Robert W. Walker’s
While awaiting news on the identity of the victim, Marcus had picked up a few details but not enough to be of help in truly knowing if this was Lawrence Milton, the stock broker’s remains. Marcus, an observant man as observation was half of detective work, had watched the uniforms canvassing the area in an attempt to find anyone who had seen anything, and he’d watched one young cop go entirely out of his way to question a bum on a park bench across the street.
One reason that’d burned at him back at the cabin to get to the crime scene was the sure fact that many an arsonist and many a murderer enjoyed basking in the “afterglow” of what they’d done, of seeing the authorities scrambling about, perturbed, shaking heads and becoming frustrated. It was a psychological need on the part of the perpetrator to bask in his handiwork, and being on hand while the scene was being processed or while the body still smoldered proved irresistible to many a sick-o. For this reason, Marcus believed that Iden Cantu was as nearby here as he’d felt him at O’Dule’s the night he’d truly met Kat.
And so Marcus had remained patient and vigilant until he saw the body language of the bum speaking to the cop in the park across the street. They had a longer than expected conversation, which at first glance meant the park bum had something useful to say, something to bring to the attention of detectives. Then it looked like an argument that might end in the civilian’s arrest. Then the young cop simply walked off, clearly finished with this ‘witness’ and his account of what?
Marcus waylaid the young cop and asked him, “What’d you get from the park bench bum?”
“Nothing. Lot of gibberish and back-talk. Like to kick his ass.”
“Arrogant SOB, eh?” He knew that Cantu had gone by many aliases and disguises.
“Yeah, real smartass. If we weren’t so busy, I’d’ve run him in for vagrancy and anything else I could think of. Hey, aren’t you Rydell? Former Detective Marcus Rydell, now a PI?”
“Look, kid, I think the guy you were talking to could be the killer in disguise.”
“You’re shittin’ me?”
“I shit you not, and look—he’s gone from the bench.”
The young cop, his nameplate reading Parish, swallowed hard. “I don’t see him.”
“He’s spotted us talking, knows I’m onto him!” Marcus raced for the park, realizing the black night had swallowed Cantu up; that all Cantu needed to do was step into the shadows here and he’d disappear.
Marcus gave chase when he saw a shadow in the shadows moving fast and away from the area. “Stand and fight, Cantu!” he shouted, racing down an alleyway now a block from the park.
Ahead of him garbage cans were being overturned by the dark form he chased. He threw caution to the wind and ran as fast as he could toward the sound when suddenly, as if hit by a bullet, he felt incapable of breathing. His knees buckled below him, and he fell to all fours. In an attempt to breathe, he gasped, moaned, pleaded for the gift taken away so suddenly moments before he blacked out, moments before the young police officer named Parish caught up to him, gun drawn, fully believing that Rydell had been shot dead, yet he’d not heard any shots fired.
He wondered if the man Rydell had been chasing had used a silencer. He kneeled over Marcus, fingers on his throat. He got a pulse but it was weak and erratic.
“Damn…damn!” He got on his radio and called for his partner back at the crime scene and said, “Franklin, get me some medical assistance from those guys standing round waiting for the ME to finish. I need it now!”
“Where the hell are you? What’s your location, and what’s your emergency.”
“Alley back of Catalina Park, west of the park. Me and Rydell just gave chase to a suspect.”
“Suspect in our murder at the school?”
“Person of interest. Get me a medic for Rydell, now!”
“Parish, how’d you get hooked up with that loser?”
“Never mind that! Medic! Officer—ahhh civilian casualty!”
Marcus came to on a stretcher back at the crime scene where he caught the tail end of arguments over what to do with him and who among the medical teams was going to transport him to Atlanta General or to St. Francis.
He sat up and tossed away the sheets covering him and climbed from the back of the ambulance and assured the paramedics that he was fine and that he refused transportation, thus ending the feud. Not knowing his condition or what had caused his blackout, no one had hooked him up to an IV.
JT had watched him manfully push his way back to life and the crime scene. He took him by the arm. “What happened the other side of the park?”
“Thought I saw a suspicious-looking character who might know something; guy ran from me and Parish. I was about to catch up to him when—”
“When you blacked out, I know. You’re a liability as a partner but Parish is too green to know it. “Keep the fuck outta my investigation, Marcus. I won’t tell you twice. You’re going to get someone killed—and that usually means someone other than yourself whenever you’re involved. Now I want you out of here.”
“Tell me what you know of the victim and I’m gone like smoke, Jack.”
JT gave him a name and an identity. It proved Cantu’s work on the basis of the victim. Now he felt doubly sure that he’d been chasing Iden Cantu down that alleyway when everything turned black.
What JT said about getting others killed was only too true. He could black out while flying back to Blue Ridge Lake. He could do so at the next moment of high stress. He could get Kat killed.
# # #
Katrina Mallory awoke to the sensation she was alone; that the big cabin in the woods thrummed with the sound of the refrigerator, and that was all, save for Paco who’d taken up residence at the foot the sofa where she’d unceremoniously nodded off. Paco’s breathing was rhythmic and sure. Last thing she recalled was Marcus talking to himself. Now the place felt completely empty save for them. Could it be?
She got up and pulled the blanket over her shoulders. She guessed that Marcus had covered her with it. She wandered the outer rooms to find no one, and yet she’d had the sensation—or was it a dream—that Marcus was moving about. But had that been earlier—far earlier with her in a state of semi-consciousness, and how long ago was that? The clock showed just after four in the morning.
She continued moving about the house. Nothing out of place in the kitchen. No missing beers from the fridge as she’d begun to count his intake.
She carefully and quietly made her way down the shoulder-narrow stairwell to his downstairs digs. When she got to the bottom with but a few squeaks, she saw his bed had not been slept in. She looked through the open bathroom door. Not a sound, no one.
“He’s gone!” she said to Paco who’d pattered down after her. “He’s bloody left me alone out here!”
A part of her brain said no. He must be out, roaming the perimeter like a good soldier, maybe even setting out rattling cans and booby traps like he’d kiddingly said the other day. That’d make sense if the bed hadn’t been made, tucked in at the corners. Would he have stopped to make the bed before doing a reconnaissance? Is that how marines do it? Like Cantu, Marcus was once a marine. She had seen photos of him in his dress blues, and in his police uniform. Who could miss the photos; peppered all over the house, they were. Obviously, by proud parents.
She decided to make coffee, remain calm, be patient. There must be an explanation.
She flicked on a radio for some noise only to hear again the report of that awful killing in Atlanta.
“No way,” she said to herself. Had he planned this all along? Strand me out here, return to the city, go after Cantu all on his own?
She rushed to the front of the cabin to see that the car remained in the driveway. She breathed easier. No, he’d not abandoned her…not entirely.
“So where the hell is he?” she asked Paco whose whine did not suffice as an answer. “Make coffee. When in a crisis, make coffee,” she told herself, went to the kitchen, and did so.
From the kitchen window, Katrina saw the faint edge of morning far off in the sky. Light hadn’t arrived yet when she stepped out onto the deck, a cup of coffee in one hand, her loaded Glock in the other. She’d found the Glock and her Luger both loaded with a note on a coffee table. The note read—Take care as both guns are loaded, Marcus. She cast about for another note that might explain his whereabouts, but she found none.
Out over the lake, all was fogbound and dismal. In fact a good name for this place might be Dismal Hollow, she thought. An owl off in the woods signaled its mate. She heard dry twigs snapping underfoot of something on what seemed all fours, something large, something heavy and weighty, perhaps a deer or a bear. Smaller, skittering animals piped in next. The lake shone in the twilight like a bottomless pool over which lay a thin mirror of reflection like ice in winter but not ice and it wasn’t winter.
Each new sound around them had Paco alerting, his ears perking this way and that, only adding fuel to the fire of her paranoia.
“I got a right to my fear,” she reminded herself just as Paco alerted again and edged toward the steps, his body language clear. He wanted after what was out there. “Paco, get back here! Paco!” But the dog instead leapt from the deck and out into the blackened forest to give chase to the invisibles out here.
No use. The dog was gone in an instant. “So much for feeding you!” she shouted, completely alone now at the house. “Where in hell is Marcus?”
The dark forest meanwhile chased a brightening horizon blocked by towering mountains. Daylight on its way or not, Kat chased audible phantoms in the brush. Maybe it was all just the changing of the guard, the nocturnals being replaced by creatures of the morning. She momentarily wondered what the formal name for daytime vermin might be.
She retreated back inside, her grip on the gun tightening when she heard what sounded like Paco scratching at the front door. She moved toward the sound, gun poised when she stepped on something crunching beneath her feet. In the dim light, she saw that it was a second note left by Marcus, and lifting it, she scanned it for where he might be. In a moment, she was seething and angry with Marcus, who had indeed gone back to the city and had left her alone.
Kat steeled herself. At least she knew the situation now, and she wasn’t completely helpless. After all, she’d taken lessons in holding and firing, and she’d gotten pretty good at it, but now her hands shook. She’d never fired a gun while in fear for her life; she’d never fired a gun at anything moving or living.
Instead of opening the door for Paco, she sneaked a look out the window only to see the dog at the foot of the stairs, standing over something, sniffing at it. She couldn’t determine what prize the dog had brought her, but it did seem a small, dead animal. Paco caught sight of her watching, and he barked. It seemed a proud bark, and he repeated it as if insisting she come out to admire his kill and to perhaps make a stew of it. The thought made her laugh even as it revolted her.
She lowered the gun but held firm to it. Still in the clothes she’d fallen asleep in, feeling a need for a shower, she feared doing so unless she locked the bathroom door. With the noise gone again, she now tucked the gun into the small of her back at the waistband.
She unlocked and stepped through the front door that looked out onto the gravel drive, reassured once more that Marcus couldn’t be far off with his Jeep sitting here. She inched out onto the porch to inspect Paco’s kill. She gasped at what the dog had dragged in from the bush—a multicolored snake the size of her arm, dead, half chewed up by Paco, who’d obviously avoided being bitten by the poisonous creature.
The snake returned her thoughts to Iden Cantu.
Under her breath, she dared the bastard to show himself. “Come on, you creep! Step up. Just show yourself. You know you want to.”
Unlike Marcus who knew jack shit about the internet and its more insidious uses, she felt confident that Cantu would in time come, and this would be the perfect place to corner, incapacitate, and go to work on the hog of a man.
“I want you alive,” she said under her breath. Wounded maybe but certainly alive. Joe Brewer, the man who’d taught her how to shoot had given her lessons in how to stop a man cold via the kneecaps. He’d be as helpless as the spineless worm he is. Alive and ready for her vengeance at the end of a scalpel.
“Bring it on, you bastard!” she shouted to the forests as the first faint light of morning shone over the mountains. Had the darkness chased the light, or had the day chased the night?
“But going for the kneecaps is risky, especially with a moving target,” Joe had cautioned her. “If you miss, you could be his. Much better to put him down with a single shot here or here.” Brewer had indicated first the heart, then the head.
Paco barked in response to her shouting at the forests. His barking and her words echoed over the eerily quiet woods. Then she heard the thrum of a motorboat in the distance out on the lake. “Marcus!”