I will be chasing your starlight
Until the end of my life…
Hold you in my arms
I just wanted to hold you in my arms…
"Starlight" - Muse
Lisa drifted reluctantly back to earth, her tremulous thigh sliding down from Jackson's hip. She felt his heart pounding as he rested against her. Music from the plaza below glided by her ears, there and gone with the chilly wind, reminding her that there was a world outside their aura of heat.
"Why did you leave me, Jack?" Lisa spoke softly, her lips brushing the side of his neck.
Jackson, perturbed at the broken silence, pulled away from her and straightened his clothing. She's relentless. Ill at ease, he gave his jacket a hard snap and glanced around the rooftop. She sure knew how to spoil a moment.
Resentment and anger rose in him that she could not let go of this question; it suggested that she doubted his character. Was it not enough - what he had done for her on the highway that night? What more could she want from him - confessions of undying devotion; flimsy words from bended knee? Surely not… surely his actions had been sufficient. If they were not, she was forever changed in his eyes.
His cheeks still flushed from their passionate encounter, Jackson leaned close. "Lisa… I think you're waiting for a moment when all of this suddenly makes sense to you… and you know what? It'll never happen." Pausing, he let this sink in for her. "So, as of this moment, I'm done talking about the past. I put a lot on the line coming back to Miami tonight, and you've had months to think about this. You either want it or you don't."
Lisa stared at him. Despite his pitiless tone, his eyes burned her, pleading; and the addicted desperation in them broke her heart. Life with Jackson would be a frightening unknown, but mere apprehension could not overcome her compelling need to be with him. She desired him at all costs… even her very soul.
"I want it, Jack. I want you."
That's more like it. Jackson kissed her, a sensual response to her acceptance of him; and hoped his mouth upon hers would stem the flow of words. The prolonged conversation had held them on the rooftop when they could have been halfway out of Miami.
Lisa clung to him as if fearful he would slip through her fingers once more. She had made her choice - she belonged with him. Like a magician, Jackson was about to make her disappear to everyone she knew; a vanishing act that she would willingly participate in as a voluntary sacrifice to him.
When Jackson's lips parted from hers, Lisa clutched the lapels of his jacket and buried her face in his chest, hiding herself as she tried to contain her chaotic emotions. Everything was happening so fast. In surprise, she felt Jackson's arms envelop her, and his chin rested atop her head briefly in a fleeting show of warmth.
Then he released her firmly. "Come on. We're not gonna…" Jackson stopped mid-sentence, seeing the shock on Lisa's face as she looked past him.
Mathis had found them.
The detective had just come out of the stairwell. His face slackened in alarm as he recognized Jackson, and he bent quickly to retrieve his gun from an ankle holster.
Without thinking, Lisa deftly slipped in front of Jackson, shielding him bodily.
Jackson, turning, swore at the sight of Mathis.
Mathis trained the gun in their direction. "Get out of the way, Lisa," he commanded, his eyes fixed on Jackson.
Lisa backed against Jackson, spreading her arms to protect him further. For Mathis to take Jackson from her now, when she had only just been reunited with him, was too much to bear. I can't let it happen. She felt movement against her back - Jackson's arm reaching for his own weapon.
Jackson stealthily pulled his gun from its holster. Mathis had been clearly unprepared to encounter a threat when he came here in search of Lisa. By throwing herself between the two men, Lisa had given Jackson the upper hand - and she had done so without hesitation. As her small form pressed backwards into him, Jackson felt a rush of amazed reverence at her show of loyalty, and a stab of shame that he had ever doubted her.
"Lisa," Mathis repeated loudly, "Get out of the way."
Lisa stood her ground with staunch defiance.
Pride raged spectacularly through Jackson - at last, Mathis was seeing Lisa for who she really was… and so was he.
Extending his arm over Lisa's shoulder, he aimed his gun at the detective. Meeting the other man's eyes, Jackson nodded toward the open pavement between them. "Down… put it down," he said evenly.
Mathis' dark eyes blazed; his face twitched in tormented indecision. Though he did not want to disarm himself, he was not prepared to shoot toward Lisa. There were no other options.
Jackson felt Lisa trembling against him, and he soothed her with his free hand, caressing the satiny curve of her waist. Hang in there, Leese… stay put.
Mathis slowly held his arms out to the side in defeat. Then, never taking his eyes from Jackson's, he bent cautiously and lay the weapon on the ground.
"Back up," Jackson directed Mathis, still stroking Lisa in the hollow of her back. Under his encouraging touch, her frightened shivering had ceased. God, she's incredible…
Mathis took several steps backwards and halted, hands raised - as an officer, he knew the drill.
There was a tense silence as they waited for Jackson's next move - the scene now under his complete control. He thought quickly, disgusted with himself for letting the confrontation take place. Staying on the roof of the garage for so long had been a bad lapse in judgment, and now his escape with Lisa could not be made cleanly.
First things first: he needed to make sure Mathis was completely unarmed. And while he trusted Lisa with his life, Jackson could not be certain that she would search the detective properly. He would have to do it himself.
Jackson edged from behind Lisa and to her side. Taking her hand in his, he lifted her arm as if enticing her onto a ballroom floor. Then, meeting her eyes intensely, he pressed the Glock into her hand, keeping it aimed at Mathis. She stiffened and swallowed heavily, but did not draw away or lower the weapon. With smoldering satisfaction, Jackson watched her finger settle on the trigger, and thought it beautiful - a manifest display of deadly allegiance.
Gripping the weapon with determination, Lisa battled abhorrence of its lethal feel in her hand - Jackson trusted that she would guard his life with it. There had been a time when he had placed his body, his car and his gun between her and death - now was her moment to reciprocate. Bringing her other hand up for better support, Lisa gave Jackson a barely discernible nod of assent.
Jackson left Lisa's side, leaving her a clear line of fire by advancing toward Mathis in a wary, wide path.
Hands raised and mouth gaping slightly, Mathis stared at Lisa. Openly appalled, he appeared to be grappling with himself; his perceptions of her at odds with what he was facing.
I'm pointing a gun at a police officer. Lisa's conscience strangled her with the offensive wrongness of such an act. But when Mathis' eyes shifted mistrustfully to Jackson, she refocused and tensed her arms resolutely. Protecting Jack was all that mattered; she could not let anything happen to him.
Mathis spoke to her. "Lisa, I don't have to tell you what a mistake this is."
Jackson moved behind the detective and searched him, all the while on guard against a sudden physical attack. His own safety at this moment depended on two things - whether Lisa would in fact shoot Mathis if need be; and if Mathis believed Lisa would shoot him. So far, the detective seemed willing to buy it. "Turn around," Jackson said, his voice clipped.
Mathis turned his back to Lisa, and Jackson completed the pat-down, confiscating Mathis' cell and car keys. There were no other weapons.
Mathis called over his shoulder, "Put the gun down, Lisa, before this goes too far."
Jackson addressed Mathis. "I don't think she's listening to you," he said, unable to resist a victorious jab. The detective met his eyes. Gone was the civility that both men had upheld during the investigation, the former pretense of courtesy between them now exposed as the sham it had always been. Jackson's hostility expanded as Mathis glared back at him; the hatred was mutual.
Breaking the provoking stare, Mathis turned his head and called to Lisa again. "Put the gun down, Lisa. It's all right."
Jackson nearly gave in to the urge to bludgeon the other man into silence with his fist; only a sense of personal triumph allowed Mathis to keep his teeth. The detective could say whatever he liked… Lisa had not wavered. She stood by the BMW, still aiming the gun steadfastly at Mathis' back. Jackson's gaze lingered on her approvingly.
She was, in every sense, his greatest achievement.
Almost pitying Mathis for his blind refusal to accept where Lisa's loyalties were placed, Jackson shook his head. He moved away from Mathis, twirling his finger in the air. "Turn back around." He retrieved the detective's weapon from the ground and pocketed the keys and cell phone.
Returning to Lisa, Jackson gently took his gun from her hand. As he did so, he kissed her on the side of the neck, inhaling her enchanting scent and looking pointedly at Mathis from beneath his brows. Let him see, goddamn it.
The detective looked sick as he watched, deflating noticeably as their relationship came into sharper focus for him.
"Good…" Jackson whispered to Lisa. "Take this one." He handed her Mathis' police-issue 9mm. In his eyes, Lisa had already redeemed herself for the wire, and Jackson sensed that she would go much farther for him if need be.
"Lisa, please don't do this," Mathis pleaded, spreading his upraised hands wider in supplication. "Don't throw your life away for him. You know he's not worth it. Think of everything he's put you through."
Although Jackson seemed unaffected by this slur, Lisa wished Mathis would shut up; his hurtful words did nothing to alter her feelings, and increased the guilt she felt. This is my fault. Mathis had been drawn into the scenario solely because she had delayed their departure. If she had listened to Jack and left with him sooner, as he had wanted…. Mentally Lisa begged Mathis to remain calm and compliant with Jackson. The precarious situation could explode at any moment - the cold air around them seemed to crackle with volatility.
Jackson took a moment to survey the nearby buildings, observing their heights and distances from the parking garage. The location was relatively secure - it was unlikely that anyone could see what was happening on their rooftop, though not impossible. The greatest danger came from the garage levels beneath them. A car full of witnesses could surface from below at any time, and there was no way to anticipate or prevent it.
Aiming his gun at Mathis, Jackson gestured at Lisa to lower hers. "Lie down on the ground," he instructed the other man, approaching him again.
The detective dropped to his knees, then lay facedown on the pavement.
Jackson stood over him, attaching a suppressor to the gun with methodical indifference. "Put your hands together behind your head."
Mathis did so, fear finally making its appearance in his visibly shaking hands. He spoke to Lisa once more, his voice leaking out onto the asphalt in an agony of desperation, "Lisa, please…" Knowing she had his gun; his last hope that she would turn on Jackson to save him.
Jackson aimed the gun at Mathis - at his head.
Lisa almost shut her eyes. Witnessing the execution of a police officer was not a price she was willing to pay for escape.
She bolted toward Jackson and pulled his shoulder backward, trying to turn him around. "Jack, don't…"
Jackson faced her halfway, gun still trained on Mathis' head, a disturbingly well-practiced blankness in his eyes.
Lisa's mind raced frantically. She had to convince Jackson that they could - no, needed - to make their escape without killing Mathis. "It's too risky," she said quickly, "too exposed." Her eyes darted to the city around them, praying that he would see the sense of this. Please, Jack… Though he was clearly fuming at her interference, Jackson's eyes followed hers to the nearby buildings for the briefest instance.
Funny, I was just thinking that myself… Jackson blew out an irritated breath. Much as he hated to admit it, Lisa was right. Killing Mathis here on an exposed rooftop was not the ideal way of neutralizing him.
Lisa was waiting, her eyes large with anxiety - counting on him to come up with an alternative.
And there was one, but he didn't like it.
Rummaging in his pocket, Jackson came up with the keys to the detective's Pontiac. He gave them to Lisa. "Go get his car and bring it up here. And hurry."
Lisa ran for the stairwell, depositing Mathis' gun on the hood of the BMW as she passed it. Jackson watched her go, hoping her sprint would not draw any attention.
Lisa fitted the key into the door lock of the Pontiac with quaking hands, after stabbing the metal around it several times. She had to hurry. Throwing herself into Mathis' car, she jammed the key into the ignition and started it. The Pontiac purred into life, and Lisa searched the unfamiliar, dark interior frantically for the control that turned on the car's lights and instrument panel.
Reversing the car out of its space and accelerating up the ramp that would take her to the next level, Lisa resisted the panicky idea that she would return to find Mathis dead and Jackson ready to load the body into the vehicular casket she had so willingly procured for him. Please, no…
There had been a hint of relenting agreement in Jackson's eyes as he had given her the keys to Mathis' car; this alone allowed her to trust that he intended to spare the detective. He never would have done so if not for her intrusion - Jackson was doing this for her, and her alone. Still, there was no telling what might happen between the two men on the roof.
She had to hurry.
Alone with Mathis, Jackson lowered the gun to his side. The other man lay prone on his stomach, hands still laced behind his head.
"You shouldn't have come back, Jackson," Mathis said, his voice sounding constricted in his throat.
"And you should shut up," Jackson said, annoyed. "Don't think for a second that she saved you. This isn't mercy. This is common sense." The idea that Mathis might think he had gone soft under Lisa's influence was entirely too irksome to tolerate, and made him want to prove otherwise.
Mathis turned his head slightly, his eye rolling hard into its corner, trying to see him. "It's a mistake, taking Lisa with you… her integrity is only going to get in your way…"
Hot rage boiled up in Jackson and he leaned down, pressing the Glock into the back of Mathis' head, hard enough to part the man's hair with the muzzle's end. Hand tightening on the weapon, it was all he could do not to pull the trigger. "I want you to stop talking," he said with quiet venom, shoving the gun cruelly against the detective's skull. "Do you think you can manage that?"
Mathis shut his eyes tightly and went silent.
I should kill him now, before Lisa comes back. No matter the risk. Warring with himself, Jackson tore the gun away from Mathis' head and stepped back in restless frustration. You didn't kill a cop unless it was necessary. Right now, it wasn't… though it was a damned attractive impulse.
Jackson waited, hoping Lisa would be quick to bring the car… he wasn't sure how long he could stave off the urge to kill the other man. Even though Mathis lay defenseless before him, Jackson could not shake the dark, unsettling sense of threat emanating from him - that Mathis was merely lying in wait, ready for some sudden chance to go for broke. Tension building within him, Jackson pulled in a deep breath.
The sound of an approaching car drew Jackson's attention. Headlights brightened the ramp from the level below, slicing through the darkness and angling upwards as it neared. He lowered his arm to a more natural position by his side, gun hidden casually behind his leg, in case it was someone other than Lisa.
The dark blue Pontiac came into sight, and Jackson released an inaudible sigh of relief. He guided Lisa toward him, motioning for her to park a short distance away from the BMW. The car crept up to him, and upon closer inspection, Jackson saw that it was dirty - the navy blue paint trying desperately to shine through layers of grime. And he took Lisa out in this, Jackson thought, looking at the face-down detective with amused disdain.
Getting out of the car, Lisa hurried to him with the keys, and her worried eyes fell on Mathis' unmoving form on the ground.
"Yes, he's still alive, Leese," Jackson said, with mock reassurance. He moved to the Pontiac's trunk and unlocked it. Lifting the lid, he peered inside its shadowed interior briefly. No spare tire, nothing large to remove, and just enough room. Good. This could be done fast.
"Get in my car," he said to Lisa, giving her a quick, appreciative kiss on the cheekbone and jerking his chin toward the BMW. "We're leaving in just a second."
"What are you going to…"
"In my car, Lisa," Jackson repeated. His eye flashed a warning as he handed her his own keys.
Lisa backed away unwillingly and opened the BMW's passenger door. Still standing, she loitered there, holding the door, fearful of Jackson's plan.
"Get up," Jackson commanded the detective, directing the Glock at him again.
Jackson indicated the open trunk of the Pontiac. "Inside. Now."
Stiff-legged, Mathis marched to the rear of his vehicle. With a final glance at Lisa, he climbed awkwardly into the small trunk and lay on his side, drawing his knees up tightly.
Jackson slammed the trunk lid with vehement force, enclosing the detective within, and yanked the key from the lock. Nice and tidy. Mathis would have several hours ahead of him, lying in the musty darkness, to mull over what he would write on his police report about the night's events. By then, Jackson would have boarded the private jet waiting in West Palm… with Leese. His lips curved in a gratified smile.
Jackson glanced at Lisa. Realizing that Mathis had been spared, she was settling down in the passenger seat of the BMW, ready to go.
Then, a sudden, sickening drop in his stomach - the gut-wrenching thud of a realized mistake. A critical one. I didn't clear the trunk before I put him in there. I only glanced… Jackson quickly selected the trunk key again. Mathis had been in there only seconds. Not too late…
"What's the matter?" Lisa's voice, sharp with concern.
Jackson shoved the key into the lock. There was a deafening bang in front of him - almost in his face - and reflexively he leaped aside. Glancing back, he saw the bullet hole in the trunk, a couple inches above the lock - right where he had been standing. He couldn't believe he had not been hit. Holy fucking shit… As he had feared, there was indeed a gun in the trunk, and Mathis had quickly located and fired it.
Okay, that's it, Jackson thought furiously. Lisa or no Lisa, it was time to put Mathis down. He was too dangerous. Jackson shook his head and unleashed a stream of profanity, infuriated at himself for the double mistake of letting Mathis live even this long… and for not clearing the trunk before putting him in it. The detective wouldn't stay contained for long if he shot his way out.
Lisa was sitting sideways in the front seat of the BMW, and Jackson watched her put her hand slowly to her mouth. Her legs drew together, as if she were about to get up again. He didn't want her anywhere near this.
"Stay over there, Leese," Jackson warned her. A wave of dizziness came over him suddenly. Repositioning his hand on his gun assertively, he approached the trunk from the side, ready to fire down into it - to unload the weapon on the devious fucker inside.
Everything around him spun again; the skyline tilted crazily. What the fuck… His shirt was wet.
He had been hit.
He couldn't feel it. Jackson looked down, almost not comprehending the crimson stain blossoming dead center on his torso. It should hurt. Why doesn't it hurt? Why can't I feel it…? Fireflies flashed in his vision, and he lowered the gun, confusion dimming his objective.
Mathis. Yeah. Get this done. Jackson raised the Glock again and took a step closer to the car, and it was as if the ground had given away softly under him. He collapsed to the pavement hard, but that did not hurt either.
Everything was soft and muted, even the flashes before his eyes. Hearing the hurried, gritty shuffle of Lisa's shoes as she ran to him, Jackson rolled over onto his back, stunned at his stupid, irrevocable mistake, and the swiftly spreading heaviness of his limbs.
He had been fatally wounded… and it was going to be quick.
"Jack… Jack…" Lisa gasped in disbelief. She knelt, her knees grinding into the pavement by his head. "Oh, my God." With one look at the blood on his shirt, she started to rise again, her voice shaken. "Don't move. I'll call…"
His strength fading, Jackson caught her slender wrist in his hand. If she left him now, he would die alone. Too much of his life had been spent that way.
Reading the meaning in his eyes, Lisa froze, then sank slowly back down.
Jackson felt her gentle hands lift his head onto her lap, pillowing him in her softness. A calm lassitude enveloped him - natural anesthetic to the dying, eliminating the useless emotions of regret, sorrow, fear. And hadn't he always known it would end like this…? He'd broken each and every one of his rules, trying to reach for something that was beyond him. Still, he had nearly pulled it off…
Faintly, he smiled.
Lisa stroked his brow, saying nothing.
Strong… Leese was so strong. Not crying, even now. Holding herself together for him. He loved her for it. He wanted to reach up and stroke her face - just once more - but his arm wouldn't move; his whole body was going to sleep. She'd never know he wanted to touch her…
Sleepy, he struggled to keep his eyes open, not yet ready to lose sight of her. His beautiful Leese…
Seeing his feeble battle for awareness, she pursed her lips and whispered to him. "Shhhh…" Her gentle fingers traced his brows.
He had gone from feeling heavy to very light; Leese's touch the only thing keeping him from floating off. One last look at her compassionate face, her sensitive eyes, surrounded by wind-tousled hair… he was dying a painless death, held by a beautiful woman.
Jackson closed his eyes.
He'd had to go to the end of his life to find its finest moment: Leese's gossamer touch upon his face…
But even her caress could no longer hold him.
Lisa ran her hand over Jackson's forehead, waiting for the storm of grief to ravage her, but there was only an encompassing numbness. Taking his hand in hers, she kissed it, studying the scars that adorned it - she would never hear their story now. His sleeve pulled back a little, and she ran her fingers over the metallic gleam of his watch, a feature that had always seemed part of who he was.
The impact of Jackson's death was incomprehensible; its very suddenness staggering. Minutes ago, he had been alive. A short time before, he had made love to her… and now he was gone.
He had gone so fast. But he had not suffered, and he had not been afraid.
Lisa's face crumpled and she shook her head in denial, folding her body over him, but still no tears came. Strange that such a deep wound to her soul would not bleed…
A voice called to her, muffled from the inside the Pontiac's trunk.
Lisa sat up partially, jaw clenched in startled fury. Mathis.
Mathis - whose reprieve she herself had prompted. In sparing the detective, she had thought perhaps she had entered into an unspoken agreement with him - that no blood would be shed this night. Her word had stayed Jackson's hand, and Mathis had promptly shattered the accord by murdering Jackson.
Her eye fell on Jackson's gun. It rested on the ground beside him, where he had let go of it in his final moments.
Reaching for it slowly, Lisa tried to remember her initial justification for sparing Mathis. Certainly she had been motivated by long-entrenched ideas of right and wrong - all of which had been blasted away in an instant with the report of Mathis' gun.
All that mattered now was what had been taken from her.
Tenderly lowering Jackson's lifeless body from her lap to the ground, she kissed his brow, smoothed his hair.
She stood and approached the Pontiac, tightening her hand on Jackson's gun, a sense of righteousness powering through her that it was his weapon she would use.
Lisa stood before the trunk and spoke to the black bullet hole. "Nick? Jackson's dead." Her voice was level and composed… Jackson would have been pleased.
"Let me out, Lisa." Even now, Mathis trusted her, believed in her goodness.
The trunk key still protruded from the lock - Jackson's fingers had been gripping it when Mathis shot him.
Lisa turned the key. The trunk popped ajar, a sliver of black around the edge of the lid.
She opened the lid to reveal Mathis coiled on his side, and Lisa's face distorted in rage as she was instantly overcome by a simple, unforgivable truth.
He killed Jack.
With a swift thrust, she aimed Jackson's gun point blank at the detective… and the worst thing she had ever done suddenly became the easiest.