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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 6 July 2007 - 12:02am.

Chapter 12

"I have the information you want," Rudy Javits stated into the phone.

"What took you so long? I expected your call a lot sooner than this." The aggravation was apparent in the voice on the other end.

"It was harder than I expected. He's using an assumed name. Well, not really assumed. The name is his, but he isn't using all of it. Baird is his middle name. Surprise! His last name is Gilvaine."

"Yes, indeed."

A long hesitation and complete silence tempted Javits to hang up the receiver, but he stayed his hand. "What do you want to do?" he asked impatiently.

"I'll be by for the package and you'll be done with it until I want you again, got it?"

His demeanor was very condescending and Javits bristled at being treated like a lap dog. His answer was as curt and abrupt as Rollins'. "Yeah, I got it. Perfectly clear." And so was his resolve from that moment on. He was no ones' lap dog. He hung up the phone quickly before he would give Rollins the satisfaction of doing so first. From now on it was a new ball game.

Joshua Freed was hard at work when suddenly a shadow was cast over him and a large manila envelope dropped onto his desk.

"More of your handiwork, I assume? I thought we had an agreement." The voice was Tom's and he wasn't happy. He had found several photos in a large manila envelope, conspicuously placed on the seat of his car. They were pictures of Jenna on campus and were the crudest attempts to incriminate her and make her appear to be cheating on Tom. It was all too obvious that they were staged for that purpose. The male in the pictures never had eye contact from Jenna at any time. He was bought to pose, plain and simple.

Joshua turned to face him and began to explain immediately. "Listen, that was before we talked, okay? I've kept my word. I just forgot to warn you on this one, that's all. Besides, I still want to make it up to you and I think I know how."

"Go ahead. I'm listening." It was obvious he was reserving judgment until he had heard whatever was coming. Joshua shot quick, furtive glances in all directions and then told Tom quietly, "We can't talk here. Meet me at the Hansen Deli in an hour." The tone portrayed reservation and strangely, paranoia. It was hard to explain, but Joshua seemed sincere about wanting to help Tom and yet was concerned about doing so. He had no love for Perry Rollins, it appeared. He just wasn't ready to tell what he knew in these surroundings. Maybe there was good reason to be worried for Joshua as well.
"Alright, but don't be late."

An hour passed and Joshua entered the deli just as he had promised, but not before looking in both directions to be certain no one had followed him. Tom now reflected that he may have been right to feel some concern for Joshua. He only hoped he was wrong. Freed sat down at the table and reached across to shake hands. "Thanks for coming."

"No problem. You want something? My treat." Tom offered.

He looked too nervous to be hungry, even though it was his lunch hour. "Nothing, thanks. I just want to give you some information I have, but I hope it may lead somewhere. You never know with these things."

"Alright, shoot," Tom prompted.

Joshua again looked around before proceeding and then spoke only in hushed tones. "Rollins seems to have a lot of influence in this town. Too much, if you ask me. He has an inordinate amount of pull at the newspaper, I know that much. It's always puzzled me how my supervisor is constantly jumping to ask this or that of someone in the office and it's always for Rollins. Not that he comes right out and says so, right? It's just that after awhile patterns begin to develop and a picture starts to form."

"Okay, so what patterns are you talking about? What picture?"

"Well, I'll get right to the bottom line, but I warn you this is going to sound preposterous. There seems to be no other explanation that I can see, though." He hesitated nervously and began to wring his hands after an aborted attempt to drum his fingers on the table.

"Joshua, if it bothers you this much, then maybe you need to forget it; although I must admit that you now have my curiosity going full tilt."

"No, I need to say this." He took a deep breath before proceeding, blowing it out slowly and quietly. "There are some of us in the office that think our boss...or his boss...maybe both...." He paused again.

"Just say it. I'll believe you."

"Alright...there may be a Satanist group operating in town and Rollins may be the head of it." He held his breath and studied Tom's face. It registered great surprise. "I knew it—you don't believe me." He looked disappointed.

"On the contrary—you aren't the only one to think so. And more and more, I'm beginning to believe it, too. Just this morning I saw a document that blew my mind. It was a carbon copy of a typed sheet. It said things that could implicate Rollins in human sacrifice." Tom was beginning to speak a bit too loud and Joshua motioned him to lower his voice and again scanned the room for listening ears. Tom, too, looked around nervously. If the attendant had heard anything, he showed no sign of it. The ‘muzak’ background permeated the shop and both men assumed safety for the time being. Tom continued, "The sheet was a letter and signed only G.B. Does that mean anything to you?"

"I think so." Joshua said it in disappointed resignation, as if he wished it were not so.

"Who is G.B?"

"If I'm right in my assessment of it, it would be the mayor." His crestfallen stare was in stark contrast to the evident shock engrained upon Tom's face.

"Dear Lord, no...."

"No one in our office has those initials, but they would jump if the mayor told them to and would ask how high on the way up. If it's Mayor Barnes, then this is much bigger than I thought. Frankly, this whole thing is really beginning to scare me."

"Yeah, well, who wouldn't be scared by it?" Tom was so stunned and confused that his downcast eyes were wandering back and forth, searching for some elusive answer that might scurry across the table in front of him. None was forthcoming, much to his chagrin. “Wow...when you deliver information, you don't short-change a guy, do you?"

"Sorry, Tom. The pieces are coming together, though, aren't they?"

"Unfortunately, yes." Joshua now waited wordlessly and Tom continued, "He tried to drug and brainwash my girlfriend."

"The mayor?!" Joshua released his disbelief in astonished tones.

"No, Rollins. Look, if all this is true, I need to keep a very close eye on her and assume the worst—they may want her for a sacrifice." Tom suddenly looked very tired and Joshua seemed to turn white as the blood drained from his face.

"Tom, you need to get her out of town fast."

"She's a student at the University. She wouldn't want to leave."

"She can transfer to another school. What do you think, that she would prefer to take her chances here, knowing she might die for it?"

"If I know her, she won't run for any reason. I'll try to convince her otherwise, but that's my hunch." He stood slowly, as if worn to a nub and reached to shake Joshua's hand.

"I wish you well, Tom. Call for me at home if you need me. Here's my number. I would caution you to be careful in this and don't trust anyone. Got it?"
Tom nodded tiredly in agreement.

The drive to Jenna's was anything but relaxing for Tom. He was depressed at one moment and alarmed the next, a victim of his own thoughts and imagination. In a moment of unusual clarity he hit upon a plan. It could work—it had to work.

Tom drove directly to Jenna's as fast as he could legally drive. It was now getting late in the day and the shadows were getting longer. Jenna was home from the university and opened the door to him for the second time that day.

"Well, you just couldn't get enough of me, I see." Jenna laid on the teasing openly and Tom would have loved to take time and enjoy every delicious minute of it, but time was a commodity that he could not waste right now.

"Jenna, I need you to do me a big favor. I want you to pack your suitcase and come with me, okay?"

"Tom, if this is your idea of a proposal, you need to slow down and rethink it." She smiled, but looked hurt at the same time.

"Jenna, this isn't an elopement offer. I would love nothing more than to run off and marry you, but right now I'm more concerned with saving your life." He was stone cold serious and all traces of humor left Jenna's face instantly.

"Okay, Tom, you're scaring me. Tell me what's happening here."

He recounted to her the events of the afternoon and the nature of his concern. "I want you to stay with the Jamesons and I need you to hurry and pack your things. You do that while I use your phone." He gave her a firm nudge in the direction of her bedroom and turned to the phone and, without any further hesitation, rang the number he had received earlier. "Joshua, this is Tom Baird. I do have a favor to ask of you. Maybe a matter of life and death. Are you willing and ready?"

Tom escorted Jenna next door and asked if they could please come in. It was Ron who answered the door and he welcomed them in warmly, recognizing Jenna and deducing that the man with her must be Tom. "Well, what have we here?" he asked, eyeing the bag that Tom carried for Jenna.

"Mr. Jameson...."

"Ron, please. And you must be Tom." He shook hands firmly and with his free hand he took hold of Tom's shoulder, as if to say he welcomed him doubly. The gesture was not lost on Tom, but received with heartfelt appreciation.

"Ron, I have a favor to ask of you and Denise. I'd like Jenna to stay here with you for at least a week, if it’s not too much trouble."

Ron was tempted to joke about it, to sk if her house were being fumigated or worse, but he sensed the gravity of the request and invited them to sit and explain. "Tom, Jenna is welcome to stay a year, if she needs to, but exactly what is going on here?"

Tom then explained what he had learned on this strangest of days and unfolded his plan to catch these men in a crime. What Ron heard both shocked and enraged him. He stood suddenly, pacing the floor and thundered, "That dirty...!" He couldn't find the right words to finish the thought. Nothing seemed harsh enough to describe what he felt at the moment. "Yes, by all that is holy, she can stay here, but I’m concerned about you waiting alone in the house for these...whomever these idiots are. You need someone with you and you need to be armed, do you hear?"

"I agree, but the women shouldn't be left alone, either."

Ron nodded his agreement, thinking deeply. "You know anyone you can trust to stay with you?"

"Yes, but none that I really want to drag into it this far. I have to expect the worst, even if I hope for the best."

"The monsters! Give me five minutes alone with them—just five minutes!" Ron's hands were clenched in rage and Tom was glad he was on their side. Something told him that Ron could be a formidable foe and was not to be sold short because of his graying hair and age. Recovering and focusing, Ron added, "Jenna can stay here as long as she desires. Don't ever question that. But we need an ally in that house with you right now. I'll get on it quick."

"Thanks, Ron. The guy I've asked to help will fill another capacity—much safer. I don't know if he’s capable of anything physically demanding."

"Fine, fine. You do that." Ron's attention was elsewhere and Tom thanked him again politely and kissed Jenna.

"What should I do about school? I don't want to miss too much. I've already missed one day recently, thanks to you."

"Me? Oh, yes. Sorry I upset you so much by saving your life, but now I must insist on doing so again—if you don't mind."

The humor was delivered dryly and Jenna softened her attitude and apologized. "When you put it that way, how can I refuse? I'm sorry, Tom. I'll do whatever you want."

"I'm hoping you won't miss any classes at all, but I won't promise anything. I will even go to classes with you, if I have to."

Jenna looked surprised, but was compliant and agreed readily. "I thought you might want me to leave town altogether after what you just told me."

"I don't imagine you to be the kind to do something that bold and logical. Am I right?"

She chuckled and punched him good-naturedly in the ribs, then said simply, "Yes."

"That's alright. You have the spirit of a fighter and it may come in handy yet."

Jenna settled in after arrangements were made for the routine of the next several days. Tom went next door to wait and rest as best he could. Walking into Jenna's home alone, Tom felt like an intruder. The feeling left quickly as he considered that a real intruder—or intruders—might show up as early as tonight. The thought made him shudder.

A knock at the door startled him and he tensed, ready for action as he opened it.

"Hey, Tom! I got the cameras and triggers you asked for."

"Man, you scared me."

"You asked me to come over. Did you forget?" His attempt at humor was feeble.

"No, I'm just tense, that's all. Aren't you?"

"I only changed my shorts three times on the way over, if that's any indication. No, I'm fine." This time his jesting worked and Tom relaxed and asked him in.

"Alright, what I had in mind was to set this stuff up where anyone breaking and entering would be caught on film. I think we can bar all the windows with their own locks or short lengths of stick. To break a window would give an intruder away, so I don't expect anyone to be that careless. I think they will pick the locks on the doors if they can."

"Sounds like reasonable thinking to me. Okay, you want the front and back doors or one of those and the bedroom? I have a third camera—videotape capable at very low light levels, but we can't cover the entire house with it. I think outside would be good."

"Can it operate on infrared?"

"Yeah, that's how it works—built-in infrared source. The range is not likely very far, so I think it would be best to look for a spot in the backyard to cover the door or to use it in the house to capture any action that may take place."

Tom shivered again involuntarily, but said nothing of it to Joshua. He could not bear the thought of any fighting in Jenna's home, but knew it could easily come to that before this was over.

"Tom, the tape only runs two hours before it has to be changed. I could set another mode that let's it run for four hours, but you still have the same problem—if they come after the tape runs out, you’re just plain out of luck, man. You need someone to check and change it. I want to help. Let me stay here tonight and I'll set my watch alarm for every four hours."

Tom tried to talk him out of it, without success and with newfound respect, Tom accepted the offer, thanking Joshua profusely. They then set up all the cameras, using duct tape to bind them fast against movement when trip cords were pulled. The videotape was set in motion and the two men took a few minutes to talk before retiring to another room to wait.

"So, where is your girl, Tom? I'm just curious."

"She's with friends. Perfectly safe."

"Anyone I know?"

"I doubt it, Joshua. Want some coffee or anything?"

"Yeah, thanks."

"I'll see what I can find." He rose to go to the kitchen and suddenly remembered to pull the blinds to prevent anyone who might be watching the house from guessing the plan they had set in motion. "Would you get all the other blinds while I get this end of the house?"

"Sure thing."

Returning to the kitchen, Tom found no coffee, but made a large container of hot cocoa for the two of them. "Sorry, no coffee," he apologized as he re-entered the room with the drink and cups. "I hope cocoa will do."

"Sure, that's fine."

"Joshua, I want to thank you again for putting your neck out like this. I'm afraid I misjudged you. I thought you would be unlikely to want any real involvement in this. Sorry. You're a good man."

"Thanks, Tom. Don't worry about it. I feel I owe you one."

The lights were all out and Tom went to Jenna's room to sleep, leaving Joshua to take his planned place on the floor, concealed behind the couch, which they had pulled away from the wall by a foot or so. No one should notice that, they reasoned, and Joshua would be hidden well until he might be needed to change tapes. Tom was sorry to have him sleep there, but Joshua insisted and the thick blanket and pillow they’d found would certainly help make him more comfortable.

As Tom looked around, he saw that Jenna's room was so different from his own. The woman's touch was everywhere apparent here. By comparison, his was starkly functional, squared off and mechanical. But here, in the quiet solitude of Jenna's room, he saw the very soul of the woman he loved and had dreamed of for so long. Her inner beauty radiated from all she had touched and placed in this room. Tom sat on the bed and a feeling of genuine awe spread through him, knowing that he sat where she must have sat so many times, also. It stuck him so strangely that she was right next door as he sat in her room, on her own bed. He longed to be with her now, in peace and safety. Again his eyes began to moisten and blur his vision and he blinked it away, stood again and went to the closet.

Tom felt as if he were about to violate the sanctity of a shrine, but he was presently so distraught and the urge to be near Jenna in some way was so strong that he weakened and opened the closet door. Here were all her dresses, many blouses, coats and such. Every color and every pattern told him something more about the woman who was now at the very center of his heart. Many of these were already familiar to him. He had seen her wearing them in his dreams. There were many more, however, that were entirely new to him and these he held in his hands lovingly and touched them to his cheek, as if to absorb more of the woman of his dreams. It seemed odd to him that these would call so strongly to him while the others, so much more familiar, did not exhibit the same tendencies. He decided that love is not easy to explain, even for such a hopeless romantic as he.

Tom forcibly drew himself away from these reminders, turned off the light and lay down on Jenna's bed. He was immediately surprised at how her scent was everywhere on the pillowcase and in the sheets and blankets. Her shampoo, her perfume, and the soap she bathed with. His heart began to race and his breathing accelerated accordingly, and so powerful were the emotions that rushed over him that he could not withstand any longer and this time he began to cry in earnest, sobbing softly into her pillow, wetting the fabric with his tears. His dreaming had finally come true only to be threatened with destruction. It wasn't fair. Why would this be happening? He simply couldn’t lose her without it destroying him, too.

That night Tom literally cried himself to sleep. Not since his childhood had he done so.
In his dream this night, Tom saw Jenna safe in the company of the two new faces he had recently come to know. It brought peace to his heart to know this. He had come to trust his dreams and they had all been vindicated the day he had seen Jenna with his own eyes.

His dream now took an ominous turn. Several dark figures were gathered around him, cloaked in blackness and gliding toward him, as if shadows themselves. He was lying prone upon an altar and helpless to move. A feeling of severe dread flooded over him and he struggled to break free, but was held fast, as if paralyzed.

The fear was entirely real and Tom now awoke to his true surroundings, only to find that in actual fact he could not move. Around him were the shadowy figures he had seen in his dream and a voice, familiar but now different, spoke to him.

"I told you, Tom, don't trust anyone. Didn't I?" This was followed by an evil laugh that curdled his blood. It was all too apparent what was in store for him, but he couldn't make a sound or twitch so much as a finger to help himself. Joshua somehow must have drugged him via the cocoa and then turned off all the trip switches they had set together. What a fool he had been to trust so easily, but Joshua had been entirely convincing. How deep did all this go? Tom might never know and now he could only hope that they would never get to Jenna.

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