as published in Hidden Lies and Other Stories by Vivian Gilbert Zabel and Holly Jahangiri
as published in Hidden Lies and Other Stories by Vivian Gilbert Zabel and Holly Jahangiri
Crashing thunder followed the sizzle of the lightning flashing through the midnight sky. The strobe-light effect caused the man to stagger as he tried to fight his way through the trees whipping in the frantic wind. The sting of bits of bark and branches pelted his arms and face while he strained to see.
“What am I goin’ to do?” he muttered, his mouth so dry that the words stumbled from his lips. “Gotta get to my car. Gotta...”
His toe caught in a tree root, and his tall, powerful body plowed into the hard-packed ground. “Oooph!” His breath whooshed from his lungs. He lay gasping until he could breathe again. Pushing up with muscular arms, he levered himself until he stood. Leaning against the rough trunk of a tree, he closed his eyes and rested a few minutes. The spat of chilled raindrops on his head brought his attention to the storm whirling around him.
“Uh, guess I... I better move,” he mumbled. He rubbed callused hands over his face, using the cold rain to wash weariness away. “Need to move, get to car.”
Branches snapped and crackled under his feet, as he forced himself ever onward. The quick, short bursts from the sky didn’t help; rather, the fast-changing light kept his eyes from adjusting to the darkness, leaving him virtually blind. The roar of the wind and the slapping of tree limbs dulled his hearing. The pounding rain increased his thirst.
“Water, water... everywhere...” he murmured before laughing nearly hysterically. “Silly, being silly. Need water.” He stopped in a small clearing and raised his face toward the sky, opening his mouth. After catching enough rain to moisten his mouth and lips, he battled his way forward.
Where am I? Need to know... His thoughts whirled as he continued to fight the elements. Tired, so tired. Don’t know... How did I... get... don’t know where... He stopped, bent at the waist to brace his hands on his slightly bent knees, his head hanging in the deluge. “I’m supposed... to be... in shape,” he panted. “Can... hardly... breathe.”
When his heartbeats had slowed so that he no longer felt the frenzied surge in his chest, the man raised his head to stare into the unfamiliar surroundings. “I don’t think I know this place.” With a groan, he dropped his head again. “How would I know? I could be in the local park, and I wouldn’t know.” He shook his head, sending water flying from his hair to mingle with that pouring from the clouded sky. “Man, I’m talking to myself like I’ll get a sensible answer.”
With another groan, he straightened his aching body just as a long flare of lightning splayed across the heavens. In the glow, he thought he glimpsed an open area ahead, with a darker splotch. He forced his feet and legs to carry him forward toward the area he thought he spied. In minutes, he stumbled, falling to his knees, his hands stinging from gravel biting into them.
“What the...” he cried. “That smell... something burnt.” The acrid odor of burned rubber assaulted his nose. “Been on the ground almost as much as upright,” he mumbled as he climbed to his feet. “At least the rain’s almost stopped.”
He covered his nose and mouth with his arm as he shuffled toward the obscure shadow a few feet away, the charred stink becoming stronger the closer he moved. He studied the lump of blackness carefully in the now rare flashes of lightning. One final flicker reflected off a strip of metal.
“Wha... this was a car,” he whispered. “No! No, it can’t be... my car?”
He staggered away from the funeral pyre, dropped to the ground, and covered his face with trembling hands. “What am I going to do? Oh, dear God, if you hear me, help me know what to do?”
After sitting in numbed disbelief for several minutes, the man dropped his hands to lay across his bent knees. He blew a stream of air through pursed lips while he studied the land around him. The storm no longer covered the sky, and the full moon provided a dim light. In front of him huddled the black mass of a former car. To his right stood the threatening army of trees that he fought his way through earlier. To his left spread more of the gravel lot.
Maybe there’s a road at the end of this gravel, he silently pondered. Only one way to find out.
Once more on his feet, the man forced his shoulders back and strode into the night. After walking for ten minutes, he still hadn’t reached the end of the gravel, but he saw a light in the distance. Picking up his pace to a jog, he kept his eyes peeled on the never-moving light.
“There must be someone there, some help,” he muttered as his jog became a brisk run. “I’ll find help.”
The light appeared to be maybe a quarter of a mile away. The man reached into himself and found the energy and strength to run even faster. A smile broke across his face while he ran. Then his foot reached out for ground and found - nothing.
“Aiiiii!” his scream echoed as his body flew through space.
“John, John,” a quiet voice called. “John, wake up! You’re dreaming again. Wake up!”
The man opened his eyes to find his wife’s face above him. “Dreaming?” he whispered. Outside his bedroom, he heard the thunder and wind as the rain beat on the roof. “What? Oh, another storm.”
“Yes, another storm, but what worries me is another nightmare. Don’t you think you should ask someone about those dreams?”
“Another storm, another nightmare.” John shrugged. “What can anyone do about either one?” Sitting on the edge of the bed, he stared out the window at the lightning shearing the night sky. “What can anyone do except survive?” He stumbled to the bathroom, where he splashed cold water on his face. Grabbing a hand towel, he dried his face. He raised his sight to the mirror on the wall behind the sink to find Judith’s face beside his shoulder. “I’ll be okay.” He braced himself with his arms, his hands flattened on the counter top.
“You don’t look ‘okay,’ and you need help. You can’t go on like this, John.” Judith slipped her arm around his chest and laid her cheek against his arm. “Won’t you at least talk with Dr. Reese?”
John dropped his head. “I know. I know.” He blew a whoosh of air in a soundless whistle. “I’ll call him and make an appointment. Maybe he can recommend someone who will know what to do. Someone who works with people losing their minds.”
When John Douglas arrived at his office, his partner Russell Craine waited impatiently. John stopped beside the receptionist’s desk. “Russ, what are you doing here so early? I’m not used to seeing you before ten or eleven.”
“I need to talk to you now!” The slender man stomped down the hall toward John’s office. “We may have a big problem.”
With a shrug of one shoulder and lifted brows toward the receptionist, John followed the smaller man. “What’s the problem?” he asked as he circled to his chair behind the desk.
Craine threw himself onto the sofa against the wall on the right of the desk.“Walker may decide to go with another company.”
John jumped back to his feet. “What! Why? He was ready to sign the contract last night. What happened?”
Jerking to a sitting position, Russell glared at his partner. “How should I know! You were still with him when I left the restaurant. What did you say? What did you do?”
With a shake of his head, John dropped back into his chair. “All I did was say goodnight. We shook hands. He said he’d see us this afternoon.” He placed his elbows on the desk and covered his face with his hands. “What happened?”
“All I know is I received a call about an hour ago. Maxwell Walker said he decided that our company isn’t the one for his business.” With a snort, the slender man threw himself back on the sofa. “Those were his exact words, not the company for his business.”
“I just don’t understand.” John spun his chair so that he stared out the window. “What could have changed so quickly? He investigated us inside out.”
“I don’t know. I practically begged him to reconsider.”
In John’s mind he could hear his partner’s whiny begging to Maxwell Walker before agreeing aloud, “I’m sure you did.”
“He finally said he would give us one more chance to change his mind.”
Whirling from the window, John slapped his hands on the desk top. “What! Why didn’t you say so?”
“Well,” Russell began before swinging back to a sitting position, “I didn’t think you would like what he wants you to do.”
“What he wants me to do? Not what he wants you to do?”
“No, just you and Judith.” Russell’s eyes looked at the floor, at the opposite wall, everywhere except at John. He braced his arms on his knees and kneaded his hands together.
“Judith? What does Judith have to do with this?” John rose to his feet and strode to stand in front of his partner.
Staring at his twisting hands, Russell answered, “I’m not sure. He just wants the two of you to spend the weekend at his country place.”
“Russell, what are you not telling me?” When the other man didn’t answer, John’s voice lowered, became quieter, yet someway more threatening. “Russell, you better tell me what you know or think you know. Now!”
The man on the sofa glanced up through his brows. “Well, uh, uh . . .”
“What have you done?” With a sigh, John walked back to his desk to prop one lean hip against the edge. “What have you gotten me and Judith into?”
“No, it wasn’t me. Walker told me what he wanted.” After a brief pause, Russell continued, “I just thought it was strange that he even knew your wife’s maiden name.”
“I’m not surprised after all the digging his investigators did. I do wonder why he did that, though.” After studying his partner silently for several minutes, John quietly commented, “We won’t be going.”
Russell’s head snapped up. “What do you mean? You have to go. Man, we need this account.”
“I don’t. I told you that I wanted out of the partnership, and I do. If you want to do business with someone so unethical and unpredictable, go for it, but leave Judith and me out of it.”
“Come on, John, you can’t be serious. I didn’t have anything to do with this deal with Walker.” The man bounded from the sofa toward John. “We’ve been partners for five years. You aren’t really serious.”
Gritting his teeth at the whine in Russell’s voice, John answered, “Yes, Russell, I’m serious, just as I was a month ago when I told you I was having my attorney look into dissolving the partnership.” When Russell opened his mouth, John raised his hand to stop him. “No, don’t say any more. If you want to have Walker’s business, go for it. I won’t be here.”
After glaring at the taller man, Russell abruptly turned on his heel and stomped from the room. John watched him leave before starting around the desk to his chair. Something white on the floor beside the sofa caught his eye. He turned toward the paper, bending to pick it up. He unfolded the rumpled sheet and frowned as he read the odd message. “To keep business must have John and Judith Douglas, both of them, at my country place this weekend. No excuses. Get them here, and I’ll take care of your problem and mine.”
“He . . .” John crumpled the paper in his fist and strode out of his office toward his partner’s. When he came to the door, slightly open, he stopped and took a deep breath. He reached for the knob before the words he heard registered.
“Look, Maxwell, I don’t know why you want to get John, but I need him out of the picture. He’s not going to go to your place on his own, so what can we do?”
John froze. Since no one was in sight in the hall, he stood listening to the one-sided conversation, apparently on the phone.
“Damn, I know that! If he dissolves the partnership, there will be an audit, can’t have that.” After a pause, Russell said, “Okay, how do we get them drugged and out there?” Another pause and, “Sure I’ll help any way I can. But what are you going to do when you have them?” After the next brief wait, he chuckled, “Sure, drug the bastard and turn him lose on your mountain top. Lots can happen up there.”
At the sound of movement inside the office, John turned and took several steps down the hall before stopping and leaning against the wall. I didn’t hear . . . No, that’s impossible. . . He rubbed his face with the heels of his hands. “I’ve got to get out of here,” he muttered before staggering back to his office where he dropped into his chair, leaned back, and propped his feet on the desk. He stared at the ceiling as his heart rapidly pounded in his chest. The shrill ring of the phone caused him to jump half out of the chair. He grabbed the receiver before barking, “Yeah!”
“Whoa. Are you okay?” Judith’s voice asked in his ear.
“What? Oh, I, uh, I guess.”
“Well, I called Dr. Reese, and he can get you in if you’re there in thirty minutes.”
“I . . .” He hesitated. “Yes, that’s good. I’ll be there. Uh, what are your plans today?”
“I just thought I’d finish the portrait for the Grangers and then fix a good dinner for my husband.”
Glad that his wife worked from their home as an artist, he responded, “Good, good. You aren’t planning on going anywhere, then.”
“No, but so what? John, what’s wrong?”
“I’ll explain when I get home, but please don’t leave or let anyone in until then, okay? Now, I need to leave if I’m going to get to the doctor’s.” He started to speak then changed his mind and simply told her, “I love you.”
“I know, and I love you, too.”
As soon as he disconnected the call from his wife, John punched in the extension for his secretary. “Joan, I have a doctor’s appointment; then I’m going home.”
John entered the house from the garage. “Judith? Judith, are you here?” He threw his briefcase and suit jacket on the small cabinet inside the door before heading for the kitchen.
“John!” His wife’s voice called from the back of the house. “I’m in the studio. Just a minute.”
He went to the coffee maker, finding a fresh pot waiting. Thank you, sweetheart. I don’t know how you knew I’d need this. He poured a large mug of the steaming drink before dropping into a chair at the table.
“What is going on?” Judith slipped an arm around her husband’s shoulders as she leaned her head against the back of his. “I was even afraid to go to the door.” She felt him stiffen before he grasped her arms and pulled her around where he could see her face.
“Someone came?” His hands trembled as he tugged her into his lap. “I don’t know what to do.”
Judith brushed his hair from his forehead. “Try telling me what is going on?”
“I’m beginning to think I am losing my mind.” He blew a puff of air through his pursed lips. “You know I told Russell that I wanted to dissolve the partnership.” With a slight shake of his head, he heaved a sigh before giving Judith a summary of the morning at the office. “So whatever is going on, Walker and Russell both want me, want us gone.”
Judith slid off his lap to move to a chair, holding on to one of his hands as she did. “This doesn’t make sense. Russell has stolen money from the business?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart, but he’s done something that will show up in an audit.” He started to raise the coffee mug to his lips but lowered it. “I told Dr. Reese about the dreams. Then I found myself telling him about what I found out at the office. He told me that sometimes dreams are premonitions and then called his son.”
“His son?” Judith’s frown brought a wry smile to her husband’s face.
“Yeah, Detective Thomas Reese. Anyway, that tall, lanky kid grew up and became a police detective. Dr. Reese kept the note to give to Tommy.” John brought the coffee mug back to his lips to sip. Finding the temperature cool enough to drink, he took a swallow.
Judith glanced at the coffee maker before gazing at her husband. “I didn’t realize you had been home long enough to make coffee.”
Startled brown eyes bore into hers as trembling hands lowered the mug to the table. “You didn’t make the coffee?”
“No, no,” Judith whispered.
John jumped from the table to open a cabinet, took a plastic storage container and lid from a shelf, and poured the coffee from the mug into it before snapping on the lid, all the time talking. “Judith, I want you to take this container to Dr. Reese immediately. Grab your purse and go, and don’t stop for any reason. Tell him what has happened.”
“I’m not leaving you here.”
“There’s no way they’re going to let both of us leave, but you might get away. It’s me they want, I think.” He took her by the arm and moved her to the short hall leading to the utility room and door to the garage. He snagged her purse from the stand where she hung it, forcing it and the container of coffee into her hands. “Please, sweetheart, I don’t know how much of that it takes or how long before it works, but I don’t have much time. I’ll call Tommy as soon as you go to the car.” He opened the door.
Judith turned and started to speak. Biting her lip, she reached up to touch his face before whirling to run down the two steps and toward her car. John snatched the cordless phone off the wall beside him as he pulled a card from his pocket. He punched in the number for the cell phone written on the card as he watched the automatic door open and his wife’s car back out. As soon as the door shut, he turned back into the house, the phone to his ear.
“Tommy? It’s John Douglas. I don’t know how long I have, but I’ve sent Judith to your dad’s with a container of coffee. I drank a big gulp of it before I knew Judith hadn’t fixed it. I’m going to set things up.” He paused. “Just take care of Judith, please.”
He pushed the disconnect button and threw the phone on the bed as he rushed into the bedroom. Glad I keep my survival kit ready. He fought the pull of the drug from the coffee as he gathered needed items and changed from his suit into his hunting clothes. His head swam as he headed toward the hall to the garage. A few steps from the door, he stumbled and fell to the floor where he lay half conscious.
John didn’t know when the men entered the house or how. However, from a far distance he heard Russell Craine’s voice. “Damn, it worked. He’s out cold.”
“The boss usually knows what he’s doing,” another man responded. “Let’s get this over with.” Hands grabbed one of John’s shoulders and roughly turned him over as blackness smothered him.
An unknown time later, the deep darkness rolled back to the edges of his consciousness so that John could sense movement and hear a whirling sound. His body seemed crammed into a corner as he sat slumped against something that vibrated. He struggled to open his eyes and organize his thoughts. Can’t open eyes . . . That sound . . . familiar, but where? Can’t think. The constant soft “whomp, whomp” kept him from hearing any other sounds. Helicopter . . . that’s a helicopter. . . why a helicopter?
He finally forced his right eye open a slit but closed it quickly when a man asked, “How’s our guest, Vince?”
The answer came from a gravelly voice next to John. “Seems still out of it.” When a fist socked his shoulder, John forced himself to stay limp and quiet.
“Good,” Russell commented from somewhere in front. “Walker said if he drank a whole cup of that coffee he would stay out until too late, and that empty mug was huge.”
“Yeah, but the boss isn’t gonna like the woman getting away,” the first voice added. “Okay, going down.”
The feeling as if sinking in a fast elevator sent John’s head whirling, and the blackness swooped back over his mind. When consciousness returned gradually sometime later, he lay on something hard and unyielding. Voices sounded as if arguing directly over him, so he didn’t try to open his eyes. Finally words started making sense.
“It’s not my fault Judith left the house. What were we supposed to do - stop her or wait and get him?” Russell’s voice held contempt, and his toe jabbed John’s side. John bit the inside of his lip to keep from groaning or twitching away.
“You didn’t do what I told you I needed done.” Maxwell Walker swore violently. “The deal we made was I’d take care of your gambling mess and you’d hand me the Douglases.” The sound of wood shattering echoed through John’s head. “I want both of them to suffer. Their fathers ruined my life.”
“You can’t back out now. I did the best I could.” Russell’s voice rose to a shriek. “Man, what in hell did they do?”
Walker gave a quick snort of laughter which faded as his words started whirling in John’s head. “I’ll make sure you won’t have to worry about your debts or business anymore. But first I need to get Douglas out of here, but he’ll be out for some time. The storm will be hitting in an hour or so, and I want . . .” Another laugh burst from the man. “What did they do? They put me away. Now I get to show John what suffering is. He’ll never know what . . .”
When John finally opened his eyes, the darkness around him was that of night. Not sensing or hearing anyone near, he moved his aching body, groaning as he shifted himself on the un-giving ground. Pushing himself to a sitting position, he took mental inventory of body and clothing. Strange, they left me in my clothes. He patted his pockets, checked his belt, felt inside his boots, and found everything as he had placed each item or worn it. Guess it wouldn’t matter if I had drunk the whole mug. He levered himself to his knees and then to his feet, swaying as he propped one hand against a tree. Got to hurry before the storm hits. Sure need a drink.
He leaned against the tree as he gazed up at the trees around him. Moonlight flitting through passing clouds gave enough light for him to study the branches creating a canopy above him. Finally he found the combination he wanted.
He climbed a tree, with branches close to the ground, until he was high enough to leap to the branch of another, larger tree. Climbing higher, he paused across from a fork in the upper trunk of an even larger tree. Pulling the draw string from the bottom of his jacket, John un-threaded the cord to form a thin, ultra-strong filament. Taking off one of his boots, he tied it to one end of the filament, swung the boot around his head, and sent it sailing to catch in the fork of the opposite tree. Taking a pair of gloves from one pocket, he pulled them over his hands, wrapped a loop of the micro-wire around one hand, and swung through the air to dangle below one of the thick branches. In seconds he pulled himself up into the fork, where he hunched down to catch his breath.
Thought I was in better shape than this. Man, I’m thirsty. Must be the drug. Using the filament, he tied himself to the large section of the tree at his back, and he sat as comfortably as possible in the saddle made where the branches forked. He pulled the drawstrings in the ankles of his pants snug around the tops of his boots. Then he unrolled the hood of his jacket, covered his head, and pulled the drawstring closed around his face, leaving only a small space for his eyes. By the time he finished, the wind howled, and the sky no longer showed a glimpse of moonlight. He slid one hand into a pocket and removed a pocket knife. Flipping one blade open, he stuck it deep into the wood close to his leg, pushing a small button in the side of the knife as he did.
Now I wait. He gazed above at the thick ceiling of writhing branches and then below where more branches whipped in the wind. I’ve done all I can. This isn’t going to be much fun, but at least rain will mean water to drink. He reached into another pocket and brought out a special collapsing cup. He removed the lid and tugged the sections until they clicked together to make a vessel that could collect water. Placing it between his legs, he leaned back against the tree to wait.
In moments the storm stuck in its fury. Branches snapped and crackled above and beneath him. The quick, short bursts from the sky kept his eyes from adjusting to the darkness, leaving him virtually blind. The roar of the wind and slapping of tree limbs dulled his hearing. The pounding rain made his thirst increase.
Not long now. He used one finger to check the level of the water in the cup. Finding the plastic container about half full, he gulped the soothing moisture before holding the cup out to catch more rain. By the time the storm passed by, his thirst was manageable, although he felt battered, his face and hands stinging from the frenzy of the wind blown twigs, branches, and bits of bark. Placing the lid on the cup, he placed the remaining water where it wouldn’t fall from the tree.
As the clouds rushed to somewhere else, the moon returned to smile on the world. John raised his legs to his chest, wrapped his arms around his knees, and laid his head on top. In moments he slept.
“Where is he!” The yell brought John wide awake. As he jerked awake, he swayed to one side. Only the line around his body and the tree kept him from rocketing to the ground below. Peeking through the branches around him, John watched a ring of armed men and his former partner back away from Maxwell Walker, whose face reddened in anger. “If you had brought the woman, I could use her, but no, you let her get away.”
“Mr. Walker, we did our best. How could we know she would leave?” Russell’s whine centered Walker’s attention completely on him. “I told you John was into survival training and exercises. I told you.”
Walker took two steps toward the cowering man before stopping. Holding a hand toward one side, without taking his eyes off Craine, he snapped, “Give me your gun.” Two men poked guns toward him, but another sharply marched forward and placed a revolver in Walker’s outstretched hand.
“Wait, wait!” Russell Craine stumbled backwards, his hands raised in supplication. “You promised you’d take care of my problems.”
A grin split Walker’s face, but it was crooked and never reached the coldness of his eyes. “You won’t have any more problems,” he hissed, raised the gun, and pulled the trigger. The slight man flew backwards, his face missing.
Walker turned, looking around the circle of men. “I want him found, no excuses. Do you understand?” His eyes then searched the woods around them and the ground. “There has to be some sign of him. Spread out and find him. If he went off a cliff, we should have seen him from the air.”
Nearly directly above, John curled into as tight a ball as possible, his face hidden against the camouflage of his pants legs, his hands covered by the gloves. No skin showed to catch any straying eye.
The group of men moved outward from the tree, but Walker squatted at its base, his back against its trunk. Oh, sh . . . John stilled every movement, almost afraid to breathe. Thank God, the wind is still blowing. Wrapping one arm around his head, he peeked from behind his elbow to watch the man on the ground. What if I jumped him? He closed his eyes. Sure, break my neck from here. John frowned. But you’re mine, you arrogant bastard.
“Boss!” One of the men ran toward Walker. “Found footprints.”
Walker jumped to his feet. “Where?”
“Across the clearing, heading toward the drop-off.” The man panted. “Looks like he was running.”
“Must have been after the rain. Let’s go see.” The two men moved quickly through the brush and trees.
With a glance toward the sun peeking over the low trees in the direction the men hurried, John nodded. So the clearing is to the east. Good. He squirmed a bit, trying to find a more comfortable spot. Reaching into a pocket, he brought out a bag of trail mix and ate a handful, washing it down with half the water left in the cup. After placing everything safely as possible, he cut the line binding him to the tree and stretched his legs before carefully standing. From his position above many trees and branches, he wasn’t able to see much below him. The canopy above him protected him from eyes in the sky. He bent to check the knife he had stuck in the tree the night before. It still extended from the spot. Won’t be long now. Standing again, he did a few careful deep knee bends, his eyes returning toward the east, toward the clearing. How did footprints get over there?
The sound of helicopters sent birds soaring and squalling. John sat to loosen the drawstring around his left ankle and reached up under his pants leg to withdraw a revolver from the holster strapped there.
Okay, show time. He took three deep breaths and tried to calm his pounding heart. Here goes. He cautiously worked his way toward the lowest part of the tree. When he reached the lowest branch, he squatted with his back against the main trunk. Glancing down, he estimated that he was at least fifteen feet from the ground. He started to unwind another length of the filament when he heard voices and the sounds of several men thrashing through the brush toward his location from the east. Freezing, he pressed against the trunk of the tree and used his hood to cover as much of his face as possible, sliding a pair of non-reflecting sunglasses from a pocket and over his eyes. Walker and six men, all holding guns, ran toward the tree where John perched.
“Where in hell did those helicopters come from?” Walker demanded as he stopped nearly under John again. “Where did they go?”
“Don’t know, boss.” The answer came from one of the other men. “What you want us to do?”
“I’m going back to the house. You find where those helicopters went. Frank, you warm up my ‘copter. Ray, you . . .”
“FBI, freeze!” The order boomed from a bullhorn somewhere in the surrounding trees as Walker’s men started running in the direction they had come. Walker backed to the tree, his head whipping back and forth, trying to find the source. When a blue jacket showed flashing through the trees, Walker aimed and shot. The jacket and the person wearing it, dove behind a tree. Walker dropped to the ground when shots were returned.
“Watch where you shoot!” The call came over the bullhorn again. “You know our target.” The shots stopped.
Walker raised his head and glanced around. “Douglas? You here?” He looked in all directions. “Where the hell are you?”
The man on the ground suddenly froze. Then his head twisted so he could look up into the tree as he started to roll over. John dropped from his hiding place to land on the man beneath. He drew back his fist to smash Walker’s face. As he pulled his fist back to pound the hated face again, someone grabbed his arm.
“No, John, no. He’s unconscious.” John looked up to see Tom Reese holding his arm.
“That was too easy.” John climbed to his feet. “Too easy.”
Later that day, Detective Reese sat with Judith and John in their living room. “Walker lawyered up, but with you witnessing him shooting Craine, we have him directly for that murder.”
“What did you find out about him and our fathers?” Judith asked. “John heard him say our fathers ruined his life.”
“Actually, his name was Raymond Criss when John’s father prosecuted him and your father judged his case thirty-some years ago.” Tom shrugged. “He did his time, kept his nose clean when he got out. We haven’t been able to find how he met his wife.” The detective stood. “The Walker Company was her father’s. Criss took his wife’s name.”
“Thanks, Tommy, uh, Tom.” John reached out to shake the detective’s hand. “I sure was glad you guys made it, but the FBI rather surprised me. However, the unexciting ending was fine with me.”
“It’s a good thing you went to my dad and that you knew how to take care of yourself out there.” He gave Judith a nod before walking to the door, where he turned to face them. “You both are very lucky.”
As soon as the door closed behind Tom, John pulled Judith into his arms. “Yes, thank God. We are very lucky.”
© Copyright 2004 Vivian Zabel
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