“Blindsided,” Chapter 31

The remainder of the night is tense as the motion-detector lights in the ultra creepy out there wake us each time a patrol unit arrives to check the perimeter.

Still, we somehow manage to get back to sleep fairly easily after every hourly security check, even with Stinky blissfully laying between us on the bed, obviously in the throes of cat heaven while obliviously keeping us from temptation.

The alarm clock on Dickhead’s cell goes off at 5 to propel us out of our slumber, though I wish we could stay here indefinitely and ignore the world and all of its goings-on outside.

Stinky gets up with us, suckering her newest conquest straight into the kitchen with her plaintive meowing as if she’s never been fed a day in her life. He spoils her with a smelly can of REAL tuna, which she greedily gobbles in one sitting and rubs up against him purring her approval afterward. So of course he scoops her up for a quick petting session that she — and he — heartily enjoy.

Looks like someone has a new friend.

It’s on rare occasions like this when he thinks no one is watching that he lets his guard all the way down and shows his true self to the world — OK, so in the privacy of his home with a harmless cat and her devoted female servant — and I fall a little more in love with him each time I see this side of him. Oh, who am I kidding?! I also fall deeper in love with him even when his guard is up and he’s being a dick because of all the things I know about him NOW that I didn’t before.

But it’s heartbreaking knowing he’s had so little love in his life, particularly since he clearly has so much of it to give.

I have to turn away to conceal my billboard emotions at the tender scene that touches me all the way to my soul, lest he see me and we both lose the focus we need to maintain to face the reptilian Mrs. Smith. Sorry. So Mandy Jo and he can face her, although I don’t think a flamethrower could melt that arctic bitch.

An hour later, we’re on our way to the office, but not before Dickhead places his gun into an ankle holster that’s well concealed by his pants AND the sheriff’s department patrols his house for yet another check. The patrol unit escorts us to the nearest gas station, where Dickhead fills his tank, and then to the office, waiting until we enter the building to leave.

Best to be safe than the alternative.

Good thing our electronic security cards are programmed to automatically deny access to anyone no longer in the paper’s employ, even if they steal them or attempt to duplicate one using the identity of another person still actively working at the Daily Herald. It’s designed to be fingerprint sensitive, so the card “knows,” if you will, when the “wrong” person is attempting to use it. That’s why it’s called a smart card, so technology DOES have its perks.

“I will let you know when the interview concludes,” Dickhead dictates. “You are not to go anywhere without me in the meantime. No exceptions.

Yes, sire!

Alex, Josh and Rebecca Major, the Daily Herald’s city editor, already are in the newsroom with Jackson busy working on the agate page — the one with the super small type featuring box scores, stats and the like that sports aficionados love to glean to get their daily fix — in our little office. It’s easy but tedious to lay out because of all the editing it requires to fit everything onto that one page.

Jackson is only there this early because I’ve been away all weekend and, knowing my dearly beloved boss, probably wasn’t informed I’d be here today. We usually stroll in right at 7 to knock out the sports section before fleeing the office — more specifically, Dickhead — to conduct interviews and cover events in the afternoons or evenings.

But, fortunately for the two of us, this is what we call our downtime until football season kicks off at the end of the month. We’ll be doing high school and college previews for our annual pullout football tabloid in the coming weeks, and we’ll be fully inundated once ALL fall sports begin shortly thereafter. We cover 13 high schools and one university in seven counties, with Derby in the heart of the six surrounding it, so it’s a monumental task for just a two-person sports department at the moment. We have a wealth of stringers — freelance writers who are paid by the story — cover games for us, but it’s not the same as having a full-time person on staff. I need to see if I can sweet-talk Dickhead into hiring someone FAST before we’re in WAY over our heads, but first thing’s first: Mrs. Abigail Wellington-Smith.

I will be burning a hole in the carpet with my pacing while THAT interview is in progress after deadline.

Dickhead and I part ways for the first time since Friday, and the feeling is bittersweet as I try to put on my game face before stepping foot into the sports office to get down to the nitty-gritty of work.

And deal with Jackson.

“So what’s up with you and Ivan the Terrible?” Jackson ambushes me as soon as I walk into the room.

Jackson, barely taller than me and much rounder, wipes his bifocals on one of the many polo shirts he favors as he expectantly squints at me through brown eyes that nearly match his hair color but are much lighter than the khaki pants he endlessly sports.

“I’m not at liberty to say right now,” I reply demurely, not meeting his inquisitive eyes in an attempt to play it cool as I sit down at my desk to begin checking voice mails while pulling up one of the sports pages and the APAssociated Press — wire on my computer to edit and lay out copy — stories, in layman’s terms — for the day’s section.

“So it IS true!” he exclaims, crowing. “You ARE in love with him! I knew it!”

I need to start wearing a mask. If he can see it, so will everyone else on the planet. I simply cannot turn my emotions on and off to order.

I will NEVER live this down in the newsroom because of my repeated vehement denials over this very thing EVER having a chance in hell of happening in the past year. I wonder how Dickhead will react when he finds out they know. And he will. He always does.

It’s just a matter of WHEN, not IF.

“Will you shut up?!” I snarl in a low voice, my face turning beet red. “They might hear you!”

He shrugs, giving me a cunning smile when I don’t bother denying his claim. It’s as good an admission as any. We both know it, but I’m not copping to jack shit. I have my pride to consider, after all, especially since he’s the main ringleader of the people who have been teasing me all along about secretly being in love with Dickhead because of those damn Diana Palmer books of mine.

I have a few of her books stashed in my desk that I read when I’m waiting for people to return phone calls and have nothing else to do in the interim, so it was inevitable that Jackson would discover them sooner or later. He’s been mocking them — and me — ever since. But I secretly think he reads them when I’m not here because he sure seems to know a lot of specifics about the characters and their storylines.

“It’s not like it’s a big secret or anything,” he adds, as if THAT is supposed to comfort me when I inevitably will have to face the scrutiny of the newsroom as my coworkers trickle into the building to do their daily deadline magic.

Yep, I definitely need to invest in a mask collection.

“So, does this mean we don’t get ringside seats to the fights anymore?” he gleefully inquires.

I refuse to answer him because this is just a mere sample of the merciless ribbing I’ll be suffering at the hands of my ruthless peers when they see what Jackson sees. And it’s only going to get worse. Progressively worse.

Following the 7 a.m. editorial meeting that the sports staff never attends unless explicitly commanded to do so, I hear Dickhead bellow for Many Jo, but I can’t see anything because all three of the desks in our office face walls. I hear his door close, though, and I know he’s informing her that he’ll be sitting in on her interview with Mrs. Smith without telling her why.

But I don’t have time to think about it anymore. We have an unusually large seven-page section to lay out for a Monday morning. The good news is we’ll have plenty of copy to fill it since the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was Friday — the day Coach Smith was discovered murdered — even though the women’s and men’s soccer teams began playing in their respective groups Wednesday and Thursday.

As it is, we JUST make our 10:30 a.m. deadline for the sports front — the last of the pages in our section to go to press. The deadline for Page A1, the front page of the entire paper, is an hour from now.

I want to see Dickhead in the worst way, but I successfully combat the impulse to go barging into his office simply to be near him. I alternately opt to go for a smoke via the back entrance of our office adjacent to a hallway leading to the break room and our loading zone outside but stop myself in time, heeding Briscoe’s warning not to go anywhere alone. So I make the short trek back to the office and ask Jackson to keep me company. He gives me an odd look since he doesn’t smoke but obliges me anyway.

“When did you start smoking again?” he asks as soon as I light up outside.

“Friday,” I answer, taking a euphoric pull from my mint stick. “Have you spoken to any of the coaches and football players at Bluegrass High since Coach Smith’s death?”

He nods his head in the affirmative, disclosing that the school is expected to name Shane Hardy as acting head coach in a news conference this afternoon. Shane may be young at only 31, but he can hold his own on and off the football field. He’s a good, solid choice, although he will have to contend with Coach Smith’s legacy and all the naysayers who will question his every move. But that’s to be expected since it comes with the territory, however unfair it may seem.

We chitchat some more about our need for a third sports writer while I smoke another cigarette when Dickhead unexpectedly comes crashing through the door like a charging bull who’s just found his target.

“I told you not to leave the building!” he detonates his fury on me.

Boy, is he ever in a temper!

Jackson clears his throat apprehensively.

“I guess this is my cue to, uh, leave,” he says prior to bolting back inside.

Gee, thanks a lot, chickenshit. Leave ME to deal with HIM all alone.

But I can hold my own with this one.

“You told me not to go anywhere without you,” I coolly correct Dickhead. “You didn’t say I couldn’t smoke on the premises right beside the building, so technically, I didn’t go anywhere since I never left. I even asked Jackson to come with me so I wasn’t out here by myself.”

He kisses me hard then, transferring all of his ire and fear into the effort until we’re both breathless, flushed and barely cognizant of our surroundings.

“Don’t do it again,” he says thickly, accompanying me back into the building and down the hallway to my office.

Jackson is gone, the gutless wonder.

“I cannot risk losing you,” Dickhead resumes.

“Not when … “

But he doesn’t get to finish because Mandy Jo is on the phone discreetly gesturing to him from her desk across the newsroom that’s visible from both of the open doorways of the sports office. Thankfully, she’s the only one who spots us in the hallway.

And we both know why she’s gesticulating to him on the sly.

Time’s up.

Mrs. Smith is here.


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