« How come you never married? »
« My work is too dangerous. It wouldn’t be a life. »
« Perhaps you’re married to your work. »
« That’s possible. And you? »
« I’m still single because I never met a man like you before. »
Steve was wallowing in the moment when the alarm clock rang at six thirty in the morning. Instead of his usual grumble and slap on the snoozer, he cheerfully flung the bedsheets aside and sat on the bed, yawning and stretching. He bounced out of bed and went to the bathroom to jump into the shower. Today was no routine day, it was his wedding. ‘I can’t believe she said yes,’ Steve thought of his bride-to-be, parapsychologist Dr. Margaret Winslow with whom he had renewed an acquaintance. Under the running water, whistling and lathering himself, his mind wandered back to their chance encounter in a grocery store over 8 months ago.
It was a run-of-the-mill day. Steve was doing his grocery shopping when he suddenly heard screams. He wheeled his cart up the alley and hid behind a shelf when he noticed a robber threatening the cashier at gunpoint. He had a firm neck grip on a woman Steve instantly recognized as Margaret Winslow. His heart leapt to his throat when the thug pressed the barrel of his revolver against her temple to put pressure on the clerk to hand over the money.
Steve picked up a can of produce off the shelf and hurled it at the robber. In the confusion, the man lost his grip on Margaret just as Steve lunged at him in a blink of an eye. He twisted his arms behind his back while he asked the manager to contact the police.
Once the robber’s wrists were secured with a rope, Steve turned to Margaret who was standing, astounded by his feat. « Hey there, precious! »
« Steve Austin. I might have known it was you. You always were my knight in shining armor. »
« Are you alright? »
« A little shaken up, but otherwise I’m fine. »
« So how long have you been back in Washington? »
« A couple of days. I was planning to look you up. »
« Really ? »
« Yes. I wanted to see how you were and what you’d been up to since we saw each other last. »
« How about picking up where we left off? » Steve asked with an expectant smile
« I didn’t think it was possible. »
« Why not? »
« A handsome bachelor like you? » she chaffed.
« You forget, I’m married to my work, » he said with a friendly wink.
« True. »
« Once we give our statement to the authorities, how about you and me go get a cup of coffee to catch up on the past year? »
« Has it really been a year? »
« Yep. »
« Sure, why not. »
Knowing Steve, Margaret suspected he had more than coffee in mind Her suspicions were founded with he treated her to a full dinner with all the trimmings in a quiet bistro where he chose a secluded booth in a corner.
« I lived in Manchester, England, for about 10 months to do research on a book I’m writing about near-death experiences. I worked with few patients who died and were resuscitated shortly after. I took their account of the supposed white light and tunnel and followed them on their daily routine. »
« Did any of their spirit came back to kill them, » Steve asked teasingly, heedful not to mock Margaret’s work as he poured more wine into her glass.
She smiled, remembering how he was a disbeliever in the occult. « You’d be surprised. »
« I was joking. »
« But I’m not. Three out of ten patients who experienced a clinical death, died under mysterious circumstances. »
« Were they told their spirit might come back to kill them? »
« I know what you’re thinking. Power of suggestion; that somehow their subconscious provoked their deaths, right? »
« Right. »
« Wrong. They weren’t told a thing; otherwise what would have been the purpose of this study? I know how strong the power of suggestion can be, especially with patients who came close to rendering the ghost »
« You said the past 10 months. »
« The last two I lived with my parents in North Carolina. How about you? » What have you been up to? » She asked, taking a sip of wine.
Steve stared at his glass with a look of melancholia, his fingers distractedly twirling the stem. « Not much. Pretty routine. »
« You don’t seem too happy about it? »
« Well that’s just it; it’s routine. Chasing after bad guys, tempting death on a daily basis, always looking over your shoulders; Adding more enemies to your list, never staying long enough in one place to have a meaningful relationship., » he explained solemnly without looking up from his glass.
« Am I to understand that marriage between you and your work is in troubled waters? »
He cracked a lopsided smile. « Guess you might say that. And divorce is out of the question. »
« Why is that? »
« The gouvernment. They won’t let me resign, » he said glumly as he took a sip of wine.
« That’s ridicuous! They don’t own you! » Steve flashed her a self-explanatory look. « Do they? »
« You see, I’m no ordinary Federal agent. I’m an oper… » Steve stopped in mid sentence, knowing what he was about to divulge was top secret.
« Yes? »
« Never mind. » He hawked to recover his compusure just as the waiter arrived with their orders.
At night, Margaret invited Steve over to her apartment for a night cap. With a glass of brandy, they sat in the livingroom in front of the fireplace. She cuddled up to him and rested her head on his shoulder. « I like being with you, Steve. »
He smiled. « I like being with you, too. » He tilted his head sideways and pressed his lips against hers, letting their kiss linger for a moment before he pulled her closer and lovingly stroked her hair.
« When I’m with you I can be myself. I trust you implicitely, but I also need you to trust me »
« Of course I do, Margaret. »
« Then tell me what’s wrong. »
« How can anything be wrong? I’m in the charming company of a lovely intelligent woman, » he assured with a kiss on top of her head.
« You won’t tell me, then. »
« It’s not that I won’t, it’s just that I can’t. »
« I can see this is tearing you to pieces, Steve. »
Steve unlaced his arm around Margaret’s shoulder, stood up and walked over to the the window. She put her glass on the coffee table and followed him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head on his back. He closed his eyes and sighed at the feel of her warm body pressed against his. He turned around and gave her a sudden passionate kiss. Then, he pulled back and held his forehead to hers, lips pursed. « I can’t. »
She enlaced him once more and kissed him hard on the lips to vanish any doubt that he might still harbor about her true love for him. She gazed tenderly into his eyes and said, « I can keep a secret. »
Steve heaved a heavy –laden sigh. « Do you know anything about bionics? »
« I’ve heard that word in passing once. It’s a science that adapts biological functions with electromechanical devices. »
« Right. You’re looking at the first prototype. »
« You? » Margaret exclaimed, staggered. « But you don’t look like…I mean…you…. « she stuttered not wanting to hurt Steve’s feelings.
« No, I don’t look it but I am. I’ll show you. » he walked over to the fireplace and picked up the fire poker that he bent before her goggling eyes.
She put a hand to her mouth in shock. « Oh my God. »
« That’s why they won’t let me go. I cost them six million. »
« Six million for? »
« An arm, an eye and two legs. »
« An eye? » she exclaimed in astonishment. « Which one? »
« If you can’t tell, I guess I shouldn’t ruin it for you. Might influence the way you look at me and I wouldn’t want that to happen. »
She walked up to him as she sensed his distress. She put her arms around his waist and kissed him tenderly on the lips. « Nothing is going to make me change the way I look at you, Steve. I think I’m falling in love with you. »
« I’ve got news for you, Margaret. I’m already in love with you, » he confessed before giving her another kiss.
She smiled. « Guess I should hurry and catch up. »
« I’ll give you a friendly shove, » Steve teased before he devored her mouth.
Steve was snapped back to the present by a knock on the door. « Who is it? »
« Hum, guess? »
« Come on in, best man, » he said smilingly as he straightened his tie.
Oscar walked in, looking equally dashing in his tuxedo. « Are you ready to go? »
« Just about. » Steve gave the finishing touches on his tie. « There, all done! » He reached for his jacket spread on the bed and put it on in front of the mirror. He turned to Oscar who was nervously glancing down at his watch. « How do I look? »
« Dashing, now come on, »
« Rush, rush, rush! Oscar relax. I’m the one getting married you know, » Steve chaffed with a raised eyebrow.
« We’re on a time-table, pal. Everything must proceed accordingly. »
« Wait a minute, are you saying you have the church under surveillance? »
« And the wedding banquet hall. »
« How romantic, » Steve said sarcastically.
« Steve you’re an operative .We must take every precautionary measure to insure your safety as well as Margaret’s and the guests. »
« I suppose so. Speaking of guests, are my parents at the church? »
« Yes. They drove in with Rudy. »
« Okay, this is it, » Steve sighed nervously. « In less than two hours I’ll be Mister Steve Austin. »
« Oh you! » Oscar gave Steve a friendly jab in the jaw. « Come on. »