Part 3 of story in progress for years. I may post part 4 soon too. Needs a lot of work.
|IX. Thursday: 6:30 A.M.|
Dawn arrived hot and humid. Yawning and stretching, she rubbed her raw, sleep deprived eyes. She refilled her glass of cranberry juice and leaned forward as tears threatened again behind her puffy, red eyes. She had spent the last couple of hours fighting them back, rarely winning. The waxing sunlight made it easier this time. Crying under the blanket of the moon is simpler, she thought. Standing, she moved to the counter and prepared a light breakfast of toast with a little butter. Simple enough, and she hoped it would stay down.
Eat and then shower. Get Rina off to day camp and visit some people. I’ll start with Mr. Hoffsteader. With that plan in mind she shook her head, ran her fingers through her mussed hair, and choked down her meager breakfast.
X. Thursday: 8:45 A.M.
Shannon started the Ford Escort and pulled off the curb. She made a left at the next street and another left. Stopping at the corner to let a group of children cross she turned right to get to the main road that would take her to Bill’s office. Oblivious to her she didn’t see the Chevy sedan parked two houses behind her. Nor did she see the tall, stringy haired stranger with the binoculars watch her leave.
James LeBeck gazed at Shannon as she walked down the front walk to the small car parked at the curb. With the morning sun enhancing the red highlights in her hair, she was vision made to flesh. She was the temptress that had haunted his every move for the last three years. Her long legs, in the tight fitting jeans, scissored determinedly. The small backpack swung casually over one shoulder hung weightlessly down her back. The tank top she wore displayed the soft flesh of her long neck to his gaze. He watched her every move until she disappeared inside the small vehicle and drove away.
The stranger started his car and drove down the street bypassing the left Shannon had taken. He parked at the dead end of the street next to a park entrance. Looked around the wooded park area and seeing no one, he exited the car. Eyeing the surrounding area carefully he pulled his hair into a ponytail allowing the morning breeze to play across the sweat that bubbled along the nape of his neck. Walking back up the street, he turned left a block before the street Shannon had taken. He followed the road as it curved to the right in front of the homes bordering the backyard of Shannon and Bill’s property. Correction he thought with a lascivious grin, James and Shannon’s home.
Having watched the comings and goings of this section of neighborhood James knew everyone’s schedule that lived here. All houses were empty save two. The house to the right of Shannon’s home and the one on the corner of the street James now walked. The old man on the corner wouldn’t be leaving until noon, exactly as he had done every day for the past two weeks, but he shouldn’t prove a problem. As for the house directly behind his new home, it was vacant. Shannon’s neighbors on the right were retired and would be leaving at 9:00A.M. Their neighbor on the left had already left for work. He hunkered down at the back of the vacant house and waited for the old couple to dodder off to wherever they went. Right on time he heard the front door slam shut and saw the woman waddle down the walk to their car followed a second later by her husband. As the car doors shut and the engine started he looked around one last time. Seeing no one he rose up and walked to the fence which he easily scaled. Stepping onto the grass of his new backyard his heart accelerated. So close to her he could smell the fragrant scent of her flesh. He quickened his pace to match his heartbeat and was on the covered porch in seconds. There was only one obstacle left. The man who stayed with them, but patting the long, slim sheath at his waist, he would prove no problem. No problem at all.
Donning a pair of thin latex gloves he approached the back door. Checking the rotted wooden moldings around the lower right pane of glass he removed the blade from its sheath and proceeded to pry up the wood holding the pane in place. Carefully removing the wooden molding he felt the pane fall backward into his waiting hands. He laid the wood pieces and the glass carefully on a box next to the door. Reaching inside he found the thumb bolt and turned it. He reached down and turned the knob from the inside opening the door.
Inside his new home was a stairway leading to a darkened basement and a thin door to his right. Hearing nothing through the door he turned the knob slowly and it opened away from him. James LeBeck stepped into his new kitchen.
He closed the door behind him and walked over to the sink. Seeing the half-filled glass of cranberry juice he picked it up. Putting the glass to his lips he inhaled deeply imagining her lips pressed against the glass and then against his. He drank the juice and hung his head back, running his tongue over his lips, kissing her again. Replacing the glass he walked through a doorway that led into the living room. To his left was a hallway leading to the bedrooms. To his right stood a hutch that extended to the corner of the room and turned, playing along the wall to a sofa. A generic, single unit stereo system sat atop the hutch with small speakers at each end. The stereo was surrounded with pictures of the family and school, and baby pictures of Rina. James looked closely at the pictures. “She even went so far as to cut out my pictures.”
He viewed this news with mixed emotions. All just part of the plan he remembered, and studied the rest of the room to see what else was different.
In front of the sofa was a coffee table facing an entertainment center with a modest TV and VCR. Various outdated game systems adorned the inside of the center along with a game and videotape library. Bookcases, filled with books sat on opposite walls surrounding the front door. To the left of the front door, across the room, stood a desk cluttered with mail and other papers under window. He searched the mail, finding little else besides bills. Most of them overdue. “Just like always.” He snickered. “He still hasn’t gotten any better at that.”
Going down the hallway he encountered three bedrooms and a bathroom to his left. To the right of the bathroom was the master bedroom, empty, with the door open. The unmade bed beckoned him, the sheets in disarray. He entered the master bedroom and walked to the bed. James bent over and placed his face upon the pillow. The left side of the bed still smelled of her. Her body spray, her sweat. He moved his face along the bed and came upon the musky scent. The memory of her writhing beneath him assaulted him. Overcome by the bliss in his head he pressed his face in the mattress, his memory catching up with the very real scent he found. “I’ve got work to do.” He left the bedroom.
The middle bedroom in front of him and slightly to his right was closed. Directly to his right was an open bedroom. Rina’s room. Bunk beds sat at the far end, with the top bunk unmade and an assortment of stuffed animals took up residence on the made bottom bunk. A dresser to the right and a small desk, the exact size for a seven year old completed the furniture. Other children’s paraphernalia adorned the walls. Turning from Rina’s room toward the middle bedroom he pulled the blade from its jacket. With enthusiasm in his bloodshot eyes and a beastly grin splayed across his countenance he thought, ‘Now to do what I came to do’.
He slowly turned the knob and then launched himself through the door into the dimly lit room, aiming for the bed with the knife raised high above.
The place was empty. Empty? How? He had been watching the house since 2:00 A.M. Watched the intruder get home from work at 3:30 and Shannon took his car this morning. Where the hell was he?
The rumpled bed mocked him. Disheveled bedclothes giggled at his expense. The open closet to his left glared like an open maw and the silent TV on his right eyed him coldly.
XI. Thursday: 9:58 A.M.
Jace Imani sat on a park bench. His legs crossed at the ankles, head hanging back, and arms splayed out lengthwise across the back of the wooden bench. The walkman played a hip-hop tape and his hanging foot bumped along with the rhythm. His eyes, closed behind his sunglasses, dreamed of lost girlfriends and future conquests. Not a care in the world behind his eyes until a chill ran up his spine. Jerking his head up, he stared at the brilliant sun and surrounding soccer field. Jace looked around. Lying full under the blast of sunlight he saw nothing save two boys and a dog playing on the field. A crow flew from a tree branch, cawing into the piercing blue sky. Feeling suddenly vulnerable in the open he stood up. He grabbed the newspaper on the bench and headed across the field toward home. His light brown skin was full with the sun’s warmth and it eventually abated the chill. Walking across the field he watched as the chocolate brown Labrador jumped and caught the Frisbee in midair. The jubilant laughter of the two boys eased the moment from Jace’s memory. On the way home he settled on a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch and then a nap before work, the chill forgotten altogether.
XII. Thursday: 9:15 A.M.
Shannon Millney pulled into a visitor’s spot next to the squat, two storey, brick building housing Scorpion Publishing, INC. Exiting the car, she pocketed the keys and walked to the double glass doors. Entering the building, the air conditioning pushed the mounting heat back outside. Hilda, the receptionist was on the phone. She looked up and seeing Shannon waved, smiled, and held up a finger in a just-a-minute gesture. Shannon stood by patiently, looking around the reception area at nothing in particular. She hadn’t realized the fear mounting in the pit of her belly. Her stomach was knotting up. I could’ve just called she thought. This is the last place he was seen. Where the hell could he have gone? What am I doing here? He’s not here! Dammit! This line of questioning is getting me nowhere. Her reverie was interrupted by Hilda’s pleasant but stern voice. “Hello Shannon. Where is Bill? This is two days in a row he hasn’t shown up now. Mr. Hoffsteader is not pleased.” Hilda couldn’t have put more emphasis on the not if her life depended on it.
Shannon looked at the silver bun of hair piled atop Hilda’s head; the wire-rimmed glasses perched on the tip of her nose, and her lips barely visible in the thin line that was Hilda’s mouth. “I don’t know Hilda. That’s why I’m here.”
“You don’t know where your husband is?” Hilda asked, arching her eyebrows.
“No, I don’t Hilda.” Shannon matched Hilda’s tone. “I haven’t seen him since Tuesday morning.”
Hilda clipped back at her, “And what makes you think he’d be here?”
“We...” Shannon’s voice lowered, “Well, we had a fight and I went to work and . . . well now I’m looking for him.”
Hilda’s admonishing visage softened. She stood and came around from the desk. Laying an arm over Shannon’s shoulders she spoke in an apologetic tone, “I’m so sorry dear. I had no idea.”
“I appreciate that Hilda but I came to see Matty Hales. According to our roommate she was the last one to speak with him.”
“Matty is out today dear. She’ll be out the rest of the week.”
“I was wondering why she didn’t stop by this morning.”
“Yes. She left on a family vacation today.”
“Oh. Bill didn’t tell me. They car pool and he would’ve had to find alternate transportation.”
“Are you and Bill having . . . problems?” Hilda asked.
“I suppose so dear. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pried.”
“Forget it. When was the last you saw him?”
“Well let me think. I seem to recall him getting back from lunch about 2:00 on Tuesday. I believe that was it because I left about 3:30 that afternoon. I had a doctor’s appointment, you know how it is.” Hilda smiled in a sisterly way.
“Yeah. So you didn’t see him the rest of the afternoon?”
“No dear. I’m sorry I didn’t. Mr. Hoffsteader asked me to call Bill about 9:00 A.M. yesterday when he never showed up. Bill’s working on the Glockman Presentation and Mr. Hoffsteader wanted it by 10:30. I figured I’d give Bill till 9:30 and then call. Well, by that time...” She whispered conspiratorially, “I had forgotten completely about it with the sixty-eleven other things I do around here. Needless to say Mr. Hoffsteader wasn’t pleased come 10:30 and no Glockman write up and no Bill. He ranted and raved and then reassigned it to someone else. I told him when I called there was no answer.”
“There wouldn’t have been. Everyone’s normally gone by 8:30.”
“I hate to ask but could you be a doll and relay that to Mr. Hoffsteader please dearie?”
Shannon’s eyes narrowed at that. “Then I suppose I can see Mr. Hoffsteader right now!”
“Well, he’s busy now but if--”
Shannon shrugged off Hilda’s arm cutting her off mid-sentence. Marching through a doorway behind Hilda’s desk she entered a wide area of the building with a maze of cubicles. At the end of the hallway there was a closed door marked Jennon Hoffsteader, Chief Editor. She walked right through with Hilda on her heels.
The walls were covered with photographs depicting Jennon Hoffsteader with many distinguishing, high-ranking people. Presidents of companies, CEOs, CFOs, presidential hopefuls, senators, congress people. Many eminent officials from all walks of life. Performers, producers, directors, athletes, and many others. A rectangle conference table to her left was cluttered with thick manuscripts. At the far end of the room was a huge desk upon which sat mountainous volumes of manuscripts. In the valley between these piles, under a banker’s lamp sat a man well into his sixties. He exuded an aura of exuberance a man half his age would sell his soul for. At the intrusion to his office he looked up and saw a determined Shannon Millney. Behind her came Hilda, “Mr. Hoffsteader, I . . . “
Shannon slammed the door in Hilda’s face, once again cutting her off.
“I’m sorry to ram in here but I need to talk with you immediately about Bill.”
He closed the manuscript he had been reading. “You’d damn well better be sorry. I’m very busy and when you’re done you tell that sorry excuse for a husband of yours I’ve done all I can.” Shannon’s face fell, but was still surprised that he remembered her name. “I’ve overlooked his discrepancies in the past but this has gone on long enough. He has to get his act in gear. He’s a damn fine man and a hell of a worker but I can’t overlook this any longer. Now what do you want?”
Hoffsteader stood and walked to a wet bar situated to Shannon’s right looking every inch the elderly statesman right down to the watch chain in his vest. Straightening his silk tie he poured himself a tumbler of scotch. “Would you care for a bit?”
“No thank you Mr. Hoffsteader.”
“Very well then; what do you want?”
As Shannon opened her mouth to speak, Hilda’s voice came over the intercom, “Mr. Hoffsteader I . . . “
“Yes sir.” Hilda replied and the beep of a disconnection followed.
“Now Mrs. Millney. What do you want to talk to me about that is so urgent you bust in my office like a freight train?”
“Well, Mr. Hoffsteader it’s about Bill.” She took a deep breath and continued. “I haven’t seen him since Tuesday morning when I left for work. I think something may have happened to him. He’s not one to just vanish. Matty Hales was the last person to speak to him that I know of. I’m here to see if you know anything. I suspect you don’t but here was a good a place to start as any.”
“I’m sorry Mrs. Millney. I haven’t seen him since Tuesday either. I don’t know what you’d like me to do.”
“Bill’s always going on about how you know everybody. I was going to ask your help in finding him. I haven’t gone to the Police yet because they won’t do anything until seventy-two hours have passed. He’s only been gone for two days but well, I don’t know. Can you help me?”
“Mrs. Millney...” He walked over and leaned backward against his desk. Hooking one thumb into a vest pocket, he gestured to her with the scotch, “...if I were to play out a helping hand or confidante to every weeping wife whose husband had run out on them, I’d never get any work done.” Shannon couldn’t believe she was hearing this. “As it is, I’ve got to reassign his workload on an already overburdened staff. He hasn’t been that great an asset to my company. Like I said, I’ve overlooked his past discrepancies but I’m going to have to write this off as job abandonment.”
Shannon kept her voice as even as possible. “He wouldn’t abandon this job. He loves this job and has too much respect for you. More than I can see you deserve.”
“I would think, Mrs. Millney, he would’ve said the same thing about you.”
At that comment a dark cloud passed over her face. She clenched her hands into fists at her sides.”
“Mrs. Millney... Shannon... Allow me to apologize for that. I don’t always think about some things before--”
“You coarse, pompous, arrogant, mudslinging, SON-OF-A-BITCH!” Shannon yelled as she flung open the door so fast it slammed against the wall jarring some photos and knocking others off their hooks. The sound of breaking glass did little to soothe her anger. As she stormed through the main room into the lobby, faces looked up and stared as she passed and then glanced back to Mr. Hoffsteader standing there, mouth open, his drink forgotten in his tumbler.
Passing the reception area, “Shannon, I . . . “
“Fuck you Hilda!”
XIII. Thursday: 10:13 A.M.
Jace unlocked the front door and entered the living room. Dropping his keys on the desk to this right he kicked the door shut behind him and dropped the newspaper on the coffee table. He walked to the stereo and turned it on. Pushing one of the programmed buttons he found his radio station and a Snoop Dogg song erupted from the speakers. Singing with the lyrics Jace ambled into the kitchen and prepared his lunch. Carrying his sandwich he picked up the paper and went to his bedroom. He laid the sandwich on the bed and made for the window.
The front door opened and he listened to footsteps. The jangle of keys perked his anticipation. But the jarring racket of rap music curdled his senses. He gritted his teeth and clutched the dagger tightly. His eyes narrowed to beady points of cruelty as he crouched in the closet. He heard little over the discord of notes coming from the stereo, save his own quickening of breath. Seconds crawled into minutes and minutes into days as he sweated under the jungle of clothes draped above him. His tight fisted grip on the weapon was rewarded with the bedroom door creaking open. He peeked from the confines of the closet and Jace’s back was to him. “Perfect!” The music was unimpeded without the buffer of wall but it covered his exit from the closet.
Reaching for the blinds he felt a hand cover his mouth and nose and bend his head backward exposing his neck. Widening his eyes, Jace reached for the hand cutting off his air supply. He froze when he felt the icy steel mark the tender flesh under his left ear and a meaty cushion of humid breath smear itself against his right cheek. The blade punctured his throat, slipping across his neck. With a sharp intake of breath he heard his windpipe whistle. First time I ever whistled ran through his mind as his world went dark.
James flung open his arms in rejoice and couldn’t stifle his shrill giggle as the lifeless body slumped to the floor. Blood spattered the blinds and walls in a fine mist and a jet shot from Jace’s neck when his head bounced on the floor. Stepping away from the widening puddle he picked up the corner of a sheet and wiped the blade clean before returning it to the sheath. James walked into the bathroom and rinsed off his blood speckled, gloved hand. He moved back into Jace’s room, lifted the sandwich and walked out, closing the door behind him. He stood looking at the stereo, chewing thoughtfully.
“Now, we’ll never have to listen to this shit again.” And he hit another program button bringing up a rock-and-roll station playing a new Aerosmith song. “That’s better; just like it used to be.”
James opened the door leading into the basement and stepped onto the back porch. Laying the sandwich on the box, he carefully replaced the pane of glass with the moldings. Locking the door he closed it behind him and crossed his backyard to the fence smiling all the way. “Two down. Soon all will be as it should.”