The Highland Diclonius 2

Ch 1

Richard Ryan was proud of his girlfriend, Roberta Vasquez. A prosecutor in Miami, she'd taken on the case of drug smuggler Karlos Kincade. It was the day before the trial that Ritchie found himself waking up naked and cold with a sheet over his face. Sucking in a breath as he awoke, Ritchie still felt the pain in the back of his head from getting shot. He pulled the sheet off his head and looked around frantically. He was in a lab-looking room on a steel table.

Right, he was in the morgue and the autopsy was about to begin. Thankfully, no one else was in the room with him.

Sitting up, Ritchie looked for clothes. Wrapping the sheet around him as he got down of the exam table, he found an 'evidence' bag with his wallet, keys and cell phone in it. He remembered what happened, he was leaving his motorcycle shop for the day when some asshole shot him in the back of his head. He tried hard to think who he'd pissed off. It hadn't been another immortal, Ritchie would have felt him coming. His wallet still had money and his credit card, so it wasn't a robbery either.

Hearing voices approaching, Ritchie looked for a place to hide. He tucked himself behind a cabinet, making sure all the sheet was in with him, not visible.

The door opened.

"The Body's in here, Miss Vasquez."

"Where's Richards's body?" Ritchie heard Roberta asked.

There was a curse, then the man said, "He was here ... I'm very sorry about this. Please, wait out here, I'll get to the bottom of where they put him."

A horrible thought hit Ritchie just then. He'd never told Roberta he was immortal. To her, he was dead. If he wasn't packed tight up against the wall, he'd bang his head against it.

He heard voices outside the room, two men were arguing. He didn't hear everything, but did know they were looking for his body.

In a pained voice Roberta yelled, "Will you PLEASE find my Richard!"

Damn, he had to calm her down, but not with others right out there with her. Thinking about that, he couldn't. Richard Ryan was dead. Shot and killed and brought to the morgue. Then had called Roberta, the closest thing he had to a next of kin.


Ritchie stayed still until someone came in and scanned the room, then the frantic people all left. When it was quiet, he peeked out. The hallway was clear. He really hated trying to escape morgues. The last time he had to it was in France after he wrecked his racing bike during a race.

Slipping out of the narrow space, he grabbed his keys and pulled that damn toe-tag off. His clothes were shredded. Even his favorite leather jacket. Right, they'd cut them off him. He grabbed the evidence bag with his few things in it, wrapped the sheet around him and peeked out into the hallway. No one visible, good. Seeing an exit sign, he ran for the door.

Voices down the hallway sounded. Roberta was demanding his body be found. Ritchie didn't see anyone outside. He slipped out the door and closed it gently behind him. He was in an alley. The parking lot was at the end to his left. To the right was a dead end. He sneaked over to peek out at the lot. It was dark. He didn't see any cameras.

The station he'd been brought to was in the city, far from home. It was going to be tough slipping though the city in just a sheet. It wasn't the first time he'd done this, and it still sucked. Looking over the lot, he noticed Roberta's car. It was tempting to go hide in her car. Then what? Give her a heat attack when he popped up and said 'hi'?

His bike was back at the shop. Thinking about that, the shop was closer than home. He made sure no one was out and slipped around the corner and jumped over the hedge bushes fencing someone's yard. She sheet caught a branch, he tumbled to the ground.

Yeah, this was gonna suck.


Inside the police station, Roberta Vasquez was hurt and angry. First to find out Richard was murdered, then they lost his body! Rumors were already circulating that the body had been stolen so no one would get the bullet out of his head to test for ballistics, or possibly other evidence that was on his body.

While she waited for the Chief to come back, she called the man Richard had told her was the closest thing he ever had to being a father to him.


Duncan awoke in the early morning hours to his phone ringing. With a grumble, he pawed at it. "McLeod," he said sleepily.

"Duncan, it's Roberta Vasquez, Richard has been murdered."

"What?" he asked sitting up, instantly awake.

In a stilted voice, she said, "He was shot outside his motorcycle shop. And now, they lost his body!"

Duncan's heart slowed down a bit. He'd been shot, not beheaded. "And his body is missing?" he asked.

"Yes! This is beyond terrible!" she cried.

"OK, Roberta, I need you to do something very important for me. Are you at the morgue now?" Duncan asked.

"I am, they're looking everywhere, but they lost him!"

Firmly, Duncan said, "I need you to do something. You know where he was suppose to be? Were his clothes were?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Go down, look for his wallet and keys. Tell me if you find them."

"Why? do you think someone stole them too?"

"Please, just do it. If they are still there, pick them up," Duncan said.

"They are evidence, I can't do that," Roberta stated.

"Ok, then just see if they are there."

"Hold on."

Duncan got up and got dressed It would be morning in another few hours anyway.

"Duncan?" Inari asked as she stretched, brushed a few strands of her long red hair out of her face and cast him a sleepy pout.

"Ritchie's in trouble," he told her.

"What kind o' trouble?"

"He got shot and walked out of the morgue, Roberta and the local police are looking for him," Duncan told her.

"Duncan? They're gone," Roberta said on the phone. "Did you just say Richard walked out of here?" she asked.

Duncan froze. "I mean someone walked off with him ... maybe," he said, knowing he'd screwed up. "I'm catching a plane today, I'll be there by tomorrow night. We'll talk then."

"I'll see you then," Roberta said, sounding confused.

Inari sat up and watching him call the airport. Hearing him tell them to make sure his plane was fueled and checked out, she got up and dragged out two suitcases. By the time he talked to someone to make flight arrangements, she'd packed hers and most of his. The second he got off the phone, she asked in her Scottish accent, "When we leavin?"

Duncan knew Inari was not going to be left behind. "We leave here at eight. We got time ta tell the youngins."

Inari gathered her unruly hair and pulled it back into a ponytail most of it between the stubby, triangular horns on her head. Seeing her up with just a chemise covering her breasts to fall in a curtain over her flat belly, and her long legs contained only by her thin night-shorts, Duncan felt another stab of lust. Damn she was gorgeous! He had to be the luckiest man in the world. Seeing his reaction, Inari smiled. She liked his reaction. "I'm sure Kaede an Kouta will do fine, Nana and Mayu kin care fer themselves."

"Aye," Duncan agreed.


Kouta and Kaede assured Duncan and Inari they would be fine. Even though both Kouta and Kaede had to work, Nana insisted she and Mayu would take care of the castle and have meals ready for them. Inari quickly wrote down a list of things to do every day for them. Kaede has her driver's license now, so either her or Kouta could drive if the need arose.

With things at home taken care of, Kouta drove Duncan and Inari down to the airport in his work truck on his way to go pick up the first load of the day. Duncan took off for Iceland on his way to the US, then down to Miami.


Roberta was devastated. Not only had the best man she'd met all her life had been killed, someone had stolen his body out of the morgue, they also taken his money and ID! She couldn't even sit down and have a good cry, but sniffled and wept as she headed home to see if whoever stole Richard's keys was trying to get in the house. Cops were stationed at the motorcycle shop - that was already a crime scene. Even as she cried over Richard's demise, she wondered why someone had killed him. By circumstances, it was a contract, a hit. He wasn't robbed, and the shop had not been looted. He'd been found with the keys in his hand.

Did it have anything to do with the trial? Richard wasn't a witness, nor did he have anything to do with the collected evidence, did he? She saw no reason why he'd been assassinated. Why kill Richard? Did Kincade think he could rattle her by killing Richard?

How would that bastard even know he was connected to her? Roberta tightened her grip on the wheel as she thought that might be the case. If she found out that was the case, then she was going to ensure that bastard was going away! Her will to see justice done had been strengthened, not weakened by Richard's death.

Coming up to their house, Roberta noted a light flash in her and Richard's bedroom. She gritted her teeth, OK whoever stole Richard and his things had come to search their house for something. She killed the lights and rolled up in the driveway. Getting out of the car, she pulled her 9mm and shut the door as quietly as possible. Watching their bedroom window, she noted movement and a quick flash of a light again. Slipping into the house, she rehearsed what she was going to tell the police when they came. 'Officer, he surprised me in the hallway. I saw what I thought was a gun and pulled up and shot.'

Slipping in the kitchen door, she quickly kicked off her shoes, then went out into the living room to take aim at the dark stairs in case the intruder was coming down. This fucker was NOT getting away! She made it to the stairs finding no one. Carefully stepping up, she watched ahead of her with an eagle eye. By the time she was halfway down the hall, she could hear someone routing around in their room. She stepped into the doorway. By the light from the street lights, she saw a form by the bed, looking through some items and clothes on the bed.

"Don't move! hands up or I shoot!" she snapped.

The figure froze. He let out a sigh and raised his hands in the air. "Please, don't shoot, that really hurts," he said.

Roberta's mouth dropped open. This guy sounded like Richard. Using her elbow, she turned the light on. On the bed was a crumpled sheet marked "Property of Miami Police Dept Morgue. The sheet was ripped with dirty streaks. In front of the man who had his back to her, she saw the spare motorcycle helmet and a gym bag and clothes. Her mouth went dry. "Turn around," she ordered in a much weaker voice than she meant for it to come out.

Richard turned around, wearing a grimace on his face. "I'm really, really sorry about this," he said apologetically. "Hon, I know we share everything, no secrets between us, but there's a little thing I forgot to tell you." With a shrug he added, "I'm immortal. I don't stay dead."

Roberta's mind raced. Stuck between the joy of seeing Richard alive, the disbelief of seeing him alive after he'd been killed and taken to the morgue, any anger at him forgetting to tell her this 'little thing' about him wasn't even on her mind, her hands shook, dropping the pistol. Her heart raced as her mind tried to deal with the impossible. Roberta then passed out.


Richie picked up Roberta and laid her on the bed, then went down and got her a glass of water. Sitting beside her, he waited until she woke up with a groan.

"Hon, I think you need a drink," he said. He helped her sit up and gave her the glass.

Roberta did take a drink, then stared at him with a dark glare. "Why," she asked.

Not quite sure what she was looking for, he itched his chin and said, "Why someone shot me? I have no clue. Why I didn't really die? I just don't. Been shot a few times now. I wake back up and keep going."

"Why were you sneaking around like a thief in our own house," she asked heavily.

Ritchie shrugged and said, "I was hoping to slip away before anyone saw me. Roberta, I'm dead here, I can't stay."

"You would just leave me? Not even say goodbye?" she asked, glaring at him.

"Not by choice," he retorted. "Hon, Everyone knows I'm dead. My body has been seen, photographed and logged. I can't be seen walking around," he explained. "Do I want to leave you? Hell no! I was really hoping to spend forty, fifty years with you." Shaking his head in frustration, he said to himself, "Duncan did warn me about becoming involved, but, I couldn't help myself. You don't know how sorry I am that I got shot. It didn't kill me, but it has killed my life here."

Roberta remembered what she heard Duncan say to someone else when she was on the phone. "Duncan knows about this," she said vacantly. "He's coming to take you away to someplace else." Reaching out, she clasped his hand and pulled it closer. "Don't go."

With a dry chuckle, Ritchie said, "I don't want to." Taking on a vacant gaze he said, "You know, I thought my old life was behind me. I had my own life now. No more ... worrying about things. I had my shop, I had you. Things were going really well for me. I forgot what I am. It's been really nice to be just a guy with no worries, you know? The thing is, I've been living a lie. Worse yet, I got you involved. I didn't stop to think you would be hurt because of me."

Roberta moved to sit up beside him. Eyeing him intently, she spoke softly. "Richard, there is more to you and Duncan that you've been telling me, yes?"

"OH yeah," he agreed with a sigh. "I look young, the fact is I'm in my mid forties. I don't age. Duncan is like a father to me, the only father I ever had. He is also my teacher. One of the things he taught me was to never get too involved with anyone." Casting Roberta a weak smile he added, "I seemed to have forgotten that when I met you. It took some asshole shooting me to remind me I'm not like other people. I will never have kids, I cannot fall in love, or show it if I truly love someone. Roberta, I'm so sorry I got you involved."

"I'm not," Roberta said firmly. She then cast him a stern look and asked, "Is there anything else you haven't told me about, besides the fact you can survive being shot in the head?"

Ritchie snorted out a chuckle. "About me? There is, but that is going to take all night. There's about twenty years of my life I kinda skipped over."

Roberta's phone rang. She picked it up. "Hello?"

"Where is Ritchie?" a heavily accented female voice asked.

"I'm sorry, who's this?" Roberta asked.

"It's Kaede, put me broter on the phone," the voice said firmly.

"I'm Sorry, Richard was shot and killed earlier today," Roberta explained.

"Doan make me come there! If I gotta loose a few days-o-work ta talk ta'im, yer nay gonna be happy!"

Roberta flushed and looked at Richard. "It's Kaede, she wants to talk to you."

Ritchie asked, "Put it on speaker?"

Roberta did.

"Hey Kaede, how are you?"

"What ya doin Ritchie? Heard ya stepped in front of a bullet."

Ritchie smirked and said, "No, I got tapped in the back of the head. How's things there?"

"I got me a bun in the oven, Dad's commin ta git ya, an Mum's gonna be lookin fer the scum who shot ya."

"You're going to have a baby? That's great!" Ritchie said with a smile.

"Kaede?" Roberta said, "The law will take care of criminals here. Your mother will get in trouble if she tries to go after anyone. Besides, these guys carry guns, she might end up getting hurt or killed."

"Nay matters, guns doan kill people, we do," Kaede stated. "Jus git Mum a face an point'er the way. Ya'll nay hafta worry bout'im again."

Ritchie snorted with a grin. "Kaede, I think Roberta's saying we will take care of it."

"Ya got shot Richie?" Kaede asked.

"Yeah, but..."

"Nay butts! Ain't none hurt our family and gits away wit it. An yer stayin wit us when ya come, Ritchie. I got Mayu calmed down, she ain't gonna be screamin her head off when she sees ya again," Kaede told him. "Bring Roberta with ya if ya kin, nice an peaceful up here, she kin take a break too."

"We will if we can," Ritchie replied.

"Nay lad, yer coming if I hafta come an carry ya on me back. Got customers comin, Take care Ritchie, ya too Roberta."

"Bye," Roberta said and hung up her phone. She looked at Richard and asked, "What she said about going after the man who shot you. Was she serious?"

Ritchie nodded. In a solemn tone, he said, "A while back, someone was after Duncan. To get to him, they kidnapped Mayu. Mayu is a girl Kaede's husband, Kouta adopted. When they had her, they tortured and raped her. The best guess was there was eight of them. They took Mayu to these ruins to abuse her. They set up guards all around them, waiting for Duncan. What they didn't count on was Kaede dropping out of the sky. She just didn't kill them, she ripped them apart. Body parts and guts all over the place. I say the best guess was eight, because the police had a hard time finding all the body parts. Kaede is usually bright and cheerful. One thing you never want, is to get Kaede angry. Those men had been armed with assault rifles, it did them no good whatsoever. Kaede is fast and deadly. If she wants someone dead, they are dead."

Roberta snorted, "That's hard to believe. You make her sound like a monster."

"Kaede no Kaze, at least I think that's right," Ritchie said. "Translation in English it means Wind of Death. In Glen Finnen she's known as the Witch. There is never any trouble at the Inn she works at. Just knowing she's there keeps everyone behaving themselves."

If she didn't have Richard sitting here and talking to her after he'd been killed, she would never believe the things he was telling her. Immortals, witches, what else was there in this very odd family of his. "Richard, I have trial in the morning. I need to try and sleep after this impossibly weird day."

Ritchie cast her a smile. "How about if I get you a glass of wine to help you relax?"

"Thank you." Watching Richard get up, she said, "Richard? I am really glad you're not dead."

He cast her a smile and said, "Me too. I'll be back soon."


Before she left in the early morning, Roberta made Richard promise to stay long enough to talk with her before he left. He did promise, begrudgingly. She could tell he didn't want to leave, but from what he told her, once someone saw him dead, he had to go away. The Immortals feared normal people finding out abut them. Roberta could understand that. If Richard was proven to be an oddity, his live would become hell.

Court that day was all preliminaries. Meeting the judge and jury, going though paperwork to ensure all the 'i's were dotted and 'T's crossed. As she suspected the defense team scrutinized every piece of paper and evidence item to look for anything they could throw out to minimize the prosecution's case. One item Roberta noted was a motorcycle found at the crime scene of a murder. Witnesses claimed the suspect rode up on the bike, shot the two men at close range and rode away.

The suspect then hit a car during his rush to escape. He got up and ran away, leaving the motorcycle. The motorcycle had no plates, and the VIN number had been removed. DOT could not verify the owner. That motorcycle had a unique modification with custom paint.

Roberta looked at this bit of evidence with new eyes this morning. The identity of the suspect could not be proven. Much of what Richard did was customizing motorcycle parts and paint jobs. It suddenly struck her. The only one who could positively identify the suspect was the one who performed the custom work. Richard was killed because he could identify the suspect. If he identified the killer, that would lead straight to Kincade.

Quietly, she said to the head prosecutor, Mr. Harman, "This motorcycle used in the murders, if we find the bill of sale for the custom work on it, we can name the killer."

"We can, but we have no idea where or when the work was done," he reminded her.

"I think I might. Richard Ryan did that kind of work. He was killed last night. I am sure he was able to identify the murderer." she stated.

Harman asked, "You know where his garage is?"

"I do. We need a warrant to search the place for sales records," Roberta said firmly.

Harman nodded. "I'll get it right after we're done for the day here," he said then stood up and asked, "Your Honor, may I approach the bench?"


Duncan and Inari arrived at the house in their rented car just before noon. Duncan pulled up into the driveway. He moved to get out and Ritchie appeared from the side of the house, helmet and travel back packed. Racing over to get in the back, Ritchie let out a long sigh. "Hi Mac, Inari, thanks for coming."

"I take it you're ready to go?" Duncan asked.

"I am. Roberta wants me to stay, but I can't. I need a bike to travel, they are all at the shop," Ritchie explained.

Duncan pulled back out of the driveway. "So, she knows?" he asked.

"Yeah. Last night I tried to sneak in and get packed. She came home and caught me," Ritchie admitted with a wince.

"Ya didn see who it was who shot ya?" Inari asked.

"No, he snuck up on me from behind," Ritchie explained.

"Any idea why?" Duncan asked.

"None," Ritchie said with a snort. "I haven't pissed anyone off, it wasn't an immortal, and I don't own anyone money."

"We'll look the shop over, see if anything's missing," Duncan said. "If there's a clue, that's how we'll find it."

Ritchie grew a grin and said, "Hey Mac, if you want a new bike, I'm having a fantastic sale, one day only."

"Close out sale?" Duncan asked.

"Dead end sale, See one you like, I'll fill out the paperwork and off you go. No charge!" Ritchie beamed.


During the short noon recess, Kincade found out the cops were going to Ryan's shop as soon as they had a warrant. He sent two boys to go make sure the cops didn't find anything.


The bike shop Ritchie had was nice. In the front he had a showroom with several new motorcycles on display, and towards the back, a line of used ones with the price tags on them. "Nice place, Rich, it's a shame ya have ta leave it," Inari said.

"Mac, there are a few things I'd like to take, if you don't mind," Ritchie asked.

"If it'll fit in the trunk, have at it," Duncan told him.

"Who are they?" Inari asked, looking at two men running up to the door.

"Looks like trouble," Duncan noted.

"Aye," Inari said as she saw them pull guns as they burst in the door.

The lead man aimed at Inari and barked, "On the floor now!"

Inari grabbed his gun hand and pulled as she pushed his feet out from under him. He hit the floor hard, face first. Wailing out in pain, he forgot about his gun as he held his bleeding face. The one behind him, Inari yanked the gun out of his hand and lifted him by his throat to drift in the air towards her.

"Li'le boys shouldn't play wit dangerous toys," she said in a smooth tone as she eyed the man turning red in the face and kicking his feet to gain a purchase with the floor far below him. She planted him against the wall then picked up the other on and planted him not far from the first. She loosened her hold enough for him to breathe. "Why ya here?" she asked in a hard tone.

Duncan kicked their guns against the front wall. "Ya better answer, she can get mean," he coaxed.

"Fuck you!" the man who didn't have a destroyed nose cried in fear.

"Awww that's not nice," Inari said with a frown. "Even seen a Blood Eagle, lad? I kin show ya. Yer friend ain't talking anyway."

Ritchie came in with a bag slung over his shoulder. "What's going on?" he asked.

Mr. broken nose saw him. "I killed you!" he cried.

Inari turned to Ritchie and said, "Put yer stuff in the trunk, Ritchie, I'm gonna deal with this scum." She then turned back to the men.

Inari looked around and saw a wall displaying helmets on rods sticking out of the wall. With a swipe of a mind arm, all the helmets went flying. "The Blood Eagle is a sacrifice to the god Odin ..." she began

Duncan cut her off. "Inari, Don't do that, that's too cruel, even for these guys."

Inari cast him an apologetic look. "Duncan, I mean ta make an example here."

Duncan shifted in place then have a nod. "Just kill'im first," he conceded.

Inari nodded. She snapped the neck of Mr. Broken Nose, then hung him up by impaling him on the display rods, facing the wall, arms out like he was flying. She ripped down his spine, pulling skin and flesh to the sides.

"This won't kill ya, but you'll wish yer dead," she explained. She then broke the corpses rib bones to pull the ends up to mimic short wings. "This won't kill ya either, right away," she explained as the other man looked on in horror. "Yer'll live for a while, maybe a whole day or so in extreme pain. Even if someone finds ya, it'll be too late. They'll just extend yer agony til ya die 'o shock."

Turning to her prisoner, she made him look at her. "Now, lad, ya tell me who ya work for and why yer here, or there'll be two Blood Eagles there on the wall, and I ain't gonna kill ya fore I make ya inta one."

The man blubbered and urinated on himself, but he told her everything he knew.

Ritchie got what he needed. Inari hung the talker up on a set of pegs by his arms next to his dead friend. Tie wraps kept him in place. He was crying when they left.


Roberta and Harman arrived at Richard's cycle shop to find police cars with flashing lights filling the area, uniforms had the place cordoned off. A detective came over to the car. He looked in and said, "You don't want to go in there, trust me."

"What do we got?" Harman asked.

"A man in shock, blubbering about demons and blood eagles. Another man, butchered and hung up on the wall. The live one's going to the hospital, he's insane at the moment. Something has scared the living hell out of him. The one who left here alive is George Benton, small time crook. The other is Jake Long, he's wanted for two murders, several robberies. Many cases of assault and an armed robbery is on his rap sheet. Someone mutilated him."

"The one you found alive, did he tell you anything?" Roberta asked.

"Nothing that makes sense. He just begged us to get him down before she came back. He says a red eyed, red haired woman he insists is a demon, hung him on the wall and killed Jake Long and ripped him apart. All we could get out of him that made sense was Jake killed the guy who owned this place," the detective explained.

Roberta swallowed. Richard's killer was dead. Dead in a very bloody way. Did Duncan or Richard have anything to do with it? By what Richard's sister said, it was possible. It just seemed to happen too fast for them to be responsible. They were in Scotland when she talked to them. "Do you have a picture of the body?" she asked.

Firmly, the detective said, "Ma'am, you really don't want to see it. He was skinned and his ribs pulled out his back. He was crucified on display posts. It's a real gross mess."

Again, she remembered Richard telling her about the brutal killings his sister did in those ruins when those men had raped her daughter. She had done it and very brutally. Had she moved that fast? Right, he said she'd dropped out of the sky onto them. "Dear God," she whispered. What kind of monsters were these people?

They had to stay outside until the body was pulled down and taken away by the coroner.

Once the 'murder scene' was secured and the body taken away, they were able to go in and bypass the blood soaked area of the show room to get into the office. Sitting down at Richard's desk that had a picture of them together at Niagara falls, she looked though sales records.

Roberta found Richard was meticulous in his book keeping, but every sale was filed by date, not by what the sale was for. Yes, he had names, amounts and what was sold, motorcycles with VIN numbers, what work done on them, labor costs and paperwork for a couple of riding classes. No pictures though. She separated out every paint job, then looked at each to see if it was a simple re-painting, or a custom job. Not knowing when the job was done, they collected all the custom paint jobs. There were many of them. It was getting late in the day by the time they separated these out.

Still, not knowing when it was done, or having a picture to show the bike that had been worked on, they did not have any solid evidence to present. Even if Richard remembered, he could not go to trial and testify. He was officially dead.


When Roberta got home, there were no lights on. Going in, she asked, "Richard?"

"In the kitchen," he replied.

She went in and turned the lights on to see Richard in his riding gear.

"I should be gone by now," Richard said. "Duncan said so, Inari all but pushed me out. The thing is, I wanted to see you one last time."

Roberta stiffened herself and asked, "Do you know who killed that man at your shop? Who ... mutilated him?"

Ritchie shook his head. "I don't have time to talk about that. Roberta, I looked for way to try and stay with you. I just can't. I'm going back to Glen Finnen with Mac. Try to rebuild my life there. If you want to hate me for that, I'm sorry," he told her. He got up and hugged Roberta. Despite the turmoil in her guts, she hugged him back.

"Damn you, Richard!" she hissed as she gripped him tight.

"Maybe I am," he agreed. Ritchie released her and cast her a weak smile. "I wish you the best. I do have you listed as my next of kin, so everything's yours. Goodbye, Roberta."

Roberta stood in place for a moment, feeling lost. She then sat down hard on a chair and stared at nothing. Outside, she heard a motorcycle pull away.