returned her focus to the room, touching on the worn furnishings. One of the sofa pillows had toppled to the floor. She carefully replaced the pillow, her eyes lingering on the family photos hanging on the wall behind the sofa. Again, sadness tightened her chest. She knew those photos as well as she knew her own name. She’d definitely be tripping down memory lane while she was here.
Deciding to wait on unpacking the car until after the sunset, she started back outside, intending to take a seat on the built-in bench.
"Don’t move," a rough male voice said from behind her.
Kristi froze. Her heart thundered in her chest.
"Turn around slowly, hands in the air," the voice commanded.
Was this it, the end of her life? Why was someone in her cabin? Could he be a squatter? The door had been locked. The shades down. She remembered the pillow on the floor, the blood on the steps. His blood? What did it mean? Was he injured?
"I said, turn around," he ordered. "I’ve had a bad day, lady; and I really don’t want to shoot you, too."
Too? Her stomach did a rollercoaster drop to her feet. Hands in the air, she turned, fear racing through her veins. He stood in the doorway that separated the hallway from the kitchen and living area, his body hidden in the shadows. Tall, she guessed over six foot, he had dark hair, but beyond that she couldn’t get a clear image of his looks. He held his arm out, the gun squarely aimed at her.
"Look," she said. "I’ll leave. I won’t say anything to anyone."
He stepped toward her. Sunlight glinted off the gun in an ominous red flash. "Sit down."
"No, I—" She’d told no one she was coming here. Her cell phone was still in the car. Panic filled her. She looked to the open door. Could she make a run for it?
"Don’t even think about running," he said, reading her movement. "I said, sit down." He voiced the words with a dead calm that raised goosebumps on her flesh.
Kristi pulled out a kitchen chair and sat. He passed her and dropped into a second chair, his gun still trained on her.
The first thing she noticed was the dried blood stain on his shirt. The blood came from the right side of his midsection. Had he been shot? Light eyes, maybe green, stared at her. He had a straight nose and a mouth with lips that were full, but not too full. Hair the color of brown sugar touched his collar. He didn’t look like a criminal, not dressed in black slacks and a white dress shirt. The profile didn’t fit. Who was he? A million questions raced through her mind and she wondered if he’d answer any of them.
"Lady, you picked the wrong day to come to the beach," he said, his eyes doing a slow rove over her. With the gun still on her, he poked through the groceries. "Food, great. I’m starving. Can you cook?"
Could she cook? Was he crazy? She wasn’t about to cook anything for him.
"No." She lifted her chin. A spark of defiance lit within her and at that moment she made the decision to fight for her survival.
"You got a cell phone?" he asked.
"No?" he repeated as if she were a liar. "Don’t make me frisk you." The insolent look he gave her led her to believe he’d enjoy doing just that.
The thought of his hands on her turned her stomach. "I have a phone, but it’s in the car, plugged into the charger."
"Where’s your purse?" he asked.
"In the car. I just grabbed the groceries, that’s it."
"Let me spell something out for you," he said. "I have nothing to lose by killing you. Nothing. Now, stand up."
She shot to her feet.
"Turn your pockets inside out."
Kristi did as he asked. She wore khaki capris and a white T-shirt. There wasn’t really anywhere she could hide her phone that he wouldn’t see it.
"Okay, take a seat."
She sat. "Why are you here? What did you do?"
"I killed a man." His eyes were so cold, like hard chips of glass. She saw no remorse, no guilt.
He frowned. "That doesn’t matter." He gestured toward the groceries. "I don’t care if you can cook; I need to eat. Get up; make us a meal, and no funny stuff. What’d you bring to eat?"
She’d brought comfort food, but she didn’t tell him that. She’d intended to drown her sorrows in all her favorites. "I can make macaroni and cheese."
"Seriously?" he asked with a lift of his eyebrows. "Any meat in those bags?"
"I’m not a big meat eater."
"Well, get to it." He pushed the bag of groceries toward her.
"You really should go to a doctor," she said, eyeing his injury. She thought about the blood on the deck and assumed the blood on his shirt belonged to him. She prayed his injury was significant. If he’d lost a lot of blood her chance for escape was greater.
"You worry about yourself, lady," he said. "I’ll worry about me."
"My name is Kristi," she said, wanting him to see her as a person, not as a nameless victim of whatever was going on with him.
"I know what your name is," he said.
Surprise stole the words she’d been about to say.
"Your name is all over this place, along with your photo."
So he’d been here long enough to look through the personal things she kept in the back bedroom? The thought unsettled her even more.
"Cook," he demanded.
Kristi rose, picking up both bags of groceries, taking them over to the counter near the stove. Even with her back to him, his stare penetrated her, made her sick with fear. Her hands shook as she filled a pan with water. She removed the pasta, setting the rotini to the side. When she started to open a drawer, he said, "Hold on."
She glanced over at him. "I need the cheese grater," but even as she said the words, she knew the drawer also held knives.
"Move slowly," he said.
Kristi nodded, opening the drawer. Her fingers found the long-handled knife. She whirled around, lunging for him. He moved faster. His fingers closed around her wrist in an iron grip. He knocked her wrist against the table. The knife clattered to the ground. Her wrist throbbed, but he didn’t let go.