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Friday, July 31, 2015

61 Born to Make the Kill

As he continued to plummet and the voice’s crescendo penetrated every fiber of his being, the most acrid, sulfuric scent he could imagine filled his nostrils. Something from his past described it as brimstone. It came from the smoke that rose to meet him. It filled his lungs until he could no longer cough it out or breathe it in, and, as it passed over his tongue, it filled his mouth with a polluted bitterness. The pace of his plunge escalated and the smoke, so dense he could feel it against his body, thrashed, whipped, and snarled. But he couldn’t see its source.

Then he felt a new sensation—warmth—but not a comfort like a blanket on a chilly Boston night—heat. The heat of a thousand suns intensified by millions of magnifying glasses focused their pin points of light on every cell of his ravaged skin. The further he fell the more intense it became until it was intolerable, but even then it increased. The smell of his burning flesh began to fill the already noxious air and he saw what remained of his skin had begun to blister, blacken, smolder, and melt. Next his bones began to burn and boil from the inside out. His marrow turned into something like smelting steel. The source of the heat now revealed itself. Orange, green, blue, and black flames leapt from some vast unknown body through the smoke and seared his flesh even more. He opened his mouth to scream, but when no air filled his lungs, no sound escaped.

And then there was silence.

A silence so deafening he thought he would lose his mind. A silence so dark, so sinister, he feared whatever may lie before him, would be so much worse than what he had passed through. He recognized his mind functioned fully, but his body was paralyzed as if it had turned to stone. His face began to contort beyond his will into the shape of a demonic scream. The fall stopped and he was suspended over the raging caldron below. The flames lapped up and engulfed him, burned him, charred him, but did not consume him.

Then a distinct voice came out of the din and mayhem.

“Welcome, Henry Plancrest-Rogers.” The deep haunted voice resonated from a place within his skull.

Laughter from the host of the tormented erupted uncontrolled and then it twisted into contempt, sneers, and derision as they gave sardonic jeers at his arrival.

“Where am I? Who are you? What is this place?” Hank screamed and was surprised that he had found breath and that his voice had begun to work again.

”Welcome to Hell!” came the voice again and it echoed unrestrained in his mind. “This is the place of the damned, the place of the unrepentant.”

“Unrepentant?” he screamed, and if his arms would have worked, he would have thrown his hands over his ears to try to stifle the cavernous voice that bellowed inside his head.

“Yes, without repentance this is your home and, once you’re here, you can never be anywhere else.”

“But I was an acolyte, I went to mass, I said my prayers, and I confessed to the priest. I shouldn’t be here.”

The chiding voices grew louder. They no longer resonated just from the mass, the smoke, and the fire, but they came from inside his body. He could feel their presence and was petrified.

“Was! Went! Confessed!” the voice screeched, and it no longer just resounded inside his head but filled the place where he and the host were suspended. “All in the past. When, my child, was your last confession?”

“Oh my God, help me.”

“Too late for Him,” the voice resounded

“I don’t want to be here,” Hank shouted.

“Do you think my host does? They want out, but they made their choice and I won’t allow it.”

“But what about me, have I had my last chance? Is there no way back?”

“No one has ever found it.”

“Not being found means there must be a way. Show it to me!” he pleaded.

The silence returned but not like before. It wasn’t maddening but felt bearable. The flames and smoke, the voice. and the faces dissolved. He became aware of a throb and recognized his own heart beat hard against something foreign, something hostile in his body. Then, a new voice with a softer more feminine quality called to him.



“Hank! Hank!” Natalie shouted, and shook the man in her lap with her bound hands. She looked into eyes fixed and growing dim. His face bore a mask of horror as if he wanted to scream but his muscles had frozen in an exacting twisted cramp. “Wake up Hank. I think he’s dying! Do something, he’s not breathing.”

“What the hell?” Tony shouted, and swerved the car to the side of the road.

Hank’s gasp for air, like a man taking one final breath at the end of a hangman’s noose, startled Natalie. Like the hum of a forceful wind through a dense forest, combined with a wheezing, raspy rattle, the sound filled her ears. She looked into the eyes of someone returning from the dead.

“Hank!” she screamed.

His eyes came to life. He searched the darkness like one desperate to find the one who knew his name. When his jaundiced orbs fell on Natalie’s face, he whispered, “Forgive me, please.”

Unexpected, she heard herself say “I do” before she realized what had happened. How could she forgive this man who raped her once and was only stopped from doing it again by the bullet she put in him? How could she forgive this man when she still bore the bruises and bite marks from his assault? How could she ever forgive this man who defiled her with his own urine? How could she forgive this man when the last look he gave her before he succumbed to unconsciousness, screamed that he blamed her for his plight? How could she forgive this man whose flesh and blood she still wore under her fingernails to remind her of how much she hated this man? But she said it again “I do,” and knew it was true.

Tony had stopped the car and forced the driver’s door open. In the light of the dome lamp, she watched Hank’s eyes become fixed and the blood drain away from the face at rest on her thighs. His cheeks, marred by the scratches she inflicted and scars from his life of abuse, were left a sallow hue. She knew he was gone and a lone tear coursed down her swollen, blackened cheek.

Not only had she taken a life but her fate was now sealed.
_____
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Thursday, July 30, 2015

60 Born to Make the Kill

Natalie was more comfortable in the sedan than on the mud-caked, steel floor of the van and for that she was grateful. She glanced at the dashboard clock. If it was accurate, the time was 10:32 p.m. It had been just over an hour since they had passed through Raymond, Washington and more than two and a half since they crossed the river on the long bridge.

After Tony stole the sedan, he had forced Rudy at gun point to transfer everything including Hank to the new car. He tied Rudy’s hands to the frame under the front of the passenger seat so tight, Rudy sat hunched over with his hands stretched to the floor between his feet. From where Natalie sat behind him, she could not see for sure, but from the complaints Rudy voiced at the time, it seemed like an unnecessarily uncomfortable position, but Tony seemed oblivious to everyone else’s pain. He continued to drive, and lit one cigarette off the end of the last.

Where there had been times of chatter between Rudy and Tony throughout the day, mostly Rudy trying to get Tony to let him drive or making casual, mostly one-sided, conversation, the silence that ruled the car since the sun set outside of Lincoln City had become more sinister and oppressive. It was as tangible as the glass in the door next to her. Even though she could see right through it, she didn’t have to put her fingers on it to prove it was there. She had asked Tony just after she helped the older couple escape in their Jeep, “What do you want from me?” He avoided the question with a brusque “… shut the hell up and get back in the van.” With plenty of time to think, she had begun to believe there was more to her abduction than just Tony’s psychosis. He was on a rampage for certain, two, if not three, people had died as a direct result of her captivity. But was it really her confinement that got the people killed, or was Tony acting without conscience so badly for another reason?

From her seat behind Rudy, she turned her eyes up from Hank and found the rear view mirror. Tony drew on his smoke. In the mirror his eyes were illumined. She felt them search for her in the darkness of the backseat. They looked just as cold and frozen as the eyes she met in the studio parking lot. But there was something else. In the motel room as they were about to run out the door, he had looked away from her as if something needed to be hidden. Now he didn’t flinch, and in the seconds their eyes engaged, he showed her a resolve she hadn’t seen before. It was like in the silent darkness of the sedan, he had come to a decision. What determination he had arrived at she could only guess, but with the way things had gone since the screen test, it couldn’t be good for her.

This time she broke the stare and looked back into the face of the still figure in her lap. In the lights of a passing vehicle, she saw the glimmer of Hank’s eyes again.



Like a dreamless sleep, over the last day Hank had no connection with the life ebbing from him one heart beat at a time. No day nor night, no sunrise nor sunset, no past nor present, and the future a concept yet unborn. Comatose, the lost day started like the last breath before anesthesia rips all thought away and ended at the same moment—no sense of time’s ceaseless movement. No reality—no dark nor light, no sound nor sight, no scent nor touch—just nothing. Until there was something most terrifying.

Hank felt his body pummel through a density like that of the earth’s crust. Whether pushed or pulled, a power greater than he drove him like a relentless missile deeper in his descent and bored a path through the solid mass. The solidity compressed behind him as he pierced through and left no evidence of his passing. As he descended further through the compaction, his flesh ripped away from his muscles and then the muscles split open with excruciating gashes. He couldn’t move a limb by his own will and he dared not open his eyes as he knew that against the onslaught of the mass they would be shred to ribbons.

Then, in the terror, there were hands, disembodied hands, millions of hands grabbed and pulled at him as he passed though. They slashed at his lacerated flesh and exposed muscles, and worked their razor-edged fingers into the wounds to tear them deeper and deeper until the bone was bare. How they came out from this density he couldn’t imagine. No one could. And then he heard them, the voices that once belonged to the hands. They screamed and shrieked, not from the horror of their eternal damnation but for the pain, the searing torment of the endless millennia of their punishment.

He broke through the dense crust and began to free-fall. At first relief to be released from the agony of his flesh being ripped away brought calm to his mind, but then he felt them. They floated all around him. Some were solid and slashed into him like a whip of vengeance. Some writhed over his body like a swarm of vipers. Others piercing through him and left a freezing chill and something like shattered icicles in their tunneled path. He opened his eyes only to be confronted with the shifting faces of the screaming horde. Their mouths were wide black holes that morphed in grotesque shapes, and their eye sockets were orange flashing balls of flame. They never took a breath so the shattering timbre of their anguish never ceased.

As he tried without success to avoid the inevitable and continuous collisions, he sensed a dread fill his soul with a darkness blacker than the densest ink in a writer’s well, and knowledge beyond imagination witnessed that these were the fortunate ones. Dread engulfed him as he realized his doom would yet be revealed.
_____
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© Jearl Rugh 2012

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

59 Born to Make the Kill

The Astoria-Megler Bridge spans across the mouth of the Columbia River and connects Oregon and Washington via US Highway 101. Special Agent Angela Hawk had sat in her FBI issue black SUV watching the vehicles roll off the bridge for the better part of two hours. By her calculation, the two-tone blue Ford Econoline van with California plates should have already come off the bridge. Since the suspects resurfaced in Lincoln City where the last known victim had been run down and a teenage clerk now struggled to hang on to his life, they had made a failed attempt to steal a couple’s Jeep. All of these incidents happened on or near US 101. She believed if they continued to stay off major freeways like they had done since LA, with luck they would pass right by her.

Parked adjacent to the highway, there could have been no way she would have missed them. There were only two paths to take after exiting the bridge on the Washington side—State Highway 401, over which she had passed after she left her desk in Vancouver, Washington, and US 101. From her vantage, she could see every vehicle as it came off the bridge and could take chase no matter which route they took. She knew there were better odds that she would lose them before she caught her first whiff of the prey as the suspects could have gone into hiding, changed direction, or switched cars. But she waited with anxious patience.



The four now lumbered along the four mile stretch of the white truss bridge and rode in a tan four-door Nissan Stanza. Tony had stolen it two hours ago just before Rudy had tried to seize the van from his control. As it stepped onto Washington State soil, it bumped over the steel union embedded in the pavement. The sudden movement stirred Hank and he groaned. A gurgle from his lungs became a cough and he opened his eyes.

Since he had been shifted from the van to the sedan, Hank’s chest had begun to bleed again. Every time they changed vehicles, the activity aggravated the bullet wound. Natalie had continued with constant pressure on his injury until her wrists ached. As tenacious as a wolverine defending its kill, it never strayed far from her mind that Hank alive was her stay of execution.

Back in the motel room, however, she had begun to feel an unexpected emotion toward Hank. After all he had done to her, without provocation, she should have wanted him dead. She had been prepared for, and would have understood fury and loathing—she had plenty of that left for Tony and Rudy—but when she felt compassion toward Hank, not just pity, her heart hadn’t been equipped to deal with it. He was despicable, filthy and mean, and he deserved everything she had given to him. But from the toil she saw on his face, she had realized the trauma in his life had brought him to this place. That, and his association with Tony, overpowered his will, and drew him into this existence like a weed bent toward the sun. Now, as she witnessed him waking up from the long, almost twenty-four hour nap, her heart leapt as she perceived a hopeful sign of recovery.

“Hank’s awake,” she said.

“Welcome back, shit face,” Tony said, and glanced over his right shoulder toward the prone figure on the back seat. “You’ve got the best seat in the house, right in the whore’s snatch.”

Natalie bristled at the last comment, but felt no stab of guilt at Tony’s reference to the bowel bomb she had smeared into Hank’s eyes. She remained silent, though, and didn’t turn her eyes away from the burden in her lap.

Hank spoke but the words came out in spits and spurts, “I … feel like … hell. Where am I?”

“Running from the law,” Tony said, and chuckled. “We just crossed into Washington State.”

Hank turned his eyes toward Natalie and said, “I remember you.”

She smiled but he didn’t see it as his eyes rolled up into this head and his lids closed again.

Tony guided the Nissan to the left and they continued to follow US 101.



Angela’s surveillance concentration was interrupted when the phone rang. The voice on the other end reported a family who had been having dinner at friends and found their car missing when the party broke up. Then, just a few minutes ago, the blue van had been found hidden nearby in a stand of trees. She had waited for the wrong vehicle all this time.

“Damn it,” she said. On a WTF ten scale, this one just hit twelve.
_____
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© Jearl Rugh 2012

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

58 Born to Make the Kill

Was he violent?”

“Not until after my two brothers left home. I’m quite a bit younger than them and take after my mom. I think that’s why he’d pick on me. When he’d get home at night after drinking, if he was particularly plastered, he’d come looking for me first, even if I was already asleep, and beat me for no reason. Then, when mom would plead for him to stop, he’d go after her.”

“Your brothers never stepped in?”

“Nah, as far as I know, they didn’t know about it. Mom suffered in silence and I never let on.”

“Why didn’t she leave him?”

“Mom didn’t believe in divorce. She knew he wasn’t well and she’d vowed ‘in sickness or health’ on their wedding day.”

“That’s so sad. No one should have to put up with that. I’m really sorry, Rudy.” It took her by surprise she felt even the slightest paroxysm of sorrow for him. No matter how Rudy turned out, no child—no woman for that matter—deserved to be treated like that. “Abusive men should all be sent to a place like Alcatraz where they can’t escape. No guards, no women, no children. Then they could have the run of the place vent their rage on each other but bring no harm to the innocent.”

“That’s why I left Detroit.”

“When was that, after your mom died?”

“No, last year, she died six months later.”

“You left your mother alone with him?”

“Yeah,” he said, “I kind’a ran away, dropped out of school in my junior year. With her blessing, though.”

“Then, what, your father beat her to death?”

“No, nothing like that. They say her heart gave out and it’s probably true. Deep inside I think she just couldn’t take the abuse anymore and with me leaving, she gave up.”

“So, what, you’re seventeen now. I was seventeen when I left home.”

“Yeah, it’s been rough, and now it’s worse.”

“My parents always warned me about hanging with the wrong crowd,” she said.

“I guess I found mine.”

The conversation withered like a desert wild flower in a summer drought and she decided to use the lull to think about how she could use the information. It was clear Rudy felt powerless against the men in his life, yet he seemed drawn to strong-willed men. Why some people seek the very thing that damns them is in itself a mystery she knew she could never comprehend. For now though, if they had any hope of getting away from Tony, she needed Rudy to take control of their situation.

That wasn’t likely as Rudy ran from adversity. He escaped from an abusive father, left his battered mother, and just before Tony ran down the man on the bike he had admitted he wanted to run away from all this now. To try to gain Tony’s trust would prove pointless. Men like Tony only trusted themselves. And in Tony’s case, she feared, everyone else was expendable.

She expected Rudy to ask her something about her life but when he didn’t, after five silent minutes, she was about to speak again when Tony, with a loud snort, suddenly sat upright and then got out of the van.

“What’s he doing?” Natalie asked. From her position on the floor behind the driver’s seat she couldn’t see out the windshield.

“I don’t know. He just walked off towards the road.”

“Can you still see him?”

“No, he disappeared in the dark.”

“If I could untie your hands, do you think you could start this truck and get us out of here?”

“Do you think that’s a good idea? What if he comes back?”

“We both know he’ll kill us sooner or later. We have to try to get away and this is our chance.”

“I know you’re right but he scares the shit out of me, Nat.”

“That gun scares me and he’s proven he’s not afraid to use it. I know he shot the clerk and the newspaper story said he was a suspect in a murder in Reno. Did he do it?”

“Yeah, just walked up to the guy and blew him away.”

“And he’ll do the same to us, Rudy.” With her new assumptions she decided to appeal to what she had reasoned to be his life pattern. “This is your chance to run away. Can you get the truck started?”

“Maybe … I … think so, I’ve watched Tony several times but my hands are tied pretty tight.”

Natalie slid out from under Hank and got to her knees. They were still swollen from the scrapes she suffered while Tony stole the van last night and new grit from the cold steel floor ground into the wounds. She pushed aside the pain, and began to work on the knots. The cloth from the bedspread wasn’t as easy to work her fingers into as a rope would have been but she persisted and after a few minutes finally found an edge. She slipped a broken fingernail under it and began to ease the fabric free.

“Hurry,” Rudy said.

“I’m working as fast as I can. It’s beginning to come loose. You keep watching for Tony.”

As she continued, she asked, “Do you know what Tony’s plan is?”

“Yeah, we’re heading to Canada.”

“Canada? What’s in Canada?”

Tony had tied several overhand knots on top of each other and her fingers were tired and sore. She had broken more than one fingernail trying to slip them under the fabric.

“My uncle’s hunting cabin. He rarely uses it. Tony and Hank plan to hide out, but I know the woods around it real well. If we don’t get away now, we can look for a chance then, and hide out just about forever.”

I don’t want to hide out forever, I want my life back, she thought.

Then she had an idea, why it hadn’t come before, she could only excuse by mental fatigue. Rudy’s hands didn’t come together behind the seat. So Tony had looped the shreds of cloth around Rudy’s wrists and then tied it all together in one large knot. She found a section of the fabric between the knot and Rudy’s left hand. She grabbed it between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, she tried to rip it. At first it was stubborn but when she heard the first tear, she pulled harder until it came in two. Once she got it loose, she freed his left wrist.

“Quick, slide over and try to start this thing.”

Rudy changed seats and, after a moment, the engine roared.

Natalie knew they were almost free. All they had to do was drive back to the road and put some distance between them and Tony. On her knees, she peered out from behind the passenger seat. The headlights come to life.

Caught in the beam, Tony pointed the Colt at Rudy.
_____
Can’t wait for more; go to Amazon.com to add this to your bookshelf.
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© Jearl Rugh 2012

All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 27, 2015

57 Born to Make the Kill

Natalie found herself back where she had been all day. Nothing had changed. Hank’s head was in her lap and she continued the limited nursing care she had been giving. Tony hadn’t spoken a word to anyone since the failed car abduction, and about an hour into the drive, he pulled off the highway and backed into a stand of fir trees. Unlike the last time he had done this in the almond orchard, she was tied hands and feet, so tight her fingers throbbed and ached. Rudy too was bound with his hands behind the seat just like last night in the recreation area. After Tony shut down the van’s engine, the vehicle became silent except for the heavy rasp from Hank as he labored for breath and, minutes later, Tony’s rhythmic breathing.

Natalie didn’t know if Hank would make it much longer without a doctor. His doom—and hers—imminent. She had run out of ways to keep him alive and didn’t know if the pressure she had applied for the last twenty–four hours had prolonged his life by even a minute. One thing she did know, nature would take its course in its own time. Her dad used to say, “There’s always hope,” but any ray of optimism for her future beyond the next few hours had disappeared behind the darkest cloudbank.

Within a few minutes, a buzzing sound started low and then began to build in intensity. Natalie realized it came from the driver’s seat. Tony was asleep and snoring. She decided to take the opportunity to work further on Rudy. She had caught him glance toward her several times in the last few minutes, but he hadn’t spoken.

“Do you have any family?” Natalie kept her voice just above a whisper.

“Aunt in California,” Rudy said and turned to his left as much as his restraints would allow, “but you know that from the newspaper story. Most of the rest are back home.”

“Where’s home?”

“Detroit.”

She hoped to engage him in personal conversation, to further endear herself to him, but her real priority was the search for ammunition to continue to drive a wedge between him and Tony.

“So, your family still lives there?”

“Yeah, son of an automaker. Family’s worked in the industry for years and Father has made his career on the assembly line.”

Something in the way he referred to his dad as “Father” and not “my dad” struck her as odd. It was like a name and not a title of respect. Even though she couldn’t read his face in the darkness, she sensed Rudy feared his father. She kept her thoughts to herself for now, though, to see where the conversation might lead.

“And your mother?”

“Don’t have a mother. She died a short while back.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, and looked toward the dark figure in the passenger seat.”

Her attitude toward her parents had mellowed while she struggled to get her life and career started. They may have always been strict and rule bound, but she realized now it was because they were trying to protect her. They did love her after all, she always felt that. But even with all her mom’s well-meaning: teaching her how to grow up to be a good wife—planning and cooking meals, or canning fruits and vegetables—dragging her to youth Bible studies, her dogmatic demands that Natalie pledge her life to the heavenly trio—Father, Son and Holy Ghost—Natalie missed her mom. Now, looking back, the issues she had made mountains of seemed petty little insignificant things—emotional outbursts she should have been able to control but for some reason seemed unable to predict, not to mention stop. She had even taken to calling her mother once a week on Saturday morning.

A call she just realized she failed to make this morning.

Natalie’s heart broke. Last Saturday they had a minor fight over her Cindy’s choice in friends—a familiar theme to Natalie. Cindy, now age fourteen, had decided to turn Goth and that came with a collection of friends in black clothes, black hair, black makeup and piercings in places they had no business. Mom didn’t like the looks of them. Natalie said, “It’s just a phase, Mom. Cindy will grow out of it in a couple of years.” But her mother was too horrified of being seen anywhere with her daughter, let alone at church, and wouldn’t accept what Natalie had said. “It reminds me so much of you when you ran off after school with some boy we didn’t know,” her mother said, the hurt in her voice still palpable even though it had been almost two years since the day she left home “To this day I don’t know what happened.” That was the day Natalie lost her virginity, but she had never been able to admit that, so she concluded the call with an abrupt, “Mom, I have to go.”

But I didn’t call today. What’s she thinking? Did she believe Natalie too angry to carry on a civil conversation? Had her mom tried to call her? Did she even know Natalie was missing?

A pool of tears she didn’t try to contain choked her voice as she continued the conversation with Rudy. “I can’t imagine losing my mother. You miss her don’t you?”

“Yeah, but it’s a good thing she’s dead.”

She realized this wasn’t the easy conversation she had contemplated but chose to pursue it. “Why would you say that?”

“’Cause when all this comes out,” he said, “if she wasn’t dead, the grief of all this would kill her. It’s better she’ll never know.”

“You’re probably right,” she said. She couldn’t imagine how she would feel if a child of hers turned criminal. The decision not to tell her parents about the movie roles she played since she turned eighteen had been her way to cover the guilt she felt in her onscreen appearances. She couldn’t imagine her mother calling her friends at State Street Church to boast about the nude scene her daughter had done.

She needed to move the conversation forward to explore anything she could use. “Tell me about your father?”

“Father?” he asked. “He didn’t care much about me when I was home and he sure the hell won’t care about me now. Between the assembly line and the bars, he was rarely home when I was a kid, and when he was home, it wasn’t good news.”

“Why’s that?”

“He had what me and my brothers called a ‘pitcher meter,’”

“A ‘pitcher meter?’”

“Yeah, we could tell just how many pitchers Father had drunk by his temper when he got home. The more beer the more the meter rose, and the angrier he got.”
_____
Can’t wait for more; go to Amazon.com to add this to your bookshelf.
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© Jearl Rugh 2012

All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 26, 2015

56 Born to Make the Kill

“Detective Garcia? Special Agent Hawk.”

After she had returned to her cubical from the scene of her witness’s murder, Angela had located the reports on the Beaumont case in the National Crime Information Center database. From them she had been able to fill in some blanks in Caesar’s information.

Eye witnesses, two soldiers recently returned from Iraq, from a photo of three men at a convenience store had identified for the Reno police that they were the same men seen with a man who was later found murdered. No physical evidence had been found to positively connect the three men to the murdered man, so for now they had been deemed persons of interest. The soldiers had also identified the men’s car as a mid ‘60s four-door Chevy. A car matching that description with the plate number two attentive Lassen County Sheriff’s Deputies had been able to positively link to the three men, had also been found abandoned near the scene where a farmer’s 1982 Ford van had gone missing.

“Yes, good evening,” Caesar said. “I received a report just a while ago that the third suspect has been identified, Henry Rogers. It looks like he goes by Hank, Hank Rogers.”

Someone at Xandar Studios had recognized the photo and it hadn’t taken long to find he hadn’t been on the west coast long.

“What do we know about Mr. Rogers?” Angela asked.

“Well, his neighborhood’s a little different than the TV icon—,” Caesar paused.

Angela Hawk knew he was trying to make a joke, but she was in no mood. His actions had likely caused a man’s death, not to mention the teenage clerk still in the ICU. She waited for him to continue.

“Looking at his rap sheet, he has been a bad boy. He was arrested on a series of drug possessions, breaking and entry, robbery and assault. But even though he spent a few years in Sing Sing, I just don’t see anything that would have escalated to this serious a crime spree.”

“You know,” Angela said and rifled through reports on her desk, “yeah, here it is, Tony Alonso spent some time in Sing Sing as well on a sexual assault charge. Maybe they met there, I’ll check it out.”

“Wonder if there are any open warrants for them in New York?” Caesar asked as he pulled the bag of pretzels open. “I came up empty in California for all three suspects, but it might help us get a clearer picture of Alonso if you check him out. Have you learned anything else?”

Angela heard a crunch in her ear, but ignored it. “We lost them around Susanville, but picked up their trail in western Oregon just an hour ago. One of the suspects used a credit card at a gas station.”

She paused. With her murdered witness, this hadn’t been her week for good news. “I’m afraid something terrible has happened, Caesar.”

“What?” he shouted. “Did you find Natalie’s body?”

“No, but they shot a teenage clerk at the station. He’s in critical condition and may not survive. They left one witness who had stepped into the restroom, but as they fled, they ran over and killed another man.”

“My God, they’re escalating,” Caesar said. “God help her.”



Tony took the keys and contemplated whether he should waste the couple here or take them off into the brush somewhere when he saw the eyes of the man suddenly flick past him. The gun still pointed at the man’s head, he jerked his body to the side. The quick motion threw him off balance. As he began to stumble, and tried to reset his feet, he saw a heavy stone just inches away on a collision course with his head. Behind it, the figure of Natalie draped in her black leather jacket ran around the fender of the Jeep.

His actions weren’t sufficient to get out of the path of the rock. It glanced off his left shoulder and bounced into his face full on. Stunned by the blow, he dropped the gun and the keys within easy reach of the man, and started to fall.



Natalie saw the gun go down as she raced toward the place where Tony had been standing. The man, too, reached for it. Tony’s left foot jerked up and connected with a solid blow below the man’s chin. As he started to fall backwards, Tony crumpled on top of the shrieking woman.

The gun lay unchallenged on the ground. The glint off the nickel plate from the headlights of the van made the revolver look like a search light to Natalie. She continued her stride toward the beacon of safety and reached for it. Her fingers welcomed the cold steel as she wrapped them around the barrel.

“Quick, get to your car and get out of here,” she said to the couple as she turned the pistol to grab the grip.

The man looked up at her, his eyes pleading.

“Come on, go. There’s not much time.”

The startled man grabbed the keys out of the dirt and stood. He pushed Tony off his wife and helped her to her feet.

“Hurry now,” Natalie said. She waved the gun toward their car.

While the couple scurried to the SUV, Natalie looked to where Tony lay sprawled on the ground. He wasn’t moving.

As the man passed Natalie, he said “Thank you, miss, but you seem to be in trouble. Your faced is all bruised, Shouldn’t you come with us?”

Even though the prudent thing would be to run away with them and leave Tony with his face in the dirt, she couldn’t walk away from Rudy. That would seal Rudy’s doom for certain. She wasn’t certain why, but it seemed her presence is what kept Rudy alive to this point. “Please,” Natalie said, “just do as I say. Call 9-1-1 as soon as you can.”

Natalie heard both doors of the Jeep slam close and then the engine start. She stepped out of the vehicle’s path toward Tony and as the Jeep began to drive away the woman rolled down the passenger window and asked, “Are you sure, dear?”

“Yes, go!”

The Jeep continued toward the road and Natalie turned back toward Tony. She could finish this now. Shoot the bastard and be done with it. But no sooner had she thought it than she realized Tony was no longer on the ground. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye yet didn’t have time to react as Tony’s fist slammed into her stomach.

The air in her lungs raced out in a desperate wheeze as she staggered backward and doubled over. She still had the gun and tried to straighten up to search for her target, but it was too late. One of Tony’s fists slammed into her cheek and his other hand grabbed the barrel of the gun. With a twist she thought would break her wrist, Tony wrested it away with ease. Natalie fell to her side in the dirt.

Tony took aim at the Jeep as it continued to recede into the night and fired once. The shot shattered the rear window but the dark SUV continued down the road and out of sight.

“Now you’ve stepped in shit, bitch. You let witnesses go. Get back in the van!”

“Why don’t you shoot me and get it over with?”

“Shut up,” he said and grabbed her arm. He yanked her to her feet and then shoved her toward the Econoline.

“I don’t get it. You didn’t rape me when you had the chance and now for the third time you didn’t kill me when you could have. What do you want from me?”

“I want you to shut the hell up and get back in the van.”

Tony thrust her toward the open passenger door. She stumbled but was able to keep her footing. As she reached the door, she heard Rudy’s voice.

“I thought I heard a shot. What happened to the Jeep?”

Tony didn’t answer, but opened the cargo door and pushed Natalie inside.
_____
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

55 Born to Make the Kill

Since Tony had learned the van had caught the notice of the FBI, he and Rudy had looked for an opportunity to steal another vehicle. But a heist wasn’t good option on US 101 since there was so much traffic. So, not long after they left Lincoln City, he found a narrow country road and decided to give it try.

They drove back along the twisted road for several miles until they came across a turnout on the right. It wasn’t much more than a wide spot in the road, but big enough for two cars to park side by side. Stopped in it, a Jeep Laredo sat vacated. The sun had set only a few minutes before, but since there were no street lights and the tall trees blocked any remnants of daylight, the stretched shadows had been replaced by the gloom of night. Tony steered the van alongside the Jeep. His headlamps offered the only light in the darkness. He saw that the deep brown SUV was fairly new, the first decent ride he had had in years. He let the van’s engine idle as he opened the driver’s door to check it out.

Overhead he could hear the sound of the wind whisper through the high branches of the trees and not too far away, down an embankment, a river thrashed as it tripped into, around and over its rocky bed. As he rounded the front of the van, Rudy stepped out and wandered off toward the tree on the edge of the turnout.

“What the hell you doing?” Tony asked.

“God, can’t I take piss without permission. You’re worse than my ol’ man.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Just make it fast.”

Tony tried the doors of the Jeep but they were locked, so he began to search for a something to break a window. In the van`s headlights he saw a large rock beside the road about twenty feet ahead. The Jeep’s rear door had two windows, one of them small and wing shaped. Tony raised the rock to shatter to the wing, but as he was about to swing the large stone, a new sound drifted through the air.

With the rhythm of the wind and the churn of the river, he could discern neither where it came from nor if there was more than one voice. He paused, frozen in place, listening. As it grew closer and more distinct, he determined the sound came from the far side of the Jeep nearest the river. Hidden in the darkness between the two vehicles, he dropped the rock just below the van’s passenger door.

As the sound drew closer, one male and one female voice became distinguishable. He turned his head toward them and two figures emerged from a trailhead. Caught in the peripheral light of the van’s headlamps, one carried a flashlight with the beam pointed toward the ground. They turned and walked toward the Jeep. With their faces illumined by the van’s headlights, he saw a middle aged couple, slightly overweight panted for breath.

This will be as easy as stealing a kid’s lunch money all over again.



Detective Caesar Garcia wasn’t about to give up. He had been on the case for the better part of twenty-seven hours. Of that, he had only spent a few of them asleep in the back of the break room when he stretched out on a coffee-stained couch with threadbare arms. He knew cases like this with open trails had to be followed quickly and efficiently, and since he rose at 4:00 a.m. to take the call from Ansell Parker, he hadn’t shut his eyes for more than a blink’s worth.

He didn’t like to admit a lapse of judgment but he knew if he hadn’t disclosed to Agent Hawk that he leaked information on Rudy’s relationship to Adelaide Masters-Leigh to the AP, it would come out eventually. In his opinion, the way the government worked, once a suspected leak sprung, they might lose focus on the real case while they ramped up an investigation to find the hole. Perhaps with the air cleared early it would mean the FBI wouldn’t waste time while Natalie was still in the wind.

As he walked back toward his desk from the kitchen with a can of soda and a bag of pretzels, his thoughts were distracted by the ring of his cellphone.

“Garcia,” he said into the mouth piece, and sat down on his desk chair. The springs creaked as he leaned back.



Natalie heard the voices outside the van as well and shed the ties on her hands and feet. With the memory still riveted on the clerk and the man at the convenience store, she felt a tremor ripple down her back as she considered how little Tony respected the life of other people. She slipped Hank’s head off her lap and moved without a sound to the other side of the van. Behind Rudy’s seat she crouched where she could see out the open passenger door. Tony had stepped around to the front of the Jeep. Two people walked in his direction. She braced herself by the back of the passenger seat and stood, hunched over at the waist. In one fluid movement, she spun and settled easy into the seat. Cool air spilled over her legs.

As the couple drew closer, they slowed their pace and the man raised his hand with an apprehensive wave. He shone the flashlight toward Tony. “Everything alright?” he said, and shifted his body so he came between the woman and Tony.

Tony didn’t answer. Natalie saw him reach behind his back and knew he was searching for the revolver. She wanted to shout, “Run!” but it would have done no good. Tony would have no qualms about whether he shot them in the back or front. Dead is dead, “no witnesses,” Tony had said.

Tony pulled the gun from his belt and said with a cool reserve in his voice, “Give me your keys.”

“We … we don’t want any trouble,” the man said and reached into his pocket.

“Slowly, now,” Tony said, “I don’t like surprises.”

Natalie quietly slid off the seat and softly touched the ground on the balls of her feet.

“It’s only my keys,” the man said.

“Please don’t hurt us,” the woman pleaded. “Just take the car and leave us alone.”

Natalie started to move from behind the door. As she shifted, her foot bumped into something.

“On your knees,” Tony demanded.

“Please, we’ll do whatever you want,” the man entreated and turned back toward the woman, “but she’s just getting over knee surgery. Getting on her knees will hurt and might injure her again.”

“Shut the hell up, do I look like I give a shit. Maybe I should just blow your knees out so you can sympathize better. Get on your knees, now, both of you and give me those damn keys.” He walked toward them with the pistol pointed at the man’s head.

The man helped his wife into a kneeling position. “I’m sorry, dear,” he said. As she began to sob, he held the keys out to Tony.

Because Natalie was behind the bright lights, she knew the man and the woman couldn’t see her. She kept her eyes trained on Tony while he walked away from her to retrieve the keys. She stooped down and found a large rock. She glanced around the turnout quickly to find Rudy. If he really wanted to set her free and would follow her lead, this was the perfect time, but she couldn’t see him anywhere. She stepped around the passenger door, and walked to the front fender of the Jeep. Her target was only ten feet away. She lifted the rock over her head with both hands, took careful aim and hurled the missile at Tony.
_____
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Friday, July 24, 2015

54 Born to Make the Kill

Harman Rathbone used the shoulder of US 101 for a bike lane as he peddled his cruiser toward Lincoln City. A beautiful fall day, he had worn a medium weight jacket which, under the sharp angled sun, made him feel warm and comfortable. The early evening air felt cool and refreshed his flushed cheeks. The familiar and welcome burn in the muscles of his legs as they worked the tires against the loose gravel in the highway’s shoulder and the strong throb of his heart as it pulsed against his temples made him realize how good life was.

One of the shoe strings on his Reeboks felt loose, but he saw just ahead the gas station where he always picked up the evening newspaper. He pulled into the lot and stopped the bike in the driveway. He unzipped his jacket and dismounted. With the kickstand in place, he bent down to tie the shoe.



Tony tore through the door, spun quickly around the front of the van and jumped into the driver’s seat. He thrust the Colt into his waistband, tossed the newspaper at Rudy, and dropped the grocery bag on the floor between the two front seats. He reached for the bare ignition wires. “They know who we are, shit!”

“Why’d you shoot that kid?” the panic in Rudy’s voice unmasked.

The engine fired and Tony slammed the Ford into drive. “Leave no witnesses. The police know who I am and now we’ve left a credit card trail.”

“How’d they find us?” Rudy asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t take time to read the paper, just saw the headline and our picture. How’d they get that picture anyway, damn it? Read it aloud.”

Tony floored the accelerator and tore away from the fuel pumps toward the highway.



Harman heard the engine of a two-tone blue van and realized, as it began to roll towards the gas station’s driveway, he and his bike stood right in its path. He jumped back on the saddle to save it.



As the van lurched forward, Rudy turned to see if the other station attendant was anywhere in site. He hoped Tony had forgotten about him or maybe didn’t even know he had been there. Otherwise Tony would kill him too, but he was nowhere to be seen. He turned back towards the windshield.

“Watch out!” he yelled.



One eruption hadn’t been enough to satisfy the compulsive pressure behind his eyes. The drunk in the yellow coupe had born witnessed in his last seconds to the vengeance Tony recompensed on his gnarled world. The boy inside had just been collateral damage but the man on the bike would be swept away in an explosive flow he couldn’t outrun. Tony steered the van straight toward the man.



Horrified, Rudy braced his hands against the dashboard and watched as the old man’s body collided with the hood of the van. From his expression just before impact, Rudy could see he had predicted no escape. The power of the van accelerating toward the highway forced the man’s body to twist. His head crashed into the windshield face first. Rudy, only inches away from the most horrific sight he had ever witnessed, couldn’t tear his eyes away. The face that met his was terrified, tortured, and yet still alive. Its eyes were filled with horror and plead for mercy, but his mortality had been reduced to the silent scream coming from the gapping mouth pressed against the window.



Tony slammed the brake hard to disengage the body from the van. “Out of my way, damn it,” he shouted, and as soon as the man’s face began to slide down the glass with streaks of blood left in its path, he stomped on the accelerator. The van rocked and pitched as it rolled over the brutal chaos.

Tony screeched, “Ha, ha, haaaa,” as he heard the sounds of the man and the bike sweep under the tires. The resonance of his voice reverberated throughout the van and was so hideous in its timbre, Satan himself would have slapped Tony on the back with pride had he witnessed it.



All Natalie could hear in that horrific moment was a shriek like a chainsaw’s whine as it tears through sheet metal. Her ears filled with the terrifying screech. She didn’t hear the man strike the windshield nor the sounds of his crushed bones under the tires, just the shrill wail which deafened all other reality out of existence. It wouldn’t quit but rang in her head until she realized the rage came from deep inside her. When she gasped for breath, it stopped.



“Shut the hell up,” Tony shouted. “What’s that damned newspaper say?”

He wrestled the steering wheel under control as the van came about on the highway and the tires bit into the pavement with a squeal. He began to feel another laugh birth deep inside as he drove without regard to any other living being through Lincoln City and he let it roll out of his belly.



Rudy looked toward him and for the first time realized he was riding shotgun to a mad man. Natalie had been right, he had no conscience. This man was dangerous—a lunatic. He and Natalie’s demise were imminent unless he could find a way to stop it. He turned and looked at Natalie. Her terror filled eyes showed agreement with his assessment as the silent tears flowed over the blackish swelling of her bruised cheeks

The pit of his stomach began to surge and he rolled down his window just in time to vomit the contents out and down the side of the door.

When the queasiness passed, he rotated his head back toward Tony. He knew it was pointless to plead, but he had to try. “You’re out of control. We have to stop this before someone else gets hurt.”

“Shut your whining hole and read the paper.”

Rudy stared at him as long as he thought safe and then resolved to find the above-the-fold front-page news story. Horrified, he found his picture along with Tony and Hank. No matter what he did now, if they were caught he would be complicit in their capital crimes, and all this before his eighteenth birthday. He could only hope for leniency if the law caught up with him—maybe they would try him as a minor—or a quick death if Tony’s pistol would be his fate.

He read the article aloud.

“… In a telephone interview,” Rudy continued as the story concluded, “with Special Agent Angela Hawk of the FBI—”

“The FBI?” interrupted Tony. “Shit, shit, shit! What else?”

“Ah,” Rudy said and found his place. “She stated that with the help of the Lassen County sheriff’s department, they had located the suspect’s abandoned vehicle and determined the three men may have continued to head north on US 395.”

“Damn it, if they found Ma’s car, they know we stole this piece-of-shit van.”

When Tony didn’t go on, Rudy finished reading. “The three men are also wanted for questioning in an unrelated case in Reno, Nevada where they have been linked to a man who was murdered in a casino parking lot on Friday.”

“Goddamn, they’ve tied us to that?” Tony mumbled. “We’ve got to dump this van.”
_____
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

53 Born to Make the Kill

“Well just ‘cause I was busy that night, didn’t mean you should never ask me again.”

“Really?”

“Yes, you didn’t have to go through all of this, involving your friends to be with me. I thought you were so cute. I’ve always thought you had that shy innocent look and I like that.”

“What are you saying, Nat?”

“I’m saying, if you get me free from these men, I want to be with you.”

“You won’t turn me in?”

“No,” she lied. She knew if a convincing role ever had to be played, this was it. Her life depended upon Rudy buying it.

“But what if we have to go into hiding? Will you go with me?

“Yes.”

“And then we can be together, forever, and we can make love anytime we want?”

“That’s what you did before in the warehouse, didn’t you? You weren’t raping me. You were making love to me, weren’t you?”

“Yes!” he agreed and looked at her feet. “I was.”

“And it was beautiful, Rudy,” she said and delivered the punch line with a subtle smile. “I got afraid for a few minutes. That’s why I pushed you away at the end, but it was beautiful. You get me away from Tony, and I’m yours.”

“I will,” he said and looked up at her smoky eyes again. “I will, no matter what.”

Natalie turned toward the store where she hoped to see how Tony was doing. She knew she would only have seconds to get back into position under Hank once he finished. He wasn’t in sight.

She wondered what kind of plan Rudy had in mind. So far all she had seen him do was sit there and act like a wounded pup. He couldn’t save her with his tail between his legs but she needed to string him along.

“Tell me about your plan.”

“Well, it’s not much of one yet,” he admitted. “If I can find a way for Tony to trust me, maybe I can use that to get us away from him.”

Natalie realized this was a plan to fail. “I’m not sure you could ever earn that, Rudy.”

“But what else is there?”

“I don’t know and I’ll try to help you, but what I do know is we may not have much time. Hank isn’t doing well. He needs a doctor, now.”

“But Tony says we can’t do that.”

“You have to stop listening to Tony and start thinking for yourself or neither one of us will survive. Look, if Hank dies, Tony’s made it clear he’s coming after me. And once I’m out of the picture, do you think he is going to let you live? Tony’s a survivor, and he’ll do whatever it takes. I’ve seen it in his eyes, Rudy. He has no soul, he feels no guilt, and he respects no one, not even himself. Allowing Hank to get medical attention would threaten his freedom, so letting him die is proof.”

“I just don’t know what to do,” he said and Natalie recognized his desperation. “I’m so tired I can’t think. I just wish I could go home.”

“There‘s no going back, Rudy. Once you crossed that bridge in LA, you sealed your fate. But if I survive with your help, it’ll go easier on you when the police do catch up with us. I’ll put in a good word for you.”

Natalie saw Rudy’s eyes drift toward the store. She followed his glance. Tony walked up to the counter and placed his coffee and an arm load of food on the counter. He pointed toward the van, she assumed an indication he would pay for the gas. The cashier began to ring everything up and bagged the groceries as he went.

“You better get back in place, Nat,” Rudy said. “Tony’s about done in there. I need to get you tied up again.”

“Okay, but remember not too tie tight.” She scrambled back into position on the cold, uncomfortable, steel floor and placed Hank’s head back on her thighs.



Rudy leaned around between the front seats. He wrapped her ankles and wrists with the shreds of the bedspread and tied them in loose knots. When he finished, he whirled back toward the window. He watched Tony as he handed a credit card over to the male teenage clerk. After he swiped the card through the reader and returned it, Tony grabbed the bag in one hand and the coffee in the other. He started toward the door and as he reached for the handle, he stopped short. Rudy, in the full light of the setting western sun, saw Tony’s face through the glass door turn as pale as the midnight moon.

Tony dropped the coffee, reached to a newsstand and grabbed a newspaper. Then, he spun back toward the clerk and pulled the gun from his belt. Through the window Rudy watched as the nervous boy immediately raised his hands in surrender but Tony waved him towards the cash register. The terrified clerk reached in and handed Tony a wad of money.

“What the hell?” Rudy shouted.

“Wha … wha what’s going on?” Natalie screamed.

“Tony’s robbing the place.”

Rudy’s mouth fell open as he watched aghast. He hoped the silver barreled menace wouldn’t belch another deadly lightning bolt like in Reno. Tony waved the boy to the floor behind the counter, out of his sight.

“No, no no!” Rudy screamed but the flash erupted and filled the area around the counter with a moment of unmistakable luminosity.
_____
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© Jearl Rugh 2012

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

52 Born to Make the Kill

Except for to squat beside the van before they left the recreation area where Tony had slept for a few hours, she hadn’t been allowed to use a restroom even though she had begged. Not that she really needed to go, for she had been deprived of not much more than a couple swallows of water sense they left the motel, but she was desperate to get her feet untied so she could stretch some feeling back into her stiff muscles. Also, with the pen and notepad still undetected in her panties, if Tony would just once give her an opportunity, she hoped of leave another note.

The air in the van had grown more pungent as the day drug on, foul enough to cause even the strongest stomach to wretch. Natalie had found it difficult to breathe the odiferous cocktail. Tony had chained smoked cheap cigarettes—the only thing keeping him awake—so the air was filled with a heavy tobacco scent. Hank’s breath carried with it the stench of decay as the blood in his lungs congealed and the injured tissues began to rot. To add to the foulness, he had lost bladder control and urinated on himself several times throughout the day.

Now, the intensity of the sun’s stream though the windows warmed the fetid air, and turned it into a noxious anesthetic. She could feel the repetitious drift of the van and the chatter of the tires as they bumped against the turtle-like rumble strips that divided the highway lanes. Rudy, who had tried every few hours since sunrise to get Tony to let him to drive, sat where he had been since they stole the van last night, in the passenger seat. From where Natalie sat, she saw his head leaned against the window, asleep. She, too, fought drowsiness and her eyes fell closed again.

The sound of an eighteen-wheeler’s air horn woke everybody except Hank. The van suddenly pitched to the right. Natalie heard the truck rumble by and the horn faded into the distance behind them.

Rudy shouted, “You’re going to get us all killed! You need some rest. Let me drive.”

Natalie felt her spirit lift as she watched Rudy from her position behind the driver’s seat. She caught his glance, he masked his thoughts but she teased herself that if Tony went to sleep, she could work on Rudy to either set her free or turn himself in to the police. A fool’s hope.

“Damn you and the whore,” Tony retorted. “If I go to sleep, I’ll wake up in jail or dead. We need gas anyway, let’s find some coffee.”

As they made their southern approach to Lincoln City, Tony veered off the highway and pulled into the gravel driveway up to a gas station pump. He opened the driver’s door.

“I’m going inside,” he said to Rudy. “Get some gas.”

“Please let me stretch my legs,” Natalie pleaded. “I won’t try anything.”

Without an answer, Tony stepped out of the van and slammed the door.

Natalie’s peek-a-boo view of the windshield offered just enough to see that Tony passed by on the way to the store. Her eyes fell easily on Rudy. As he unbuckled his seatbelt, a knock came from the window where he had been resting his head.

“Fuel?” the station attendant asked.

“Uh … unleaded,” Rudy said, and then rolled the window back up. He turned back to Natalie. “Go ahead and stand up, but I can’t let you out of the van.”

She recognized his deep apologetic tone. “Thank you, Rudy,” she said as she shifted Hank’s head off her lap. “I think my whole body’s asleep, would you untie my feet?”

Rudy hesitated a moment and then passed between the two front seats. He reached to the ties on her ankles and undid the tight knots.

“Thank you,” she said and held her wrists out for the same favor.

“Can’t,” he said and slipped back into his seat with a worried look. “Tony won’t be happy I untied your feet as it is.”

“He doesn’t have to know,” she said, as she stood for the first time all day. The three inch heals on her black leather boots forced her to bend at the waist so she wouldn’t hit the roof of the van with her head. “Before he comes back, you wrap my ankles and wrists again, just don’t tie them so tight. After it gets dark, I can release myself and he’ll never figure it out.”

She held her hands out to him again.

“Okay,” he conceded, “but if I get caught it could ruin my plan.”

With her wrists untied, she massaged them and her ankles vigorously to motivate the blood to circulate again.

“Rudy, I know you didn’t mean for all this to happen,” she said as she attempted to stretch every muscle in her body. “You saw an opportunity to have sex with me, you took it and I was willing for my own reasons.”

“Look, Nat, I’m sorry I got you into this.”

She remembered back in the motel room she told him he could call her Nat. The lifeline implied he was her friend and pulled him closer to where she hoped to drive a wedge between him and Tony. She had no thought of letting him slide for his part in this nightmare. He may be simple minded and innocent in his own way, but because of him she was here. First opportunity she had to turn Tony and Rudy against each other, she would take it.

“You know I’m counting on you,” she said, “and I’m glad you have a plan.”

“You must hate me,” Rudy confessed and faced toward the windshield.

Natalie, surprised by the sudden turn in Rudy demeanor, said, “Look, I have every reason to hate you. You got me into this and look at what happened? I’ve put a bullet in one of your friends and Tony won’t stop terrorizing us. I’m so frightened we won’t survive this. But I know this whole thing, in your mind, was to bring us together. It’s because you love me, isn’t it?”

“I do love you. You’re so beautiful,” he confessed and drew his eyes toward the debris at his feet.

“Am I the first girl you’ve loved?”

“Except for my mother.”

“Then, let me love you back, Rudy,” she said. “Do you remember when you asked me out before?”

“Sure, how could I ever forget?” he asked and turned his eyes back to Natalie’s.
_____
Can’t wait for more; go to Amazon.com to add this to your bookshelf.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

51 Born to Make the Kill

From Susanville, California, Tony had driven west toward the Pacific coast on California State Highway 36. They had found coffee and gasoline at an all-night station in Red Bluff, but by the time they got into the Trinity National Forest, the coffee long gone, forced Tony to pull off the road into a recreation area to close his eyes. He wasn’t about to let Rudy drive, even though he had insisted, so he had torn more strips from the burnt orange bedspread wrapped around Hank and tied Rudy’s hands together behind the front bucket seat. With Rudy unable to move and Natalie’s hands and feet secured, he lay down next to Hank on the grimy floor in the back of the van and slept for a few hours.

Except for that brief break, they had driven through the day north on US 101and stopped for fuel only once. As far as she knew Tony had been awake for the better part of two and a half days. Since they left the motel, he had done all the driving and that had to be seventeen or eighteen hours ago. She had no reason to believe Hank or Rudy had spelled him at any juncture before that.

It was almost five o’clock in the evening and the sun, draped in a tapestry of orange and gray, sagged heavy in the western sky. They approached the outskirts of Lincoln City on the central Oregon coast. Natalie faced east and could see the reflection of the sunset in Rudy’s window. The otherwise white steel door frame next him to him had taken on an orange tint.

The only real relief she had realized through her second night of captivity had been sleep, but fitful dreams didn’t allow it to be very restful. Most of the night she fled in the darkness from an attacker who, even though he would seize her again and again, she intuited he had more than rape and murder on his mind. But one dream had saved her—being home in Iowa. In it she sat down to Sunday dinner around the scarred dining room table covered with that old bed sheet surrounded by family—Cindy, and her mom and dad.

By the sheer grit of her determination to survive, she had endured being entombed in the trunk of a car for more than twenty hours and had been able to sit on the uncomfortable and filthy floor of a van for the better part of a day. On the farm everything always seemed disheveled. She hated to feel unclean, yet even though she longed for a hot bath and her eyes wept for lack of sleep, her mind, still sharp, couldn’t think of anything except how to end this nightmare.

She was surprised at how strong she had grown since all this began. Resilience had never been one of her strengths. She grew up the “prissy” one as her mother put it. Playing dress up as a young girl, styling her hair, putting on makeup and talking on the telephone with what few friends she had as she got older were preferred activities. Yet, even though she hated creeping critters of all kinds, she had come to believe that life for every creature was sacred. Everything had its place in the cosmic scheme, even if it crawled or slithered.

Yet here, she was the nursemaid to man who bore the bullet she put in his chest. His scarred face with the long scratches she dug into his cheeks with her own fingernails taunted her in silence. She remembered her assessment of him when they first met two days ago in the warehouse—Not the brightest set of headlights on the highway to Hell. And now this non-violent girl had likely hastened his demise.

In her short years of life, she had never witnessed someone die. Her great grandmother who had been ill for several months had passed when Natalie, then Amy, was fourteen. Before death overtook her, Amy had spent some time at her bedside holding her grandfather’s hand while he watched his mother die. Each breath her great grandmother took sounded much like Hank’s labored struggle now, but when the end came, Amy had stepped out of the room. Natalie feared there would be no room to step out of when Hank succumbed to his injury.

She had continued her vigil throughout the day with Hank’s head in her lap and he was still alive. Even though her lower body had become numb from sitting in one position, the immobility seemed to aggravate the discomfort of the many wounds and bruises she had suffered over the last couple of days. Her head and jaw ached now as it had most of the day and the freshest wounds, her scrapped knees, which had become swollen and inflamed, stung whenever she shifted positions. She was happy to still be alive but with Hank’s life dangling over an unstable precipice, she had doubts about how much longer that would be true.

The bleeding had stopped in Hank’s chest. She had dressed the wound a couple of times with the diapers and masking tape, even though it had been difficult with her hands bound together. Hank’s injury had become distended. The flesh around it a mix of crimson, jaundice and black. The color in his face had gotten more sullen and in the last few hours his mouth had fallen fixed into an O shape.

His wheezing struggle for breath had deepened and often several seconds would pass between breaths. When he did inhale again, it sounded like someone had broken the surface after being submerged beneath the water too long. Over the last hour in the van, though, a new symptom had emerged. Hank had begun to cough up blood. She wiped it from his lips each time with a rag of disposable diaper, but she convinced herself that he had entered the last hours of life.
_____
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Monday, July 20, 2015

50 Born to Make the Kill

There isn’t anything as reverent as the hush of a murder scene. The pulsating rhythm of red, blue and amber lights cast by emergency vehicles gathered together for one purpose paint the canvas with an eerie hue of finality. Skilled hands, grave hearts and solemn voices conflate in the sober tasks of gathering, preserving and respecting the remains of the one who, without regard for their will, was forced to leave this world. Somber realizations of mortality haunt their souls as they are reminded once again how fragile a thread binds them to being.

It was just after 11 a.m. and Special Agent Angela Hawk of the FBI stood in the infamous Washington State drizzle beside a small pond. She watched the fervent bustle of the uniformed workers while she waited for the medical examiner to release the body. The conversation that had led her to this spot occurred thirty minutes earlier while she sat in her cubical at the Port of Vancouver USA. The stymied investigation had left her angry with the belief that she had lost her edge.



Agent Hawk!” she had shouted into the mouth piece, startled by the sudden interruption.

“Officer Palmero, Vancouver PD.”

“Yes, Officer?” Angela asked and felt the heavy weight of dread drive into her stomach. Her unofficial intuition told her what was about to come next.

“You put a BOLO out on Maria Caldron?”

“Yes,” she said. “Do you have news?”

“We found Ms. Caldron’s car partially submerged in a pond. There’s a woman’s body inside.”

“Damn that bastard,” she had said as she hung up the telephone. Maria had been her only witness and now it looked as though she had been killed because of it.




Just before Angela arrived at the site, a tow truck had pulled the car out of the pond and even now, the swamp water flowed like small waterfalls from its recently submerged cavities. The truck’s driver leaned against his rig. He wore a yellow hooded slicker, puffed on a foul-smelling cigar, and scratched the three-day stubble on his jaw while he waited for the vehicle to be released.

Angela watched as the paramedics removed the remains of a woman from the driver’s seat of the minivan. They placed her with care on a gurney, slipped her inside a black body bag and then one of them began to zip it closed.

Angela stepped forward and held up her hand to signal stop. When the EMT paused just short of covering the woman’s face, Angela glanced toward the medical examiner. She neither spoke nor needed to.

“I’d estimate time of death to be three days,” he began, “but since she has been in the water, I won’t know for sure until I get her on my table. Judging from the hole in her temple, I‘d say the cause of death is a single GSW to the head. There is no exit wound, so I should be able to retrieve the slug.”

”There’s no ID in the car,” Officer Palmero interrupted, “but the plate is registered to Maria Caldron.”

Angela looked down into the face of the motionless woman in front of her. It was bloated and unrecognizable to most.

“I believe it’s her,” Angela said. She held back the tears of frustration that threatened to flow down her ruddy cheeks. Maria had been home with her three children earlier that the week when Angela interviewed her about the case. “Ms. Caldron has a small mole on the right side of her nose.” She pointed to the woman’s face. “That could be it there.”

I’m a decorated agent of the FBI, she thought, and I let a vital witness get in harm’s way. How can I be so stupid? Now I’ve orphaned her three kids and for what?

As the EMT closed the black body bag, Angela’s cell phone rang.

“Hawk,” she answered on the second ring.

“Agent Hawk? This is Detective Caesar Garcia of the LAPD. We met at a conference a couple of years ago.”

“Yes, I remember, how can I help?”

“Well, you’re the only FBI agent I know and, as I recall, you seemed to have your head screwed on straight. I think I’m working a case that falls into the FBI’s court, do you have a moment?”

“Well, the jury’s still out on where my head is,” she said as she watched the gurney with her witness’s remains slide into the back of the emergency vehicle. “I have a few minutes, though. Go on.”

As she walked back toward and then got into her government-issue black SUV, she listened to the detective as he briefed her on the Natalie Beaumont case. When he finished, she asked, “There’s more isn’t there?”

“Well …, yes,” he said with a hesitation Angela read into his tone.

“What is it detective?”

“Well, it turns out that Ms. Beaumont does a little acting and on Wednesday she had a scene with Ansell Parker. I was at Xandar Studios a couple hours ago and learned the identity of another one of the suspects. He was a stage hand on the set that day. His name is Rudy Valencia.”

“Rudy Valencia. Got it,” she said and wrote the name on a notepad she had taken from her pocket. “You said there were three suspects, have you been able to track down the third’s identity?”

“Not yet. All I know is Hank. I did find he may have done some contract work for Xandar Studios. Beyond that, no one has a last name or knows what contractor he works for. Whether he had been on the set the other day is another mystery at the moment. Mr. Valencia’s apparently kind of a loner at work. He didn’t have many friends at the studio and even if he did, most of them are on location now in Europe. I’m trying to generate new leads, so I’m on the way to his apartment now. I did try to get some intel on Mr. Alonso yesterday when his name first came to light, but I ran into a major case of amnesia in his neighborhood.”

“No doubt. You were right to call as this does fall in Federal jurisdiction, although not in mine as their last known location is two states away from me. But the FBI will take the lead from this point. I appreciate you turning it over to us.”

“If you don’t mind, since Ms. Beaumont is a local and it started down here, I’ll keep digging around.”

“I see no reason to expend resources down there when you seem to be on top of things.” She remembered his hesitation a few moments before and added, “Is there anything else”

“Well … there’s one more thing,” Caesar confessed.

“One more thing? What that, Detective Garcia?”

“At Xandar Studios, I interviewed Adelaide Masters-Leigh.”

“And who’s she?”

“An executive at the studio,” Caesar replied, “and, if I might say, someone who’s quite filled with her own importance.”

“Ah, and what did she have to say?”

“Well after threatening to haul her and Salvador Sliman, the director, to headquarters, she finally gave up Mr. Valencia’s name. In the process, Mr. Sliman, much to her chagrin, let it slip that Rudy is Ms. Masters-Leigh’s nephew, her sister’s kid.

“I gave this information,” he continued, “to a contact of mine at the Associated Press, who said they would run with the story. It’s on the wire now.”

“Hum, I’m not sure that was a good idea. They’re already running and as far as we know the girl’s still alive. If they see this in the press, they may panic.”

“Well, in hindsight, it may not have been the best move, but Ms. Masters-Leigh pushed my buttons and I, well—”

“Payback doesn’t make for the best police work.”

“I know,” Caesar said.
_____
Can’t wait for more; go to Amazon.com to add this to your bookshelf.
For more about me, visit http://www.jearlrugh.com/ or Facebook

© Jearl Rugh 2012

All Rights Reserved