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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Way Back: Chapter 2

"Manning, I never expected to see you back here." It was Bo. Perfect. Just the person he never wanted to run into at this point. The gloating would be more than he could take.


"Why Bo, you know you just love adding me to the quota list for monthly arrests. I sell a mean policeman's ball ticket, too."


Bo squinted his eyes, hands on hips, and stared into Todd's face. "Whoever did this work was a genius. You almost have me fooled."


"And who was this 'genius' that put a scar onto his or her handiwork? Now, what sense would that make?"


"Make you look more like the man you are posing as, I guess. What do you think, McBain?" Bo turned toward the taller, dark man, who was standing watching from behind Todd.


"Bo, you got me on this one." He looked away, clearly trying to show his disinterest in the chiding.

"Lieutenant, in my office." Bo said, looking once more at Todd's face. He shook his head. "Jameson, watch our friend Mr. Manning or whoever he is. Make certain he's around. His face brightens up the place." The two men entered Bo's office and the door closed.


Todd found he had no interest in listening in on them; much of what they said did not matter to him anymore. He knew who he was. And more importantly, Blair knew him. He went over things again; her expressions, her asking him where he'd been, her hand brushing his scar when he kissed her and her kissing him passionately back. Most importantly, he recalled her silence. This was a woman who was emotionally shocked, but also in love. "Things haven't changed much, Mrs. Manning," he said aloud. He closed his eyes and brought his cuffed hands to his face. The lower part of both palms smelled like her, probably from when he held her face in his hands, and he breathed in deeply. It didn't make sense that her scent and her perfume was the same after all these years, but why else did he recognize it? He took it in and felt himself flush. He wanted her back so much. It was almost incomprehensible.


He closed his eyes and played the scene over and over, each time slowing the action when his lips met hers. Her hair still felt the way he remembered it; her eyes still searched his the same way; her mouth still accepted him as it always did. And he loved her.


The door to Bo's office opened loudly, interrupting. "Hi, John, Bo. Do I get a break here, or what? Or do you show me to your finest accommodations?"


McBain stepped forward. Bo watched, from behind, hands on hips again. "You have to spend the night here, at least. You've got a laundry list of charges."


Todd's face was tell-tale. He kept his eyes focused on John, feigning acceptance, but McBain could see his hands begin to shake.


"I'm not sure what will happen next, but we're going to look into everything you've accused Manning of."


"I'm not accusing myself of anything, John." His voice caught momentarily. His facade was slipping.


John caught it, having spent some time alone with the guy, he felt for him. He stepped closer. "If I could do this differently . . ."


"Nope, why would the LPD do anything differently where I'm concerned. It's always been my favorite place," he spoke louder next intentionally, "and I'm Bo's favorite tenant, right Bozo?"


Bo, who had gone back to his paperwork, snapped his head up at the sound. "What did you call me?"


John turned to Bo, and back to Todd, who said, "Just lock me up, Commissioner. Routine." He put his head back and closed his eyes again. He clasped his hands together to mask the tremors.


"Manning, come with me," McBain lead the way. Todd got up and followed, head lowered. Bo stared after him, and made eye contact with McBain as they walked off.

In the basement of the police station, John opened the barred door to the holding cell area, and opened a cell. He slowly slid the bars to the side. Todd, losing his bravado by the moment, put his hands up to John so that the cuffs could be removed. Again, John noticed the shaking of his hands as he offered them. He rubbed his wrists absently and turned to the cell opening, head held high. John watched, as he put his hands on either side of the "door" and paused, lowering his head. He shook, and this time it could not be hidden. He looked up to his keeper. John was overtaken by the expression on Todd's face, and within moments, the lieutenant was certain of two things: this was Todd Manning, and jailing him was very wrong and impossibly cruel.


"Look, I, uh . . ."


"I'm going, officer." He stepped inside. "Long time no see." His voice cracked. Then, "I'll be ok." Almost questioning.


"Is there someone I can call for you? You refused your one phone call."


Todd looked up at him, making eye contact and studying him for a minute. "No. No one. Hey, don't worry, just doing your job."


"Yeah." He paused. "My job. I'll check in with you later on."


Todd's eyes found the floor. "Sure, yeah. Ok."

McBain found it difficult to walk away, but knew he had to. He wondered what must be going through the man's mind, being back in a cell after eight years of captivity. His stomach rocked with nausea as he heard the bars to the area clang shut.


Bo was waiting in his office, as if expecting McBain to return. John slammed into the room, closing the door behind him. "What are we doing here, Bo? Manning or not, the guy has been tortured for 8 years and held in a cell. 8 years of his life. I mean, what are we doing?"


"He committed crimes, lieutenant. Crimes. Remember? The reason we're here and getting that old paycheck."


"What's your take on this, Bo?"


Bo ran his finger along his desk's edge. "He's Manning. Or he's crazy. Or he's both."


"I can take him into custody in my apartment. He can stay with me until he gets a lawyer or we figure out this mess. I mean, what if Manning is really an impostor and this guy is for real?"


"I don't know, John, what do you want me to say? You know I can't let you take him out of here. What happens when you have to work? Who watches him then? We'd have a media frenzy on our hands if that happened. A former rapist, a kidnapper, and an all-around good guy."


"Yes sir." John did this when making it known he was subjugating to Bo's authority. He left the room in a whirl of black blazer and let the door bang on his way out.


Bo called after him. "Lieutenant? Calling it a night?"


"You could say that."


Todd had given up pacing and was lying on the bunk, eyes fixated on the ceiling. He'd gotten through the first few minutes after the shaking stopped by repeating his family list aloud. It was something he had learned to do to distract from his pain throughout his time away. He'd recite all of his family's names, their relationship to him, and in some cases, even things about them. He'd gone through everyone from Blair and Starr to Tea and Jack when the panic finally subsided enough for him to try and meditate, another thing he had used as a way not to completely succumb to eternal mental blackness. The meditation, though, had come from Sam. Sam who was the only father he'd consider calling one; Sam the hippie with the tireless love and peace ideas; Sam who died. Todd's mind rested on Sam for a while, and he pictured him, silver-haired and rather bossy, taking him in his arms and telling him he loved him. The closest thing to a real friend he had, aside from Blair, and possibly Tea, was Sam Rappaport.


The clang of bars rang out and echoed in the empty holding area. He ignored it, used to the sounds of coming and going in jail. After all, he had spent a great deal of time incarcerated, one way or another. It wasn't until a voice spoke that Todd swung his legs over his bunk, looking toward the door. "Hey, 5 card stud or go fish?" McBain said, unlocking Todd's cell.


Monday, January 30, 2012

The Way Back: Chapter 1

Though it was not exactly what he had imagined, which was Blair, running to him, tears flowing, and throwing her arms around him and holding on for dear life, the responses to his appearance in that room with his family and extended family was something he'd remember always. Jack, standing behind The Impostor with a blank look; Starr walking toward him, tears brimming, as if she had seen a ghost; Tea, uncharacteristically speechless; and Blair, who asked him, "Where have you been?" It was in that moment that he realized that she knew he was real.

She knew him, and everything about him. She knew he was her Todd. Whether she would "pull a Blair" and stay in denial remained to be seen. He hoped some of that had changed, but he could only wait for the answer. "I don't know. I was locked up."

"Who locked you up?"

"I don't know." Deep down, she believed him. Period. She did not let on, or act the way his heart wished, but she knew.

The rest of it came and went as quickly as a gust of wind. Something he had thought about, planned for and wished on was fleeting by him. He was with his family, at last, again. And it was all happening so fast. The Impostor's incredulous looks and snide remarks; Tomas standing nearby, arms folded, wheels turning at a high rate in his aesthetic brain; Jack denying him, vehemently; Starr touching his cheek. Someday he would remember it all in sequence. At the moment, when he tried to access it, it was just a blur of emotion.

He wasn't sure why he even pulled the gun, but he did. He held it out because he wanted them back. The Impostor was probably dangerous and had taken his life. But John McBain's low and focused voice reminded him of why he was there and what he wanted, and he backed off, and turned the gun in, knowing full well he would be taken away for the simple act of defending what was his own.

The Impostor barked a command to Tea, who, atypically, followed sheepishly out of the room. He knew what was next for him, but he stepped toward Blair for one last attempt to make certain she saw him and knew him.

"You know me."

She was barely audible. "I don't know. I don't know."

He knew she was talking herself out of him being who he was. So typical. He thought his heart would break that she didn't just throw herself to his arms. But, he composed himself, held steady. "This will help, right? Remember that?" He held up the picture of their first wedding. It was a bit tattered, but it was the object she was studying at when he first saw her by the pool. He almost went to her that night. In retrospect, he probably should have, but things were so different then. Every memory was not in place. And just when he got around to showing himself, Agent Kent had shown up. He went on, "You do. You do remember this. It's our wedding." He smiled and walked closer. "That's you, and that's me," he pointed like teaching elementary school. She was quiet, stunned, staring. He continued, "I was at Dorian's that day when you showed this picture to Starr."

"You were stalking me?" She was uneasy; Starr was crying. He wanted to hold her and assure her she would never be in danger from him.

Instead, "Yeah I guess, li'l bit. You told our daughter that you had never been so happy. You know me." Her green eyes were searching his. Silently, she stared into him. And then, he went for it. Taking two steps in, he reached for her, and drawing her close, kissed her with all of his mouth, body and soul. In the moments that followed, all he could know and hold onto was that she kissed back, deeply, and her hand went to his cheek and rested on his scar, as if no time passed. The silkiness of her white gown slid softly under his palm as he cradled her lower back. When he pulled back from the kiss, he held her face in his hands for a few moments. Instead of fighting away from him, she held his thumbs with her fingers, watching his every move intently. Starr's tears had spilled over, and Tomas was hiding his face with his hand, blocking his eyes as if from sun. "I dare you to ever forget me. I dare you."

"Yeah, that's good, come on, let's go." It was McBain. He broke the silence of the room. No one aside from Todd had spoken in what seemed to be an eternity.

"You hold onto this, okay?" He handed her the photo with the bent and separating corner. Tears balanced in her eyes and he noticed she held onto his hand. He pointed again, "That's you, and that's me, the man who made you so happy." And with that, John lead him away to the police station, and he couldn't look back, for fear he might fight his way away from John and back to them. He walked off, leaving his family behind.

Getting into the police car, he spoke. "You saved me back there. I almost lost it and shot that asshole."

"Yeah, you did. Good thing you made the choice you did. Not good to shoot him dead in front of your family that way, if they are your family."

"Oh, they're my family all right." His voice was certain. McBain had very little doubt himself. For some reason, something told him deep down that this was indeed Todd Manning sitting next to him. In fact, that something told him since he brought Todd back to his apartment and experienced his bantering snark first hand. But what had really sealed the deal was Blair's reaction to him. Having been married to her, he knew a bit about her emotions and her expressions. She had recognized him and even more than his face, she had recognized his kiss. He could tell. Blair knew this was her lost husband. Todd Manning was here, in this police car with him.

But then, who was the guy who went home with Tea Delgado?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Way Back: Prologue

Premiering Tonight, the real Todd Manning

Waiting was never easy, but after 8 years, he could face a few more minutes apart from her. Standing behind the deep maroon curtain and looking in, he spied his family. Starr, beautiful in her floral dress, with her hair upswept like her mother had worn it on occasion; Jack standing tall and oh-so-grown in his suit; and Blair, beautiful Blair, his wife, in white. In his mind, he had always pictured her in white during the long years of pain and torment. In white. A white nightgown with a lace overjacket; a white wedding gown with gold threads interspersed; a white halter top and long wrap skirt; a black pencil skirt and a white puff shoulder top with her beautiful swanesque back exposed. Every single thing she had ever worn he could picture, down to the last detail. He had spent 8 years studying it all and running it over and over in his mind. And, there she was, in white. Again. Stunning even after all this time apart. His wife.

He waited for the opportune moment to make his appearance. After all, it was his premier. Don't expect much, Manning. They're going to be surprised - heck, they're going to be damn shocked. Go slow. Don't push. He ran everything over in his mind, just the way he had practiced it. He knew exactly what he wanted to say and why he wanted to say it. He was here. He was back.

The last weeks were blurring more and more, but his memories were becoming perfectly intact. It had taken a while, having been muddled with electrical currents, but he was certain now, of everything. Each memory, sound and sight, was embedded back into its special location in his brain. No one was going to take any of it from him, he had promised himself. Every time Baker made his way toward him with electric cables, syringes, ropes, cords, long carpenter nails heated until glowing red, and other assorted "toys," as he called them, he'd start reciting his mantra. His family, their names, and who they were to him. When he came close to losing his mind and never coming back, he would play over a day, from start to finish, in his mind. The day he met Blair for the first time (again, her blouse was white); the sledding expedition (her smiling face, her slim figure bundled in her white winter coat); their almost wedding when he found out Jack had actually been his (she in a white satin pants suit). He marveled at how some things changed but others just hadn't. He had been counting on that for 8 years.

So, this was it. This was the moment he let them all know the truth. Of course, he counted on something else. He counted on Tomas Delgado not being able to keep his mouth shut about The Impostor. Todd was pretty certain that Tomas wouldn't be able to keep quiet long. Too much had happened and Tomas was not in the dark, at least, not as much as he pretended to be.

He watched as Tomas pointed across the room to The Impostor, saying, "That man is not Todd Manning."

He parted the curtains and walked into the room,
and, fixing his tie, simply said, "I am."