Conflict, p.13
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       Conflict, p.13

           M. S. Willis
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  “Excellent. David go over there and mess up the rhythm of one of the toys. He’ll have no choice but to start over again and I should have enough time to question the janitor.”

  David scowled at me as he admonished me in what was probably one of the loudest whispers I have ever heard. “Paige! That’s mean. Look at him. He looks so cute over there playing with those toys. Plus, it looks like he’s worked hard…”

  “Exactly, David. He is enough of a control freak that he’ll take as much time as he needs to make sure he controls every little aspect of those toys. Once he’s set their pattern, he’ll be satisfied and then he will start looking for me. So get over there and mess up the works!” I eyed David and crossed my arms over my chest.

  His eyes widened in realization and he nodded his head. “I see.” He began to turn but then quickly reverted back to face me. “Speaking of control, how is all of that going, anyway? Have you finally submitted to ‘Man God’?” His brows wriggled and his lips turned up into a crooked smile.

  My patience was wearing thin and a groan escaped me. “Damn it! This is not the time to be discussing my sex life. Now get over there.” I stamped my foot in his direction to move him along.

  Rather than taking the hint that he needed to get a move on, David looked up and put his finger to his mouth in thought. He looked back down to me and said, “I’m going to have to disagree with you on that, Paige. When you are sleeping with a man like that, any place and time is the appropriate time and place to discuss your sex life.” His matter of fact expression would have been hilarious if it wasn’t for the fact that we were losing precious time.

  I grabbed David by the shoulders and hurriedly spun him toward Daemon’s direction. Glancing at Daemon, I noticed that he was almost finished with the last toy. I gave David a strong shove. “Go now!”

  David shot me a haughty look over his shoulder before flitting over to Daemon’s table. Luckily, his natural clumsiness came in handy when he ran into the table, knocking all the toys over. Daemon’s head shot up and he silently and slowly looked over at David. David raised up his hands and shrugged his shoulders in feigned innocence before taking a step back out of range of Daemon. I was amused by their exchange but I had a janitor to interrogate.

  I turned back to where the janitor was almost finished cleaning up the last of the frozen treat. I started walking in his direction and swayed my hips noticeably with my stride. A fake smile was plastered to my face and when I got near enough to my target, his face shot up and looked confused. I stopped when I was close enough so that nobody could overhear what I was asking him.

  “Hey stud.” My hand reached up and I took a lock of hair between my fingers. Keeping in character, I did the one thing I detest most; I twirled my hair. Not only did I twirl my hair, I did that little thing with my foot where it went up on its toe and twisted back and forth. Oh yeah, I was a professional at this moment. Batting my eyelashes up at ‘Mr. Sanitary’, I wished I had chewing gum to smack loudly and complete the effect. Having not considered that earlier, I had no choice but to continue, sans gum. Not a perfect game, but definitely close enough.

  The face I looked up into was haggard and dirty and the man looked like he had endured way too many years of hard labor. He wore the same blue coveralls that Chris wore when he attacked me at the coffee shop weeks ago. He held a mop handle in his hand and I could tell he was leaning on it for support. I wondered if he had a back injury, but then quickly shook my curiosity to get to the matter at hand.

  While twirling my hair on my finger, I smiled brighter before I said, “Um, I’m just here looking for an old friend. Do you know a guy by the name of Chris Baxter? He said he’s a janitor here.” My eyelashes batted some more and I continued drowning him with my innocent act. Before letting him respond, I turned to check on David and Daemon and found they were working together to put the toys back in motion. Teamwork! I was so proud.

  The janitor picked the mop head off the floor and roughly dunked it back in the bucket filled with black water. The liquid spilled over the rim of the bucket and the nasty muck splashed all over my right shoe. I picked up my foot and my jaw dropped in shock and disgust at his actions.

  He spit. He actually spit on the ground before answering. “What’s a girl like you wanting with Chris? Whaaaaat…did he fuck ya and leave ya?” His sneer matched the filthy snicker that rolled out from between his lips. “Well, you’re gonna have to get in line because Chris has a long list of ladies in his fan club. In fact…” He turned to point to a somewhat pretty, gypsy looking lady who was selling handmade jewelry. “…that bitch over there can tell you ALL about Chris.” He snorted out a little laugh before continuing. “Bitch hates ‘em, but, in my opinion, she should be glad he gave her even that one night.”

  My brows furrowed and I’d had enough with this ass. Was it a job requirement that flea market janitors be chauvinist, crass, lunatics?! My finger came up to point directly in his face when I said, “Listen, you rude son of a bitch, I’m not asking for anything more than if you know where I can find Chris. So give me the information I’m asking for so I can get out of here and not have to breathe in your nasty ass breath any longer.” I didn’t know what reaction to expect to what I said, but I was determined to stand my ground with this prick.

  His scowl deepened after I finished speaking, but then his face relaxed and he actually…smiled? He started laughing and slapping his hand against his knee. He turned to me and went to touch my shoulder. I flinched outside of his reach and his hand returned to his side. He finally stopped laughing and said, “You’re alright babe, I like a girl with spunk.”

  Apparently, the sweet, hot and innocent character was the wrong choice. I should have gone with the ‘fuck with me and die’ character from the start. I turned to check on David and Daemon’s status with the toys. They were almost finished and David happened to look over at me to determine if I was done with the janitor. I gave him a pointed look and the panicked expression on his face told me we were running out of time. Thankfully, David took one for the team and bumped the table again to knock the toys out of sync. Without looking at David, Daemon grabbed him by one shoulder and pushed him away from the table before turning back to realign the toys.

  I turned back to the janitor and he leaned on the mop for support. He cleared his throat before continuing, “I hate to break it to ya’, but Chris is wanted by the cops. Don’t know what he did, but there have been a lot of people looking for him. Like I said, you might want to talk with Angie over there. She might know something.”

  I highly doubted Angie would know anything about Chris’ location. Unfortunately, I had no other leads and she was my only option. I hoped that Chris hadn’t done something to her and I was opening up an old wound by asking. Without saying another word, I turned around and started walking in her direction.

  “Of course, if you can’t find Chris, you can call me anytime you want, pretty lady.” The janitor’s hoarse voice was suggestive and lewd. I ignored his suggestion and continued quickly toward Angie’s booth.

  As I was passing David and Daemon, I noticed that Daemon had all but three of the toys aligned again. David was attempting to approach the table to buy me more time, but every time he took a step, Daemon’s hand shot out and held him back. I chuckled to myself at David’s panicked expression. As usual, Daemon’s face held no expression as he concentrated on his task.

  I added a bounce to my step as I approached Angie’s booth. I was glad the booth displayed jewelry, in case David couldn’t distract Daemon longer. I approached the booth and threw on a wide grin and met eyes with Angie. She wore a pretty teal peasant top with a multi-colored wrap around skirt. She had on one of those belts with the little bells hanging on it that jingled when she moved. Her eyes were a warm brown and her hair was long and perfectly straight. I looked around at the jewelry she had displayed and was impressed with the detail and craftsmanship of the pieces. A bracelet with a dragonfly charm caught my eye and I picked it up to e
xamine it more closely.

  “That there is one of my favorites.” I looked up when I heard Angie’s musical voice. She had a charming air to her that set you at ease and made you feel like you had known her forever. Her eyes twinkled as she smiled at me and she pointed back to the bracelet.

  “Do you know what the dragonfly symbolizes?” Her eyes met mine as she waited for a response.

  I smiled and looked between the bracelet and Angie before answering. “When I was young, my mom told me that if you saw a dragonfly, it meant that your deceased relatives were checking on you, making sure you were safe. I don’t know that I believe her, but she was adamant in her belief.”

  Angie smiled again and picked up a few more dragonfly pieces for me to look at. “Your mom sounds like a smart woman. That is one of the meanings behind the symbol, but there are more.” She laid the pieces out of the little black square of black velvet cloth used to display the jewelry. “The dragonfly is also said to represent undying love, pure love actually.”

  My thoughts instantly went to Buddy and the necklace that I had given him. Angie was right. That necklace did represent pure love to me. Even though Buddy had never returned, my love for him would always be undying. My heart ached for him and I wished that I was able to find him when I had searched for him years ago. I’d asked my parents for his full name and information and they told me that the information had been lost years prior. Their response broke my heart at the time and continued to upset me even now. I still don’t understand how they could have forgotten something as important as Buddy’s full name, but maybe it really was just me that held on to his memory.

  I was ripped from my thoughts by Angie’s warm voice. “The dragonfly is also a symbol of power, agility and victory. I wear one almost all of the time because I am proud of myself for having endured some difficult times. Every time I feel upset about the past, I look to my necklace and remember that I survived and I take comfort in that.” Her face fell for just a second as she remembered something painful from her past. My curiosity was piqued and I wondered if it had something to do with Chris. I had to find out, but in a way that didn’t open up any old wounds.

  I continued my perusal of the different pieces she had laid out for me and nonchalantly asked, “What happened to you?” I looked up to catch her gaze and decided to confess my past in order to entice her to open up. “My roommates and I were attacked a month or so ago. It was awful. We were hospitalized and one of my friends, Annie, is still in a mental hospital due to the trauma.”

  Angie’s hand flew to her mouth at my confession. Her eyes became saddened and compassionate and she slowly removed her hand before responding. “I, unfortunately, trusted a man about a year ago and went on a date with him.” She looked unsure if she wanted to go into more detail but finally spoke again. “Let’s just say, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

  I nodded my head in understanding and determined that maybe we were talking about the same person. I needed to dig a little more, but carefully.

  “Yeah, I was almost raped, and Annie wasn’t as fortunate as me to escape. The police are looking for him now. Did you call the police on the guy that did that to you?”

  Her facial expression looked slightly frightened and she paused before answering. “No. I…I was afraid that they wouldn’t believe me and he would attack me again for reporting it.” Her head started to shake back and forth in silent remorse. “I probably should have reported it anyway, but I was scared…and embarrassed.” Her voice was quiet on that last word and my heart instantly broke for her. I thought about the different women who I’d known at the Center. When I was older, they would often talk to me about how long they went without reporting the abuse committed against them. Some often blamed themselves for having not reported it when it first happened. Their confessions always touched my heart and I felt pain for them. It wasn’t unusual for them to not report it due to their dependence on their abuser, or their love for their abuser. My heart tightened when I realized that even while being abused, those women never wanted to strike back at the person who hurt them.

  I looked over to find David and Daemon and panicked when they were no longer at the table with the perpetual motion toys. I scanned the crowd and my muscles relaxed a bit when I saw that David had dragged Daemon over to the lava lamp table. David was intently looking at one of the lamps and his face was misshaped and magnified by the glass of the lamp he was looking through. Daemon had an impatient expression and looked over to find me. I smiled when his eyes met mine and that seemed to calm him down. He laughed and pointed to David before shrugging his shoulders and turning back to the lamps.

  Satisfied that Daemon was sufficiently distracted, my eyes returned to Angie’s and I lowered my voice to make sure that nobody could hear our conversation. I had to add detail to my story in an attempt to get Angie talking. “Yeah, we called the police. The guy was actually a janitor here, but I doubt he’ll show back up to work while the police are looking for him. I, uh, love this place, so two of my friends accompanied me, just in case.”

  Angie’s eyes grew wide and it appeared she made a connection with what I was saying. She was definitely hesitant to continue, but eventually asked, “What was the name of the man who hurt you and your friends?”

  Perfect. Now was the time to get information.

  I held her stare when I answered, “Chris. Chris Baxter.”

  Angie’s hand flew to her mouth again and I saw tears prick her eyes. She turned away from me momentarily, but then looked back with a resolute expression. “I’m glad you reported his crime. He’s gotten away with too many. He was the one who…hurt me. I’m not the only one. There have been others.”

  My expression grew sympathetic and I reached across the table to take her hands. She pulled away for a second, but then accepted my hold. I squeezed her hands softly and said, “You can still tell the police. They know about Chris now. They will believe you. In fact, if you know other victims, you need to encourage them to come forward. I know it’s hard, but he needs to pay for his crimes.”

  Angie nodded her head and struggled to gain her composure. I could see emotions rapidly flicking through her eyes and I held her gaze in solidarity. Finally, she nodded her head with one curt movement and said, “You’re right. I’ll tell them. Some may not want to come forward, they would rather put the past behind them and leave it there. But I will. I’ll tell my story. He needs to be stopped.”

  I smiled encouragingly at her. “Do you have any idea where he might be? Any information at all could help the police find him.”

  She was thoughtful for a moment but then you could see when an idea hit her. “Yes, actually. There is a booth around the corner from here. It’s full of survivalist and camping gear. Chris was good friends with the vendor, Eric. You could ask him. He might be able to tell you.”

  Yes!!! A lead!!

  I nodded my head at Angie and asked, “Again, we just met, but, my name is Paige. Would you like me to go with you to the police? I can call the lead detective, she’s very dedicated to this investigation. She can help you.”

  Angie smiled shyly and shook her head. “Thank you, Paige. And my name is Angie, by the way. But no, I don’t need you to come with me. I have a close friend who will go. She’s been wanting me to report Chris ever since she found out about what happened. If you could give me the detective’s information, I will call her at the end of the day.”

  I let go of Angie’s hold and looked at my phone. I read her Detective Troy’s information and she wrote it down on the back of a blank receipt. Goose bumps ran down my arms and I turned to see that Daemon had approached. I put my phone down and smiled at him sweetly.

  “Hey, Damsel. See anything you like?” The corner of Daemon’s mouth turned up as he walked up behind me and rubbed up and down my arms.

  I turned back towards the jewelry display and picked out the dragonfly bracelet I had looked at earlier. I decided to buy it and give it to Annie. If what Angie had said was tru
e, Annie needed this symbol more than anybody else I knew. She was in the middle of a battle to recover and if I could give her anything in encouragement, I would.

  Angie’s eyes were glued on Daemon and her cheeks slightly reddened when I caught her staring at him. I chuckled quietly and smiled before leaning over to whisper, “Don’t worry. Every woman has that reaction to him. Just don’t say anything to him. We wouldn’t want his head getting any bigger than it already is.”

  Angie laughed and nodded her head in agreement. I looked back at Daemon and he had a confused expression on his face. I turned back to Angie and held up the bracelet. “I’ll take the bracelet. It’s beautiful and I have a friend who could use the symbol of strength.”

  Angie nodded in understanding and turned to grab her small cash register. I didn’t have my purse on me and I panicked when I realized I hadn’t brought it along. Crap. I looked up at Daemon and asked, “Would you mind spotting me until we can get back to the apartment? I forgot to bring my purse.”

  Daemon laughed and pulled out his wallet. He handed cash over to Angie and we quickly thanked her before leaving. We found David over at a display of antique photographs. What the hell?! As we approached, David turned and held up a single photo that he had found.

  “Look, Paige. It’s a clown from the 1930’s. I thought maybe we could blow this up and hang it in your room.”

  My jaw dropped and I think I heard a small shriek escape my lips. Daemon started to chuckle and took me under his arm. “You have a fear of clowns, Damsel? I thought you weren’t scared of anything.” One eyebrow arched over his beautiful blue eye and I could feel my face heat from the embarrassment. I could hear David snickering and I made a mental note to smack him later for having brought up my fears in front of Daemon.

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