Marka figures out that Liz is probably hiding out at her unfinished house. It’s within sight of Sheltering Oaks and easy for her to pretend to be Marka, as no one has seen her. Marka and Rochelle meet up with Shay and tell him where Frank is. He prepares to go after Liz.
The federal agents moved quietly toward Marka’s property.
“Get her out of here,” Shay commanded Rochelle. “Stay with her.”
“Thank you,” he added as an afterthought. “I find myself very fond of this young woman.”
“Me too.” Rochelle took Marka and went back inside. She figured the safest place for her was the secret hallway.
Once inside, Marka insisted on visiting Frank. She kicked up such a fuss, Rochelle decided to allow it. James was there. With luck, Frank would still be unconscious. Marka called James first and found that Frank was sleeping.
“He’s kinda restless. I don’t think he’ll be asleep much longer.”
“Dammit. I was hoping he’d be out at least two hours.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. Frank’s got the tolerance of a horse. He can drink more than me and my brother and still be standing. I’d love to have his metabolism. Where are you?”
“Almost there. We’re at the nurse’s station.”
“I’ll wait out here,” Rochelle said. “Frank doesn’t know me. I don’t want to cause him any distress.” She picked up a chair from the sitting room and carried it with her down the hallway. She plunked it in front of the door. Before Marka went in the room, Rochelle hugged her. “You be careful, baby.”
“I will. Thank you.”
“I find myself fond of you,” Rochelle paraphrased Shay.
“Me too.” Marka smiled.
James was in the living room with the TV on low. He stood when Marka walked in.
“He’s stirring around a little. I can hear him talking. Are those what he’s after?”
“They’re fakes. I didn’t want to risk Liz getting the real thing.” She pulled the industrial rubber band out of her purse and put it around the fake diaries.
“You sure you’re not a spy?” James winked at her.
“Jane Bond, double O seven and a half.” She winked back at him. “I’m going to fix some dinner. It calms me down. You like chicken?”
“I eat anything, Marka. I’m not picky.”
“I thought about fried, but I think hot grease would be a bad idea.” She walked into the kitchen, considering her approach to the meal. Once she decided, she started getting out her ingredients.
James came in and washed his hands. “Put me to work. I’m not bad in the kitchen. I can cook, too.”
Marka giggled. It was so like something Frank would say, she had to laugh. These two men were a lot alike in so many ways—friendly, handsome, outgoing, generous and loyal.
“So, why aren’t you married, James?”
“Me? Didn’t find anyone worthwhile. I kinda had me a crush on Jen. But she was just a kid when I joined the Marines. Then she met Clay and I figured I lost my chance.”
“Why haven’t you asked her out since—since he passed?”
“Marka, she’s all kinda tore up over him. I don’t know if she’ll ever be over it. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to live in another man’s shadow.”
Nodding, Marka smiled. “I can understand that. You haven’t found anyone else since?”
He shook his head. “Small town like this, I know everyone. I’m a stay home kinda guy. I go out with friends and have a drink or two, but truth is, I’m kinda shy.”
Marka turned to him, putting down the knife she’d been using to cut up celery. “You aren’t going to the right bars, then. Because if a guy like you walked into a club where my friends and I were, you’d have to beat those girls off with your nightstick.”
James laughed and snagged a piece of celery off the cutting board. “Really. Introduce me sometime. I guarantee not to beat ’em too hard.”
“When this is over—” A noise in the foyer made her look up.
Frank stood by the bathroom door, unsteady and disoriented. He leaned against the wall, one shoe off, the other in his hand. He wore a T-shirt and jeans instead of the scrubs and hospital gown. James motioned to Marka to put the knife away. She put it in the upper cabinet in front of her, closing the door quietly.
“Hey, buddy. Going out?” James asked calmly.
Frank looked at him, hardly seeming to know him. “I dunno, Jimmy.”
“Why don’t you have a seat, pal? Marka, coffee? This time, make Frank’s plain.”
“Yeah, of course, James. Coming right up.” She’d already set up a pot and hit the start button.
Unsure whether she should join the men, she stayed in the kitchen, waiting. James led Frank to the love seat again.
“Where am I?” Frank asked.
James told him. “Do you remember anything?”
© Dellani Oakes