Book World: Dead On by Robert W. Walker- Chapter Ten

St. Mary's Fair kicks off on Sept. 18th with 3 pm opening and 4 pm exhibits, ice carving at 5 pm, 4-H livestock judging at 5 pm; 4-H market Goat Show at 6 pm in the show ring; Barnyard Runners Pig Races at 6 pm; Masters of the Chainsaw at 6:30 pm; Official Opening in new auditorium at 7 pm; and much more!  Fair Grounds, Rt. 5 Leonardtown Maryland

St. Mary’s Fair kicks off on Sept. 18th with 3 pm opening and 4 pm exhibits, ice carving at 5 pm, 4-H livestock judging at 5 pm; 4-H market Goat Show at 6 pm in the show ring; Barnyard Runners Pig Races at 6 pm; Masters of the Chainsaw at 6:30 pm; Official Opening in new auditorium at 7 pm; and much more! Fair Grounds, Rt. 5 Leonardtown Maryland

 

DEAD ON by Robert W. Walker available in paperback, Kindle and audio book.  Click here for free five minute sample.

DEAD ON by Robert W. Walker available in paperback, Kindle and audio book. Click here for free five minute sample.

 

 

Book World

Dead On

by Robert W. Walker

TEN

At the same time, back in Atlanta, Detective John ‘Atlanta Jack’ Thomas and his partner Stuart ‘Stewy’ Harriman stood staring at the dangling body of a fire-blackened man in what appeared a sack cloth or fishnet package. The horrendous crime had been called in when a citizen walking his dog noticed the “thing” dangling from the school yard flagpole about half way up.

“Talk about half mast,” said Harriman to Thomas.

“You mean half baked.”

While the victim’s hair, eyebrows, even eyes had given themselves over to the fire, his general features remained intact, as if the killer meant to “bake” it and not burn the victim to a crisp. Just a quick burning accelerant to flashover the broken-limbed body that’d been trussed up so tightly—indicating many a broken bone and joint. In fact, all the major joints had been dislocated, and expertly so, to create this package.

“God, I’ve never seen anyone so brutally tortured,” said Thomas, holding his stomach, wishing now he’d not had that big meal at the 5 Seasons.

“This…hell, this is some kind of sick-o-weird, maybe satanic shit here, Jack,” replied his partner, Harriman.

Just what we need, another serial killer with an MO he’s gotten out of Marvel Comics, heh?”

“You think this is something the killer saw at the box office?” asked Captain Paul Brunner, stepping between the detectives. “No, this is Native American Indian magic.”

“Magic?”

“Indian shit?”

The two detectives stared dumbfounded at their leader. Brunner added, “I’ve seen it done with animals—shamanism stuff, cannibalism when done with humans, but I’ve never witnessed it with a human sacrifice.”

“You ahhh Native American, Brunner?” asked Atlanta Jack.

“Can-Can-nibilism?” asked Harriman.\

“Fact is, men, I’m an honorary member of the Cherokee Nation. Have been for thirty odd years. Did some investigative work for them early in my career—off the record.” He pointed to the dangling victim. “This? This is how the Cherokee cook up a rabbit or a duck or a pig for a festival, trussed up in exactly this manner and smoked over a campfire.”

“You say the Cherokee do this to people?”

“In ancient times, a lot of tribes did it, yeah. But this,” he indicated the dangling, smoldering body half-way up the pole. “Whoever our boy is, he’s giving us a head’s up. He wants us to know he’s only getting started, I fear.”

Harriman scratched his ear. “Then you think maybe our killer is Cherokee?”

“Maybe…maybe not.”

“Know anyone else who would use this kind of ahhh…god awful technique for ahhh…cooking a man to death?” asked Jack.

“Marines.”

“Say what?” Harriman’s eyes widened.

“Marines as in American Marines?” asked Jack.

Both junior detectives looked at the veteran, Brunner, as if he were mad. Brunner went on, lighting a cigarette as he did so. “Marines historically are the first to go in, and they do so without provisions—no food except what they can catch and eat.”

“And ahhh so?” asked Harriman.

Jack, nodding, replied for Brunner. “They’re trained in Native American survival techniques.”

“We’re talking about cooking the occasional rabbit, right?” Harriman didn’t want to grasp it.

Brunner calmly replied, “Right, that’s the training but things happen in war, in combat.”

“But this is a man,” said Harriman, shaken, still disbelieving.

Harriman, blinking at the sight, asked, “Captain, you think parts of him…when we—they—get ’im unwrapped will’ve been, you know, cannibalized?”

Brunner’s not answering was a loud, clear answer. “Likely will find the heart missing.” Brunner then dared get nose to nose with the foul-smelling corpse. “The victim is a black male, maybe in his early to mid-forties, and he was wearing an expensive suit and a bow tie.”

“Bow tie?” asked Jack.

Harriman laughed and said, “The guy looks like he’s gone through a shredder.”

Jack asked, “You sure that’s a bow tie?”

“Was a bow tie, Jack, yeah.”

All three stared at the victim with a deep sense of helplessness hovering about them when Brunner asked, “You men find any ID on him?”

“We’re ahhh…waiting for the ME.”

“CSI unit,” added Stewy Harriman.

“So you don’t wanna touch him, is that it? Worried you might taint the crime scene, hey? Huh?” He stood waiting for an answer. They replied with lies:

“That’s correct, sir. Protocol.”

“Preserve the evidence.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way, hey, men?”

“Exactly,” added Harriman.

Brunner exploded. “Since fuckin’ when?”

“We’ve been getting your memos on it, sir.” Harriman squirmed.

“You two pansies just don’t want to touch him, right.”

“Ahhh…no, sir, Captain,” defended Jack Thomas. “Not sure we can get at the wallet the way things are.”

“We’d only make a mess of it,” added Harriman.

“It’s already a damn bloody mess, Stewy.” Brogran took a step back. “Like some god awful lunatic escaped straight out of Edgar Allan Poe. “Some whack-o-shithead in our midst to first kill a man in so elaborate a fashion, to torture to the ninth degree, and to dangle the results at eye level in the middle of our city? This is leveled at us, gentlemen. This creep has thrown down the gauntlet.”

“Like maybe he wants to be caught, you mean, sir?” asked Stewey. “Like the shrinks say, a cry for help.”

“Shut up, Harriman,” replied Jack. “This creep isn’t interested in getting help from no one.”

“Don’t hold back, Jack,” said the captain. “Spill it.”

“I think…worst case scenario, sr…”

“Out with it! That’s an order.”

“It’s the work of Iden Cantu.”

“No way, Jackie!” shouted Harriman. “Captain, we got no evidence that supports any such notion.”

“JT’s instincts are usually right on, Stewey,” countered the captain. Go with your gut, Jack. What’s going on here?”

“Is this a test, sir?”

“Damn it, man, I just want you to tell me if it’s him or not. Want you to look me in the eye and say it.”

“It has the smell of Iden Cantu about it,” said Jack. “If not the man in the flesh, then someone who wants to be him.”

“My thoughts exactly,” began Brunner, taking a deep drag on his Marlboro. “Which means Marcus Rydell’s going to be sniffing around, soon as he hears about this.” Again he indicated the victim.

“I imagine so, sir.”

“You just keep him the hell away from the body, from your case, JT, and for God’s sake, keep him the hell away from me.”

“That goes without saying, sir.”

“And keep him away from me too,” added Stewy.

“I’ll do my best, Captain.”

“You do better than that, Detective.” Brunner fell into a strange reverie, as he was not a man given to reverie. “Called that man a friend once.” Brunner then sauntered back to his unmarked police car where he leaned over the hood, shook his head, rolled his eyes—no doubt over the thought of dealing with Marcus Rydell as well as Iden Cantu again, and finally lit a second cigarette, calming, awaiting the ME.

Jack Thomas wanted to turn off his cell phone. Last thing he wanted to hear right now was Marcus Rydell’s depressed and depressing voice, but he must keep his cell on. Too many other pending cases; people who must reach him when needed, people who could help him break cases. Marcus Rydell no longer fit into the win column, not in JT’s book, and likely never would again.

#  #  #

 

The big blue lake had become a ghost—a shadowy reflection of itself against a matte-cloud sky. The darkness had crept in with startling ease, silence, and surprise.

Again the sound. Someone or something coming through the brush, and it sounded distinctly determined to make its way to the house. A kind of shared thought that something evil this way comes ping-ponged between Marcus and Katrina where they huddled at the entryway from deck to house.

“I don’t have a weapon on me,” he whispered to her.

“Where’s your Glock?” she replied, punching his arm. “How could you be without it?”

“I can’t believe the creep found us.”

“Believe it.”

“The gun’s in my room, on the nightstand next to the Mickey Mouse alarm clock.”

He heard her patter into the interior, making her way in the dark to his even darker basement room for the gun. He imagined her tripping on the stair and shooting herself in the foot, when suddenly she was at the door again, slipping quietly back to his side. Gun in hand, he stepped out onto the porch with a weapon not his. She’d located her stash of weapons, packed for her own use. She’d gone upstairs instead of down, knowing it better.

She’d handed him Terry’s Smith & Wesson, the weapon she’d held on him at O’Dule’s, while she now held onto a frighteningly huge German automatic pistol, a Lugar.

“Didja hear it anymore?” she whispered.

They’d both taken a crouching position behind the slats of the deck, slats that barely hid them. “Nahhh…either he’s trekked off in the another direction, or he’s drawn a bead on me. Do you see a red dot on my forehead?”

“No! Stop talking like that. Marcus, how could he’ve known we’d be here?”

“He must’ve followed us.”

She shivered. “When we found nothing at your parents gravesite, I was feeling safe here.”

Rydell could literally feel her heart thumping—palpable fear—as she leaned into him. Else it was his own pulse he was reading. “I think we should retreat indoors. Least we’d have some cover there. One shot from a high powered rifle, he’ll shred this porch.”

They eased back toward the sliding glass doors the other side of the deck and into the house again where each let out a breath of air. “Lock the other door,” he told her as he bolted the glass doors, making a target of himself as he did so, half expecting an explosion of glass and horrible pain.

Nothing, aside from Marcus’s adrenaline rush, came.

They inched back into the darkness of the interior, now their friend, their cloak when each picked up a noise the other end of the cabin, just outside. The intruder lurked now on the front entry porch, possibly peeking into windows.

It made it doubly frightful to have heard no one drive up the gravel road, to see no evidence of a car having arrived, and seeing no lights, not so much as a handheld lantern, only increased their apprehension. And to hear no one call out a friendly word as any neighbor might.

No, this was no neighbor with a welcome wagon basket.

Marcus rushed toward the front door, his gun extended, finger twitching. “You! You outside! I’ve got a gun and I damn well know how to use it.”

“Ahhh…Marcus,” Katrina hissed. “Shut up.”

“No, it’s time whoever is out there announce himself.”

“It’s not that, Marcus.”

“What?”

“I didn’t put any bullets in the guns.”

“What?”

“No bullets.”

“Why the hell not?”

“I couldn’t find the shell boxes in all the clutter in the dark.”

“Christ.”

“You know how it is when you’re traveling. Everything packed. Can’t find a thing.”

“How can you pack everything and not know where anything is.”

“Have you located your toothbrush?” she challenged him.

They now crouched below the front window, peeking out into the night. “You wanna chance finding my damn Glock, fully loaded, beside the Mickey Mouse clock now?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

He gasped.

“What?” she asked. “What is it?”

“Just saw movement out there.”

“Movement? What sorta—”

“Black shadow, low to the ground. Need that loaded weapon now.

“Where? I don’t see anything.”

“Just below the freakin’ window opposite us.”

“The other side of this wall?”

“Yes, and if he decides to open up, his cannon could go right through this wall. Don’t move and keep silent.”

“But your gun.”

“Shhh . . . stay.”

Perspiration beaded her brow. “I’m sorry about the bullets, but—”

He again shushed her.

Their noise and talk seemed to trigger the killer into scratching at the window, as if trying to get on their last nerve or as if jimmying it open from the outside.

Rydell saw his father’s 12-gauge pump-action shotgun hanging over the fireplace mantle. This long-barreled monster came with a huge roaring blast and made for a great squirrel scattering. He rushed for the shotgun, grabbed it, loaded it from cartridges in a box inside another box, finally turned, took aim and almost fired at the still scratching shape behind the drapes and the window, when he saw the spindly black, hairy arms were not human after all.

“Damn it all!” he muttered and walked straight to the window, yanked back the curtains, and found himself eye to eye with a black German Shepherd, its tongue waving at him like a red bandana. “It’s just a goddamn dog,” he muttered.”

“Just a dog?” She gasped. “ He’s beautiful—a beautiful sight.”

“Beautiful? He scared you into tomorrow.”

“Be happy, Rydell! God, we’re lucky we had no bullets. We might’ve killed him.” She went on a non-stop twenty questions rant over the dog. “I wonder where he came from? Think he’s hungry? Looks hardly more than a pub. Think he belongs to someone down the road? Let me check for a tag. Wonder if he’s hungry. How would you’ve felt if you’d killed him? Oh, my God. When I think of what might’ve happened.”

“And you think you’re prepared to kill a man?” he asked, but she either ignored this or was so caught up in the four-legged visitor that she didn’t hear him.

He opened the shotgun to empty it of shells when he thought better of it, leaving the thing loaded. Again she said, “You came so close to shooting this nice doggy!”

“Serve him right,” he muttered. “Sneaking up on us like that.”

“He’s probably been abandoned out here, poor thing. Lost maybe, turned around out there, maybe hungry.”

“Speaking of which, I’m going to make that sandwich now,” he replied, his nerves shot, thinking how dead they’d’ve been had it not been a dog but Cantu out there. “We need to have an emergency contingency plan here, kiddo, one that includes loaded weapons at hand.”

But she’d flicked the porch lights on again, and she was tearing open the door and going out onto the porch, greeting the black dog. They were already old friends.

Over his shoulder, he added, “High Sierra all over again, and damn it, isn’t a black dog some sorta bad omen?”

“Only if you let it be! You’ve got a lousy attitude, Rydell,” she shouted back as the dog leapt at her and licked at her face. “He’s a kisser, this one! Gotta have family someplace. Maybe just wandered off.”

“Always got dogs in these mountains. Some wild ones, too. Called Quarry dogs. They learn to beg from house to house. Got more sense than we do when it comes to making a living.” He grabbed up a kitchen knife and raided the refrigerator.

She’d been thorough at what passed for a mall here—Buck’s Gun Shop, Feed & Grain, and General Store in Bear Claw. He had everything necessary to stack a sandwich. He grabbed another Sam Adams and drank as he worked.

Meanwhile, Katrina had welcomed the dog inside, making Marcus groan. “Least leave the mutt out on the porch, Kat. Kat!”

“It’s OK,he’s obviously house trained.”

“How would you know that?”

“Tags. He’s got tags.”

“Likely belongs to our nearest neighbor. You shouldn’t pen him in.”

“ Tomorrow at light, we’ll go find out.”

“What’d I tell you about spreading it around that we’re here?”

Katrina began feeding the dog leftovers from breakfast scrapes, placing them onto a pewter plate and delivering the food to the animal as if it were royalty so far as Marcus could tell. She repeatedly said, “I just love dogs, don’t you?” She placed a few strips of the roast beef that Marcus had opened onto the dog’s plate.

“What about you?” he asked her. “You want one of my super-dupper deals?” He pointed to the large sandwich he’d concocted for himself. “Want half?”

“Maybe a half if you’re sharing?” she replied, staring at the about-to-tumble-over sandwich he’d masterminded.

He sliced the existing edifice in half and placed hers onto a second pewter saucer. All round them in the kitchen hung shinning copper pots and pans.

“Your folks were into pewter ware and copper, I’d say, huh?”

“Mom, yeah. Dad preferred paper plates and towels beside the grill or better yet a campfire. Dad always said a man could find his thoughts in a good wood fire.”

She laughed lightly in reply, making him ask, “What?”

“No wonder they got along. Denise never had to do dishes, and I suspect she let Patric philosophize under the stars here at Avalon all he wanted. And they shared a lot more than that; they shared you, and they shared their loss of Michael.”

“Damn dog gave you quite a start,” he said to her, changing the subject with an abruptness that made it clear he did not want to talk about his parents or his lost brother. Between gulps where they stood at the kitchen island, he remained silent.

“Me? I was concerned, naturally. Neither of us knew it was a dog out there.”

“Come on, you were shaking, palpitating.”

“You’re the one called out the arsenal.”

“Some arsenal.”

“All right, but thank God. How’d you be feeling if you’d shot Paco?”

“Poco? Those tags have his name?”

“No, just a number. Dog tags.”

He examined them. They were Farrin County tags. “So how is it, he’s suddenly Paco? We take him to the local pound, get those numbers keyed in, he might be someone’s Blackie or Rocket.”

“Look at him! The eyes say Paco, the mug, the ears.”

“Maybe if you put a Sombrero on him.”

“Now you see it, don’t you! He’s Paco, no?”

Damn she’s cute, he thought anew. “And how do you know he’s a he and not a her?”

“Like I said, look at ’im! Try this angle.”

“He didn’t move. “Oh…oh, yeah. Gotcha.”

She laughed at Marcus. “Come on. You gotta admit, as dogs and broads go, Marcus, you lucked out here. Paco, Bonnie and Clyde. We’re an unbeatable team.”

He thought of several comebacks to this, considered and discarded each, as he was sure she’d take his remarks quite wrong.

“What? No clever retort?”

“None that you’d find amusing, no.”

“Come on, he’s friendly,” she said of Paco,“ obviously not a barker, well-heeled.”

“So are you,” he retorted. “Haven’t heard you bark since O’Dule’s. As I recall, your gun wasn’t loaded then either. And a guard dog without a highly trained sense of when to bark and when not to is about as good as a nightingale without a song.”

“Then can we keep him? At least for the night?”

He took his sandwich to the other room, flicking on more lights as he went. He then settled in before the TV set, clicked it on, and wondered aloud, “Curious to see what’s been happening in the real world.”

“What do you consider the real world? Fox or CNN?”

“I prefer my news hard. Aren’t you the least bit curious what’s going on out there and in DC?”

“Most likely same-o-same-o until we get a woman in the White House.”

“Are you baiting me?”

“Think of it a president not driven by a need for power and flesh.”

“You are trying to pick a fight, aren’t you?” He smiled at her now.

“I merely mean it’d be nice to have a president in the Oval Office who thinks the office is more important than energies related to the basest human instincts and drives.”

“You can say libido and I’l understand, Kat.”

“Or dreams of glory and legacy,” she finished.

“I just wanna get the weather,” he countered, another smile breaking over him.

“While he searched for a news channel, she sat and asked, “What kind of success have you had as a private eye, Marcus?”

“OK.” His attention was on a news report, something about a brutal murder back in good old Atlanta where such things happened all too frequently. While not the murder capitol of the US, it always fell in the top ten spots.

“I mean if you were fooled by Paco,” she continued, a teasing quality coming through.

“Don’t even go there! You were terrified of Paco, or don’t you recall?”

“And you weren’t shaking?”

“All that damn talk about how you learned everything about me, down to my choice of socks, damn it, I had every reason to suspect that Cantu learned of this place.”

“It’s a Google world now, Marcus. That means we’re all subject to the eyes of the satellite.”

“Is that right?:

“Like the spectacles in the sky in The Great Gatsby; they’re watching.”

“I never liked that book.”

“Google can now take you to street level mapping? I mean it is mind-blowing. I can show you on the Mac.”

“Not now.” He waved her to silence, listening to the details of a murder coming out of Atlanta: “…unidentified black male, mid-thirties, multiple signs of torture, broken neck, severed limbs, trussed up turkey fashion, and still smoldering from having been doused with an accelerant and set aflame.”

Katrrina stopped taking for this. The description of how the victim had died rang a shockingly familiar bell.

“It’s him,” Marcus said.

“Perhaps it’s just a coincidence?”

“Helluva coincidence.” He turned up the volume. “In his letters, he promises you a Thanksgiving turkey, remember?”

“No…I mean, yes, but this is a murdered black guy. Could be some sort of gang vengeance thing.”

“Careful there, liberal girl, or you’ll sound like a racist.” His tone rang out in complete contempt for the idea.

“You know I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Wish it were true in this case. I get that.”

Hands wringing, teeth clenched, she said, “True—I don’t want to believe that Cantu did this—” she pointed at the TV where an indistinguishable victim, crushed to dwarf-size, dangled about a school flagpole on the northside of the city in upscale Buckley—that he did this for my benefit just to frighten and warn me.”

“To gaslight you,” he said.

“Gaslight?” she didn’t understand his use of the old term.

“One note says he means to do exactly this to you…truss you up after breaking every bone in your body, Doc. Look closely at what we’re seeing here. This has Cantu written all over it.”

“His bloody work,” she dabbed at tears now. “And he knew we’d see it.”

“Probably shot this tape and sold it to the Channel 4 News.”

“This is how he’s moving against me? Killing another innocent person? Just to get my attention?” She began to cry flat out now. “It’s horrible.”

“Yeah, he’s already torturing you and me.” He put the remainder of his sandwich aside and opened his cell phone. “I’ll make a call. See what I can find out. Obviously, they don’t want to reveal the victim’s name before informing the family. Maybe the guy is a gang banger; maybe this has nothing to do with our ahhh situation.” He could not convince her now, but he still tried. “I mean, perhaps you’re right instead of me…for a change.”

He moved off into another room, allowing her some privacy, but Marcus could still hear her crying as he dialed John Thomas, the only Atlanta detective on the force with whom he’d maintained ties. JT, Atlanta Jack, had been the only one who still believed in Marcus, believed that one day he’d be exonerated—something even Marcus had given up on.

JT came on immediately. “Marcus? Somehow I thought you’d call. So you’ve seen the news accounts?” No doubt JT was thinking, please God why’s Rydell calling me in the middle of this mess?”

“Who caught this case?”

“Afraid I have—me and Harriman.”

“You still partnered with that prick?””

“Guy’s a jerk agreed, but he’s got my back.”

Marcus got the dig. “Listen, JT, I need to know as much about your victim as possible.”

“Marcus, you need to get a life and stop interfering in official police business.”

“Paul Brunner’s sworn you to secrecy.” Marcus heard the commotion of many men at work around JT. “You at the crime scene now?”

“Just got off my knees, barfed up that last bite I had at The 5 Seasons.”

“They make a helluva home brew.”

“Whataya want, Marcus? Kinda have my hands full here.”

“Do you know who the victim is? A name?”

“The guy is a fireball, man. It’s going to take all night to get his limbs rearranged and a miracle to ID him. Why’re you so ahhh…interested, anyway?”

“Let’s just say I have a burning interest.”

“You got some connection here?”

“Nothing solid, no.”

“Are you working a case that might involve my man here?”

“Wow, very sharp! Atlanta Jack is back, but I won’t know that until you provide me with more information. Two way street here, buddy.”

“I put that requisition in with your invoice a couple days ago.”

“I’m not your snitch, JT. I’m a private investigator, remember?”

“Sure, I know the difference JT.” He said it as if to say there was no difference.

“First off, my old friend, I’m not working for Brunner anymore, remember?”

“And second, old friend,” JT replied, “I’m not your trainee anymore.”

Marcus had been JT’s training officer years before, before either of them made detective status. “You were the best training officer a guy could have in a squad car, and you make one helluva detective. Made me reach deeper, but I am still trying to extricate my ass out of the sling you put it in last time.”

“Brunner can be an ass.”

“Brunner, Bidderman, and Swete—all of ‘em are watching me like a hawk. Got a review coming up. Not to mention Stewy’s still pissed. So…”

“So I get it. But I need to know all the same. It’s important.”

“This was followed by a long silence at JT’s end. Finally, he said, “Right now, we know jack, and if you have any leads or ideas about who could’ve created this macabre murder—”

“Then I’ll share it with you, JT, and you walk away a hero. All I ask in return is this favor… and a copy of the autopsy report.”

“Jeeze, I suppose you want it delivered by secret courier, too, Mr. Bond. Listen, hot-shot, you got no regs ruling you. And the Atlanta PD isn’t Mission-fucking-Impossible.”

“I get that but—”

“You got that?”

“No courier. I’ll give you a fax number when you call back.”

“Somehow, Marcus, someone’s turned a human being into what looks like the results of a compactor, and I think we both know who’s behind it. I gotta get back to work here.”

“Just a minute, JT.”

“ G’bye!”

“Damn, he hung up on me!” Marcus said, returning to Katrina. “Last friend in the department and he hangs up on me.” When she didn’t answer, he began to pace. “It’s got to be a horrific, disturbing crime scene,” he muttered, stopping before a mirror and seeing a different reflection than the one he’d seen back at the apartment building. His sallow cheeks appeared fleshed out, eyes bright, burning with purpose, clear and piercing. Even his hair and thin mustache appeared healthier. Certainly, his color looked better than he’d thought possible. “They’ll be at it—the scene—for hours. Maybe if I went down there.”

She hadn’t responded; had in fact fallen fast asleep with Paco curled up at the foot of the couch beside her.

He could fly down to Atlanta from nearby Blue Lake recreational airport and back again before she’d ever know, but was it advisable? He could just wait to hear from JT, but given their strained relationship and the time it took for an autopsy that could take days. If it’s Cantu’s handiwork, we need to know now; if coincidence, the work of some crude gang, some sick initiation paid for by Cantu, then we need to know. If for no other reason, to set our minds—hers in particular—at rest.

“To act or not to act, that is the question,” he mused over a sleeping Kat.

Asleep, she looked even more beatific, altogether angelic. Lauren BaCall’s first time on screen, he thought then mused aloud, “Till she opens her mouth.” He banged about, trying to determine the depth of sleep she’d fallen into.

Paco too was out. “Definitely down for the count…off to the neighborhood of Winken, Blinken, and Nod…and on to the land of REM.”

But the dog yawned, eyes closed; then they open, looking up at him. If eyes could speak, the German Shepherd had a hundred questions.

“ You, dog…Paco, you see no harm comes to her. Got that? Learn to bark while you’re at it.”

He wrote out a note of his whereabouts, saying he’d be back as soon as humanly possible but that he felt compelled to fly down and back to Atlanta. He also warned that he’d loaded her two guns, adding, “should you need them” and “rely on Paco” which gave him a chuckle. He next locked everything tight before leaving, got into his motorboat, and headed for the town of Blue Ridge and the airport, the other side of the lake. The people at the airport knew him well, and they’d known his father. They’d be shocked to see him at any hour but surely now, as he’d have to wake old Dave Montclair to get clearance, but with that Cessna in the air, he could make it to the crime scene in Atlanta before it was entirely cleaned up.

He wanted to see the carnage; not that he savored the idea, but he knew there was nothing like getting information first hand. He could learn the identity of the victim, and in doing so, learn if he had any connection to Cantu.

He would have time, during the flight, to contemplate all the ripples in the pond that Cantu had created in the last month. Cantu was more complicated than Marcus had let on to Katrina. Cunning might be his middle name, but why would the man risk so much now? After having won his freedom all these years? Why had the bear come out of the woods? Because he could? Because the fiend wanted to play games? Repeat his victory? How mad was the madman? Had he run amok? Had he contracted some physical illness, a blood disorder to go along with his mental disorder? Was he near death himself and so wishing to go out with a bang? Was this all an elaborate form of suicide by cop?

No way to know with Cantu.

But if this was Cantu’s doing tonight in Atlanta, he’d declared open warfare on them all. Why else draw attention to himself? But then, it’d long ago been established that Cantu was a maniac with zero regard for human life, even the life he had himself brought into this world. Perhaps now he had no regard for his own life. If true, this made him an even more dangerous animal.

Time was nearing 2AM when Marcus arrived at the other side of the lake, where he tied to at a public pier. The airport was within walking distance with a stop at Montclaire’s house along the way. Montclaire’s dog announced Marcus’s arrival, his braying enough to wake the dead in the cemetery two miles away. Old Dave would be waiting for him with a shotgun.

House lights came up, and he saw a silhouette of a stoop-shouldered man who could not be mistaken for a danger shouting, “Who’s out there? Come on and get yourself an ass-full-o-it!”

DEAD ON by Robert W. Walker available in paperback, Kindle and audio book.  Click here for free five minute sample.

DEAD ON by Robert W. Walker available in paperback, Kindle and audio book. Click here for free five minute sample.

 

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