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Me, Myself & I
Sapphire Angel – Beginnings (Chapters 20-21)
Written by CJS :: [Monday, 01 July 2019 21:43] Last updated by :: [Thursday, 04 July 2019 09:41]
“His vitals are fading,” the doctor explained in a soft voice. “He doesn’t have much longer. Maybe less than an hour. Two at the most.”
Beth, Stanley, and Mrs. Devor stared at the doctor for several moments. Beth couldn’t bring herself to speak, knowing she would burst into tears if she tried. Stanley found his voice first.
“Is he comfortable?” Stanley asked.
“Yes,” the doctor nodded. “And we’ll continue to do everything to make sure he remains that way. But he won’t regain consciousness. The nurses are with him now adjusting the painkillers. They’ll finish in about five minutes, and then you can stay with him.”
They thanked the doctor and he left the meeting room, leaving the door open. They wandered out to the waiting area, where the television was playing. Beth’s head jerked up as the station transitioned to a commercial, but not before it teased a segment for the morning news.
“Is the Sapphire Angel story a hoax?” a gravely male voice asked, as an image of the costumed heroine filled the screen. “The national networks seem to think so, as they’ve yet to cover this story. But our very own Ryan Addington knows better, as he’s encountered the stunning heroine twice now. Tune in to News 6 tomorrow morning to hear Ryan discuss his latest encounter with Sapphire Angel, complete with the latest footage of the woman in action. You‘ll also hear Ryan address accusations that he’s fabricated the whole thing.”
A commercial came on the screen and Beth exchanged a quick glance with Stanley. As they looked away, she heard a familiar voice behind her.
“Crazy times,” Ethan’s voice said.
Beth spun, rushed to Ethan, and enveloped him in a hug. It was nice to have John’s best friend here for comfort. Ethan’s presence made Beth feel as if she wasn’t alone in this. As wonderful as Stanley and Mrs. Devor were, they were much older, and their relationship with John was different. Ethan‘s feelings were closer to hers right now. Almost as if sensing this, Stanley and Mrs. Devor moved away toward some seats in the waiting area.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she murmured as she pulled away from her hug. Ethan’s presence was comforting not just for her, but because it was one more person here for John. Everyone important to John was now at the hospital.
“You hanging in there?” Ethan asked, looking down at her.
“Mrs. Devor called to fill me in. I’m so sorry, Beth.”
“You’re losing him too,” Beth said as tears filled her eyes.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said, his voice trailing off. “I wish I could have talked to him one more time.”
“I’m sorry you weren’t here for that, Ethan.”
“It’s my own fault,” he said, shaking his head. “I went home for just a bit, and this Sapphire Angel thing was all over the television. I got caught up watching it, and didn’t realize the time.”
Beth froze for a moment. It felt strange hearing Ethan refer to her alter ego and not realize it was her.
“You haven’t heard?” he said, misunderstanding her reaction. “It was just on the TV there. There’s a girl in a blue and white costume going around beating up bad guys. Just like a real-life superheroine. There’s even video.”
Beth felt her face flush. She pulled her large bag closer to her side, remembering her costume stashed away in the bottom. “Oh, I’d heard. I just didn’t know it was a big thing.”
“A real big thing, all over. Although News 6 has the edge because they have some actual footage.”
“Wow,” Beth said, feigning surprise. “Do they know who she is?”
Ethan shook his head. “That’s the funny part. The camera got a good look at her. Unlike the guys she was fighting, who were at a distance and in the dark. She was strikingly beautiful, so you’d think somebody would recognize her. But nothing.”
Beth bit her lip, and over Ethan’s shoulder saw the door to John’s room open and nurses exit. They nodded to signal they were done.
“Let’s go see him,” Beth said, turning to make sure Stanley and Mrs. Devor were joining them.
As they entered John’s room, the face of the doctor at John’s side told her all she needed to know. The doctor looked up, his lips tight. John was still breathing, but it came slowly and was barely audible.
As the doctor stepped away to a position near the door, Mrs. Devor moved to one side of the bed and Stanley the other. Mrs. Devor took one of John’s hands as Stanley placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. Beth took his other hand, and watched her boyfriend through tear-filled eyes.
“We love you, Johnny,” Mrs. Devor said softly. Beth couldn’t bring herself to speak.
The minutes ticked by. For once, they moved too fast. It didn’t take long for the end to come. John’s breathing continued to fade until it stopped with a barely audible gasp. The monitor next to the bed showed a flat line, but didn’t make a sound.
Without a word, the four most important people in John’s lives lowered their heads, huddled together, and cried.
An hour later Rick Malone finally spotted his prey. There was no mistaking the petite blond woman, who was not much more than a girl. She walked from the hospital exit, her eyes red with tears. There weren’t many women in the area with her size, or with her looks. She wore a light brown sweater, and jeans tucked into a pair of brown suede boots. She was slender, with long blonde hair.
A man about her age walked with her, as did an older couple. The older couple had to be the Devor kid’s parents, he figured. He didn’t know who the other guy was.
This would be easier than he thought. He lowered his head as they neared his car, which he had parked in one of the first spots of the garage. He could hear them speaking. The older woman said words he couldn’t make out, and the younger woman spoke just as they walked past his car.
Her voice was raspy, as if she’d been crying, but was still almost childish in its timbre. “After Ethan drops me off, I’ll get my things together and check out. My car is in the garage by the hotel, so I can drive myself over.”
The group passed out of sight and Malone pressed the button on his dashboard to start his vehicle. He watched as the four people made their way up the slope of the garage. The girl and the boy stopped at a Toyota SUV halfway up on the left, while the other couple continued moving, eventually reaching a maroon Ford Taurus.
The Toyota SUV passed by first, followed by the Taurus. He waited a few seconds before pulling out of his spot. He drove through the open gate of the garage and out onto the streets of the city. The Toyota only went one block before turning left, as the Taurus continued straight toward the on-ramp of the interstate. Malone stayed with the SUV, following it as it circled around the block and came to the Hilton, a block from the hospital. The SUV pulled into the drop-off lane.
Malone had to drive past so as not to raise suspicions, but he watched in his rear-view mirror as the blonde girl got out of the car and trudged toward the front entrance of the hotel. Moments later the SUV pulled back on to the street.
If the girl was checking out of the hotel, as she had told the older couple, her car would be in the Walnut Street garage, connected to the hotel. She would use the walkway between the hotel and the garage. At this hour of the night, the garage and walkway would be empty.
Malone smiled as he dialed his mobile phone. Seconds later the voice of Steve, his partner in crime, answered.
“Hey,” Steve said.
“Incoming your way,” Malone said. “The kid’s parents just left the hospital, and should be headed home. Be ready for them.”
“How are you making out with the girl?”
“I should have her any minute now. I have to take care of a few surveillance cameras and then wait for her.”
Malone ended the call and steered toward the city garage. Devor’s girlfriend would be in his clutches soon. He just had to be patient.
After slipping into her Chuck Taylor sneakers and a sweatshirt, Beth left her key in the hotel room and pulled her wheeled suitcase behind her to the elevator. She was thankful Stanley had taken care of paying for her room, not because of the cost, but because it was one less thing she had to take care of before exiting the hotel. She wanted to get leave the hotel and be with John’s parents. The ache in her heart felt as if it was spreading outward, like a disease invading her body. Even her arms and legs were weak and heavy.
The walk through the hotel lobby and the walkway to the garage seemed like a march to a prison sentence. A sentence of a life without John. Two nights ago, all had been right with the world. Or at least her little corner of the world. She was in love and finishing her last year of college. She had interviews lined up, with hopes of a career as an online writer and blogger.
And then she had insisted on entering the Fizzure building. She had started all of his. Her shoulders heaved as she fought back sobs.
She reached the garage elevator, barely aware of her surroundings or the passage of time. She pressed the button and slipped inside when the doors opened. Moments later she took a few steps off the elevator and into the garage. Even in her nearly catatonic state she noticed how quiet and empty the garage was at this hour. The squeaky steps from her sneakers seemed to be the lone sounds.
She took a few more steps and stopped. Her head whipped around, certain she heard another sound. Perhaps a footfall on the concrete of the garage floor? She looked, but there was nothing behind her. At least nothing visible, except for rows of parked cars. She continued walking.
After a few steps, she heard the sound again. This time she saw him. A man. Behind her. Stocky, with a black skullcap and a broken face. The same man she had seen trying to kill John in the hospital, and the same man Sapphire Angel had given a beating a few hours earlier.
He stared directly at her and smiled. Panic filled her, and she hurried in the other direction. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw him following. He was too close. She broke into a run. He ran, too.
The man’s footsteps thumped, just a few feet behind her, as Beth dashed around the bend in the garage and saw her car ahead of her. Her bag held her necklace and costume, but there was no time to retrieve them, and certainly no time to change. She needed to get to her car and somehow get in before he caught her.
The man sounded like he had lost ground slightly, but she didn’t dare glance back at him. She felt as if she was running in quicksand as she strained to move faster. The car seemed to inch closer as her feet thundered across the cement surface. She stumbled once, but stayed on her feet.
She pushed herself forward as if her life depended on it. It probably did. Her limited self-defense training seemed foolish now faced with a real assailant and without fantastic strength and agility to aid her. She cursed herself for not taking her classes seriously.
Finally the car was in reach, and she extended a hand toward the handle. It would open as long as the key was near. But she stumbled again, putting up both hands to stop herself from slamming into the vehicle. And then he was on her.
As his hands grabbed at her upper arms, she wished she could do like she saw in the movies, and say a word or twirl, and magically transform into her costume. Instead, she did the only other thing she could think of. She screamed.
“Help!” she yelled as loudly as she could. She only got a single word out, before the man smacked her face, dazing her. He heaved on her arms, tossing her to the garage floor. She hit with a thud, spinning, and her bag fell from her shoulder. As she tried to sit up so she could spring to her feet, the man dove at her. He crashed into her, slamming her into the floor again, before pinning her down with a strong grasp around her swanlike throat.
She grabbed his arm with both hands, but his grip was like steel. His other hand came up and held a cloth over her mouth. An unfamiliar chemical smell filled her nose and lungs. Beth struggled, reaching for the hand holding the cloth. It was like trying to pry open a vice with her bare hands.
Her assailant was bigger than she was, and she couldn’t shake him off. She became desperate, kicking and thrashing, and still grabbing at the arm holding the cloth. He barely moved. He was just too strong.
She whimpered into the cloth and let out muffled moans as the chemical continued its work, sending her senses reeling. She continued to kick her legs, but they slowed until the soles of her sneakers barely scraped along the ground. Within seconds her eyelids were drooping and her breathing slow. She gave a final tug at the man’s hand before her arms fell to her sides. Her eyes fluttered as she looked up at the man. He was smiling as she let out one final whimper.
Her last as her eyes rolled back in her head was that the same people responsible for John’s death had her in their clutches.
Stanley and Betsy Devor sat across from one another at a table in a diner just outside of Harrisburg. Stanley had convinced his wife they needed sustenance and were in no condition to prepare their own food.
After ordering they sat in silence for several minutes, their eyes hollow and their shoulders slumped. Betsy hadn’t said more than a few words since John’s passing. Stanley hoped his wife could recover from the loss of their son. He wasn’t even sure he could reover, but he had experienced more hardship in his life than she had. He was better conditioned for this, if anybody was conditioned for losing a child.
Stanley’s watch vibrated, signaling a notification through his phone, but he ignored it. He gave his attention to his wife, even though they remained silent.
Service was slow even though the restaurant was nearly deserted. Thirty minutes later their food arrived. They ate without speaking. Stanley wondered if his son would still be with them if he hadn’t investigated Fizzure. Was this his fault? He thought of Beth’s words, when she had blamed herself. He blamed himself.
Betsy Devor excused herself to use the restroom. Once she stepped away from the table, Stanley raised his wrist and looked at his notifications. The notification came from his security system. Somone, or something, had triggered the motion sensors by the back door and by the garage.
He pulled out his phone, activated an app, and scrolled through some footage recorded by cameras hidden around his house. He watched as a bearded man in dark clothes and plain baseball cap stalked in the darkness, examining the house. The man moved out of one camera's view and into the view of another, several times, before taking a phone call. The call was brief, and after hanging up he settled into place in bushes near the garage. Stanley looked at the time stamp on the video. It had been almost forty minutes earlier. This was no coincidence.
A thought jumped into his mind. Beth. His heart raced. If they were coming for him, they might come for her, too. He shouldn’t have left her alone. He thought the danger was over with John’s passing, but clearly it wasn’t. He only hoped they didn’t know who she was, and wouldn’t be able to find her.
Betsy Devor returned. He waited until she sat, trying not reveal his angst. She had enough on her plate without having to worry about him or Beth.
“Betsy, I want you to take the car and go stay with Sue Nelson for a few days. I’ll take an Uber back to the house.”
“What?” she said, looking up at him with a vacant look in her eyes.
“Things aren’t safe here, Betsy. I need to take care of a few matters. I’ll send a bag of your things for you.”
“Not safe? How?”
“I don’t know yet, but I don’t want to worry about you.”
“If it’s not safe, then I’m not leaving you,” she said.
“Betsy, you’ll just get in the way. Trust me on this.”
She stared at him, and he expected a fight. But the fight was gone from her. She nodded.
“Now?” she asked.
“Yes, now. I know its sudden, but I need you to do this. I’ll let Sue know you’re on the way.”
Five minutes later they embraced in the parking lot, and Stanley watched as his wife drove away. Five minutes after that he was in the back seat of a car, giving an Uber driver the name of Beth’s hotel.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket in such a rush he nearly flung it across the car. He grabbed it as it slipped from his hand, straightened it, and dialed Beth’s number. As it rang, he said a silent prayer. After four rings the call went to her voicemail.
“Beth, this is Stanley. Call me.” He ended the call and dialed again. Again it went to her voicemail.
If these people found Beth, she stood no chance. Unless she had forewarning and was able to change and put on the necklace. That was his hope.
The driver pulled in front of the hotel. Stanley tossed four $20 bills onto the front seat.
“Wait here,” he said as he sprang from the car. He darted toward the front desk as fast as his decrepit body would allow. A young man, probably a college kid, stood behind the front desk.
“Can you ring the room of Beth Harper, please?” Stanley asked.
The man scanned a computer screen in front of him. His eyes wandered up and down. He typed some keys. His eyes wandered more. Stanley grimaced. This was taking too long. Finally the man spoke.
“I’m sorry, but Ms. Harper checked out about an hour ago.”
An hour. That was too long. Too much could have happened. Without a word, Stanley turned from the desk and rushed to the elevator leading to the garage. He rode the elevator to the garage level and exited. It didn’t take Stanley long to find Beth’s car. He tried the doors, finding them locked.
He leaned against the car and took a deep breath. She might have just taken a detour to get a bite to eat, just like he and Mrs. Devor had. But he didn’t believe it for a moment. Beth was in trouble. Or dead.
Stanley Devor hadn’t run in a few years, but now he did. He ran to the elevator, and, after reaching the lobby of the hotel, ran back outside to the Uber driver. He ripped open the back door and jumped in, before blurting out his home address.
He hoped the man at his house knew what had happened to Beth. And that she was still alive.