This is the prologue for the second book in this series.
April 20th, 2014 (4:17 AM)
The Shadow turned slowly in the dark to look back upon the house he had just escaped. He flinched as he held the wound in his lower back where a blade had just been removed, a blade belonging to Detective Logan Matheson. The house was silent but he knew the scene that had unfolded within just moments ago. He had not expected Logan to have a knife or the strength to untie one of his bonds and fight back. It was a night filled with unexpected things, for both men.
For a moment The Shadow closed his eyes, breathed in deep and released. The night was quiet. Not a bird chirped, not a single car in the distance, not a wild forest creature stirring... nothing but the slight whistle of the late night's breeze entered his mind. He let his mind replay every detail of the night, every move made and every piece he left behind. He was searching for any mistakes that could be used as evidence against him.
When he was sure that everything was in place he turned away from the house and continued his walk into the woods. The lights from the nearby street lights began to fade as he made his way deeper into the trees. Before the woods turned black he turned for one final look at the house and whispered to the night...
I will see you again soon, my old friend.
May 4th, 2015
The morning air was crisp even for the month of May. Of course, he should have expected the difference in temperature at 9,000 feet. Sharp Mountain, Montana was where he found the setting for his next testing of Detective Matheson. As the steam rolled from his coffee mug and he stared out over the vast mountain range he thought about how he had found such a perfect place.
The cabin had once belonged to a man named Franklin Cartwright. Fine gentleman from what The Shadow could attain. He had met him in a small town called Dillon. The town was in Montana and The Shadow had stumbled into town while fleeing the events that had occurred in Colorado. At the time he was unsure of his destination, however he was certain he needed a discreet location in the mountains to set the terms for his future.
He had hitched rides thus far and had decided to stop in Dillon in order to grab something to eat. Between that mindset and the fact that the trucker he had been riding with was stopping made up his decision for him.
While he was sitting in a small diner aptly named "Dillon Diner", a man approached him and sat in the chair across from his table.
"The names Franklin Cartwright, sir; I don't suppose you would mind some company for dinner on this night would you now?"
The initial thought that came into The Shadows mind was that this town seemed to be obsessed with its own name and that the irony was getting rather thick around him. After that moment passed he started to assess Mr. Cartwright. The man was very large in diameter, presumably from years of unhealthy eating as a trucker. He had a beard to rival that of ZZ Top and hair, slightly wavy and blonde that crept passed his broad shoulders. The smile the man wore and the way he carried himself told The Shadow that this man was one to talk a lot and without a filter.
"No Mr. Cartwright, I do not mind your company at all on such a night," a momentary pause to decide his new name, "the name is Jackson... Jackson Walker, but my friends all call me Jack." The corner of The Shadow's mouth turned up slightly in a smirk at the thought of using such a first name. A momentary flash of Colorado came into his mind.
"Well then," Franklins hand came across the table, seeking a shake of greeting, "Jack it is a pleasure to meet you." Jackson, as he was now being known as, obliged the man with a firm shake in return and a grin.
"The pleasure is all mine, so what brings you to the mighty community of Dillon, Mr. Cartwright?" Jackson was watching the man closely to judge for honesty, weaknesses and anything else that he could use to his advantage if needed.
"Oh hell, I come down from the mountains about four times a year I suppose. Sell any furs I have gathered and use the money to buy any supplies I may need." The man was speaking in passing as he thumbed through the menu, trying to decide what he wished to eat. "This has been a good quarter out at the cabin and I had quite a few things to sell. Figured I better come into the diner here for one of the few meals I have in a year that I did not catch and cook."
Jackson was taken aback a bit at how far off his presumptions about this man were. Although looking at the man more thoroughly now, after knowing what he did, he noticed the calluses on his hands from handling a wood ax and the shallow scars on his fingers from years of cleaning fish or skinning wild animals. It was all falling into line now. It was at this time that Jackson had a marvelous memory come into his mind.
"That is a fascinating life you must live, Mr. Cartwright..."
"Damn it Jack, enough with that Mr. Cartwright bullshit... just call me Franklin." The words were said with great volume yet lacking completely in anger. Mr. Cartwright seemed to be a rather jolly man... a rather trusting man.
"Franklin, you seem to live one hell of a good life. So how far away is this cabin of yours?" Mr. Cartwright seemed more than happy to explain everything about himself as he spewed into a tale about how his grandfather had built the cabin to escape WWI and it has been handed down from his dad's dad down to him. It sounded as if the area was half the distance between the summit of Sharp Mountain and the base of Lake Waukena.
"Hey Misty, how have you been young lady?" The waitress had approached without Jackson noticing. He had been lost in thought about the cabin location and the story that Franklin had been telling. He was beginning to find this man more interesting with every word.
"Franklin you old scoundrel," Jackson could tell from their interaction that the two knew each other well, "finally came back down from the mountains for some social time, I see."
"Yeah it was that time of year. The winter wasn't too bad this year and I was able to do quite well for myself. Just came down again to sell some things, buy some supplies and of course come see my favorite waitress in the entire world." Jackson noticed that the young woman blushed at the compliment. Normally the woman would be emotionally blank with many of the rowdy truckers that she had served in her time, but this was different. Jackson thought he even sensed a small bit of adoration for the man from Misty.
Despite her using the term "old" and him using the term "young" as descriptions, Jackson felt that they looked very similar in age, likely within a handful of years at most. While he was thinking of the ages and interactions of his new acquaintances, he must have been introduced to Misty by Franklin because when he came back to reality they were both looking at him and her hand was outstretched.
"Oh, terribly sorry about that; just a little weary from traveling; it is very nice to meet you Misty." He took her hand and shook it much lighter than he had with Franklin.
"Has Franklin been filling your head full of nonsense about how amazing this area is and such? Don't listen to a word of it Jackson, the only thing good about this god forsaken town is the prime rib sandwiches on that menu you're holding there." Her finger pointed to the menu that Jackson was holding briefly before pulling it away and placing it lightly on Franklin's shoulder. "So what will it be gentlemen?"
Franklin ordered the prime rib sandwich and after hearing Misty talk so highly of it, Jackson did the same. To his delight she was not exaggerating. The sandwich was truly delicious and by the time his plate was clean Jackson was beyond full.
The conversation with Franklin continued over coffee and Jackson explained that he had inherited some money from a death in the family and wanted to get away from the city. His roots were in Chicago but the city life was never for him. He had always found that the best way to tell a lie is to leave just over half of it as truth. He stated that he was traveling to the remote areas of Montana to get a feel for what he may truly enjoy and that this was his first stop along the way. Franklin hung on every word and Jackson could tell as his story was coming to an end that his new friend was anxious to chime in.
"Well Jackson I think you may have hit the jackpot this evening." The man was smiling from ear to ear and seemed to not be able to speak the words quick enough. "I happen to hold myself as an excellent judge of character and you have been judged as an outstanding person in my book." A small flicker of laughter sparked in Jacksons mind. "That being said I have about as remote a place as you will find anywhere in the Rockies and also boast plenty of room to house a guest. I will admit that the company would be nice as well." Franklin once again put his hand out for a shake on the upcoming offer. "So what do you say, Jackson? How would you like to come stay with me for a time to get that feel for the wilderness that you seek?"
Jackson smiled, stuck out his hand and they shook on it. He thanked Franklin for what he was doing and they finished their coffee. They left the diner, Jackson threw his bag in the back of Franklin's truck and they headed out of town to the North. As they rode Jackson, as he was being called now glanced at his driver with a small smirk and then looked around as the mountains and trees flew by them. This was taking a turn for the better that he had not expected. This was going to be a great start.
Jackson took another sip of his coffee as he stared out into the wilderness. Franklin was right in saying that his cabin was remote. From town they drove nearly an hour on a single lane road until they reached a shed at the end of the road. Franklin had pulled the truck into the shed after unlocking the sliding door which revealed to Jackson two snowmobiles, two ATV's and a trailer small enough to be pulled by any of the vehicles yet large enough to haul numerous items from the mountains.
Franklin explained that throughout the summer the ATV's could make it to the cabin without any issues however in the winter it was only snowmobile access. The reason for more than one was basically backup in case the other wouldn't run. They had jumped on the ATV's and rode for seven miles before they reached the shores of Lake Waukena. Jackson thought the area was amazing and across the lake on the side of the mountain he could just make out where the cabin was located.
From the porch with his cup in hand Jackson could see the lake below. The water was smooth as glass while the night's shadows retreated along its surface while the morning's sun rose slowly over the mountains. May was a wonderful month at this elevation. The morning was cool and the morning dew was light.
He let out a heavy sigh and turned back into the cabin, leaving the door open behind him to allow the fresh air in. When he sat down at a desk he pulled out a piece of fine parchment from the sliding drawer and tested his pen on some scrap note cards he had placed on the desk earlier. For a moment, before he began writing, he thought about Colorado while staring off into a world long passed. He looked back at the parchment and began his letter.
Jackson wrote for a while, reread what he had written, threw it away and started over. This happened multiple times until mid-morning when he felt he finally worded everything precisely the way it needed to be written. He took a moment to stare at his masterpiece before folding it into thirds and carefully placing it within its envelope. Centered along the front of the envelope he carefully wrote Logan's name.
Once that was completed he slid the envelope into a paper bag next to a plastic container that held the eyes of a Mr. Jack Wildes. He looked into the bag for a moment before realizing what he was forgetting. He stood from his desk and walked over to a coffee table that was hand-made from a couple local pines that Franklin had cut himself and finished. On the top of the table was the mask he had worn in Colorado. He grabbed the mask and held it up in front of him for a while. He was still proud of its authenticity. He walked over to the bag and sat the mask within next to the other two items.
He stood for a moment thinking if there was anything else that needed to be done. As he was thinking his thoughts were broken abruptly by the sounds of a man screaming into a gag the room down the hall. Jackson walked slowly down the hall, agitation beginning to show on his face and opened the door to the room.
The windows in the room had been painted over and only a red light in the corner of the room gave any light. It filled the room with a blood-like glow. Along the sides of the bed were trays of which you would find in an operating room. They were at waist level and filled with varying saws, knives, needles and other equipment used for inflicting pain. Lying on the bed was Franklin, held by numerous restraints and a visible needle was in his arm and being fed by a bag next to the bed that was labeled Galantamine. His body was thin and his ribs were showing sharp along his shirtless body.
"Now what in the world could be bothering you at this time of day?" The question was asked in a rhetorical manner of course. "I take care of you all day every day and in return all you give me are screams and tears. I say my friend, bad show on your part."
As Jackson approached the bed his eyes scanned the jars that were placed neatly along a shelf that ran above the headboard. In each jar was a varying part of his friend Franklin. Both hands were removed first, that was months ago. He was not going to have a repeat of Colorado. Toes, a knee cap, both ears and one eye filled the rest of the jars. When he was beside the bed he placed the back of his hand amongst Franklin's forehead as a mother would her child when checking their temperature.
"Hmmm, it seems you have a fever this morning. What can we do to remedy this unfortunate situation?" He started grabbing random tools from atop the table, examining them closely then returning them to their place. Each time that he picked one up more desperate screams tried to escape from behind the gag worn by Franklin. He finally rested his fingers along the shiny silver handle and lifted it from the table.
A smile spread across his face as he examined the blade that was attached to that handle. An eight inch long, double-sided saw blade reflected the red light of the room and on to Jackson's already sinister facial features.
"Yes, here we are." He turned toward Franklin whom was frantically trying to get out of his bonds without success. Jackson leaned forward placing the blade lightly upon Franklin's bared stomach.
"Franklin my old friend, you have been more useful to me than you may ever imagine and for that I am thankful to you." Directly following these words a most evil smile spread across Jacksons lips. Franklin stared up at the man fearing what he would do.
"That being said, I think this will be our final experiment together." He slid the blade slowly up Franklin's torso, over his chest until it rested upon his throat. The blade felt ice cold against his skin. "Sleep well my friend, and again... thank you."
With that Jackson pushed and pulled the blade with all of his strength along the man's throat. The warmth of blood upon his hand was comforting and familiar to him. As he sawed Franklin's one eye stared up at him. The first few strokes it was open full, terror-filled and shaking but as he continued cutting, its lids became heavy, its pupils lifeless and eventually they rolled back into his head and Franklin was no more.
The door to the red room closed with a click due to the pressure change in the home with the front door being left open earlier that morning. The smell of pine sat heavy in the air and echoing from somewhere unknown... the faint sounds of a distant pocket watch counting the seconds.
Tick Tick Tick