Robert W. Walker’s
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aide of their country, Marcus Rydell thought where he sat out on his deck in the dark, the only light painting his face coming off the G-5 Mac in his lap. The old practice your typing skills utilized very nearly every key. It was a standard by which to learn when Marcus had a Remington with a roll bar, even before electronic typewriters much less computers. Long before PC’s became permanent fixtures in homes.
He now used Katrina’s Mac to send an E-mail to JT, asking for details and any information on Cantu. Were his prints, his signature, all over Lawrence Milton’s murder or not? If so had they come up with any leads, any clue as to the madman’s whereabouts, any sightings? In the Atlanta area, Iden Cantu’s features were as familiar as those of Elvis Presley. However, he could and obviously had altered his appearance much like a showman.
Finishing his inquiry with a thank you in advance, Marcus looked out over the night-painted lake from the polished deck of his family home. He wondered at the wisdom of holding up here, wondered if they should not all get into the Cessna and take it tonight as far as Alaska—run! It made sense to do so.
He also wondered at his and Katrina’s ability to locate and corner the lunatic Cantu before he located and cornered them.
For the time being, he believed Cantu still in Atlanta, hold up in some rat hole there. Why Cantu had come out of hiding, stepping from the ancient forests surrounding the city to come after him in this fashion, to further twist the knife he’d placed in his back years before, escaped Rydell; all he could imagine in the way of reasoning in a chaotic, monstrous mind was a fixation. Some weirdly wired vengeance. Perhaps it was that Marcus represented authority in the body of one man, and that Cantu had set his sights on Marcus in order to snub his nose at all authority. It apparently didn’t matter to Cantu’s fevered brain that Marcus had already lost so much—his job, his wife, his children, no this was not enough. Enough would only come at Marcus’s seeing Katrina and the Miersky’s murdered before him.
This certainly seemed to be Iden Cantu’s game plan from his letters and the recent binding, torturing, and killing of Lawrence Milton. One death too many already in this new “war” between Cantu and Rydell, a war not of Marcus’s choosing, but one he’d become fully engaged in.
“What next?” Kat asked, stepping out onto the deck. She’d changed, showered, and her perfume was easy on the nostrils.
“The others bedded down for the night?”
“They are.” She sat across from him at the outdoor table. Around them fireflies danced on air to the night sounds of the forests, which acted as a natural jukebox. “Organic music,” she called it. “So…what’s our next move?” she pressed.
He explained his E-mail to JT. See if we can get any sort of idea where he might be roaming the city. We don’t hold back; we go on the offensive.”
“Go back to Atlanta?”
“I know the city brick for brick. I grew up there, and for over a decade, it’s been my hunting grounds.”
“My research told me you were part Native American.”
“Cherokee on my mother’s mother’s side.”
“And the forests right here?” She indicated the darkness around them. “How well do you know the lay of the land here?”
“Well enough to get lost.”
“I’m no boy scout and these woods are thick and trust me there’re no signs pointing this way home.”
“But it’s home, or was a second home…summers, right?”
“Not really. I spent most of my time swimming, fishing, boating, and up in the air with Dad. Never even carved my name on a tree.”
“Some Cherokee you’d make.”
“I agree. I know my limitations. Do you?”
She frowned and ignored the question. “But Morg, you’ve gotta know something of the terrain.”
“Generally know what direction I’m going in, but believe me, the woods here are so dense that even a seasoned veteran game warden can get turned around. Park rangers have gotten themselves lost for days.”
“How embarrassing for them.”
“One was never found.”
“I’ve heard the tales of kids who’ve been lost to the forests.” She said it as if he were out simply to frightten her and she was having none of it.
“Once when I was maybe eleven, twelve and I was with my dad,” he sipped at a Coke, “Dad was cutting wood with a chainsaw. He put the chainsaw down, walked off maybe ten paces to take in the air, drink a bit of water, relax, and me at his side, maybe more like nine, ten. Any rate, he turns to me and says, “Morg, where’s my new Stil? What’d you do with it? Nothing, I told him, but looking around, it was gone.”
“A chainsaw disappeared in the woods?” she asked.
“The saw was gone.” He let this sink in. “Nowhere to be found, and I had nothing to do with its disappearance, see.”
“Your first mystery, heh?”
“Just a few paces this way or that and even my Dad was turned around, and no one knew the woods here like Dad.”
“Did you find the chainsaw? Was it stolen?”
“No, I mean yeah, we found it after like twenty minutes of going in the wrong direction for it. My point is the forest fooled us. It can kill you as sure as an ocean.”
“I take your meaning.”
“Later that day with my Dad, we got turned around and went way out of our way in search of the house.”
“This house? You couldn’t see the lights?”
“No, I’m telling you, Dad had to locate the lake and follow the water back. That chainsaw got real heavy.”
“Damn…I assumed from the begin—”
“That I know these woods? Sure, I’m a regular Daniel Boone.” He laughed, the sound going out over the lake.
“What’s so funny?”
“Paco knows these woods better than I do.”
“Hmmm…then maybe having Paco on hand isn’t such a bad idea after all, Boggie.”
“Funny, real funny.”
They sat in silence for several minutes, neither saying anything, both listening to the crickets and the night swells of the lake.
“What if he…what if he comes here first?” she asked.
“No way he knows about Blue Lake.”
“He found us in Atlanta, both of us. Just suppose.”
Marcus looked closer into her eyes, thinking he’d seen something there. He had a lot of years of interrogation experience, and while he was not interrogating Katrina, he thought he saw some wavering blip on the screen of her eyes. “I know we have to strike fast. We go hunting tomorrow in the city.”
“But where do we begin?”
“We begin where we know he’s been.”
“Full circle. We give him a clear shot at us.”
“You mean dangling me as bait, don’t you?” Her jaw quivered at the thought.
“You want him or not?”
“Promise me you’ll get him before he gets me and it’s a deal.”
“Promise, of course.”
“Then we take the war to him.”
“Better to fight as city mice than country mice. This guy’s a trained ranger; he could park himself out there—” he pointed to the black forests all round them— “and
wait us out for days if he cut us off here.”
“No way he can completely cut us off. We have cell phones, the Mac, landlines, the boat, the plane.”
He reached across and patted her hand. “Right…of course, you’re right.”
“Still you’re worried.”
“Kat, this man—if you can call him a man—thinks like a snake.”
She thought of the snake Paco had killed the day before. “We can’t begin to imagine how long he’s planned for this.”
“Or what he has in mind from moment to moment.”
“Or how he will proceed.”
She nodded, understanding. “We can only make our best guess.”
“Exactly, and our best guess—”
“—may not be good enough, Marcus?” It was Nora, standing back of them at the doorway, Carl at her side. Carl’s arm was draped over Nora’s ample shoulder. They were understandably worried. Paramount in their minds must be the safety of the children.
Paco had been lying at Marcus’s feet. For reasons unknown to any of them, the dog had taken a powerful liking to Rydell and had begun to follow him everywhere.
Paco now alerted on some noise in the wood, his full attention on something unseen and unheard.
“I hate it when he does that,” complained Katrina.
“Don’t start with me. I didn’t want ’im hanging around to begin with.”
Just then the Mac chimed, and Rydell opened JT’s response. It proved disappointing.
“What’s Thomas saying?” Kat asked.
“While they’ve not found clear evidence that the killing was indeed the work of Iden Cantu in any forensic sense, Cantu had claimed responsibility via the Atlanta Constitution.”
“Which has printed both his letter and a four-year-old enhanced mug shot of Cantu on page one.”
“So the Atlanta authorities are doing something,” said Nora.
Rydell replied to JT, typing in: Has anyone spotted him anywhere in the city?
The reply came immediately: Nothing credible in the city; lead in Marietta might bear fruit.
What about Marietta? Rydell keyed in.
JT’s response chilled him: Neighbor of Nora Miersky “thinks” she saw the man on page one at Stan’s Marietta home. Of course, she likely knew of Stan’s having been killed by this nut job. Could just be the old lady’s looking to get on the nightly news.
After a moment, Marcus saw that JT had more to say. Questions. Where’re you, anyway? Went by your place and no one home.
Rydell closed the PowerBook, not wishing to answer.
“What is it?” Katrrina asked.
“He was in Marietta at your home,” Marcus told Nora and Carl, both of whom looked stricken at this news. “Look, I suggest you get some sleep tonight. He can’t know we’re here.”
“You expect us to simply go to sleep?” asked Nora. “After telling me that monster was at our house?”
“Better there than here,” said Kat.
“Look, perhaps tomorrow, we’ll change tactics.”
Nora was face to face with Marcus. “Change how?”
“Get you and the kids to a new safe house.”
“Do you have any family out of state?”
“West Tennessee, yes.”
“Maybe we can get you and the kids there. Make a call but do it on your cell.”
Nora nodded and she and Carl disappeared into the house.
Marcus went to the end of the deck and stood looking out over the darkened lake. He took in a great breath of air and looked tired. Kat joined him at the railing. “You think he’s coming this way, don’t you?”
“I have a sinking feeling, yes.”
“To be honest, I think so too.” She felt a little weight lifted, being able to say this. She’d believed it from the beginning, and this isolated place was perfect for her goal to act as judge and jury, and to put an end to Cantu but in the fashion she had planned.
But how could he know of this place?” Marcus wondered aloud.
“You said it yourself. If I can find you…then why not him?”
“So I said.” He reached out to wipe a lock of hair from her eyes. He half expected her to pull away, but she didn’t, their eyes meeting. “I guess you know I find you attractive, Kat.”
A cool breeze lifted her hair, replacing the strand he’d pulled away to exactly the same spot. She smiled when she said, “All I know is I’m sleeping with my weapon under my pillow.”
“Don’t shoot your ear off, Van Gogh.” He gracefully accepted her ignoring of his comment. Under his breath, he added, “She’s the Van Gogh of detection, that one.”
“Very funny. I heard that. Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Morg.”
She called Paco to go with her. The dog struggled to all fours and followed, his tail wagging, likely thinking she meant to feed him again.
Marcus took in the night stars, the silent distant planets, the tops of the pines, silver in the moonlight, and the sheen of icy gray over the blue waters of the lake. It’d make a hell of a painting, he thought. And he thought of what he’d confessed to Kat, and he wondered if she thought him an old fool.
For a moment, he allowed the worries to melt, disallowing any fear or thoughts of fear of either Cantu or his having made a fool of himself with Kat. Instead, he concentrated on the beauty around him, breathing in the purity of this place. A purity he did not wish defiled by the likes of Iden Cantu.
He gave thought to his mother inside at the kitchen, his father casting out there at the end of the pier, how the two of them loved one another so absolutely and unconditionally, and how they had loved their last years here in this home.
He could smell his mother’s pies cooling on the sill back of his head; he could smell the gamey fish his father hauled from the lake.
He returned to his deck chair, and he put his feet up, and he fell to dozing until his head fell forward, waking him. Then he felt the real fool. In that moment of dozing out here, unprotected, he could have easily been overpowered, tied up, and made to watch as a fiend devoured Nora’s children and everything that lived here.
He thought of Katrina’s last words tonight about sleeping with her gun tucked below her pillow. It was a joke but it resonated. He got to his feet, went inside, locked up and double-checked all the other locks. The damn dog oughta be put outside if he were to act as any sort of early warning alarm, should the monster find them tonight. The dog needed to earn its keep. Instead, it’d curled up with Kat, where he’d like to’ve been.
He waited for Katrina to be fast asleep before he dared entice the dog with the smell of red meat from the fridge. He saw to it the dog found a mat on the porch, and again locking up, he found a pillow and blanket from a cupboard and stretched out on the couch. Outside, the complaining whine coming from Paco threatened to wake the entire house. But it didn’t.