Last Beautiful Girl
By CarolROI and Suisan "Sue" R.
This will all fall down like everything else that was
This too shall pass and all of the words we said
We can't take back
Felicia screams, and the gun goes off right next to my head, the sound a deafening roar. The smoky discharge from the automatic stings my eyes, blinding me. Stunned, I start to slide down the wall, the hand fisted in my shirt the only thing keeping me from hitting the floor. Sounds reach me, though they are distorted and far away. More screams, people yelling, another gunshot, and then I'm being dragged across the floor and dropped.
I lie still, my cheek pressed against the cold linoleum, my head pounding, my heart racing. A foot impacts with my ribs. "Get the fuck up, you freak!"
I roll slowly onto my side, and the wavering vision of the punk with the gun fills my sight. Felicia is hanging on his arm, the one holding the gun, and I can see her lips moving, but the sound is cutting in and out. "Toby, no...don't do this...just a ride..." Her boyfriend shoves her away from him, and she tumbles over a chair to join me on the floor. He aims a kick at her. She scrambles out of the way to the relative safety underneath a table, and I realize we are inside the restaurant.
From where I'm lying, I can see two men seated in a booth, their hands in the air, and a woman dressed in a waitress' uniform slowly edging toward the open kitchen. Toby's attention switches to her, and I cover my ears as the gun swings toward her, his finger squeezing on the trigger. "What part of 'Don't move' didn't you understand!?" The waitress crumples to the ground at the edge of the counter, crying out and clutching her leg.
Satisfied now that he has our attention, Toby flips over the table Felicia is hiding under. "Get up, bitch! Go find something to tie those guys up with." She scrambles to her feet and goes to the cashier's stand. It's next to the closed door to the restaurant, and I assume Toby locked the door since the metal gate is also pulled down. I can hear the sound of drawers being opened and closed.
Turning my attention away from Toby is a mistake. A hand buries itself in my hair, yanking me to my knees. The muzzle of the just-fired gun burns my temple as it's pressed against it. "Make yourself useful, asshole." He shoves me in the direction of the injured waitress, and I barely get my hands up fast enough to keep from smashing into the floor for a second time.
I crawl over to her. Grabbing some towels from behind the counter, I kneel beside her, examining her wound, whispering words of reassurance. It's not too bad, as gunshots go. The bullet went clear through the fleshy part of the thigh, and I'm reminded of the scar I carry from the same type of injury. "It's okay, Marlene," I say, reading the name on her badge. "I've been shot in the same place and came through just fine."
She looks at me with fear-widened eyes, and I realize that's not the most comforting thing to hear. "It'll be okay," I repeat and, as I lean around the counter for another towel, I spot the phone on the lower shelf. Lifting the handset, I set it on the shelf and quickly dial 9-1-1, then push a stack of towels in front of the phone, obscuring it from a casual glance.
Taking off my belt, I use it to hold my makeshift compress in place, then turn my attention back to Toby. He and Felicia are finishing tying up the two truckers with a roll of duct tape she must have found. Grabbing her by the arm once they're done, he drags her into the kitchen. Rising to a half crouch, I watch over the counter as he locates the back door and throws the heavy iron bar that serves as a lock into place.
I drop down as he heads back out front and takes a seat at the counter. "Bring me a beer," he tells Felicia, and pushes her toward the kitchen. "And make me a cheeseburger. I'm hungry." He seems to have forgotten his anger toward me for the moment.
Running a hand over my face, I try to make myself comfortable next to Marlene. I have a feeling it's going to be a very long night.
Now every fool in town would've left by now
I can't replace all of the wasted days
The memory of your face - can't help thinkin'
The minutes tick past slowly. It was nearly 10 pm by the time Owen and I had reached the truck stop, and now it's a little past midnight. The cops have arrived outside, judging by the flashing lights I glimpse through the closed blinds. I figure it'll be awhile before they try anything. First they'll want to assess the situation, and then see if they can contact the gunman and talk him out.
Fat chance of that. Toby's high, and drunk, and pissed at the world. The knot in my gut is telling me there is no way this is going to end well. I think he's just waiting for the police to make a move, to try something so he can go out in a blaze of glory, taking us with him.
For the moment, though, he seems calmer. Toby's spent most of the time since this thing began eating and drinking beer, as well as yelling at Felicia. They appear to have what we called down at the station a "dysfunctional domestic situation." In other words, he bullies her with his words and his fists, and she perceives it as some kind of perverted love and affection. Right now, she's rubbing his shoulders, acting like everything is perfectly fine.
If it was just me here, no other hostages, no one injured, I'd be trying to talk my way out of this, trying to convince Toby to give himself up. But after he shot Marlene with little provocation, I'm leery of taking everyone else's life in my hands.
So I find myself with nothing to do but think. And I can't help but remember all the other times I've been kidnapped, held hostage, shot at, and beaten up. Funny how this never happened to me until I met Jim. I always depended on him to be there to rescue me. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe I depended on Jim too much, didn't rely enough on myself. Which, in a big, twisted leap of logic, reminds me of Felicia and Toby's relationship.
Maybe if we ever coulda kept it all together
Where would we be
A thousand lost forevers
And the promises you never were giving me
Here's what I'm thinking
Hell, I've nothing better to do, so I pick at that scab. I was as lost in Jim as Felicia is in Toby. The Sentinel thing became the be-all, end-all of who I am. And that was beneficial for Jim. Why change a good thing? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Maybe that was his logic behind keeping the status quo, against me pushing forward with my dissertation.
I pull my legs up and wrap my arms around them, leaning my forehead on my knees. Do I wish I were home in Cascade, back with Jim? Part of me says yes, and part of me says no. I look up at Felicia and Toby. He's got his hand in her hair now, petting her, kissing her, and she looks like she's enjoying it.
Is that me, with Jim? Was I so eager for the infrequent praise, for the pats on the back or the hair ruffle that I put up with the coldness, the anger, the yelling, the lack of trust? No, it wasn't like that, I tell myself. But deep inside, I know I'm lying. The image of the cold, dark loft, Jim greeting me with a gun in his hand, my belongings stuffed haphazardly into boxes by the door is burned into my mind. Not to mention the sharp, painful memory of finding Jim on the beach in *her* arms, kissing the woman who killed me. Who *killed* me!
And for a few seconds there, I thought Jim was going to let her finish the job when she pointed his gun at me. My heart stopped in my chest, and I couldn't breath. Then it was over. Alex was running away, and Jim expected me to jump right back into my role as his guide, to figure out what was going wrong and to fix it for him. I wanted him to say he was sorry. I wanted him to apologize for frightening me, for hurting me, for being out of control. I was his Guide! We were friends, we were partners, we looked out for one another. It shouldn't have happened, any of it, not after he brought me back, not after we were joined in the spirit world.
Or so I imagined. But Jim wasn't ready to go there, wasn't ready to trust me with his soul, even after I'd given him mine, after I'd come back for him. I've finally, finally learned my lesson. I've finally figured out that everything Jim does is for Jim. I straighten up, wiping at my eyes. Damn fine time to be discovering this, Blair. Like you need any more stress.
It won't be the first - heart that you break
It won't be the last - beautiful girl
The one that you wrecked - won't take you back
If you were the last beautiful girl in the world
Muzak, gotta love it. Damn thing must be broken, because it's been playing the same song for the last hour. Amazingly, Toby doesn't seem to mind. It's four am, and negotiations have been going on for the past three hours. Now I'm sure Toby doesn't want to get out of this alive; he's been asking for the moon, and giving them a short time in which to get it. When his requested helicopter and million dollars in small bills doesn't appear, he cheerfully gives the negotiator on the other end of the phone line an extension. He's also told them he has a bomb. I know he has no such thing, just a semi-automatic and pockets full of ammo, but there's no way I can let them know. Not that it would make much difference. He's already told us he's going to shoot us first as soon as the cops make a move.
Makes me wish for the good old days, and Garret Kincaid. He, at least, understood the power of a bargaining chip.
Marlene is doing as well as can be expected. The bleeding's stopped, but she's in a lot of pain, and has spent the last hour sleeping fitfully, her head in my lap. Me, I've pretty much kept my mouth shut. I attempted to make a couple suggestions when the negotiator called, since I have some experience in how these things work. Like telling Toby that the cops aren't going to give him anything until he releases Marlene. That's standard operating procedure. Get the injured parties out, then try and cut a deal. All that got me was a punch in the mouth. So I've kept my opinions to myself.
As far as I know, the phone line to the 9-1-1 operator is still open, if that phone even works. Hard to tell what they are picking up from under the counter and muffled by towels. Hell, I don't know what I could tell them that would be useful. Maybe I'm just tired, maybe these past few days, months, whatever, have broken my optimistic spirit. But as of this moment, I see no way out. Well, there's the kamikaze option. I'll use it if I have to. I'll give it a little while though, let Toby drink a few more beers, before I even think of making a move on him.
The flight from Cascade to Waco Municipal Airfield is long. Butt numbing, leg cramping, tediously long. And worrying about Blair sure as hell doesn't help make the flight any easier on anyone. I manage to catch a few fitful catnaps, not many and not long enough, but my brain just won't shut down its persistent mutterings enough for me to fully rest. Hell, the only reason I'm awake right now is that Rafe manages to 'bump' the landing a little hard and the brakes on the wheels squeal at an ungodly pitch, which only I seem to hear.
I glance out the small window beside me to see the sun starting to rise over the Texas landscape, painting the fields around the airfield with deep shades of rose, gold and blue. What the hell? I focus in a little tighter and realize that the fields are, literally, covered in some sort of deep blue, almost purple, lupine wildflowers waving slightly in a mild breeze. Now I know why the State of Texas chose the Bluebonnet as it's official state flower. It's beautiful.
A voice, full of concern, pulls me back from the view. "Jim? You okay?" Shit, must have had a mini zone-out. Rafe's standing next to my seat and I can't sense Simon or Megan on the plane anymore.
"Yeah, I'm okay, Rafe. Just lost in thought."
"That's okay. The captain and Connor didn't listen to me and, well, they needed to get to the terminal."
I try to stand up, only to lose my balance. If it hadn't been for Rafe, I would've fallen on my face. "Whoa. Legs are asleep."
"Hey, take your time, Jim. I need to get over to the tower and talk to a manager or someone in charge about bedding the plane down." He's helping me slowly resume my seat, this time with my long legs out in the aisle. "Besides, we made better time than I anticipated. Captain said he'd have to call his friend to see if we can get a ride or, at least, directions to where Sandburg's at."
"Thanks, Brian." I manage what has to be my weakest smile when Rafe clasps me on the shoulder before he exits the plane. The door is wide open and I can smell the lush, vibrant greens and blues of the fields, along with the unmistakable odor of jet fuel. Well, it was pleasant for a while. Carefully rising back to my feet, willing the pins and needles away, I stand as straight as I can inside the cabin of the Piper-Cub and try to work out the kinks in my muscles.
fifteen minutes later, I'm standing beside Simon on the tarmac as a uniformed Sheriff's Deputy greets us. "You must be the folks that Sherrif Navarro told me to come get. I'm Deputy Smythes& " The man's eyes look past Simon and me to land on Connor. "Well, howdy! I never realized you Yanks grew such lovely, long drinks of water." The look that crosses Megan's face isn't exactly pleasant and I have to bite my tongue to keep from laughing.
"I am NOT a 'Yank,' Deputy Smythes. Inspector Megan Connor of the New South Wales Police. For your information, my family happens to raise some mighty fine meat down under, and--" her gaze is disgustingly assessing, like a butcher eyeing a carcass, "--frankly, you wouldn't make the final cut." Owch! Someone's in a good mood this morning.
"Connor! Zip it," Simon orders her through clenched teeth. "Smythes, I apologize for the Inspector. It's been a long flight and we're all worried about our friend."
Either the man is gracious enough, or the rumors are true -- Texans are really friendly. Smythes accepts the apology and, after helping Megan with her bags, is leading the way to a white Chevy Suburban that will be our ride to the scene. I sit in the back with Megan and Brian, right behind Simon in the passenger seat, and have to tune out the deputy's bantering with Megan. The man is actually flirting with her and, from the look on Brian's face, he finds it as disgusting as I do. Not that Megan isn't attractive, she is. But& Well, to each his own I guess. To try to clear the cobwebs out of my mind, I roll the window down. The morning air is cool, but not cold, and I catch myself listening for something.
Realizing just what I'm searching for, I shake my head in disbelief. A city this size, one I don't know, and here I am trying to locate one, single heartbeat as if I think I can do it. Right. Okay, folks, it's official. James Joseph Ellison is rapidly starting to slide down that long road to the nut house and, damn if it don't look good. I send up a silent prayer, something that I haven't done in a while.
God, please, don't let anything bad happen to Blair. I can't do this sentinel stuff without his help, you know that, or you never would have sent me to him when my senses came on line and the doctors couldn't tell me what was wrong. Or would you?
Tell me one more time
How you're sorry about the way
This all went down -
My butt's numb. And I have to take a piss. That's a sign of how exhausted I am, that these things are my priorities. I think I must have dozed off for a little while, stalled hostage negotiations being the scintillating attention keepers they are. "Hey," I call out to Toby.
He puts down his beer and looks at me. "What do you want now?" He makes it sound like I've been whining every 3 seconds, when I haven't spoken for the past three hours.
"I gotta take a leak, man."
He considers my announcement seriously. "Okay," he finally says, waving a hand toward the short hallway where the rest rooms are. He must have checked it out earlier, or maybe he just doesn't care if I try to escape. It would give him a reason to shoot me. I think he's looking forward to that.
Getting to my feet, I shake the pins and needles out of my legs, then hobble off. Once inside the rest room, I take care of business, then wash my hands and face in the sink, realizing it hasn't even been twenty-four hours since I did the same thing at the rest stop. It feels like centuries.
You needed to find your space
You needed to still be friends
You needed me to
Call you if I ever couldn't keep it all together
You'd comfort me
That damn song is still playing on the sound system. I needed to find my space, all right. Look where my search has gotten me, a messy death in a truck stop restaurant in Waco, TX. I clutch at the sink as my knees feel weak. Will Jim ever find out what happened? Will he even care?
That's not fair, Sandburg. Whatever his faults and yours, he's still your friend. Or at least I'd like to think so. I'd like to think he'd miss me, or that if I could talk to him right now, tell him what is going on, that he'd find the words I need to hear. That he could tell me he was sorry, that I did mean something to him, that our relationship meant more than the Sentinel/Guide thing, more than the cop thing. That he liked having me around, that he admired me, and respected me, and cared about me. That something would be missing from his life if I was gone. That I was his friend, damn it!
You'd tell me 'bout forever
And the promises I never should have believed
Here's what I'm thinking
That it's just wishful thinking. That I really am alone here, that no one's going to show up for the ninth hour rescue. I'm gonna die here. There isn't going to be a black jaguar calling me back. I look at my reflection in the mirror, watching the tears roll down my face. Are these all my choices? I left behind a life where I felt I didn't fit in, where I know now I didn't belong. I traded it in for a truckload of self-pity and the opportunity to go out in some drunken asshole's idea of fifteen minutes of fame.
"This is not me," I whisper to the tired man in the mirror. "This is not my life. My life can't be ending, because it hasn't started yet." I dash savagely at the wetness on my face, then punch the mirror, cracking the glass. It is not over. It is just beginning.
The truck stop is a busy place, but not with 'normal' activity. The whole parking area is packed with all kinds of emergency vehicles. Marked Sheriff's cars, Waco city police units, Department of Public Safety patrol cars, a couple of SWAT vans, a RV Command post, fire trucks and, oh God, no less than four ambulances. Megan stays by me while Smythes takes Simon and Rafe to the RV with all the antennas and cables leading to it.
My gaze follows those cables, tracking them across the asphalt to the building and I start to filter out noises like Blair taught me to do. The squawking radios go first, then the idle chatter of men and women waiting for something to happen, then the sounds of the highway and the wildlife until all that is left is the area inside the building.
I can't do it. I can't hear or sense him in any way. Are we too late? No! I can't believe that, I can't. A hard, crushing pinch on my left side, right above the waistline of my jeans, pulls me back from my sensory sweep of the building.
Can you hear Sandy, Jim?" I shake my head and watch as Megan's face falls. "Damn it. I was hoping& " She doesn't finish the statement. She doesn't have to. I was hoping for the same thing.
Scanning the area again, I spot Rafe coming towards us, with no less than three cups of something hot in his hands. As he gets closer, I test the breeze, and the odor of strong coffee greets my nose. "Megan? Rafe's coming over with some coffee. Let's see if the three of us can find a place to wait this out. Okay?"
She nods and we start walking towards our coworker. I've had to deal with more than my fair share of such 'hostage' situations in my career, both as a cop and when I was part of Seventh Group. I don't like waiting, never have. I want to get involved, but unless Simon can convince the man in charge of this set-up that I have skills that none of his people can offer, I'm only here as a JAFO. Just Another Fucking Observer.
I'm just reaching out to take the offered cup of coffee, thanking Brian with a nod, when a noise catches my attention. The sound of flesh hitting flesh, the skittering sound of metal sliding across a hard surface, more flesh pounding, metal hitting a floor? Then it hits me, Sandburg's heartbeat! Its tempo is throbbing at a fast and furious pace! Without thinking, I start running toward the building twenty yards away, hearing, yet not listening to the shouted cries and warnings of Megan and Brian and the forty some-odd cops. I run into a solid wall of flesh as several Texas officers move in to restrain my headlong flight, just as two gunshots ring out and everyone dives to the ground.
It won't be the first - heart that you break
It won't be the last - beautiful girl
The one that you wrecked - won't take you back
If you were the last beautiful girl in the world
I storm back into the restaurant, rage flowing through my veins. Toby is sitting at the counter, his weapon lying on the formica surface, a beer in his hand. I clothesline him as I go past, dragging him off the stool, sending the gun flying to god knows where. He hits the ground hard, then rolls to his feet, his eyes glittering. I duck his wild swing and plant a foot in his stomach. He doubles over, and I wrap my arm around his neck, applying pressure, lifting him off his feet.
A noise behind me makes me turn, and I drag Toby with me. Two shots shatter the unnatural silence. Toby goes limp in my arms, and I release him. He slides to the floor, blood beginning to darken his grimy T-shirt, his eyes rolling back in his head. I've seen that look too many times. He's dead.
I force my gaze away from his still form, lifting my head to meet Felicia's horrified eyes. In that brief second, I realize the bullets had been meant for me. The gun is still in her grasp, and she lifts it, putting the muzzle to her temple. "Felicia! No!" I scream, moving toward her. My arms close around her as she pulls the trigger. Warm blood sprays my face, and she, too, goes limp in my grasp. I lower her carefully to the ground, looking around for anything to use to stem the crimson flow, but I know it's too late.
Laying her down carefully, I crawl back to Marlene, checking on her, then turning my gaze to the trussed up truckers. They both nod when I ask if they're okay. I pull myself to my feet, swaying enough that I have to lean on the counter. I pick up the handset of the phone Toby had been using to make his demands.
"Is anybody there?" I ask. I don't recognize my own voice. The noise in my ear sounds like someone asking what happened. "It's over," I answer, then I set the phone down and lean my head in my hands.
It's over now - And I've gone without
Cuz you're everybody else's girl
It seems to me - you'll always be
Everyone else's girl
It seems like hours before the SWAT team finally appears. I know they have to check everything out, have to make sure it's not a trick, but I would have thought someone would have been using the truck stop's security cameras to keep an eye on us. While we're waiting, I get a knife from the kitchen and cut the truckers loose. They seem to think I'm some kind of hero, and Marlene keeps calling me her "angel", but all I feel is sick at heart.
Felicia didn't have to die; Toby didn't have to die. All she had to do was nothing. Why did she do it? Why did she pick up the gun? Why did she try to shoot me, the guy who had helped her out when Toby had left her stranded? I know the reasons. I just don't want to face them, because if I do, I have to face the part of me I saw in her. The part of me that put up with Jim's crap for so long, the part that smiled when I was hurting inside. I wonder what I would do if Jim showed up here now, all sympathetic and apologetic, with promises that it would be better. Would I react like she did? Or would I have the strength to walk away?
I'm sitting in one of the booths, waiting as the paramedics take Marlene away, and the forensic guys and the coroner's office argue over how soon Toby and Felicia can be moved. Folding my arms on the table, I bury my face, not needing to look at their broken and bloodied bodies any more. I try to tell myself it wasn't my fault, that they made their own choices, but I can't help but believe if I'd left well enough alone at the rest stop, they wouldn't be dead. At least not tonight. I've seen enough of these kind of domestic situations to know that it doesn't end until someone's in jail, or dead.
One of the men from the sheriff's office touches me on the shoulder. "Mr. Sandburg? Could you come with me? We'd like to get your statement, then you can go." Getting to my feet, I follow him out of the restaurant and into a small manager's office. He quickly records my statement and tells me the sheriff's office will follow up tomorrow for a signature, once it's typed up.
The interview over, I get to my feet and weave through the throng of sheriff's department, Texas Rangers, and DPS personnel. I exit the truck stop into the harsh artificial light of the media. A few quick "No comments," and I'm past them, heading for the truck lot, searching for my uncle. All I want to do is make it to his ranch and sleep for the next five years.
"Sandburg!" The voice is familiar, but it can't be real. Ignoring it, I keep walking, my head down, trying to get away from what must be a stress induced aural hallucination.
"Sandburg!" Someone grabs my arm and whirls me around. Instantly on the defensive, I smack the hand away and bring my fists up. "Easy, Chief. It's just me."
I find myself looking up into Jim's face and wondering what in the hell he's doing here. His ice blue eyes run over me as he grimaces, and I realize I'm a mess, covered in three people's blood, none of it my own. "Jesus, Sandburg, what in the hell happened in there? We just pulled up and all of a sudden I'm hearing gunshots." I glance behind him and discover the "we" he is talking about is Simon, Megan, and Rafe.
White-hot anger burns through me, and in some sick, perverted way, it all makes sense. Those kids are dead because of Jim. If he hadn't made me feel like I had to leave, if I hadn't gone with my uncle, hadn't been at the rest stop, hadn't tried to help, hadn't gone inside the truck stop, they would be alive. Part of me realizes it's just my overloaded brain trying to rationalize incomprehensible events, but my anger won't be held back.
"Get the fuck away from me, Jim." He reaches out, looking like he's going to say something. I cut him off. "I don't want you here; I don't need you here. Just stay the fuck out of my life." And then I'm striding away, almost running toward my uncle's truck. I hear them calling my name, but I won't look back. I refuse to look back.
This will all fall down
Like everything in the world
This too must end
And all of the words we said
We can't take back
Mad Season Cycle