Excerpt: Do You Need a Doggie Bag?
Someone was in my apartment. I knew it before I unlocked my door at the end of a long day of work. I always locked the deadbolt, and from past experience, I'd learned to wedge a small toothpick near the bottom of the door.
But now, the toothpick was gone and the deadbolt wasn't locked.
I reached into my purse and removed my brand new gun. After easing back the bottom lock, I turned the doorknob, peeked inside, and entered the apartment, trying not to make any noise.
No one was in the main room of the huge apartment that contained my living room, dining room, and kitchen. Even though I saw no one, I kept my gun in front of me.
The toilet flushed in the bathroom, which was off the bedroom to my right. The culprit must be waiting for me, even though he or she was noisy. I removed my coat and threw it on the back of a dining room chair. No one came out of the bathroom, so I hid around the corner from the door to my bedroom and peeked around the doorjamb. It was definitely a man, because he started to hum.
With my gun at arm's length, I inched my way into my bedroom. A tall, blond-haired man left the bathroom. This was my chance to take the guy down.
I lifted the gun up to the side of his head. "Freeze!"
He raised his hands into the air in slow motion, but as soon as I saw the toothpick in his mouth, I knew who it was. He glanced at me and pulled his arms down with a laugh.
"Ian, what are you doing here?" I asked, lowering the gun.
He took the gun from me. "Kes, if you're going to play agent, at least take the safety off first." He looked at the clip. "It's not even loaded. What are you doing?"
"I can't believe it." I pointed toward his mouth. "You took my toothpick."
"It was obvious it was there. You know, you need a better lock on that door. And use tape instead of a toothpick. It isn't quite as obvious." He looked down at the cast on my foot. "What are you doing without your crutches?"
My eyes darted to where the crutches were propped beside the bed. "Uh, funny thing about that."
He crossed his arms. "Go on."
"I forgot them?"
Ian was my self-imposed personal physician. He was also a CIA agent with multiple computer and medical degrees. Ever since I'd stepped in front of a truck and smashed my toes on a mission I was on for him, he decided he had to fly from Washington D.C. just to see me in Denver every week. I'd usually make an appointment and we'd meet at the hospital, but he tricked me this time.
He was good-looking, with blond hair, brown eyes, and very muscular. He was also extremely bright because he went to M.I.T. and Stanford. All the agents I'd met were muscular with a beautiful smile—very white and straight teeth.
This guy also had a huge crush on me, probably because of my green eyes and long wavy dark red hair. It was sickening, because all the agents would mention how they were in love with me at one time or another.
Ian crossed his arms and glared at me. "How did you get home?"
This didn't look good and I could tell I wasn't going to win this one. "Bus?"
"I doubt it. Try again." Ian knew me too well.
From the look on his face, he wasn't buying my answers. "Kes, you drove? Don't you remember when James and I tried to see if you could drive with your left foot and you hit a mailbox, knocked over a parking meter, and smashed a policeman's motorcycle? You would've put us all in an empty swimming pool if James hadn't jumped over and slammed on the brakes."
I hung my head. I was in trouble, yet again.
James Hamilton was my boyfriend, boss, and the owner of the newspaper where I worked. I was the head of a division of the paper called Extreme Travel, named after the section of the CIA entitled Extreme Risk or E.R. They were the ones who 'encouraged' foreign countries to 'change or else,' making the world safe for everyone. Ian was a high-ranking member of the E.R. in the CIA.
Ian pointed to my cast and I raised my head. "I hope you're not using that foot to drive, either. That cast won't let you judge the pedal. What does James think of this?"
I lowered my head again. "He thinks I call a cab every day."
Ian lifted me into his arms and carried me to the couch where he had his evil black bag stashed. He pulled out his equipment and wrapped my arm in a blood pressure cuff.
I started to talk, but he slapped his hand over my mouth. I kept quiet and let him do his work, watching as he frowned. At least I was sitting up. I knew he'd have the upper hand if I were lying down.
"If my blood pressure is up, it's your fault," I said. "You scared me silly by being in my apartment."
"No, it's down. Way down. What did you eat today?"
I tried to think. I didn't eat much, but he didn't need to hear that.
"Kes?" he asked, searching my face.
I winced, looking into his very big brown eyes. "I had a cup of coffee for breakfast?"
"What did you have for lunch?"
I saw his eyes narrow in anger, so I shrank into the couch. "I didn't have time for lunch. Please don't hate me."
He groaned, went to the kitchen, and opened the fridge. "It's empty?"
"It's not empty. I have ice in the freezer. Besides, I eat at James' house every night now, because he's pretty much given up on teaching me to cook after I almost singed all the hair off his arm."
"James says you're not eating at his place either," Ian yelled from the kitchen. He opened the cupboard and took out a bag of bagels, then looked on each shelf. "That's it?"
"I have soda too, if you check in the bottom."
"When are you going grocery shopping?"
"Tomorrow. I promise."
He knew me too well. "I'm coming with you."
"No, I'm okay."
He walked back over to the couch, knelt in front of me, and handed me the bagel. "No, Kes. You're not okay. Something's not right. I've been reading James' weekly reports."
James was going to the university and only needed to finish his thesis to get his doctorate in Psychology. He was well on his way to being licensed after some more practice. He'd assigned himself my personal psychologist, even though I didn't need one. However, just because I was attacked and almost raped and killed by James' second in command named Kyle, he thought I did. I was also James' subject for his doctoral thesis, which was about women who weren't…well…sexually experienced.
"You read James' weekly reports? That's not fair." I laid the bagel on the coffee table in front of me. "Even I can't see those. Is there anything wrong with me?"
Ian sat back on his heels. "I'm afraid you have post-traumatic stress disorder, and I'm not kidding. I'm not just making that up to put Kyle in jail, either. You're not eating, you're not sleeping, you're having nightmares, and you're not doing well at all. James said you jump whenever something happens without warning, and you don't trust him anymore. He also said your temper is off the scale and you won't even talk about Kyle. I can tell just from looking at you that something's not right." He pulled on my blouse. "You've even lost a lot of weight."
I looked all around my apartment for hidden cameras. "How do you know I'm not sleeping and I'm having nightmares?"
"Agatha told me."
"Agatha? Is she back?" I asked, watching him.
Agatha was the ghost that haunted my apartment part-time and lived full-time in Texas near her in-laws. She was a true friend, saving me from certain death more than once.
"She checks on you a lot," Ian said. "She's worried about you. She even came to my office and scared the heck out of me."
I tried not to grin. Good old Agatha—gotta love her. "Okay, doc. What, exactly, is post—whatever it is."
He sat on the edge of the coffee table and watched me, leaning his elbows on his thighs. "It's called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. In your case, it's caused by the stress you underwent on your last mission in Haiti combined with the brutality of Kyle. It can hit people who've had a traumatic event happen in their life. People who get it have all the symptoms you have and can't function without help."
He put his hand on my leg, staring at me in all sincerity. I was more certain he just wanted to touch me, the creep.
He continued. "Kes, I can't even start to name all the trauma you've undergone in the past five months, so it all fits."
I stood and started to pace. "But, I'm tough. I can handle this."
He was on his feet, forcing me back onto the couch with a thud. "No, you can't. You haven't had real agent training to learn how to handle this type of thing, but were just thrown into volatile situations. You might have been okay if you just had the mission, but back on your home turf, you were attacked more than once by a madman. Put the two together, and you have an explosion." He made a sound like a volcano erupting and even used his hands to show me. "That's what you're going through right now."
He stared at me for a moment, then went into the bedroom and returned with the crutches. "I'd appreciate it if you'd use these. I didn't operate on those toes just so you could break them again."
"You know, this is a drag. It's been seven weeks since you operated. Isn't it time you take this cast off?" I pointed to it so he'd understand.
"I've replaced that cast twice now because you keep breaking it. How you do that, I just don't know. I'll take X-rays again soon and we'll see if it's healed, but that's only if you use the crutches."
"Great," I said. "So you're done here and you'll be on your merry way back to D.C.?" I stood to shove him and his evil black bag out the door.
"You wish," he said with a grin, pushing me back to the couch. "I hate to tell you this, but Wilson assigned me to watch over you personally for a while. Things are slow back in D.C., so you have me. I'm supposed to be glued to you."
Wilson was high up in the CIA and Ian's boss. His real name wasn't Wilson, but everyone used that code name. I met him on the last mission, and he was one of the most wonderful people I'd dealt with in the agency. He reminded me of my father and even met my father a long time ago.
It suddenly hit me what Ian had said. "Huh? Watch over me personally?"
"I rented the apartment next door." He sat beside me, his gaze on my face.
"But old Mrs. Crabby—I mean Crabtree lives there. Where will she stay?"
"She's been…relocated." He started to laugh. "Don't worry. She's off to a wonderful old folks home she always wanted to afford but couldn't."
"Is that why someone was moving some of her furniture out this morning?"
"Maybe, but that's beside the point." He leaned closer. "You need help. According to all the reports I'm seeing, you've been a wreck the past week."
I was getting annoyed about his assessment. "So, I must not have PTSD. Do you see this? If I were going to get something, it would hit right away. I've been away from that lunatic and Haiti for seven weeks now. You're wrong about this. Just wait until I see James and let him have it for making things up."
"It hits way after the incident." Ian paused for effect. "Kes, we have you on video." His voice had lowered into a dramatic baritone, making me wait to hear the scary music behind the scene in my head, however, I'd also been watching too many scary movies lately. They cracked me up.
I had to answer him, even though I wasn't that shocked. "What? Video?"
"Ben rigged up a few cameras in your office, and it seems you can't handle anything at work. Do you want to watch it?"
Ben was a drop-dead gorgeous agent who was madly in love with me because of my dark red wavy hair, green eyes and thin body. He even began dating a woman named Pam who looked exactly like me. I'd sort of fixed him up for that date, but they had gone out more than once, so they had to at least have liked each other. Pam worked at the agency, but was more passive than I was. Ben was a little bit, well, off, but overall, he was a good guy.
I sported a confused look toward Ian. "I thought Ben was on forced leave for three months after he messed up in Haiti? Didn't he need a vacation?"
"Ben's a different story. He's bored, so James hired him to come out and videotape you."
That James was really going to hear it now.
I took a deep breath. This was going to be a toughie. I hated when they ganged up on me. "You know, Ian, I know exactly what this is about and I've been set up. Can't you see that? There are people in my office just trying to give me a bad time on purpose so they could watch it on tape." I stood and paced.
Ian stopped me and handed me the crutches. "Please?"
"Oh yeah." I took the crutches, and paced the floor with them.
The door flew open, and my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend waltzed into my apartment, threw his coat on the chair beside mine, and walked right past me like I didn't exist.
"I just got your message," James said to Ian. "I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier."
James had a killer body with six-pack abs, muscles bulging out everywhere, a beautiful white and straight smile, light blue eyes, and brown hair. He stood about five inches taller than I did, and with his sexy slightly British accent, most women mistook him for a to-die-for model. But, he was mine.
"I was just telling Kes everything we know about her." Ian's eyes darted toward me. "I told her she has to use her crutches and not drive—"
James turned toward me and got into my face with his handsome looks and sexy slightly British accent. "You're not using your crutches? You're driving?"
"I use my crutches around you," I said. "You were out a lot today, and I knew it." So I left the crutches at home, but I left that part out. He didn't need to implode.
Ian continued. "She's skipping lunches, doesn't eat much breakfast, and Agatha reports that she's having nightmares and isn't sleeping."
"I'm not happy," James said to me. "I had no idea you were skipping lunch and having nightmares. If I'd known—"
"I know. That's why you can't know." I hobbled over toward the overstuffed chair beside the couch. Those crutches were a drag.
"Oh brother," James muttered. He'd begun talking with his hands, which is never a good sign. "Ian, you deal with her. Give her happy drugs or something." He sat down on the couch and leaned back, his hands covering his eyes.
Ian took one look at James and frowned. "I think you're too close to your subject."
James removed his hands and looked at Ian. "Tell me about it. It's not like I haven't tried, either."
Ian turned toward me. "Kes, I want you to take some time off. I want to commit you to a hospital for a few weeks of therapy."
I looked at these two men, speechless. They had no idea what they were talking about and there was no way I'd be committed in a hospital for a few weeks of therapy. If so, I'd make sure they knew my type of therapy—revenge.
Before I could reply, the door burst open and Ben marched in, slamming the door. He threw his coat over James' coat and plopped down on the couch beside James. In one swift motion, he picked up the bagel Ian had handed me earlier and shoved it into his mouth.
"What did I miss?" he asked between bites.
Great. Now all three of the stooges were here. "Were you invited?" I asked.
"Yep. Wilson was too, but he's straightening out a mess overseas right now. I'm to call him when we're done."
I had to admit, my whole world looked pretty grim. None of them were exactly right about all of this either. It was time to put these things straight and make sure I didn't actually end up in the loony bin for no reason.