I live in the 'burbs of a smallish city; that is, small enough not to have major problems, big enough to hat the critical mass needed to have a museum, a First Night celebration, a performing arts center, like that. The kind of place where rush hour lasts for thirty-five minutes, normally.
I'm a technical writer, and thanks to the modern era, a telecommuter. I work for firms on both coasts, as well as in the heartland. I've been doing this job since the mid nineties; I was newly divorced, my newspaper career was going exactly nowhere, and the opportunity to make sense out of jargon appealed to me.
So, I relocated to this city, found a nice quiet house in a small subdivision, and settled into what became a very happy and comfortable routine.
It's rare I have to go downtown, but on occasion I do; and one day's venture changed things for me fairly significantly.
I had a problem with the tax collector's office. They had me on file as owing back taxes on my house, incurred by the previous owners but my responsibility nonetheless.
One problem: I was the original owner. I bought the house before it was completed, and have been the only occupant. I'd hired a real estate attorney, well before closing, to research both the property and the builder. The place was clean.
I'd been round and round with those idiots on a few occasions, but for some reason, every year this problem re-surfaced. I was getting pretty damned tired of the routine.
So it was that I found myself in a foul mood, carrying a briefcase, marching into the county government building.
When my appointment time came, I was ushered into a room where one of the assistant tax collectors was sitting. He looked up, saw me, and his face drained of color. Yeah, I'd dealt with him before.
"Get your boss in here," I snapped. When he didn't move, I said, "Now! I'm tired of you assholes. I want this thing finished to-day!"
He scurried out, and returned a few minutes later with the head honcho. He saw me, and he, too, realized it was going to be a bad morning.
I pulled out my written documentation, and then a videotape. "I recorded this the last time I was dragged down here. It clearly shows you and moron #2 here," I gestured to the assistant, "admitting I owed nothing in back taxes, and swearing on a stack I would NEVER be harassed again."
I flipped the tape to him; he caught it, and I continued, "You solve it right fucking here, right fucking now, or so help me, when I leave here, I'm heading for the TV stations with a copy of that tape. I'm going to make your life hell."
He cleared his throat, and began, "Sir, I'm really sorry about this..."
"Shut up, you incompetent motherfucker!" I spat. I got nose to nose with him. "You get this shit straightened out now. Last warning, asshole."
I turned, put everything back in my briefcase, and stormed out.
As I hit the street, my adrenaline was still pumping; but I had burned off enough energy that I had simmered down a little. That's when I heard the sound that changed things.
There was a thud behind me, a scraping sound, and a woman's voice yelled, "Help! Stop them!"
I turned around to see three young men, teenagers, I judged, running approximately toward me, carrying a purse with a broken strap. Behind them was an older woman, laying on the sidewalk, partly pinned under a wheelchair.
I realized these thugs had mugged a disabled person, and my blood pressure spiked.
As the lead thug ran past me, I stuck out my leg; he caught it and went flying, landing with a crunch against a tree. More accurately, the metal grating around a tree. The purse skidded across the sidewalk.
I reached down to retrieve it, and felt a sharp sensation in my arm.
One of the other little bastards had stabbed me.
Now, normally I probably would have passed out; but my earlier anger (and the attendant adrenaline rush) transformed me, and by this time I was so enraged, I turned and brought my briefcase up in a softball pitch, catching him under the chin. A couple of teeth flew out, and he went down in a heap.
The first kid got up and ran, the third kept boogying, and the second, the one I'd hit, staggered to his feet, used some vile language, and then collapsed again.
A police officer arrived at that moment and cuffed the little bastard; his partner grabbed me, sat me down, and said, "Hey pal, take it easy, we've got an ambulance on the way."
I was confused, until I started getting dizzy. I looked at my arm, where I'd been stabbed, and I was bleeding impressively. The rescue squad showed up, bandaged my arm, and insisted on taking me to the emergency room.
I won't detail the events of the next couple of hours, which consisted of a tetanus shot, interviews with a couple of detectives, and lots of paperwork.
Just before I was cleared to go -- I was dressing; they had seen fit to make me strip and wear a hospital gown over a knife wound -- I heard a mechanical sound, and the edge of my privacy screen moved aside.
There sat a young woman in a wheelchair. It was the same person I had seen before, but up close I could see her hair was platinum blond. It had appeared grey from a distance, and was cut short in the style many older women prefer.
"I'm Paulette," she said, proffering a hand, which I took. "I'd like to thank you for your help this morning.
I chuckled. "All I did was prevent a theft."
"Don't be modest," she scolded. "I've lost my purse before, and had to replace all my cards, my IDs, the whole works. Not under these circumstances, I'll grant, but it's still a pain."
I smiled at that. "I can imagine."
We exited the ER, and stepped out to the parking area. "I guess I need to find a cab, "I said, "to get me back downtown. I need to retrieve my car."
"Mind if I tag along?" she asked.
"Not at all," I replied.
We found a taxi, and within twenty minutes I had gotten my car out of the public lot.
"Can I drop you somewhere?" I asked.
"Sure," she said, "I could use a lift home." She gave me directions, and off we went.
When we arrived at her apartment building, she said, "Why don't you come in for a while? It's almost five o'clock, and I could say 'thanks' by making a light dinner."
I shrugged. "Best offer I've had all day," I said, grinning.
We entered her apartment, and I was immediately struck by the arrangements; everything was lower than normal, a reasonable accommodation, I figured, for someone incapable of reaching very high.
She bustled around the kitchen, and I sat at the table in the dining nook. We made chitchat as she cooked; where we originated, schools, marriages (I'd had one; she'd had none), kids (none all around) and the like.
We ate a very tasty meatloaf with the trimmings, and the dinner and conversation stretched out until after seven.
We retired to the living room, where we had coffee and more conversation. Around eight, I said, "I need to get going. I have a meeting to prepare for, tomorrow, and I didn't get all I needed done today."
She said, "I'm sorry."
I realized how it must have sounded. I laughed, and said, "No, no, I meant because of tweedledee and tweedledum at the tax office. This time with you has more than erased the rest of the day." Oops, did it again. "Wait, I mean, made up for the rest of the day." She giggled at my failed attempts to take my foot out of my mouth.
I stood. "I really need to go, before I do my reputation some real damage. Besides, I'm in some pain," I gestured with my arm, "and the medication has announced its intention to retire for the evening." I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
She blushed, and said, "Could you maybe come back Saturday? I've enjoyed this evening, too. It's been so long since I've been with anyone. I mean, socially." It was her turn to stumble, apparently.
We both laughed, and I said, "Deal. I'll bring dinner."
She smiled broadly. "Deal," she repeated.
I finally left in one piece.
The rest of the week was uneventful. I got through my meeting, sharing the previous day's odyssey to oohs and aahs.
Saturday afternoon, I called Paulette to see if we were still on (we were), and cooked up some good stuff. I bundled things up and drove to her building.
She met me at the door looking lovely, wearing jeans and a pale blue pullover top which did nothing to disguise the fact she did not appear to be wearing a bra. Down, boy, I mentally scolded
We had to heat a couple of items, and then we ate a nice dinner. She was as impressed with my skills as I had been with hers.
After dinner was almost a repeat of our first evening together. She sat on the edge of her sofa; I sat in an adjoining easy chair. We continued to share increasingly intimate information.
"So," she said at length, "I guess it's time I told you about ... what happened."
I frowned. "You mean the other days, when those kids..."
"No," she interrupted, gesturing at her legs, "I mean ... this."