Accidental Love

Rose Grayson zipped up the front of her dark blue sweat jacket and pulled the hood down over her head. The string that normally would have kept it in place had been removed long before she purchased it from the thrift store. She had no doubt that the first gust of the biting cold wind would push it off her head but for the moment, it was the best she could do. She looked out into the brightly lit parking lot of Money Slasher, the large supermarket that she worked at part time. She had been hoping to be full time by now but with the economy the way it was, full time jobs were hard to come by. The crazy hours they assigned her made it impossible to get another part time job to fill in the gaps and Rose couldn’t take the chance on quitting. It had taken weeks of applying to stores all over Albany just to get this job.

As the weathermen had predicted, the small flakes that had been falling when she started her shift was now a full blown blizzard and a good foot of snow had fallen with no end in sight. Rose looked down at her threadbare sneakers and groaned. This was the worst part about taking a job two miles from her apartment. The long walk home guaranteed that her feet would be frozen, not to mention the rest of her body. Sometimes she was lucky enough to get a ride from Kim, the store manager, but not tonight. Kim got off duty an hour ago and there was no way Rose would ask her to wait. Taking a deep breath, she tucked her reddish blond hair into the hood, bent forward, and stepped out into the unforgiving elements.

* * *

Veronica Cartwright glanced at her diamond studded watch for the tenth time in an hour. Of all the miserable nights to have to make an appearance at Sam’s, the oyster house that doubled as the social gathering place for Albany’s rich and powerful. On any given night one could go there and see the Governor, State Senators, and common folk who wanted to spend a hundred bucks on dinner. The maitre’ de knew who was who and seated them accordingly. Never would someone like Veronica, who headed up one of the largest family owned corporations in the area, be seated near someone who didn’t even own their own home. Veronica never liked to go there, despite the world-renowned cuisine. Tonight, however, she had little choice. Mark Grace, the Zoning Board of Appeals Commissioner, was fighting a zoning change request and it was up to her to smooth his ruffled feathers and get that variance pushed through. Her cousins ran a small offshoot of the family corporation, Cartwright Car Washes. It was small in terms of the revenue it brought to the family, but huge in the eyes of the public, especially with the thirty car washes scattered about the area and the numerous television ads. “Get your car washed right at Cartwrights” was a hugely successful slogan and made the long time financial barons’ family name a household word. John and Frank, the cousins in charge of the car washes, wanted to build a new one on the corner of Lake and State Streets. It was a prime location in a predominantly residential area. They even went so far as to buy out the corner store that had previously been there and the adjacent houses in hopes of getting the variance. Now Commissioner Grace was questioning the destruction of three of Albany’s “grand old buildings” in order to put up another “stupid car wash”. Meetings and negotiations didn’t work, offers of great civic donations didn’t work, even outright bribes failed. When the brothers had exhausted all their ideas and still were unable to sway him, it was up to Veronica to set things right. The Commissioner jumped at the opportunity to meet with one of the city’s most eligible women and insisted on dinner that evening.

So as a result she had to leave her fine home in the middle of one of the worst blizzards to hit the city in years to wine and dine the Commissioner into giving them the variance. It was a part of doing business and Veronica was used to it. The only problem was that Grace wanted more than goodwill from the raven haired beauty who ran Cartwright Corporation. Because of his insistence that they meet that evening, there had been no chance to make reservations. For almost anyone else, it would have meant not getting into the prestigious oyster house. But for Veronica, the maitre’ de placed them in the bar while desperate attempts were made to find a place for the President of Cartwright Corporation and her guest. During the wait, the blue eyed woman suffered having to listen to the whiny little snipe of a man tell her all about his degrees and how smart he was and how she should really consider spending more time with him. The only good point of the evening had been the waiter’s constant refilling of her wine glass with the finest of vintages. At least she had been able to enjoy a good buzz while listening to him drone on.

Now an hour and a half later, they were seated at their table, dinner having been served just a few minutes before. “So Veronica…you know that’s such a pretty name. A pretty name for a pretty lady,” Mark reached over with his fork to take a piece of baked lobster from her plate. “I don’t understand why you feel that an area with such class and beauty needs a car wash. Can you imagine all the traffic that’ll go through there? Interrupting people while they’re sleeping, disturbing them with all the loud noises those machines make.” His fork found another piece of lobster, the remainder of the tail. “Surely you wouldn’t want one of those right next door to you, now would you?”

Blue eyes glared at the best part of her lobster making its way into someone else’s mouth. She had been polite and pleasant all evening and now it was time to teach the little man a lesson. She dabbed her lips with the linen napkin. “The car wash is only open from eight in the morning until ten at night. I’m sure no one’s sleep will be disturbed and if you filch one more piece of food off my plate I’m going to stab your hand with this fork, do I make myself clear?” she said evenly while raising the wine glass to her lips. “Now you and I both know that those streets see plenty of traffic as it is, the residents like the idea of a car wash coming to their area, and it also means ten more jobs to the community. What do you think will happen in the next election if we support the Democrat and give him this little piece of information? What good would your appointment do if the new mayor decides to clean house?”

“Now you’re just blowing smoke, Miss Cartwright,” he said, sitting back and lighting up a cigarette. Smoking of course was prohibited in that section of the restaurant but Mark believed his position to put him above what he considered to be a silly law. “The Cartwrights have always supported the Republicans, everyone knows that.” He took another drag of his cigarette, the smoke tickling Veronica’s nose.

“Really?” she drained her glass and set it down on the linen covered table, suppressing a grin at the thought of the bomb she was about to lay on the hapless Commissioner. “Let me tell you something, Mr. Grace. The Cartwrights have financed more than one Democrat over the years and now that I’m in charge, there’ll be plenty more as time goes on.” Her blue eyes bore into his as she leaned forward and took the cigarette out of his hand, sinking it deep into his stuffed crab.

“This variance means nothing to me except getting my cousins off my back. Your position means nothing to me. I’d spend a hundred thousand on the next election if it meant getting you out of office and putting in someone who sees jobs as being more important than power plays so you need to make a decision. You can be the good guy who brings ten jobs to the area or you can be the idiot who gets voted out of office, the decision is yours.” Veronica had already made up her mind that there would soon be a new Commissioner. “I do believe this meeting is over. I hoped you enjoyed my dinner.” At his startled look she added “What? Did you think you were going to get lucky tonight, Mr. Grace?” Her eyes gave him a quick once over. “I’m sorry. I don’t sleep with dogs. You never know when they might have fleas.” She picked up her attache and strode out, leaving the fuming but cornered commissioner with nothing but a hard on and the check.

* * *

Rose crossed the street and entered Washington Park, a mammoth place of greenery in the middle of the city. The park was closed at dusk each night because of the crime and cruising that went on there. Normally Rose would go around but that meant an extra six blocks out of her way and with the howling wind and bitter cold, the most direct route home was needed. In the five block walk from the supermarket to the edge of the park, Rose’s ears were beet red from the cold and her nose had already started to run. She couldn’t feel her toes and the pockets of her sweat jacket did nothing to protect her fingers. Deciding from the lack of prints in the snow and the sub-zero temperature that it was safe, Rose trudged along past the huge statue of Moses that marked the entrance and the snow covered sign that warned against being in the park at night. The fierce wind refused to let her keep her hood on and her shoulder length hair flapped loosely about her face. Her body shivered fiercely and all she could think of was getting home and sinking into a nice hot bath. She was halfway through the park and within sight of Madison Avenue when she heard them approaching, their quick footfalls crunching the snow under their feet. “Well well well, what do we have here?” She turned her head to see four men rapidly approaching her, now quite running but certainly walking very fast.

“Come on honey, we’ve got something for ya.”

“Yeah, why don’t you come party with us?”

The deep cold made her legs feel like lead but the idea of being caught out in the middle of the dark park by the four men put new life in her steps. She tried ignoring them and continuing on her way but men continued to follow her. “Come’on bitch, let Danny have some fun,” the closest one said, causing Rose’s heart to start pounding painfully in her chest. She had to get out of there and had to get out of there now. She began running, more like stumbling, through the snow and toward the bright lights of Madison Avenue.

Veronica breezed through the lights of the sleeping city, mindless of the way the Porsche slipped around in the snow. It wasn’t like anyone else was around at the late hour. She passed Lark Street without meaning to and cursed loudly. Now she’d have to go all the way past the park to catch the next cross street. Seeing no cars in front of her, she punched the pedal of her Porsche 911 and threw it into second gear. She was going far too fast for the snow covered street, especially since it didn’t look like the plows had been through any time recently, but she didn’t care. It wasn’t like she had to stop anytime soon and she was still under the posted limit, although definitely faster than the road conditions dictated. The next cross street was at least a half mile away. Suddenly a flash of blue and gold appeared in front of her, a figure darting out from between parked cars. Veronica jammed both feet on the brakes and jerked the steering wheel hard to the left but there was just no time. The snow gave her no traction and an eerie silence filled the air as she watched the low front of the Porsche strike the pedestrian and throw the helpless person up onto the windshield. The red sports car finally came to a halt several car lengths later and the broken body slumped off the hood onto the snow covered ground. For several seconds Veronica could do nothing but grip the steering wheel and stare at the spider web pattern that now made up her windshield while her heart pounded mercilessly. The reality of what had happened finally sunk in and with shaking hands she opened the door. She looked around quickly for any witnesses but at 12:30 on a Tuesday night everyone was in bed. She never saw the gang of thugs that had been chasing the victim turn around and slink back into the darkness of the park.

Blood was already beginning to pool on the ground beneath the body, although the extreme cold made the flow far less than it would normally have been. Veronica knelt down beside the crumpled form and with her gloved hand rolled the victim over. She gasped when she saw the battered face of a young woman. “Oh my god.” A flash of green just on the edge of her vision caused the raven haired woman to turn and look up. A traffic light. She glanced over at the cross street. New Scotland Avenue. She was only three blocks from the Medical Center. She quickly opened the passenger door and pulled the lever that reclined the seat. Veronica knew that the best thing was to try and immobilize the woman but there wasn’t any way she could do that at the moment and the puddle of blood was steadily growing. The hospital was too close to think about calling for an ambulance and wasting precious minutes. The decision made, Veronica slipped her arms under the unconscious woman’s shoulders and dragged her to the car. Less than a minute later they were speeding toward the Medical Center.