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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 12:00am.

Chapter 18

Ted was more than pleased with himself. Part two of his plan had just been carried out successfully. He had his girl back and now he had exacted his revenge on Ron. He would be happier to hear that Ron was burned alive in the fire, but it was enough for now that Ron’s house was gone. Maybe that would keep him busy for a while and out of Ted’s hair. He laughed aloud when it occurred to him that he could just wait for Ron to rebuild and then he could burn it down again. There might be no end to how many times he could do that and Ron himself would be suspected of doing it for the insurance money—an absolutely sweet situation. Now, to return to the house and attend to the details of the first part of his plan. Ted turned on the car’s radio and finding a familiar tune, he burst into song.

Barb was right. There was very little of Ron’s home left. Not enough to try to salvage. It may not even be beneficial to go through the rubble with hope of finding anything he could save of his belongings. Ted may have thought he had robbed Ron, but these were just ‘things.’ They were not genuine valuables. They could be replaced at any time or could be done without. Ron had been around long enough to know the real values in this life. It was the people and the relationships in your life that were most precious. These could not be replaced. They were to be valued beyond gold or diamonds. They were as unique as the people involved. He couldn’t care less than he did right now about the house. His eyes scanned the property and surrounding neighborhood for Denise, in case she might have beaten the odds and performed a miracle. He called aloud several times, but she was nowhere to be seen and he left again to follow the route he expected she might take if she were to attempt to reach his house. He was reasonably sure she was not there, but he had to be absolutely certain, going through the motions and being thorough.

Denise had been busy for hours digging through the decaying mortar of the old wall with the end of the screwdriver she had found. It was slow going and she was tired. Her hands were beginning to blister and had long ago begun to cramp, but she had purpose and she drove doggedly on. About a foot above her head was where she thought she might be able to dig through the wall above ground level, but there was no way to be certain. She could see to her personal discomforts later. There was very little chance of being found and her time to dig through the wall was surely running out. Ted might return and discover her deed at any minute.

Ron returned to the men who were watching the house from down the block. He found them in a house that was abandoned and had been vandalized. No one in the neighborhood would report a break-in if the house was already broken into, they had assumed. He came in the back door and was careful to let the men know he was there before he entered the room. Wouldn’t be too advantageous to lose a man as well as his house. These men were trained to defend themselves, after all. Ron was informed that they had indeed seen Ted enter the house about twenty minutes before. It was unmistakably Ted, for he was immaculately dressed. The rental car was very nice, too. A black Mercedes--very classy. As nice as his old Jaguar XKE, but considerably newer. He had parked it alongside the house, to keep it out of sight and inconspicuous. Bill could not help but remark that in a neighborhood like this, a car that nice would be ‘conspicu’us if it was parked’n a locked garage.’ They all turned back to their task of watching the house and Bill was told to take the high ground with his rifle, while Jonathan would take Ron’s car to the other end of the block and watch from that side of the house. Mose and Ron would stay where they were and wait for nightfall. If the others saw something of importance, they were to return and report it at once. If it got dark first, they were to close in on the house and get whatever info they could from outside the house. They would meet again at the abandoned home at the pre-arranged time to exchange information and decide from there what needed to be done.

Denise was almost through the mortar on her side of the wall. It was very old in some spots and fell away relatively easily, but overall the work had been grueling. It was extremely tiring to work above ones head for so long and her arms ached. She would normally have quit long before, but this was possibly a race for her life. She questioned what she could do to remove enough mortar from the far side of the bricks, enabling her to push them from the wall and make a hole large enough to escape through. That bridge would have to be crossed when she came to it. Denise suddenly heard what she thought to be a door slamming on the floor above her and she immediately stopped her digging and returned to her place in the center of the floor, wrapping herself in the blanket that she had been covered in before. Just in time, for the door burst open and Ted entered, walking directly to her. He stood above her and smirked confidently.

“You will never guess what I have been out doing tonight. Never in a million years. Go ahead, guess.” He was so smug about it that it called to mind a snotty little boy that everyone despised and would gladly have taken the first opportunity to prove their disdain for. Denise held her peace and in annoyance Ted demanded, “…I said guess!”

It was not a request. It was a loud command. He was beginning to get agitated. This quick turn of character was not good. She had been so relieved to see him calming when she played along with his wishes. What was it he wanted of her now? Would he snap if she guessed wrong?

“ I have no idea, really, Ted.”

“I want you to guess, so do it!” Fairly hissing between clenched teeth, he bent at the waist and placed his hands on his knees to put himself more on her level and he stared into her eyes in a most intimidating manner. His hand was suddenly under her chin, forcing her to look at him directly. He was not amused by her lack of enthusiasm, so she had to guess, even if it was wrong.

“Were you visiting an old friend?” She tried to look passive and demure.

He looked shocked at this answer. He was incredulous to the point of being irritated at her silly notion. He rose and strode back and forth in his discontent, shaking his head in disbelief, when there came a crunch beneath his feet and they both looked down to see the remains of the shard of glass that she had concealed earlier in the blanket. She had forgotten that it was in the folds of the cloth when she had placed it around herself to keep warm. Somehow she had not heard it fall then and she had not seen when it lay in the open while she was digging at the bricks and mortar. But now he had seen it and he was visibly angered. His foot kicked the bits of glass aside and they skittered across the floor and through the door into the hallway that must surely lead to the stairs and eventually to her freedom. It was so close and yet it might have been a journey of a thousand miles. He turned again to her and screamed at her with full volume.

“What the blazes do you think, that we are idiots? We won’t tolerate any funny business from you. You will be punished for this!”

“No, Ted! It was a piece I missed from when the glass was broken. You missed it, too. We both did, see?”

He drew his arm across his chest and with full ferocity let it fly again to backhand her across the face. “Don’t lie to me!”

The blow was hard enough to lay her out on the floor and stun her to the point she felt she would pass out. Dear God, make it stop, please. He again drew back his hand as if he would strike, but she could make no move to rise or avoid it and instead he more easily kicked her in the side, driving the breath from her and doubling her in pain. He then turned and stormed out, shutting off the light and slamming the door so hard she thought it would come off its hinges. She lay there groaning and gasping for air, her diaphragm spasming uncontrollably. The thought crossed her mind as she blacked out again, that it was quite possible she might die here.

Ted was no longer in a good mood. Why did these people have to make him so angry all the time? Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? He had been treated like this all his life. His mother had told him he could not do the things that he wanted to do. He hated her for it. Then she died and he thought he would be free to do what he wanted, but the people from the state had made him stay with his grandmother. She was as bad as his mother and in some ways worse. She was always spying on him and telling him he was bad. He never had any friends that could come over to visit, because he was a bad boy and all his friends were worse, she’d said. He hated it and he had sworn he would make it end. He got big enough that grandma had to listen to him for a change. He had shown her who was boss. Now there were these new ones that were messing around in his life. Somehow he would have to teach them all a lesson. Why didn’t they understand before now? They were just too stupid to learn! He would have to do his worst. Then they would listen or they would be dead.

Denise was awake again. Being the body’s way, her breath rate had returned to normal automatically when she passed out. She felt her ribs and winced in pain. They were definitely bruised, if not cracked. She struggled to sit up and the pain was excruciating. How often she had taken for granted the simple act of sitting up. Right now, it was nearly impossible. Holding her breath and clenching her teeth, with a surge of pure will power she forced herself into a sitting position where she wept as quietly as she could and without moving, if at all possible. A minute went by…two, then three. Denise struggled heroically to get to her feet and that is when she saw it. It was just a thin sliver of light from outside the door that gave it away, but it was definitely open. The door had bounced open instead of latching when Ted had slammed it so hard. Denise walked slowly to the door and held her breath again as she put an eye to the opening in the door. There was no movement, no sound in the hallway. She would have to risk it, she knew. Slowly, she put her fingertips up to the edge of the door, afraid to touch the knob for fear it would make noise and give her away. She was not certain that the hinges would not squeak, either, having taken no notice on the occasions when Ted had entered and left the room. Silently chiding herself for not being more observant, she knew he could return at any moment and do something far more drastic than he had already done. As she opened the door slowly with her fingertips, she remembered the screwdriver and with an iron will she returned to the spot where she had left it, stooping to reach it in spite of the ferocious pain that now attacked her entire ribcage and every brain cell. She might die in her attempt to gain freedom, but she vowed to leave her mark if she failed.

Denise entered the hallway and stood stone still for a full minute before she again moved toward the stairway that led to uncertainty—freedom or death? There was one way to know and really no choice. She had to do it. Slowly, one after the other, she placed her feet on the steps, praying with each step that there would be no telltale creaking to reveal her deception. The screwdriver rested easily in her right hand, held like a knife and poised to serve that purpose when needed. She was approaching the top of the stairs now and could hear someone pacing the floor in a nearby room. He was muttering to himself and she knew it must be Ted. Pausing at the last step and putting her ear to the wall, she knew she had but one chance and waited for the voice to recede—then she jumped, as quietly as her tiptoes would allow her, across the hall and into the next room where she saw the backdoor and freedom.

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