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Helen Swings and Misses
In their travels together, both Helen and Cody had picked up a medium-sized roller suitcase each, and had purchased, all on Cody’s credit card, enough clothes and toiletries to get them through. “To get us through whatever it is we think we are doing,” Helen had said.
And so it was, at the hard end of the day, around 10:30 pm, they found themselves standing outside their hotel rooms, #106 and #108 respectively, fumbling with their keys. The hotel was not exactly crawling with guests, and the parking lot was nearly empty. They felt entirely alone. The desk clerk had actually cocked an eyebrow when they got two rooms, as much as to tell Cody that if he were traveling around with someone who looked like that, they wouldn’t be getting no two rooms.
And Helen had apparently been thinking along the same lines, despite the tiff they had had earlier in the day. Or perhaps because of the tiff. Right after her door didn’t open for the second time, she gave a little exclamation of frustration, and then, before he got his door open, she stepped across quickly and kissed Cody full on the mouth, as warm and as seductive as she knew how to make it.
He kissed her back for about a second and a half, and then jumped the same way he had once jumped when a waiter had dropped a hot bowl of French onion soup in his lap. “Whoa,” he said. Whoa, whoa, whoa. “Yikes,” he added.
She stood there in mock belligerence, in flirty fight mode. “What?” she said. “I asked you a question. You gonna answer me?”
“Um,” he said, trying to gather up his thoughts, which someone had grabbed and then kicked all over the parking lot. It was probably the devil, and he was doing a lot of kicking.
“I . . . I do owe you an answer,” he said. “And we obviously need to talk. Probably should have talked way before this. Look. We are both grown-ups and, um, given these, um, overtures, we obviously need to speak frankly.”
“Okay, then,” she said. “Speak frankly then. But it wasn’t an overture. It was a kiss.”
“All right, let’s start with this. I am willing to speak with you frankly, but not within fifty yards of a bed. That’s the first frank thing. You drop your stuff off inside, and I’ll do the same, and let’s meet back out here in sixty seconds and go for a walk.”
At the far end of the parking lot a black sedan was parked, tucked away deep in shadows of the corner. Behind the wheel were a couple of Rocco’s operatives, his explosives guys. Their car looked like it had been parked there for a couple weeks, having that deserted feel. But it wasn’t deserted at all, and Oscar and Dante just sat there watching as Cody and Helen went into their rooms. Oscar offered Dante a cinnamon-flavored tooth- pick, and started the engine up.
“Perfect,” Oscar said. They pulled around to the other side of the motel, got out, and opened the trunk of the car, and began working over a duffel bag that was in there, looking for all the world like a couple of travelers messing around with their luggage.
In the meantime, back on the other side of the motel, Cody and Helen came out of their rooms, walked down the sidewalk to the main thoroughfare, turned right, and headed down toward a Denny’s that was located within a block or so. About five minutes after they had disappeared, Oscar and Dante came around the corner, handling the duffel bag like a couple of pros, which they were. The parking lot was still deserted, except for Cody’s car, which was still there, and the lights in both rooms were out. The two had clearly gone to bed.
Meanwhile Cody and Helen had both received their drinks, and Cody, who had been thinking furiously this entire time, said, “Look . . .” He stopped because they both heard a muffled whommppff in the distance, like a distant jet breaking the sound barrier. But nothing followed, and so Cody resumed.
“Look,” he said again. “We are still speaking frankly, right? I am very attracted to you, which you no doubt picked up on, and apparently it is reciprocal. Sorry for flirting with you earlier, by the way. That was way out of line—joking about us dating. So on one level, I would like nothing more than to make love to you. Simple honesty. But there is this other level, and it involves the entirety of my life. I am a Christian, and what we might want to call a romp, God’s law forbids as fornication.”
“Well, look at it from my point of view,” she said. “I had to get over the idea of sex with a Jesus freak myself. We all have to make our little sacrifices.”
Cody laughed. “Right. But from your vantage, these things seem to be like individual quirks or hang ups, entirely personal. For me, apart from not being able to live with my conscience, and not being able to pursue a more serious relationship with you, because a Christian can’t marry a non-Christian . . .”
“Marry?” Helen exploded. “Who’s talking about marriage? I didn’t propose, and I certainly didn’t expect you to.”
Cody was pushing his coffee cup back and forth. “It is a basic part of Christian ethics that sex is reserved for marriage.”
Helen just stared at him, still glaring but with no little affection mixed in with it. “Well, I do have to say that this is the weirdest brush-off I have ever gotten.”
Cody smiled, somewhat grimly. “If it is any consolation, this has everything to do with my relationship with Christ, and nothing to do with whether or not I think we would have a lot of fun. We would, and then I would be a total wreck tomorrow. You would probably have to drive.”
“Well, okay. Suit yourself, Galahad. I still think you are making mountains out of molehills.”
“Not exactly. If we did this, and then I tried to tell you something about Jesus tomorrow, who would turn on me with her rapier wit and say, ‘You weren’t thinking about Jesus very much last night though’? And you would be dead right, and I would have no answer.”
“Okay,” Helen said, nodding. “Fair point. I would say something like that, and I can understand why you wouldn’t want something like that to happen.”
The atmosphere warmed up considerably after that, they talked some more, for about half an hour more, and then they both stood up to head back to the motel. As soon as they got up from their booth, Cody leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Thanks much,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” she said, grateful for the gesture, and yet not sure what he was thanking her for.
They walked slowly back to the motel, but before they turned into the parking lot they noticed an eerie glow extending out into the street. When they turned into the parking lot, they both stopped, flummoxed. The parking lot was jammed with fire engines, and the wing of the motel where their rooms had been was ablaze. Flames were shooting up twenty feet past the roofline, which was already showing signs of collapsing. They could feel the heat from where they stood.
Cody’s car was on fire also, the front end twisted beyond all description. Helen started to walk toward the nearest fire engine, but Cody grabbed her by the arm.
“We have to talk to somebody,” she said.
“No, no, we really don’t. Not unless you want to be scooped right up into police custody, and have your story told on all the news sites. It seems to me that the one thing we do not want is for anybody to know where you got to, or who you are with right now.”
Helen nodded, slowly. “Right. You’re right. So what are we going to do?”
Cody took a deep breath. “First, let’s head back to Denny’s before someone notices us and asks us any questions. You have your purse? The thumb drive and your gun? Good. And I have my wallet and credit cards. Why don’t we go back to the restaurant and call a cab from there? We can have him drive us out to the airport, which isn’t far from here, and we can rent a car there.”
“Well, absent anything better to do, let’s try it.”