"I can not endure another night alone!" echoes across the world as desperate cries of pain, originating from within the sterile white walls of small apartments everywhere.
There is no greater curse that can befall a person, than a life lived in a state of constant loneliness. Each day spent in loneliness, sucks a little of the soul from a man or woman. Even after a few days, the effect of loneliness on a person is observed as a sloping of shoulders, a dulling of the eyes, and a lethargy of spirit. A year spent in constant loneliness creates a flat, lifeless person who exhibits only the barest of signs of living. A lifetime of loneliness produces a husk of a person; a walking corpse, that goes through the motions of being human, but without experiencing life.
Loneliness is a result of more than being unloved, or isolated. It is being invisible – of having an existence that goes completely unnoticed by others. It is shouting out in pain on a crowded street and having everyone walk past without even a glance. It is lying on death's door without a single tear being shed by another. It is being a nothing.
Loneliness is a relatively modern phenomena. People work in little cubicles. They stand in crowded subways, with eyes staring off into the distance ignoring all who surround them. Living apart from family, they dwell in little apartments where neighbors pointedly look in the opposite direction.
With six billion people walking on the planet, it should be impossible to be lonely. Yet, it happens so frequently that it has become a common misery. One must wonder how that can be. All it takes to end loneliness is a word ... a gesture ... a touch ... any simple act of recognizing the existence of another. Yet day in and day out, people exist without even causal recognition by others. Too many people wilt and waste away, in an epidemic that is spread by neither germ nor virus.
Should one lonely person reaches out to another, suddenly there are two people who are no longer lonely. It is so simple, and yet, so exceptionally difficult for a lonely person to do.
The slap-slap-slap of running shoes hitting the pavement was muted by the almost oppressive quiet of the desert. A foot fell an inch in front of a scorpion crossing the highway and disappeared before insect had a chance to react with raised stinger. The young woman, pony tail swinging to and fro behind her, ran at a steady pace that ate miles at a near superhuman rate. She moved in an effortless manner – arms and legs swinging with an easy grace.
She ignored the occasional car or truck that passed her although almost all of them slowed when driving past. The sight of a young woman wearing jogging shorts and a tee-shirt running along a highway in the middle of nowhere was sufficient to draw the attention of even the most jaded and tired of drivers. More than one car slowed enough for the driver to offer a lift which was calmly refused by the young woman who never once showed a moment of concern about the isolated circumstances in which those offers were proffered.
The shrill sound of a cell phone disturbed the air, and the young woman touched an ear piece.
Without any trace of breathlessness, nor even breaking stride, she answered, "Hello?"
"Where are you?"
"I'm running to the store," the young woman answered.
"You left yesterday morning."
"I haven't gotten there yet," the young woman said with a giggle.
"What store are you going to?"
"The one on Rodeo Drive?"
"Yes," the young woman answered. "I want to get a new dress."
There was a low frustrated growl followed by, "That's four hundred miles from home!"
"I'll be there late tomorrow."
She had figured that it would take her thirty hours to run there. Having left in the late morning the previous day with plans to rest the nights in hotels along the way, she predicted a late afternoon arrival. After a couple hours of shopping, she'd mail her purchases home, spend the night in a hotel, and start her return run the next morning.
"That's four hundred miles!"
"I'm averaging a four and a half minute mile," the young woman replied.
It was the kind of blistering pace that only world class marathon runners could maintain, and even they would only last for around two hours before collapsing at the finish line. At noon, she had already been running for six hours and expected to continue at that pace for another six hours. It was well within her limits. She wasn't even breathing hard.
"Where exactly are you?"
"I'm about halfway there. I'm nearing the California state line."
"What road are you on?"
"Betsy, I'm sending a helicopter out to pick you up."
"Why?" Betsy asked.
"It's not safe for a young woman to run across the desert alone."
"I can take care of myself."
"That's not the point."
"It is the point. I can take care of myself!" Betsy declared.
Anyone who knew Betsy was well aware of the fact that she was more than capable of taking care of herself. Reflexes fast enough to catch a rattlesnake in mid-strike, strong as any man, a lifetime of training in the martial arts, and training in the use of arms; these made her a very dangerous individual. Her willingness to use force ... although tempered somewhat, from her early life ... assured she would not stand quietly by, while being victimized, by anyone.
"You drive all of us mothers crazy."
"Momma Linda, I run. That's what I do," Betsy said.
"I'll arrange a chase car," Linda said.
"Don't bother with that."
The two women argued over the phone for thirty minutes before Betsy conceded that she would call home every hour, and let them know where she had holed up for the night. She had covered seven miles during the conversation, and four cars had slowed down to check her out.
An hour later a patrol car eased up beside her, and rode along for a minute or so while the officer kept pointing to the side of the road. Frustrated that she didn't stop, the officer drove ahead and pulled off the road, parking on the shoulder. He got out and leaned against the rear of his patrol car waiting for her.
When Betsy arrived, he shouted, "Stop."
Betsy came to a stop although she did continue to jog in place. It wasn't that she needed to cool down after her run. She didn't like to stand still.
"What's the matter?" Betsy asked.
"I need to see some identification," the officer said.
"Just show me some identification," the officer said.
Betsy reached into her fanny pack and pulled out her wallet. She opened it and held it out for him to inspect.
"Please take your identification out of the wallet," the officer said.
"This is a huge waste of time," Betsy complained while digging her identification card out.
She handed it over to the officer. He took a moment to examine the young woman and compare her to the image on the card. Individually, none of her features were all that remarkable, but the total result was a very attractive young woman. She was of medium height, but so muscular that she almost looked stocky. She was small breasted consistent with having almost no body fat. Her facial features were exotic as a result of Caucasian, Negro, and Asian ancestry. Her hair, jet black, despite being in a pony tail fell to the middle of her back. Her skin was not black, white, or yellow, but almost a golden tan.
Satisfied the identification matched the woman jogging in place in front of him, he went over to the front of the car and, reaching through the open window, pulled out the microphone for his radio. He called in the information on the license. After a short exchange with the dispatcher, he put the microphone back in the car. He walked back to Betsy and returned her identification card to her. She was still jogging in place.
The officer said, "Here's your id, Ms. Carter."
"Thank you," Betsy said rolling her eyes.
"Don't you know that it is dangerous for a young woman to be hitchhiking like this in the middle of nowhere? There are all kinds of perverts who would love to abduct a young woman who looks like you. You wouldn't like the kinds of things one of them would do to you," the officer said.
While he was talking, she had put the card in her wallet and then returned the wallet to her fanny pack. He wondered if she was even paying attention to what he was saying.
"I know. I'm not hitchhiking, though. I'm running."
"So don't you think it best if you avoided a situation like that?"
Snorting at the idea of avoiding a situation like that, Betsy asked, "Who cares if there's one less pervert in the world?"
Amused at her assertion that the pervert would come out the loser, he asked, "What do you mean?"
"Anyone that tries to grab me, will end up dead," Betsy answered with the calm assurance of someone who was convinced the outcome was well understood.
The officer shook his head. He knew that too many young people assumed that they were invulnerable to harm until they encountered a situation that was too much for them to handle. Reality had a tendency to bite them in the ass with a venom that was often fatal. He and his brother officers were then called upon to clean up the mess.
"Ms. Carter, there are some very big and nasty men out there," the officer said.
"I know. They're the most fun to take down," Betsy said with a dangerous gleam in her eyes.
Still jogging in place, she shadow boxed for a few seconds. Her fists lashed out at blinding speed. Despite the speed of her movements, he wasn't impressed.
Seeing the expression on his face, she added, "I've done it before, and I'll do it again."
"There's always someone who is bigger and meaner than you are," the officer said as if her were explain that a stove was hot to a young child.
"But there are only a few who are deadlier than I am, and I know all of them," Betsy said with the assurance that she was stating a fact.
He knew that he wasn't going to convince her that she was doing something foolish. In a movie, this was the kind of conversation that preceded something horrible happening to the young woman. He didn't want to respond to a call sometime later to recover her body from some remote place in the desert.
Changing tactics, he said, "Look, Ms. Carter, why don't I take you into town where you can get on a bus and go home?"
"No thank you."
"If it's a matter of money, I'll buy your ticket," the officer said.
He didn't really want to spend that kind of money, but he'd rather see her safely on a bus than have his next encounter with her occur in the morgue. She was a very attractive young woman and that tended to attract sexual predators. Too often they ended their encounters by killing their victims.
"I'm not worried about money. I'm going shopping," Betsy said.
"Rodeo Drive," Betsy answered.
"You're carrying enough money to go shopping on Rodeo Drive?" the officer said thinking that this young woman had no sense of danger.
The officer sighed. If it was true that she had money, then he wouldn't be able to pick her up on vagrancy charges. He hadn't seen her hitchhiking so he couldn't arrest her for that. Although it was unwise to travel along a deserted stretch of highway such as this, there weren't any actual laws against pedestrians along this stretch. Distance cyclists and cross-country runners often traveled along the highway since it was one of the few east-west roadways into California. Usually though, they traveled in packs, rather than alone like this.
"Are you kidding? I've got debit cards," Betsy said.
He was about to say something when her cell phone rang.
"Hold on ... that's my mother."
She reached up and tapped a button on her earpiece. Betsy answered the call with a cheery hello while still jogging in place. He had no idea who she was talking with, but it was obvious by the changes in her body language that she wasn't happy.
Betsy said, "I know I said I would call every hour, but I'm stuck here talking to a police officer."
She was silent for a moment and then said, "I know. He thinks I'll get abducted or something. He doesn't understand that I'm perfectly safe."
He watched her frown.
"All I wanted to do was run down to the store and back. It's no big deal," Betsy said.
"I don't need a bodyguard," Betsy said angrily.
The police officer relaxed a little at hearing that. If anyone needed a bodyguard, it was a woman who looked like her. He figured that would be some friend of the family since he doubted she had the money to afford a professional bodyguard.
"Momma Ling, you know that I could kill anyone who tries to harm me before Gary could even get off his bicycle."
"That does it! I'm going to get a carry permit the minute I get home."
The policeman looked at her thinking no one in their right mind would give her a carry permit. She didn't have the sense to use it responsibly.
"I'm jogging by the highway, next to a patrol car. He can't miss us," Betsy said. "Bye!"
Betsy hit the button on her ear piece. She looked at the officer and said, "One of my mothers has arranged for me to have a bodyguard. Are you happy, now?"
"I'm very happy."
"He'll be here in a couple of minutes," Betsy said.
A couple of minutes later a helicopter flew over, and then circled around. It landed about fifty feet from the highway. The officer stared at the helicopter, a little incredulous that whoever had sent the bodyguard would choose to have a helicopter deliver him. He jumped when there was a gunshot from the helicopter. His hand went down to his pistol, and he pulled it out of its holster.
The next thing he knew, the girl was holding his pistol.
"Don't worry," Betsy said. "If there's a problem, I'm a better shot than you."
Much to his surprise, she had stopped jogging and was holding the gun in the direction of the helicopter like it was an extension of her body. Her shooting posture was perfect. There wasn't the least bit of wobble or sign of nervousness. On seeing how she stood, he was halfway convinced that she might actually be a better shot with a pistol than he was.
"Give me my gun back."
A man climbed out the helicopter and wrestled with removing a bicycle from within it. He picked up the bicycle and stomped his way towards the patrol car. He would occasionally pause to kick up a little dirt in disgust.
Recognizing the man who had gotten out the helicopter, Betsy was now holding the gun skyward, and had resumed jogging in place.
"Give me my gun back," the officer said, not wanting to get in a fight with her while a third person was approaching and unknown individuals remained in a helicopter parked a short distance away.
The helicopter took off before the man reached the patrol car.
"That idiot pilot has a whole desert in which to land, and he chooses to set down right next to a rattlesnake. I nearly shit my britches," the man grumbled while putting the bicycle down.
Giggling at the man's disgruntled grumbling, Betsy said, "Hello, Gary."
Stunned at the identity of the man, the officer forgot about Betsy having taken his gun.
Gary looked at the man for a second. "Uh, you're Dwight Paterson, right?"
"I remember you. You were all gung-ho about joining the paratroopers. Did you get in?"
"Drop the 'Sargent' crap. I'm retired, now. It's just Gary."
Betsy said, "Can we go now? I'm bored, here."
"Hello, Betsy. Where'd you get the gun?"
"From him," Betsy said pointing at the police officer.
"Give it back to me," Dwight said.
"Give him back his gun," Gary said.
While handing the gun back to Dwight, Betsy said to Gary, "I thought you were guarding the rich and famous in Palm Springs."
"I was, until your mother called," Gary said.
"I don't need you, so why don't you go home?"
"I know that you're perfectly safe, and you know that you can handle anything that comes along, but your mother doesn't accept that. I'm not brave enough to tell Ling that I left you out here all alone," Gary said.
"What do you mean she's perfectly safe?" Dwight asked.
"She's more than capable of taking care of herself," Gary answered.
"I wouldn't stand a chance in a fight against her," Gary said.
"You do stand a chance ... at least a really good chance of getting hurt," Betsy said with a grin.
Incredulous, Dwight stared at Gary. He'd had Gary as an instructor in basic training. Gary taught unarmed combat and he had wiped the floor with anyone who had challenged him. The fact that the man had cringed when the young woman had talked about hurting him was hard to believe.
"You've got to be kidding."
"She's probably the third most dangerous woman in the world. The only women I know who are deadlier, are Ling Carter and Penny Vinter."
While he had no idea who Ling Carter was, he did know who Penny Vinter was. Almost everyone who had ever been near combat in the Middle East during the War on Terror knew of Penny Vinter. She was a living legend. Gary was one of the few men who had actually seen her in action. He had been pinned down during a horrendous firefight when she had appeared from nowhere wearing her red robe. She had danced through the enemy position and ended the fight in just minutes.
"Yes," Gary said.
"The Penny Vinter."
"Penny isn't so tough. She's got no stamina. I took her out after twenty minutes," Betsy said.
She had to admit that it was one of the best matches of her life. She wished that she had actually had a chance to spar with Oscar Meyers, but her mother had done that. It would have been a great fight.
Gary looked over at Dwight and said, "Like I said, she doesn't need me."
Dwight looked over Betsy thinking that Gary had to be exaggerating. There was no way a young attractive woman like her could be that deadly. He looked back at Gary and knew that man wasn't kidding.
"Are we done here?" Betsy asked.
"Yes," Dwight answered.
"Good," Betsy said and headed down the road at her normal blistering pace.
"Shit," Gary said watching her fly down the road. "I don't even know where we're going."
"Rodeo Drive," Dwight said.
"She's going to kill me. I don't even know if I can ride that far," Gary said while getting mounted on his bicycle. "When they find my dead body by the side of the road, you can tell the coroner that it was death by exercise."
Dwight laughed while Gary peddled his bike in a wobbling path around the patrol car. It was going to take the man some time to catch up to Betsy. He got in his patrol car. Cutting across the highway, he headed back the way he had come.
It took a few minutes for Gary to catch up with Betsy. At least with the gearing on the bicycle he didn't have to work too hard to keep up with her. For a rider on a bicycle, her pace was rather sedate. He rode beside her.
"So, Betsy. How have you been?"
"I'm a little irritated at my mothers," Betsy said with a scowl.
"They're treating me like I was a baby or something. I mean ... I don't need a bodyguard," Betsy said.
"They worry about you. After all, you're their little girl," Gary said.
He was well aware of the fact that she was a likely target of a number of less than honest people. Her wealth attracted kidnappers interested in snatching her for ransom. Her appearance attracted sexual predators. Her family had enough enemies that murdering her in order to send a message to the family wasn't an unlikely scenario.
Her cell phone rang. Irritated, she answered it, "He's here."
Gary had asked the pilot to let Ling know that he had arrived. He was confident that Ling knew he was on the job.
Betsy said, "I don't want to talk right now. I'm running."
She touched the button on her earpiece with a growl. Looking up at the sky she shouted, "Ahhh!"
"They worry about you," Gary said.
"I'm twenty-four years old. I've got a college degree," Betsy said.
"I just might keep going when I hit Hollywood," Betsy said.
"What do you mean?"
"I bet I could swim all of the way to Hawaii."
"Probably," Gary said well familiar with her stamina.
He peddled along side her for a minute. It was obvious that she was angry. From his perspective, it was nice knowing that people worried about you like that. Of course, it could get to be a little old after a while.
He asked, "Why Hawaii?"
"I could pick up my Doctorate there," Betsy said absently. "I know more about sharks than anyone in the world."
"I know," Gary said.
It was easy to dismiss her intelligence. She didn't look or act particularly scholarly. Of course, her particular research interest wasn't the kind of thing that was done behind a desk. She studied sharks by swimming with them. A lot of people believed that spiritually she was a shark.
"There's one thing for sure."
"I can't live at home anymore. I've got to start making my way, my way," Betsy said.
"Your mothers won't be happy to hear that," Gary said thinking that he wouldn't want to be around when that conversation took place.
"William was living alone when he was fifteen," Betsy said.
"William is William," Gary said.
"He is pretty unique."
She ran while he cycled beside her. They had settled into an easy pace until they reached a town. Betsy stopped, suddenly, in front of a diner. Gary slammed on the brakes wondering why she had stopped.
She said, "Let's eat."
By the time Gary had found a place for his bicycle and locked it, Betsy had gone into the restaurant and gotten a table. He approached the table in time to hear her asked, "Do you have onion rings?"
The waitress looked at the woman fidgeting in her seat, thinking she had to be on drugs. No one could wiggle, jiggle, and bounce with that much energy without being on a stimulant. She answered, "Yes."
"Good. Three hamburgers, an order of fries, an order of onion rings, and two milkshakes – one chocolate and one strawberry," Betsy said placing an order that would replace all of the calories she had burned running over the past five hours.
Gary sat down and said, "I'll take a hamburger, fries, and a vanilla milkshake."
"How many more are coming?" the waitress asked wondering if she should move them to a larger table.
"No one," Betsy answered.
The waitress turned to Gary and said, "Well, she already ordered for you."
"No. That was for me," Betsy said.
"We have pretty big hamburgers," the waitress said.
"Great. Bring them on."
Betsy ate all three hamburgers, the onion rings, the fries, both milkshakes, and completed her lunch experience with a banana split for desert. Half of the patrons in the restaurant turned and watched her eat unable to believe that a young woman could possibly consume that much food. She finished her food before Gary managed to finish his meal.
Betsy said, "We're going to Hawaii."
"We are?" Gary asked wondering when that had been decided.
The waitress put his Fudge Sundae down on the table. He picked up a spoon while listening to Betsy.
"That's right. I decided that before coming in her for lunch."
"When are we going?"
"As soon as we hit LA. I'm putting the shopping trip on hold," Betsy said. She tossed a fifty dollar bill on the table and said, "That should cover lunch."
Gary looked down at his uneaten Fudge Sundae. He looked out the window in time to see Betsy taking off down the street. He sighed at the thought of trying to pedal the bicycle fast enough to catch up to her. He hoped that he didn't lose his lunch, or get cramps from exercising too soon after eating.
Edited By TeNderLoin