“Blindsided,” Chapter 32

He nods to Mandy Jo, motioning for her to proceed to the conference room before closing the door to the sports office so no one else in the newsroom catches a glimpse of us in our present state.

“I have to go, Piccolo,” he says, his self-control once again intact, “but this isn’t finished. Not even bloody close.

“I will deal with you later.”

He slips back into the hallway with those ominous parting words, shutting the door bordering it as he heads to the conference room in the opposite direction whence we came.

Bring it on, tough guy. I’m itching to go a few rounds, myself.

I glance around my Dickhead-imposed prison in resentment.

Let the fucking waiting game begin.

But what else can I do? He’s the boss and what he says, goes, else there’s the door. End of story.

It doesn’t mean I have to like it, although I know he’d sooner cut off his arm than give me my walking papers. Even for sort of disobeying his orders simply because I went for a smoke when all I really wanted to do was go see him.

So I make the most of my idle time in solitary confinement by turning the volume up on the TV and changing the channel to the Summer Games. Rio de Janeiro is only two hours ahead of us — Bluegrass is on Central Daylight Time — which means there won’t be nearly as much of that tape-delay shit I despise watching.

Sporting events are meant to be watched live, period. I don’t care what ungodly hour you have to roust yourself out of bed, they’re worth the extra effort to witness in real time. There is nothing in this world — with Dickhead the LONE exception — that even comes close to being caught up in those once-in-a-lifetime moments of action, emotion, drama and camaraderie. It’s a natural high like no other — unless we’re talking Dickhead’s mind-blowing kisses — and each experience is damn near religious. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love sports so much. Everything around me can be falling apart and going straight to hell in a handbasket, but sports never have let me down. Neither, for that matter, has Dickhead.

And football always has been my passion — until Dickhead, that is — always has been at the heart of my love for sports. I’ve had a love affair with it ever since I can remember, but Dickhead is captivating my heart in a way football never can, never will. I used to cover high school games sitting all the way up in the press box my very first year in the business — the farthest you can get from the damn field — until a veteran sports writer from a competing paper in Indiana suggested I give walking the sidelines a try before season’s end.

I was never the same afterward. I felt like I’d been sucked into a vortex and spit back out, it was THAT intense — again, like Dickhead. The sights, the sounds, the smells — all of it — made me feel like I had come back home for the first time in a long, long, LONG while. I’d finally found my niche after my life had gone to shit mere months before with Joe. I felt like I had a purpose again, and I never looked back for very long during those rare instances I did.

I coped by burying myself in my work. And picking up the, uh, bad habit of smoking.

It wasn’t until this past weekend with Dickhead that I revisited the darkest period of my life and once and for all came to terms with it by talking about it for the very first time. By opening my heart to him, I ultimately allowed myself to love again. To love HIM. I love my parents, my friends and my cat, don’t get me wrong, but not with the electrifying intensity that I do HIM. Sports were my whole life before he came stomping into my peaceful little world a year ago and took it over like King Kong ruled Skull Island. He brought me back to life, so to speak, by making me fight him at every turn. I was a shell of the person I am today, and I think he saw that the first time we met. My only regret is that I was blind to my own feelings the entire time because I was too busy resenting him for making me FEEL again. If only I knew then what I know now, but I can’t rewind time any more than he can. The only way to go is forward … together.

It’s still hard to fathom just how big a part of my life he’s becoming, but I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us once all of this ugly murder business is behind us. He has to feel something for me, but trying to figure him out sometimes is akin to unraveling a Gordian knot — im-fucking-possible. He reveals himself one minute and conceals himself the next. The only way to draw him all the way out of that metaphorical turtle shell of his is to keep chinking away at it until I break the damn thing wide open. And I am nothing if not persistent.

The door unexpectedly opens from the newsroom, catching me unawares in the midst of my reflections.

Regrettably, it’s not Dickhead.

It’s Allyson Hart, our Living section editor, and Amy Cardwell, our features and faith reporter. I know why they’re here, and it’s definitely NOT to talk sports.

“Girl, what did you do to piss Dickhead off this time?!” Allyson pumps me for information. “I have NEVER seen him like that! You should have heard him when he came into your office and you weren’t here! It’s a good thing Mandy Jo saw you and Jackson leave because he about lost his damn mind looking for you! We thought he was going to tear the newsroom apart for a minute there, he was acting so crazy! He was like a wild man looking for his next crack fix!”

Amy, meanwhile, goes straight for the kill.

“Why are your lips so swollen?”

My blazing face is the only response they need to draw their own conclusions.

Still, I touch my lips in knee-jerk reaction.

“They are?”

And that’s precisely how Dickhead finds us as he comes striding into the room all grumpy and dictator-like.

“Both of you: OUT!” he growls. “And shut the door behind you!”

Like Jackson, they flee like the spineless jellyfish they are, but their knowing grins don’t escape his notice before the door closes behind them.

“What did you tell them?!” he demands, instantly on the defensive.

“Nothing!” I reply indignantly. “Honest! As if I would, you … you … you, oh, never mind! They asked me what I did to make you so mad when you were looking for me so frantically. And they wanted to know why my lips are so swollen.”

He swears under his breath.

If you had just listened to me, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now because none of this would have happened,” he grumbles in exasperation. “I suppose I’ll have to do damage control so they don’t go wagging their tongues about us.”

It’s a little too late for THAT, mister.

Might as well get it over with and explain the futility of his plan.

“Um, yeah, about that … They’ve been teasing me about secretly being in love with you for a, uh, really long time and you know how I, uh, can’t lie, so Jackson sort of figured it out already. Which means the whole newsroom probably knows by now. Sorry.

He swears louder this time, but not so the nosy lot out there can hear.

“What the bloody hell am I going to do with you, Piccolo?!”

Hold me?

Thrill me?

Kiss me?

I can’t stop myself from singing the song internally, as well as adding a lyric of my own.

LOVE ME?

“So, how did the interview go?” I hastily change the subject, giving myself a mental shake in the process.

“Diversionary tactics, eh?” he says, his anger dissipating. “I’ll leave it for now, but I’m not finished with you yet. We WILL revisit this when we get home tonight.”

He makes it sound more like a promise than a threat. Perhaps we won’t need those boxing gloves of his, after all.

“C’mon, the suspense is killing me!” I urge him to tell me all about the widow Mrs. Smith.

“You’re right about Abigail Wellington-Smith,” he says, “and I believe your theories are not far off the mark.”

You don’t say.

“She was accompanied by her soli … er, lawyer, which I found curious for the interview with Mandy Jo,” he reveals, “but that practice isn’t unheard of in high-profile murder cases. In the event of possible mariticide, the surviving spouse often is an automatic suspect until ruled out or arrested by the authorities. I wouldn’t underestimate the Bluegrass Police Department, either. My sources within the department tell me Abigail Smith is, indeed, their primary suspect and has been all along, contrary to what the detectives have purposely misled us to believe. But she’s slippery, that one, and they’ll need concrete evidence to arrest her.”

Those lowdown, dirty dogs!

“So that whole interrogation yesterday was nothing more than a fucking fishing expedition to ferret — no, bully — information out of us so they can nail her?!” I exclaim. “I don’t know about you, but those jackasses made me feel like a damn criminal! They made it seem like WE had something to do with both murders!”

Then again, we DID deserve to squirm a little since we DIDN’T tell them the whole truth. I just hate being set up like that when they know good and well that neither of us has killed anyone even if they DO know we’ve been dishonest but can’t prove it.

“I wouldn’t necessarily draw that conclusion,” Dickhead says drily. “They were merely doing their jobs, and although we provided them with information to help them with their case — which they more than likely already had beforehand, knowing them — we deceived them, as well, if you recall. Plus, our last-minute detour to Perrysville understandably raised the detectives’ suspicions since we did so only AFTER talking to your parents in Tideville. But my sources say the detectives learned about Lester Smith’s reputation as a Lothario when they interviewed some of his current and former assistant coaches, hence Abigail Smith being the primary focus of their investigation. They also know that you could be his daughter because of your mum’s brief affair with him, which makes you a target.”

I can’t stay mad when he puts it that way. I have to give Briscoe and Harpo credit. They’re clever, and I sure hope Mrs. Smith underestimates them by getting overconfident thinking they’ll never catch her because she had Bob do all the dirty work for her. But they have to know by now that the Gallants somehow tie into everything from our impromptu visit to Perrysville, even though we didn’t tell them the REAL reason behind it. They’re not nitwits. I have to wonder what else was on the piece of paper splattered with Coach Smith’s blood that had my home number and my mom’s maiden name on it.

“Sources and facts aside, give me your gut impression of Mrs. Smith,” I compel him.

“She was very well rehearsed. It was all very contrived and calculating. She said all the right things, even eked out a crocodile tear or two when she spoke about her husband’s legacy on the football field.”

More like a legacy of women and illegitimate children.

“But her eyes were cold, dead … like she felt nothing. It was … chilling.”

There’s more. I can see it in his eyes, his face. He’s holding something back that he doesn’t want me to know.

“What are you not telling me?” I ask doggedly.

He hesitates, debating.

“I’ll start obeying your orders when you stop withholding information from me because you think you’re protecting me by keeping me in the dark, so out with it,” I press him, mentally crossing all of my extremities in defiant silence because we both know it’s a blatant lie.

“She asked after you, wanted to know why I pulled you from the story,” he says slowly. “I told her you had a family emergency, but we both know she didn’t believe me because of what was on that piece of paper. She wanted to talk to you, but I told her you were unavailable, that you were out on assignment. That appeared to ruffle her feathers momentarily when she couldn’t get her way by getting to you, but she quickly hid it under that frigid demeanor of hers. All she did was give me this peculiar smile as she said, ‘Next time, then.’ I’ve no idea what she means by that, but I don’t like the sound of it. It’s a veiled threat, and I shall be ringing the detectives shortly to apprise them of the situation since we are privy to part of the information that piece of paper contains.”

It doesn’t take a genius to deduce who’s next on her to-kill list: Yours truly. Which gives me a wacky idea that just might work to get her to reveal her true colors. And Bob’s. I don’t think Dickhead will ever agree to it as long as there’s a fire-breathing breath in his body, but Briscoe and Harpo might just go for it.

It’s harder for them to get to me as long as I’m not alone, but Bob knows we’ll be traveling to all 13 high schools doing interviews for the upcoming football tab. Several of the high schools are way out in BFE, which would give them the perfect opportunity to come after me since they both know the area well. And I’d much rather draw them out, on my own terms, than continue waiting around for those two psychos to figure out when, where and how they’re going to TRY, and, ultimately — hopefully — FAIL to do away with me.

“Give her what she wants, then,” I tell Dickhead decisively, thinking that this newest brilliant idea of mine might just be crazy enough to work. “Let them come after me.

“Use me as live bait by letting me go out on assignment — ALONE.”

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