The Secret Life Of Samantha Spade
by tahlia

(There's an old saying, about wanting what you can't have, about limits and appearances and moderation. Samantha always hated that.)

1972. Colleen didn't have many friends. Her mother had had a heart attack two weeks after JFK was assassinated; her father, they said, loved his wife so much that he became an alcoholic after her death. Whatever he moaned at three o'clock in the morning, when she was collecting the empty vodka bottles from the living room, Colleen thought he was just a pathetic, miserable man. Sometimes he yelled at her when she touched the ones that weren't gone. Sometimes his hand collide with her cheek. Sometimes he spit at her and called her Meredith. Her father never loved her mother, not in the romantic sense. But this was what people in Worthington, Ohio called loved.

Still, there was a small movie house on Main Street that, once a week, showed glimpses of what Colleen called love: Humphrey Bogart. She watched him romance Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall and Mary Astor, and figured that one day, he'd come for her. And he did; or at least, she thought he did, because his name was Richard Spade, and with a name like that, it had to be fate. But he'd never seen a movie at that old theater ("you mean, they haven't closed that place down?"), so for their first official date, she took him to see The Maltese Falcon. She cried when he offered to take her home. He never did.

Three months later, it was Christmas, and Santa brought Colleen a baby. She cried during Midnight Mass; people thought she missed her mother, who used to sing in the choir. Richard came by the next evening, to give her a gift (a small statue), and she took him to the bathroom and made him look at the test. She thought he would run; she thought she would call her a whore and say it wasn't his. (It was. There was no one else.) He kissed her on the cheek and said he would marry her. She was sure that she loved him then.

It was a small ceremony. She dropped out of the community college she had enrolled herself in. (They couldn't afford to pay tuition; anyway, when would she have time?) The baby came in May, a little premature, but healthy and pink and with little wisps of her father's blond hair. Colleen named her Samantha and Richard could only shake his head and laugh at his wife's choice.

When Samantha was twelve (and, please, God, don't call her Sam, lest we remember what her crazy mother had named her after, Jesus Christ! --oops, right, sorry, no cursing) and cellphones resembled small household appliances, Richard left. He never loved Colleen; there had been another woman, for almost five years now, living in an apartment in Cincinnati. Her mother didn't get drunk. She didn't throw dishes on the floor so the sound could mask her sobbing. She didn't forget to cook dinner, or to make Samantha her bag lunch; she didn't give her daughter a little spank for no apparent reason. The only sign that her father wasn't coming home from work was the silence in the living room where his whistling had always been. Samantha sat at the bottom of the stairs and watched her mother passively reading the newspaper, waiting for tears of pain that never came.

Three weeks later, her father came back. He came in the middle of the night; when Samantha got up in the middle of the night, she tiptoed to the bathroom and heard her mother crying. It was horrible, but she felt relieved. But then came her father's sobbing, too, his "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm a weak man, I'm sorry," and she hated him. She was twelve going on thirty that night.

He stayed for four months. And then came Christmas again and Colleen sat her daughter next to the Christmas tree and the little baby Jesus and the Three Wise Men and told her a brother (or sister) was coming. Samantha wanted to strangle something with the tinsel. Her father was standing in the doorway of the living room. That night, her parents argued. They had no money for a baby; that night, Samantha discovered how much really wasn't set aside for college in five years. Her father said "abortion" and she heard a deathly smack. And then the door slammed, and it was the worst Christmas ever. Ilsa came in June.

Samantha was smart; she understood the things her teachers were instilling in her, which meant notes weren't necessary. Neither was homework: if she knew it, great, what was the point? Teachers started sending notes like "needs better work ethic" and "in danger of failing." Colleen barely noticed, though, too absorbed in Ilsa's finger-painting and Ilsa's class trip to the zoo. Mr. Barns, her calculus teacher, even called home once, saying Samantha was a "brilliant student" who lacked a "glimmer of motivation," but of course, Ilsa was drawing on the wall in the kitchen, so the conversation was cut short. Samantha went to a party in the next town over, stayed out past curfew, and came home in a cop car when the neighbors smelled pot; her mother bounced Ilsa on her hip and said, "Don't do that again, Sammie, or you'll have to find somewhere else to live." She hated that name and told her mother so.

She was the girl in high school; you know, the one with the boyfriend almost twice her age, with the big hair and the short skirts and the who-gives-a-shit attitude. So fucking cool. On the stall in the girl's bathroom, someone wrote, "S.S. smokes crack." Samantha stole her girlfriend Marita's lipstick and wrote underneath it: "You fucking wish." (But maybe there was a little truth to it?)

Her freshmen year of college was a disaster: Brian, a senior stumbling toward graduation, had kissed her (drunk) on the mouth and told her to marry him; she said yes. For two months, it was great, better sex than when it had been illegal. And then, right before winter break, she missed her period. Brian panicked and so did she; she had no idea what she wanted to do, what she wanted to be, and now those ephemeral dreams were gone. This was exactly where her mother had been eighteen years ago, and look what happened.

She told her mother on Christmas Eve, and her mother yelled, "Jesus Christ, Samantha, I didn't take a second job working nights at some armpit of a restaurant just so you could fuck up your life!" Colleen had never used that kind of language with her daughter. Samantha didn't want to cry in front of her mother, didn't want to give her that kind of satisfaction, so she stalked up to her old bedroom and packed up the suitcase she had brought. She wasn't even thinking. She ended up at the bus station across town with a ticket to New York City in her hand.

Except...something happened. Her mother appeared right as they were calling her bus. She wasn't angry that Samantha had left; up close, Samantha saw something she had never imagined her mother could have felt: worry, and fear, that her daughter would slip away forever. A tear slid down her face when Colleen put her hand on her oldest daughter's cheek. It was enough. They bought a pregnancy test at an all-night pharmacy: negative. A week later, still negative. And then it came (stress, the doctors said).

But it wasn't enough for Brian. Things weren't the same; or rather, he was, and she was not. She started to get serious about class, and he just drank and partied and wondered why she wasn't doing the same. He kicked her out by the end of the spring term, filed for divorce, and never looked back. Samantha joined a sorority (the good kind, the ones who didn't take their shirts off in New Orleans) and graduated in the top 5% of her class with a degree in criminology.

Samantha couldn't stand Ohio anymore, though, and she applied to every police department in every major city on the East Coast; also, the FBI, CIA, DEA, and the Secret Service, but they were her long shots, the applications she and her roommate, Lola, laughed about over martinis on the floor of the living room of their apartment. (Lola was the only other remnant of her former party girl lifestyle, with a degree in child psychology and dreams of a bar in the Big Apple -- oh, the contradictions they had become.) Neither expected the message on their answering machine, or the suit shopping and the butterflies, or the interview in Washington DC. Samantha had to hold the phone several inches from her ear when Ilsa squealed with delight. "Special Agent Sammie," she kept saying, because she was the only one who could get away with it.

Quantico was tough, but it was the discipline she needed. And it was probably fate when the section chief called her in to say she'd be filling in for an agent on maternity leave in the New York City field office. Vivian Johnson took one look at her and said she was getting too old because Samantha looked so young. The strange comment struck her and she smiled, feeling welcome. In the corner of her eye, she could see Jack Malone watching her. Six months later, Vivian was back with pictures of her beautiful boy, Reggie; Samantha had already started packing her desk when Jack called her into his office and offered her a permanent place in Missing Persons. He said she had "good instincts," but maybe that wasn't the only reason. He turned his wedding ring on his finger, a nervous gesture of his, and told her she could go back to work.

And Lola got her bar: Venus Rising, in Soho, and the party girl in Samantha came out every once in a while to order cosmopolitans and dish with the owner. The conversation was usually who was seeing who, though it was mostly the comings and goings of Lola's various boyfriends. Sure, there were homicide detectives and lab technicians who batted their eyes at Samantha, but no one serious.

"You don't get attached," Lola commented, with one too many rum and cokes under her belt. And it was true. They were ordinary; they were decent, hardworking men. Nothing wrong with them either, except for their dedication to normality. They were acceptable. The people she met at work, they weren't spinning dangerously out of control, hemorrhaging passion and sin. These were the things that turned Samantha into a moth. After a while, they were all painted with the same dull, beige brush. There was a part of Samantha that wanted the bad boy, the trouble maker. Lola knew this. "Fruit from the forbidden tree," she laughed, with the caveat that, after all the trouble Samantha had been in, she would never touch an apple again.

Still...Samantha tapped the pencil once, twice on the desk and looked up. The moment that morning had been somewhat awkward, a dance at the coffee machine: his marital problems were no secret in this office. He looked up, and through the glass, he saw her looking. And she knew.

Forbidden fruit. Like hell.


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