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The Paths We Take #33: Dangerous World

Oct 9, 2018









“I want to see Nikki,” I told the grunt at the door. I knew that I’d made a mistake with my tone when he took a step towards me and bowed out his chest. He crossed his arms, looked at my hands, and then glared at me for a few seconds before saying anything.

“Why sure, sweetheart. Why don’t you just sign the guest-book first and then I’ll make my way to the kitchen to make you a mimosa.”

I felt my face catching fire. I chewed my words in my mouth before I spit them out.

“I’ve got the money,” I said as I pulled out an envelope with two thousand dollars tucked inside. “You like money, don’t you?”

“Watch your mouth pretty boy, or something might just mess up that smile of yours . . . You got an appointment?”

He took the envelope and fingered through the hundred-dollar bills inside several times. He pulled out his cell phone, punched the screen with his brawny fingers a few times and then put it back into his coat pocket.

“What’s wrong? You need help counting that?” I asked, knowing that the question might have cost me a few teeth.

He started laughing. It was one of those genuine gut-laughs that almost made him drop the envelope.

“You rich boys and your mouths. If we wasn’t here, I might just cut your tongue out,” the grunt said as he put a meaty finger on my chest, pushing me backwards. “But since we’re here, I’m just gonna break your—”

“Michael . . . Glad to have you. How’s your father?” Donnelly asked as he stood at the top of the stairs in front of the door.

The meaty-fingered gatekeeper spit a half-mouthed smile at me and stepped away. When he stepped back, the realization of how close I was to getting my ass kicked sent a lump of bile into my mouth.

“He’s fine, Thanks,” I answered as I choked the bile back down. “He’s back in Harrisburg . . . I was hoping to see Nikki.”

Donnelly made his way down the steps. The grunt handed him the envelope and took his place back at the top of the stairs. Good dog, I thought to myself. Donnelly put his hand on my shoulder. “She’s not feeling that well. Give it a few days and she’ll be back to normal. Call me. We’ll set it up.”

Donnelly went to hand me the envelope, but I said, “Just keep it. I’ll be back when she’s ready. Tell her I stopped by.”

“Sure thing, Michael. I’m sure she’ll be glad you did,” Donnelly said as I turned to get back into my car. “Does she treat you well when you’re here?”

He asked the question to the tone of you better get the right answer. I felt the bile rising from my stomach again. I didn’t even know if she was okay. I wondered if he’d hurt her, or worse, if he knew that she asked me to help her.

“She’s great. No complaints. I think she might even like me,” I responded, in the way a naive college kid would. “I hope she feels better. I want her to have plenty of energy when I come back.”

Donnelly laughed and shook his head. He gave me a monthly-professionally-whitened smile as I sank into the driver’s seat, hit the start button, and then drove away.

After I went through the gate, I pulled the number up from my recent calls list and punched the CALL button. The phone rang twice before a voice answered, “If you hang up on me, I will never answer the call again. So, if you’re calling me to tell me something, you’d better say it.”

I pushed the air from my lungs and filled them with new air like what I was about to say needed fresh oxygen, and then I responded, “There’s a girl . . . She’s in a bad situation and I need help getting her out.”

As the words rolled off my tongue I felt the tension in my neck release, but I also felt the uneasiness of my stomach as I realized that I had just betrayed my father.

“What’s her name?”

“Not over the phone. I have to tell you in person.”

“Fair enough . . . I’m going to assume that you are near Red Pines. It’s best to meet outside of town. How about Ginger’s Market at 3:00PM? You know the place?”

I had no clue where Ginger’s Market was, but I agreed to meet him. He told me to sit at one of the picnic tables near the hotdog stand. I searched the address on my phone and the place popped up immediately with the heading, “Local Charm with a River View.”


. . .


There were four picnic tables near the hotdog stand and they were all empty. It was 2:40 PM and it looked like the lunch rush had dwindled away long before I arrived. A red-headed teen with purple glasses and a white down vest over a lilac sweater was chatting on her cell phone while a dozen hot dogs charred on the grill.

The place was more of an outdoor market with a tin roof than an actual store or restaurant. A few Christmas decorations had already been set up near the checkout area. A couple of women, white-permed and sweater-clad, fussed over a small baby in a stroller as the mother, who was dressed from head to toe in activewear, stopped to look at a homemade quilt draped across a wooden table. The place was full of smiles and laughs—the kind of place where no one would be paying any attention to me.

Except I was wrong; someone was paying attention to me. A man in a gray hoodie under a black leather coat was watching me from the other side of the checkout area. He didn’t look like a cop. He looked more like a mechanic or a guy that my dad would hire to build an addition onto our pool house. I looked away from him and watched the redhead adjust her purple glasses as she flashed a smile into her phone.

I took my phone from my pocket, but before I could unlock the screen, the man was sitting across from me. He took my phone out of my hand and put it in his coat pocket. I went to stand up, but he reached across and pushed me back down onto the seat.

“I’m just hanging on to this until we chat for a bit. You got it?”

“Yeah. I guess so. You the cop?”

“No . . . I’m the robber. Yes, I’m a cop. I need you to go ahead and tell me why we couldn’t talk on the phone.”

The red-haired girl snapped a few more selfies in the pouty facepose. The old ladies and baby-strolling soccer-mom were nowhere to be found. The only sound was the thumping my foot made as it tapped the ground until I put my hand on my knee to stop my leg from shaking.

“I couldn’t talk on the phone because I don’t know who I can trust with this. My buddy gave me your phone number. He said I can trust you.”

He unzipped his coat and I saw a badge hanging from a silver chain in front of his hooded sweatshirt. “I can’t tell you to trust me, but I know from your eyes that you don’t have much of a choice,” he said. “What’s the deal with the girl.”

“She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. I want to be with her, but she’s in this situation where she can’t leave—”

“That’s nice Romeo, but I need to know who you’re talking about and where she is,” he interrupted. “For a Senator’s son, you must be really scared to come to me for help. Usually your dad would have people who would handle this kind of thing for you.”

He was smiling. He meant to throw me off. I didn’t know how he knew who I was, but who I was didn’t really matter. He was right about me being scared.

“Don’t worry. It’s not supernatural. I ran your license plate number when you pulled in here. If you’re in trouble, you really need to be more aware of what’s going on around you. In my world, it’s the only way to stay alive.”

His words were like bricks being dropped on my chest. I hadn’t realized how vulnerable I was.

“I can’t go to my father about this. He is part of the problem. She’s in trouble because one of his business partners is holding her against her will. It’s complicated.”

He sat taller in his seat and the smirk vanished from his face. He stood up and nodded for me to follow him. I walked beside him until we were clear of the checkout area and standing outside.

“I need to know every detail that you know, but this isn’t something we’re going to talk about over coffee down at the station. This is the kind of thing that if the wrong person overhears, we both end up at the bottom of a mine shaft. You’re in a dangerous world now. Do you understand the severity of the situation you’re in?”

“I know. That’s why I called you. This is some serious shit and I don’t even know where to start.”

“How about her name?”

I licked my lips and I could almost taste her lips on mine. I could feel her smooth arms around me. I could feel her breath against my ear as she whispered.

“It’s Nikki . . .

Her name is Nikki.”


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.