Robert W. Walker’s
The following morning the children and Paco splashed madly about in the shoals of Blue Lake just below the deck. To be sure, the children were being closely watched by the adults, even as they listened to Marcus Rydell’s plan. “We get you and your family out of here today, Nora, Carl.”
“I thought you said this was a safe place,” complained Carl who’d been grousing under his breath since waking, most of it not audible enough to hear. Rydell picked only a word here, a word there, none of them pleasant, many of them of the four-letter variety punctuated with a lot of old-fashioned Georgia “confound its.”
Carl and Nora had been constantly picking at one another like a couple of angry ferrets, making Katrina and Marcus uncomfortable in their presence. “We’ll do as you say, Marcus,” Nora now said, her tone indicating the matter was finished. Apparently, Carl wanted to make for home in Marietta on the theory that if Cantu had come and gone, that he wouldn’t be looking for them there now.
“It’s doing what Marcus says that’s got us here,” Carl erupted now. “That maniac Cantu is probably out there right now—” he pointed out into the distant chirping forests—“with a high-powered rifle sighting on us this minute.”
“Carl, we feel reasonably sure that Cantu doesn’t know of this place,” replied Kat, coming to Marcus’s defense.
“All I’m saying is that following Rydell’s lead, after he got your and Nora’s husband killed, could get me…ahhh…us killed…along with the kids, I mean.” Carl kept pacing, moving nervously about the deck as if to do so might throw off any intended gunfire directed at him.
“Sit down and shut up, Carl!” Nora ordered.
Carl slumped into a deck chair, pouting, grumbling, “I still say we’re safer in our own home backyard. I called Spenser Jonston at the Marietta police and asked his opinion.”
“Hold on! You called the cops in Marietta?” Marcus got to his feet, towering over Carl. “Didn’t we agree no phone calls.”
“I used my cell. No one’s going to be tracking a cell phone with my name on it. This guy’s not after me.”
“No, he’s after your wife and your kids!” shouted Nora. “Carl, these days, anyone can be tracked by someone with the knowledge to do it. Stan taught me that much!”
“Stan again! It’s always Stan with you. Stan did it this way, Stan knew how to treat a lady, Stan knew how to poach a g’damn egg!”
They all fell silent. All that could be heard was the laughter and splashing of the children and Paco in the shallows.
“Make no more calls,” Marcus pleaded. “Did you tell the cops where you are now?”
“No, I just suggested a couple of hypotheticals to Spenser is all. We went to high school at Pratt together.”
“You didn’t invite the authorities to contact the Blue Lake authorities, did you, Carl?”
“Ahhh, no, I didn’t.”
“Good. That’s all we need is the local Barney and Andy come to snoop,” replied Marcus. “Look, we have looked at this thing from every angle. The monster we’re facing can’t be dealt with through normal means, channels, or prayer.”
Kat agreed from where she leaned against the deck rails. “Hell, Cantu has eluded the Georgia State Patrol, the Atlanta PD, and the Georgia FBI—everyone—including experts called in from Washington for four years, Mr. Schramick. Do you get that?”
“Then why do you two think you can beat him?” came Carl’s quick reply.
Just as he said this, a car barked tires and threw up rocks on the entry road, making them all start and turn to see a police cruiser marked Blue Ridge Police Department. Marcus glared back at Carl. “You lying sack of—”
“Hold on! I didn’t ask Spense to call anyone up here; it must’ve been his idea.”
“Stay off the damn phone,” Marcus ordered and rushed to meet the local officer now laboriously climbing from his car. The man spilled out of his car; spilled out of his uniform as well. A wide grin on his face competed with the deputy’s girth. He tossed his Smokey-the-Bear hat onto his cruiser seat, a seat permanently flattened by this giant.
“You the Marcus Rydell whose parents owned this place?” he asked as Marcus approached.
Meeting the man’s eyes and studying his features, Marcus felt a certain familiarity. “You’re not Tim Grimes, are you?”
“In the flesh, all 280 pounds of it. Morg! How’ve you been, ol’ son?”
Ol’ Son. Marcus hadn’t heard the backwoods, good-old-boy term used on him since childhood. “I’ll be damned. I thought you moved off from here for good once you joined the Navy, Tim.”
“Navy wore thin fast. Come right back to God’s country. Got me a job with the county maybe twenty year-’go come November. They was desperate,” he self-deprecatingly joked.
“Short-handed, no doubt.” Marcus shook his old friend’s hand, and it felt like that of the stranger he’d become, wholly different and a lot fatter.
Grimes laughed good-naturedly. “Blue Ridge don’t change. Short-handed then, even short-handed-er today.”
“Yeah, we noticed how few times the patrol boats go by on the lake.”
“Budgetary constraints it’s called. The lake patrol’s been cut to bare bones.”
“What’s the schedule?”
“They run up and down twice a week only.”
“A single run?”
“Back and to to the Blue Ridge docks. Things’re tough all over. Gas alone.”
Marcus recognized the Fannin County Sheriff insignia on the uniform patch. “So what’s brought you out from town?”
“I heard a rumor someone’d opened up your mom’s house.”
“Rumor heh? Buck’s place?”
“Still the biggest rumor mill around.”
“Wonder no one’s shot Buck with one of his own guns.”
“Get a lotta our best tips from old Buck.”
They laughed like the old friends they once were. “Damn good to see you’re doing well, Tim.”
“Married, three kids, a mortgage, two dogs, a cat and a pet raccoon and a fox. If ever the game warden learns my boy traps exotic animals, I’m done for.”
“Life’s treating you well then?”
“Can’t complain too much. And you? Ya’ look good for yourself old stick.”
Marcus smiled anew. “Lately? Ahhh…can’t complain.” He looked back up at the deck where he’d ordered the others to stay and remain calm. Kat waved back.
“Good to see the old place with some life about it. Friends from the city, heh?”
“Yeah…a getaway from Atlanta.”
“Is it true you’re a PI now? No more big city cop duties?”
“For some time been on my own, yeah. How’d you know?”
“Last time I fished the lake before your mother passed on, I came up to say hello. We had coffee and she caught me up on your doings.”
“Why didn’t I see you at the funeral?” Marcus asked.
“Was outta town. How’s that PI game workin’ for you?”
“You want a glass of lemonade or something stronger, Tim?” he suggested. “Meet my company?”
“From sounds of it, you’ve got quite a large family yourself.” The noise of the children in the water had continued throughout.
“Kids belong to my guests, Tim.”
“I heard you had kids.”
“But they’re not with you and you wife?” He indicated Kat who remained nervously watching from the deck.
“She’s not my wife, Tim.”
“Ooooohhh…gotcha, you ol’ dog.”
“Not like that, Tim. She’s my friend, Katrina Mallory, a doctor. My wife and kids left me sometime back.”
“Suckin’ on all my four toes here, ain’t I. Damn, sorry to hear that ‘bout your family.”
“For the best. Up in Ohio now.”
“Oh, God! I spent a few months on a job site in Ohio when I worked for the railroad, and I swear it was like a livin’ hell for me. Take that lemonade now.”
Marcus played it off, shouting to the others that he’d found an old friend out here in the woods. He introduced Tim to the others as casually as he might at a church social and asked Kat to get the officer a lemonade with a shot of gin.
When everyone had settled and Grimes weight threatened to topple the deck chair he’d chosen to torture, he grunted and said, “I gotta be straight with you, Morg. I got a call from a guy in Marietta on the force there. Said something about how you might be holding someone here against their will?”
“Looks like he was mistaken.” Marcus laughed at this and as if on cue the others joined in except for Carl. Carl piped up and asked, “How many police in this area…I mean aside from yourself, Officer?”
“There’s Millie, our youngest recruit, Jasper Wilson, and Sheriff Rennebow, and then there’s me, but at the moment two of us are out sick. For any more fire power, you gotta call in the State Pa-troopers.” Tim laughed lightly and explained to Kat, “I just like to fun those guys and call’em Pa-troopers.
Kat, extending his lemonade, politely laughed back.
“So you’re all just up here from Atlanta and Marietta on holiday, heh?”
“Must’ve been one of those kids foolin’ round on the phone then, huh?”
“That’d be my guess,” put in Carl a bit too quickly.
“You know how kids can be,” added Nora. “My own kids, they don’t get their way, they’re going to call in CPS.”
“We call it Child Protective Services in Atlanta, Tim,” explained Marcus.
“Oh, yeah, I see. Well from the look of those two playin’ in the lake, I sure don’t see any need to worry about their well being, do I, Marc…not with you here.”
“Too true,” said Kat, toasting with her glass of lemonade. “Marc is the man.”
“Marc, even as a kid, he’d get so damned steamed whenever he thought anyone of us was getting the shaft or short-changed or just plain being made the victim. Hot headed. Hated an injustice.”
“He’s not changed a bit then,” said Kat, smiling wide.
“I’m going to be unpopular,” piped up Nora, climbing from her chair and looking at her watch, “but I think those kids’ve been in the water long enough. Carl, come help me fetch ’em, will you?”
“Awl’right,” muttered Carl, following her off the deck and down to the water’s edge.
“Marcus, you would tell me if there was something unusual going on, wouldn’t you? Seem to recall last time I heard your name it was in connection with that renegade spree killer, Iden Cantu. You got something new on him, maybe? Be a hell of a case to crack, to bring that bastard to heel. You don’t think for a moment he’s in these woods, do you?”
“Not for a moment, and Tim, I’ve tried now for years to put that all behind me.”
“Sorry…sure, I can see why you’d wanna do that.”
Marcus knew at that instant that he’d not put anything over on the country deputy. He sat silent.
Tim added, “Heard the APD failed to stand back of you.”
“Afraid that particular rumor’s true.”
“Got that one from the Atlanta Constitution, my friend.”
“Don’t you believe everything you read in the papers?”
Tim laughed. “Me…I’m the sort who doesn’t just see Scooter Libby’s face on the front page, but what’s behind that smugness.”
Marcus nodded. “He does look like the cat that swallowed the canary.”
“A smile that says he knows where the bodies lie.”
“And the smoking gun.”
“The fix was in from the start on that one.”
You two going to talk politics? I wanna hear more about Lil’ Marcus here, not Lil’ Bush.”
Marcus waved her down. “No one wants to trip down that path.”
“Thought about looking you up a hundred times after all that crap they printed about you in the papers, Marcus. I always knew better.”
“Coulda used your support—back then, Tim.”
Their eyes locked. “But it’s old history now, eh?”
“Very old,” he lied. “In fact, during the entire episode, I was reminded of every other country western song—how friends desert you and hurt you. Not you, Tim. You weren’t in the picture.”
“I know how others will distance themselves from you. Painful.”
“Most people don’t have the first clue how to deal with illness,” Kat apologetically said.
“Seems especially so if you suffer any form of depression,” Marcus managed to say.
“Even a lot of medical professionals prefer dealing with a physical illness over a mental one,” Kat assured him. “Sad thing is the biases that are only fueled by the practices of insurance companies and MO’s.”
“I shoulda found you, looked you up,” said Tim.
“Nahhh, you hate Atlanta.”
“Hate big cities,” Grimes agreed. “They give me the hives! Besides, you know how short-handed we are here, and how a body gets in a rut.”
“’Specially Georgians, hey, Tim?” Marcus made light of it while thinking, Absolutely could’ve used a friend; they’re still hard to find.”
“Maybe I can make it up to you this weekend,” suggested Grimes.
“This weekend? Make it up? No…I mean, no need.”
“Come on, Morg. Be like old times! We’ll hunt up a blue streak in these woods.”
They’d been in junior high when each had first taken up hunting.
“Did enough of the woodsy thing in the marines, buddy.”
“Why didn’t we enlist together, Morg?”
“You wanted the damn navy, remember?”
“No, you waned the damn marines.”
Again their laughter came easy. Katrina had not heard Marcus laugh so freely before. She felt glad for him at this moment.
Tim turned to her. “You’ve done wonders with this serious and grave character.”
“I’ve tried.” She went along with the ruse of being Marcus’s ‘squeeze’.
Both she and Marcus realized that their personal plans for Cantu could one: land them in jail, and two: be completely foiled by interference from proper authorities.
“Well, man, it’s been a pleasure to see you, Marc. Never forget all the times you pulled my bacon outta the fire.” Tim had emptied his glass, placed it aside, and had gotten up, heaving with the effort. It was hard to imagine him actually going on a hunt.
“Great seeing you, too, Tim.”
“Why don’t you stay for dinner?” asked Kat when Tim took the first stair.
“Ohhh, nahhh…too many things hanging fire back at the office and home. Founders Day celebration down to town’s gonna keep us hoppin’ till Sunday, but this weekend, for sure, I’ll be back with my lucky shotgun. You got a hunting gun inside yet, Marc?”
“Right where it’s always been.”
“Then it’s a date. Sunday at the crack of dawn?”
Five days off. “Sure…sure thing, Tim.”
Grimes made a lot of noise when he moved first down the steps, his weight threatening to snap each one, and then on the dry forest bed. He commented as the twigs snapped below him, “Dry as a bone here for too long. Watch yourselves.”
“Fire department’s all volunteers, I know,” Marcus shouted back. “And it’s hell to pay to get the truck out this far.”
Tim, now grinding gravel and rock underfoot, laughing, added, “Saw old Smokey at the sign coming up. Fire alert is set at high.”
“One more thing to worry about,” Marcus muttered close to Kat’s ear, putting an arm around her and waving to Grimes as he backed about in a tight area for the three-point turn, his park-ranger styled hat on his head. Grimes peeled away, seemingly satisfied for now.
“Why the hell’d you make a hunting date with him?” Kat turned on him, her eyes blinking in consternation. “That means he’ll be back for sure.”
“He’s coming back to check on us; he may have appeared satisfied, but he’s as sly as he is big.”
“So what’s he think is going on?”
“My guess is he thinks we’ve had sightings of Cantu in the region.”
“Hell, there’ve been sightings all over the state since Terry was murdered.”
“He’s a shrewd guy, Tim.”
“He doesn’t look shrewd.”
“Georgia shrewd. Back country shrewd.”
“So you don’t think he bought your story, that we’re all just on holiday here?”
He shrugged. “Doubt it.”
“Does he actually think we’d jeopardize kids in the bargain?” she asked as Nora and Carl rushed their kids, bundled in towels, passed them and inside.
“Looks like a storm coming up!” Nora shouted back at the two conspirators.
Kat and Marcus looked out across the lake, and in the distance lightning strikes crackled and streaked across the sky. It seemed a good ways off. Ugly clouds in the distance.
“Momma Mierksy’s just being overly concerned,” Marcus muttered.
“Where’s Paco?” she asked.
“We can’t leave him out in a storm.”
“I have more on my mind than that stray.”
“Hey, that stray loves you, Marcus.”
“You think so?” As he said it, more thunder rolled through the valley and up the plateau and through the pine forests, and more lightening was hurled from the ever blackening, roiling clouds that appeared now bent on one target—Marcus’s country cabin home.
“One of those sudden one-hour late afternoon downpours,” he assured Kat. “You live in Georgia, remember? Still, best tie things down.” He rushed to the end of the pier where a small boat port awaited him.
She began gathering up the deck furniture, slipping the chairs inside. He returned with nylon rope taken from the boat; with this, he lashed down the deck table. Together, they carried in the huge umbrella, laying it across the confiscated chairs. Finally, Paco showed up anew, slipping through the sliding double doors just before Marcus locked them.
In the time it took to do this, the forests had become a disturbing creature, a hellion bent on self-destruction. The jack and white pine surrounding the lake, docile as castle spires all this time, had become like angry, villainous, splintering lances wishing to snap and come crashing down at them. All this as a morbid blackness had claimed the skies overhead where a devil wind blew amid clouds whirled and swirled as in a cauldron. From the darkness rained ping-pong ball sized hail that battered the windows and the deck and the wooden porch. It clattered the tiled roof and made a deafening noise against the skylights.
The children huddled with Paco, terrified of the clattering noise, reassured by their mother that it was “Just a storm.”