Disclaimer: All characters (unless otherwise specified) belong to Aaron Spelling, E. Duke Vincent, Gary Tomlin, NBC, et al and are used here strictly for non-profit entertainment purposes.

Rating: PG18

Genre: Humor/Drama/Angst

Spoilers: "Episode 94"

Summary: I'm the bell that rings everytime she's fed.

April 27, 1997


Living in this motel makes me want to grow a tiny mustache and bet on greyhound races. None of this will help my image. Couldn't exactly hurt it, either.

"Wait 'til you get an earful of this," Caitlin says, flopping on the palmy comforter. "You want to know the real reason my father called off the police?"

"The Unabomber suddenly became available?"

"Uh, no," she laughs. "I shouldn't be gossiping girl talk, but it's so funny. Mom said she was the one who stopped him. Two words: feminine, wiles."

Cold moisture lines the back of my neck. "Excuse me?"

"C'mon, hon, I think you know what I mean. Mom fought manhunt with manhunt, and Daddy surrendered. I guess his police statement against you spontaneously combusted from the heat."

Tense, mirthless laughter shudders through my chest, until it turns into a cough. "Wow," I strain against my balled hand, "okay. That's a little disturbing."

"Maybe so, but we all won in the end. We're together, and their smiles were a mile wide last night at Grenadine's. Way too genuine for forced civility. A separate dessert must've been riding on that dinner."

"Persuasive," I mutter.

She slaps my thigh. "Yep, there's no denying it. Every time your name gets brought up at One Ocean, Barry White might as well come bursting through the French doors. Who would've thought you'd end up strengthening their relationship? You've gone from a bone of contention to...a boning concession," she giggles.

It should be something to chuckle about, only it doesn't happen that way. I guess I never really had to stare down the fact that they reconciled, at least not like this. There's a bitter, empty tooth socket taste in my mouth.

Olivia and I were lovers.

"Caitlin, enough, okay? Are you really that bent on your parents sticking it out, no matter how insane the means to the end is?"

"Look, they're not conventional, but we don't have to understand what makes them happy. The happier they are, the more they'll leave us alone. If she wants to put on a flying trapeze act to calm his irrational side, go for it."

I'm sure the last thing she suspects is that this trapeze artist is swinging behind my eyes, complete with a corset leotard.

I can't say I've never had a shameful fantasy about Olivia since I found out who she was. They're just usually a lot more...nocturnal.

Like it or not, I'm a fixture in her bedroom now. Part of the equation. I am between them, and it's degrading and embarrassing and...somehow all that burning disgust is easing down into my groin.

If he only knew about the palmy bed I made with his wife.

OK, so I was an attentive lover who also had one paw in a cookie jar...at least until she felt like a ledge I was stuck to, steadfast, with both hands.

We were torrid and weirdly emotional. Sometimes, someone would start to laugh, and the quiet one would taste the other's laughter. We were trying to survive the terrible things that had been done to us, the only way we knew how. She would set the pace, and leave me wondering if I was the younger one at all. At the party for that Congressman, I felt like a blowdryer in water.

If you only remember one thing about me, let it be this: The bedroom part of Operation: Deschanel Jewels was never a con.

Every time your name gets brought up at One Ocean...

Wait a minute...

Pavlov's dog.

I'm the bell that rings every time she's fed. Eventually, the bell will make her salivate, too.

"Co-ole? Helloo?" a far-away voice says. "I hope you're not a wanted fugitive in La-La Land."

"It's so hot in here." I shoot up from the bed, wrestle the motel room window open and stick my head out. The breeze only feels like a Pomeranian's tongue. "You must be missing the central air at home."

"I'm fine. This is where I want to be," Caitlin says.

It would be so easy to lean over and zap this feeling dead in her glow. She's been insatiable lately, making up for twenty years of purity. Marking pages in magazines of new things she wants to try. Survey says: she would make 99.99999 percent of men irreversibly forget about a middle-aged alcoholic in a tiara.

Hello. My name is .00001.

I just can't handle this right now.

"I'm going to take a shower," I say.

"The Super said the hot water heater is broken. It'll be free-zing," she emphasizes.

I'm counting on it.

OK, maybe this is a bad idea. It feels like sleet is coming out of the nozzle. I put my hands against the wall, taking choppy breaths.

An escape from lustful Olivia thoughts never comes. Not that you're probably surprised by that. It all just gets colder and...nipplier.

She is up against me from behind, her breasts reacting sharply to the water. Her firm kisses along my shoulder make my nails curl down the tile. "I can't keep feeling responsible for you," I tremble.

"Rubbish. You know you'll never let this go...so why don't you just try an experiment?"

That's when a ridiculous beyond ridiculous thought enters my mind.

For the next few days, I have a crucial mission: trying to find out if Olivia is going to take a nap.

I case their house, little binoculars over my sunglassed eyes, amplifiers in my ears. On Thursday, she's poolside with Sean. She is wearing a black one-piece with a single shoulder strap, and my muscles tense in mimicry of the hugging nylon. Finally, bingo. "Thank you for the company, Cubby. I'm going upstairs to rest."

Commencing Operation: Anarchy in the UK.

I climb the trellis and slip delicately through the bedroom window. She is on top of the comforter, still in the bathing suit. I didn't bargain on that. My hands shake as I approach the bed and slide the headphones on her.

The tape in the walkman is simply this: me saying my own name over and over. First and last. Quietly, but in an accusatory way, as Gregory would.

I push play.

Cole St. John. Cole St. John. Cole St. John.

Nothing happens at first. Then her legs stiffen a little. She makes a little sigh, which grows into a deeper "Mmmm..." Her lips press together...her breathing quickens, and last of all...her nipples take shape like hand-blown crystal under her bathing suit.

It takes everything I have to restrain myself from doing a swan dive onto her.

Cole, you shitheel! What the hell are you doing?

She's keeping me with Caitlin. Keeping me out of a human pound in Czechoslovakia. Damn her methods, but I have everything I ever wanted-why am I doing a science project on Olivia's arousal?

Heavy steps pummel the stairs, from someone who must've gotten a continuance in court. Now of all times. I'm dead. I grab the walkman from Olivia's sleeping form and give it a pitch out the window that would make Cy Young proud. I claw my way under the bed, the frame so low to the floor it's almost impossible. There's no way the bedskirt is solid enough. He'll feel my heart in the rug through his thick shoes. He'll smell my rotten blood. It'll be over. All over.

"Olivia!" he calls out, his voice slicing through the room. "Olivia! Did you-"

I'm willing to bet his long pause is because of the one-strapped bathing suit.

"What, what, I was sleeping, you just scared the wits out of me!"

"Did you hear the latest development in our daughter's downfall? She's dropping out of UCLA and 'taking a couple of classes at Pierce,'" he says, the last part in a spacey voice. "I thought dating that lone wolf was as bad as it could get, but this? Community college? That's it! I'm putting an end to Cole St. John's horrible influence now!"

Oh, no. Don't stave him off the way I think you're going to, Olivia. I contemplate everything that could happen to me if she doesn't-the cold click of Interpol's handcuffs, being forced to sign a confession I can't read-but the protest in my head is still the same: Objection!

"I beg your pardon! I went to community college, but oh, it's not good enough for Caitlin!"

That's it, c'mon. Get riled up. Don't mate, just checkmate.

"We're supposed to want better things for our children, Olivia, that's what being a parent is about! Not lounging around drowning your envy of their success with a White Russian!"

Oh yeah. I chew on my index knuckles with both thumbs up. He's playing the drinking card. There's no way this is going to end in sex. Not in a million years.

Her bare feet disappear as she sits down on the bed. "I'm afraid I deserved that...but please. I doubt this has to do with the boy's meddling at all. She's probably just testing out our reaction. Well, sue me, but I liked Pierce. In fact, there's...a certain shower in the gymnasium where I'd go and think about you...and learn about my anatomy...and think about you. Lather, rinse, repeat."

My jaw is on the floor and he exhales for a long time. Something could very well happen after all. Right on top of me. The boy. My mouth tastes like batteries. But bless his evil soul, he's trying to resist!

"That's...encouraging, Liv, but we can't lose sight of the fact that Cole St. John-"

"Gregory..." From the velvet detour of her voice, I can tell she's lying on her side, like a pinup girl. "Forget Cole. If you call the authorities, someone will show up here...and that means I'll have to get dressed. We can't have that, now can we?"

"...You know, that bathing suit is so asymmetrical, it really accentuates how perfect your symmetry is..."

"Yes, it even makes this pair look a bit larger."

"From my usual position of buried between them, it'll be hard to tell."

"So assume the position."

At least if they find my breakfast under here, they'll blame it on Spike.

I've squeezed myself into ducts that weren't as constricting as this...but nothing makes me more claustrophobic under here than listening to them. Her moans aren't as much luxury as they are shock. They've been married over twenty years and he's finding ways to take her by complete, quaking surprise. The sounds map out a constellation of her body in my head as they grow stronger.

I press my forehead into the rug. This is so wrong, but no matter what, I still got her here. The monster under the bed has become part of the foreplay.

After that close call, I'm trying to forget this fixation on Olivia's...tactics.

Caitlin and I spend warm days doing all the things normal young guys are supposed to do with normal young girls.

I think.

Throwing water balloons at socialites off the rooftops of the strip. Laser tag at a crazy arena, shooting at each other's infrared hearts.

We go to the grotto to try Cosmopolitan's page 43. "Let's pretend you did kidnap me," she whispers in my ear. "You brought me here to kill me but you fell in love instead."

Oh God. She is Gregory and Olivia's daughter.

Our melded shadows flicker on the wall of the cave. We're a perfect scene right now, a perfect rhythm.

But all I keep thinking about is finding Olivia in this rocky darkness. "Let me look at you, and see what a knight in shining armor looks like," she said. Well, I can tell you what one doesn't look like: a little dog in crumpled aluminum foil. I can't protect her from Gregory...I can only lick the tears off her face.

I'm struggling to stay afloat in this clay and sand. Just like the sound of the tide here, Olivia is in my head and I can't get her out. I think of the strangest things. The whites of her eyes. A Statue of Liberty in her likeness, a bottle of Dom Pérignon for a torch. This is how it is.

The next day, I call her. I'd love to lay it on hard, and tell her this game will never save her Punch and Judy show of a marriage. But like my grandmother always says, you can attract more flies with martyrdom than with vinegar.

"Hullo?" she answers.

"Olivia, hey. It's Cole."

You've got a massive nerve, calling my mo-buyle phone like this! Bet that's what she would've said before there was instant sex at the whisper of my name. Now, nothing but pleasantry. "Oh...h-how are you...?"

Just like butter. "Fine. I'm sorry for calling your cell-"

"No, it's quite alright. Is evrathing okay?"

"It's fine. I just wanted to talk with you...in private."

"...Alright...how about the grotto in ten minutes?"

The grotto! I cover my phone and snort with laughter. I hear static when I put it back up to my ear, but realize it's my heartbeat blitzing my head from the g-word. "Well, actually I'm in the middle of an errand."

"All I hear is whirring, are you in a launderette or something?"

"Yeah. It's a first, I'll admit. The most work I've ever had to pay somebody to do myself."

"Caitlin can have Rose wash the clothes here, you know. It's really no bother at all, she's still welcome to-"

"Nope, nope. We're sticking to our guns here in the real world. Taking our self-reliance all the way."

"Oh, well excuse me, Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson."

My smile almost snaps my phone shut. It's time to get back to nature alright.

The laundromat is in Huntington Beach and tumbleweed deserted. The bell on the door jingles to reveal Olivia in her white suit from the night we met. How about that...she suddenly can't remember it having any bad connotations. Score one for the unconscious mind. "It's hot as blazes in here."

Stimulating, isn't it? I wipe my brow, folding a huge pile meticulously. "Ah, it's not bad. I really want to make sure all of Caitlin's clothes get clean. She has a job interview she's really looking forward to tomorrow, and I know how many times she'll change outfits. The one option that isn't there could spell certain disaster."

"That's kind of you. You seem...very happy."

"You sound a little surprised at that."

"It's just different seeing you so domesticated." As in animal. She paces a little, arms folded. She slips off her blazer, a sleeveless top underneath. "It's nauseatingly hot in here, could you please get to what you wanted to talk about?"

"Look...I don't know how you're keeping Gregory off our backs, but I appreciate it. I know it must take a lot out of you, hearing him scream about me day in and day out. Cole St. John this and Cole St. John that. My name and my face infecting every single facet of your life. It must be hell. I'll repay you in any way I can."

She inches closer. "All I ask is that you keep our secret."

"Buried. I mean...that's not to say I'm good at erasing things from my head. Never have been."

"Why not?" she asks quietly.

"...even erasers leave marks." Our eyes linger for a moment. "I'm sorry to babble on like this...I've got a lot on my mind. Which shirt would Gregory find less Cole St. John-ish?" I ask, holding up polos. "Or is the one I've got on okay, as long as I don't raise my arms?" I run a hand down my wet face.

"Cole...you're acting very strangely. Caitlin would be so cross with me if I just stood here and did nothing. Skip the wash and go home-it's an inferno in here! You're flush, you're...panting."

I rub the back of my neck and keep folding. "No, it's okay...I really have to finish this. It would be so Cole St. John of me to blow it off."

"You're going to give yourself heatstroke folding her blouses?" She blots my forehead with a sock. "This is my fault. You're losing your mind trying to be perfect under threats of extradition! I haven't done anathing you should be thanking me for. I'm self-serving and desperate and all it feels like is stolen moments in a vast sea of failure!" she breaks out with at a mile a minute.

I look at her blankly. "Another day in paradise at One Ocean?"

She bites her lip. "Never you mind." She rips a bottle of Evian out of her purse and holds it to my temple, my eyes drifting closed. That's it, Olivia. Show how valuable that community college nursing degree is. I feel the bottle touch my lips. "Drink," she says. "Go on, take it!"

I put my hand over hers and drink, sighing with satisfaction as the water goes down. I watch her as we put the empty bottle down on the metal table, belly to belly...slippery hands still joined by the oppressive heat. "Thank you, Olivia."

Her icy eyes scan me up and down faster than I can follow them, her mouth falls open slowly. "You're..."

The "welcome" never comes, but it's fully implied.

She throws her arms around me and ransacks my mouth. Aggressively. Part of me doesn't even believe this is happening. I finally succeeded at something since I came to this godforsaken town. I proved that her plan to keep things peachy with Gregory would blow up in her face, literally! Ivan Pavlov, I'm going to dig you up and hug your corpse!

OK...so maybe this is a little heavier than winning a bet with myself.

I'm completely, hopelessly punch-drunk happy that her lips are taking over mine.

I take it slowly, second by second, and she softens. Her small cries soothe my parched throat. I try to make her forget that she's trying to forget this. She goes limp, dangling like a pendant, my arms becoming support for her to stand.

She thrashes away, clenching her hand over her lips. "...Of all the...!" she moans into her hand. "How could I have done that? How could you let me?"

"-Well I don-? How d-w-what was I supposed to do, beat you off with a hanger?"

"Yes! I was psychotic to even think!-And you! That was hardly the kiss of an ambushed man just going with it!"

"Why not?"

"As if you don't know? I felt it, Cole." She looks up slowly, her eyes glinting with sadness. "It was too honest to stand."

"...Olivia, I...I didn't mean-"

"Yes, you did," she shivers, "but I'm at a loss to comprehend it. You have nothing to gain from me. Nothing!"

I stand there, sweaty and ridiculous, the infant who was mesmerized by ceiling fans the same year she was touching herself to Gregory in the shower. Her three-night stand, traumatized for life from what I heard under that bed. My name is Cole St. John, and strike me down for this...but I'm an Oliviaholic.

"Please don't try to understand it..." I sigh, my thumbs tracing her cheeks. "Just go with it."

The kiss feels like the oxygen mask I woke up to after a Prague hotel fire, jewelry raining from my pockets every time the gurney hit a bump. There's so much grief entwined with this revival. Everything about us is wrong...everything except this.

She pulls my shirt over my head, and her fingers climb one rib at a time. I feel her bury a small sob against my neck, and it whirls into a starved kiss down my jugular. I lift her up and balance her on the running washing machine, my secret thirst in luring her here, and she moans in response to the sensation. I pull her close, trying to guard her constantly fugitive happiness. I wrench her shirt and bra to the side, and just like I wanted to do the day of the infamous bathing suit, I coax her nipple into my mouth.

She holds on for dear life to the back of my head, while I culture the pearl. "Co..." she breathes, the "l-e" gone, but it's enough to make me glow with pride under thickening sweat. The lights start humming and flickering. "...I'll only be...your undoing..." she struggles to say.

"I"m counting on it," I whisper. I could stay like this for hours, tasting the way she unravels. She's so sensitive it's killing me. "Oh, Liv."

I realize in a nanosecond, from the way her skin becomes unyielding, that this was a very wrong thing to say.

It's hard not to shorten her name to that one loaded word at a time like this...but I've never heard anyone call her that but him.

"Cole, stop." I take a stomach-wrenching drop to earth from the tone of her voice, addressing the boy. "We can't! This is pain magnetized to pain. It's completely irrational!" She claws her clothes back into place.

"I'm thinking," I shudder, pressing my chest to hers. "I am!"

She closes her eyes. "Cole. Your trousers are vibrating. You're most certainly not thinking!-" She trembles to a pause, hand to mouth. "...oh god...I think I'm going to throw up."

"Oh, spare me the diversion-" I begin, but her pale face speaks a thousand words. "-Shit, you're dead serious!" I gather her up and carry her out the back door. "C'mon, fresh air, here we go." The breeze hits us in the alley immediately. I press my lips to her forehead. "It's way too hot in there. You okay? Better?"

She takes a deep breath. "No, no. It wasn't the heat, it's you. Your sweat smells like mayonnaise!" She squirms out of my arms, her hand still clamped to her mouth. "...oh dear...OK...OK. It passed."

I look down, shaking my head. "Wow. There's no such thing as subtlety with you, is there? You think you can take it down a notch from utter humiliation?" I turn hard to go back in the building and slam right into the brick wall, hearing her gasp. "...I can manage that all by myself..." I strain into my hand, pinching my nose as I storm inside.

"Wait," she sighs, following me. "I'm sorry, that came out the wrong way!"

"How about when you jumped on me, Olivia, did that come out the wrong way, too? I think it gave a whole new meaning to hold the mayo!" I yank my shirt back on and start piling clothes into the laundry basket.

"OH, alright! On second thought, let's just spew whatever pops into our heads, Cole, maybe this is the only time we ever can! That doesn't mean-will you stop tossing those garments around like clown handkerchiefs? What are you doing?"

"Hightailing my unbearable Hellmann's stench out of here and pretending this never happened!"

"Oh, bollocks! I'm the only one who's been trying like hell to do that! You're conflicted and confused and running away with Cailtin because you're ashamed, not to mention terrified that you have feelings for me too!"

The words, out loud, in satin English, freeze me solid. She even seems taken aback that they came out of her own mouth. There's nothing in this space but the machines whirring, and that red piece of scrap meat in my chest grinding away.

"...I...I ca..." Her crystal eyes make my throat close, and only drive home why I need to finish. "...fine. You fascinate me. Maybe it's completely seventh grade, and I-I don't have superhuman control over it like someone else we know. Alright? Satisfied?"

Nothing leaves her mouth for a while but pronounced breathing. "Then I'll make things easy for you. We can't be alone. Ever. Not even for one to get water and one to throw something out in the same kitchen."

"Oh, that's a great solution, Olivia. You've secured peace in our time! Just like your other brilliant strategy...what was it? To hold back Gregory's offensive with a sex bribe?"

Her expression wilts. "How do you know about-?...Oh, Caitlin," she mutters under her breath. "She can open up and tell you anathing...do you know how rare that is for her? The last thought to ever cross her mind is that you'd be jealous."

"Or that I'm the one who protects you from Gregory whenever your world falls apart."

"Your callow heart is trying to understand something you never will."

"What don't I understand? How happy you are because you're sleeping with him as a ruse? He'll drive you right back into the grotto again, and I'll be waiting there when it happens."

"Then you'll be waiting at high tide." She holds my face in one hand, the dimple there caving to her touch like a puncture wound. "It's much too dangerous. By the time you realize that, Cole, you'll have drowned." She grabs her purse and blazer and runs out the laundromat door. The bell jangles happily as I stand there in indescribable mourning.

Needless to say, I don't feel any satisfaction in proving my stupid theory. So I gave her a hypnotic suggestion to fool around, and she took the bait. Who cares? Not her, that's for sure.

But...even though it was in a pitying, Quasimodo sort of way...she gave me water.

I spend the rest of the day on an H20 bender. I buy five bottles from the convenience store, fill cups from the whining tap at the motel. I drink from public fountains, not even caring if my mouth hugs the spigot.

At least I have the memory of my name on her lips...but it feels like listening to a beautiful English news anchor talk about a coal mining disaster, and only hearing what I want to. "...Cole...a blazing fire...within minutes...the shaft...unbelievable!"

Let the drowning begin, boy.

Caitlin laces her hands with excitement. "You're looking at the new lead singer of Screaming Kitty!" OK, so I neglected to tell Olivia that the "job interview" was an audition for a band.

"That is...something!" I didn't think she'd get picked. Not for lack of talent, just...I mean, her last gig was singing the national anthem for the Angels of Anaheim. I didn't think she was exactly "Screaming Kitty" material.

This is my comeuppance, that's for sure. Find me a guy who'd be thrilled that his girlfriend is the figurehead on a pirate ship.

I know I have no right to be nauseated. The only gnawing sensation I should have is guilt... but maybe I don't even know what it is. All I've ever known is how to live moment to moment. This is the first time any of my moments have intersected so damn hard.

She puts her arms around my neck. "Baby, they love me. They even gave me a stage name: Lolita Black. It's so edgy, isn't it? I always had it in me to do this, but before I met you, I never would've pursued it."

"Oh, Caitlin," I sigh, fumbling for her mouth with mine. Our timing is completely off. I feel like I'm sinking and can't reach her, and I smell totally rank. Be normal. Just be normal. Stop wondering if Olivia hates your guts. Scraped, raw, dodgeball embarrassment, that's all she ever makes you feel. And somehow...painfully alive.

Lolita Black bites my lower lip. "Tonight, I'm gonna show you how a rock star does it. Trash this room. Leave you sore."

She gets a little edgier every day. This love story makes us want to be completely different people, which doesn't make much sense. She wants to be the wild child now, and I want to be the impossibility of Cole Stevens. Raised on hard work, honesty and apple brown betty. Destined to marry the girl next door instead of haunt the lady in the window.

Ah, yes. My old standby, the long corridor dream. This time, there's a door at the end with a frosted glass window that reads: "Guidance Counselor."

I open the door to Del Douglas at a desk, his feet up on it. Smoking a cigar. "It's about time, Little Slugger! Sit down, you look old enough to need a shot of somethin' strong!" he says, filling a glass with red liquid. "Shame I don't have a rubber nipple to put on this for ya," he cackles. "This is such an honor! I'm a big fan of yours-my own protégé, no less. You're welcome, by the way."

I sit in a chair front of his desk. "You want me to thank you. For kidnapping me."

"C'mon, Coleslaw. You can't hold the seventies to today's moral standards. Hell, I knew people who would've swapped you for a pound of hash and smoked the whole thing before your next bottle!" he laughs. "Besides, kidnappin' is such a harsh word. So many negative connotations. We formed a bond on that car trip to Atherton, you an' me. You spat up all over my new leisure suit, and I got you to sleep with the heartbeat of my fat gold pocket watch. Even changed one of those nasty meconium diapers. Looked like a potted plant fell over in that thing!"

I cover my eyes hard. "Oh God, I really don't want to hear about this."

"It's the plain truth. It was a fatherly moment for me, takin' you in that chariot to a fine upbringin' in high society."

"And an endless black pit in my chest."

"Yes! And that, my boy, was the secret ingredient for your success. That salivatin' hunger. The drive for the conquests, to leave the weaker sex in unadorned ruin! I couldn't be more proud of you, son." He leans over, his voice going menacing, the cigar tip red as sunset. "But somethin's gone terribly wrong with you. Obedience."

"You don't know anathing about my life."

He makes a curdled face. "Did you just say ana-thing?"

I bang my forehead purposely on the desk and slug back the liquor shot in front of me.

"Not good, kiddo, pickin' up the ol' Paddington patter. Absorbin' her into your skin. Olivia Richards turns boys into men...and men into dogs."

"Well, what do you think I should do, oh Captain, my Captain?" I groan.

"I would get down to the nurse's office and do somethin' about that."

I look down and my shirt is soaked through with dark crimson. "No..." I cage my hands over it and it only gets darker. "No!"

"The heart is a worthless trinket, boy! Just let it burn out," he spits. "Kill the damn lights!"

I shoot up in bed, gasping. Sweating mayonnaise. Caitlin sleeps like the dead, just like her mother, and doesn't even stir. I bury my face in the pillow. I can say what I want about Del, but he took better care of me than I've ever taken of myself.

Miserable, I sit in the Java Web, drinking coffee that singed my tongue and tastes like nothing now. I want to peel my skin off, sprint out of here, and swim to Catalina Island with my guts showing. Suddenly I'm possessed to do something else I've never done before: type my father's name into a search engine.

Armando Deschanel

Did you mean Ardara, Donegal?

While I stare at pictures of Ireland, I contemplate this: Is leaving her the reason he disappeared off the face of the earth?

Why can't I stop wallowing in what I don't have, and think of everything I do? A mother who's everything I imagined one to be, who'd cradle all two-hundred pounds of me in her arms if she could. A big sister who wants to make up for years of not beating people up for me. A beautiful girlfriend who would eat my scabs just to feel my presence.

Cole, by most people's standards, you're one lucky shit.

A skinny shadow falls over me. "Now that is amazing. Somebody taught a knuckle-walking gorilla how to surf the web!"

"What do you want, Connors?"

He sits down across from me, his black hair flopping in his eye. "Oh, nothing. Just making sure you don't grab a virgin and climb a tall building."

"I didn't kidnap my girlfriend, OK? How did you even hear about that, from the police scanner on your toilet?"

"Doesn't matter if they melted down my badge, St. John. I'm a well-informed and frankly concerned citizen. Your record is pretty extensive. Grand larceny...fraud......laundering."

He slaps down a pile of black and white photos of Olivia and me entangled on top of the washing machine.

He riffles them so they look like an animated flip book. My brain can't even wake up the muscles in my face to make a horrified expression.

"What's the matter, Cole? Never seen this cute new commercial where the Snuggle Bear tries to stuff somebody's wife?"

An unintelligible response on my part.

"Let me guess, you tripped and fell face first into her bra, and she just-so-happened to land on a giant coin-op sex toy? That about right? Hell, these pictures capture the intent, the premeditation so perfectly, it doesn't even matter that she walked out on you. Although I was looking forward to the spin cycle."

"Wh-what are you, some kind of sick perv?"

"Oh-ho! I'm the perv? I was capturing nature through the panes of a public establishment. I'm an artist. My mastery of light and shadow is highly sought after, especially by one particular client. You might know him as the Godfather."

"He hired you to follow me..."

"Oooh, very good. I have to admit, I thought I'd catch you doing something way tamer than this. Strippers, hookers, the whole rack of Spice Girls at once. But oh, I really hit the motherload with this one. Question is...how do you stop Gregory from finding out-and I specify Gregory, 'cause your little blond safety catch is almost irrelevant at this point-and how soon can you start asking 'how high' when I tell you to jump?"

I clench my teeth behind my lips, trying not to lose it. "How do I know you didn't already tell him everything?"

"Uhh, if that were the case, would you be sitting around sipping a latté and looking at pictures of sheep grazing, or crammed in a running dryer?"

My poker face starts to falter. "I'll just tell Paula you're blackmailing me. She'll throw you in a cell so fast-"

"Aw, you think you've got connections now? You gonna tell your nice little ready-made family what I've got on you? If there's one thing that makes Paula go stone cold crazy, it's a cheater like her no-account daddy...and we know how well you take rejection," he smiles, holding up a picture of my face after Olivia left the laundromat. "Listen, Cole...I'm really a decent guy. I'm down with a little browsing at the Gap. You know, the Age Gap? I would totally do Mrs. Richards into the morrow, she is one hot toddy. But I always wondered..when I stick my tongue down her throat, will I get a contact buzz?"

My hands shoot out and wrench him hard by the collar.

He just smiles. "Oh, did I hit a nerve? I knew it. How sweet."

"You're psychotic."

"At least I don't need to make creepy subliminal message tapes to get laid," he grins. "Really, what is up with that? I find some odd things in people's bushes. Hedges, I should say, in case your mind was going anywhere else."

"Why don't you go dig around for a life!"

"Why don't you just worry about your own, St. Blown. And by the way, you're not the only one about to get erased here. There's no telling what Greg would do to both of you if he saw this little lint fire." He holds up a picture of Olivia. "Imagine what these vibrant eyes would look like when they're pleading for air. Fixed on the ceiling while they go completely still...lights out. Fare thee well, Cole...these violent delights have violent ends," he chokes in a terrible English accent.

I let him go, my stomach and lungs filling with solid ice. I'm robbed of words for a long time, staring into the photo.

"...what do I have to do...?" I barely hear myself asking.

"Good boy. That's exactly right, it's what you have to do, so your English setter can live a long, healthy life with Gregory. You're going to visit the police station, break into the evidence locker, and get me the Deschanel jewels."

My face says it all and he barks, "Ah-ah! Not a 'but,' not a word. Every precious stone present and accounted for. You've got forty-eight hours...more than enough time for the best in the business. Otherwise, it's showtime, immediately followed by closing credits."

He holds up a photo of Olivia and me and rips it straight down the intersection of our lips, and as if Connors is some sort of voodoo shaman, I instantly taste blood. I'll do anathing to pull off this heist. Cut open a metal grate with my teeth. Swim under the station in an underground river, breathing through a straw.

It might work. It just might work.

...to be continued...