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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 12:11am.

Chapter 25

Ron and Denise had been sitting in front of the small fire long enough to dry out and warm up after their baths and now each were tucked snugly into their own sleeping bags, with her spooned up against him on the cave floor. He stroked her hair and basked as much in the way the firelight shone from her hair as in the source of the light itself. He couldn’t recall being this content in several years. Maybe never. She makes me feel so alive. “Denise?”

“Yes?” Her voice was soft and dreamy. He couldn’t get over the effect she had on him. Everything about her flooded his senses and crowded out anything that was not her.

“I was just curious about something. I don’t really know how old you are, but I do know that I am old enough to be your father. It isn’t any problem in my mind-I just know that I love you and that’s all that matters to me, but I am wondering if the differences in our ages causes any concerns for you…does it bother you at all? I mean…well, I think you know that some folks may talk or get the wrong idea about our relationship. Are you okay with that?”

Her hand reached up to cover his and she squeezed briefly. Her voice was tinged by her exhaustion and she said simply, “I love you,” the words barely formed or audible. Her hand then went limp where it lay and he knew by the change in her breathing that she was asleep. He pulled his hand free and placed hers gently in front of her, leaning forward long enough to kiss her cheek. Smiling contentedly he, too, lay down and was soon asleep.

Hunter, Jonathan and Mose looked like the living dead. They had spent the night fighting off sleep, as well as fighting with one another and now that the sun was coming up, they were finding it hard to resist much longer. All were in a foul mood, due to lack of sleep and what seemed to them to be bad judgment.

“Hang that man! He never does what you would expect of any regular-thinking person. What is it with him? Is he cross-wired or something?” Mose was completely exasperated. He was a man that relied on logic, statistics and constants in life. He understood these, was comfortable with them and he trusted them in his work. But Ted seemed to defy logic and was remarkably far from any constants that Mose recognized and identified with. “I was so sure that he would back last night.” He paced the floor now like Hunter had the night before and every gesture reflected his frustration.

“Mose! Calm down, man. Between you and Hunter, there will be a rut worn in the floorboards soon.” Mose shot Jon-Jon a look of scant toleration and kept pacing in anger.

Jonathan tried again to reason with him. “Maybe he’ll be here tonight. Or maybe he saw the alarms and traps we set. If he has the guns the cops had, then he also has their flashlight, I’m sure.”
“Too many maybe’s,” Mose shook his head, not willing to accept defeat or further delay. “If only the cops had done their job and kept him in custody, all this would have been over and we’d be home by now—or we could go fishing or something more useful than just sitting here! We need to start thinking like this guy does if we want to stop him.” His fists were clenching and unclenching continuously.

Hunter had to ask, albeit sarcastically, “Had much experience thinking like a nut case?” He was rewarded with the same glare that Jonathan had received an instant earlier. Perhaps a ‘tad’ more intense this time.

“Okay, if I were an insane maniac, what would I do next?” Jonathan saw the humor in the moment and could not help but smile as he said it. It was enough to temporarily break up the crab-in, garnering smiles from the other two as well. Mose even stopped pacing.

Hunter suggested, “Instead of waiting for him to come to us and maybe getting murdered in the dark in the process, why don’t we go looking for him now?”

“What do you propose we do about him when we find him—if we find him?” Mose hurriedly corrected himself, but at least he was willing to listen now. It was progress.

“Well, I have a few guns in a footlocker in my room. I never thought we would need them until now. I guess I just hate the thought of possibly having to shoot a person, even in self-defense, but we have to face the fact that he is armed and dangerous.” He slowly rubbed one hand along the side of his head and down the back of his neck, pausing to squeeze out some of the tension there. He exhaled noisily. “Anyway, if the police can’t find him, then someone else has to bring him to justice.”

“Just when were you gonna tell us about the guns? After he killed us in our sleep?” Mose’s mood had just gone from bad to worse and Hunter knew he had better be careful what he said and how he said it, until they all got a much-needed rest.

Jonathan was in agreement. “It would have been advantageous to know all our resources from the start, Hunter.”

“When you guys showed up, I had no idea why you were even here. You never expected him to come here, either, so don’t go chewing me out ‘cause you forgot to tell me some lunatic might make a house call, okay? If I had known my guns were needed, I would have been armed that very night.”

Jonathan backed up. “Okay, okay…we’re all tired and cranky, so let’s plan our strategy and get a few hours sleep. He certainly won’t come in the daylight…I hope.”

Mose didn’t hesitate one second. The sarcasm in his response was unmistakable. “Thanks for building our confidence there, Jon-boy.” There was that look again.

“I think we should take my cell phone if we go looking for him.” Hunter stated tiredly.
The other two stopped dead and stared at him in silence, mouths open in amazement.
“Uh…guess I forgot to mention that one, too, didn’t I?” He lowered his head uncomfortably to avoid their now icily penetrating stares for as long as he could.

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