Sunday, January 16, 2011

Come Back to Where You Belong Part Two (first half)

Come Back to Where You Belong Part Two (first half)

It was a little more than five weeks later when Chloe and Clark were both given the assignment to research from where a local building contractor was siphoning off money for some personal projects for which he had no visible funding. They spent almost three days together looking through all available public documents covering all the listed building contracts he had with the city, trying to find out which jobs he was stealing the funds from and how he was getting away with it.

Jimmy, in the meantime, was kept busy on a photo assignment following the leading candidate in a mayoral political campaign. Even though that assignment kept him out late covering fund-raising dinners, he was still not too busy to notice Chloe’s continued absence from the apartment.

The first night he was too tired to stay awake until she got home; and they were both expected at work too early the next morning and barely had time for a quick cup of coffee and a few bites of their muffins; there was no time for any questions.

The second night he was too thrilled about getting one of his pictures printed on that day’s front page to be angry at how late Chloe arrived home. He barely listened to her quick, frustrated apology about being so late because she had spent the second day in a row in the city hall’s records room and most of both evenings at the downtown library without finding any evidence yet of the fraud they knew existed.

But he did pay attention to her complaint that she had skipped both lunch and dinner that day and was starved. His day had also been without food so they decided on a late dinner at a diner a few blocks from the apartment. Since he spent most of the meal eagerly relaying the events that led up to the shot that made it to the front page, Chloe finally relaxed enough to enjoy the hamburger and fries she had ordered.

As much as she enjoyed working with Clark and his dedication to every detail and his thoroughness in looking through each document, no matter how unimportant it seemed; she worried how Jimmy would react to her close proximity to Clark. Would it matter that she’d had no choice in the assignment or who was assigned with her? She hoped Jimmy had stopped being suspicious, but she feared the calm even as she tried to deny that a storm was brewing.

The last few weeks had been a lot easier with Jimmy, but yesterday she realized how much she’d missed working with Clark; how easily they’d become a team again. A few times she even worried they were close enough for him to read her mind; he somehow always knew what she was trying to say or what direction she wanted to go with their work. She knew most of the time where his ideas were headed also, although she denied there was any significance in the knowledge.

She only worried about slipping up and telling Jimmy too much about what was not going on. He had a way of misinterpreting what she said or how enthusiastically she said it if the name Clark came up anywhere in the conversation. And since everyone knew she and Clark were working together on this assignment, it was only a matter of time before Jimmy would want to bring it up.

She had seen the quick flash of anger that morning as he’d passed Clark’s desk on the way to get more film for his camera out of his desk. He had even ignored Clark’s cordial, “Good morning, Jimmy!” as he’d left.

She quietly mumbled thanks to whatever Fates had given her at least another day’s reprieve from Jimmy’s jealousy as she devoured her hamburger while listening to his excited explanation of how he ended up taking that picture. She was actually proud of him; this was the Jimmy she’d first been attracted to, this happy person who loved photography above all else and delighted in sharing it with her.

Late in the afternoon of the third day, Chloe suddenly jumped up from her desk and enthusiastically hugged Clark who was standing next to her, bent over as he slowly looked through a folder of invoices they had ‘borrowed’ from one of the contractor’s company accountants. Clark’s quick reaction kept the contents of the file from being tossed to the floor by Chloe as she waved one of the invoices practically in his face.

“You were right! Here’s the proof! We knew it! Oh, my God, do you know what this means, Clark?”

Without thinking he was caught up in her uninhibited delight and hugged her back.

He forgot that touching her wasn’t allowed. He forgot that she didn’t belong to him anymore. He would wonder later where the thought that she was ever his had come from, but at the moment the possessiveness that filled his heart felt as right as the tightly clinging arm around his neck.

What a foolish man was he to have once been the recipient of so many of her warm, generous loving hugs, to not know how much he would miss them if she stopped holding him close? How could he have forgotten how it felt to be loved by this woman? How could he have ever let her go?

He had missed being in her arms so much he forgot that Jimmy sat just four desks away uploading onto his computer the pictures he’d taken that day.

As suddenly as she’d embraced him, Chloe slipped out of his arms and directed his attention to the invoice she held in her hand, “It’s a complete fake! I can’t believe we didn’t think of this possibility two days ago! All those boring documents we went through!”

Clark quickly realized her withdrawal from his embrace came just in time to stop an obviously very angry Jimmy from coming any closer to them and causing a scene. He gave Clark a clear ‘keep your hands off my girl’ warning look as he slowly returned to the desk he’d vacated as soon as he saw Clark holding Chloe much too tightly.

Clark wished for a moment that Jimmy had come at him. He would have felt better knowing Jimmy would take his anger out on him right then and there and not on Chloe later on. He was at a complete loss as to what to do and just followed Chloe’s lead as she pointed out the things she saw wrong with the invoice.

He pretended the embrace meant nothing. He pretended he hadn’t always known that she’d once loved him.

It wasn’t the first time he’d lied about his feelings for Chloe. But it was the first time that he didn’t shy away from admitting to himself that it was a lie. Even as he listened to her, his heart was lecturing him on the danger he had just put her in. Why couldn’t he tell her the truth and beg her not to go home with Jimmy? His mind couldn’t seem to slow down, going in too many different directions, but no solution that she would accept came to him.

His troubled thoughts were stopped as she started explaining what she was pointing at. “This invoice doesn’t include any type of discount as do all the others. The company address is only a post office box and there is not even a telephone number. There is no purchase order number listed. The copy of what supposedly is the purchase order that’s attached has no approval signature like all the others. No proof of delivery signature, or verification of the material count. Only a check number and date payment was made. There is no copy of a lien release. And… from double checking all the bids that were accepted for this job, this company is not listed anywhere.”

She stopped to take a deep breath. Clark could tell she was trying to calm her nerves. Even though she’d had her back to Jimmy, she probably knew he had witnessed her throwing herself into Clark’s arms.

In a calmer voice a minute later, she continued. “I know that one invoice, even for this large amount of money, isn’t complete proof, but I’ll bet there’s at least one invoice from this company on every job he’s involved with. What do you think we’ll find, Clark, if we can track the check this invoice was paid with?”

Clark smiled as he guessed, “If he’s smart, we’ll probably find it was cashed, the signature probably unreadable. I don’t think he would deposit it into an account that could be traced back to him. Although for that amount of money, he probably does have an account at the bank it was cashed at. More than likely a bank teller is an accomplice. And I wonder how well he covered his tracks with that post office box? Unless someone else opened it for him, I bet it can be traced back to him. I can make a field trip out to that town tomorrow to check it out.”

“And I’ll check all the other job invoices to see if this company name shows up on any of the others and of course, I’ll find a way to research the bank statements to find that check and any others written to that company.”

They both grinned with relief, “Nice work, Chloe!” Clark finally said.

“Thanks, but you know I couldn’t have done it alone. So thank you, too!” she replied as she started packing all the files together, “I’ll make the necessary copies and you can return all these tomorrow.”

An hour later, as he watched her leave the Daily Planet basement office with Jimmy, he wished with all his heart that she was happy and that Jimmy understood what a treasure she was and would stop abusing her.

But unfortunately, he’d stopped believing that wishes came true by the time he was five years old and knew he’d be following them home and keeping close enough to their apartment just in case Jimmy was still angry.

Chloe and Jimmy stopped at a diner for a very quiet meal. Clark left the Daily Planet and took off in the opposite direction to get his own dinner. He did not listen to their conversation at all. He tried hard not to spy on them because he knew that Chloe would hate him for it. He had resolved after the last useless rescue attempt that he would only intervene if she called for his help, whether by voice, uncertain heartbeat, or by the sound of her tears.

But this time there were no tears...



Come Back to Where You Belong Part Two (Second Half - well, the very short, rest of Part Two...)

It was Jimmy’s yelling that alerted Clark and a muffled scream from Chloe that sprang him into super speed racing from half a dozen blocks away.

He had only a second of clarity in the midst of his panic, and knocked loudly on their apartment door instead of crashing through it. Jimmy, with one hand holding onto Chloe’s right arm, opened it and instantly turned his anger on Clark, “How the hell do you always know when we’re having a disagreement? Are you stalking us? And how do you always get here so fast?”

Slamming the door shut to keep out any curious neighbors, as Clark rushed into the apartment past Jimmy, he looked from Clark to Chloe and then back at Clark, and it dawned on him, “You’re a damned meteor freak! Just like her, aren’t you? You people make me sick!”

He tried to toss Chloe away from him and she lost her balance. Clark grabbed Jimmy by the shirt collar and pulled him away from her and got to Chloe to catch her in his arms before she hit the floor. “I’ve got you. I’m taking you away; he’s not getting another chance to hurt you ever again.”

He searched her tear-filled eyes as she finally gave up her failed attempt at trying to stop them from falling.

She’d held back the tears.

He suddenly understood why. And it sickened him.


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