I was a criminal. I knew that. I knew the credit cards were stolen when I used them, but to me it was just business. And I was going about that business when she busted me. Buoyant with success, I left the upscale boutique thinking of the sweet looking salesgirl. The next time I saw her, (twenty or thirty minutes later, I don’t stop to check the time when I’m running for my life) she showed me her badge. FBI.
Eventually we came to a mutual agreement: I would give up the specifics of my boss’s operation. I’d name names, testify under oath in a court of law. All this took time. I was not going into witness protection or anything, they just wanted me alive to testify, then I’d be free to relocate to a new place of my choosing. Meanwhile, she was my constant companion, at least during waking hours.
She brought my favorite foods and shared meals with me at the little table with two uncomfortable chairs that sat opposite the hotel room bed. We ran together every morning and lifted weights at her gym. We talked sometimes.
“You should have been an actor, the way you lie,” she said between bites of enchilada.
“You’re pretty good yourself,” I replied, trying not to preen at the compliment.
And it was a compliment. Some people lie for a living, and to make it, you have to be a damn good liar. You’ve got your actors and writers, who make up stories in the name of art. But undercover police like her lie and so do petty thieves like me. It almost goes without saying that politicians lie, even in their sleep.
She didn’t tell me much about herself, not at first, but little pieces came out: she trained at Quantico, her mother had cancer when she was a kid.
“I’m sorry,” I said. Thinking the mother had died, I put a hand on her shoulder, her skin damp from the sweaty summer day.
“You shouldn’t touch me,” she said. She didn’t move for a minute and neither did I, but finally she brushed my hand off her shoulder. “She’s been in remission for twenty years.”
“Good,” I said as I rolled the word “shouldn’t” around in my head. “Shouldn’t” is different than “Don’t.” While I contemplated that difference, she got up and left the room, her food half-eaten. I put everything into a trash bag and took it outside to a waste receptacle so the joint wouldn’t smell worse than usual. She was in her car, still keeping tabs. I waved. She didn’t return the gesture and her eyes were inscrutable behind sunglasses.
Back in my room, I watched shift change through a slit in the curtain. She left after dinner every night and another guy took her place. Ahead of me loomed another long night of trying to figure out when it had happened. When was the moment I’d fallen in love?