Caroline & The Stalker
Rated 'PG-13' for intensity
--Richard Karinsky was in his usual bad mood when he arrived at work, only to find a note from his employer Caroline Duffy:
I had some errands to run, go ahead and get started on the Sunday strips and I'll be back shortly.
"Probably a shoe emergency." Richard sighed, irritated by the lack of routine in his work environment. He went into the kitchen and poured himself some coffee, then got to work as Caroline had requested.
--"Hey Richard! Mail call!" Charlie announced as he skated through the door.
"Hi Charlie. Just leave it on the fish tank." Richard replied, annoyed.
"Okie dokie!" Charlie said, skating a lap around the couch. "Where's Caroline?"
"Not here. Bye Charlie."
--A short time later Caroline came in with Annie on her tail...
"Hey Richard. Sorry about not being here... I had errands to run..." Caroline said as she walked in with several shopping bags.
"Yeah. I read the note." Richard replied flatly.
"Need to use the little ladies room." Annie announced, heading for Caroline's bathroom.
"Or in your case, the little slut's room." Richard quipped.
"Hey Richie... isn't it dangerous for your kind to be out of their coffins during daylight hours?" Annie shot back.
"Isn't it dangerous for YOUR kind to be out without a collar and leash?"
"Bite me 'Vladimir'!" Annie snapped.
"No thank you... I know where you've been..." Richard replied sarcastically.
"Shut-up!" Annie shouted, slamming the bathroom door.
"Richard, be nice." Caroline scolded, suppressing a smile.
"I AM nice! Oh, by the way, Charlie brought by your mail from the office."
"Thanks." Caroline said, then started shuffling through the mail. "Huh."
"What?" Richard asked with disinterest.
"Oh, nothing. It's just this letter I got from a fan..."
"You have a fan?"
"Ha ha. It's just weird. It's like the third one and he keeps saying that he loves me and wants to marry me. At first I thought it was a young kid cause of the way the writing was, but now I'm not so sure."
"Maybe you should accept. Might be your last chance." Richard joked. Caroline dismissed the comment...
"I don't know... it's just kinda creepy." she said with slight concern to her voice.
"Caroline... you worry too much. A lot of people in the public eye get weird letters. Just ignore it."
"Yeah. I guess you're right." Caroline said, a bit more at ease.
~*~2 weeks later~*~
--"You know what? I'm going to go down and get the mail. Stretch my legs a bit..." Caroline announced as she hopped off her seat and headed for the door.
"Thanks for sharing..." Richard replied drolly. Caroline just smirked at him as she walked out the door. A few minutes later she returned, mail in hand.
"Oh my God..." Caroline said, dropping all but one letter to the floor.
"What?" Richard asked as he continued his work. Caroline didn't reply as she tore at the letter she was holding, opening it. A look of horror came over her as she read the letter, causing Richard concern. "My God Caroline... what's wrong?" he asked worriedly. Caroline stood silent, staring at the letter. Richard stood up and walked towards her, taking the letter from her hand once he reached her. He read the letter, shocked by the content.
My letters to you have gone unanswered, and that upsets me greatly. I poured my heart out to you and you repay me by ignoring me?! That's not very nice. YOU are not very nice. I take back every nice thing I said about you. I don't love you anymore and I don't want to marry you either. You are a hurtful person. You hurt me, and I think someone should hurt YOU! See, I can be not nice too!
Oh, by the way, I know where you live. I mailed this letter to your apartment and not to 'Eagle Greeting Cards' cause I wanted you to know that. Sleep well!
An angry EX-fan!'
"Ok, Caroline... just stay calm. Celebrities get this kind of mail all the time. It's just some loser who's bored." Richard said, attempting to alleviate her obvious fear. Caroline continued to stand in silence. Richard slammed the letter down onto the bar and took Caroline by the shoulders. He gently guided her to the couch, then sat her down delicately. "I'm gonna get you some water Caroline..." he said as he headed for the kitchen. Just then Annie walked in...
"I had the BEST date last night! Dinner. Dancing. The 'horizontal tango'..." Annie announced cheerfully, oblivious to Caroline's distress.
"Not now Annie..." Richard barked as he took Caroline the glass of water. He tried to hand it to her, but she didn't take it, she just sat there.
"What's up with Caroline?" Annie asked, starting to realize something was wrong. Richard didn't answer, he only pointed to the letter on the bar and continued trying to get Caroline's attention.
"Caroline... please. Drink some water." Richard pleaded. No response.
"Oh my God! When did she get this?!" Annie asked as she finished reading the letter.
"Today. Just now."
"And she's been like this ever since?"
"Yeah. Maybe we should call a Dr. or something?"
"Caroline? Sweetie? This doesn't necessarily mean anything. There are a lot of weird people in the world. He's probably just trying to scare you cause you didn't write back." Annie said consolingly, sitting beside her on the couch.
"Annie's right... oh, God... did I just say 'Annie is right'?"
"You know, you can bite me anytime now!" Annie growled.
"Caroline... look... I know it's creepy, but I really don't think it's anything to be concerned about..." Richard said, ignoring Annie's remark. Caroline looked over at Richard disquietly...
"How can you be so sure?" she asked, barely above a whisper.
"Look at David Letterman. He got all these letters from this woman who was several sandwiches short of a picnic, and he's ok..." Annie said, trying to be of help.
"There! You see! David what's-his-name got this kind of mail and nothing ever happened!" Richard added.
"Well, not exactly nothing. She broke into his house several times and when they finally caught her they discovered this big plot to kidnap him or something..."
"NOT helpful Annie!" Richard snapped quietly. Caroline moaned loudly and buried her face in the pillows on the couch.
"Oh! I'm sorry... look, it's gonna be alright. Do you wanna call the police or something? Put some of your fears to rest?" Annie asked apologetically.
"Yeah." Caroline mumbled into the pillow.
~*~2 hours later~*~
--"I really appreciate you coming down here to talk to me officer. You've helped me feel more at ease..." Caroline said to the policeman, grateful for his reassuring words.
"I'm glad I could help. These kind of idle threats happen all the time. Nothing usually comes from them, but if something else happens, feel free to call us!" the officer said while leaving.
"See? Feel better?" Richard asked Caroline after the officer left.
"Yeah. A little." she admitted.
"Good. Feel like getting some work done? Or can I go home now?"
"I don't think I'll be able to concentrate on the strip right now. Go ahead and go home... I'll see 'ya tomorrow."
~*~1 week later~*~
--Caroline walked through the door, white as a ghost and barely able to stand. She dropped several pieces of mail to the ground as she fell to the floor, passing out from fear. When she regained consciousness she was lying on the couch and Richard and Annie were standing over her. She instinctively tried to get up, but Richard stopped her...
"Don't try to sit up Caroline... just lie still..." he said compassionately.
"What happened?" Caroline asked, confused.
"You passed out sweetie." Annie informed.
"Oh my God! The letter! I got another letter! And it didn't have a stamp! That means he was in the building! In my mail box!" Caroline panicked. "What did it say!?"
"Calm down... ok? You don't need to know what it says. It's just garbage..." Richard said, trying to protect Caroline from the cruel content.
"Oh my God... he's going to try to kill me..." Caroline whispered.
"No one is going to kill you Caroline. Just try to stay calm. The police are on the way." Richard stated calmly. Caroline sat up and Richard sat beside her on the couch. She put her head on his shoulder and started to cry, which made Richard uncomfortable, but he didn't pull away. He knew she needed the support.
--The police couldn't do much. No crime had actually been committed, and the threats were idle at best, but they tried to be encouraging...
"I know it's scary, but these things usually don't turn into anything. Maybe one of your friends could stay with you tonight?" the officer suggested.
"No. That's ok. I'll be fine." Caroline said unconvincingly.
"Well, if anything unusual happens, give us a call." the policeman advised as he left.
"You sure you don't want me to stay?" Richard asked softly.
"I'm sure. Annie is right across the hall if I need her. I'll be fine. You can go ahead and go home." she assured him.
"Ok, but if you need me, give me a call... ok?"
~*~3 days later~*~
--"I finished up the last of these strips, do you have anything else for me to do?" Richard asked as he stood up to stretch his legs.
"Um... no, I don't have anything else ready for you yet." Caroline replied.
"Do you want me to wait around? Till you finish what you're working on?"
"No, that's ok. You can go home now. Have a good night." Caroline answered softly. Richard headed for the door and put on his coat, but stopped short of leaving.
"You want to... go... get a bite to eat?" Richard stammered.
"With you?" Caroline asked, surprised.
"Sure! Ok..." Caroline said cheerfully, walking towards the door.
--After dinner Richard walked Caroline home. Caroline had been on edge lately, and for the first time in weeks she felt happy. She felt safe with Richard, and HE even seemed to be having a good time... till they got to Caroline's. They stepped out of the elevator and immediately Caroline noticed that her door was ajar.
"Did I forget to shut and lock the door?"
"Um... no. You shut and locked it..." Richard said, looking curiously at the door. "Maybe Annie let herself in. Or Del..."
"Maybe..." Caroline replied skeptically. She slowly opened the door and what she saw caused her to become hysterical.
"OH MY GOD! WHY?! WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?! WHY ME?!" Caroline sobbed as she clung to Richard. He looked passed her into the apartment and was appalled by what he saw. Hanging from the kitchen track lighting was a rag doll that looked eerily like the cartoon Caroline, hanging by a noose with a note that said:
'I WILL NOT BE IGNORED!'
"Ok, c'mon Caroline." Richard said, struggling to use the calmest voice he could. He slowly walked to Annie's door while holding Caroline, consoling her. Richard knocked on the door and continued to hold Caroline while waiting for Annie to answer.
"Coming..." Annie called out from inside her apartment. She opened the door wearing nothing but a robe... "What?" she asked, obviously irritated.
"We need to come in Annie..." Richard said with urgency in his voice. Annie then realized that Caroline was sobbing and knew something was very wrong.
"Ok... give me one minute..." Annie said, then shut the door. A few moments later she unchained the door and opened it, inviting Richard and Caroline in.
"What happened?!" Annie asked, concerned.
"Go look in her apartment." Richard said as he helped Caroline to the couch. "I'm going to go call the police..."
"No! Richard! Don't leave me!" Caroline begged, her sobs making it difficult to talk.
"Ok Caroline... ok. I'm not going anywhere." he whispered as he held her tight.
"Oh my God! This guy is a frootloop! Did you call the police?" Annie asked as she returned from Caroline's loft.
"Not yet. Could you?" Richard asked, indicating the tight grip Caroline had on him.
"Sure..." Annie said, then grabbed the phone. Just then her date came out of the bathroom.
"Who's that?" Richard asked, surprised.
"Todd. My date. Todd, Richard. Richard, Todd." Annie introduced them.
"What's going on?" Todd asked, sitting to put on his shoes.
"Long story." Richard replied distantly.
"I'm sorry Todd. Maybe we can do this tomorrow instead." Annie suggested.
"Sure. Give me a call." Todd agreed, then headed for the door... "Hope everything is alright."
"Thanks." Annie replied, then she turned her attention to the phone call.
--The police came fairly quickly, and this time they weren't so quick to dismiss the harassment.
"Well, we don't see any signs of forced entry, but going into someone's home without being invited is still a crime. What we will do now is dust for prints and see if this guy has a police record. Then we'll go from there. Do you have someplace you can stay tonight?" the officer asked as he took notes.
"She can stay with me." Richard answered protectively.
"Really?" Caroline asked, amazed.
"Yeah. Well, if anything happened to you I would have to go looking for a new job. I don't want to have to do that..." Richard joked, trying to relieve some of the tension.
"But you hate this job..." Caroline played along.
"Yeah... well, I hate looking for work more."
"Thanks." Caroline replied, part sarcastically, part gratefully.
--"You can sleep on the bed, I'll sleep on the floor." Richard announced as they entered his apartment.
"You're kind enough to let me stay here, I can sleep on the floor." Caroline argued.
"No. You're the guest, you take the bed."
"The floor will be uncomfortable! You take the bed!"
"All the more reason for YOU to take the bed!" Richard insisted.
"Look, why don't we both just sleep in the bed?" Caroline suggested.
"I don't think that's a good idea..."
"Why? Is the idea of being in a bed with me THAT horrible?!"
"Caroline... it's not that... it just wouldn't be... proper."
"Look, I'll be honest with you... I'm really scared. I would like you to sleep in the bed with me. I feel safe with you near me..." Caroline admitted shyly. Richard just stood silent as nervousness consumed him. "Richard? Is that ok? Would you mind?"
"Of course not." Richard answered, his tone having only the slightest hint of nervousness, which Caroline didn't pick up on.
"Thank you Richard."
--Richard was uneasy about sharing a bed with Caroline, but she needed him. He climbed into bed, keeping to the farthest edge of the mattress that he could.
"Could you maybe..."
"What?" Richard asked, encouraging her to continue.
"Could you maybe... hold me?" Caroline asked nervously. "I'm just really scared and I could use some comforting right now..." she added, justifying her request.
"Yes. Of course." Richard agreed, sliding closer to her. Caroline rested her head on his chest and Richard wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight. After several awkward minutes Caroline started feeling drowsy.
"For putting up with me..."
"It's no problem Caroline. Let's just try to get some sleep... ok?"
~*~ The next morning ~*~
-- Richard was the first to wake, quickly realizing the current situation. Caroline was still sound asleep, still clinging to him. He enjoyed the closeness more than he let on... more than he wanted to. She was scared. She was in need of a FRIEND, that's all this was.
**Here she is scared to death, clinging to you for protection and comfort and all you can think about is how much you love her! Pathetic!** Richard thought to himself, chastising his lack of restraint over his emotions. Just then Caroline started to stir...
"Oh... good morning..." Caroline said, sitting up and pulling the blankets up to her neck.
"If you want breakfast we'll have to go out. I don't have anything here." Richard murmured as he got out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Caroline sat confused as he walked into the bathroom and shut the door soundly.
**Is he mad at me?** she asked herself as she got up and folded the murphy bed back into the wall. She got dressed and started putting her shoes on when Richard came out of the bathroom. He didn't say a word or even look at her as he located his shoes. "Are you mad at me?" Caroline asked timidly.
"No." Richard replied distantly.
"Are you sure?"
"Caroline... I would know if I was mad at you."
"Then... what's wrong?"
"I'm sorry about last night..." Caroline apologized.
"Sorry for what?" Richard asked.
"For the whole sleeping arrangement."
"Caroline. I'm not mad at you because you needed a friend last night..."
"Then what? What ARE YOU mad about?"
"I don't want to talk about it Caroline..."
"Richard... at least give me a chance to make it right..." Caroline pleaded.
"God Caroline... why can't you just let it go?!" Richard sighed, exasperated.
"Fine. I'll let it go... after I say one thing..."
"Of course..." Richard interjected sarcastically.
"I just want to thank you for your friendship last night. You helped me feel safe and you helped put my fears at ease. I know it made you uncomfortable, and I appreciate your sacrifice... and whatever I did to upset you... I'm really sorry. I don't want to lose you as a friend over this."
"Caroline... I'm not upset with you. I'm upset with myself..."
"I really don't want to talk about it Caroline. Please just drop it..." Richard begged, a hint of sadness to his voice. Caroline sensed his emotional struggle and approached him slowly...
"Richard... what's going on? We're friends... you can tell me..."
"Why do you have to know everything?!" he asked, frustration in his voice.
"I'm just trying to understand..."
"There's nothing to understand. It's my problem..."
"Then let me help you! That's what friends do... help each other..."
"I don't need your help Caroline..." Richard snapped. Caroline just looked at him, sadness and confusion written all over her face.
"Sorry." Caroline whispered, tears welling up in her eyes. Richard hated himself for making her cry...
"I'm sorry Caroline. I didn't mean to snap at you like that. Don't cry... please." Richard said as he reached out to hold her... "With everything going on I just didn't want to burden you with my problems."
"It's ok. I'm alright... just way too emotional..."
"That's an understatement!" Richard joked, pulling back slightly to wipe the tears from her face. For a brief moment there was something between them they both could feel. "Caroline, look... there's something I should tell you..." Richard started, just then the phone rang...
--"Hello?" Richard answered the phone, somewhat grateful for the interruption. "Yes. -- Yes. -- Right now? -- Oh! -- Yeah. -- Ok. -- Bye."
"Who was that?" Caroline asked curiously.
"The police. They know who your stalker is. They need you to go down there and look at some pictures... see if you recognize him."
"Oh my gosh. Ok. You'll come with me, right?"
"Oh! What were you going to say?" Caroline asked.
"Huh? Oh! Nothing." Richard said, dodging the subject. Caroline could tell, but she didn't want to start another argument...
"Ok. Well, if you change your mind and decide to tell me..." Caroline said with a warm smile, then walked out the door.
--"Ok, here we have 6 pictures of known criminals who all fit the same basic description. One of these guys is the scum-bag who's prints were found all over your apartment. What I need you to do is look at these pictures and see if any of these guys looks familiar." the officer instructed. Caroline looked at the 6 pictures, but no one looked familiar to her.
"I don't recognize any of them..." Caroline said, somewhat distraught. Just then Richard reached for a picture...
"I know this guy..." he said, staring at the picture intently.
"Really? From where?" Caroline asked.
"I'm not sure..."
"Take your time..." the officer advised.
"Oh my God... I know where I know him from..." Richard recalled... "He was at Annie's last night."
"What?!" Caroline asked, shocked.
"He was her date. Todd!" Richard exclaimed.
"You're absolutely certain?" the officer asked.
"This is the guy who's prints we lifted from Ms. Duffy's loft. But his name isn't Todd, it's Sam."
"Annie has a key to my apartment!" Caroline blurted out.
"No forced entry..." the officer added.
"What happens now?" Richard asked.
"Well, now we go try to arrest him, but to be honest, he's probably miles away by now. What I would suggest is changing the locks on your apartment, and maybe having... Annie was it? Having Annie do the same. Then just be careful for a few weeks... don't go out alone after dark, don't unlock the door till you know who's there... simple precautions..."
--"I just can't believe it!" Annie said, amazed by what she was hearing. "So he was only dating me to get to you?!"
"It looks that way..." Caroline replied.
"I am just SO sorry sweetie..."
"It's not your fault, Annie. I just hope it's all over now."
"Well, they're going to arrest him... right?"
"Yeah... well, they're going to try to. They think he might've run off."
"Are you going to go back to Richard's for tonight?" Annie asked.
"No. I'll be ok. I had the lock changed and the police are looking for him. I doubt he'll come here."
"Yeah, you're probably right. What are the chances that he's a frootloop AND an idiot?" Annie joked... "Well, I'm right across the hall if you need me." she added as she headed for the door.
"Thanks Annie. Night."
--Caroline didn't want to be alone, but she didn't want to ask Annie to stay with her, and asking Richard was out of the question. For reasons she didn't understand, Richard seemed very upset about the sleeping arrangement and her staying at his place the night before.
**I need to just stop involving him in all of this...** Caroline thought to herself as she nervously walked around her apartment. **Here he is nice enough to let me stay at his place and I act all... all... pusillanimously...** "Pusillanimously? Man, I need to stop reading that word-a-day calendar!" Caroline said softly to herself. Just then she heard footsteps outside the door...
--Caroline stood frozen... **Maybe it's Richard... or Annie...** she thought to herself, refusing to let the fear consume her. She walked slowly and quietly to the door to peek through the peephole when she saw something that terrified her to her very core. There, lying on the ground was a letter from HIM. Todd, or Sam, or whoever he was... the stalker. Caroline gasped and backed away from the letter as if it were a poisonous snake. She reached for the phone and dialed the first number on her speed dial...
--"Somebody better be dead!" Richard barked as he answered the phone, annoyed.
"Richard. I'm sorry. Help... he's here..." Caroline whispered, barely able to talk.
"Caroline? What's wrong?" Richard asked, unable to really hear her. Caroline didn't answer. "Caroline?! -- CAROLINE!?!" he called out, concerned. No response. Without even giving it conscious thought he threw his clothes on and ran out the door.
--Richard let himself in and immediately saw the letter on the floor in front of the door. He stepped over it and called out to Caroline...
"Caroline. It's me. Richard." he said as he looked around the dark apartment for her.
"Richard?" Caroline asked, peeking out from the staircase storage closet. She crawled out and stood up, brushing herself off... "I'm so sorry Richard. He was here... and I panicked. I'm sorry I called you... I didn't know who else to call..." she apologized, walking towards the couch.
"The police?" Richard suggested.
"Huh?" Caroline asked, confused.
"Never mind..." he replied, walking towards the letter on the floor. He opened it, read it, then put it back in the envelope.
"What did it say?"
"It said: 'I'll be back!'... in red ink..." he sighed, tossing it to the bar.
"I'm sorry Richard. I know you don't want to be mixed up in this..."
"Caroline, would you just stop apologizing. This is not your fault."
"I know, but I know you don't want to be here..."
"What I want is not relevant. You need me, I'm here..." Richard said as he sat next to Caroline on the couch. He put his arm around her and she snuggled into him.
"Thank you Richard." she said softly.
--Caroline felt so safe in Richard's arms she was able to doze off, but Richard didn't feel at all sleepy. He wanted to catch this guy once and for all, and if he said he'd be back, then Richard wanted to be ready for him. Richard had never been a violent person, but seeing the terror in Caroline's eyes made him want to tear the guy responsible limb from limb. He waited patiently for the guy to return, but after hours he started to wonder if he was going to. Almost as soon as the thought crossed his mind he heard footsteps outside. He carefully got up so as not to disturb Caroline, then tiptoed to the door. He looked through the peephole and saw the man from Annie's apartment, from the photograph he'd seen at the police station standing outside the door. Just as Richard was about to open the door to confront him, another letter was slid under the door. It startled Richard, but only momentarily. He abruptly opened the door and tackled the guy to the ground. The man screamed in shock, which woke Caroline from her sleep...
"Oh my God! Richard!" she cried out as she saw him struggling with the guy in the hall.
"Call 911!" Richard called out, pinning the man to the ground. Annie heard the commotion and came running out...
"Oh my God! It's him!" she exclaimed, then helped Richard hold him down while Caroline called the police.
"I oughta kill you!" Richard shouted angrily, something that was uncharacteristic of him. "You scared her to death! If you ever so much as even THINK about her again!"
"Chill out! I wouldn't have hurt her!" the man yelled back, still struggling to get lose.
"She didn't know that! You made her cry! You made her afraid to be in her own home!" Richard shouted, anger and frustration controlling him.
"God, get a grip dude! Why do you care anyway!? You're just her assistant!" the man snapped back.
"I'm not just her assistant! I'm her friend! And I love her!" Richard yelled back, not aware of what he was saying and who was listening. Just then the police showed up and Richard stood, shaking from anger and adrenaline. Caroline went to his side and hugged him, helping to calm him down. The police arrested the stalker and took everyone's statements, then Annie went into her apartment and Richard and Caroline went into hers.
--"I don't know how to thank you..." Caroline said gratefully.
"No thanks needed..." Richard replied softly.
"Richard? Did you mean what you said?"
"When you were struggling with the guy... you said you love me... did you mean it?" Caroline asked nervously. Richard sighed...
"I was upset... my adrenaline was pumping pretty fast..." Richard replied, hoping to avoid answering the question.
"Did you mean it Richard? Just answer me..."
"Yes." Richard answered quietly... "You are my very best friend."
"So... you love me... like a friend?"
"Yes. What did you think I meant?"
"Caroline... what did you think I meant?" Richard asked again insistently.
"It's just that... lately I've been kinda feeling... kinda thinking... maybe..." Caroline stammered, unable to articulate what she wanted to say.
"Well... I don't know... I mean, we are already good friends... and maybe we're good friends on the way to something else?" Caroline suggested shyly. The look on Richard's face encouraged her to continue... "I think I am falling in love with you Richard..."
"Caroline..." Richard whispered, walking towards her... "I have been in love with you for a long time... I just didn't know how to tell you. I didn't want to risk losing your friendship..." he admitted, embracing her.
"Will you stay with me tonight?" Caroline asked, returning the warm embrace.
"If you want me to, but you know... they arrested the guy. You really don't need to be afraid anymore..."
"Who said anything about being afraid?" Caroline smiled mischievously, then headed for the stairs that led to her bedroom. Richard smiled in return and followed her to her bedroom. A new relationship started between them that night. No longer employer and employee... no longer simple friends... but best friends, AND each other's 'sincere amore'.