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How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

by

T. J. Robertson




Smashwords Edition




Copyright 2017 T. J. Robertson




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I saw her for the first time on one of those oppressively hot and humid days of summer when the sidewalks are empty and the beaches, crowded. At one of the latter, perched on my lifeguard chair and keeping an eye on swimmers, I happened to glance to the side. Whether it was the sheen of her blonde hair cascading over her delicate white shoulders, the sparkle in her crystal-clear blue eyes, or the sensuous curve of her rosy lips that caught my fancy, I am not sure. All I know is with each ensuing glance, I became all the more captivated. So much so that when she folded up her blanket and gathered her things together to leave, I was seized with the desire to jump down, run over to her, and introduce myself. Fortune, as the saying goes, favors the bold; unfortunately, however, at that moment Captain Courageous I was not.

Oh, how I wished I could have been as daring as my college roommate, Ben Foster. With feigned nonchalance, he would have sauntered over to her. Then, coming to an abrupt stop in front of her blanket, he would exclaim, "Pardon me, Miss, but haven't we met before?"

Taken aback, she would shake her head. "No, I don't think so."

"Oh, but I beg to differ; for, I'd never forget meeting someone as beautiful as you." When her crimson flush subsided, he would say, "It was at a restaurant in Paris. Le Chat Noir, I believe."

"I'm afraid you're mistaken," she would reply in a mild, interested voice. "I've never been to France."

Furrowing his brow in a pretense of chagrin, he would press on in his worldly way. "Then, it must've been at Der Speisewagen in Berlin."

"No," she would reply with a wag of her head.

Stroking his chin thoughtfully, he would offer, "How about Flavio's in Rome?"

"Wrong again," she would answer, a smile toying at the corners of her mouth.

Finally, with a dramatic flourish, he would throw up his hands and declare, "Then, it had to be at McDonald's in downtown Hyannis."

After their laughter ebbed, introductions and dates would be sure to follow.

Oh, how I cursed myself for my lack of daring. For, never again from my perch on the lifeguard chair did I see her. After work, wherever I went, I was always on the lookout for her. All in vain. Night and day, rain or shine, asleep or awake, I could not get her out of my mind. She had become my magnificent obsession.

Like college students everywhere, I was spending that summer working and squirreling away money in hopes of making a dent in the cost of my tuition. Luckier than most, however, I managed to get a job as a lifeguard at a beach in the scenic and charming town of Dennis on Cape Cod. To add to my good fortune, thanks to a kind aunt, who owned a cottage there, I had the use of a quaint kitchen and a cozy bedroom, rent-free.

Weeks later, one warm, sunny day after work, I found myself bicycling to Paine's Creek Beach in Brewster, an adjoining town. Bicycling, I should say, is the most frugal way of traveling on the Cape and during the trafficky, tourist season often the most efficient. My friend and fellow lifeguard, Andy Fuller, had invited me to go kayaking there. Because I consider it one of the most beautiful and scenic spots on the Cape, naturally I jumped at the chance. And, I was not disappointed; for I had a wonderful time.

At dusk, ignoring my pledge of frugality, I decided to splurge and, so, on my way home, stopped at Kate's, a popular, carry-out spot, known for its fried clams and ice cream. I ordered the latter, choosing a flavor called Zack's Muddy Sneakers--vanilla ice cream with a caramel swirl and brownie bits. When the waitress pushed aside the screen, which hid her from view, and handed me the cone, at the sight of her cascading blonde hair, crystal-clear blue eyes, and rosy lips, I froze and stared at her in disbelief.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

I swallowed hard. "Yes, I'm fine," I lied, struggling to regain my composure.

Unconsciously, her brow furrowed. "Have you and I met before?"

"Not--not in a formal way," I stammered.

"Oh?" she offered in a puzzled tone.

"I saw you once at Corporation Beach," I said, getting a hold of myself.

Then, in what was a eureka moment, she enthused, "Oh, yes, of course, you're a life guard there."

"I plead guilty." All the while my heart was leaping with joy; for, she had taken notice of me.

"You know something?" she said, breaking the awkward silence that followed.

"What's that?"

"Unless you start eating your ice cream," she replied with a trace of laughter, "it's going to melt away."

A crimson blush crossed my face. "Oh, yes, of course." As I turned to leave, to my surprise I threw caution to the wind and declared, "Oh, by the way, my name's Jack."

"I'm Vanessa," she replied, rewarding me with a smile. "Nice meeting you, Jack."

Because the line behind me was growing longer and darkness was falling, I could not dillydally any longer. Suffice to say, however, I became a repeat customer, savoring the sight of her far more than I did my favorite flavor of ice cream, Zack's Muddy Sneakers.

For me, the next task was getting up the nerve to ask her out and believe me, it was a Herculean one. Frankly, I lost track of the number of times I rehearsed my lines. One damp, dreary dusk as I stood before the counter, despairing of ever following through, she came to my rescue. "We can't go on meeting this way, you know?" A wry smile toyed at the corners of her rosy lips as she handed me my ice cream cone.

"What do you mean?" I offered weakly.

"In case you haven't noticed," she said, gesturing, "there's a line forming behind you."

"Oh, of course," I replied awkwardly, "I'm sorry."

"I'm wondering how long I'm going to have to wait." Her eyes clung to mine, trying to gage my reaction.

Puzzled, I asked, "Wait? For what?"

"For you to ask me out? Taken aback, I was at a loss for words. "Don't you think it's about time?"

Fortune does, indeed, favor the bold; I wasted no time taking her up on the offer. "How about you and me attending tomorrow night's musical concert at the gazebo in Dennis? That is, of course, if you're free."

"Oh, I'm free," she declared, her mouth quirking with humor, "I thought you'd never ask."

The evening of the concert, long after strains of the music had wafted away and the last of the attendees had drifted off, Vanessa and I sat on the steps of the Gazebo and chatted late into the night. Remnants of our conversation will remain with me forever.

"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" I said, taking a deep breath and turning to her.

She broke into an open, friendly smile. "Fire away."

"You're--you're not going steady with anybody, are you?" I stammered.

"Would I be here with you, if I were?" Her words were playful but the meaning was not.

"Well, no, I guess not." Though pleased to know for sure that she was, as it were, footloose and fancy free, I felt like a fool for the way in which I had asked the question.

Turning and studying me intently, she said, "Does it surprise you that I'm not carrying anyone's brand?"

"Frankly, yes," I replied with barely checked passion. "You are, after all, very attractive."

Blushing, she said, "Flattery will get you nowhere."

"Believe me, it's the truth." Now I was the one who broke the stillness that followed, asking, "Where are you staying on the Cape?"

"On West Wind Drive atop Scargo Hill. My parents have a cottage there." I smiled and wagged my head, prompting her to ask, "Is something wrong?"

"Oh, heavens, no; never before have I been so happy," I murmured, reveling in her nearness. "It's just the irony of it all."

Twisting a strand of her blonde hair, she said, "Would you mind sharing that irony with me?"

"Gladly." I turned and moved closer to her, my shoulder touching hers. "You're spending the summer at your parents' cottage on West Wind Drive and I'm staying at my aunt's bungalow a couple of streets above you--on Compass Lane to be exact." I paused and shook my head in disbelief. "All the time I was looking for you, you were so close I could have reached out and touched you."

"Provided you had long arms." I shared a laugh with her as I did so many times on the evenings that followed; for, a neat sense of humor was another one of her many charms.

Matching her smile with one of my own, I asked, "Like me, I assume you're toiling at Kate's to save money for college?"

She nodded. "Yes, I'm a senior at Tufts."

"Wow," I declared, "I'm in my last year at Northeastern." Pushing my luck, I added, "Perhaps we'll run into to one another again during the school year."

She grinned mischievously. "Of that I have no doubt; for it's our kismet."

I intruded upon another one of our quiet moments. "What are your plans after graduation?"

"Law school."

"So, you want to be a lawyer, eh?"

"No, I want to become a judge." Her voice was uncompromising yet oddly gentle. I smiled and she asked, "You don't think I'll make it?"

"No, on the contrary, I'm confident you will," I retorted. "What I find amusing is that like you, I, too, am interested in law enforcement."

"You want to become a policeman?"

Now she was the one with the amusing look and I found myself on the defensive. "I'm aiming higher than being just a patrolman; I want to become a detective."

"You know I'd never disparage you," she replied, disarming me with her winsome smile. "What I find amusing--or better still to borrow a word from you, ironic--is how much we have in common."

That blissful evening, upon looking up at the star-studded sky and glowing moon, I considered myself the luckiest guy on the face of the earth. Only as the rays of the morning sun were bidding farewell to the shades of darkness did we take leave of one another--and even then reluctantly.

Like so many of the good times in life, that idyllic summer, too, passed quickly. In those fleeting hours together, however, I came to realize how pleasant and enjoyable the simple things could be. Whether it was sauntering, hand in hand, down a woodland path beneath a canopy of leaves, picnicking on the lush green lawn of lovely Drummer Boy Park, or perched on a sea wall, watching the sun--a stunningly beautiful, fiery orb--slowly sink beneath the shimmering waters of the bay, as long as she was by my side for what more could I ask?

What I failed to reckon with, however, was the fragility and transience of such happiness. What can I say? I was young and foolish; for, like our love, I thought she and I would live forever.

Hardworking and frugal, in addition to her full-time job at Kate's she had been working three nights a week at a restaurant in Hyannis. Then, on a waning summer, moonlit night tragedy struck. She was on her way home from work when a drunk, who was driving on the wrong side of the road, struck her car head-on. Poof, just like that, her life was snuffed out. To add insult to injury, the culprit survived.

I have long since lost count of the number of times I have sought solace by listening to strains of the hauntingly beautiful song, written and sung by the Bee Gees:

How can you mend a broken heart?

How can you stop the rain from falling down?

How can you stop the sun from shining?

What makes the world go round? . . .

And how can you mend this broken man?

How can a loser ever win?

Please help me mend my broken heart

And let me live again. . .

In addition to listening endlessly to that melody, I threw myself with abandon into my final year of college. After graduation, I got a job as a patrol officer in Boston and, again to avoid thinking about the loss of my soul mate, worked diligently and tirelessly. All my effort paid off in another way, too; for, I rose quickly through the ranks and in record time achieved my goal of detective.

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Maria Bonano was the daughter of Rocco "Bananas" Bonano, a powerful figure in Boston's underworld, who was killed in a territorial dispute with another crime family. Joey "the Nut" Nimby, his enforcer, tried to take over as the don but a violent temper and inability to get along with others in the family doomed his bid. Angry and bitter, he struck out on his own and, in a botched armored car heist, killed an armed guard and wounded another. That escapade earned him a top spot on the police's most wanted list.

Although Maria was his girlfriend, their relationship was an uneasy, if not stormy one. Nevertheless, my boss felt confident that he would show up at her apartment. So it was that I and my partner, Hank Duffy, found ourselves on a stakeout in a boarding house across the street from her. Because the roly-poly man with the retreating hairline, smiling Irish eyes, and humorous, kindly mouth was nearing retirement age, he cared less about decorum and more with being himself. And believe me; both as a lawman and a person, he was an excellent role model.

Late one afternoon a week into our stakeout, while he was keeping a watch on her with the aid of a pair of binoculars, I was sitting at a nearby table, reading the paper. "What's she doing?" I asked, glancing up from the sports page.

"The usual--pacing back and forth, glass in hand," he replied, his eyes glued to the binoculars.

I shrugged and continued reading. "If nothing else, she ought to get a job just to keep herself busy."

"Why should she do that when she can live off her father's ill-gotten gains?"

"Holed up in an apartment building of his and getting bombed," I offered, turning the page, "what kind of life is that?"

Putting the binoculars aside, he glanced across at me and grinned. "Are you mellowing, Jack Dalton?"

I looked up. "What do you mean?"

"Maria Bonano suffers from the curse of us Irish," he said with his usual frankness. "She's a drunk."

I shrugged. "So?"

"Considering how much you've despised them in the past," he said, studying me with his keenly observant eyes," I'm getting the feeling you're becoming more tolerant."

I could not resist giving him a dose of his own medicine--humor. "Tolerant of whom--the drunks or the Irish?"

He cracked up. "You got me this time, Jack, me lad," he replied in a put-on Irish brogue, "but be careful ye don't fall for that Italian lass. She may not be a bad person but she's a drunk."

After that humorous exchange, he picked up the binoculars and once again put the focus on her. Then, suddenly he said, "Hey, Jack, she's coming out the front door and going to her car."

"Probably, heading for the package store."

"No, she'd walk if she were going there."

"Whatever?" Throwing the paper aside, I jumped up and grabbed my jacket. "I'll get on her tail."

Keeping a safe distance, I soon found myself following her into Cambridge along Storrow Drive. "Hank," I said via the two-way radio, "she's definitely not going for booze."

"Where the hell are you?"

"On Storrow Drive near the Watertown-Cambridge line." I paused as she increased the distance between us. "Jeez, she's picking up speed," I said, glancing at my speedometer.

"Be careful, Jack."

"Oh, my God, she's just shot off into the Charles River," I screamed.

All I remember after that is pulling over, jumping off my seat, and, flashlight in hand, stumbling down the embankment. Fortunately, her car had not yet submerged and, wading through waist deep water, I reached it and saw her slumped over the steering wheel, her face in the rising water. Because the door was locked, I broke the window with my flashlight and somehow managed to gather her up into my arms and stagger up the incline. She was unconscious and not breathing; so, I began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Meanwhile, some passersby stopped and offered to help. I asked them to call an ambulance; for I was desperately trying to get her to breathe again.

The next thing I knew I was in the waiting room of the Mount Auburn Hospital, which, fortunately, was close by. Exhausted, I do not know how long I was dozing but a tap on the shoulder and a smile on the face, looking down upon me, awoke me.

"You may see Miss Bonano now if you'd like." The words came from a soft-spoken, gentle, older nurse with a perpetual smile and, as I was about to learn, the patience of Jove. The letters on her name tag spelled Mary Lyndell.

"She's okay?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.

"Oh, she's just fine," she said, comforting me with a pat on the arm.

"Thank goodness," I murmured, breathing a sigh of relief.

Then, leading me into the emergency room and pulling aside the curtain of one of the cubicles, she turned her smile up a notch and said to its occupant, "Miss Bonano, there's someone here to see you."

Propped up on pillows and frowning, Maria, who had a cast on her right arm and a bandage on her forehead, replied, "Who the hell is he?"

"He's the police officer who saved your life." No sooner had she spoken those words than her beeper sounded. "Oh, you'll have to excuse me," she said, glancing from one of us to the other. "There's an emergency, I have to go."

As soon as she closed the curtain behind her, Maria leaned forward and unloaded on me. "If, Mr. Whatever-Your-Name-Is, you're expecting me to thank you for saving my life, you've come on a fool's errand. For, it's not going to happen."

"The name's Parkman. Bill Parkman," I retorted, caught off guard by the intensity of her verbal assault. "And rest assured I didn't drop by looking for thanks."

"Well, you've come to the right place," she shot back, "for, there isn't any here."

Foolishly, I continued to engage in a battle of insults with her. "That's for sure."

Looking at me scornfully, she shook her head. "Just my luck to have some goody-two-shoes cop driving behind me."

"You'd been drinking and, frankly, I could’ve cared less if you had killed yourself," I said, my voice rising in anger.

Clutching the cast on her broken arm with her good hand, she stared at me defiantly. "Then, why'd you save me?"

"Because--damn it--it's part of my job," I snarled.

She smiled wryly. "I'll look forward to seeing you on next week's episode of LA Law?"

"You think it's funny?" I retorted, seething. "What I should be doing is arresting you for driving under the influence and endangering the lives of innocent people."

Holding out her good hand and, as best she could, her cast, she said, "Then, why don't you?"

"Because, unlike the sleazeballs you chum around with, I'm a nice guy." As soon as I spoke those words, I regretted them.

She stared at me quizzically. "How do you know who my friends are?"

Fearful of blowing my cover, I hesitated and tried to get control of myself. "One thing for sure, members of the All American Boys Chorus aren't going to be hanging around with a lush like you," I said, lowering my voice but continuing to exchange insults with her.

"What gives you the right to talk about me like that?" she demanded, waving a finger menacingly at me.

"Because I performed CPR on you and, frankly, you smelled like a brewery. You've got a problem and you know it." I pulled the curtain aside and turned around to face her. Hell-bent on getting in the last word, I said, "Now do something about it." With that bit of advice, I spun around and hurried away.

Although Joey "the Nut" Nimby was still on the loose, shortly after my exchange of insults with Maria the stakeout of her apartment was called off. Our resources were limited and other cases needed our attention. Frankly, the decision did not break my heart.

But, if I thought I had heard the last of her, I was mistaken. One wintry afternoon a couple of months later I was, by chance, using the photocopier in the main office of police headquarters when I found myself the subject of a conversation between the receptionist and a visitor, a tall, ram-rod straight, dapper gentleman sporting a Rolex watch and carrying a chrome-handled cane both of which seemed chosen more for adornment than utility. "Excuse me, Miss, I'm looking for Officer Parkman," he said.

Aware of my undercover name, she glanced at me and replied, "William Parkman?"

He nodded. "Yes."

"You're in luck, I'm right here," I declared, picking up my photo copies and going over to meet him.

"I'm Dr. Vardak," he said, extending his hand.

"Nice to meet you," I replied, taking it like a present I did not know what to do with. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm a psychiatrist," he said with thinly-veiled pride, "and I'd like to have a word with you about one of my patients."

"Oh? What's his name?"

"It's a she; her name's Maria Bonano."

Suddenly he had my undivided attention. "Why don't we talk in my office?"

"By all means," he said with a bow.

After thanking the receptionist, I led him down the hallway. No sooner were we seated in my office--I at my desk and he on an armchair--than I got right to the point. "Now with regard to Maria Bonano, how may I help you?"

My grimace did not go unnoticed. "Although she's obviously not your favorite topic, Mr. Parkman," he chided, "I think you should be aware that she has a problem."

"I know," I replied with a wag of my head, "she's a lush."

"You don't waste words; that's for sure," he said, studying me over his bifocals. "She now realizes she has a drinking problem and is doing something about it."

I shrugged. "About time."

"She's coming to me for counseling."

"Lucky you."

Rolling his eyes and shaking his head in disapproval at my attitude, he said, "You're not very sympathetic."

"I have no sympathy for drunks," I replied, spitting out my words.

Again he chided me. "Yes, that's obvious."

"Now what else can I do for you?" I asked, glancing at my watch impatiently.

"Professional ethics prevent me from sharing with you anything about my conversations with her," he said imperiously, "but suffice to say she's had a lot of tragedy in her life."

"Haven't we all?" I retorted with a shrug.

Again he had not failed to catch the note of sarcasm in my voice. "One thing I will reveal, however, is that on the afternoon you rescued her, she had speeded up and driven into the river on purpose."

Leaning forward on my desk, I said, "Are you telling me that she tried to kill herself?"

He nodded. "It was no freak accident, she has suicidal tendencies."

"Huh, I never even considered that possibility," I murmured, falling back and tugging on my chin.

"Why would you?" Then, folding his hands and placing them atop his cane, in a lower voice he said, "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't tell her about my visit and our talk."

Because another encounter with her was the last thing I wanted, I found myself responding in a voice rough with anxiety, "Confidentiality goes without saying but what makes you think that I'll be seeing her again?"

"I'm not sure you will but she's trying to get up the courage to pay you a visit?" Reacting to the look on my face, he said, "You find that hard to believe?"

"Definitely," I retorted with a wag of my head. "Our first and only meeting wasn't a love match; it was mortal combat. Even now I remember each and every harsh word we hurled at one another."

"Well, as for her, it proved to be cathartic," he said, gesturing. "Thanks to your frankness, she's recognized her problem and taken steps to overcome it."

I sat there, shaking my head. "I don't believe it."

"Ah, but it's true; I give you my word on it," he said, rising and once again extending his hand. "I don't want to take up any more of your time, Mr. Parkman, and I thank you again for seeing me."

For a long time after he had left, I sat alone, recalling in vivid detail the painful meeting I had with Maria Bonano. At the risk of sounding like a broken record let me say again that the last thing I wanted was another encounter with her. But sometimes in strange ways, fate intervenes and, in my case, that is exactly what happened.

One cold, windy afternoon as the darkening sky above was spitting snowflakes down upon me, I found myself in the North End, hurrying along Hanover Street on my way to my favorite pizzeria, the Galleria Umberto. Suddenly, not far from the doorway, I slipped on a patch of ice and, trying to keep my balance, I stumbled into a passerby. I managed to remain on my feet but in doing so I almost knocked her over. In the nick of time, my arms reached out, grabbed her, and prevented her from falling.

Looking up at me, she exclaimed, "Officer Parkman, what are you doing here?"

"Here?" Taken aback at the sight of her, I froze, still holding her firmly within my grasp.

"Don't you ever wear your uniform?" she asked, surveying me with a keen eye.

"Oh, it's--it's my day off and because I was at city hall on some personal business," I replied, fibbing and, at the same time, struggling to regain my composure, "I decided to splurge on a pizza at my favorite pizzeria, the Galleria Umberto."

"Really?" To my pleasant surprise, I detected a faint smile on her face. "It's mine, too."

Realizing I was holding her in my embrace, I let my arms drop to my sides and stepped back. "Oh, forgive me," I offered weakly.

"What's there to forgive?" she said, studying me with a curious intensity. "Now, for a second time you, my knight in shining armor, have saved my life." At those words not only did I turn crimson but also became speechless. "Would you mind if I joined you?" she said, bringing me back to reality.

I swallowed hard. "No, of course not," I lied.

"Thanks, I have something I'd like to talk to you about," she said in a soft, gentle voice, "and, of course, I'll pick up the tab."

I threw my hands up in protest. "Oh, I'm much too macho for that."

Once inside we got in line and each of us picked up two slices of pizza. When we were seated, she loosened her scarf and leaned across the table. "After the way I treated you when we last met," she whispered, "I wouldn't have blamed you if you had refused to have anything to do with me."

I shrugged. "At the time, as I recall, I wasn't on my best behavior, either."

"Ah, but you saved my life and, instead of thanking you for it, I was rude and sarcastic." As she placed her hand on mine, her olive-black eyes seemed to plead for friendship. "I apologize for the way I behaved."

"Apology accepted and, despite your protest, now it's my turn." Staring down, I had no desire to pull my hand free of hers. "I apologize for being nasty and prejudging you. I had no right to do that."

"Oh, but you did," she persisted. "I was a lush. And, as for the crowd I hung around with, let's just say they were losers." I shrugged and she said, "I've taken some important steps: I've fessed up to my problem and started seeing a counselor. And I'm working as a cook in a shelter for the homeless." She paused and drew her lips in thoughtfully. "All because of you."

Embarrassed, I quipped, "If you keep heaping praise on me, I'll have to make a trip to the Vatican and apply for sainthood."

After sharing a laugh together, she studied me long and hard. "You want to know something?"

"What's that?"

"You're wonderful," she said dreamily, "I was fortunate to have crossed paths with you."

Turning crimson under her scrutiny, I found myself confessing, "Frankly, I didn't think we'd ever see one another again."

She paused and, then, with that faint smile of hers replied, "I, on the other hand, was sure we would, for it was our kismet."

Our kismet--oh, what a fond remembrance those two words invoked. On that star-studded, moonlit summer night, now seemingly eons ago, as Vanessa and I lingered in idle chatter far into the night on the steps of the gazebo in Dennis, she had uttered them to me. This time, however, sitting across from me in a dimly lit pizzeria was a brunette with sad dark eyes that were pleading for friendship, a faint smile that could not hide her hurt, and a voice that was full of entreaty.

Frankly, as soon as she and I had sat down together, I wanted to jump back up and run out. But some mysterious force prevented me from doing so and, as we began to talk, I came to realize that she had built an invisible wall around herself to hide her hurt, pain, and weakness. Slowly, brick by brick, I started to take it apart and soon saw just how sincere, caring, and good a person she truly was.

Then, once again, the unexpected happened.

"I thought I might find you here, Babe."

That greeting came from a wiry, swarthy, heavily tattooed tough whose sunken eyes, crooked nose, and scarred cheeks reeked of street violence.

She looked up and froze. "Joey," she said, recovering.

"Who's this guy?" he snarled, giving me the evil eye.

"A--a friend," she stammered.

If looks could have killed, his, at that moment, would have reduced me to ashes. "Not a boyfriend, I hope?"

She made a face. "No, of course not."

"Why are you here with him, Babe?"

She shrugged. "To thank him."

"Thank him?" Again he glared at me. "For what?"

"For saving my life."

"Just what did Joe Hero do?" he demanded, giving me a sharp pat on the back for emphasis.

She took a deep breath and replied, "I had an accident."

"Oh?" His brow wrinkled. "What happened?"

Clasping her fingers together, she formed a steeple. "I lost control of my car and ended up in the Charles River."

His bushy eyebrows rose and his beady eyes narrowed. "Were you hurt?"

I suffered a concussion and a broken arm," she said, shrugging it off, "but I'm fine now."

"You look as beautiful as ever." Turning to me, he said, "Doesn't she, Joe Hero?"

I nodded. "Yes."

"Don't go getting any ideas."

"Hey," I protested, gesturing with my arms, "I'm not in the habit of hitting on another man's woman."

"I'm glad to hear that; you'll live longer that way," he said with a twisted smile. "But on second thought what do I have to worry about? Why would she settle for a punk like you when she's had a fling with a man like me? Isn't that right, Babe?" Running a hand through her hair, he leaned over and went to kiss her on the forehead but she pushed him away. "Hey, I want it to be like old times," he whispered.

"Those days are gone, Joey," she said, letting out a long, audible breath. "It's over between us."

"Not so fast," he snarled, "it's not over until I say it's over."

To run into Joey "the Nut" Nimby was bad enough but to do so without a firearm was even worse. Confronting him in the pizzeria was out of the question; for, it was full of people whose lives I would be putting in danger. My only option was somehow to get him outside and, hoping for the best, deal with him there.

"Hey, look, you two obviously have some issues you have to work out between yourselves," I offered, "and in no way do I intend to interfere. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way." As I started to get up, he put a hand on my shoulder and shoved me back down.

"Stay right where you are," he growled.

"Excuse me, Joey, but are you in some kind of trouble?" I asked in as naïve a voice as I could muster.

"Not as much as you if you don't do exactly as I say," he replied, glancing warily around the dining room.

"I'll do whatever you want, Joey but leave him alone," she pleaded. "He has nothing to do with us."

He sniggered. "The three of us are going for a walk."

"Where to?" she demanded.

"Your apartment." Stroking a jagged scar on his right cheek, he sneered. "I need some dough."

"I have a couple of hundred on me which I'll gladly give you."

As she reached for her purse, his hand stayed hers. "That's peanuts," he replied, his eyes blazing down upon her. "I want the loot your old man stashed away for you."

"There is none." Like her words, the tremor in her voice, too, was audible.

"Stop playing games with me," he warned, his eyes narrowing ominously.

Reaching into her pocket, she took out a key and handed it to him. "Now that you have the key go to the apartment and take whatever you want," she said, grinding out her words, "then, do me a favor and get out of my life."

"Thanks for the keys to the kingdom but I want the pleasure of your company for old time's sake and Joe Hero's for safety's sake." He paused and looked warily around. "Now I want the two of you to get up slowly and walk out of here in front of me. And I'm warning you, if either of you are foolish enough to try anything, I won't hesitate to kill you." To emphasize the point he put a hand in his jacket pocket and with an evil smile said, "Capisce?"

"Capisce," she replied, glancing at me, "desperate men do desperate things."

Together she and I did as we were told. Once outside, I knew where and when I would make my move. Because he was a few steps behind us, I waited until Maria and I had reached and stepped over the edge of that icy patch and, then, with lighting-like speed, while he was on it, I elbowed him hard in the stomach and, sure enough, he slipped and fell to the ground. The only problem was that he had grabbed hold of my jacket and pulled me down with him. Seizing his arm, I forced him to drop the gun which slithered across the sidewalk and disappeared down into a storm drain.

The next thing I knew the two of us were rolling around, each trying to get the better of the other. Although I prided myself on being in good physical shape and able to handle myself, Joey "the Nut" Nimby was no slouch. Fighting, after all, had been a way of life with him; that is how he became an enforcer. Soon a crowd began to form and Maria, frantic at the sight of Joey atop me and punching away, hollered, "He's a policeman. Will someone please help him?" The only problem was that any helper would have no way of knowing which one of us was the good guy.

Maria, taking matters into her own hands, tore off her scarf and jumped on Joey. Then, wrapping it around his neck, she began pulling the ends tightly together. So tightly he found himself gasping for air and toppled off me, dragging her along, too. I swear she was hell-bent on strangling him to death. Even as his body lay lifeless on the sidewalk, she refused to release the pressure on the scarf around his neck. Rising to my feet and getting my second wind, I had all I could do to pry her hands loose.

"I've hurt you enough, Bill," she said, embracing me and offering a shy, warm smile. "So, I sure as heck wasn't going to let anyone else harm you--least of all him."

My sidekick, Hank Duffy, was among the first of the lawmen to arrive on the scene. Pointing to Joey who was lying on the sidewalk, he called to a uniformed policeman, "Hey, Al, call an ambulance and get that scumbag to the hospital, will you?"

"Will do," he replied and then, gesturing toward me, added, "meanwhile you'd better check to see how your partner, Jack Dalton, is doing?"

I grimaced, for, Maria was standing next to me. "I'll live," I replied, fearing what was to come.

Then, turning round, the burly Irishman gave me a hug and, in his concern for my safety, addressed me without thinking by my real name. "Thank the Good Lord you're okay, Jack."

My fate was sealed; for no sooner did he utter that last word than Maria did a quick about face and hurried off. Excusing myself, I took off after her and, with long strides, came aside her. "Maria," I said, taking her by the arm and turning her to me, "please don't get angry with me."

"I'm not angry, I'm disappointed," she replied, a touch of sadness in her voice. "You're name's obviously not Bill Parkman."

"No, it's not," I replied, staring down at the sidewalk, "it's Jack Dalton."

Sarcasm became her weapon of choice. "Yes, so I've heard."

"If--if you'll give me a minute," I stammered, "I'll explain everything to you."

She glanced at her watch. "I have nothing but time, Mr. Dalton."

"I'm--I'm a detective," I said awkwardly.

"Oh, really."

Ignoring her sarcasm, I nodded. "When Joey Nimby killed that armored car driver, my boss was sure he'd show up at your apartment." I paused and heaved a heavy sigh. "So he assigned me and another detective to stake it out."

"From where?"

"A room in the boarding house across the street."

"So you were spying on me?" Again I nodded and her brow pulled into an affronted frown. "The night I drove into the river you didn't just happen to be behind me, you were following me, weren't you?"

"Yes." In desperation I exclaimed, "Hey, look, at the time I was just doing my job."

"You're good at what you do. You sure had me buffaloed." Dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, she turned and started to walk away.

"Hey, Maria," I said, catching up to her, "Things between us are different now."

"They sure are," she replied, tears welling up in her eyes. "I believed in you."

"I believe in you--present tense--and I want you to believe in me again."

"I'm not sure I can."

"At least, give me a chance; I don't want it to end this way." I had no defense against the tears that now were streaming down her cheeks. "I'll get down on my knees and beg if necessary."

"You don't have to do that, Jack," she said softly. "I don't want it to end, either."

I took a handkerchief from my pocket and wiped her eyes. "This can be a new beginning for the both of us?" I whispered, taking her hand in mine.

"What makes you so sure?"

"It bothers me that you keep insisting you're beholden to me for saving your life," I confessed. "Well, now I'm beholden to you for saving mine just now back there." I gestured. "So we can start our new beginning as equals and go--" I hesitated, intent upon choosing my words carefully.

"And go wherever our kismet leads us," she said, coming to my aid.

"Wherever our kismet leads us," I replied, my voice trailing off to a hushed whisper. "Yes, that's, indeed, where we'll go."

As I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, strains of a hauntingly beautiful, familiar song came wafting from the open door of the restaurant in front of which we were standing:

How can you mend a broken heart?

How can you stop the rain from falling down?

How can you stop the sun from shining?

What makes the world go round? . . .

And how can you mend this broken man?

How can a loser ever win?

Please help me mend my broken heart

And let me live again. . .

# # #



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