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Submitted by Steven ODell on 8 July 2007 - 11:59pm.

Chapter 17

“Okay, we now know Ted Randall is more dangerous than we previously thought. I suspect he is also certifiably mentally imbalanced. Anyone want to talk me out of that conclusion?” None objected, so Mose continued. “Secondly, we know he has access to a house on the outer edges of the city. Third, we are reasonably certain that he never left the city. And since it’s not too far into left field to conclude that he was the one that took Denise and that she did not just go for an extended walk, it then follows that he has to have some location to keep her hidden, unless he has already killed her…and then I assume he would have disposed of the body by now.”

Ron shot Mose a look of shocked anger and horrified disgust that he had never given his friend before.

“I am sorry, Ron, but we have to be realistic and consider all angles here. I know you are emotionally involved in this, but cooler heads have to prevail—and right now, that is not you. We were asked to come here to help you and that is what we want to do. We can’t be of any help if you bind our feet with your own emotional hobbles.”

Ron’s anger softened suddenly and he dropped his gaze to the floor. His shoulders seemed to sag under an unseen weight. “I’m sorry, Mose. Of course you are right. It’s just hard to remember that right now. Do what you need, okay?” His voice betrayed the strain and his near-exhaustion.

Mose continued, more gently. “If he has disposed of the body, it will be relatively impossible to ever locate it, considering all the mountains surrounding this region. There is just too much expanse to search. But I suspect that he still has her. I believe his ego dictates that he has to have her, to break her will and make her return to him. Only if she resists so completely that he just totally loses it will she be in danger of being murdered.” Mose turned to Ron and searched his eyes. “Now, only you can tell us that, Ron. How strong-willed is she? Will she stick to her guns so well that he will just lose control and go over the edge?”

Ron was visibly tired and he hesitated briefly before answering. “Denise is strong-willed for sure. I’ve seen that in her, but I don’t expect that she will be so foolish as to risk her life to prove a point to Ted. I think she is smarter than that and she’ll bide her time and play the game. The only real problem I see is that she will weaken and the stress may drive her over the edge herself. She was a wreck before I took her into the mountains. It has been so recently that she might succumb more quickly and fully this time. I guess I just don’t know, really. If she snaps it could drive him to do something terrible to her. I still say that I know she is alive right now. I don’t know how I know—I just do, but we have to hurry.”

Jon-Jon ventured the next logical steps. “If she were to escape, where would she go? She should go directly to a neighboring house if she were to escape at all, but if she didn’t do that, then what? To her friend Barb’s? To her own place? To yours? It would help if we could monitor the likely places.”

They were valid questions, but Ron had no doubt where she would go in the event of her escape. “Barb’s would be considered too dangerous—she was abducted from there. Her own place was too recently violated, also. That leaves this place, but I don’t expect that Ted would be so inept as to let her find a way to escape. He would have her locked up by some means.”

“Yeah, I suspect you’re right. This is the most likely and logical place. Hopefully she will get to the nearest phone and first call the police, then you. Is she smart enough—is she controlled enough—to not panic, but to do it right?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Bill interjected now. “O-kay, guys. If Ted is such a jerk as to beat his own Gra’maw, then what’s t’stop him from beatin’ a neighbor to a pulp to prevent him from callin’ the cops? This ain’t exac’ly a winner of the Mr. Nice guy award, y’know.”

“We know…we know.” Ron was very quiet and with hands to temples, stared at the floor.

Mose barged ahead. “Then we need to start making assignments. The house in the ‘burbs needs to be watched and we need a plan of attack, if it comes to that. Think about all angles. What are its vulnerabilities, etcetera? For example, he has a phone there and I know some things about rewiring and tricking the phones to use them as a listener, but it would depend on him having one in the room she is a prisoner in-and frankly, I don’t think so-would you? And if he is acting alone, which I suspect he is, then he won’t be talking to anyone that we can listen to. So, I think we can safely scrap a listener idea, but we need to come up with some real answers, real soon.” Mose was talking aloud to himself as much as anyone else in his effort to sort out the known facts and to speculate on possible solutions. They all nodded their assent. “We need to get more info on the lay of the land around that house. Jon-Jon, can you get what you need over the net?”

“Do elephants have ears?”

“Okay, then. Get on it now, if you please. Bill, do you need to test-fire the rifle you got?”

“Naw, she looks perty good to me. The lady even threw in a box o’ shells, so I’m all set, I reckon. I just hate to fire in the city. Draws too much attention. Folks that won’t call the cops when they hear screamin’ will do it in a heartbeat after a gunshot.”

“One shot, one kill, right?”

“In theory, yeah. Never failed yet, but I ain’t never kilt no one yet, neither.”

Even Ron had to chuckle at this one. “Well, would we be ruining your record if you had to kill him?”

“She-oot, don’ worry ‘bout that. It’d be worth it jus’ ‘cause it would be a novelty.”

They all stared in stunned disbelief that the man they all knew to be so kind-hearted would now value a life so cheaply, even if it were Ted. Bill caught the meaning in their faces and quickly responded, “Hey, I ain’t never kilt a varmint that big—that’s wot I meant, okay? ‘Tain’t like I’m looking forward to it or nothin’, okay? I was just jokin’, guys. …Guys…?” The relief was somewhat immediate, though they sighed with a collective note of disapproval, each shaking their head or some such thing.

Later, with assignments made, they broke up their session and headed for the car. It was across town to get to Ted’s second house. They now had the information that would allow them to cover the house and watch any activities that would take place there. It was located near some high ground that overlooked it on the west side. The high ground was currently used as a local park, though and the possibility existed that it might be in use when they needed it most, if there were any children in the neighborhood. It appeared, from the online real estate records that Jon-Jon had procured, to be mostly older residents and several of the homes were currently empty or abandoned. It might be that they could find another one from which they could observe Ted’s house. It would require breaking in without being seen, but it might be a lot better than sitting in a car for hours or lying on the ground in the park to peer over the ridge. Then again, they conceivably might need to do all three in order to keep a good watch on it from all angles. That would, however, impinge on communications with one another.

They were only in the neighborhood for a few minutes when Ron’s cell phone rang. Not many people had this number—the men he was with, Hunter and Barb. He had not even thought to give it to Denise yet. He deeply regretted that now, in case she might get to a phone by some means. She would just have to leave a message on his other phone for now. The possibility of either was so remote that he never expected for a minute that it would happen. It pained him to be so uncertain as to her whereabouts like this. Ron’s heart ached literally that he had let her fall into such trouble, that it may have even been because of him that she was discovered. He shook it off and answered the phone. It was Barb.

Barbara was audibly shaken and speaking rapidly, “Ron, thank God I got you. I got tired of just waiting and I was just at your house and…um, since you were not near your home phone—I’d almost forgotten about this one…anyway, I couldn’t believe it, but there is almost no house! The fire department is there now, trying to put out the fire. I heard them saying how hard it was—that they had never seen anything quite like it. There really is not much left of it that I could see. It was incredibly hot, Ron, like someone had used extra fuel to start it and keep it going. I’m glad I remembered you gave me your cell number. To go home unprepared to that would be awful, though I’m sure this is not much better. I’m so sorry, Ron.”

Ron was stone silent. He just stared ahead, saying nothing.
“Did you hear me, Ron?”

Still staring, he replied, “Yes, Barb. Don’t worry, I have insurance on it.” He was calm and sober beyond belief as he ended the call. “Well, guys, we have no house to go back to tonight. It is effectively gone. Burned.”

“You’re kidding! A fire? Do you think it was Ted? It can’t be ruled out, y’know.” Jonathan was now more animated than any time since he had arrived. As an afterthought, he added, “Geez! There goes our baggage, men.”

“She-oot, if there’s a thrift store in this town, we got it made, guys. No sweat, okay?” Bill was not disturbed at all by the turn of events. He’d never had much and couldn’t lose much as a result. “I got nothin’ in there that cain’t be replaced easy, but I’m sorry for you, Ron. It was a nice house.”

“It’s for sure that if Ted did it, he won’t be there now. Too much attention on the place with the fire-everyone in that end of town will be there watching,” Mose exaggerated. “The important question now is whether Denise would stay nearby if she escaped and went there in the first place. Again, hopefully she would just get to the nearest phone and call the cops, but if he is chasing her and she can manage to escape, she may not be safe at your…uh…property, Ron. And there is no real place to hide there, anymore.”

Jonathan was firm in his convictions on the matter. “We have to just stay here and keep a watch on this place, Ron. Maybe one of us can go see if she is at your place, but it’s a waste of time, I think. He wouldn’t be so careless as to let her escape. That’s all there is to it.”

Ron seemed detached, but replied firmly. “I’ll go check. I am the only one that knows her by sight. You guys stay here and if any woman comes out of there, it is most likely Denise. No one else should be in there except her and Ted. And you’ll recognize him from the police file pictures.” Ron got moving immediately after they removed the gun and other things they needed from the car.

“I hope he can hold it together,” Mose said softly as Ron drove away.

Bill interjected, “This guy sure knows how to piss ev’rybody off, don’t he?”, referring to Ted.

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