ACROSS THE STREET, James Brandon waited until Claire's friends were out of sight before getting out of his car. With brisk, long strides, he caught up with Claire, just as she was about to enter the pizzeria. He was dressed in black, with his shirt opened at the collar.
"Dr. Brandon! What are you doing here?" she asked surprised, stopping to face him.
"Whatever happened to James? I was here in the neighbourhood meeting an old acquaintance, who works in this building," he lied. "I was just coming down the stairs to go to my car, when I saw this familiar, beautiful lady go by, and I said to myself, `James, looks like you're in luck tonight. Maybe you could talk the lady into having a drink with you.' So how 'bout it, gorgeous?" he asked; the look on his face designed to melt the hardest of hearts. "Besides, you look like you could do with something to relax you just about now."
"Sorry you're out of luck doctor. I just turned down Lisa's and Rob's invitation to do the same." Claire responded coolly, and started to enter the pizzeria, but James placed a detaining hand on her upper arm halting her.
"What a pity," he sighed, mimicking a British accent. "Are yer really going to be so heartless and force this lonely fellow to drink all by himself tonight? C'mon, sweetie, loosen up, eh? It's Saturday night, and it's not as if you have to get up for work in the morning. One drink, I solemnly promise," he persuaded. "Haven't I always been on my best behaviour with you, after that disastrous encounter in the hospital, which I thought I'd made up for? It can't be that after all this time you still don't trust me?" He affected a tone of injury, while that disarming smile lingered on his lips. "Please kind lady, do take pity on a lonely gentleman doctor."
"What's this?" she sniggered, gently shrugging his hand off her. "The all around playboy doctor hard up for female companionship! Incredible! Anyhow, I'm starved. If you'll excuse me for a moment or two, let me get something to eat. I think better on a full stomach." Claire stepped into the pizzeria just as the chef took out a freshly cooked pizza with the works from the oven, laid it down and cut it into slices.
"Whadda ya hava tonight bellisima?" A chubby, florid faced Italian behind the counter greeted Claire with a leering smile, matching the look in his black eyes. He glanced at the doctor who followed Claire into the pizzeria, cleared his throat, and immediately assumed a more businesslike manner.
"Just a slice to go please," Claire informed him coolly. She hadn't missed the crude look in the man's eyes, and suddenly realized she was glad the doctor had followed her.
"Sure theeng signorina," he said, casting a questioning glance at the doctor.
"Make it two slices and two cans of Brio," James interposed.
Claire started to hand the man the five-dollar bill she had borrowed from Lisa, but James beat her to it, handing the man a five-dollar bill of his own.
"B..but James...." Claire started to protest.
"Be quiet woman," he commanded, picking up one slice of the pizza and a can of Brio that the man had put on the counter. Claire took the other and led the way, as James stood aside for her to go out the door. He led her to where he had parked the car, and there they sat and had their pizza and pop.
"Mmmmmmm, that feels so much better. At least it quells the hunger pangs I'd been ignoring all evening..."
"You should start taking better care of yourself young lady. Is this the way you eat on the go all the time?"
"Don't start on me, James," Claire warned him. "I'm not in the mood for a lecture on my eating habits."
"Aren't we touchy tonight? What's wrong?" James questioned, looking at her shadowed profile with narrowed scrutinizing eyes. Claire could have sworn she heard a note of concern in his voice. She wished she could confide in him, but decided the less Dr. James Brandon knew about her, the better, so she shifted the conversation to the theatre.
"I suppose it's just the jitters of having my first leading role as opening night draws nearer, even if our company is just community theatre. On top of that, tonight's rehearsal session was a complete disaster. I even lost my temper and snapped at the chap who's playing 'Oberon', so I owe him an apology. I can do that tomorrow afternoon. I must really be in bad shape. Just listen to the way I'm rambling on," she said self-deprecatingly, before taking another bite of the pizza slice.
"Don't worry about it, we all have those moments," James assured her, then asked with a hint of anxiety, "you have to go back tomorrow?" At least it sounded like that to Claire, and she glanced speculatively at him.
"Yes, we have to make up for tonight's wasted session, and I'll bet Rafe is going to be twice as gruelling with us. In fact, knowing him as we do, he's just as likely to demand we come back every night until then. He even had some of the troupe go into apartment buildings, and hand out brochures. Oh yes, he also had the event advertised on a few radio stations and cable T.V."
"Uh hum," Claire nodded with her mouth full as she took another bite of the pizza. "He aims to make us well known, eventually Stratford material." She informed after chewing and swallowing it.
"What do you think?"
"I have faith in the company's capabilities, but we certainly won't be ready for Stratford or the like, for a long time. Rafe's terribly ambitious, and is trying to move too fast with what is little more than community theatre amateurs. Granted, he has praised the present troupe as being the best he's worked with in a long time, that's why he drives us so hard: Claims he has big plans for us," only I won't be there to see them, if and when they do materialize. The last thought she kept to herself.
Just like I've got big plans for you my sweet, tonight, James smiled insidiously to himself. Claire finished eating, wiped her mouth and hands with two sheets of Kleenex she took from a box on the seat between her and the doctor. She opened the door to get out and dispose of them, along with the paper plate and pop can, in a nearby garbage disposal.
"Where are you going?" James asked, noticing she took her handbag along.
"To dispose of these. Thanks again for the pizza."
"Don't mention it. Come back when you're done."
"Why? I should be going home..." The idea of the drink was forgotten.
"Yes I know, but you should let me drive you. It's only fair since I was the one who kept you back in the first place." It was becoming hard to control the anxiety building up within him as Claire got out of the car, but James managed to keep a casual expression as he heard the note of finality in her voice.
"It's all right, really. I can find my way, just as I've done many times before."
"No Claire!" James' voice suddenly became forceful, as he got out from the car and came around to her. He took the stuff from her and deposited them in the garbage bin, along with his own. As he glanced back toward the theatre, he noticed Rafe and Kenn Michael Harrison talking in front of the theatre. He couldn't hear everything they were saying, but hazarded a guess they were talking about him, especially since Kenn Michael cast a suspicious glance his way. More than ever, James felt a greater urgency to get Claire away, particularly when he noticed the puzzled look on Claire's face as she noticed Kenn Michael looking their way. James didn't think Claire knew the man, but something in the way she looked at his nemesis, bothered James immensely.
"Look, it's dangerous for a young lady to be walking the streets at night by herself. Good Lord, girl! Were you wearing blinders just now in that pizzeria? Couldn't you see how that dirty old fart was literally undressing you with his eyes, even though you were with me? Think Claire, for Chrissakes! What would have happened if you'd been alone? And you'll encounter a lot more and probably worse on the street as you walk home alone." James Brandon almost believed in his desire to protect her from the imaginary harm that could befall her, as he opened the door and bade her enter the car again.
* * * *
FROM THE front of the theatre, Kenn Michael Harrison and Rafe Gaston observed the exchange.
"Look ol' chap yer gotta warn 'er when she comes to rehearsal t'morrow. Man, that bloke she's with, is pure trouble with a capital T. Trust me, please." Kenn Michael turned to his friend and urgently implored him. "He's a nasty piece o' work, that one."
"Bear, eet eez not my place to tell my actors..." Rafe started to protest.
"Look man, yer said yer liked her, an' she's one of the best in yer troupe, d'yer want t'keep it that way? Brandon'll mess 'er up fer sure, if somebody doesn't warn her about 'im."
"All right, I weel talk to 'er. Don't know what good eet weel do, but I weel try," Rafe resigned, unable to refuse Kenn Michael's request in the face of the man's urgency. Rafe took another look at the man in question. Even from where he stood with Jenny under the glare of the streetlight, one couldn't miss it. He stared at his friend, then again at the man. Although the other man was physically larger, the ressemblance was startling.
"Don't even say it ol' chap," Kenn Michael growled, guessing what was on Rafe's mind. "And no, we are not related."
While Rafe turned around and locked the theatre door, Kenn Michael watched James Brandon's silver Porsche drive off with Claire in it beside him, not understanding why his heart plummeted at that moment.
* * * *
CLAIRE LOOKED UP at James and mistakenly read genuine concern in his expression. She trusted him and acquiesced to his request. He was right. She had no business walking down Church Street alone at night. She almost resented Lisa for leaving her alone tonight, because she wasn't sure she wanted to be with James either. The tight knot of tension in her stomach that had plagued her since she awoke this afternoon was still there. On the other hand, she noticed Rafe's friend again trying to figure where she had met him. For the life of her, she couldn't, yet, he seemed so familiar...Oh God could he indeed be… Richard Carlyle's 20th century in…?"
"Ah my sweet Titania," James remarked, giving her no more time to contemplate as he got back into the driver's seat beside her. "There might be an angry Oberon out there, just lying in wait for the fairy queen to capture and torment her." A whimsical note crept into his voice but finished on as something frightening. "And it'll be for something far more devastating than her not letting him have the changeling for his page, so think about it fairy queen."
What difference did it make? She was being saved from one possible wolf somewhere out there on the streets and tossed to another; the wolf in whose hands she was now. Ah, but it did indeed make a helluva lot of difference. This wolf wanted to be the first and only one to ravish her.
"You seem to know something about the play," Claire remarked.
"I've done quite a bit of reading since I got my act together," he replied.
Claire looked contemplatively at him, wondering what he meant, but James offered no explanation. James' eyes met hers and suddenly Claire shuddered. The feelings of revulsion she had initially felt toward him, suddenly washed over her like an icy wave. Claire wondered why she should suddenly feel this way again. James had certainly given her no reason to distrust him any more. If anything, he had been a perfect gentleman since the hospital fiasco. What was wrong with her tonight? Maybe she did need a drink after all. She was cold on a very warm night. She felt as if she were being pulled down by some powerful force, into a dark bottomless abyss, from which there was no escape: Worse yet, she felt powerless to stop whatever it was that was pulling her down.
"Oh dear God, what's happening to me?" she sighed in a low barely audible voice, breaking eye contact with James.
"Are you okay Claire?" James asked, frowning as she lapsed into contemplative silence.
"You really expect me to believe that? I've been watching you for the past few minutes, and it seems as though you're fighting against something within yourself: Something very heavy Claire. What is it?"
"I said I'm fine, really," she snapped, then swiftly apologized, "Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't snap at you like that. It's just that I'm all wound up, I suppose...."
"If this is what the theatre does to you on your first major role, what's going to happen later kiddo? You're a bundle of nerves..."
"Look, does that offer for a drink still stand?" she asked impulsively, but it was as if the words came from someone else. The last thing she should be doing was going out drinking with the doctor tonight.
"I never withdrew it." A satisfied smile curved James thin lips. He started the car and pulled away from the curb, and headed west toward Yonge Street.
"It's ten fifteen now."
"Yes, that gives us over an hour and a half. After all, the convent," with snide emphasis on the word, "closes at midnight."
"I remember clearly telling you eleven during the week, and eleven thirty on weekends." Claire averred.
"Okay, okay, so I was a bit off. A guy's entitled to make a mistake now and then."
"With that attitude, a man in your profession could be in a heap of trouble, especially in the operating theatre."
"Over here it's called operating room, or just plain O.R. my dear." The satisfied smile was still on his lips. James felt on top of the world. Things were going his way, just as he intended. "Yes," he continued in response to Claire's statement, "but we aren't in the process of a medical or surgery now. However, anyhow you take it, we still have over an hour before you turn into a pumpkin, Cinderella."
"Wonderful," Claire muttered sardonically.
* * * *
JAMES TOOK HER TO a bar in the East End where there was no dress code, and there was a band playing as well. After two drinks, potent zombies, James sensed Claire didn't have any real desire to go home as yet. The drinks and the upbeat music worked their magic on her, and the heavy feeling lifted, enough for her to relax as the conversation became light and witty. At one point, he left her alone to go to the men's room, where he also stopped at the payphone and made the call to Helena. He filled her in on what she had to do, and ordered her to be at the residence in the morning when he dropped Claire off.
Again, Helena swore viciously at him.
"I'm warning you, have some respect, bitch. You don't know who you're dealing with," he threatened.
"Why the fuck should I?" Helena snarled on the other end. "You talk to me as if I'm some kind of cheap slut…"
"Are you saying you're not? Be there tomorrow morning or else!" He slammed the receiver down in her ear and returned to his quarry.
Claire agreed when James returned and suggested they take a drive down to the Bluffs, which were close by. He parked the car on a side street and lead Claire through a well-trodden path, leading down to the waterfront. He took the liberty of placing his arm around her shoulder, but Claire shifted away as a cold shudder ripped through her body when he touched her.
"You're not cold by any chance, are you?" James asked with perfunctory concern, knowing the real reason she shuddered was because of physical contact with him: He sensed it wasn't because she was turned on by him, but something else he didn't want to face. Well, he intended to remedy that situation.
From behind a cluster of trees, the water came into view, calm and glassy with a widening path of the full moon's reflection upon it. While the scene produced a feeling of serenity within her, the night was anything but silent. It was filled with the sounds of chirping crickets, croaking frogs, intermittent honking of Canada geese paddling in the water, somewhere in the area a dog barking, and the loud throbbing music of a party in full swing.
As they walked along the well-trodden path on the bluffs, the place almost reminded her of the chalk cliffs along the coast in Lulworth, where she and Lance had walked hand in hand a year ago. Here the land was sloping and lower than the cliffs, which rose to nearly six hundred feet in some places. Off to the right hand, at the bottom of the bluff she could see the lights of Bluffers Park and marina, which James informed her, was reclaimed land created in the same manner as Ontario Place, a man-made island.
"Lance." Claire didn't hear James' words as she thought of her fiancé. She whispered his name almost in panic, as the heavy feeling suddenly descended upon her again. Through the lingering buzz of the zombies, the inherent sense of responsibility and loyalty managed to filter through to her brain, and she remembered she hadn't rung him in Buenos Aires. What am I doing here with Dr. Brandon when I love Lance? Am I out of my bloody mind? She glanced at her watch in the moonlight. "Ohmygawd, it's eleven ten!" she exclaimed. "I've got to be in the residence in twenty minutes!" Claire turned and anxiously, unsteadily darted back in the direction of the car.
"Wait, Claire! Slow down. Injuring yourself wouldn't get you there any faster," James called as he darted after her. She could certainly run fast. Shit! And she was half drunk too! Anything could happen. One false step too near the edge, and she could go plummeting over. "I'd better catch up with her," James muttered to himself as he ran after her.
It took no more than two minutes to reach the car. Claire was gasping for breath as James caught up with her and pulled her into his arms, leaning against the side of the Porsche. James gently rested her head on his chest, tenderly holding her until she regained her breath. "Easy, girl, relax. Listen to your doctor for once," he coaxed soothingly.
My God, it feels like Heaven just holding her like this! James almost cried out. Claire never saw the real tenderness that momentarily softened his expression. Forgive me, but I can't turn back now. I must have her, tonight. I'll love and cherish her. I'll give her everything he can, and more. Dr. James Brandon looked up to the starlit heavens, eyes glistening under the pale glow of the moon, as he silently implored whatever powers that be, to let him have Claire. He would have liked to have her come to him willingly, but he knew there was no chance of that happening. All he knew was that he had to have her.
Even Marianne's dire warning that what he intended to do could backfire, when she spoke to him the day after he first took Claire out, could not penetrate James' resolve or need to have this young woman as his own.
Claire broke away from James and sought further refuge in the comfortable leather upholstered seat beside the driver's, as he opened the car door for her, before walking around to the driver's side and getting in.
"Do you think we'll make it?" she asked, anxiously, praying that by some miracle she would get home on time. The apprehension in the pit of her stomach, told her that her hope for a miracle tonight, was in vain. It was a dread feeling of foreboding even ten zombies wouldn't alleviate now.
"Just relax, poppet, I promise you, somehow we'll make it." James placated her, knowing damn well it was a snowflake's chance in hell of doing so before eleven forty-five: Not unless he wanted a race with the cops. That was one thing James had no intention of doing, since he already had three unpaid speeding tickets in the glove box at this very moment. Another just wouldn't do.
* * * *
THE MILES back to downtown Toronto were covered in anxious silence for one party, while the other was filled with barely controlled exhilaration. As expected, when they arrived the residence was closed for the night, and the lights in the reception room were out. Claire could see the dim glow of lights in the hall leading to the rooms, as they filtered into the darkened reception area. She got out of the car and stepped up to the front door.
Knocking on the door, she hoped Jackie, the female security guard who came in on the weekends, might be within earshot. It was a fruitless effort. Claire stepped back onto the sidewalk, and glanced up at Lisa's window which was slightly opened, and illuminated by a dull blue glow. Even when she wasn't at home, or asleep Lisa usually left a little blue night-light on in her room. Claire doubted Lisa would be asleep at this time but she decided to try anyway. She picked up a few pebbles from the plant box at the front of the building, and pelted them up at Lisa's window. Lisa would sneak down and open the door for her if she was home. The lights didn't come on in Lisa's room, a clear indication her friend didn't come home. Lisa never went to bed before one on a Saturday night, and if on the rare occasion she might have, she was a light sleeper and would have heard the third pebble Claire pelted against the window.
Claire glanced back despondently at the doctor's car, which still stood waiting. She wondered suspiciously if James might have planned things to turn out the way they did tonight. If so, why? He had assured her he wanted nothing more from her than friendship, and he knew she was engaged to another man. In a morass of confusion, frustration and defeat she swore,
"Damn, they really meant it when they said `the door closes at eleven-thirty.' Not even a bloody doorbell. Do you have to wonder why, Claire?" she grumbled, as she stepped back to the car. James held the passenger door open for her, and with a sinking heart, Claire got in beside him. "Well, I've been locked out," she remarked with a hint of accusation.
"I can see that Claire. Close your door please." James instructed her, starting the ignition, ignoring the accusation in her voice.
"Where are we going?"
"Why, to my place of course."
"B..but that's not proper..," Claire started to protest.
"Have you got a better idea in mind?" James responded a trifle impatiently, cutting her off.
"A motel for instance," Claire suggested hopefully.
"Got the cash? Because I'm flat broke right now. I used the last of the cash I had on me tonight to pay for the drinks. And I'm maxed out on my Visa," he answered a little too quickly to be believable. Claire sighed, disappointed, for she had only the five dollars she had borrowed from Lisa.
"I'm afraid I don't have much cash on me at the moment either. I forgot my wallet and chequebook in my other handbag. Lisa and I were rushing around to get out earlier, and I grabbed the wrong handbag."
"For all the good it's doing you there now," James remarked, not very sympathetically. "How much do you have on you?"
"Just the Fiver Lisa loaned me earlier."
"That's not enough to find yourself a decent place for the night kiddo, and I simply loathe the idea of you spending the night in some dingy Sally Ann hole. So don't even suggest it."
"It wouldn't be all that bad for one night you know, really."
"Absolutely not!" The stridency of his voice startled and almost frightened her for a moment. "I refuse to let a classy young woman like you sink into that position, when you can easily spend the night at my place. I do have a guest room."
"Liana! Why didn't I think about that before?" Claire suddenly brightened up, hopeful. Her key to Liana's place was also in the other handbag, and Claire cursed the fates that made her grab the wrong handbag, but all was not lost. If she rang Liana and explained her predicament, her sister would open the door for her.
"Your sister?" James strove to keep the disappointment out of his voice, thinking Claire would slip past him tonight after all. He had to think fast. He stopped at the first telephone booth they came upon, to let Claire make the call to her sister.
The phone must have rung twenty times on the other end, but no one answered. Liana and Pete were out, and it must have been May's weekend off.
Somebody upstairs must like me, or is this fate? James wondered ecstatically.
Claire was too preoccupied to notice James' smug smile as she announced without looking at him, that Liana was out, and her key to Liana's place was in her other bag.
"Smart, Claire, real bloody smart," she rebuked herself.
"Hey, no need to flagellate yourself kiddo. We're all human and make mistakes. Besides, it wouldn't be all that bad staying at my place for once Claire. I'm sure your Lance would understand the circumstances and forgive you for this one mistake, should you feel the need to confess to him later on." The doctor's voice was laced with sarcasm as he mentioned Lance. In fact, the few times Lance had been mentioned between them, James' reaction had always been the same. "Personally, I see no reason to become overwrought about the situation. After all, these are the nineteen seventies, not the seventeen nineties. So loosen up, huh?"
It could have been totally coincidental, but Claire startled as James mentioned the seventeen nineties. She looked up at him for some sign of ... of what?
Knickers, now my imagination is really getting the better of me, she decided, frustrated and confused. She couldn't help wondering why the doctor had mentioned the seventeen nineties instead of any other time period when women were more repressed in society.
"What's wrong?" James asked curiously as she startled, looking at him in that searching manner. "Did I say something wrong?"
"I ... I don't know. Why did you say seventeen nineties and not any other time period? Does it mean something to you?"
"No, should it?" he asked puzzled, but deep within him something dark stirred, something resembling a memory, but he ignored it. Occasionally he had strange thoughts about life in that particular time, as though he had been there. A few times those thoughts took on a disturbing turn, and in his mind's eye, James would have flashes of a dark haired man on a horse with an old fashioned spear in hand and murder on his mind, chasing a couple who were fleeing on another horse. James, being a man who lived for the present, generally pushed those disturbing thoughts out of his mind, by rationalizing he probably read something of that nature when he was younger. He dismissed the thought.
"I guess not. I was just curious. Forget I said it," Claire dismissed in response.
"If you say so." James shrugged and let the matter go, giving thought only to how he was going to use the opportunity he had striven to make happen tonight.