ROBERT W. WALKER’S
Rydell rummaged about his place for whatever he might need, but it was like being told a tornado or a raging fire or that damn wrecking crew down the street was coming straight for the place now and you’ve got minutes to evacuate. He must pack only what he could carry. In the end, he grabbed a couple of clips and his Glock, tossed a few additional guns into a briefcase, a change of clothes into a small bag, and decided that he’d be making a visit to the nearest Wal-Mart either on the way or in the morning. After all, if he and Mrs. Terry Mallory were to make it without a maniac on their tail, they must scoot and fast. As a result he didn’t give it any further thought. Instead, he took the service elevator down to the underground garage and rushed to his Jeep Cherokee at space 44 and found himself packing and waiting and pacing and alternately leaning against the car to wonder where in heavens was Dr. Mallory.
Had she possibly run afoul of Cantu? Should he be worried? Might the monster be in the throes of killing her in her rented room right this moment? His plan all along to make only Marcus Rydell suffer?
She was somewhere on the fifth floor but damned if he knew the exact number. Would he have to hustle to the super’s apartment to find out?
“Where the hell is she?” He checked his watch. She’d left O’Dule’s behind him, alone, vulnerable despite that cannon she had in her purse. Give her a little time, man.
He again paced.
Located a nail clipper in his glove compartment and did his nails.
Leaned against the front grill this time instead of the fender.
Waited some more.
When he heard the elevator open, his eyes shot to the sound. He heard her voice echoing in the underground lot, cursing her suitcase.
Mallory had a carryall over her left shoulder, and she pulled a combination bag and suitcase. He spied a fourth bag left behind inside the elevator. No doubt the one she cursed for not following her out.
Frowning, he rushed for the abandoned bag, just reaching the elevator before it closed. In fact, he had to battle with the doors to get at the bag.
When he got back to the car, she’d already opened the rear hatch and was placing her other baggage inside, but she handled each piece of luggage as if it were made of glass.
“What’re you expecting? A year in the wilderness?” he asked.
She ignored this, busy seeing that her bags were set at precise straight angles, largest on bottom.
“Can we get out of here now?” he asked.
She tucked everything in, closed the hatch, tossed him his keys that she’d snatched from the ignition and said, “You drive.”
“I thought I would, and I thought you’d’ve been here half an hour ago.”
“Couldn’t make up my mind what all I might need. Sorry.” She climbed into the passenger side while he thought of how much more time he could’ve taken packing if he’d only known.
He now climbed into the driver’s seat, revved up the motor, and with tires barking, made for the exit. The electronic eye opened the garage door as the vehicle approached. “Get down, lower!” he ordered.
“Don’t want Cantu or some weasel snitch of his seeing us leave together.”
She slid below eye level. “You think he could have others working for him?”
“Why not? You do…now.”
He pulled up the exit ramp, gained street-level Atlanta, and pulled into the claustrophobia known as Peachtree Street that meandered through downtown like a river, roughly shadowing I-75 for a number of blocks. Marcus knew of the closest entry to I-75 North but he’d forgo this—in case someone was watching. To gain entry to the highway further along, he continued northerly on Peachtree. As he did so, he watched the traffic in the rearview as much as that ahead of him, his eyes hawk-like in their search of any sign anyone followed.
“Can I get off the floorboard now?” she complained.
“Hmmm…not sure it’s advisable just yet.” Let her sweat a little, he thought. Do her good.
“Com’on, Rydell. Let me up.”
“All right. All right, up with you, Cinderella.”
She pulled herself onto the seat and located the seatbelt, working it across her bosom. “Keep your eyes on the road,” she chastised when he tried to help with the belt, which she finally clicked.
They were soon whirring up the on ramp for the major artery north out of Atlanta, soon dodging what seemed an army of eighteen-wheelers. Soon after, he located the exit ramp to US 19 going northeast. This four-lane would deliver them to their final destination by way of US 60, Blue Ridge Lake.
“You think we got off without notice?” she asked.
“I think we faked his ass out, yes.” Privately, he was so sure.
# # #
Out of the rush of Atlanta’s main artery and heavy traffic—ungodly at any hour other than three in the morning, Katrina pushed in a CD and the cab filled with the voice of Sam Cooke flowing like smooth Champaign.
“I knew you were depressed, but Sam Cooke?” she asked.
“Hey, the man’s legend. Luther Van Dross before Luther was born.”
The melodic voice sang out, ‘You-ooo send me…you know you-ooo send me, honest ya do, honest ya do while Dr. Mallory closed her eyes and settled in for the long ride to the North Country between Atlanta and Chattanooga. The night drive to the sounds of Sam Cooke proved soothing as the lush landscape became dominant and verdant while the glare of strip malls, gas stations, and fast food joints faded away as if swallowed by the earth. Gone somewhere in the absolute darkness enveloping the car. The dense real Georgia of earlier times reclaimed dominion.
Rydell began to say something about how much he loved the countryside here when he realized that the young woman beside him had fallen asleep. “Must like Cooke,” he said to himself, changing over the CD for something to keep himself awake—Elvis, years before the high cholesterol and fat and drugs did him in.
How strange the world. Not two hours before this woman beside him held a deadly weapon on him, and now she felt comfortable enough to sleep while he zoomed along at seventy miles an hour to Jailhouse Rock.
She slept through his locating the secondary roads, some county, some state until they found Highway 9, which took them through the sleeping town of Dahlonga, its dark downtown hiding a charming bridge, brook, and shops that’d undergone a serious makeover, but all the merchants and trinket sellers and restaurateurs, and the rest of the intelligent world lay snug in their beds. Still the town looked like something out of Santa’s North Pole digs even in fog.
Clumping over the decorative bridge here, the Jeep made its way further north, cutting sharply northwest now to locate Highway 60. Once found, Marcus was in for a road that turkey-legged, snaked, and then wound completely around on itself amid valleys and up foothills that welcomed them into the mountainous area around Cane Creek Falls. Here they continued past towns named Suches, Magret, and Morganton. Here too stood silent sentinels—a black forests of jack and white pine surrounding the Blue Ridge Lake like a protective army that by day transformed into a fortress. Here the house would also not reveal itself until it decided to come into view, as if presenting itself from thin air like some fairytale log citadel. Only then would he spot the old homestead nestled as it were in a nook beside the sprawling lake now so black as to be invisible.
“There it is,” he said and shook her awake as the car came to an abrupt halt before the bleak, dark lodge that’d been his parents’s special getaway.
Tired from the drive, he popped open the glove compartment and pulled out his high-powered penlight and a set of keys. The powerful flash revealed eyes in the forest and in the trees, and one owl gave a screech and sailed off over the lake so smoothly as to seem featherlike despite its bulk. All this while Katrina tried to rub the sleepiness from her eyes.
From outside the car now, he shouted, “Wake up, sleeping beauty. We’re here.”
“What? Oh, here already?”
“Yeah, here already.” It was three thirty-five in the morning by the clock in the Jeep. “Hope you brought some candles in all those bags of yours.”
“Candles? Isn’t there electricity?” She climbed from the car, groggy yet.
“I’m not goin’ looking for it in the dark.”
“Ahhh, I see. Afraid of the dark.” An animal squeal floated in from the surrounding darkness; impossible to tell from what direction or at what distance. It was enough to make her start. “What the hell was that?”
“Mother Nature’s nocturnals on the prowl—life. Nothing to be frightened of.”
“All the same, sure is dark out here.”
“Yep. Indeed, this is what we call serious dark.”
“From what little I can see of the place it’s beautiful. But I thought you mentioned a lake.”
“Other side of the house. Can’t miss it.”
“I don’t have any candles,” she admitted.
“Not even a Glade?”
“Well…it’ll be light in a couple of hours. I say we worry about the bags come light.”
“I need my overnight bag. The little blue one.”
“Crash and worry about it tomorrow,” he insisted.
“I can see why your wife left you.”
“Don’t go there.”
“You oughta know a woman has needs, and I won’t be without my overnight.”
He unlocked the rear hatch, his flash held between clenched teeth. Kat managed to pull out all of her bags to get to the one she’d earlier buried—despite all her careful packing. With every bag kissing the dewy grass and gravel, she said, “We may’s well at least get the bags inside…I mean now that they’re all standin’ here.”
He frowned. “Yeah, may’s well.”
Again she’d managed to turn him into her porter.
He opened the front door with the old key and a stiff kick. “Swollen door,” he explained when the sound of his kick startled her. “Always did require a kick.”
Even in the dark, she could see that the door showed wear from kicking at it this way.
Marcus’s thoughts ran back to his childhood days here, a hiding place in the woods, fishing off the pier, sometimes off the boat with his dad, his mother’s pies cooling on the window sill. Despite the stale, pent up air hitting him, Marcus recalled the odors of his childhood here; the place exuded memories for him. Some too painful to relive, even as others felt soothing. Perhaps this is why he’d not used the place lately. He certainly hadn’t wanted to use it as a suicide location, so he’d stayed away.
Then he thought of how often his dad had asked him to come up for a visit and he’d been too busy to make the trip. Then came that awful call from his mom, that the old man had passed on.
So many missed opportunities gone for good now.
“Careful with that suitcase will ya?”Mallory cautioned after he rammed it into the doorsill.
Now just an empty house.
Stepping over the threshold, a huge watershed of emotions rained down, and then a sharp-toothed emotion raked through him, tearing his soul. He’d forgotten how much he loved the old place, and at the same time, it brought back all the pain of having lost his two best friends—his mother and father.
He dropped the bags in the threshold except for her overnight, which she clung to. She stash her .38 in there or was it the cosmetics she must have? Their eyes worked to adjust to the dark interior.
“May’s well get the bags to my room,” she suggested.
He took several steps deeper into the cabin, saying nothing.
“You OK?” she asked, pushing past him and bumping into a table in the dark. She found him, spun him around and saw that he appeared dizzy. “You OK, Marcus?”
“Nothing a good rest won’t cure. That was a long night drive.” He flashed his light around the room, found the dining room table and upended the flash. Upended, the strong beam hit the two-story ceiling, revealing an entire second level. “There’s a couple of bedrooms upstairs, one below.”
“I’ll take the upstairs,” she declared.
“OK, you’re up, I’m down, but that means I get the flashlight.”
“You’ve got skylights overhead up there.”
“But it’s dark and my bags.”
Rydell had already grabbed the flash and headed for the downstairs bedroom. “Good night, Doc.”
“What’s got you so short-tempered?” she shouted back, but his only response came in the tap-tap-tap of his going down the wooden steps to an isolated area at basement level. “Shhheeezee!” she shouted after him. “Grumpy old cop.”
Visit tomorrow for Chapter Nine or pick up DEAD ON now at Amazon in eBook, paperback or Audible edition