Samantha Edwards - Gifts
Trepidation filled Sam's heart as she sat behind the steering wheel of her black Camero. The car had been a gift from her parents when she first made the force and was her most prized possession. Her mother hadn't wanted her to become a cop, was afraid she would lose her only child, but both of her parents had been so proud of her that day. Sam wondered if they would still be proud if they knew how she had thrown away all they had taught her for a man she doubted they would even approve of. Not that she had planned on falling in love, those who thought you could choose who you fell in love with were fools. Still they could, rightfully, say she was in control of how she handled the situation.
This was the first time she would see Jeff since telling him the truth about being an undercover narcotics officer with the Tampa police department and how the department had thought to use Jeff's weakness for gorgeous red heads to their advantage in order to get her close to their real target, his father. Sam could still picture the hurt on Jeff's face when he realized she had been using him. It didn't matter she risked throwing her career away by confessing the deception, the damage was already done, Jeff would never trust her again. At least that was what Sam thought until he called saying he wanted to see her.
Gathering a small wrapped package and a bottle of red wine she had bought as a peace offering Sam stepped out into the warm night. Though winters in Florida were always mild this one had been warmer than usual and Sam found it hard to believe it was already Christmas Eve. Watching all the Christmas specials on TV showing snow, fires crackling merrily away in fireplaces, and people bundled against the cold it felt wrong she had needed to run the air conditioner earlier that day. Maybe when she retired she would move somewhere that had real seasons and not just a week or two of cool weather with the other fifty being various degrees of hot.
Sam had been surprised when Jeff called asking her to meet him for dinner at his place. His reaction to her confession had left her feeling he never wanted to see her again. That this could be a setup had crossed her mind but she didn't believe Jeff would ever hurt her even if he felt betrayed. He wasn't his father, who had been known to kill over the tiniest of slights. There were stories of course but there always were in a family such as his and she didn't believe them. He had never been anything but kind to her and even when she had told him the truth he hadn't so much as raised his voice to her. All he had done was told her to get out, that he never wanted to see her again. That had been almost a week ago and she had just about given up hope.
The smell of the bay was strong though she couldn't see it, the building housing Jeff's condo standing between her and the open water. Not that there was much to see even if the building hadn't been in the way. There were no vast beaches or anything else one might expect when told the condo was on the bay. The only thing of beauty were the trees in the swath of land between the sidewalk and the road and at night the lights of downtown could be quite beautiful but neither of those could make up for how bad the bay could smell at times like tonight. There were a few gorgeous houses, including the one belonging to Jeff's parents, as well but none of them could be seen from the windows facing the bay.
It was still early enough Sam didn't have to have Jeff buzz her in but she stopped at the security panel and entered the code for his apartment anyway. If he had changed his mind about seeing each other she would rather not be facing him in person. It was enough to see his disappointment in her the first time around and it wasn't an experience she wanted to relive. Her fears turned out to be unfounded as Jeff's rich baritone came through the tinny sounding speaker and told her to come on up. Why fancy places like this that spent a fortune on security always had speakers that made people sound as if they were on the other end of a tin can and string phone she didn't know. Maybe it was because no one had ever thought about how the system sounded as long as it kept out the undesirables. The thing was, Sam knew at least a dozen people who would be able bypass the building's security measures and be inside within minutes and no one would be the wiser. But as long as the people inside felt secure she guessed it was doing its job.
Sam took the elevator to the twelfth floor, Jeff could have had one of the condos on the top floor but said he thought it too pretentious, shifting her weight from side to side in her nervousness. The ride up was smoother than she remembered, the last time she'd been here it had jerked and bucked the entire time. Thinking about it, it had probably been fixed the next day, that was if maintenance hadn't been called in that night. These rich folk didn't tolerate things that could inconvenience them not working. The short hall leading to Jeff's condo was as she remembered it, lush carpeting on the floor, a few tasteful paintings on the walls, and a couple of tables with real potted plants, not the artificial ones found in most places. They were a lush green and Sam wondered if they had a professional come in to take care of them or if someone on the building's staff just had a green thumb.
She hesitated before knocking on Jeff's door wondering what had brought about his change of heart. She hoped it was because he missed her but she'd be naive if she didn't consider other possibilities. He might want to talk her into dropping the investigation on his father or he might have told his father about her and his father wanted to learn how much the department knew. The fact she had told Jeff who she was gave him leverage over her and she knew it. She almost regretted the decision to tell him but it was too late for second thoughts. What was done was done and she would have to live with it.
The door opened to Jeff's handsome face and Sam forgot all her regrets. It might have been foolish to blow her cover but she would do it again if it meant being with him. He took the bottle of wine from her and, opening it to allow it to breath, put it on the dining table between two large candles. It was set perfectly for a romantic dinner for two and Sam relaxed. It looked like he had missed her after all.
"Is this for me?" He asked plucking the package from her hands and placing on a small table before taking her in his arms for a kiss.
"Maybe." Sam said teasing when she could breath again.
"Maybe? Did you think someone else was going to be here tonight?" Jeff asked, quirking his brow.
Sam shook her head. "You know the answer to that."
Jeff smiled. "That I do. I have something for you too." He went to the bedroom and returned with a small wrapped package.
"Merry Christmas." He said handing it to her. As she took it, a little box wrapped in bright blue paper with little white snowflakes, his arms encircled her waist and he bent in for another kiss. She closed her eyes, clinging tightly to the little box - the little ring-sized box - and lost herself to the moment.
And when she opened her eyes, he was gone. Standing before her, in an apartment that was ruined, mold-infested, with the entire living room wall just *gone* and birds hopping about on the ruined and rotting leather couch, was another man. He had pale, pale skin, sleek black hair that brushed back from his forehead and temples and bright blue eyes. Bright, bright blue eyes above a large nose and a grin that couldn't be normal. His teeth were just *huge*, like the teeth you'd find for sale for Halloween, the ones marked "Hillbilly" in a crinkling cellophane package with the picture of a drooling moron in overalls on it.
His lips were pulled back, grinning, grinning.
"Merry. Christmas. Sammy." he said, biting each word off with a soft clicking of those teeth. "But a happy New Year might be ouuuuuuut of the question!"
On instinct Sam reached for her gun but it wasn't at the small of her back where she normally kept it and it took her a moment to remember she had begun carrying it in a purse for this assignment. Now she wished she hadn't succumbed to habit. It occurred to her Jeff might have drugged her and she were tripping but she hadn't been in his apartment long enough to eat or drink anything. The only other explanation she could think of, that she was having some sort of psychotic break, she didn't even want to contemplate. If she had been drugged this would all be over in a few days at most. If it was a psychotic break who knew how long it would last.
For now she would play along and see what happened. "Who the hell are you supposed to be? The Joker?"
The man spread white fingered hands before him and regarded her with a solemn expression. But he was still smiling. "Do I look," he replied slowly, "the joking type?" Off to their side, several of the birds took flight, croaking raucously , huge speckled wings thrashing at the air.
"No, you don't. But then, neither does the Joker." She knew it was a silly thing to say but the whole situation made little sense. There was no way any of this could be real and as long as she didn't let herself panic she should make it through whatever was happening to her.
The man clasped his hands behind his back, manic grin still in place, and watched the birds fly through what had once been Jeff's living room wall, and was now a long drop to the ground. He rocked forward and back on his heels, humming some sort of diddy or tune that Samantha had never heard before. Jeff's apartment was simply gutted: mold and burn marks were everywhere, his furniture lay in rotting heaps. She could just make out the massive aluminum refrigerator through the entranceway into the kitchen. It had been Jeff's pride and joy, and now it too was tarnished, one door hanging open at an angle, a few tupperware containers of something black could barely be seen.
"It was a ring," he finally said. Then he giggled. "He was leaving her for you." He glanced at her out of the corner of one gimlet eye. "You should open it. Opensy Wopensy"
Samantha looked down at the package she was still clutching. It could very well be a ring box but this joker was making no sense. There had been no one else in Jeff's life when they'd met and she was sure she would have known if he had met someone since. For now she would play along, it wasn't like she had much choice until whatever was in her system had run its course. She carefully tore the cheerful paper and peeked inside.
Inside was a fine platinum chain, gleaming against a rich dark purple velvet. Upon the chain, about the size of a penny, was the outline of a fluffy silver cloud. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry, and she'd seen some pretty things in her life. "No ring," said the stranger. "Oh well, the weddings off then. I'll call the caterer toot sweet. Wait!" He scampered, (so that was what a scamper looked like) into the apartment and disappeared behind the bedroom door. A moment later he was back, holding a skull in one hand like a puppet. He worked the jaws and said "I wuv you honey bunny! Won't you mawwy me?" His teeth gleamed, his eyes glittered, and Samantha felt a chill go down her back.
Okay, this was a bit too much. She slipped the necklace around her neck so she wouldn't lose it, it wasn't a ring but it was the best gift she'd ever received, and she sure as hell didn't want to lose it while she was out of it. The moment the little cloud settled upon her neck, the very moment, everything went black. There was in insane sense of vertigo, as though she had been dangled over an impossibly high ledge over an chasm whose depths had swallowed suns. Her stomach dropped into her shoes, then rammed nearly up into her throat, and she had to swallow bile as her hands flailed around, seeking anything to hold onto. And then her ass hit a chair, the darkness cleared, and she found herself sitting at a pentagonal wooden table in a five-sided room...
(end of scene)