Seven Hundred Dollar Handcuffs
“Hey! Are you okay?”
His voice filtered up through my senses. Pain thundered through my skull and rang in my ears so that he sounded like he was calling to me across a distance. He wasn’t though. He was right beside me.
Actually, we were handcuffed together.
I stuffed my hand into my hair. There was blood. Head injuries always looked so much worse than they were. I was probably lying in a pool of blood. Squinting, I looked around. The light was gray and my vision blurred.
“Is there a lot of blood?” I whispered.
“Is there a bad bump?”
I glared at him. “But…”
His expression was amused, but he had looked like he was pleased by everything that happened that night. He had a smile on his lips and a chuckle in his throat. That was one of the most annoying things about him. He even looked like that when I held a gun to his back. He had smiled at me over his shoulder.
He was grinning like that now as he looked down at me. “Feeling sorry you didn’t put up more of a fight?” he asked.
“How did you know?” I said, my voice garbled as I coughed.
He was so loathsome. The whole time he had been insisting that he was Fletcher Litman when both Natalie and I knew he was Collin Criche… the biggest loser, liar, weasel I had ever even heard about.
“What’s your name?” he continued.
“And what did you do to land yourself here, stuck together with me?”
I sighed. “It’s not important.” I needed to talk as little as possible. “Can you think of a way to get out of here?”
“No. The last thing I tried,” he said, picking up a brick, “didn’t go so well for me.”
Ironically, it was a brick just like the one that had made the crater in the back of my head. Natalie said she was on her way to the police station to tell them all about the kidnapping and she had handcuffed me to the loser/liar to make sure I didn’t bolt. If I actually believed her, I would have been terrified. If I was a betting woman (and sometimes I was) I bet that Natalie drove to town and got a hamburger at a twenty-four-hour drive-though. After raising her blood sugar, she would have thought twice about going to the police. When she felt better, she would come back to the deserted campground we had brought the liar/loser to and probably try to make a deal with the aforementioned weasel/rascal that didn’t involve the police.
The way I saw things, even with my banged-in head, the solution was quite simple. I just needed to get the rascal/weasel and I out of the wretched camp kitchen. Breaking the handcuffs shouldn’t be too hard, considering where I bought them. Then I needed to get him away from the campground and conveniently ‘lose’ him somewhere on the road back to town.
I looked at the brick he was bouncing in his palm.
In the camp kitchen, there was a really old stove with a chimney, intended for cooking. Since it was a million years old, the weasel/liar had his hand in a hole in the bricks and the other end of the handcuffs were hooked around an even older grill. Natalie and I had done what we could to make sure he couldn’t dislodge it. Unlucky for me, I quarreled with Natalie and now my hand was on the other side of the chimney so that I was practically sitting in the fireplace, handcuffed to the most loathsome man. What can I say? I didn’t gamble on her being spunky enough to hit me in the head with a brick.
“So, you reefed on your handcuff and brought some of the loose chimney blocks down on you?”
“Yup,” he said pleasantly.
I must have missed that when I was outside arguing with Natalie. I didn’t know he’d made the slightest attempt at escape. It made me like him better because it made him seem more like a prisoner. This whole time he’d acted so… happy about being with us… like being kidnapped by Natalie and me was his idea of a party.
I was just about to crawl as far as I could into the fireplace to see if I could get us uncuffed when I noticed the loser/weasel smiling at me again. Was I wrong? Did he already know that I was the girl in the ski mask with the horrible British accent who ordered him around with a gun?
“I’m sorry if I’m staring,” he said, a mite flustered. “I just can’t figure out why you’re here, Shannon.”
“Well, when you brought me in here, you two asked me all sorts of questions like why wouldn’t I sign the contract and why I was such a *********** All questions that make no sense to me because I’m not Collin. You went out. I didn’t hear your fight, but then she attacked you. She dragged you in here, handcuffed you to me and we’re done? The chubby one left us here?”
“‘The chubby one?’” I repeated. Was that what he thought of Natalie? Well, she had been wearing a ski mask, but she wasn’t fat. She was just really strong, hence she had been able to knock me out with a brick. But she’d never called anyone chubby. Yeah, this was why he was a loser/rascal. He only thought about women in terms of their weight. “Someone asked you why you were a ********* and you wondered why?”
He chuckled, his voice unreadable. “Do you think she’s coming back?”
I shrugged noisily.
“Why does that tick you off so much? That I called that woman chubby. She kidnapped me! I could call her a lot worse things, but chubby ticks you off? You were attacked by her.”
I huffed angrily. “Yeah, well, I might not be very fond of her, but I’m really not fond of a man who only thinks about a woman’s sexual appeal.”
“And your boyfriend never thought about any of that stuff when he got together with you?”
That did it. I turned myself so my face was out of the fireplace and I could see his horrible, smug expression. “I don’t have a boyfriend, Collin.”
He smiled. “You look more beautiful without your ski mask on. Did you know?”
My face went red, crazy red. I turned my back on him, but he kept talking.
“I’m not Collin. Collin is the agent for the band, Stark Mad? So, the band I was playing with is called City of Vines and they were opening for Stark Mad, which is why I was on board their tour bus. I was just saying hi, and when I stepped off the bus, you two grabbed me. You got the wrong guy. I was a replacement drummer for a different band. I don’t have my wallet or my phone, thanks to you and your chubby little friend, but she had her phone and I showed her my profile and what I do and convinced her that although I bear a startling resemblance to Collin Criche, I’m not him. Then I gave her my money clip to handcuff the two of us together and leave. Lovely, isn’t it?”
I swallowed hard. “How much cash did you give her?”
“You had that much on hand? What is wrong with you?”
“It was my pay for a week’s worth of drumming. They paid me in cash like twenty minutes before you two picked me up.”
I felt like screaming. Natalie owed money everywhere. Only seven hundred to sell me out? “You promised her you wouldn’t go to the police?”
“Yes, and I won’t. Not on her and not on you.”
She probably would have sold me out as long as he promised not to go to the police. The money had been a nice bonus.
“So, Fletch,” I said, steaming and feeling like I’d caught an even bigger weasel/creep than I’d originally guessed. “Why do you want to be handcuffed to me in a camp kitchen?”
“This might sound weird,” he said, his face still out of my view, “but I’ve heard about you.”
“Heard what from who?” I snapped.
“I’m cousins with Simeon Crew.”
I refrained from making the tiniest sound. I knew Simeon. He was what I would have termed as a lifer, meaning that he had pursued me off and on for two and a half years. I called all the guys who chased me for over a year, without any encouragement from me, lifers. No one ever lasted longer than three years. Simeon reached his limit and said goodbye a few months ago, which was fine by me. I didn’t keep Simeon around to flatter my ego, even though that was what he did. He had been a decent guy.
The thought gave me the sudden, unhappy, idea that his cousin must be a good guy too if he wanted to chastise me.
“So, what do you want?” I asked coldly.
“I just want to see what it was about you that Simeon found so loveable.”
I stuck my head around the corner and poked my tongue out at him. “Are you finding it?”
He smiled. He had me exactly where he wanted me.
“Or are you going to tell me how awful I am and how no man could ever love me. Don’t hold back. I’ve heard it all before. You should start with my butt. That’s where they always start.”
“I didn’t spend seven hundred dollars to badmouth you to your face. I’m here to correct you.”
I nearly died. “‘Correct me?’”
“Yeah. Do you think it’s okay to treat people like that? Simeon loved you. Why treat his heart like your personal dishrag?”
“Look,” I said, preparing to defend myself. “I was not as bad to him as he’s obviously let on. Let me tell you the system.”
“The system?” he asked with disbelief.
“Yes. The system. You’re going to hate me when you hear it, but you might as well get the whole story from my perspective. Everywhere I go, it seems like every guy I meet likes me.”
Fletch didn’t snort. He looked at me evenly, which helped me like him better.
I continued. “But doesn’t that seem arrogant? To naturally assume that every guy who meets me is instantly infatuated? I am full of myself, but even so, that seems crazy. Some guys are just flirty. They probably treat every woman they meet like that, right? So no matter what overtures of affection a man might put on for me, I always assume it’s nothing until he says something serious.”
“Like, ‘I’m in love with you’ or ‘will you be my girlfriend?’”
“So how do you treat a guy before he says those things?”
“Like nothing. I don’t hold hands with him or kiss him at the door, or anything. Usually, I have a collection of guys I classify this way. Everything they do seems to indicate that they like me, but until they say so, I wait.”
“Then what happens once he does say something?”
“Usually, I say what I think, which is that I’m not interested. All the time that he’s been hanging out, I’ve been figuring out whether or not I think we’d make a good couple. In all fairness, even if I was only reading his online bio instead of meeting him in person, the answer would be the same. Whoever he is, he isn’t what I want.”
“So, what happened with Simeon, exactly?”
“Yeah.” Fletch’s face was set.
“Same thing. He came around. I thought it was nothing much until one night we were watching TV. It was time for him to head home and he started talking.”
“You know, that I was so beautiful I took his breath away.”
“Wait. That sounds like an okay line to me.”
“It is,” I conceded. “It just would have been better coming from a different man. He was a little different than the other guys though, as in he didn’t demand a monogamous relationship with me. If he had, I would have thrown him out the door. He didn’t say he loved me. He didn’t say he wanted anything. He merely expressed an appreciation for my appearance and that he wished our relationship was something more. I don’t deal in that kind of ambiguous crap, so I let him go home without acknowledging a confession of any kind.”
“Did you ever kiss him?”
Fletch looked surprised. “I owe you an apology. All this time whenever he spoke about you it sounded like you two were dating, and you were blowing hot and cold. Were you dating him?”
“I went on dates with him, but there was never any kind of commitment. And I resent the accusation that I blow hot and cold. I only blow cold.”
“Were you aware that he was deeply in love with you?”
I rolled my eyes. “It may seem snotty to you, but I can hardly keep track of all the guys who are deeply in love with me. Sometimes, men, I would barely call acquaintances, have confessed that they love me. I have other things to occupy my mind with rather than bothering with what a man might be thinking when he can’t be bothered to open his mouth.”
“So Simeon never had a chance with you and all along his feelings have just been a sad unrequited love?”
I nodded. Then I examined Fletch’s ponderous face, hoping our conversation had reached its conclusion. “Does that mean we’re done? Look, I’m sorry we picked you up if you were the wrong guy.”
“Does that mean you’re going to go kidnap the right guy if I let you go?”
“No. That was something I was helping Natalie with, but let’s be clear, if there was such a thing as the ‘right’ guy for me, I’d kidnap him if I wanted to.” I winked.
I put my head back in the fireplace to see if I could figure out how to unchain us when he suddenly said, “We’re not quite done. You have to tell me exactly what is wrong with Simeon.”
“Doesn’t that seem a bit grueling to you? I mean, would you honestly want to hear every detail as to why a woman didn’t want you?”
“You’re sick. Simeon is a great guy, but his being a great guy isn’t a good enough reason for me to date him or fly to the moon with him. It is a matter of compatibility. Unfortunately, loads of men just see something pretty and they think that’s the woman for them. They don’t know what they want.” I grabbed the grate and started yanking on it. “I hate watching sports on TV. The sound of it rankles my nerves and every time he came over, he would turn the game on. Did he ever tell you that I used to kick him out of my apartment for that? I could never live with someone who liked watching sports on TV, and why should he turn me into Lady MacBeth by making him watch his favorite thing on the tiny screen of his phone with his earbuds in? We’re incompatible. He should be with someone who enjoys the same things he does.”
“Well, what do you enjoy?”
I made a face at him. “I never tell.”
He laughed. “You never tell people what you like?”
“No. I never do. If I do, I know men who will turn themselves inside out to be whatever I want. Though I do think that telling Simeon to turn off the TV before my ears started bleeding should have been enough of a hint.”
“Wait. Are you telling me that you and he hung out for years and he never knew what you like?”
“Of course. Did you know that the word ‘romance,’ the word ‘seduction,’ and the word ‘mystery’ all mean the same thing? Once someone knows all about you, the romance will be over. Not the love, the romance.”
“You’re scared to let go of the romance because if someone really knew you, they couldn’t possibly love you?”
It was in that second that I realized I had laid myself bare in front of someone I shouldn’t have. My theories about dating weren’t exactly top secret, but I didn’t realize they could be used to dissect me. I had always thought my taste in books, my hobbies, my passions, and my professional ambitions were the things to keep quiet about. He had seen through me. It was a particularly distasteful experience.
I withdrew from him.
“I’m sorry. You’re not wrong… about Simeon,” his mellow voice sounded from the other side of the chimney. “If you’re not compatible with him then he didn’t do anything wrong and neither did you. Also, it sounds like he wasn’t very daring in love. If he had been, you would have rejected him and he would have started to heal much sooner. You really don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”
I didn’t dare look at him.
“You see, he mentioned you almost every time I saw him. After I heard you’d dumped him, I wanted to get you alone, so I could set you straight. This conversation has been a revelation. I thought you were the kind of girl who dumped guys for kicks. You’re just looking for the right man for you and he hasn’t shown up. Am I right?”
“I guess,” I mumbled. I got on my knees in the fireplace and started looking at the grate more carefully. It looked like I might be able to get my handcuffs unhooked if I bent one of the bars. It was pretty tough iron and the nosy man wasn’t at an angle where he could help. I messed with it for a few minutes without success when I heard him say something. It was a muffle. “What was that?” I asked, coming out for a break. My hands were sweating.
“Want to try something with me?”
“Are you going to try pulling on the handcuffs instead of letting me do all the work?”
He chuckled. “Why would I do that? They’re still doing what I want them to.”
“You haven’t got what you want out of me yet? What’s left?”
“A date? With Simeon? I’ve been on tons of dates with Simeon. He’s had his chance. Leave me alone.”
“You’ve got the wrong idea,” Fletch corrected. “Obviously a date with Simeon is ridiculous. I’m talking about a date with me.”
I groaned. “Now you’ve got romantic ideas about me? Forget them. I’m not for you.”
“Do you already have someone in mind?”
I shook my hand. “No. It’s just that you’re a drummer. I already told you that noise bothers me. The only thing I can think of that would be worse than dating a guy who liked watching football is a drummer. The idea makes the inside of my ears hurt like someone just shoved a needle in each one.”
He blinked. “You get more intriguing by the moment. I don’t think my drumming should be a barrier between us.”
“I’m actually a xylophone player with the city orchestra. I was just doing the drumming as a side thing. It was a favor for a friend. Trust me, if you were my girlfriend, you wouldn’t be touring sleazy bars and packing drum kits.”
I paused and let my breath out slowly. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? “You have the keys to the handcuffs, don’t you?”
“What are you going to do when you unlock the handcuffs?”
“Neither of us has a car here. My ride was Natalie. I have no other mode of transport other than the bus, and I don’t think we’re on a bus route in this camp kitchen.”
“Do you have your phone?”
“If I had my phone I wouldn’t have tolerated your little interrogation. I would have called for help immediately. I have a head injury! Natalie was my ride, my phone is in her car, and since she thinks blunt force trauma is now a part of our friendship, even if I found a phone, I really don’t want to call her.”
“Is she your roommate?”
“Okay, relax. I’ll unlock us and we’ll figure something out.”
He produced the key from his pocket, reached up to unlock the handcuffs and promptly dropped the keys. I couldn’t see where they landed. I only heard the sound of them clattering on the cement floor.
We were right the first time. He was the worst.
I didn’t say anything while he fumbled around trying to get the keys.
“You know what I think?” I finally said, after pondering the situation for a good five minutes.
“I think the only reason you want to date me is to show Simon, and anyone else, that you can. I’m a trophy and you want to win me, just so you can show that you’re better than them. You don’t know me. I didn’t enchant you. You only know me by reputation, and that reputation is what you actually want to date and not me. You’re confused though.”
He didn’t reply. He was embarrassed about dropping the keys and was still wriggling the toe of his boot to try to pull the keys within reach.
“You’re confused…” I continued when he didn’t respond, “because you don’t recognize that getting together with me would not be winning anything. I’m not actually fun. I’m like a cat that looks adorable in the shelter and you take it home expecting it to give you love and cuddles and it only scratches the hell out of your furniture. You said it, if anyone really knew me, they couldn’t love me.”
“Your argument is interesting, but it won’t make me change my mind,” he said triumphantly as he swept the keys up in his palm. “I didn’t ask you to marry me. I just want to see you in all your glory. I want to see what you’re like when you pour on the charm. Is that too much to ask?”
“Oh!” I exclaimed. “That sounds amazing!”
“It does?” he asked curiously as he successfully unlocked the handcuffs.
“Yes, it does!” I turned to face him. He looked a bit battered. We had just spent the night in a deserted camp kitchen, and he looked less sleek than he did when we kidnapped him, but he had some appeal: a touch of attractiveness at his lips, in his smile.
“Because, I’m always worried about taking things too far, being too charming, looking too good, being all that a man wants so completely that if I leave him, he’ll never get over me. I’m always holding back, but if you just want to see what I’m like out on a date, I can be all those things I never get to be… and you’ll know. You’ll know I’m putting on a show and that will be it. It sounds really fun.”
“So you’ll go on a date with me?”
“Yes! It’s only one date.” I got up off my butt and looked around. “Although, you do have to get me home first.”
“I’ll be honest, I don’t even know where we are.”
“We’ll work it out. Is Friday night good for you? It’s good for me.”