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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 12:01am.

Chapter 19

The four comrades had each gathered all the information they could and returned to the empty house to discuss the matter, when they heard the Mercedes suddenly roar from the driveway and speed off down the street. “Do any of us follow him or should we just see what’s in that house?” Mose asked.

“I vote that we go check out the house. Ted will be back later and maybe we can be in the house waiting for him when he gets there. Won’t that be fun?” Jonathan grinned mischievously at the thought.

“Sounds like a great plan to me,” Mose voted his own disgust for the man.

“My sainted aunt, yes,” was all Bill said.

“I have to know if Denise is in there, so you know my vote, guys.” Ron was stone-faced sober, but beneath it all he was in complete emotional turmoil.

They had no sooner stepped out the door than they saw and heard a man screaming at the top of his lungs in the very yard they were going to approach. Obeying training and conditioning, they all dropped as one onto their bellies and lay still. The man in the yard ahead of them was Ted and he was extremely angry! Ron was stunned, for he had thought Ted was the one that had driven off in the car. They had all thought so. But here he was, nasty, evil and in living color. Then who had driven off in the car? It made no sense. Was Ted working with someone else? They had ruled out that possibility and now it appeared that they could be wrong. Who would have an interest in helping Ted? And why would Ted now be angry with the other one? It was all terribly confusing. Ted ran back into the house at top speed. A few minutes later a taxicab pulled in front of the house and he jumped in. The cab, too, sped off at a high rate of speed, in the direction that the Mercedes had gone a few minutes before.

“Well, I guess we follow Ted after all, right?” Mose was as confused as any of the others at this point.

“Not yet! Mose, go get the car and come to the front of the house. You others help me to search the house for Denise. If we are quick, we may still get to follow Ted. Let’s go!” Ron barked the orders in military fashion and then ran toward the just vacated home without waiting for his friends to respond. They knew he was right and obeyed instinctively.

With three of them sharing the work it took only a moment to search the house and establish that it was empty. “Sorry, Ron. He may have her somewhere else. We might still catch him,” Jonathan volunteered.

Ron recalled the discussion about disposing of the body and shuddered physically at the thought. Not this time… please, not this time, he prayed as he ran for the car.
As one man, they all jumped into the waiting vehicle and sped off. As quickly as he could, Mose caught sight of the cab and followed at a safe distance. Ron saw that the cab was taking the same route he himself had followed earlier in the day and thought, this couldn’t be going where I think it is. A few minutes later he found out how wrong he could be when the cab pulled up in front of his own burnt home site. The fire was out, but there was still a light steam coming from the rubble. He could see it by the streetlight even from half the block away where they stopped and turned off the headlights. Ted sprang from the cab and raced to the burned out heap, turning all about, looking as if he were searching for something or someone. Ron sat in silent contemplation for a moment and then it struck like a thunderbolt. Ted was chasing Denise! Dear God, Denise must have been in the Mercedes that had raced away from the house not fifteen minutes ago! Even Ted had thought she would come here and now it was obvious that Ted had been here before, too. The filthy swine. Here was the man who had kidnapped his woman and now he had also been identified, with little reasonable doubt, as the man who had burned his house to the ground.

“Ron, if she came here and then left, where did she go?” Mose had figured it out, too. The groans of recognition that replaced the looks of confusion from the others showed that they now understood, as well. “We know she won’t feel safe anywhere else,” Mose continued.

“Let me think a minute….”

Ted ran back to the cab again, pausing for the smallest instant only to look once more at the smoldering pile that had once been Ron’s home and then down the street behind him. It was impossible to tell if he had seen them, but if he had there would be no sense in following him. He would change his destination and try to lose them. Before he would ever chase Ted, who appeared to have lost his prey, Ron had to find Denise and ensure she was well. He had to figure out where she had gone for safety.

The cab now drove away from the curb and disappeared silently around the corner. There was no urgency in the chase here. It was apparent that Ted had resigned himself to having lost her for now. With this one good turn of events to ease his mind, Ron sat motionless for a few minutes and then slapped the dashboard as if he had just had a tremendous insight. Perhaps he had. He quickly commanded Mose to change places with him, pressed the gas pedal hard and left behind the remains of what had once been his home. They were going to higher ground.

As they drove away, Ron did not see the cab that had rounded the corner behind him-the same cab that had circled the block and had turned off its own headlights.

On the way Ron explained his insight. “It’s like this, guys. Denise had nowhere she could go in the city anymore and feel safe. Barb’s was where she was kidnapped, my place is gone and her own was threatened by Ted; the police station is probably where she would guess Ted would make a bee-line to cut her off, so she has gone to the only place she can feel safe and that is in the mountains where we just spent the better portion of a week. She knows the way there, she has the means to get there and she now has a cabin to hide in for a few days to think it out. I’m sure she knows that sooner or later I would think to check the cabin or she will call me when she arrives. My cousin Hunter is there and will help her. Right now I need to see Denise. I’ve got to know she is safe and well. We can take care of Ted later.”

“Okay, Ron, but how did she get the car? It isn’t like someone to just leave the keys in a car that costs that much. What did she do—hotwire it?” Jonathan laughed sarcastically and the others joined in until Ron affirmed the accusation.

“You cain’t be serious. She knows how t’ hotwire a car? Whoa…I think I’m in love, boys. Be still, m’heart”

Ron smiled momentarily at the unexpected levity. “Let me remind you, that’s my woman you’re talking about, Bill. Be careful.” He was joking, they knew-as much as the situation would allow. They were glad to see it, small a joke as it might be. He was becoming a different man since he’d again begun to have hope that Denise was safe. All he had to do now was go collect her.

Mose reasoned aloud that they would not want to catch up to her on the road, as she would believe it was Ted chasing her and might drive at an unsafe speed and get hurt before she arrived where she could have been safe. Ron agreed not to chance it. They would stay at a reasonable distance and he would call to her when he approached the cabin. It was still an hour away. Not long normally, but it seemed interminable now that he was anxious to hold her and tell her how deeply he loved her.

The trip went slowly in the dark with no real scenery to keep their interest, but at length the destination milepost was reached and Ron drove into the road that led to his sweetheart. The Mercedes was there with the lights still on and the driver’s door wide open. It was obvious she had run for the cabin and wasted no time with details. He knew she would be relieved to finally be somewhere safe. The car stopped and Ron got out and approached the doorway of the cabin, silhouetted against the headlights. He was followed closely by the others. “Denise! It’s me, Ron!”

Almost immediately, there was a streak of light-colored clothing that came through the door and moved directly toward him. “Oh, Ron! I thought I was never going to see you again. It was awful,” she cried as she ran toward him. Her chest heaved as she sobbed. She reached him and grabbed him around the chest with both arms, but immediately gasped in pain when he hugged her tightly in return.

He loosened his hold on her and looked her over in deep concern. “Denise! Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”

“Yes, he hurt me badly. I thought…he would kill me,” and she explained the injuries that Ted had inflicted upon her.

“I was scared, too, sweetheart. I never knew if and when he would snap and…. Thank God you are alive. ”
Hunter appeared at the door, looking as if he had been awake only a short time. His hair was disheveled, his shirt was buttoned crooked with the tail of it sticking out on one side and he was noticeably confused. Squinting his eyes against the lights from the cars and tucking his shirt, he asked indignantly, “Would someone mind telling me what in blazes is going on? Who are all you people?”

“We came for a celebration party, tha’s all,” Bill volunteered. Hunter looked more confused than ever.

“Not to worry, friend. All the answers will be forthcoming.” Jonathan put an arm around Hunter’s shoulder and steered him back into the cabin.

Mose took care of turning the cars’ engines and lights off and then joined them for the inevitable question and answer session that ensued. Ron had to ask the first question. “Why didn’t you phone the police as soon as you were free?”

She looked bewildered. “How did you know I didn’t? I don’t understand….”

“No, I don’t imagine you do. Sorry.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We were there when you took the car and left, only we had no idea that it was you. We thought at first it was Ted and we were about to search the house, but then Ted was in the yard, screaming like a banshee. All we could think then was that he had an accomplice. It wasn’t until later that we put the pieces together and came here.”

“You saw me leave? All of you were there?” She was stunned. “Dear God, if only I had known then.” Her hands were over her mouth and she began to tremble again. Ron tucked her under his arm and held her gently at his side to comfort her. She took a moment to regain her composure and began again, “I saw no lights at any other house nearby. All I could think to do was to put as much distance between me and Ted as possible and I knew that if I had his car he couldn’t follow me.”

Bill coughed, then volunteered, “Well, that ain’t ‘ntirely so, ma’am. He did call a cab and followed you for a while. We saw ‘im.”

Denise tensed again, looking at Ron for an explanation or reassurance. “It’s okay, darling. He gave up long before you entered the pass to the mountains-you lost him. You evidently were at my place and left before he knew where you went. We intend to get him later when you press charges.”

Hunter interrupted at this point. “Not to be rude, but who are all these guys?”

“Sorry, Cuz. This is Bill, that’s Mose and that’s Jon-Jon on the end.” They all nodded and Bill reached to shake hands, he being the closest. The others waved a brief ‘howdy’ and nodded. “These are old army buddies of mine. They came to help.”

“Not just buddies. Ron was our C.O. And a dern’d good one, too.”
“Well, your timing is something else, I’ll give you that much. You guys spooked me. I go to bed and expect a usual night’s sleep when all of a sudden a car comes sliding into the drive and Denise comes screaming through the door and slams it. If that wasn’t enough to make a guy wet himself, you come in right after her and start hollering, too. All in all, a very strange night. Besides, I thought this ‘Ted’ fellow was out of the picture. You mean to tell me he is at it again?” Hunter was surprised.

Bill laughed softly, looking at Ron and offered, “He never quit, now did he?”

Ron shook his head slowly and with an anguish that was seen by all in the room. He was still feeling guilty, blaming himself for what he felt had been his failure to anticipate the events that had brought them all to this point. He felt he had let her down in her hour of need. It ate at him like a cancer. “Not only is he at it, Cuz, but now he is guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment, arson, vandalism, assault and battery….”

“And anything else we can pin on him…after a good night’s sleep,” Mose hinted strongly.

“Yeah, you’re right, Marvy. Let’s get some shut-eye first. We can talk tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? Hey, what about a small celebration, guys? She’s safe and we need to have a party or something.” Jon-Jon never missed the chance to have a good party, even if he had to initiate it himself.

Hunter said, “Hang on a minute,” went to the kitchen and returned with a bag of marshmallows and pointed to the coals in the fireplace. “If you work quick, you’ll get a few before the thing is dead altogether.” He yawned and the message came through loud and clear that he would not be attending the festivities.

Hunter helped them decide room assignments in a very detached way and then excused himself and returned to his own bed, which was too small to share. Mose and Bill chose to share the front room, a couch and a chair being of necessity their beds for the night. Mose had suggested a single round of Rock, Paper, and Scissors to decide who got the couch and groaned with disappointment when he lost. The chair was not the most comfortable place to sleep, but it was a far sight better than the floor, he reminded himself.

The smell of the pine fire, the crispness of the air and the warmth of the woman he loved made Ron want to forget the tragedy that had struck them. He kissed her gently and sent her off to her room with his love.

Ron then went to his own room and flopped onto the bed in a state of mental exhaustion. As he closed his eyes he gave thanks that his worst fears had not come true. He now was sure they had been a lot closer to their fulfillment than he had anticipated. He felt as if he had acted so wrongly throughout this whole ordeal. He may have been as big a danger to her as was Ted, he thought. What had he missed in all of this? Why couldn’t he have been more careful about watching her? It was all spinning about in his head right now. There would be plenty of time later to ruminate over these harsh and unpleasant things. He would have to sort it out later. They wanted rest right now and lots of it. The stresses of the day were over and the adrenaline was depleted, leaving them all completely exhausted-especially Denise and Ron. Tomorrow they would talk. Now they must sleep.

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