John was in the zone. His stride was smooth and his breathing was even. He felt like he could run forever at this pace.
Ace was ahead of him, thrashing in the brush investigating whatever dogs investigate when given an unleashed opportunity in the wood.
It was cool and slightly damp. The spring ground fog was only beginning to lift. The weather said it’d be a scorcher later. John had decided it best to get his run in early. He had a full docket at the courts that day. His prosecution of Billy Maynard weighed heavily on his mind.
Ace was trundling along the opposite ditch. All John could see was his bright ginger tail poking above the dead reeds and dirt of the gravel bank. A bath was going to be necessary unless they made it to the lake sooner than late.
John whistled for Ace and picked up the pace. His best friend gave a bark and made for his master at speed, his ears pressed tight to his head and his tongue lolling out the side of his snout like the clown he was. Water and mud formed a dusty spray behind him as his galloping feet struck the fresh crusher dust. He was soaked.
He loved this route. The logging road had been freshly graded. The trucks and equipment would soon be busy on this stretch of wild once things dried up and the frost heaves settled. Most of the road was in pretty good shape, with only a few repairs here and there at the little brooks and streams that would wash out the road over the winter. The new gravel rolled a bit under John’s feet, but he was pretty used to it.
As they rounded a bend, they saw a black wriggling mass in the center of the road at the crest of the next rise. John couldn’t quite make it out, but with an excited yelp, Ace took off — another new adventure to tackle. John wished he was a dog like Ace, not for the first time. He sprinted after.
The setter was barking like a mad fool as he approached the mystery ahead. There was an explosion of feathers and cawing as the crows scattered at the approaching interruption.
One stubborn blackbird remained trying to lift whatever the frenzied murder was squabbling over.
Ace grabbed at the object and the tenacity of the crow was astonishing. The larger animal won the prize. The bird took wing and cursed Ace for the theft and indignity.
John slowed to a walk, a little blown out and huffed. Ace was loping back with what looked like a shoe.
However, it didn’t look quite right. Ace was holding it from the side as if the shoe was something separate. As the dog approached, John saw and understood why the crows would be fighting for a sneaker. White bone and flesh jutted out the other side of Ace’s muzzle as he happily brought his winnings to his owner, tail wagging proudly.
Ace dropped the dismembered foot in front of John. It was picked at by the crows but otherwise didn’t look rotted. It was a ladies sneaker, a left foot. John figured it to be a size five, like his sister’s.
He had a moment of panic as he remembered the threats made by Billy’s brother Alan. Prosecution of the Maynard organization wasn’t expected to be easy. Their network reached far.
John was torn between calling his sister and calling 911, but it didn’t matter. He left his cell back in the car five miles back. He didn’t like the weight and bounce of it while running. He even left the keys tucked behind the gas cap.
Ace had wandered off in to the woods again and was barking with an urgency that made John’s stomach heave and his heart sink.
He followed the sound of the barking.
Sarah’s heels echoed with rapid efficiency as she made her way across the lobby. Tucking a stray tuft of raven behind her ear she answered her cell.
“Hey, sis. What’s up?”
She found a quiet bench outside the furthest chamber. Nothing was on the docket in that room for the rest of the day.
“You were right. That bastard Alan just cornered me as I was leaving Kay’s. He just pulled up with his sunglass-glad meatheads in tow.”
John knew the place. Sarah was a creature of many conflicting habits. Running was one. Kay’s corned beef on rye was another. He missed her. Travel didn’t suit him.
“What did he say?”
“That’s just it”. She lowered her voice as the session next over let out. “He didn’t come right out with it. Just waved me over and then started spouting the usual yada-yada about prosecutorial misconduct and making sure we understood his expectations. Dammit! I should have ignored him instead of letting him get under my skin.”
“He threaten anything specific?”
“No. Just that his brother was important and that the ‘public good’ would be best served if we favoured a certain outcome. Johnny, this is getting hard. I’m getting a little rattled. Are you sure we can pull this off?”
“Absolutely. We got this. Billy is first. Then we’ll go after his brother.”
“How’d things go up in the Cape?” she asked.
“Christ, the son-of-a-bitch’s been busy scaring the shit out of everyone. Nothing we can prove of course. I’d love to nail him for tampering and shut him down.”
Sarah didn’t say anything. He wasn’t doing a great job easing her nerves. He plowed on.
“But I got her settled down, so we’re still good. The trip was worth it. Mason did his magic.”
“Ok, good”. She stood and gathered her purse and portfolio, juggling them all in the way only a practiced mother can. “I have to go. The review of the remaining subpoenas won’t get done by themselves. A quick run on our special trail then home. Do you want me to swing by and pick up Ace? He probably needs a good stretch.”
“That’s ok. I’ll be back in town by midnight and take him out to the woods in the morning. I’ll catch up with you in the office before lunch.”
“Cool. I miss you John. This is getting crazy.”
“I know. ‘Wonder-Twin powers activate’, right?” he said, trying to reassure her. “Shape of: a hammer”, he added.
“Form of: a honey badger”, she responded, a small laugh escaping at the old joke.
“The Maynards better watch out. We’re coming for them. Give Missy a kiss for me.”
“Will do, John”.
“Sarah,” he paused. “Be careful. See you tomorrow.”
“I will. Later.”
She leaned against the wall for a minute and counted to ten. John always made her feel better and a little more grounded when shit started spinning up. This wasn’t their first big case together, but this one had a very different timbre to it. They had to play fast-and-loose just to keep up with the Maynard clan. It wasn’t always clear where the next play was or what depth of crap they’d have to wade through.
She dropped the phone in her purse and picked up the gym bag and strung it over her free shoulder. It was going to be a busy afternoon.
MASON’S BAD DEATH
Mason’s cigarette burned idly away in the ashtray on his normally well-ordered desk. There wouldn’t be much left of the smoke before it was gone, and the same was true for Mason. His pulse slowed as blood seeped out from under him. He didn’t panic even as he felt the sticky mess pooling about his midriff. He knew the truth of things. No, it wouldn’t be very long at all.
The man he now knew to be Alan Maynard stepped over his waning body to rifle through the case files on his desk. Of course, what he was looking for was on top and open. Alan had no trouble collecting the photo hard-copies, confirming what he already suspected. Mason had caught him on camera. Both men had been tailing the same witness, an unassuming woman named Edie Parker. Mason’s motives were pure. John had called in a favour as he thought her to be in danger. Clearly she was. Mason and John had met with her last week when John was up. They told her of their plan to watch and protect her. They promised her she’d be safe. Who was going to do that now?
Edie was at the park yesterday afternoon with her daughter. It was a perfect sunny day. As he snapped pictures of the other parents in the park, Mason remembered thinking how special and vibrant a four-year-old can be. He was estranged from his own children after his marriage collapsed. It wasn’t likely that there would be any reconciliation at this point. Damn.
Alan was busy collecting the files, pictures, camera and flash drives. He tossed them into a wastepaper basket at the center of the room. He then put on an aspirator, took several cans of lighter fluid from his messenger bag and started dousing everything flammable in the small office. Mason regretted being a packrat as the smell of butane filled the room. His clothing received more than its fair share of the accelerant.
His assailant took a device out of the bag, a simple assemblage of blasting caps and a cheap cellphone. He carefully balanced it on a folded newspaper across the wastebasket. Alan turned to survey his handiwork and walked through his mental checklist. He nodded and smiled. Alan turned to the dying man and said, “so long, fucker.” Alan Maynard, heir-apparent to the empire, locked the door and left.
Mason was alone and helpless. While he was quite used to taking care of himself, being unable to do so was not something to which he was accustomed. All that could be done was hope that John got his voicemail in time to save Edie and Sarah. He was in the middle of emailing the evidence package when Alan burst through the door. For the life of him, whatever was left anyway, he couldn’t recall whether or not he hit ‘send’.
It no longer mattered for Mason. He was finished. Amid the blood loss and the excruciating pain, tempered only by shock’s mercy, he forced his eyes closed and waited. The dreaded contraption made one chirp before Mason’s world went white hot, sending him to oblivion.
RORY LOVES HELEN
He said it wasn’t safe anymore to stay in the city, to pack up an overnight bag and meet him at this address. I checked the phone again; the text read 132 Old Pier Road. This was the spot.
Shaking my head, I parked the car across the tracks in front of the decrepit building and reached into the glove box for a flashlight. My hand shook as I found it and the pistol we kept, the muzzle dragging heavily on the plastic. Tucking the flashlight under my chin, I fumbled for the ammunition and took the time to load.
What the Hell was going on? Rory was babbling a fit when we talked. We’d have to sell the house, but there wasn’t time. He made arrangements. We’d have plenty of space to raise kids. This old warehouse better not have been it. All our savings that weren’t lost to the lawyers were tied up in the condo.
I walked around the building. His truck wasn’t here and I was all alone. The cell wouldn’t work, probably a dead zone. The word ‘dead’ sent a shiver up my spine.
Twilight was rapidly greeting the night and I started to get cold. Grabbing my cardigan from the front seat, I flicked on the light and went to the small warehouse door. To my surprise, it opened and I felt a warm heat from the barrel-fire at the center of the space. I made out several large shadows milling about.
“Helen!” yelled Rory. “Run! It’s too late. They got-.” He was cut off by a loud wet thump, and I saw an occupied chair fall over roughly. Two dark shapes loomed over top. I ran forward into the firelight as the larger one kicked Rory in the stomach.
“No,” I squeaked as I was grabbed from behind and thrown to the floor, my head hitting the crumbling concrete. I passed out.
Opening my eyes proved difficult; the headache and blurred vision made me nauseous. My tongue felt thick, sore and swollen; I must’ve bitten it. My mouth was dry, lips stuck together with dried spittle. I tried to swallow but nearly choked with the taste of blood.
I couldn’t move my limbs and had no idea if I was upright or not. Panicked, I tested my bindings.
Someone must have heard me and came over. The cool metallic lip of a water bottle stung, but I drank greedily. I tried to focus on the water-bearer’s face; it was a misshapen wreck of purple and red.
“Rory…” I began.
“Shhh,” he said, “they’ll kill us both.”
“Who?” I whispered.
Rory looked over his shoulder at the muscle watching. “You know exactly ‘who’. Should never have believed that they could protect us. I love you, Helen. Remember that.”
“I love you too,” I said.
Those were the last words he spoke, to me or anyone. He was hauled away and duct tape was placed on my mouth.
I watched and wanted to scream. Rory screamed enough for the both of us.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Photo by srqpix