“Are you daft?!” he blows up. “Have you gone stark raving mad?!”
Probably. But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life constantly looking over my shoulder wondering when the murderous Mrs. Abigail Wellington-Smith and Bob Gallant are going to strike.
“Have you taken leave of your senses?!” he continues his tirade, picking up momentum. “Are you away with the fairies?!”
That’s a new one, but I curb the impulse to ask him what it means since he’s mid-diatribe.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed, you bloody little fool?! Do you ever consider the consequences of your actions?! Do you ever think of anyone other than yourself?!”
Dayum, he’s really on a roll now.
“Hopefully not, sometimes and yes, I do, thank you very much,” I make the mistake of answering him out loud.
“I forbid it!” Dickhead goes all foaming-at-the-mouth Cujo on me now, pacing around the office like a caged lion, slicing the air with his hands as if he’s a maestro wildly leading his orchestra. “I simply cannot condone this nonsense! Do you hear me?! The answer is no! Absolutely not! I will NOT risk you! I cannot risk losing you! Do you understand me?! Am I making myself clear?!”
Oh, indeedy you are, my dear, surly boss.
This outburst of his probably is about as close to a declaration of love as I’m ever going to receive from him, but I’ll take whatever I can get.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
I’m also relatively sure the entire newsroom is getting an earful, too. So much for keeping our new relationship a secret from them, not that it ever really was going to happen due to my inability to lie with a straight face. And, well, Jackson’s propensity to blab. Not to mention Allyson’s and Amy’s observations moments ago.
Dickhead is leaning over me now, hands on his hips, clenching his teeth as if he’d love to take a bite out of me just for spite. I get up from my chair, but he doesn’t budge, causing me to collide into him. He’s immobile, though, and I have to right myself using his solid chest for leverage so we’re standing nose to nose. He’s scowling at me for all he’s worth, his black eyes a tumultuous abyss, but I stand my ground, unfazed.
And then I brazenly kiss him to quiet him from any further outbursts.
He doesn’t reciprocate, his thin lips as unyielding as the rest of him.
So I gently nip his bottom lip, rubbing the tip of my nose against his to coax a response out of him, at last succeeding as his arms contract around me in a vice-like embrace as if he’s never going to let me go. He’s crushing me, but I don’t care. I’m right where I want to be — safe, with him.
“It’s a good idea,” I squeak out through his bone-crushing hug, which he loosens just enough for me breathe a little easier. “Please hear me out before you get all dictatorial on me again, OK? Mrs. Smith is toying with you, pushing your buttons to knock you off-balance. So we have to hit back, do something to flush them out. What if, instead of me, Bris … uh, the detectives get someone else to stand in for me — pretend to be me — like a double? Have that person use my car to go out on assignments for, say, the football tab? It shouldn’t be too hard for them to find someone close to my, uh, build who can wear a wig, right? I always wear shades, baseball caps, T-shirts and jeans or shorts for comfort when I’m covering outdoor assignments, unless it’s an event that calls for dressier clothes, so it should be easy enough to fool them.”
He releases me then, reaching into his right front pants pocket for his cell phone. He puts it on speaker for my benefit as he dials a number. Soon, he’s talking to Briscoe, telling him all about the interview with Mrs. Smith and her subtle threat. He brings up the piece of paper, demanding Briscoe and his partner meet us privately to discuss a plan that might help them catch their murderer. And perhaps even a murderess. This last bit seems to put Briscoe on edge AND pique his interest simultaneously, so he promptly agrees to come by the house after work.
That done, Dickhead ends the call and pockets his phone.
“We might as well get this over with right now,” he says, pointing toward the door before opening it.
As soon as he does, my coworkers scurry about the newsroom like timid mice, striving to appear busy when we both know they’ve been snooping around trying to listen in on us the entire time we’ve been in the sports office.
He calls for a spur-of-the-moment newsroom meeting — even Jackson has miraculously reappeared, the lily-livered deserter — before everyone disperses for the day to tackle their respective assignments.
“What I’m about to tell all of you goes no further than this room,” he announces once everyone gathers around us. “Since Lester Smith was found dead at Bluegrass High School on Friday morning, there has been another murder and a break-in at a staff member’s home. Bob Gallant’s mum, er, mom, Jane, was found dead at her house in Perrysville on Saturday afternoon and Piccolo discovered her flat, er, apartment had been broken into late Sunday morning when she went there to retrieve some of her belongings.”
He lets that information sink in before proceeding.
“Under no circumstances are any of you to engage Bob Gallant in any way should you see him,” Dickhead instructs them. “I will give you a number to call should you happen upon him. Do NOT talk to him. Do NOT approach him. I wish I could tell you more, but I dare not interfere with the ongoing investigation any further than I already am by warning you like this.”
He writes Briscoe’s and Harpo’s information down in a notebook on Mandy Jo’s desk and passes it around so the others can copy it.
“I want all of you to be safe by being aware of your surroundings at all times because your lives may depend on it,” he says.
“Now, are there any questions?”
Jackson raises his hand.
Here we go.
“Do the police suspect Bob?” he inquires.
“I’m not sure, to be honest with you,” Dickhead replies candidly. “But I want everyone to exercise caution, regardless. I cannot stress that point enough. Please be careful. All of you.”
The request really seems to get the gang’s attention because he never asks for anything.
“Does Piccolo have a place to stay?” asks Amy, whose husband, Thomas, is a longtime KSP trooper. “She’d be safe with us.”
“Piccolo is staying at an undisclosed location indefinitely,” he says cryptically. “She is in capable hands.”
An awkward silence ensues.
They all know EXACTLY where I’m staying.
I know they’re dying to ask what’s going on between us — I can see the questions in their inquisitive eyes, on the tips of their lips just begging to come spewing out of their big mouths — but none of them are quite that brave to incur Dickhead’s demonic wrath.
“Let me stress the importance that you share nothing of what I’ve disclosed to you outside of this room,” he reiterates. “To do so could hinder the investigation. I debated long and hard whether to tell you anything at all, but your safety comes first — always.
“You may ring me on my mobile phone at any hour — day or night — should you have any concerns in reference to this matter, regardless of how minuscule you think they might seem. I mean that in all sincerity. I know I’m extremely hard on all of you, but your well-being is of utmost importance to me.”
Their reactions are as priceless as mine was mere days before.
The looks on their faces mirror the one I kept giving him Friday when I was 110 percent positive that an impostor surely had taken over Dickhead’s body: Shock. They’re even looking around the newsroom trying to make sure it really IS him and not some mindfuck of a joke he’s playing on them, just as I did. But it’s so very heartening to witness him lowering his guard — albeit ever so slightly — with the entire newsroom, allowing them to see that he, indeed, DOES care, that he IS human, that he is NOT the monster we’ve all made him out to be. They’re justifiably wary, endeavoring to view him through brand-spanking new eyes the way I have since he opened mine so widely Friday.
Dickhead sighs tiredly not for the first time in the past few days.
Baby steps, my love, baby steps.
They need time to digest this unexpected side of him, just as I did.
“I only turn into the Hulk when I’m incredibly angry,” he informs them, deadpan, “and transform into the delightfully sinister Mr. Hyde on deadline. Otherwise, I’m as mild-mannered as Bruce Banner and Dr. Jekyll combined.”
They’re not sure how to take him anymore, eyeballing him as if he’s done gone cray-cray.
“All right, then, off you go,” he says airily, breaking up the meeting without further warning.
He pulls me aside before I make it back to the sports office, spotting the smile I can’t quite suppress and gives a sly wink in return that only I catch.
“Piccolo, I need to see you in my office,” he says in a hushed tone for my ears only, at once serious. “We need to discuss this idea of yours further, fine-tune it before meeting with the detectives later.”
And commence reeling in the slippery duo of Bob and Mrs. Smith.