I was paying bills when the tentative
knock came at my door. I wasn’t sure if
it’d been mine or a neighbor’s until the second series of taps. I
eased the door open and peered through the
She wore a loose T-shirt that hung a
couple of inches above the waistband of her faded jeans. Her navel peeked out
beneath the white
cotton. Her eyes were cautious, but when
she saw me, a hesitant smile touched her mouth.
The slightly crooked tooth at the edge of her smile glinted at me.
A strange rush of emotions washed over
me. Desire. Curiosity. Shame,
because of recent events.
“Stef,” she whispered.
I motioned her inside and closed the
What could I say to her? I’d just spent fifteen days in jail
on a gun
charge and had my name dragged through the streets like Hector in the dust
behind Achilles on his triumphant lap around Troy.
“Are you okay?” she asked me.
“Is it true? What the newspaper wrote about you?”
“No,” I answered automatically. I hadn’t read the
newspaper, but experience
told me it wouldn’t be accurate.
“I…I didn’t think so.”
We stood still for a tense, awkward
moment. The weight of unrealized,
brooding desire all those long months hung between us. I motioned toward my
kitchen. “Can I get you—
She stepped into me, catching me on the
mouth in mid-sentence. Her lips were warm and soft. After a moment’s surprise,
I returned her
kiss. Body heat radiated from her as she pressed into me. Her tongue found
mine, chased it. Caught it.
I reached around her, pressing my hand
into the small of her back. She clutched at my shoulders and pulled me tighter.
My surprise faded, replaced by an erection that came on so suddenly that it
A first kiss is always magical, whether
surrounded by romance or awash in passion. Her lips and tongue sent zinging
thrills out to the ends of my hands and feet. All sound in the room faded. My
whole world became Cassie. Her warmth. Her electric touch. The scent of her
excitement and light perfume
rising in waves off of her body.
We struggled out of our shirts, breaking
off from kissing for just the barest of moments. I reached out for her breasts.
She gasped. Pants and underclothes were stripped away, I barely remembered how.
We staggered back into the table. I swept the bills and my checkbook aside and
sent them clattering onto the floor. I lifted her onto the edge of the table.
She moaned into my mouth.
I entered her in one deep thrust and
groaned at the sensation of her wet warmth and she answered me with a long
sigh. Her heels dug into the back of my thighs, pulled me deeper, forcing her
hips forward to meet my thrust. Our mouths mimicked the connection below, hot,
I felt pressure building and willed it
down, but it had been too long. Too long since I’d known a woman. Too long that
I’d wanted her.
I broke away from her mouth. Her moans
turned to gasps. Every stroke, I went as deep as I could and held for half a
I kissed her neck. Her head lolled back.
She dug her fingers into my upper back, pulling me ever tighter.
The familiar ache began to build. Two
strokes later, the ache became ecstasy and washed over me. I let out a guttural
cry and thrust into her. She matched my movement. For a long moment, we froze,
bodies tense and
rigid and pressed together. Ribbons of warmth flooded out of me and into her.
We held that position for a lifetime.
Afterward, we moved to the bed. She
nestled her head onto my chest and draped her leg over mine. The sweet, pungent
aroma of our sex hung in the air. Sound returned to my world. The ticking of a
clock. A distant car horn. Muffled voices in an upstairs apartment.
Neither of us said a word. I was afraid
to break the spell. I knew the first words after this were important ones, but
I didn’t know what they should be.
“I didn’t believe them,” she finally
She meant the newspaper. I’m sure they’d
had a field day with me. Arrested with a fourteen-year-old runaway in my car,
outside the house of an admitted pornographer.
No doubt the implications were lurid, but the truth was that I’d found
the girl as a favor to her father. I was getting her out of there. And even
though Detective Jack Stone hated my guts, he couldn’t twist the truth into
anything but what it was. The newspaper could, though.
I stroked the long braid of her hair.
“They wanted to sell papers.”
We fell silent again and eventually, to
When I woke, she was gone.
I haunted the Rocket Bakery, even after I
learned she didn’t work there any more.
I kept hoping somehow that she’d change her mind and come back to her
old job. To me.
The summer passed, hot and slow.
Fall came. Hockey season started. I took
a job helping a player named Phillipe Richard. Huge mistake. After that, I quit
going to games at the arena.
Instead, I thought about her all the
Thanksgiving came. Christmas approached.
A subpoena arrived for me to testify in the Richard case in January. I taped it
to the fridge.
Three days before Christmas, I heard it
again. That same tentative knock. This time I knew it at the first tap. I
pulled the door open. She stood there with puffy, red eyes. She’d cut
her hair short.
We stood silently, staring at each other.
I tried to think of the right words, but before I could, she burst into tears.
“I didn’t know who else to go to,” she
sobbed and fell into me.
I held her close, standing in my doorway
while she cried. Once her sobs lessened, I swung the door shut and guided her
to my kitchen table.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her as we sat
down. A jumble of different emotions screamed at me. I wanted to help her with
whatever made her so upset. To know why she came to me eight months ago like
she did and why she left just as suddenly. And what was it I really felt for
her? Lust, or something more? Had it ever been anything more?
She wiped at her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “I am. I’m sorry I came here like
this. And for
leaving before, without saying anything.”
I didn’t know how to answer that.
Instead, I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m in some trouble.”
She met my eye. I thought I saw a flicker
of the passion that had flowed out of them eight months ago. “I’m sorry I left.
I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You could have stayed, that’s what
“You’re right.” She bit her lip. “I was
She sighed. “Everything. You and me, just
getting started. What the paper wrote about you. A new job.”
I ignored the first item on her list.
“The paper lies. What new job?”
“A nursing job. I graduated from school
while you were…”
“In jail,” I finished for her.
She nodded. “Yeah. I got a job offer in
Seattle, but I didn’t want to leave without seeing you. Then I came over and
we…well, it was all just too much.”
“That’s where you’ve been? Seattle?”
“Uh-huh.” Her eyes brightened slightly.
“It’s a good job.”
“Better than schlepping coffee, I imagine.”
She smiled. “That wasn’t so bad. Some of
the time, it was even pretty good.”
I swallowed. I wanted to tell her how
much I’d missed her, even though I couldn’t say why. I couldn’t even explain it
to myself. I wanted to ask her to leave her job in Seattle or let me leave River
City and go with her. I wanted everything.
This time it was me that leaned into her.
Instead of raging with passion, our kiss was slow and sweet. Careful. I touched
her tongue with mine with a gentle hesitation.
Her hand brushed my cheek, then cupped behind my neck and pulled me
deeper into the kiss.
Neither of us moved with any great speed.
Steadily, though, I pulled her to me.
She straddled me in the chair, pulled my face into her chest. My
hardness strained against the denim of my Levi’s as she rocked slowly atop me.
Her small breasts pressed into my face.
I reached up and caressed them with both hands. A low moan escaped her
In that chair, we rocked together, we
rubbed together, like we were dancing to some ancient tribal song. Clothing peeled
off and fell away. The warmth of her skin radiated against mine. I flicked my
tongue over her hardened nipples and was rewarded with a sharp intake of
breath. Then she lowered herself onto me and it was my turn to make noise.
The first time had been frantic and then
it was gone. That’s why I think we took it so slow this time. She barely rocked
on top of me. I hardly returned her thrust. I traced my fingers up from the
small of her back to her shoulders, delighting in the softness of her skin. She
took my face in both hands and rested her lips next to mine. We tried to have
the longest kiss on record. I don’t know if we succeeded. I know that after a
minute or an hour or a year, I felt her stiffen and clamp her thighs tight to
my hips. I recognized the urgent sound that spilled from her lips when they
broke away from mine. I felt the beads of sweat form on her brow. They rolled
off hers and coursed down mine.
We rocked for another slow forever until
I made urgent sounds, too. She never stopped moving until my sounds ended and
my face fell forward into her breasts.
She held me there and silence found us
Much later, we moved to the bed. She toyed with the hair on my chest.
at the ceiling until she was ready to talk again.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life,” she
finally said without prelude. “Stupid things, when I was younger.”
I smiled bitterly but said nothing. My
mistakes were legion.
“I dated a guy named Erik Yeager about
eleven years ago. I’d just turned twenty.
He was a few years older.” She ran her fingers through my chest hair. “I
let him talk me into things. Maybe I wanted to do them. I don’t know.”
She was quiet for a moment, then went on.
“A few pictures was all at first. Then he
convinced me to let him videotape us having sex. He said we’d erase it
Lies, I thought.
The check is in the mail. I love you. And I promise not to cum in your
I said nothing.
“I thought he did erase it. Even after we
broke up, I figured the tape was gone and all he had were a few pictures of me
in sexy poses. One topless, that was the worst of it.” She sighed. “Until
about a month ago.”
“He contacted you?”
“He sent me a DVD.”
“Of the sex.”
“Yeah. From the videotape.”
“Why’d he send it to you?”
She burrowed her head into my chest.
“He wants five thousand dollars or he’ll
post it on the Internet.”
The Internet. My mind flashed to the case
that landed me in jail and the shady fucks I’d rescued Kris from. If that
experience was any indication, the Internet was full of videos like Cassie’s.
“Is that all?”
She shook her head. “No. He said he’d
send the link to everyone at the hospital I work at.”
of a bitch.
“I’ll lose my job,” she said. “It’s a
religious hospital. They won’t want to deal with the scandal.”
“You could get a job at a different
hospital,” I offered. “Nurses are in demand.”
“I could. But I like it there. It’s a
good job. Besides, it isn’t just the job.”
She paused. “It’s hard to describe.”
She heaved a sigh. Her breath blew across
my chest in a hot rush. “When I was young, I felt differently about things. Sex
was just sex. Love was a myth. Everything was for fun.”
“Now?” She sighed again. “Now, I just
know that there should be a certain dignity to it. Some kind of meaning. Not
trotted out onto the Internet for some horny perverts to look at and…”
“Can you pay him?”
She snorted. “No. I’m up to my eyeballs
in student loans and it’s expensive to live in Seattle.”
“Did you try to reason with him at all?
Offer less money?”
She nodded. “I offered fifteen hundred.
He said no.”
should’ve taken the deal.
“What are you going to do, then?” I
asked, though I knew what the answer would be.
But she didn’t answer.
She didn’t have to.
Erik Yeager’s house was a California split-entry
on the fringe of the Hillyard neighborhood. Beyond a haphazardly shoveled
walkway, there were no signs of habitation. The windows were absent of
I knocked, reverting to the authoritative
rapping of a police officer, even though those days were more than a decade
A red-headed man without a shirt opened
the door. Flaccid nipples hung from his soft chest above a roll of fat at his
“Who wants to know?”
“Cassie,” I said.
His eyes narrowed. “What about her?”
“You think we should talk about blackmail
out here in front of your neighbors?”
His glanced darted left and right. “You
got the cash?”
“Let me inside.”
He pursed his lips for a moment, then
swung the door open and stepped aside.
“Lead the way,” I told him.
He gave me an irritated look, but turned
and stomped up the stairs.
I stepped inside and closed the door
behind me. Almost immediately, the gamey scent of body odor assaulted my
nostrils. There was another smell, too. I’d encountered it when I’d done
walkthroughs of the dirty book arcades. That was years ago, but there’s no
forgetting the pungent stench of stale cum.
Yeager stood in the center of his living
room, his arms crossed in front of his flabby chest. “You got the money?” he asked
“No,” I said.
“Then why are you here?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“I’m a friend of Cassie’s.”
He studied me for a moment, then smiled.
“You’re banging her, aren’t ya?”
I didn’t answer.
He took my silence as affirmation. “She
still a hot number?” he asked. “Because she was a fine piece of ass back when I
I ground my teeth. “Listen—”
He leaned forward conspiratorially and
lowered his voice to a stage whisper.
“Cause ya know I had her first, don’t’cha? Had her
when she was a ripe young thing. Had her every which way you can imagine,
He leered at me. “She still give good
“Do you want to work out a deal or not?”
I gritted through a clenched jaw.
His leer spread into a greasy smile.
“Does she still like to take it in the—”
I hit him.
I didn’t plan it, but the smug look on
his face and the image of him and Cassie together was just too much. I lashed
out with my left hand before I even thought about it. My hand curled into a
fist on its way toward
the center of his face. I drove that fist into the tip of his nose, smashing
it. Blood exploded from his nostrils.
Yeager squealed. His hands flew to his
face. I threw my right as a reflex, stepping into the hook punch and catching
him low in the gut. My fist powered through the roll of fat with a slap. Yeager
grunted and sank to a knee.
I didn’t hesitate. The left came back
across, landing on his jaw, right on the knockout button. This time he didn’t
make a noise, but his eyelids fluttered and he fell forward to the carpet with
I stood stock-still in his living room
for a moment, staring down at his unmoving body. The coppery smell of blood
mixed with the
putrid odors already dominating the air. Then I looked around. The far wall was
dominated by a computer desk. Wild lines drew themselves randomly against the
dark background of the computer monitor. Next to the desk, I spotted a
bookshelf full of videotapes and DVDs.
Yeager groaned and stirred.
I strode to the bookshelf. Many of the
movies were commercial titles I recognized. Some were obvious porn titles. On
the third shelf, nearest to the desk, I found a series of homemade labels. Each
label had a name. The fifth one was Cassie.
“You son of a bitch,” Yeager muttered in
a thick voice.
The DVD cover showed a much younger
Cassie, arms in air and topless. I ground my teeth and slid it into the inside
pocket of my bomber jacket.
“Take it,” Yeager said. “I’ll just make
He looked at me from his knees, one hand
pressed against his nose to staunch the bleeding. His eyes remained smug.
I’d have to destroy the computer file. I
touched the computer mouse, exiting the screensaver. A password request popped
“What’s the password?” I demanded.
“Fuck you,” he said.
I stepped toward him and drove the point
of my boot into his stomach. He folded over, retching. I stepped to the side to
avoid the vomit. My bad knee throbbed.
When he’d caught his breath, Yeager began
to laugh. He looked up at me, blood streaming from his nose. “You can beat on
me if you want. Maybe I’ll eventually tell you my password. But then you’ll
have to find the file. And even if you do, it’s backed up online.”
I stared down at him, processing what
“You think I’m stupid?” he asked me. “Now
where’s my fucking money?”
I shook my head slowly. “She doesn’t have
His eyes burned into me. “Then she’ll be
the star of the Internet.”
“How about if she just calls the cops?”
“How about if I call them on you?” he
I considered that. Right now, I couldn’t
prove the blackmail, but he could easily prove that I assaulted him.
He shook his head and spit on the carpet.
“If the cops were an option, she’d have called them already.”
He was right, but I didn’t want to show
it. “Then maybe she’ll just sue your ass.
Take your shitty little house.”
He laughed harder. “Now that’d be real
quiet, huh? A public lawsuit?”
I lowered my voice. “If you don’t delete
those files and destroy the DVDs, I’ll come back and visit you.”
His laughter turned hysterical. Fresh
droplets of blood flew from his mouth as he howled. “Oh, that’s good, that’s
I narrowed my eyes at him. His mood swings were lunatic. “I’m
I told him.
His laughter melted away. “Oh, I hope so.
Because next time I’ll be waiting for you with a little friend.”
We stood there, not speaking. I glanced
around the room to see if he had a gun stashed anywhere nearby. The hum of the
computer fan was the loudest thing in the room. When I looked back at him, he
glowered darkly. I noticed that all the smashing I’d done hadn’t knocked that
smugness off his face.
“What do you want?” I finally asked.
“Five thousand dollars,” he said, and
grinned at me.
“Asshole,” I said. “You shoulda taken the
I walked past him and out the door.
On the way home, I pulled in next to a
dumpster. I removed the picture from the sleeve of the DVD case and tore it
into small bits. Then I snapped the DVD into pieces and threw it all away.
I wanted to see her again. I wanted to kiss her, hold her, love her.
I knew I wouldn’t. I’d failed her. And she’d be humiliated because of it. I
knew from experience that you can live through humiliation, but she didn’t.
Until she figured that out, if she ever
did, she’d remain lost to me.
I called her on the phone. She listened
to my words and hung up quietly. I stayed on the line a little longer,
listening to the dial tone until it became an insistent, harsh beep. Then I
hung it up and was alone with the
thickness in my throat and the unbidden tears.
Frank Zafiro is a retired police officer
and an author, focusing much of his work on crime fiction. "Cassie"
is a short story set in his River City universe and featuring one of the
pivotal characters in that world, Stefan Kopriva. “I was thrilled for this
story to be published at YELLOW MAMA. If I recall, a couple other mags passed
on it, though with claimed regrets...due to the sexual content. When Cindy
Rosmus took on the story with relish, I knew it had found the perfect home.” http://frankzafiro.com