Robert W. Walker’s
As he approached over the water in the small excursion craft, Rydell wondered how much to tell Katrina. He’d seen the house come into view and seeing her standing out on the deck overlooking the lake, he felt like the proverbial husband sneaking in after a night of carousing. Surely, he faced her wrath.
Before he’d gotten far from Atlanta, he had gotten word through JT that the coroner had finally identified the body with ease, as the killer had left the dead man’s wallet intact and shoved down his throat. The killer managed to do so by cutting the apex at each side of the mouth, to in effect widen the orifice to accommodate the thick wallet. Credit cards and driver’s license along with the man’s business card all neatly arranged in the stockbroker’s Gucci billfold.
JT had used that old standard of cops on the scene for dealing with such horror—black humor—saying, “Only the best tasting, finest Corinthian leather from Gucci.”
Even the finest leather must taste awful when force fed, Rydell had thought on hearing this bit of news. “So, he was no gang member?”
“He’s your guy, the one you hoped he wouldn’t be.”
“Same guy all set to marry Joely Blankenship four years ago, yes. Guy who suffered once before at the hand of Iden Cantu.”
“I suspected as much.”
“This some kinda personal shit between you and that psycho, Marcus?”
““Why couldn’t it’ve been another Milton?” he asked the wind and the lake now.
Neither the wind nor the lake answered. If they knew, they weren’t telling.
Twilight had left the area, giving way to sunrays shimmering through a misty morning, the rays sluicing through in some areas, held a bay elsewhere around the lake. Shadows remained, carved in giant sections. The occasional dogwood flower peeked through. A lot of ground fog needed burning off and a ghostly layer drifted atop the water, lifting in places to reveal a placid bue like a freshly poured sheet of ice. Wherever a spot of sun spilled through the trees to kiss the lake, a morning sheen spread as if alive or the next best thing—as if stained glass.
The place was cathedral-like. He remembered why his father and mother had loved Blue Ridge so damned mch.
For now he must deal with the pacing woman on the deck with a gun in her hand.
He wondered just how much he should share, how much to hold back. How descriptive did he dare get with the details here. For instance where the wallet was found and what’d tipped CSI to its presence in the gullet. How much would keep Katrina alive, how much might shake her up enough to let him handle this matter alone, get herself to a safe distance?
It felt like a tightrope walk.
How much could she take? How much was he willing to impart?
Neck snapped, limbs broken, legs and arms folded in like matchsticks. Facial features made prominent like a book facing out.
He swerved to avoid a crooked snag floating in the water. With so much horror on his mind, the snag looked the part of a dead man’s withered arm and hand. He half expected to see a wristwatch on the damn thing.
The boat skimmed over the water reminding him how much he’d loved boating and speed, the cool morning wind lifting his hair. Cantu must be totally and completely mad to ‘announce’ himself this way. To declare open war on Rydell meant that anyone close could be collateral damage—including Katrina Mallory. Again he looked up to see her anxiously pacing, coffee cup in hand, the weapon out of sight now. Was she staring out at him or glaring out at him?
Perhaps he ought to’ve brought flowers. Perhaps he ought to simply lie, tell her he’d been unable to sleep, had taken the boat out for a good workout. What his father used to call his water stroll. But he’d left that damned note.
But then again, he thought, the unvarnished truth might arm her, whereas a fairytale could get her killed.
The roar of the engine reverberated, the boat skimming overtop the water, the foamy wake the only disturbance for miles. He brought the boat full around, arching to a near flip-over before parking it dockside. He waved to Katrina, but she only returned a frown. While tying to deboard, he heard her footsteps coming down the pier, and from the sheer pouncing of her bare feet, he thought warpath.
He smiled but did not let her see the smile. This is what life’s all about, he thought. She’d gone on the offensive, coming straight for him, shouting, “What’s the idea? You want to scare me to death? Going off to Atlanta and leaving me here alone?
In his fatigue, he could mount no defense. She held the scribbled note over his head.
“Told you I’d be back as soon as I could.”
“How did you make the round trip? On that?” She pointed to the boat.
He pointed across the lake. “Small airport the other side of the lake. Cub plane.”
“You own a cub plane?”
“Cessna. Didn’t your research say so?”
“I knew you were a pilot is all.”
“With you asleep, I thought it the best time to ahhh… leave and come back.”
She glared anew at him, her features like a flare. “You should’ve woke me. I’d’ve gone with you.”
“You had the dog for company, and I presume found the guns I loaded just for you.”
“I want to know everything.”
“Your trip in the wee hours. All you learned about Milton. Beginning with is it our Milton who’s been murdered?”
“Then he—Cantu—has set things into motion, and you like a fool are giving him exactly what he wants.”
“Hold on, Doctor.”
“He’s obviously followed you from the crime scene, or haven’t you thought of that?”
In his fatigue, with a great lack of sleep, he had given it serious thought; however, he’d been extremely careful in making his way back to the Atlanta Municipal Business airport, taking a number of detours, on and off ramps, and unnecessary side streets. Trained in such matters, he felt confident that even if he were being followed by Cantu, or an agent of Cantu’s, he’d shaken loose.
“All the same, this place may have been compromised.”
“I took a plane back. He wasn’t on board, and there were no stowaways.”
She took in a great breath of air. “You know, he just may know about this place anyway. Just seeing you get on a plane—your plane, I presume—would tell him where we are, Detective. I mean…duh.”
“I think you’re just spoiling for a fight.”
He stormed past her and up the boards to the deck and house. “I need sleep.”
“Whoa up, not before you tell me all the details of how Lawrence died.”
He turned on her. “I don’t have all the details. CSI is still working on the details.”
“Then tell me what you saw firsthand. I wanna know.”
“No you don’t.” He kept going.
She rushed after. “Yes, I do. I’m a big girl, even have some knowledge of medicine and the human body as well as how to fire that Glock.”
He kept going. Inside, he found the coffee and gulped a cup down. She stood across the kitchen. Behind her, through the glass doors, birds flitted past and sunlight danced amid the dappled leaves. Rydell heard music playing in the other room, a soft rock tune, sounded like Billy Joel maybe. The room smelled of freshly heated waffles and maple syrup which tightened his stomach in a ball right now.
“All right. Get some shut-eye,” she said on looking more closely at Marcus. “You look like hell.” It was a lie as he looked positively invigorated, she thought. “After which I will want a full accounting. “
She continued to pursue him through the house, and to the top of the stairs he’d gone down. “ You go rushing off, leaving me alone here, knowing he could be out there at any time.”
Halfway down, he turned. “I had to know—we had to know—if it was the same man, Milton.”
“Now we know.”
“Now we know what we’re in for; that much is certain.”
She calmed a bit. “His time in the woods has made him even more of a maniac, hasn’t it?”
“He’s ex-marine, a trapper-hunter, able to survive for years alone, and yet he chose to come back to essentially get us—essentially a pair of strangers to him. Yeah, you could say he’s a total whack-job.”
“And he’s driven by what? What fuels him?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Whatever it is, you’ve gained a helluva lotta fuel over this whole thing, too.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He stood now at the bottom of the stairs; she’d remained at the top.
“You’re enjoying yourself is what I mean.”
“I would hardly call it enjoying myself.”
“Cantu’s got a desire to hurt you further, to humiliate you, Marcus, further, and to do so he’ll kill anyone you think you can save, including me. So just don’t get to happy with things as they are, OK?”
“God, Katrina, I don’t think you have a clue what you’re saying, else my lack of sleep is hearing you wrong.”
“Yeah…yeah, I’m sure that’s it.” She slammed the door at the top of the stairs. This fueled his anger. He rushed back up and caught up with her in the living room. “Look, I admit I’ve returned to the world and to what I know best—investigating, hunting. But that doesn’t make me a monster like him.”
They stared across at one another. It felt like a moment in the relationship when it could go completely awry if either said the wrong thing. “Look, Detective, all I’m saying is that maybe what motivates you—the hunt—is what motivates this maniac.”
“The hunt, I suppose you’re right.”
She shrugged. “All I’m saying.”
“The hunt and the kill.” He shuffled off to his bed.
“I will want to know every flaming detail!” she shouted after him.
“Maybe I’ll go for a ride on the lake then!”
He stormed back at her like a man shot from a cannon. “No, you don’t go three feet from the house, understood?”
“I’m just saying—”
“No, I’m saying and that’s an order!”
“Whoa, easy.” He’d taken her by the shoulders.
“Come to think of it, you don’t go outside, not so much as the porch or the deck. Not alone…not without—”
“I’ve got Paco.”
“Inside!” he shouted so loud as to disturb Paco who’d been lying in a corner.
“All right, all right. Go to bed. You’re far too grumpy.”
“Inside. Got it. Now go, go!”
“I’m sorry I yelled.”
“Do you feel a need to get in the last word every time we talk?”
“No, I don’t. It’s not about that. It’s about your safety.”
“You’re the one about to topple over. Get thee to a Posturepedic, now!” she ordered, a raised index finger shaking at his nose.
His shoulders slumped, he asked, “Do you have to have the last word, always?”
“Frankly, yes! Especially when I’m the wronged party.”
“I see. One of those people who doesn’t believe in the word sorry, see it as a weakness, huh?”
“I can say I’m sorry when circumstances call for it, but believe me, with men, that’s a rarity.”