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Submitted by Steven ODell on 8 July 2007 - 11:57pm.

Chapter 15

The phone rang and Barb asked urgently, “Have you found anything yet that can help locate Denise?” There was anxiety and pain in her voice, which nearly broke up as she asked the question.

“Nothing definite yet, but we know all the police know and would never tell us voluntarily. We’re getting closer, Barb. There are some things that we have to check yet. We are doing all we can to do it right. There is no way I want to rush into this unprepared. Too much is at stake here.”

“I know…” She was crying now. “It’s just so hard to wait and not know anything.”
She sniffed and paused.

“I know exactly how you feel. Listen, as soon as we have what we need, we will not waste a single second getting her back. I love her, too, Barb. I know that now and nothing is going to prevent me getting her back-safely.”

“I know. Keep me posted?” She was calming now, the resolve in his voice a reassurance to her.

“Of course I will. We’re all in this together, aren’t we?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Can I help in some way? Run plates or anything? The police should be doing all this, but I am going crazy trying to figure it all out and wanting to help.”

“Barb, you just gave me an idea. I will let you know what we find out, later. Okay?”

“Okay….”

The conversation was short, but it had been fruitful, Ron thought. “Hey, Mose. What about car rentals? He may have….”

“Way ahead of you, boss-man.”

Ron looked stunned for a moment, and then knitted his brow and asked cautiously, “How could you possibly know that was what I would say? Oh, never mind. I should know you guys well enough by now.”

Mose and Jonathan slapped an enthusiastic high five and said in unison, “Yes, you should.” Ron couldn’t help but smile, if only briefly.

Jonathan volunteered, “It makes sense, that’s all. He left his car at home; he did not buy a plane, train or bus ticket. We can be sure he didn’t walk! Yet he left an expensive collector’s vehicle in the drive where anyone could take it if they wanted to. Why? To throw someone off the trail and cover his tracks? Just for ‘confusion factor’, maybe. But he found out where Denise was and where Barb lives, all without getting caught tailing her-or you, for that matter.” He turned to look somewhat accusingly at Ron.

“Me? Oh, no…” There was first disbelief, then true anguish in his voice. “Oh, he could have followed me at any time I gave her a lift or followed her to her home or to Barb’s. It’s obvious I did underestimate him. I never knew for sure what he was driving, did I? And I thought I could protect her.”

“Water under the bridge, man.” Mose understood. “Who would have guessed he was such a ‘space case’?

“No, not a space case. Crazy, yes, but like a fox. Perhaps dumb luck to some degree, but he’s not a space case in the traditional sense.”

“Traditional sense? Ha! That’s a rich one.” Jon-Jon found this terminology funny. “You may have to explain that one to us, Ron.” They all chuckled, Ron included.

“Not sure I can, Jon-Jon.” He rubbed his head in a way that showed how run down he was getting. He looked tired, unkempt and in need of a shave.

Mose posed the question that made everyone stop in their tracks, speechless and open-mouthed. “Have you considered the fact that he may have never left town at all?” The men were all equally stunned.

Bill was the first to speak. “Why d’ya say that?”

“Because it may be the most obvious thing of all, but we often overlook the obvious, do we not? We tend to interpolate and interpret the way we want to, putting all the pieces together into a coherent picture that we’ve designed ourselves. Maybe, just maybe, the pieces were never meant to be put together that way. Maybe they were never meant to be put together at all.”

It was a disturbing thought, but there was no reason to dismiss it. It was as logical as any other conclusion they could have come to. In fact, in a strange sort of way, it made more sense than any other scenario they could have designed. The truth was that they had no other truly convincing and legitimate explanation. And when everything else is dismissed, what is left may be the only explanation, no matter how wild and irrational it may seem.

“Okay, Mose, what do you think he did? Where is he?”

Mose shrugged. “I can only guess, but I recommend Jon-Jon search for any connection to a relative in the area-a place where he could be holed up and be somewhat unseen. Maybe an aunt or a parent or something. Who knows?”

Ron looked at Jonathan. “Already on it, Ron,” came the answer and with that he turned to the computer again and began typing data furiously.

“I think he’s onto somethin’ here.” Bill was not one easily convinced, but this time he was first to accept. “If it walks like a duck,…as they say.”

Puzzled, Ron replied, “I’m not sure that analogy works here, but I am willing to concede that he may indeed be onto something important. Nothing else seems as promising.”

Jonathan worked fast and in a few minutes he turned to Ron and smiled widely. “I’ll be expecting a raise in my next check,” he joked.

Ron’s heart fairly stood still, hoping this would be the clue that gave them what they needed to get Denise home safely. He had never thought that he would ever be interested romantically in anyone again after the death of Lenore. He had been miserable without her, still feeling her to be the center of his life, his reason for being, even long after she was gone. He was lost without her. He could not even consider getting to know another woman too closely for he felt that would have been tantamount to cheating on the only woman that he had loved for these many years. Then he had met Denise. Somehow it was different with Denise. There was never any question of guilt. It all happened so naturally and so quickly. It was true that they had both been miserable when they met, but he had been unable to openly admit it. He had lost one woman he loved and it had made him an emotional zombie. He knew that if he lost this woman, too, it would destroy him for years to come, if not the rest of his life. He could not let that happen.

Denise was the sunshine that gently, but insistently burned away the clouds in his life. He desired nothing more than to bask in the rays of joy she seemed to radiate. He was without hesitation convinced that it was meant to be, even necessary, to heal him, to heal Denise—to give them both a new start in their lives. And something told him that Lenore would approve and would have liked Denise, had they been able to meet. All this flashed through his mind in an instant.

“What are you onto, Jon-Jon?”

“Well, it seems that Mr. Ted Randall has a house that was left to him by his grandmother, who raised him after the death of his own mother when he was four. It’s all here in the tax records, for the most part. I filled in a bit from death records, etc. Geez, I love computers.” He turned to Mose and said, “That was marvelous, Marvy. Thanks for the help.” He grinned real big and was rewarded with an equally large smile from Mose.

“You’re welcome, Jon-Jon. And may I say you did a fine job, too?”

“Okay, okay, stop with the ‘mutual admiration society’ for right now and let’s get on it, shall we?” Ron was impatient to follow this thin line of hope that had suddenly presented itself. The stress was apparent on his face and he was incessantly pacing in his unconscious display of nervous energy. He felt he had let Denise down and that he was responsible for the predicament she was in now. It was not true, of course, but there was no telling him otherwise. He was a man in love and he was frightened by what might happen to the object of his affection. To know her so shortly, to love her so deeply and to lose her so rapidly was almost more than he could bear and the strain was beginning to show. They could all see it. He had not slept well—maybe he had not slept at all in a few days. He looked haggard, almost disoriented, and they were concerned for his health.

Bill laid a hand on his shoulder and softly asked, “Ron, don’tcha think you should get a short nap? What good’ll you do wearin’ a hole in the carpet like this? You won’t be much good to ‘er if you’re not alert and rested when you’re needed most. We can take care of anything that’s needed here. Just trust us, aw-right? ”

“Yeah, you’re right.” He fought back the tears that were becoming so common to him lately, rubbed his palms slowly across his face and sighed, nodding his head and then went to sit on the sofa where soon he fell asleep.

It was a clear day and Ron was standing in the middle of a large meadow. He felt the sun shining warmly on his face, which he turned upward, eyes closed, to gather all the comfort it could give him. He stretched out his arms to the sides and turned all around, eyes still closed, to feel the freedom of the moment and bask in it to the fullest. He felt truly alive, as if for the first time. He opened his eyes and took in all his surroundings, with the eyes of his childhood. There were trees in the far distance, all around this meadow; an oasis in the middle of a cruel world. He saw birds flying above him and could hear them singing sweetly in the soft blue expanse.

Where was that wonderful fragrance coming from? He looked down at his feet to discover the profusion of wild flowers that surrounded him on all sides. He looked beyond that and, as far as the eye could see, the flowers went on in rich and varied abundance. What a paradise, he thought. Such a shame not to be sharing it with someone special. He heard the grasses rustling behind him, as if by a mighty wind, and he turned to see the cause. Denise! It was Denise and she was so beautiful that it took his breath away. He reached for her instantly and held her close to his body. He held her tightly so that all the combined forces of earth and hell could never wrest her from his grasp.

‘Denise, I have been so worried about you! Where have you been all this time?’

‘I am with you always, my dear. You know that in your heart, don’t you?’

Yes, somehow he knew and it comforted him. The sun beat down warmer than ever and all the world seemed to disappear except for the two of them. He held her in a passionate embrace and she melted into his arms like she was butter. Oh, that this moment would never end. That was his only wish—that this very second could go on forever, to be one with the woman he loved more deeply than his own life.

He kissed her with a fire that had never before burned in his bosom and she returned the kiss with the same passion. This was meant to be, he knew. There could be no doubting it now. Not in a million years. He broke free of her lips a moment to look into her eyes and she looked up into his with an expression that puzzled him. She looked worried and her eyes darted back and forth between his own. ‘Ron?’ She spoke it softly, but there was a fear and an urgency in her tone. She truly looked frightened. Again she called to him and her voice was more remote this time-‘Ron….’

“Ron…” Bill was gently shaking him awake. “We have somethin’ here that you should see, I think.”

“Denise is alive!”, Ron blurted out.

“What?”

“She is alive! I know it.”

“Well, we all certainly hope so, but how could you say you know it?”

“I just do, that’s all, but she may not be okay for long. Time is running out.” Ron stood, stretching and asked, “How long was I out?”

“Not too long. Maybe half an hour. Sorry to wake you, but we felt you should know this. It could change things.”

The tone in Bill’s voice was grave. Now Ron was totally awake. It was typical for these guys to carefully look over every detail and consider each possibility, but it was unusual for them to show such concern as he found on their faces now.

“Okay, let me have it. What’s up?”

Jon-Jon spoke first. “Ted has a record for criminal assault that I found in his files when I checked a little deeper. He physically beat his grandmother on several occasions, though she only pressed charges once—because she almost died in the hospital.”

That was an experience that Ron could relate to and the memories from the diner that were brought back by this news made his stomach turn and twist into knots. He swallowed hard. “Anything else?”

“Ain’t that enough?” Bill asked rhetorically.

Jonathan ignored this and went on, “Actually, we’ve been talking about it and think it is significant that he also has a list of several prior assaults on past girlfriends, each one worse than the last. None of them ever pressed charges—probably too intimidated. He even had a number of sessions with a ‘shrink’ when he was only ten, until the money ran out to continue taking him. It appears that no good was done by it, anyway.” Jonathan was uncomfortable saying this, Ron could see. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I thought you should know. We all thought you should know.”

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