“You should have hired me, like I told you, too,” Jerome said, angrily. “Or at least another local attorney.”
“What can I do now?” Artemis asked. She sat outside the courthouse on a metal park bench. “I thought one of my company firms could handle a simple case.”
“Lexington lawyers are not welcome here,” Jerome said. “You should know that, always, always get a local. They know the judges, the staff.”
Jerome Jenkins sat down next to her. He stuffed his smartphone into his jacket. They had watched a distant relative emerge from no where, and the family law judge had allowed her to take Laina away in a four door sedan with a faulty muffler. Laina had despondently looked away from Artemis as she got into the car’s back seat. She didn’t look for Artemis out the back window as the car drove away.
“I should have known better,” Artemis said. She wiped her cold face, the bench seat was unforgiving.
“Am I hired?” Jerome asked. He patted Artemis on the shoulder. “I’ll give you the family rate. I’ll keep this quiet, you’ll need a local. And besides, I’m the only real game in town, you need me.”
“Yes,” Artemis said. She stared forward. “Help me.”
“I’ll track her down,” Jerome said.
Artemis pulled out her smartphone, she handed it over to Jerome. He quizzically looked over at Artemis, and down at the smartphone screen.
“She’s wearing a GPS watch,” Artemis said. She looked over at Jerome. “I can track her with that smartphone.”
Jerome pressed on the screen.
“I see,” Jerome said. “Smart.”
“I told her to never take if off,” Artemis said. “Never, ever take it off.”
Jerome handed the smartphone back over to Artemis. He crossed his long legs. He coughed with his fist in front of his mouth. He stretched his arm along the bench back.
“They’ll take it,” Jerome said. He sighed. “It’ll get pawned off by sundown, you know that?”
“I do,” Artemis said. “Thought I’d show some easy candy, bait them away for searching her.”
“What’s so special about this kid?” Jerome asked. He watched the nearby street traffic move up and down Main Street. “Not that all children aren’t’ special, but, just asking, you know what I’m wondering, the, why her?”
Artemis took back the smartphone. She gripped it tightly like it was a talisman with magical powers that would lead her back to Benjamin and protect Laina.
“I’ve only loved one man,” Artemis said. She stared down at the smartphone. “Other than my father, but, Benjamin was his name, Laina’s his daughter. Some how, I ended up here, in part, because of you.”
“You’re joking,” Jerome said.
“No,” Artemis said. She glanced over at Jerome. “I’m quite serious. She’s his daughter. I don’t even know what to think.”
Jerome sat contemplating life for several moments. He tapped his shoe on the concrete sidewalk, and acknowledged several local business people that strolled past them.
“Life has so many turns,” Jerome said. “I wonder sometimes if it’s all so random, or not. If there’s something beyond us, and I’m just playing my part in a cosmic play.”
Artemis looked back over at Jerome.
“I know, it’s all to random,” Artemis said. “How’d I end up coming here, sorry, but, it’s in the middle of no where, you know?”
“No offense taken,” Jerome said. He smiled. “I know, it’s way to quiet for most, but I love it here. My kids grew up in this Mayberry, it’s my little spot in heaven.”
“Do you think heaven really exists?” Artemis asked.
“I doubt it,” Jerome said. He shrugged. “But, that’s why we have hope, right? It’s that tiny nugget in our minds that God’s out there, waiting for us.”
“I’ve never been a true believer, but, I think I want to,” Artemis said. She held up her hands. “But lately, I’ve begun to wonder, my life has gotten really strange.”
And Artemis heard Satan’s chuckle. Satan whispered to Artemis from beyond her, and nearby her all at the same time.
“Strange?” Satan asked. It heartily laughed. “That’s all you got for dear, sweet, Jerome?”
“You know this hospital’s dirty?” Jerome said. He was completely unaware that Satan was communicating with Artemis.
“I do,” Artemis said. She closed her eyes hoping that her madness would simply evaporate from within her mind. “They are a difficult client.”
“Well, I guess I’m in an ethical dilemma,” Jerome said. “Helping you, and I’m about to file my suit. You all will deny my claim, right?”
“Yes, you know that, but the staff here does help a lot of these people,” Artemis said. She nudged over at the modest street traffic. She pointed at people walking and talking in different directions near the court house steps. “And you need some evidence, don’t you?”
“They do,” Jerome said. “Majority of the staff are just good honest, folks, but then, we have something else, don’t we?”
Satan hummed a minstrel tune.
“Oh, you humans are so much fun,” Satan said. It was as if Satan had sat between Artemis and Jerome. “Ethics? What nonsense, you humans worry about what? Begging like sheep for better points with the big guy? Or, better what? Come stay with me for eternity, we’ll never discuss ethics.”
“What if you put the hospital out of business?” Artemis asked. “You’d not be so popular, would you?”
“I’ll give you that,” Jerome said. He pointed at her. “Are you okay, you just seem, well, distracted?”
“Sorry, stressed, you know,” Artemis said. She crossed her arms. “To many voices going in my head.”
“I bet,” Jerome said.
“Oh, Artemis,” Satan said. “Jerome’s one of those, you know, true believers. He’ll really go find Laina, protect her, and still go after Dr. Demetrius. He should have angelic wings, like I used to have, but, they took those away from me after my coup attempt. Actually, I have others that lost wings with me. It was not my best moment in eternity.”
Artemis rubbed her eyes, she sucked in a cold breath.
“I’ll play this straight,” Artemis said. She tried to act like she’d heard nothing from within her mind. “They have electronic record keeping that’s way to clean, you know that.”
“I do,” Jerome said. “But, I also have families with questions, and loved ones they never got to say goodbye.”
“Oh how sweet,” Satan said. “He’s so nice, yuck!”
“Laina has a tracking device on her,” Artemis said.
“Well now,” Satan said. “Aren’t you showing your cards, as the human cliché, my, my, you are such a trusting soul with this one, you don’t trust anyone.”
“Where?” Jerome asked.
“It’s military grade,” Artemis said. “I stuck it on her lower back, she’ll never know it’s there, it’s almost invisible.”
“What?” Satan said to Artemis. “You’re giving up real intel, you must really trust this human, I might pass-out.”
“Seriously?” Jerome asked.
“Yes,” Artemis said.
“You kind of scare me,” Jerome said. He squinted his eyes as a wrinkled emerged. “My instincts are nagging me about you, you’ve seen real action?”
“I love that child,” Artemis said. She stared back over at Jerome. “She’s all I have as a connection to what really matters to me. I loved Benjamin. I’ll not fail him.”
“I understand,” Jerome said. “I’ve an amazing wife of over thirty years, I love her and my children with my own life.”
“I don’t think he does understand,” Satan said. “Maybe give him a hint, you know, what you’re really about.”
Artemis gave Jerome a death like face, revealing the face of a hired killer, the dead eyes of an assassin.
“The company hired me to deal with these messes,” Artemis said. “Protect the house, my boss and I talk in code. We both know this is a nasty case, only going to get worse.”
“We have a serious drug problem,” Jerome said. He avoided eye contact with Artemis. “We have an epidemic, partly from the hospital, and now out there in the county.”
“I’ll find the source,” Artemis said.
Jerome shifted away from Artemis. He looked away from her. He paused, he nodded. He held his breath, and looked back over at Artemis.
“The company?” Jerome said. “That’s not the language of a medical malpractice claim manager.”
“They,” Artemis said. She was blank faced. “Are who they are, and yes, I’m well trained. If I have to, I’ll deal with them my way. Sometimes our clients need a helpful nudge.”
Satan laughed, and its voice almost spasmed with hate.
“Oh, that’s so true,” Satan said. “I know this. I’ve tried to scare you, you just beg me for the kill shot. Oh, if Jerome only knew what you’re capable of, Benjamin understood. You have such an honest inner self, I hate that about you. But, you’ll scare Jerome, just saying in your ear.”
“Can you tell me about,” Jerome said. “The company?”
Artemis stuffed her arms into he coat pockets.
“Let me put it this way,” Artemis said. “They are not evil, but they are careful, cautious with their assets and resources.”
“Okay, I guess,” Jerome said. “You did just hire me, I guess. What you tell me goes no further.”
“Dr. Demetrius has been a problem, I don’t think that’s a big secret here,” Artemis said. “We think he’s dangerous, I’m here to clean up his mess.”
“You’re not a claim manager?” Jerome said with a certainty that only comes from experience. “I’m just the lawyer doing his job.”
Artemis thought about the fact she had discovered from Benjamin what love meant, and what love felt like. Her parents had left her all alone after their accident. So, from the pain she had learned to seal off that feeling, and she had learned to navigate life on her own terms. She had her mother’s Olympic athletic body, her honesty, and her father’s curious mind. At at her heart their fire still eternally burned within her soul. But then, she had come across Benjamin, and her journey had been altered.
“I don’t work that way,” Artemis said, blankly. “I think you’re an honest man, you’ll help me get Laina back.”
“I’ll get her back,” Jerome said. “I promise.”
“Well, well, Artemis,” Satan said. “You’re opening up today, what should I do next? Oh, the humanity.”
“I believe in the truth, the fact,” Artemis said. “The company operates from facts, not innuendo, just cold facts.”
“You’re way ahead of me,” Jerome said. “Right?”
“It’s my job,” Artemis said. “I know the facts are emerging, Dr. Demetrius can’t help himself. He’s digging his own grave for me, but, he’s got a connection with this prophet. I need to figure these two out, they’re a problem.”
“I’ll do my part, I have to look after my clients interests first,” Jerome said. He tapped his lips with his forefinger. “I don’t go hiking in the forest anymore, if that helps.”
“Good, it’s a bit scary out there,” Artemis said. She shifted forward, and got up off the park bench. “But, I cannot control this little girl situation, this is not my world, she’s special to me. I’ll help get this case closed, you help me with her.”
“You weren’t just some Army medic?” Jerome asked. He gulped. “I’m just asking, no offense intended.”
“No, I’m good at it,” Artemis said. She stared down at Jerome. “Like I said, I’m well trained. I’m ambidextrous.”
“We thought so,” Jerome said. He gulped. “Agent Beaky thinks you’re a clairvoyant? See things we can’t see…”
“I have talents, like anyone,” Artemis said. “What’s the next steps for Laina? I’m afraid she’s been noticed by Dr. Demetrius, she was inside that hospital all alone.”
“That’s interesting,” Jerome said. “But I’ll play this straight, I’ll figure her out.”
“Sorry, this has gotten complicated,” Artemis said.
“One thing I would expect,” Jerome said. “They’ll work with us, if, and only if, you’re prepared to adopt her?”
Artemis had expected the question. For the second time in her life she was prepared to let another human being inside her world, a place where her work was her sanctuary. But she had decided to take another risk, and love someone without reason.
“Yes,” Artemis said, flatly. She wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’ll take her in.”
“You know, you go cold and hot, snap of a finger,” Jerome said. He crinkled his face. “They’ll do a serious background study, you sure?”
“Oh, I see,” Artemis said. She cleared her eyes. “That’s easy, the company will take care of that part.”
“I’ll do my best,” Jerome said. He held out his right hand. Artemis shook it. “Deal, please help clean up my home.”
“I will, my boss Wylie approves this, he’ll help me,” Artemis said. She shifted back. “Let me know what I need to do. I need to go find this prophet, goes by Prophet Higgs Boson.”
“He is a dangerous character, weirdo thinks he’s in league with God,” Jerome said. “I don’t know where he lives, but he’s become a local menace. Be careful.”
“I’ll find him,” Artemis said. She started to walk away, but then she stopped and walked back over toward Jerome. “If she’s abused, in any manner, tell me?”
“Of course,” Jerome said. He quizzically looked up at Artemis. “I’ll get her out of there, first thing.”
“She’s personal, obviously,” Artemis said. She scanned the area. All she saw was a quiet town going about the day. “If they so much as touch a hair on her head, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill all of them.”
“I believe you,” Jerome said.
“Good, sorry,” Artemis said. She wanted to take back her words, but she was certain Jerome was the only honest man living amongst snakes. “Don’t mean to scare you. I just need us to understand each other.”
Artemis turned and walked away, and moved down the street past the casual traffic and a few shoppers and on toward her hotel. She noticed Jerome did not move until she had disappeared from his line of sight. Along her path, just past a red brick building corner, Satan sat on a bench whittling, and smoking a joint.
“The humans seem okay with pot, now,” Satan said. “Odd smell, but this body seems to like the chill feeling. I’m being groovy.”
“Why do you whisper in my ear?” Artemis asked. “It’s annoying, and you make me question my own sanity.”
“It’s what I do,” Satan said. “Besides, you scared poor Jerome, you went all assassin at him, quite touching.”
“He’ll protect her, I’ll protect him, the town. He understands now, I needed to make him an asset,” Artemis said. She stood still, and stared down at Satan. “You’ll leave her alone?”
“I don’t make those promises,” Satan said. “You know that, but I do know pot is nothing compared to opioids, fentanyl. I wonder, oh, how oh, would Prophet Higgs Boson make his money?”
“I suspected, I’ll expect my FBI contact to reappear,” Artemis said. “Just leave the girl alone, please?”
“Not up to me anymore, remember my favorite sin?” Satan asked. “You’ve invited other parties to our play, you’ll see.”
“I don’t understand,” Artemis said.
“You will,” Satan said. “Go back out into the forest, at night, go all alone, use your talent. You don’t need Virgil to guide you. There you’ll find answers. You’re welcome.”
It snapped its dirty fingernails, and dissolved into the afternoon air. If left behind the wood, and a smoldering joint.
End. Chapter 24.
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