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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 1:04am.

Chapter 14

It was one month later and Debra had long since gone home, but she kept in touch on a regular basis—especially with Baylor Sims. Mose and the others called frequently to gather any news updates. Paul and Barbara were beginning to wonder if they would hear of any further developments, as well. Nothing changed until one evening when Denise answered the telephone to find an excited Baylor Sims on the other end.

“Denise, will you and Ron be home for awhile tonight? I have some news for you.”

“Uh…yes. What’s up? Is something wrong, Baylor?” She had that familiar twinge of dread starting again.

“No, dear girl. Not at all. In fact, call your friends to come over. This is something you will all want to celebrate.”

“I’m not sure I know what to say.”

“Just say you’ll be home. I’ll be right over.” He hung up just as quickly.

“Who was that? Is something wrong, dear?” Ron saw the questioning look on her face and he, too, had a sharp twinge arise within him.

“That was Baylor. I asked him the same thing and he said he’d be right over to tell us some news. From the sound of things, I hope that something is very right.”

Ron appeared pensive and raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders slightly.

It was twenty-five minutes before Baylor arrived. He knocked twice before Ron could cross the front room and answer the door. His hand was cocked back and ready to do so again when the door was opened for him. Baylor Sims appeared as if he were barely able to contain himself, bouncing up and down on the doorstep until he was ushered in.

“Oh, Ron, you are going to be so excited! Guess what has happened?”

“What? How could I possibly know?”

“Oh, come on, man! Try to guess.” He was like a kid with a new toy concealed behind his back, so anxious to show it off to a friend, but loathe to be hurrying and spoil the surprise.

“Ron took a deep breath and blew it out noisily in a somewhat perplexed fashion. “Well…uh…someone from the court called you?” There was hope in his eyes as the thought formed in his mind and the words took shape on his lips.

Baylor was nearly ecstatic. “Yes, yes! Go on!”

“Go on? It’s your story, Baylor. I’m just trying to figure it out!”

“What? Oh, yes, of course. Yes, I got a call and you have been exonerated fully! It seems that a certain judge stepped quietly down from the bench and handed it all over to another judge and asked that he set things right with you!”

Ron looked as if he’d been struck physically and Denise had by this time hovered at his shoulder long enough to want the story more fleshed out. “What did they say? Details, Baylor, details!” She was too excited to be patient.

“Forgive me, Denise, I know what you’ve been through and I certainly don’t intend to drag this out for you any longer than needed. I know how I would feel….”

“Baylor!” both exclaimed in unison.

“Oh, yes…sorry. The investigation is over and you’re both cleared.” That was the long and the short of it. Baylor stood almost breathless.

“Denise, it’s finally over.” Ron took her by both shoulders and stared at her deeply before pulling her to him and holding her tightly. She felt limp, as if she might fall were he to let go of her. Ron shuffled her to the nearest seat and eased her down, sitting beside her to steady her.

Baylor stepped in, looking repentant and humbled. “I am so sorry to upset you like this. I just wanted you to know it’s really over. You can get on with your lives now. You’re free.” He raised his open palms to his sides in a gesture that accentuated the last words.

“It’s okay, Baylor. I’ll be fine.” Denise sounded small and weak.

“I think she’s been running on adrenaline so long that when the news finally comes, the let-down is quite a shock to the system. To tell you the truth, I feel a bit puny myself.”

“Yes, of course. I understand. Well, you get some rest, Denise. You’ve more than earned it, I dare say. Ron, might I speak to you alone for a moment?”

“Give me a minute to take Denise to our room, if you don’t mind.”

Upon returning, Baylor spoke in hushed tones, as if he wanted to ensure that no one else could hear. He even looked around before he spoke. “This whole thing has been amazing, Ron. I’ve waited years for all the pieces to fall into place like this and now that they have, I’m somewhat stunned, too. Anyway, I appreciate what you and Denise …and all your friends have done for me. You’ve all made it possible a degree of justice in the matter of Judge Hallowell. As you may know, I’ve had a private axe to grind in the matter. He destroyed my parents, all to preserve a false pride and the appearance of honor on his part. You have helped me put things right. He has finally received his punishment.”

“It’s okay, Baylor. Whatever we did was probably insignificant. We appreciate what you did for us. We can breathe again, thanks to you.”

“Enough with the modesty, my dear man. You have accomplished far more here than you realize. Hallowell didn’t just step down and save us the trouble of his future presence on the bench. No, he stepped down and almost immediately disappeared.” He waited for the words and their significance to sink in, watching Ron’s expression closely.

“What do you mean by that?” His puzzlement was perfectly clear.

“Just what I said—disappeared, gone, vanished into thin air as smoke from the fire. He’s missing without a trace and has been for over three weeks now. According to the police, there is little, if anything, missing from his home. It’s as if he walked out empty-handed and never returned.” Again he waited for the effect of his words.

“But…why would he do that, Baylor? Doesn’t he have friends and family that will be looking for him?”

“No, not really. He never married; I guess he thought it beneath him. Also, it appears that efforts to contact any relatives are extremely difficult and nearly useless, at best. For all intent and purposes the man was entirely alone. Sad, but it shouldn’t surprise me.”

“Then why are you so shook up?”

“Because no one just walks out of their home like that, dear fellow. Taking nothing, leaving no note and vanishing so effectively for so long—these things are just not done. Hallowell was no wilderness survival type. He didn’t take his car! None of the hotels, airports, bus stations or hospitals has seen a trace of him. The cab companies never picked him up, either. Now are you starting to get the full picture?”

“I’m not sure it’s the full picture, but it just got a lot bigger.” His eyes were also getting much larger as he started to comprehend the magnitude of this new information. “What do you think happened?”

“Me? I can’t be certain, but if I were to guess, I would say that he had assistance. This is more like a witness protection program than a missing persons case.”

Suddenly aware that his mouth had dropped open, Ron took Baylor by the arm, opened the door, pulled him out onto the front porch and closed the door behind them, seemingly all in one fluid motion. Sims was almost disoriented by the swiftness of the movement.

“Do you know what you’re saying, Baylor?”

“Yes, I think it all speaks for itself, Ron, without any effort on my part.”

“Are you implying conspiracy?”

“If I were to choose a word, that would be it—yes.” There was not the least particle of hesitation or doubt in his statement. “It’s known in some circles that many judges—well, men in all areas of power and influence—have been members of secret societies. I am relatively certain that I have been approached tentatively a time or two myself.

“You’re creeping me out, Baylor. I don’t like where this is going.”

“If you’re ‘creeped out’, as you put it, then you are more astute than most. I’m not implying that you and Denise have to fear any phantoms now, but just that I think he will rise up somewhere else, far away from here, in a cushy position with good pay and short hours, all with a new identity and a contrived past. Can I prove it? Not a chance.”

Ron sighed heavily. “I’m not going to tell my wife any of this.”

“That’s as it should be and why I drew you aside to talk of it. Get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow we’ll celebrate. This time you can invite me to dinner. Oh…when will Debra be visiting again?” His eyes brightened noticeably as he asked.

Ron chuckled and sighed again, this time with a sense of humor. “You’re welcome for dinner any time, Baylor, but I’ll see what I can do about getting you a date. A little bird told me that Debra thinks you are kind of cute.”

“Oh…really? Well…I’ll be anxious to hear from you.”

“Thanks, Baylor. You’ve been one heck of a soldier to have in my foxhole.”

Sims broke character for a moment and responded with deep gratitude, “That’s one heck of a compliment coming from a man like you, Ron. Thank you.”

They pressed hands affectionately and grasped arms in an unspoken brotherhood of silent appreciation. A quick clap on the arm from Ron and Baylor went his way and drove off into the darkness.

Ron thought for a few moments in this brief isolation and then went into the house and locked the doors. It was astounding how much could happen in so little time and change two people’s lives so drastically.

Entering the bedroom, Ron paused to admire the woman who had come to be the center of his life. Because of her he had a wife, new friends and a completely different outlook on life—he knew that life was too short to worry needlessly. This was his fair maiden, the fairest of all, and he would want to be her knight in shining armor forevermore.

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