(excerpt 5. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)
I was on assignment in some far-flung corner of the world, I don't remember where, when Dad called to tell me Carmen had run away. No one knows why she left. She was only fifteen, had lots of friends, and was a straight-A student. She seemed to be a normal, happy teenager. Mom cried and prayed every night as the days turned to weeks and then to months. Dad started drinking and withdrew from Mom.
During the course of the investigation the police discovered she'd been a prostitute, forced into the sex trade, they said. They see it all the time - young runaways, desperate for food and a place to stay, fall victim to opportunistic scumbags.
They found her body in a dumpster, her face covered with bruises and a deep stab wound to her abdomen. I remember exactly where I was the day Dad called to tell me the news – sitting in a bar in Singapore with my old buddy Rick. Adding insult to injury, Rick was killed later that week during a mission we were on together. Everyone told me there was nothing I could have done, but still, my friend was dead and I failed to save him.
I took my dishes to the sink and retired to my underground lair. The basement apartment was sparsely finished but I had it all to myself. My bed, which was set up in the corner, was big and warm and comfy, but I usually fell asleep in my roomy recliner while watching TV and slept through the night there. A college boy fridge was strategically placed beside the recliner which was located in the middle of the room in front of a flat screen TV. A spacious rectangular area rug with tassels on the ends insulated my chair from the cold, damp cement floor. Settling back and watching a good movie or TV show was like taking a magic carpet ride.
I selected an episode of Numb3rs, my favorite crime drama, from the DVR; popped the top on a dark beer; and kicked back to see what kind of magical math the detective would use to catch the bad guys this time. A young couple had been killed while they slept. They were newlyweds. He was a consultant for a military contracting firm, and she, a beautiful woman with long blonde hair, was the editor of a fashion magazine.
The brief intro was followed by several commercials: a promo for the latest lingerie fashion show; a spot designed to lure vacationers to an idyllic isle in the Caribbean; and a pharmaceutical pitch for a sleep aid.
My mind drifted back to a time long ago when I flirted with love; when she smiled at me and I dreamed of a happily-ever-after. We had taken a direct flight to St. Maarten and then hopped the shuttle to St. Bart's. After several days of fun in the sun and romantic walks on the beach at sunset I found myself falling in love. Although it was her long blonde hair and soft blue eyes that drew me in at first, it was her carefree outlook on life and tender heart that captivated me. I assumed she was in love, too. I bought her a rose from the girl who circulated through the restaurant with a basket-full of the red, white, pink, and yellow blossoms under her arm.
That next morning when I awoke to find her side of the bed deserted I assumed that she had gotten up to take her morning walk on the beach.
She loved to stroll along the shore in the soft light of the dawn and feel the cool sand between her toes and the salt air as it filled her lungs. One morning while enjoying my coffee on the back deck, my gaze caught her dancing on the golden strand, moving to some unseen tune, unaware that anyone was watching. She was happy and spontaneous and free; and I never loved her more.
My heart sank when I noticed the ring I'd given her laying on a folded up note on top of the dresser.
I'm so sorry, Parker,
I never meant to hurt you,
I hope one day you'll see,
But I'm not ready for roses,
And what they mean to me.
The peaceful tune of the insomnia ad faded out and the raucous music of the TV drama lead-in jolted me back to the present. My eyes grew heavy as I drifted into and out of sleep several times until, about fifteen minutes into the episode, I was out for good. The light from the TV flickered in the darkness, occasionally illuminating my sleeping form in the chair. I snored deeply. I always slept soundly and straight through til morning. I was dead to the world.