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Relentless Aaron

St. Martin's Paperbacks

PART ONE
CHAPTER ONE
Valerie’s Pleasing Arrival
Air Canada’s flight 204 glided in and down onto the runway of New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The great white commercial bird was then taxied to a corridor that had been extended, awaiting the arrival. It was 8:05am, and the blur of passengers that scurried off of the plane assumed the role; intentionally forming a human chain that marched onward towards the baggage claim area.
Fine and curvaceous, Valerie could’ve been a stewardess, standing so erect and up close to the conveyor belt, except that the bright red leather outfit she had on was a dead giveaway that she was more of a hot girl than a stewardess on the Air Canada payroll. Valerie was indeed a flight 204 passenger, and she carried herself confidently, as though she’d been through this sort of thing hundreds of times before. And although she traveled light, and she had little luggage to retrieve, you could never tell that this woman was burdened with a ocean’s worth of concern. She was going through it, mentally replaying all of the drama of the days past. Yet in the meantime she was also inspired by a sort of soundtrack playing underneath all of her thoughts. This had to be her favorite song these days—she wasn’t sure of the group; some name with the word Soul in it. That, and she knew they were from Europe somewhere.
“Keep on movin’
Keep on movin’, don’t stop, no . . .
Keep on movin’.”
For the moment, these words and their melody inspired Valerie, and virtually carried her through these trying times. They even somehow escorted her into her new independence here in the United States.
For now there were two shoulder bags she was looking for, and although they had not yet weaved their way around the conveyor belt, Valerie could at least imagine them coming. So far, no luggage had appeared on the expansive maze of stainless steel and rubber. But, silly as it seemed, the damned thing still managed to entertain the 90-something idle travelers with its harmonious squeaks and hums, merely building their further anticipation. This even served as the appropriate time for ticket holders to conclude those conversations which the flight had encouraged. For Valerie, however, being back on solid ground hadn’t yet settled her. She was still on the plane; still in the sky; still rushing through Toronto’s Pearson Airport, or of course, still making that great escape from her obsessive ex-boyfriend.
A wall of limo drivers and cabbies stood behind 204’s passengers, most of them holding signs and shouting last names. Meanwhile, there were those warm and hearty kisses, embraces amongst family and friends, and of course, who could do without the impersonal drone of announcements overhead, queuing the dozens of arrivals and departures. All of this organized confusion was just a reminder that one person’s flight, or ticket, or luggage, was but one irrelevant, infinitesimal and unaccountable part of a much bigger picture; the wide, wide world of air travel.
With a heavy emphasis on the illusion of luggage on the conveyor belt, Valerie had no way of knowing how she unconsciously attracted a lion’s share of attention. And those tiny beads of perspiration on her brow and temple were likely seen as her radiance. Her nervousness, such as her toe tapping the floor, was nothing more than the preliminary attempts at some dance. And, yes, there was no doubt that she even earned a fan or two with those authentic Caribbean attributes. However, the events of the past month were nothing to be romantic about. In fact they were nothing short of one big nightmare.
“It was forged,” she told herself, determined to believe the naked truth. It was hard enough to love a white man, with all of the negative energy that accompanied the relationship. But now, Valerie had to do whatever she could just to erase him from her mind. It wasn’t easy.
“Did I shack up with Richard to escape Barbados? Did I do it just to get off of the island and experience the states?” Valerie could almost hear her native dialect as she was questioning herself, providing her own brand of therapy. Valerie thought about how “all the other girls were doing it.” That, in her mind, would sum up the colony of relationships that mixed black women and Canadian travelers. The presence of white, male Canadian travelers was suddenly more than just a fad. Or so it seemed. And Valerie was somewhat aware of the trend, where for more than five decades black women would be easily swept up and out of the naivety of their culture and heritage in Barbados. The movement created thousands of interracial relationships that perpetuated the red-leaf country. However, standing alone and unaccompanied in this mammoth New York airport, Valerie now felt a sense of accomplishment. As if she had weathered certain storms. First, she was able to escape from under the umbrella of her family, to whom she vowed to return as an established restaurant owner. Second, she cut away from the migration of interracial couples in Canada, and finally she was able to get away from Richard. Angry, obsessed Richard.
He expected Valerie to be the beginning and the end of his day, as well as every waking moment in between.
“You’re not to leave the condo . . .”
“Stay off of the phone . . .” and then of course there was the statement that she hated to love, “Here’s some spending money. Buy something nice for yourself.” As if that alone would resolve all of their relationship issues. These were issues that, while they were ongoing, Valerie didn’t really understand. She couldn’t make two cents out of what was happening to her. Yet, her intuition had awakened her from that living coma. The aggravation and escalation of events had pushed her to leave. What made her escape all the more eventful was how Richard didn’t expect it. Valerie had been quietly stashing a few dollars here and there like a squirrel. She didn’t ever guess that she’d have to use the money for a getaway, but when that incident . . . when he . . .
She just hated to think about what Richard did to her because she’d get mad. She wasn’t a hateful person. But when Valerie was in the mood, on the flight at least, she found herself smiling to herself when envisioning his face. Wow. When he finds my stuff missing? He’s gonna blow his top. And the thought made her smile even more.
Valerie was somewhat mumbling to herself as she said, “At least I never . . .” She snickered at the thought of him asking her to—“The nerve of him!” with a contemptuous heart and mind.
Still looking for her 2 purple shoulder bags, Valerie found herself lost in the gaps that separated so many bags and suitcases as they approached. And while passengers converged closer to the conveyor belts, awaiting their claims, Valerie’s bags appeared from around the bend. She recognized them the moment she saw his face. Richard! He was lying across the top of the luggage, with his head perched in his palm? She figured that his obsession had driven him to hop into the baggage port of the plane and survive the flight just to emerge victorious . . . and what—he’s singing? What the—
“It’s sad. So sad.
It’s a sad, sad situation.
And it’s growing more and more absurd.”
Of course Richard’s obsession with all-things-Elton John would also come to haunt her. But just as quickly as Valerie was jolted by the mirage, so too did she instantly shake it. Thank God it was a figment of her imagination! The encounter caught her off guard, like a sudden chill. And yet, as she stretched for her bags, she couldn’t help but to look to her right and left to be certain that—who was she kidding? She only hoped that no one discovered her moment of imaginary turmoil.
In the meantime, one bag was a little bigger than the other, but she managed. With one at her side and one over her shoulder, she approached the exit. An elderly man waited guard, checking baggage claim slips to correspond with the tags that hung from luggage handles. The clerk didn’t appear to be alert enough to stop everyone. He was merely a deterrent, Valerie was saavy enough to guess. But just the same, she didn’t anticipate that she’d have much of a problem, even these days with how travelers who didn’t appear to be American were scrutinized more than usual. Even when Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) came along at various instances, things always managed to happen her way . . . for her, usually protecting her like a watchful guardian. When danger lurked, she came out ahead even if it was a long and painful victory. Perhaps this would always be the case.
Outside of LaGuardia’s arrival terminal, two baggage handlers almost bumped heads trying to assist the gorgeous traveler. And since the threat in the eyes of the larger man was sharp enough to stab someone, the smaller skycap backed down with little apprehension.
With not a care in the world (or so it seemed), all 5 feet, 6 inches of Valerie stood there in the broad daylight, apparently unaffected by the brisk autumn chill. Her presence on the walkway was as obvious as a fashion billboard. And it might’ve been a bit much for the baggage handler since his eyes were bugging out, looking hard at the package, this Caribbean woman in the tight leather jacket and pantsuit. The jacket hugged her waist snug and pants were tapered smoothly against her shapely hips, legs and calves.
Screech!
A cab pulled to a sudden halt and just about frightened her to death just to win the fare. It took a few seconds, but Valerie caught her breath and exhaled. Her sharp eyes broadcasted a twinge of discomfort to the apologetic driver through his windshield. But then she found some compassion since this wasn’t the first time guys acted the fool in her midst. If she gave any serious thought to it, she’d know these incidents to be frequent ones, from the moment she stepped out of the house. And yet, it was just as easy for Valerie to be naïve towards it all. She didn’t see herself as a walking attraction who kept others spellbound.
And now the cabbie was trying not to stare at Valerie, still with some uneasiness in his expression as he strutted around the vehicle to unhand Valerie’s luggage from the skycap. Into the trunk it went. In the meantime, the skycap nearly tripped as he assisted the passenger into the rear door of the cab.
As she got comfortable in her seat, Valerie noticed the driver adjusting his rearview mirror.
Valerie was forthright as she spoke.
“Take me to the Bronx, please.”
“Address, ma’am?” asked the cabbie in a rich Nigerian accent.
“Yes . . . of course.” Valerie’s voice was just as rich with island flavor. She went into her purse and pulled out a note. “Dyre Avenue, please.” The agreement in her eyes was direct, and still she was seductive as she urged the driver to move on.
There was an abrupt knock, knock, knock at the rear window, with a sound and vibration inches from Valerie’s face.
The Nigerian stalled on the brake with his intentions only inches from the accelerator.
“Should I?” the cabbie asked, wanting to pull off.
“Wait. It’s okay.” Valerie recognized the man as her neighbor from an adjacent seat on the flight. She pressed the button to lower the window. The aroma of flowers breezed in. For me?
“Hi. I’m the guy in the next seat . . . I mean, from the flight.” He was uncertain, as if he was asking for forgiveness and sympathy in the same breath. Sure enough, the passenger-next-door offered the quick bouquet through the 4-inch opening of the window. “These are . . . I got these from . . . for you.”
Valerie could sense a number of eyes on this little interaction; the skycap, the cabbie.
“Oh. For me? Well, thank you . . . you’re so sweet.” Valerie calmed the guy within a matter of seconds with her generous Caribbean karma. It was an unpracticed resource that was once captivating to other men, but now that she was a free woman again she was determined to mold her 22 years of island-girl characteristics into a future undenied.
The fellow passenger blushed, and to save face, Valerie interjected, ready to put an end to any more unnecessary conversation. The guy was already beet-red and had that hunger in his eyes, like he was ready to talk her to death.
With a quaint smile she said, “Have a nice day.” Up went the window. The driver acted quickly on the cue, leaving the man frozen with awe and a few shades paler.
Not even so much as an over-the-shoulder peek, Valerie was now focused on the future. School. Money. A real life. No more obsessed boyfriends. No more coincidental relationships. Valerie was ready for life and destiny.