The saga of John Livingston Harvard continues as he recovers from the wounds inflicted upon him by the Coeptus Guild thugs. Physically, he's back to normal, better than normal actually, pushing his physical training to the limits as he struggles with his failure to save Emily and come to grips with the moral conundrum left him by Gregory Harris. Is there really no difference between two men who kill, regardless of their reasons? Are they really cut from the same cloth? He finds that the only way he can sleep is to train until he is exhausted and when he's not pushing himself, he is at the firing range, always thinking of the next time. Slowly, day by day, John, much to the dismay of Sue, the woman who is living with him as he recovers, is transforming himself into a lethal killing machine.
Whether he's ready or not doesn't really matter as his best friend, Chief Nick Giovanni, approaches him with his own problem. Two bodies have been discovered and though they were far apart, Nick feels that they may be related... and they may involve the Guild. Unfortunately both men have first hand knowledge of how the deadly group has a history of placing their own members into police departments and government. It's a matter of trust and if the Guild is involved, it almost certainly will involve John and Nick. Events move quickly, with their worst fears coming to fruition. John suddenly finds that he has little time to put the Twisted Pieces of the puzzle together as he realizes that all that are dear to him are in mortal peril.
The power from the massive 766 cubic inch engine reverberated throughout the cabin. The operator of the colossal machine, that weighed in right around 32,000 pounds, sat in a comfortable chair, surrounded by a bank of video and computer monitors. Rows of gauges reflected information gathered from a variety of sensors, measuring such things as speed, ground clearance, flow rate, and every other bit of data the operator would need to perform his task. He didn’t even have to steer if he didn’t want to. A cutting edge GPS, or Global Positioning System, could do that with far greater accuracy than a mere mortal. With the mundane tasks being handled by circuit boards and sensors, the operator could concentrate on more important matters such as which song he should play next through his equally powerful and sophisticated sound system.
Danny Forrester was ensconced in the climate controlled, glass encased control center of his combine tractor, snapping up rows of corn faster than a contestant at the local hot dog eating contest that was held each year at the county fair. He sat, listening to music and enjoying the scenery, while the machine worked its way tirelessly through the unending rows. Danny was a farmer, as was his Daddy, as was his Daddy before that, as was his Daddy before that, and so forth.
The Forrester's had been farming this land since Thomas Forrester had received a land grant for his service with the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. Danny’s son, Todd, would almost certainly do the same. Danny was young, only twenty-three, but his father had died of a heart attack last year and he inherited the ancestral land much earlier than he normally would have. Fortunately, the Forrester’s were very successful in their business and they had little problem dealing with the exorbitant estate taxes that caused many farmers to lose the land that had been in their families for generations.
He liked the work. It was peaceful, rewarding, and he dearly loved the land. He could not dream of doing anything else and took all of the hard work and the pitfalls of the job in stride. The only thing that really bothered him was the wanton destruction of his crops, and he was seeing signs of that right now. Off in the distance, but getting closer with each pass, was an obvious path through the corn to the approximate center of this particular field. Obviously, someone had driven a car from the road right through Danny Forrester’s corn field and into the middle. There was a large blank space in the corn at the end of the path as well.
Danny had seen it before, too many times for his liking. A group of kids looking for someplace to party, safe from the prying eyes of cops and other adults. Or perhaps some lovers who also wanted to be safe from the searching eyes of cops, other adults, and in some cases, spouses. Whatever the reason, the results were the same.
As the combine got nearer on every successive pass, he looked closer at the damaged area. The downed corn had been young when the destruction occurred, so whatever had happened here had happened some time ago, obviously months earlier. Danny had gotten his crops planted early this year, dangerously early, and a cold spell nearly ruined his efforts. This vandalism had to have been done shortly after planting. One area in the center of the field looked particularly barren. That was strange. He wondered what had been done there to cause that. Bonfire perhaps? One more pass and he would be over it. He looked straight down from his lofty perch on the last roll by and noticed something that glinted in the sunlight, a sudden, bright flash, then it was gone. ‘Probably a beer can,’ he thought. Still, there was something about the way the sun reflected off the object that didn’t set right with him. The flash appeared too tiny, too bright to be cast from something as coarse as aluminum.
The big machine turned around at the end of the field and started chomping its way back, heading directly for the barren patch. Just before it got there, Danny stopped the machine and clambered down the ladder to the ground. He walked over to the area in question and stood, looking around for the object that had caught his eye. He didn’t see anything, so he ventured further in. The ground was crusty from a massive amount of rain a few days back and it crunched as he walked.
There! Something caught his eye again. He walked closer to it. It looked like a wedding ring, a huge one at that, attached to a stick. He bent closer and picked it up.
Like most farmers, Danny was a hunter. He had hunted for as long as he could remember, as long as he could walk, he supposed. He’d seen lots of bones, old and new, in the woods and the fields that surrounded his home. As soon as he picked up the ring and the “stick,” he quickly saw it was not what he had at first thought. It was the bone from a human finger.
In shock and disgust, he half dropped and half threw them away as if they were red hot. Eyes wide and heart pounding, he looked down and saw what appeared to be the top of a human skull protruding slightly from the ground.
Danny Forrester didn’t see anything else. He was too busy running back to his combine with all the speed he could muster. He went up the ladder with a bound that would have made any Olympic broad jumper proud. He tore open the cabin door, reached for his cell phone, and dialed 911. He guessed that his corn was about to get more messed up than ever.
v v v
John Livingston Harvard was sweating profusely. He was on his fourth lap around the small body of water upon which his house sat. There weren’t many homes on the lake, which meant that the majority of his run was on rough, natural terrain. He was forty-five years in age, but with a body of a thirty year old, just over six feet tall and built like a running back. Big, but full of speed and muscle. His hair was dark and full, in a Reaganesque fashion. He’d been athletic all his life, with the usual bouts of laziness that caused his stomach to expand into the typical middle age pouch.
Every couple of years or so, he’d get sick of looking at himself in the mirror and start a workout regime to make himself respectable again. Only this time, it was for a different reason. He’d had a little “run in” this last spring that had required him to defend himself, as well as some other folks. Though he’d put up a respectable showing, he’d promised himself that he would get back into shape as soon as that little episode was finished.
Of course, he’d run into a bit of a snag on that. That snag being that he’d been shot and cut with a knife to the point that he had been in a coma for several days. He couldn’t decide which had been worse, the bullet wounds to his head, arms, and legs, his broken ribs, the knife slice to his calf, or all the laying around he had done while he was recuperating.
So now he was running... running... running, punctuated by kata’s, martial art movements designed to build and maintain speed, flexibility, strength, and timing. He’d done a lot of them, as well. Next time he wanted to be ready, though in reality, he thought the odds of that happening were slim to none.
What John Harvard refused to admit to himself was that he was getting in shape not so much to be ready for the next time, but because he felt guilty that he hadn’t been able to save Her. She kept coming back to him in his dreams. What compounded the problem was the fact that when she came to him in his dreams, she didn’t blame him for not saving her. On the contrary, that may have been easier to deal with. Instead, she apologized! “I’m sorry,” was all she would say before she would fade away into dreamland once again. That only made things worse. Had she betrayed him? Yes. But there had been special circumstances and in the end, she had given her life to save his. She didn’t deserve to die. So, he was running away from the memory of Her, and run, he did.
That said, it wasn’t the whole story. There had been the man who had killed Her. A cold blooded killer, an ex-special forces soldier who had accused John of being no different than himself. The only difference being, the assassin had said, was that John had chosen one side of the thin blue line that marked the good guys, while he, Gregory Harris, had chosen the other side. Killing, Harris informed him with a sadistic smile, was just as pleasurable to John as it was to him.
In the end, John had, in fact, killed Harris, violently, viciously, and not with a remote, dispassionate bullet, using instead a knife. Up close and personal and true to Harris’ insights, he took great pleasure in doing it, because Harris had killed Her. He had been extremely angry at Harris. He wanted to kill him. But he hadn’t made some wild, vengeful attack. No, he had turned that anger into speed and ruthless efficiency. John consoled himself with the knowledge that he had killed to save himself and others. Hadn’t he? It was only the adrenaline rush of combat that had made it seem so pleasurable. Wasn’t it? He took a life merely to prevent the death of others so the pleasure he had felt in seeing Harris die didn’t really count. Did it?
As Harris lay in the ever widening pool of his life’s blood, he looked up at John, mustered his remaining strength, smiled, and croaked feebly, “I told you.” He died then, still smiling, content with the knowledge that he had left John with a moral conundrum. Had Harris been right? Was there actually no real difference between men who killed for their own purposes and the men who in turn killed them? Both killed. And in the end, at least in this instance, both had taken great pleasure in their victory.
John knew it was an age old philosophical question. One that he had thought he had come to terms with a long time ago as a rookie cop. But that was before Her, before Harris. Now it went beyond theoretical discussions amongst priests and scholars. Now, it was personal.
So he ran. So he worked out to the point of exhaustion so that he could, at least temporarily, sleep and flee his demons.
v v v
Susan Browning was watching John from the deck of his home. She was a slender woman, with long brown wavy hair, and green eyes. She had never been married and even though she had just turned forty, neither of those facts bothered her in the least. Nor should they have. Susan was one of those women whose looks seemed to get better with age, like a fine wine, as the man who she was currently watching would have said. As far as marriage was concerned, she hadn’t minded being single, but John Livingston Harvard was changing that notion.
John’s daughter, Mary Kate, was sleeping uncharacteristically late and Susan was taking advantage of that circumstance by drinking her coffee on the deck and watching him as he glided over the wooded terrain. His movements were quick, natural, and he reminded her of a deer moving gracefully through its unrefined environment. She had seen firsthand how well he blended into a wooded setting such as the one in which he now ran. And quite unlike a deer, how deadly.
He was a driven man, but a tormented one. She’d heard his restless, muted, cries in the dark. She had stood at his bedroom door in the middle of the night and watched as he tossed and turned and valiantly fought the fiends that had besieged him since that day at the cabin. She wanted to help him but knew that in reality, there was little she could do.
She could only be there for him if he wanted to talk about it, which he rarely did. At times, she wanted to crawl into bed with him. To hold him. To comfort him. However, she also knew that would not work right now. They didn’t have that kind of relationship… yet. For now, she was merely a guest at his home. She hoped that would change one day, one day soon.
Susan was a programmer and she had developed the ultimate hacking program. She hadn’t done it for personal gain. There was a word for what she had become, ‘Hacktivist.’ The word is a combination of two well known words. “Hacker,” which everyone knows is a computer geek that breaks into computers. And “Activist,” which everyone knows is someone who is trying to bring about a political or social change. Hacktivist is a new word in the English dictionary. Oxford has one of the most blunt and to the point definitions, “A person who uses computer crimes to further social or political ends.”
She had committed no real crime and the only social change that Susan had attempted to bring about was an end to hacking. It enraged her to think of how a few bad people had hijacked something as awe inspiring as a computer and the internet and had turned them into a source of fear and mistrust. She decided to do something about it.
With that goal in mind, she had created the ultimate hacking program. She had done this with the logic that if she could fashion the absolute best, most devious program ever devised, then create a program that could defeat it, she would give it away and screw all the hackers. Unfortunately, it hadn’t worked out quite the way she had planned.
In her obsession with the technical aspects, she hadn’t stopped to think just how dangerous the hacking part of her program could be in the wrong hands. As is the normal way with the world, the “wrong hands,” had indeed discovered her program and had kidnapped her in order to force her to give it to them. Unbeknownst to her, her estranged father had discovered the plot and had hired John Harvard to get her back.
Actually, there had been a lot more to it than that but suffice it to say, John succeeded in finding her and her captors in a remote northern cabin. There had been gunplay and a terrible fight in which all of her captors had been killed.
He had survived that initial onslaught, only to be viciously cut down by the Deputy Chief of his old police department, who it turned out, had actually worked for her captors as well. Only the fortuitous intervention by Nick Giovanni, one of John’s police pals, had saved his life.
The other casualty that day had been Emily Stone, a gifted programmer in her own right. She had worked for Peter, Susan’s father, and had been supposedly helping John find Susan. What John didn’t know was that Emily had actually been working for the kidnappers, albeit at that point, not willingly. In the end, she had given her own life in a successful attempt to prevent Gregory Harris from shooting John.
What brought him to his present, demon filled condition, was that he and Emily had, in the short time they had known one another, become lovers in the truest sense of the word. John had talked about it enough for Susan to know that Emily had come to him, still came to him, in his dreams, to tell him she was sorry for her betrayal. And that, somehow, made it even worse for him.
After being flown out of the woods that day by a medical helicopter, John had spent days in the hospital in a coma. No one, not even the doctors, would venture a guess as to his survival. During those times, Susan sat by his side day and night. At first, she felt beholden to him for having saved her. Then she started to recall the look of regret he had given her when it had appeared that he had failed in his mission to rescue her. He had been ordered to his knees at gun point by Harris and as he dropped down in compliance, he looked up at her, their eyes met. She didn’t see fear in them. She saw compassion for her and regret that he’d been unable to save her. In the twinkling of an eye, she knew that this was a worthy, strong, dependable man and she had to try and help him.
During the dreadful time when they didn’t know when, or if, he would come out of his coma, she had listened as his friends came to his room and laughed as they talked about him and his exploits. She started to learn just what a special man he really was. Mary Kate, his daughter, loved him unconditionally, and to Susan, that in itself said something about him. By the time John had awakened from his deep sleep, she was starting to have some definite feelings for him that had nothing to do with his role as rescuer.
She had come home with him from the hospital to help while he recuperated, mostly out of a feeling that she owed him something. He had saved her life, almost at the expense of his own. However, that didn’t explain it all. She had never known a man like John Harvard. He was strong, always wanting to help others, and he expected nothing in return. His quiet, assured demeanor reminded her of some character out of a John Wayne movie.
She had felt a powerful animal magnetism toward him almost the instant they’d met. Of course she realized, her feelings might have had something to do with the fact that John had just shot dead two of her captors and had been in the process of calmly planning their next move to facilitate her escape. Shortly after, he had been captured by Harris. When her eyes had locked with his during that brief moment while he was on his knees, his capable aura had descended upon her and quelled the panic that she had been vainly attempting to fight off up to that point. She had made up her mind right then and there that she would save John Harvard or die trying. Though he didn’t know it, he then had the assistance of two very capable women who would try to save him that day. A wistful smile came across her face. Between her, Emily, and John himself, Gregory Harris never had a chance. Special Forces training be damned!
After she had moved in to help while John recuperated, she began to know him in ways that two people can’t learn unless they are living together. She watched as he interacted with his daughter and others in is life. All of this did nothing but deepen her respect and her feelings for him. Now, she was ready to love him. But she needed some sign that he was willing to accept that love. He didn’t need her help anymore and she dreaded the day when he would ask her to leave. He never did and though she had come close to bringing up the subject, she always backed down at the last moment for fear of what he would say.
She didn’t want to breach the wall that John had built around himself. She wanted him to take it down of his own accord and intuitively, she also knew that would take time. Time for his feelings for Emily and his guilt over having failed to save her to fade. Time for him to come to terms with the moral dilemma that Harris had burdened him with. Just... Time.
v v v
Harold and Jenny Watson were both a spry seventy-one years old. They lived in town, had all their lives in fact. They had known each other since grade school and had been high school sweethearts. He had gone to the local junior college and had become a heating and air conditioning specialist. He built a small company of eight employees, which was successful and provided a generous income for the Watson family. It was now run by one of their three sons. Their one daughter worked there as a secretary.
Jenny had been a school teacher, a profession that she had temporarily given up to raise their family, but as soon as they were old enough, she returned to her beloved occupation. Now, both were in a thoroughly enjoyable retirement. They were as much in love now as they were the day they had gotten married.
Harold and Jenny had a not so secret passion: mushrooms! During the mushroom season, they were rarely at home. They could be found combing the woods for their little prizes. Dark areas with undisturbed, rotted logs, were the best and they would walk for hours in their quest, which explained their excellent health.
Be that as it may, their family insisted that they carry a cell phone with them on their daily treks, in case one of them should fall and sprain an ankle, so their family said. But all knew the real reason. They were prime age for a heart attack. Therefore, they carried it, but never used it, and everyone knew not to call unless it was a dire emergency. That emergency had never come because everyone also knew that calling could bring the possible onset of one of Harold’s infamous tirades, which were rare but nonetheless loud and quite prolonged. So, they were left to themselves, together and happy as they enjoyed the peacefulness of the woods.
On this particular day, they were intent on working their way around a large raspberry patch, attempting to get to a group of rotted logs they had spotted at the bottom of a ravine. Jenny announced that when they got there, she wanted to stop and have lunch. Harold was feeling a bit hungry, so he agreed. When they arrived, he removed his pack and Jenny began to go through it, spreading out a blanket for them to sit on, removing their meal and placing napkins at each place setting. Just because they were in the woods didn’t mean they had to eat like cave people, she would say. Harold decided to take a quick look at the logs as Jenny went on with her preparations, which included a cup of red wine for each. He was looking forward to that.
He moved over to the logs and immediately spotted a group of beautiful mushrooms, just asking to be collected. It was going to be worth the strenuous work it took to get here. He was just turning away when he spotted something colorful a few logs away. Blue. What on earth is that strange hue of blue in the woods? Nothing! That’s what. Nothing natural anyway.
He decided to move closer and see what it was. They were pretty far away from where the average person would normally hike, too far for the usual trash they sometimes encountered on their travels. As he got closer, he could see that the blue object was really the arm of a shirt. ‘That’s odd.’ he thought.
Closer still, and he could make out that it wasn’t just a sleeve, but an entire shirt. After climbing over a particularly large log, he was able to look down at the shirt.
Meanwhile, Jenny had completed her task and was a little irked when she saw Harold working his way over the logs, still going away from her. “Harold,” she yelled, “It’s time to eat some lunch. I thought you said you were hungry!”
Harold didn’t answer her. Instead, he stood looking down at the ground. ‘How could he not hear me?’ she wondered. “Harold! Are you going to answer me? Come on over here so we can eat. We’ll get the mushrooms later.”
Harold still didn’t answer, but he did turn and look at her. His face was pale and he didn’t look good at all.
Jenny shot to her feet. “Sweetheart! Are you alright?” ‘My God,’ she thought, ‘Is he having a heart attack?’ She began to move toward him.
He held up his hand. “Stay there!” he commanded. “Call the police. Call them now, Jenny.”
She was confused. “Why? What’s wrong?”
She stared in shock and disbelief at his answer. “There’s someone here, Jen. It’s a body. A dead body.”
Susan Browning was once again sitting on the deck of John Harvard’s home as he ran his laps around the lake. Only this time, she was reading the paper while she sipped her coffee. The mornings were getting cooler and the hot coffee felt good as she felt it working its way through her torso.
They had found another body, not far from here. That was two in the last week. Both had been dead a while, most likely sometime last spring. The paper also said that one was a man and the other a woman. They were found miles apart and other than that, the police knew nothing. They had identified neither body and they didn’t know if they were related killings. There was no mention of a cause of death.
The papers were all concerned about whether or not they had a serial killer on the loose. The police representative said it was far too early to be jumping to that conclusion, which, Susan thought, was probably quite correct. John had shown her a new perspective in the past few months which brought with it a thorough distrust of the news media.
John had related story after story of incidents he had seen and heard through the media that had involved him directly. Many times, he wondered if they were reporting on the same event that he’d been at. It hadn’t seemed like it.
Before she met him, she had pretty much taken everything that came from the news at face value. Why would they lie? She learned from John that usually it wasn’t so much a case of outright lying as it was a case of slanting the facts to sell more papers. In this case, what was more interesting and would therefore sell more papers? Two dead bodies located miles apart with no connection, or a serial killer on the loose, possibly getting ready to kill again? The answer was obvious.
She was just putting down the paper when the doorbell rang. ‘Who on earth would be here at this hour of the morning?’ she thought. She hoped the sound wouldn’t wake up Mary Kate.
She walked to the front and looked out a window. A familiar form, carrying a brief case, smiled and waved at her. She smiled back and went to open the door. Nick Giovanni walked in and gave her a big hug. “How are you doing, Sue?” he asked.
She hugged back. “I’m fine. What’s happening over by your way? You involved with those bodies they found?”
The smile faded from his face. “Well, sort of. That’s kind of why I’m here. I need to talk to John.”
Susan’s smile also drifted away at this news. Nick Giovanni was John’s ex-partner at the police department. They had remained fast friends even though John hadn’t worked there in years. It was Nick who had called in the state S.W.A.T. team last spring and saved John from an untimely end. When Deputy Chief Ramsey had been shot by a police sniper while trying to kill a then helpless John, the whole ugly mess of Ramsey’s involvement had come to light. The chief was asked to step down because of the political backlash and Captain Giovanni had been fingered to replace him. He was now known to most people as “Chief Giovanni,” but to John and Susan, he was just “Nick.” To Mary Kate, he was “Uncle Nick.”
She stepped away and said, “He’s out running right now. He should be done soon. Let’s go out on the deck and wait. Would you like some coffee?”
“Please.” he replied as he walked through the house and onto the deck. Susan joined him a moment later and handed him his cup. They stood by the railing and he soon spotted his friend through the trees, watching him as he ran.
“How’s he doing?” he asked somberly, without taking his eyes off John.
“Better, I think. He’s starting to lighten up a little, starting to laugh, and more importantly, starting to talk. But he spends little time just enjoying himself. If he’s not helping me around the house or paying attention to Mary Kate, he’s out running or doing kung fu stuff or whatever it is.”
“Or he’s down at the shooting range,” finished Nick. He turned and looked at her. “I talked to the range master the other day. Other than the fact that John is one of the best combat shots he’s ever seen, he’s a little worried about his targeting.”
“Targeting?” she asked with a quizzical look.
“Yeah. As you probably know, the targets we use are in a human form. You’re suppose to shoot at the largest part of the body, that being the easiest to hit. All of our training dictates that is where you shoot, it’s drilled into us from the beginning. It’s for public relations reasons as well, a shot to the torso isn’t necessarily fatal, thus we’re not intentionally trying to kill anyone, just disable them.”
“That’s all very well and good, but you’re not making this any clearer Nick. I feel a ‘but’ coming on.”
Nick sighed and turned back to look at John, who was still running. “There is. The But…” he paused. “John isn’t shooting at the torso. He’s shooting at the head.” He looked back at Sue. “And he rarely misses anymore.”
“Oh,” she said weakly and sat down in the nearest chair.
“On a cheerier note,” Nick continued, attempting to lighten the mood, “what’s going on with you two?”
Her slight smile indicated a partial success. “Nothing really. There have been a few times recently where I thought he was going to kiss me. But always, he changes his mind at the last minute. It’s almost like someone physically grabs him and says, ‘What are you doing?’ I think there is something there, but he just won’t let it come out.”
A look of compassion crossed Nick’s face. “Don’t let it get you down, Sue. He needs you and I know him well enough to know he cares about you a whole lot more than he’s letting on. I’ve given the matter some thought and I’ve come to the conclusion that it probably isn’t just Emily that is preventing him from showing it.”
She looked at him with eyebrows furrowed, again confused.
“I think he’s afraid of something happening to you. He’s doesn’t want to be responsible and he doesn’t want to get emotionally hurt himself. He wants to be completely ready next time, no excuses.” He turned back toward where he had last seen John. His eyes scanned the area, but failed to find him. He turned back to Sue again.
“Unfortunately,” he said with a rueful smile, “I think that time is now.”
Susan’s eyes flew wide open, “Oh no Nick, you can’t. He’s not ready.”
“I’m sorry Sue. I agree with you, but something’s come up and I think John is in a unique position to help on this one. He moved over to her and sat down. “I... the department, needs his help.”
“Help with what?” came John’s voice from behind him.
Nick bolted to his feet and spun around. “Jesus Christ! What the hell are you doing? You scared the shit out of me.”
John laughed. A big, hearty laugh that Nick hadn’t heard in a long time and one that Sue had never heard. It was a good laugh that lifted the spirits of everyone involved, including John. ‘Yes,’ John thought to himself, ‘that did feel good.’ He said to Nick, “I haven’t seen you look like that since the time you jumped the balcony three stories up, looking for that fugitive and found him lying on the sofa jacking off.”
John looked at Sue and saw her smiling, but obviously wondering what on earth he was talking about. He explained. “Nick and I were looking for a fugitive out of Miami. Miami P.D. had called us and said that they had information that he was hiding out at an old girl friend’s apartment here in the city and they gave us the address. We looked for this asshole for about a month, couldn’t find hide nor hair of him. Then one night, we saw the girlfriend go out and shortly after that, a TV came on in the apartment.
“First we tried calling the apartment and no one picked up. We knew the guy was pretty skittish so we didn’t try knocking. We were standing in the hall trying to decide what to do when the owner of the adjoining apartment came home. Nick identified himself and asked to use his balcony. The guy was confused but gave us permission.
“So we went out onto the balcony and Nick, three stories up mind you, jumped to the girlfriend’s balcony so he could look in the window. All of a sudden, he gets that look you just saw and says to me, ‘He’s in there.’
“‘How do you know?’ I asked. ‘Trust me.’ Nick says, ‘He’s in there. Go around to the front door.’”
John continued, “So I went around to the front, knocked and identified myself as a police officer. All of a sudden I heard a terrible screaming. I bashed in the front door and ran into the apartment, gun drawn, ready for a shootout. I find the fugitive rolling around on the floor screaming his head off in obvious pain. Nick is standing just inside the balcony door laughing his ass off.”
Nick spoke up. “This guy was lying on the sofa, eyes closed, wanking his weenie. When John knocked on the front door, the guy opened his eyes and saw me, three stories up, standing on the balcony. In a state of complete shock, he quickly put his pecker away and zipped up his pants in a flash. Problem was, his pecker wasn’t completely put away and he zipped right on over it.”
The two of them were laughing so hard at this point that Sue couldn’t help but start laughing herself. “What’s so funny?” They all turned and saw Mary Kate standing in the doorway.
Through his laughter, John replied, “Aw Angel, I’m sorry we woke you up.”
She walked over to him and he picked her up. “You didn’t really wake me up,” she said. “I woke up a little while ago and I was just playing in my room. Daddy, you were laughing real hard, what was so funny?”
Now it was Susan’s turn to pump the laughter up a notch. “Go ahead John, tell her what was so funny.” and with that, Nick’s laughter went to a higher level as well.
“This ought to be good,” Nick grunted between laughs.
“Well, sweetheart,” John said with as straight a face as he could muster, “we were just talking about a guy who fell down, that’s all.”
“What’s so funny about that,” she asked.
Nick and Susan looked on in amusement as he said, “It was just the way he fell down. He was hurt and he was rolling all over the floor like one of your rubber toys. It’s just funny when an adult does that. Have you ever seen an adult do that?”
She was smiling herself now. “No, I haven’t. That would be funny, Daddy.”
Nick started clapping. “Nice recovery there buddy,” he exclaimed as he and Sue started laughing all over again.
Smiling, John turned to look at Nick, “You want some breakfast?”
Nick looked at Sue for her unspoken approval. She nodded. He looked back at John, “Sure, if you promise to stop telling bad stories about me.”
“What bad stories, Daddy.”
“Oh no,” said Sue. “Here we go again. You guys excuse me while I start breakfast.” She got up and moved into the kitchen.
“It’s the same story, Angel.” John said to Mary Kate.
Mary Kate got down and started to play on the deck. Nick and John talked about what was going on in the department. Who was dating who. Who had gotten into what trouble. Who got caught cheating. Who didn’t get caught cheating. Most people don’t realize that cops are as big a bunch of gossipers as anyone else and in a lot of cases, bigger. They’re all in to drama and intrigue. John couldn’t believe it the first time he went into roll call and heard a bunch of big, burly cops talking about the latest happenings on the noon hour soaps! Cops watching the soaps? Seemed like an oxymoron, but it was true.
Sue came in with breakfast a little while later and they all had a very pleasant time. She was seeing yet another side of John that had not been revealed in her presence before. She had heard others talk of his sense of humor and she had in fact seen glimpses of it. But nothing like the easy going, relaxed man that sat before her now. She wished Nick wasn’t going to ruin it.
When they were finished eating, everyone chipped in to help with the dishes. After the last crumb had been wiped from the table, Sue turned to Mary Kate, “Why don’t we go for a ride in the paddle boat?” She got an eager reply and off they went.
When they were gone, John looked at Nick. The laughter was gone now and in a serious tone he said, “Alright, first, you come over here early in the morning when you should be at work. Then I overhear you saying you need my help. Last, but certainly not least, Sue rushes Mary Kate off to the paddle boat, leaving us alone. What’s up? I have a feeling it’s not good.”
Nick sat back, crossed his arms and slowly, loudly, let out a long sigh. “It’s not. Buddy, I feel bad bringing you into this. But I’ve got a really bad feeling about some things. I think its trouble with a capital ‘T,’ and I think you should be involved for more reasons than one. First of all, I want to know… do you think you’re ready? Say the word and I’ll figure out another way.”
“I’m ready Nick. It must be important or you wouldn’t be asking,” he replied grimly. “Get on with it.”
“Okay. You hear about the two bodies that were found this week?”
“I heard of one, some woman in a cornfield. Didn’t hear about the other. What’s the woman got to do with you? That’s county territory, or is she from the city?”
“Well,” Nick returned, “she was from the city. So is her husband.”
John’s eyebrows arched. “Do I know him?”
Nick nodded, “Judge Walton.”
Now John’s eyes opened wide in amazement. “You’re shitting me! I heard she took off with another man. She was cute as a button as I recall and what, twenty-five years younger than him? Now she turns up dead? Not good for da’ Judge, I’d say.”
“Yeah, well… it’s not quite that simple.” Nick replied. “Normally, this would be a pretty much open and shut case. But you know the dangers of having blinders on in an investigation.”
John looked like he’d been shot with an arrow. He looked out at the lake as he replied in a mournful tone. “You know that I know the dangers of that.”
“Right, so there’s no need to go there. Sorry I brought it up, buddy.” Both men remembered an incident, so long ago, but not so long ago. It had stressed both of them and had caused John to voluntarily resign front he department. The most important thing for an investigator to keep in mind, was to keep an open mind. Don’t suppose anything. Don’t leap to conclusions. Just follow the facts to wherever it is they lead you, regardless of where you think they should lead you.
“Don’t worry about it,” he told Nick as he turned his gaze back to his old partner. “At this point, that’s the least of my worries. So you were saying?”
“Okay, here’s the fly in the ointment. She was naked when what was left of her was found last week. Her cloths and her shoes were underneath her. Everything was going along nicely until one of the evidence techs found a piece of paper in the toe of one of her shoes.”
“And it had a phone number on it. It was the number to Ramsey’s personal cell phone.”
John’s jaw dropped. “You… are… kidding… me!” Nick shook his head. Ramsey! Was the man ever going to be out of his life? Ramsey had been the department’s deputy chief. Well known within the department as a tainted cop, it had been learned after his death that he had been working for the folks who had kidnapped Sue. He had been the one who had bushwhacked John, putting a bullet into his head, side, arm, and leg. He had stood over John’s prone body and was about to finish him off when a sniper from the state S.W.A.T. team blew his head off. For as long as he lived, he would never forget the sight of the deputy chief’s head suddenly exploding into a bloody, mangled mess. Now it appeared that perhaps Ramsey may have finished off someone else before attempting to cancel John’s ticket.
“Which kind of brings us to the second body,” rejoined Nick. The second body was a male and he was found in some woods a few miles from the woman. What connects the two is the fact that they were both killed the same way, a single shot to the back of the head. Both by a .38 caliber weapon. A bullet was recovered from the guy. It was too deformed for an individual match, but class characteristics indicate that it could have come from a Smith and Wesson, stainless steel model 640.”
John looked out at the lake. He could see Mary Kate and Susan merrily maneuvering the paddle boat about around the dock. They looked like they were having fun.
A model 640 was a five shot, .38 caliber, snub nosed revolver. The gun was also what is known as, “hammerless,” meaning that there was no hammer protruding from the rear of the gun. It was specifically designed that way so that the wearer of the gun would not have their cloths torn up from the friction of the protruding hammer constantly rubbing on the fabric. John himself had many suit coats that had torn inner linings from the hammer of his guns. Some guys went so far as to have a piece of leather sewn into the lining of their coat to combat the problem.
But what stuck in his mind right now, was a “flashbulb” moment. He could see, as though it were yesterday, Ramsey pointing his gun down at John’s head as he lay bleeding on the ground in front of the cabin last spring. Ramsey had said the words, “Okay, good enough for me,” raised his gun and pointed it directly at John’s head. He remembered looking directly at the weapon that was about to take his life. It was a Smith and Wesson, stainless steel model 640. Thing was, not too many guys carried them to begin with for most had traded them in for one of the more modern automatics, such as the Walther PPK that John himself preferred. He looked back at Nick.
“Shit,” he said. “Not that it makes much difference at this point, but it sure would be nice to match that bullet to dick-wad’s gun.”
“Ahh, that’s why I’m here John. It does kind of make a difference.”
John’s forehead creased in confusion. “Why?”
Nick shifted nervously in his chair. “When I replaced the Chief, after he was forced to step down because of the embarrassment of Ramsey’s involvement in your little affair, there were some in the city council who didn’t feel that I should have been given the post. After all, they knew nothing about me. More to the point, they knew nothing of my political leanings or what political aspirations I may have. They weren’t sure if I was... ‘controllable.’ They were miffed because the mayor, who was caught up in the moment, had just gone ahead and appointed me Chief without so much as discussing it with them.
“Sure, they could have raised objections and probably put enough pressure to bear that the Mayor would have to reconsider. But that was dangerous. After all, I was the ‘hero,’ for taking the initiative in calling out the state S.W.A.T. team. Even though the Chief tried to take the credit, everyone knew I was the one responsible.
“So now they’re in a quandary. They can’t just start bitching about me without risking a political backlash for coming down on the ‘hero.’ They don’t like leaving me in there because by now they know that I refuse to be anyone’s lackey. Unfortunately for them, I’ve given them absolutely no reason to criticize me for the way I’m running the department.”
“And now they think they may have one,” finished John.
“That’s right. I’ve already heard rumblings about a possible accomplice that Ramsey might have had. I’ve already fired two people who were tied in with Ramsey and criminal charges have been filed on one of them. There may, in fact, be more. There is an ongoing investigation into the matter, but they have turned up nothing new for several weeks. Now I’m stuck with a few potential problems.
“What if there are more, that I don’t know about? What if one of the guys conducting the investigation is actually one of them? What if someone on the city council is tied up in all of this and actually knows there are more? The Coeptus Guild would be more than happy to sacrifice one of them for the sake of getting me out of there. They lost Ramsey, a Deputy Chief. What if they could replace him with an honest to god Chief? The only way open to them right now would be to show that I’ve done something to warrant being removed, something like maybe the murder of a judge’s wife or at the very least, proof that I haven’t done enough to uncover the crooked cops at the department.”
John rubbed his face, deep in thought. The Coeptus Guild was the group of people responsible for kidnapping Susan. They were a shadowy consortium of individuals who came by the rights of sale-able goods, hardware, software, or whatever else they wanted, by whatever means possible. Kidnapping Susan was how they tried to get her program. They had tried to buy it outright. When she refused they had kidnapped her. If she had then agreed, they would have released her, with threats of dire consequences if she told anyone. Of course they paid handsomely in addition, so having one of their victims go to the police wasn’t likely. If Susan had continued to refuse outright... well, in all likelihood, she would not be out on the lake right now.
After the shootout at the cabin, the F.B.I. had gotten involved in trying to nail Coeptus Guild to the wall. However, the F.B.I. was notorious for not sharing information, so the actual status of their progress was still a mystery. But from what Nick had been able to tell, they weren’t getting very far. Coeptus Guild was very good at the smoke and mirrors routine.
And now he could see Nick’s problem all too clearly. Who could he trust to find out, quickly, who else may have been involved and prove the two bodies they recovered were the work of Ramsey, and Ramsey alone? And, if his thoughts on someone else in the city council being involved were correct, it was just a matter of time before they got their way. In this case, time was on the side of Coeptus Guild.
Nick sat as he watched John work this all out in his head. When it was obvious that he had, Nick asked, “You ready for this, or should I think of something else? If you’re not, just say so buddy. Don’t worry about me. I’ll get it figured out.”
John shook his head. “No way. Look, you put your ass on the line big time for me and we all know I wouldn’t be around today if it weren’t for you. I owe you, big time. Besides,” John’s eyes began to brighten noticeably, but his face took on a look that would freeze molten lava, his voice went down several octaves and became hard as nails, “I wouldn’t mind a chance to take a chunk out of the Coeptus Guild. Wouldn’t mind it at all.” He smiled then, but there was nothing comforting or happy in that smile.
Nick was taken aback by the transformation. He’d known John for a very long time and they had been through a lot together. He had seen John in more tough situations than he could count, but he couldn’t recall ever seeing a look like the one John now wore on his face. Nor had he ever heard his voice sound quite so brutal. In spite of his friendship with the man, he shuddered deep in his core and he wondered what kind of hell fire had just been spawned. He was suddenly very glad that John was on his side.
Nick shook himself out of his self induced trance and responded. “I can’t pay you very much. I…”
“You don’t have to pay me anything.” John shot back. The look on his face did nothing to qualm Nick’s fears about the monster that he had just released.
“Well… keep track of your time anyway. If this all turns out okay, I’ll have the city pay for it. I’ll justify it by telling them that I needed an independent investigator that I knew I could trust. Who better than the hero of the OK Corral.”
John’s face lightened slightly. “OK Corral?”
Nick laughed, part in humor but mostly in an attempt to lighten the mood. “Yeah. After the shootout at the cabin. The news media dubbed it the shootout at the OK Corral. The good guys versus the evil men in the black hats. The good guys won and there was a stack of bodies and a rescued heroine to prove it. Again, once it comes out that you’re helping to find any more nasties that may be around, the council may not like it, but the public will eat it up. Their hands will be tied.”
A sound alerted them both of the return of Susan and Mary Kate. They looked up as the two came up onto the deck. Susan wore a look of concern. “Are you guys finished or should we entertain ourselves a little longer?”
“Daddy, we saw a huge bass,” Mary Kate said with an equally huge smile.
The transformation in John was as sudden as it was dramatic. His entire demeanor changed in an instant as the terrible instrument of death vanished, replaced by that of a loving father overjoyed by the sudden appearance of his child. He held out his arms and Mary Kate promptly jumped into them. “Really?” he said. “Should we go get our poles and try to catch him?”
“Yeah, that would be cool.”
“Okay. I just have to talk to Uncle Nick here a little longer. Then we can go.”
“Yes!” Mary Kate exclaimed while merrily clapping her hands together. She jumped off his lap and ran over to Susan. “Sue, Daddy says we can go fishing. Will you come too?”
She laughed. “Yes, I know. I heard him and yes, I’ll come too. Let’s go into the garage and get the poles ready. Then we’ll fix a snack to take with us.” She looked at the men. “Let us know when you’re ready. Nick, would you like to come too?”
“No,” he chuckled. “I have to get to work, but maybe Janie and I will come over tonight.” Janie was Nick’s wife and was a bubbly, slightly portly Irish woman who loved to laugh almost as much as she liked her beer. She was a good match for Nick.
After the girls had left, John asked, “So what information can you give me?”
Nick lifted his brief case onto the table and opened it. He removed a file folder and handed it to John. “Here’s what I have so far. I’ll give you more as I get it, for as long as I continue to get it. Remember, this isn’t our investigation and the information that I’m getting is only as a courtesy because of the fact they found Ramsey’s phone number in the woman’s shoe. My fear is that if the city council somehow manages to turn this into an investigation of me, even that information will dry up. I’ve got a pretty good relationship going with the lead investigator from the county right now. I told him that we’re still looking into any ties to Ramsey that may be left at our department. He understands the need for secrecy. He seems like a pretty straight up guy who’s doing his best to help me out. His ass is slightly out on the limb on this as well since he’s really giving me more information than he should. Remember, everyone is pretty much taking a wait and see attitude on our whole department right now, though no one will say it to our face. John, we have to convince the world that we’ve rooted out all the bad apples and everyone that’s left is one of the good guys. This is for the department as much as it is for me personally.”
“To me, at this point, you and the department are one in the same, Nick.” John said as he rummaged through the file, without looking up. Nick was relieved to see the harbinger of death had not returned. He looked like his normal self as he sat looking through the file. In fact, John looked more normal now than he had since his return from the hospital. He wondered if maybe they hadn’t been going about this all wrong. Instead of protecting John from any intrusions, maybe it would have been better if they’d thrown him into the mix and given him something to do other than brood about the recent past.
Nick closed his brief case and stood up. “I’d better get going.” He smiled. “Who knows what evil brew the city council has been cooking up in my absence,” he said, only half in jest.
John closed the file and stood up with him. They started walking to the front door and were met by Susan and Mary Kate. “Can I see your police car?” she asked Nick. She loved Nick’s unmarked squad, with its hidden emergency lights and radios and all sorts of stuff to amaze a six year old.
“Sure.” He turned to Nick and Sue. “See you guys later.”
Sue gave him a quick peck on the cheek and watched him as he and Mary Kate walked to the car and got in. That would keep Mary Kate occupied for a few minutes. She turned to John. “Well? How’d it go?” She too saw a lightness in John that hadn’t been there before. She had nothing to compare it to, since she hadn’t known him before the incident at the cabin, but she could see a bounce that hadn’t been there before. There was also something else, hidden just below the surface and she wasn’t quite sure of what it was until he began to speak.
He related everything Nick had told her. It wasn’t until he started talking about Ramsey and the Coeptus Guild that she began to see what Nick had seen. Though it wasn’t nearly as pronounced as what had been displayed to Nick, it was enough to chill her to the bone. His self doubts appeared to have evaporated, replaced by a grim determination that, like Nick, made her glad that she wasn’t the object of his obvious and deeply rooted wrath. It was a part of him that she had never seen before. Even when he killed those men at the cabin, it had been with ruthless efficiency and with no sign of obvious emotion.
The mention of the Coeptus Guild had made her heart skip, but not nearly as much as the look on his face. As always, she was going to be there for him and help him in any way she could. But, she was going to stand back and not get in his way. Because Susan Browning decided right then and there, it would not be a good idea for anyone to get in the way of John Livingston Harvard at this juncture. Not a good idea at all.
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