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Submitted by Steven ODell on 8 July 2007 - 11:55pm.

Chapter 13

Ron met his friends at the airport. They had wasted no time in getting here. Three men that were the best any nation had to offer and the best friends that a man could ever hope to have. Jonathan Hadderley, called Jon-Jon by his friends, Bill Lang and Mose Byron, known also on occasion as ‘Marvy’. They were all good at what they did. Jon-Jon was part computer, they suspected. There was no system ever built that seemed able to keep him out. Bill was a southern boy, unassuming and genuine as the day was long, an expert in firearms use and an explosives enthusiast. That was the best word for it—enthusiast. He was never properly trained, but it didn’t stop him from being a zealot in their use and occasional mis-use. Mose Byron was a different kind of critter altogether. He was very quiet, even around his closest friends, but he had a heart of gold to those who knew and loved him. He also was beyond rival when it came to Military Intelligence. He’d earned the name ‘Marvy’ because of the marvelous manner in which he always seemed to come up with the answer. He told those of his inner circle of confidantes that he did not always have the answer, but that he could always make anyone believe that he did, on the rare occasion when he was less than one hundred percent accurate. He would grin shyly as he said this. This always brought an appreciative laugh and a nod of the head, though they had heard it many times before.

After some friendly banter concerning who got into the airport first and how long they had to wait for the others, the men went to Ron’s home and got down to the business at hand. Each of them took this to be a mission of the utmost importance. It was doubly important because it was for Ron, a man they respected and loved.

Denise was surprised at how long it took Ted to come back and gather the utensils he had brought. It must have been hours. It was impossible to tell the passage of time accurately when there was nothing to gauge it by. She was cold and shivering, but she had hope that she would somehow get out of this alive. Denise took the cloth from its corner, shook the dust off it as best she could and wrapped it around herself to conserve the heat that her body was rapidly losing.

When Ted did arrive, she dreaded being tied up again and going against her previous plan, she begged him, almost instinctively, not to tie her again.

“Don’t tie you? Don’t tie you?” He held back a laugh as he said this and shook his head in disbelief. “Tell me why I shouldn’t. Give me just one good reason.”

“I can’t,” she responded quietly and began to cry. Her head dropped and she sobbed softly. She looked pitiful and frail sitting there in the middle of that dirty floor. Her spirit was broken, Ted thought. Good. He suddenly remembered the glass that had been among those things he had brought at her meal. He saw that it lay broken and that the floor was damp around the shards of glass.
“What happened here?”

“My hands were shaking and weak from being tied so long. I dropped it and broke it. I’m sorry.” She looked dejectedly at the floor, every bit the part of a broken person, in every characteristic. “I would have swept it together if I could, but I have no broom.” She said this without lifting her face again. She was passive, subservient, Ted thought.

Though he had a heart that seemed to be of stone, he was momentarily touched by this, but still trying to be hard, he said, “We will try you, to see if you are to be trusted. Any funny stuff and you will find your fate worse than before. Much worse.” It was softly spoken again, but the threat was evident in the tone.

Ted turned away, as though to leave and Denise stopped him. “Ted, I need something else. You gave me a bucket, but there’s no toilet paper in here. May I please have some?” She looked so pathetic sitting in a heap on the floor.

He looked slightly embarrassed at this, but nodded his head, turned and left, closing the door behind him. The light was still on and Denise was freer than she had been since she had gotten there-wherever there was. He had spoken in the third person several times—was there indeed someone else helping him or were these the ravings of a lunatic? Either way, she was glad she had not stirred him up to more anger.

As predicted, the police were slow to find anything they could use. It was not really their fault. Ted had proven far cleverer than anyone had ever expected him to be. But the police promised that even the most careful of men always slip up somewhere and when this man did, he would be caught. They were still proceeding on the assumption that it was not Ted, but an unknown suspect. They barely admitted that it could be a kidnapping. They had the law they had to abide by and to accuse unfairly and without proof was to break the law, or so Denise’s friends gathered. Little comfort that was to them, but the offer to investigate Ted’s whereabouts at the time of the threat was tendered and the officers finally left to begin their work-at least it could be hoped.

Barb collapsed in a chair and sobbed loudly. “I let her down, Paul. I let her down and it was my fault.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, honey. There was nothing you could have done except let her stay here.”

“I could have stayed with her, Paul. I could have protected her.”

“I sincerely doubt that even two grown women could have stood against Ted, sweetheart. Stop blaming yourself and get some sleep. You will need it. Life does go on and Denise would want it that way. You know that. She will be found and she will be fine.” Personally, he had his doubts, but he felt obligated to soothe her in any way he could.

Ron and his friends had discussed the circumstances on the way to his home and were already amassing impressive amounts of information half an hour later. Jon-Jon was swiftly searching computer databases that were designed to keep people like him out, but he knew the ins and outs well enough to avoid the traps that were set. He got past firewalls, decoy files and anything else that was placed in front of him. As soon as he had any information for Mose, it was being devoured and dissected. They concentrated their every nerve ending on what they did, for a life depended on it. Years of experience and practice allowed them to do what other men, ordinary men, could not do. These were the best men for the job, bar none.

Bill pulled Ron aside and rubbed his head nervously. “Ron, I c’n understand why you want these ‘yay-hooz’, but why am I here?” He emphatically pronounced the reference to the others in his southern drawl, as a term of endearment, regardless of the sarcasm it may have held for any other listener. He loved these men like brothers and would defend any one of them in a heartbeat. Still, he was genuinely puzzled as to his own role in this venture. His talents seemed out of place.

“Bill, I really can’t tell you why except that I am playing a hunch and don’t want to underestimate this guy. I won’t bet a life on him being a moron.”

“Aw-right…okay” He drawled it gently, nodding slowly.” I’ll just be patient then and help anywhere I can.”

“Thanks, Bill. At this moment, that’s all I can do, too.” Ron took him by the shoulder with one hand in a firm gesture that silently denoted his love and respect for Bill. They again turned to face the other two and to wait patiently together.

“Y’know, I wasn’t able to bring any arms on the plane, so we cud go shoppin’ now, before the need arises. It would keep us busy enough not to fret and stew too much, y’think?” His hand was now on Ron’s shoulder and what he spoke was more for Ron’s peace of mind than any real need on his part. Ron knew this, but he knew that Bill was right, too. Prepare now, while the time allowed.

“Yeah. Let’s do it.”

As they drove, Bill volunteered, “My favorite place to shop is the newspaper.”

Ron looked askance at his friend, but when he saw that Bill was serious, his look changed to one of bewilderment. He had no doubt that Bill was somehow correct, but he had no idea why.

“Stop ‘n’ think about it, Ron. What you might buy in a store is tracked, registered, fingerprinted, filed and scrutinized from here to ‘kingdom come’. They want yer blood, a urine sample, a note from your mom and yer teacher and yer tax account’nt. Too much hassle and paperwork. Besides, the storeowners and salesmen cain’t tell you if she fires sweet or not. They never shot none of ‘em. You go to the classifieds, though, and it’s a differ’nt story. What you got there is the real owner who has fired the thing a lot over the years, knows the ins and outs of it and you can tell if he is woofin’ you or not. At least you stand a chance that he ain’t. You don’t get that with salesmen. You know they’re like’ as not woofin’ you to make a sale. B’sides, sometimes an owner will be just as happy if you don’t want to buy his gun. If it’s a real good one, he wants to keep it and he’ll only tell you the bare minimum he has to; then you know it is better than what ya’ll been told, right?” He looked expectantly to Ron for an affirming nod or such.

“Bill, I’m sure that makes sense in some strange way, but for the life of me, it escapes me altogether. Okay…let’s go get a newspaper.”

He smiled and Bill just grinned from ear to ear and gave him a light punch to the shoulder. Ron felt that somehow things were going to be right in the end. They had to be, for Denise’s sake. They just had to be.

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