Unsettled: Episode 12

The Coldwater Crown Hotel was the crown jewel of Coldwater’s buildings. Its penthouse suite was reserved for only the most influential and powerful. Kristina had always hoped someday to spend her honeymoon in one of the spacious plush rooms with its chandeliers and marbled bathroom. Now she was in the hotel all right but gagged and tied to a chair opposite Detective Marquez while Charles Heath watched them with his strange little eyes.

“Sorry, boss,” Charley said. “I did what you told me, but I wasn’t sure if I should kill these two or bring them here. So I brought them here.”

Heath looked up at Charley in exasperation.

“Charley, you are an idiot. I want you to know that. But I can work with your incompetence. Now go on downstairs and wait for our guest. He should be arriving shortly.”

As Charley and Gordon left the room, Heath said,

“It’s tough to find someone this day and age that you can trust.”

Heath looked from Marquez to Kristina waiting for some sort of reaction. When neither of them responded, he nodded.

“Solid point. Wait right there. I want to go tell them what you said.”

Heath turned and headed for the balcony, closing the door behind him.

Kristina frantically looked around for a way to escape, something to cut her restraints. But when she spotted two men watching her, she sighed and started working on a different plan.

* * *

Stationed on the balcony of the Coldwater Crown Hotel were four of Heath’s best men. Councilman Parker was seated beside Police Commissioner Victor Thorn while Shaun Lambert, a member of Coldwater’s city council and Parker’s rival, stood in a tight group with Scott Marshall, owner of Foundation Financial, and Terrance Marsh the mayor.

“Well everyone,” Heath greeted as he walked out onto the balcony. “I’m certain you’re wondering why I called you here.”

“You didn’t call me! You kidnapped me!” Marsh complained.

“Yes, yes. You and Marshall. But I knew you wouldn’t rsvp a party invite, so I had to improvise,” Heath laughed.

“I brought you here because, as you know, things in Coldwater are changing. Unfortunately, I will not always be able to run the day-to-day operations, so I have gathered you here because you will run things for me,” Heath said.

When Parker stood up in protest, Heath held up a hand to quiet him.

“Right through those doors, I have a police detective and a civilian who saw you come out here, so I will put this as simply as I can manage. Join me or I tell them how evil every single one of you is then let them go. Or agree to work for me, becoming incredibly rich, and I deal with the witnesses. What’s it going to be?”

“I hired you to clear my name so I wouldn’t have to worry about prison,” Parker roared. “You work for me, and I will not stand here and let you take over my city!”

Anger flashed in Heath’s eyes and he grabbed Parker by the shirt, lifted him, and tossed him off the balcony. As Parker screamed, Heath waited until he hit the pavement below with a thud then said with a smile,

“There now. You no longer have to worry about prison.”

Turning around to the other men, Heath gestured to the balcony.

“Of course if you don’t like either option, you can always take the express exit. Think about it. I’ll be right back.”

* * *

A few feet away, Billy stood on the sidewalk in the pouring rain and watched as people gathered around the dead body of Councilman Roger Parker.

“Well it would seem their arrangement has come to an end,” Jack said.

“Shame it had to end that way,” Victoria disapproved.

“He had it coming,” Lucas growled.

“Nothing more we can do about him,” Dylan sighed. “We need to rescue the others.”

“Yes we do. My favorite part,” Eddie said with a broad grin.

Billy slipped through the crowd to the front doors of the Coldwater Crown Hotel. The lights were out and the building was empty.

“How did he empty out the building?” Victoria asked.

“Who cares? Gives us the environmental advantage,” Lucas pointed out as he pulled the doors closed and locked them.

* * *

Heath came in off the balcony and walked over to Kristina and Marquez.

“Look. I don’t want to kill either of you, but this is a business deal, so I would like to offer you something other than dying.”

He began to pace as he spoke.

“The man I released from jail, the same one who’s been on my heels a little closer than I like, is on his way here. I need you two to do me a favor. When the smoke clears and this is over, I want you to tell everyone that he was responsible for everything that happened here. After all, what good is a plan without a fall guy? Can you do that for me?”

Heath removed Marquez’s gag.

“Release me at once, and I’ll tell the DA you cooperated.”

“Well that wasn’t what I hoped to hear,” Heath said slipping, the gag back over her mouth.

Turning to Kristina he said,

“Let’s hope I have better luck with you.”

But when Heath removed Kristina’s gag, she snarled,

“Untie me so I can stab you in the neck.”

Heath quickly slipped the gag back on Kristina’s mouth despite her protest.

“Well that was worse.”

“I guess you’ll both just be two more victims for the crime statistics.”

Suddenly the door to the suite opened and one of Heath’s men burst in.

“Sir, he’s here,” he warned.

Heath smiled and answered,

“Good. Now I get to find out how good he really is.”

“Do I tell the others, boss?” the man asked.

“No, no,” Heath corrected. “We don’t want to spoil the surprise, do we?”

* * *

Connor Lawton, one of Heath’s men, led a team of four through the halls of the Coldwater Crown Hotel’s first floor. Their orders were to clear the hotel and let no one slip in. Connor had complete confidence in his team. So far, there had been no radio chatter. This job would be a piece of cake, much too easy given the experience and training of his men.

Up ahead, Connor spotted a light just beyond a small dining room.

“Squad on me. Move with caution,” Connor ordered.

Quietly he and his men crept toward the room, stopping at the door marked Kitchen. The light was coming from under the door. Ordering his men to watch for any movement, he slowly opened the door. Connor knew they would follow orders and watch his back.

Whoever turned on the kitchen light could be hiding somewhere in the kitchen. Connor led in his men, stopped to listen, then continued all the way to the back.

“All clear. False alarm,” he said.

Turning to face his squad, he froze when he saw his men had disappeared.

“They wouldn’t have left me,” Connor thought. “Something’s wrong!”

Just as he reached for his radio, from behind him Connor felt a knife press to his throat.

He stood perfectly still and waited for the right moment to redirect the attack.

“Call for help,” the man behind him whispered.

“What?” Connor asked confused.

When Connor didn’t cooperate, the man reached around with his other hand and removed Conner’s radio. Holding it up to Connor’s mouth, he repeated,

“Call. . .for. . .help.”

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Unsettled: Episode 11

Outside city hall, Detective Marquez pulled her car into a parking spot and killed the engine. As she drummed her fingers on the dashboard, she looked up at the single light coming from the mayor’s office.

Ever since her partner Detective Ethan Snow had been murdered, life felt like an out-of-control roller coaster. She had no one to talk to, no one to trust. Her father, a retired lawyer who spent most of his time with his nose in a spy novel, had warned her not to trust anyone.

She remembered his words the last time she saw him.

“Even those who say you can trust them could be lying.”

She noticed a homeless man down the street rifling through a trashcan. Every now and then he jerked his head up, as though afraid someone were watching, then after a moment went back to his digging.

“Until you can figure out what motivates them, what they have to gain by deceiving you, it’s best to assume that everyone is out for themselves,” Marquez repeated her father’s warning.

Opening the door, she slipped out and crossed the street to the large front doors of city hall.

The empty building smelled a bit musty as she headed for the elevator, her heels echoing on the tile floor. Coldwater City Hall, one of the smallest buildings in town, held the mayor’s office as well as the city council and a handful of other government offices. When the elevator doors opened, Marquez stepped inside and punched the button for the second floor. She smiled when she thought of her personal trainer’s reaction if he found out she had taken the elevator up one floor and missed her opportunity for a quick cardio workout on the stairs. But it had been a long day, and at this point, she was too tired to care.

When the elevator doors opened, Marquez stepped out and walked down the hall to the mayor’s office. The door was open and the front office empty since the mayor’s secretary had left at five o’clock.

“Mr. Mayor?” Marquez called out.

“Joselyn, please come in.”

Terrance Marsh had been the uncontested mayor for eight years now. Slightly graying when he won his first election, his hair was now completely white and his face showed signs of wear.

“You called for me, sir?” Marquez said.

“Yes,” Marsh said. “Please have a seat. Recent events have opened my eyes to corruption that has run unchecked through the city’s infrastructure. I fear that this corruption, now exposed, has taken its anger out on our city.”

While he spoke, Marquez noticed some stacked boxes and smoke coming from a metal trashcan by the window facing the alley. A fire had recently burned out.

“Have you ever done any gardening, Joselyn?” Marsh asked.

Something in her made Marquez want to correct him for using her first name, as though they were friends, but she let it slide. Given his loose tie and disheveled appearance, something was going on far more important than the proper way for a mayor to address constituents.

“My grandmother did,” Marquez answered.

“In gardening you tend to your garden by turning the soil, watering the plants and pulling weeds. A weed digs into the soil and steals nutrients that the other plants need to survive. Pulling weeds is necessary, but when they come up, they take the soil with them, soil that could have been used to feed your garden,” Marsh said.  “Do you understand where I’m going?”

“I believe so, sir,” Marquez said.

As Marsh paused, searching for his next words, William Brannon walked in followed by a girl with short hair, one of the people Marquez had seen with him earlier.

“A tick,” Brannon said with a British accent. “A tick would have been a better analogy.”

“Who are you? What are you doing in here?” Marsh demanded.

“Removing a tick takes great care. If not done properly, a part of the creature will be left behind. And trying to remove one without the necessary skills can cause a great deal of damage to the person to whom the tick has attached itself,” Brannon explained.

“What are you talking about?” Marsh barked.

“We’ve come to save your life,” Brannon said, this time without an accent as he turned his face toward Marsh.

“My life? Why would I be in danger?” Marsh asked, laughing nervously.

“Because like most politicians, you’re dirtier than a train station bathroom,” Brannon said as his demeanor and posture suddenly changed.

Marquez watched the way Brannon moved, the subtle ways he changed every time he spoke. It reminded her of her college theatre days, watching the actors. Each time they got into character, their posture, their mannerisms, even the pitch of their voice changed.

“Listen, young man,” Marsh defended, “I promised the people who elected me that I would root out corruption—”

“And snuggle in tight with it,” Brannon interrupted.

“I am not corrupt!” Marsh snapped.

“Ladies, ladies. No need to fight,” a man with an Australian accent said, strolling into the room with a large man at his heels.

Under a black coat, he wore a gun belt around his waist and a knit cap covered his head. The large man behind him stood 6 feet 6 inches, his thick arms dangling by his sides like a gorilla.

Before Marquez could reach for her weapon, the Australian man had both his pistols out.

“Nice try, Sheriff, but we’re gonna do things my way,” he joked.

“This is Gord, and you can call me Thunder,” the Australian man laughed. “As in the thunder from down under.”

“But your name is Charley,” Gord said in confusion.

“Shut it, Gord,” Charley scolded.

“Anyone try anything, and I’ll kill each of you before you can blink,” Charley warned.

“But the boss said we’re supposed to bring them in alive,” Gord reminded him.

“Shut up, Gord!” Charley snapped. “I’m going for a certain effect here.”

Suddenly Brannon leapt at Charley, knocking him backwards. The guns flew from his hands, but before Brannon could get to them, Gord grabbed his arms and threw him out the window.

“No!” the woman who had come with Brannon yelled.

Marquez reached for her pistol but Gord grabbed her hand with a vice-like grip.

“Enough!” Charley said getting to his feet. “That bogan ruined everything.”

Looking out the window, Charley yelled down, “I hope you broke your big stupid neck!”

“But the boss said he needed him alive,” Gord repeated.

“I said shut up, Gord,” Charley barked. “I swear you are the stupidest mongrel I have ever worked with.”

Gord looked at Marquez and said,

“I’m not stupid. I’m smarter than Charley. He just gets mad and yells at me. My name’s Gordon.”

“Don’t bother, Gord. She wouldn’t give you the time of day,” Charley said. “Boss says she used to be a model.”

“Whatever your boss wants, I’m certain I can get it for you without anyone else getting hurt,” the mayor assured him.

“That’s right, mate,” Charley said. “What the boss wants is you.”

Charley raised his pistols and said, “You’re coming with us.”

“What about these two?” Gord asked, pointing to Marquez and the girl.

“Bring them too. Can’t never have too many hostages. Besides, maybe the boss will let these lovely ladies fight each other over who gets to live,” Charley laughed.

“Yea,” Gord chuckled, “in a tub of Jell-O.”

“Why you gotta make it weird?” Charley asked.

“I’m sorry,” Gord apologized as he and Charley moved everyone out to the car waiting downstairs.

 

*          *          *

 

 

“Gotcha!” Ray cheered, clapping his hands.

Rory suddenly jumped and demanded,

“What?”

“Scott Marshall,” Ray said. “He’s the owner of Coldwater Financial, the second largest bank in Coldwater.”

Rory stood up and walked over to the computer.

“That’s the guy you couldn’t id?” Rory asked.

“Until now,” Ray said proudly.

“Billy!” Mavis cried out, sitting bolt upright on the couch.

“Relax,” Rory said. “He went with Kristina to warn the mayor.”

“No!” Mavis shouted, panic in her eyes. “Something’s wrong. I can feel it.”

“What do you mean?” Ray asked.

“He’s in trouble, Ray!” Mavis said. “We need to get to him now.”

“Okay,” Ray said. “Let’s go.”

Trying to calm Mavis, Rory insisted,

“I’m sure he’s fine. Don’t worry.”

 

*          *          *

 

 

As Detective Marquez, Kristina and Mayor Marsh were shuffled into the waiting car, Billy stood just inside the shadowed alley watching.

“What do we do now?” Victoria asked. “They’ve taken Kristina and the police detective.”

“We need to alert the police,” Dylan said.

“They won’t help us if they’re working for Heath,” Eddie pointed out.

“Heath’s motives are obvious,” Jack said. “He is cleaning up the corruption before taking over. Coldwater is the board he speaks of, and the corrupted officials are the pieces. He won’t listen to reason. He’s too close to his goal.”

“Then we follow them,” Lucas said.

“And do what?” Dylan asked.

“And deal with it. . .our way,” Lucas said.

A few feet down the alley, pressed against the wall in fear, a homeless man was still shaking from the sight of a man suddenly jumping out of the trash bin where he had landed when he came flying out a window overhead, a man who now stood at the entrance to the alley talking to himself.

Published in: on May 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Coming Soon to Unsettled….

Unsettled: Episode 10

Muttering to himself, Billy paced the floor, his shoes clicking on polished wood. Ray sat at Kristina’s laptop searching for a name to go with the face he had seen in the picture at Councilman Parker’s office.

“Do you need the little boys’ room or something?” Rory complained to Billy. “Stop that infernal pacing!”

“Just standing around here while some madman tears Coldwater apart is insane and cowardly!” Lucas snapped.

Billy straightened up and looked off in a different direction as Jack spoke.

“We cannot just go running off blindly. We need to know exactly who we are after. Wisdom dictates ‘Knowledge proceeds victory; ignorance—”

In mid-sentence, Billy’s head snapped to the right. With his right index finger pointing to no one, Lucas finished,

“Proceeds defeat. I know, I know. Don’t quote that tired old line to me again.”

“We must be patient,” Victoria pointed out as Billy’s demeanor softened.

“You know, I think he missed his calling,” Rory said. “With this routine of his, he should be an entertainer. He’d be the top act in the ward.”

When Mavis, tired and nervous, stormed at Rory, Kristina stepped in between them.

“Ray’s trying to find out who the fourth guy is in the picture, okay? Cool it,” she insisted. Then turning to Ray, she asked,

“You said the other three were Councilman Parker, the police commissioner and the mayor, right?”

“Uh huh,” Ray mumbled, keeping his eyes on the computer screen.

“Well then why don’t we go and warn the ones we know?” Kristina asked.

“May not be a smart move. If the mayor and the commish are loyal to Parker, all we’d be doing is letting them in on what we know,” Eddie pointed out.

“On the other hand, if Heath is killing everyone connected to Parker and they’re not in on it, they may be willing to turn on Parker to save themselves.”

“It would be tricky getting either of them to turn, but since the mayor has a public image to protect, we might have a better chance with him,” Dylan suggested.

“Then let’s go talk to the mayor,” Kristina suggested.

“Count me out. I need to stay here and find out who the fourth guy is,” Ray replied. “You two go.”

“All right,” Kristina said as she turned to Mavis. When she saw that Mavis had fallen asleep on one of the couches, she stopped.

“She needs her rest. I’ll stay here with her,” Rory said. “You know that when she wakes up, she’s going to be upset you left her behind.”

“I can deal with it.” After grabbing her jacket, Kristina looked at Billy and said,. “Come on,. . .all of you.”

Kristina led Billy through the house to the garage and opened the door. After she grabbed a set of keys off the wall, she passed her bike and headed deeper into the garage.

“We’re not taking your bike?” Billy asked.

“Nah. It’s not really two person friendly. Besides, we need something a little less conspicuous,” Kristina said.

She walked past several cars before stopping at a 1950 blue panel van, its paint scared and peeling. On the side written in white just above a pale yellow stripe were the faded letters,

‘he Amazin Oswal Zamora.’

“What’s it say?” Billy asked.

“The Amazing Oswald Zamora,” Kristina explained.

“This was my stepfather’s van that he used in all his performances. I never had a reason to drive it, but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it,” Kristina said.

“Why didn’t you fix it up?” Victoria asked.

“It looked like this when he married my mother. She loved its charm, so I left it just the way it was,” Kristina said brushing away a tear.

Turning to Billy, she asked,

“Does one of you know how to drive?”

“We have the knowledge and a basic understanding of how the process works,” Jack replied.

“Groovy,” Kristina returned.

The musty scent of gin and sugar filled the air as Billy opened the door and climbed inside. Kristina slid into the passenger seat and buckled up. When Billy put the key in the ignition and turned it over, it wouldn’t start.

“Hold on,” Kristina said.

She climbed out and walked around to the hood. Sliding her hand across its surface, she stopped when she felt a small dent. Then she raised her hand and whacked the dent as hard as she could. After a moment, something under the hood thumped and she said,

“Try it now.”

Billy turned the key again and the engine roared to life like a confident beast that had been asleep for too long.

Kristina laughed as she climbed back into the van.

“Oswald taught me that. This old van is full of little tricks.”

As Kristina used the remote to open the garage door, Billy backed out the van and headed for the mayor’s office.

 

*          *          *

 

 

Councilman Parker watched in horror at the blackened sky over Coldwater’s burning buildings. The day had just started, and already it had been marred by tragedy.

Staring out over the city Charles Heath said, “You know, there’s nothing better than watching the sun rise next to a warm fire.”

“Are you insane?” Parker snapped. “You were supposed to protect me from corruption charges, not burn down the city and murder people.”

Heath turned and walked toward Parker.

“You say insane, I say free rein. May cause you pain, but I can’t abstain. May hurt your brain, but there’s something to gain.”

When the door behind Parker suddenly opened, Heath looked up as the smile disappeared from his face.

“You interrupted me,” he scolded.

“My apologies, sir,” a man said with an Australian accent.

“Never mind. I couldn’t think of anything else to rhyme with gain anyway.”

“Blood stain,” the Australian man suggested.

Heath considered this and said,

“That could work.”

“Why am I tied up?” Parker asked.

“Why I couldn’t leave you out. You’re part of the plan,” Heath said, patting the chair. “I need you right here until it’s your turn on stage,”

“This was not part of the plan. None of this,” Parker protested.

“I know, but I tossed out your plan when I met him,” Heath said.

“Who?” Parker asked.

“That enigma wrapped in a puzzle, deep fried and smothered in a riddle,” Heath said jubilantly.

“Who are you talking about?” Parker pressed.

“The man who stopped my assassin,” Heath answered. “Come to think of it, I’ve never been stopped before. Is this what admiration feels like? Or is it just indigestion.”

“What was wrong with my plan? It was perfect,” Parker argued.

“Oh it was hardly perfect. When I met him, I saw a real challenge. A good game needs a clean slate, a fresh board on which to set the pieces.”

“So you started murdering people and burning down buildings? My buildings?” Parker barked.

“Just for starters,” Heath snickered. Then looking at someone behind Parker, he said,

“You two go and get the rest of our guests. It’s almost time for the show to start. Oh this is so exciting, isn’t it?”

“Right, boss,” the Australian said then added, “Come on, Gord.”

After they closed the door behind them, Heath looked down at Parker and said,

“Oh I really wish I hadn’t said the show is about to start. That expression is such a cliché.”

“You know you’re demented, don’t you?” Parker remarked.

“That term is acceptable,” Heath replied then smiled as he turned away to stare out over the city.

*          *          *

 

“What happened?” Detective Marquez yelled.

“Looks like five separate buildings were rigged to explode,” Officer Lawton answered. “Emergency services are still putting out the fires. We got dead and injured, no count yet on the number.”

Marquez slowly ran her fingers through her hair. After being up all night in the rain and mist, she longed for a hot shower and a few hours of sleep.

“Call in backup, and secure the scene,” she ordered.

Officer Lawton nodded and hurried away.

“What is going on?” Marquez asked herself.

“No idea. I’m still new here,” an officer answered as he walked up behind her.

Standing the allowable minimum height at 5 feet 7 inches, Detective Miles Stavros had recently transferred in from Beech Bay Homicide on the west coast. Rumor was he made up for his short stature with both charm and a volcanic temper.

“What brings you out tonight, Detective,” Marquez asked.

“I transferred to Coldwater Homicide a week ago, and already this city is trying to eat itself,” Stavros said.

“Beech Bay may be where college kids go for spring break, but Coldwater is where the rich play footsie with the homicidal,” Marquez responded.

“That’s exactly why I transferred here,” Stavros said. “Got tired of chasing drug addicts and oiled up gym jockeys. I wanted something more, a challenge.”

“Well you picked a great time to join us. Apparently a new breed of madman has burrowed under the city’s skin,” Marquez said.

“Maybe what we need is our own madman to root him out,” Stavros suggested.

Before Marquez could respond, her phone went off. Lifting it out of her coat pocket, she answered,

“Detective Marquez.”

After a few minutes, she ended the call.

“Got to go. That was the mayor. He needs to speak with me now.”

“Go. I’ll keep things running here,” Stavros said.

“Thanks,” Marquez answered as she turned and headed for her car.

“What could be so important he would call me to his office now, in the middle of this chaos?” Marquez asked herself as she got in her car and started the engine.

Published in: on April 17, 2018 at 1:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Unsettled: Episode 9

“Where are we going exactly?” Rory asked.

“I don’t know. I’m not leading this parade,” Ray replied.

After Detective Márquez returned to the crime scene and Jack announced they needed a safe place to talk, Kristina had offered to take them to the perfect place. Climbing on her bike, she pulled into the street and headed north.

“So we’re just going to follow her to this mysterious location?” Rory asked.

“It would appear so,” Ray replied. “Based on the amount of time we’ve been on the road, I figure we must be on the other side of the island by now.”

The farther north they drove, the higher the elevation. At the top of the next hill, Ray looked back and saw the expansive bridge that connected Coldwater to Whitelake. When the sun’s rays hit it just right, it looked golden. Up ahead, Kristina slowed to a stop in front of two large black iron gates. She waited while the gates opened then drove her bike through with Mavis right behind. When Rory pulled through in his Bronco, Ray noticed the sign on the gates.

“Wintervale,” he read. “Wintervale. Where have I heard that name?”

After a few curves in the road, a massive red brick mansion came into view. The three-storied structure stretched out over rolling hills with oaks and dogwoods lining the drive. Kristina pulled up to the main entrance and killed her engine as Mavis and Rory parked alongside her bike.

“Where are we?” Mavis asked as she climbed out of the Jeep and twirled around, taking it all in.

“Wintervale Manor,” Kristina said.

“Mathias Wintervale built this place along with a mental hospital in Blackrock. The hospital’s been closed down for years, but at the time it was a top-notch place for the patients,” Kristina said.

“That’s nice and all, but why are we here?” Rory asked.

“I live here,” Kristina said with a smile. “My mom was the granddaughter of Mathias Wintervale. After my dad died, she married Oswald Zamora, a stage magician. He was my step-dad. The week before I graduated from high school, my mom died. Right after the ceremony, he disappeared, leaving all his possessions to me. I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”

“Man, this place is insane,” Billy said, taking it all in.

“You’d know!” Rory quipped.

Mavis quickly bent over, grabbed a rock from the driveway, and threw it at Rory.

“It’s okay, love,” Jack said. “We have more pressing matters to attend to.”

“Now that we’re someplace safe, tell us what happened back there,” Ray requested.

“When I got inside the building,” Lucas said, “Heath had left, probably in that helicopter lifting off.”

“And Dale?” Kristina asked.

“Upstairs in his office. Dead, the poor thing,” Victoria answered. “Beaten near to death with a hammer.”

When Kristina lost it, Mavis scolded Victoria.

“Do you have to be so graphic?” she snapped as Kristina walked away to compose herself.

“He didn’t go there just to kill Tanner,” Dylan interrupted. “This was more aggressive, angrier.”

“It is possible he was venting some pent up aggression,” Jack said. “On the other hand, maybe it was some sort of sick game to him.”

“What makes you think that?” Ray asked.

“A gunshot wound was what killed Tanner. Heath could have easily killed him with the hammer, but it looks like he struck him in such a way as to inflict the most damage yet leave him alive. Long enough to kill him anyway,” Jack explained.

“This is more than a killing spree or a cleanup,” Dylan insisted. “Heath is after something. Otherwise he’d be more focused or at least have a cool down period. He’s ramping up to a finale, and my gut tells me he’s just getting starting.”

“Somehow Parker is connected to Heath,” Ray said. “You should have seen his reaction when we mentioned him.”

“You hit a nerve. Aggression at a sensitive subject,” Jack said.

“Rookie mistake,” Eddie said. “Gave himself away. But he’s new at this. Probably the first time he’s ever worked with a cleaner.”

“Sounds like the fire’s jumped out of the firebox onto the curtains,” Jack replied.

“Anybody lost here?” Rory asked.

“It does,” Ray replied, ignoring Rory’s comment. “I have a suspicion where he might be headed next. When we were in Parker’s office, I saw a picture of him with three other men. The mayor, the police commissioner, and one other guy I didn’t recognize.”

“It could be he’s planning to completely wipe out the city’s infrastructure, leaving it in chaos,” Mavis proposed.

“There is one other possible answer,” Jack suggested.

“What?” Mavis asked.

“A hostile takeover,” Jack replied.

 

 

*          *          *

 

Gagged and tied to a chair facing French doors that opened onto a balcony of one of Coldwater’s tallest hotels, Councilman Owen Parker tried to calm his nerves. A short while ago, he had found his secretary Veronica dead in his outer office and Charles Heath standing over her body, along with one of his goons. At gunpoint, he had forced Parker to the top floor of the hotel.

Heath walked over and stood next to Parker, placing his hand on the nervous councilman’s shoulder. He slipped past Parker and opened the french doors, stepping outside to enjoy the view of the city and feel the soft breeze ruffle his hair. Taking a deep breath to draw in the fresh air, he said,

“You know, I really love this city. Not because of the people but because of the ambiance. On the surface, it feels warm and inviting. Underneath? Underneath there’s a hidden malice lingering just below the surface. Like the archetypal deformed cousin everyone keeps hidden in the basement,” Heath paused then laughed at his clever simile. “It’s there reminding us that we aren’t as perfect as we pretend to be.”

Just then one of Heath’s men walked onto the balcony and handed him a small cellphone.

“It’s ready,” the man said.

“Oh good,” Heath replied. Then taking a quick look outside, he turned to Parker and said,

“You’re going to enjoy this!”

Turning back to face Coldwater, Heath asked,

“Did you know that in ancient times when a city or kingdom was overthrown, the new monarchy would kill anyone loyal to the old king then destroy any buildings or statues built in his name?”

As Parker looked up at Heath, beads of sweat trickled down his face.

After a moment, Heath turned toward Parker.

“Well at least that’s what I believe they did. I couldn’t find any solid references to make my point resonate more, but you get the idea.”

When Parker began to glare at his captor, Heath complained,

“Now don’t look at me that way. I thought if anyone would enjoy this, you would.”

“Do you know what is so great about our emergency services?” Heath asked. “It’s their reaction time. In the city of Coldwater, most fire department and emergency services are on the scene within 3-4 minutes.”

“Aside from a mass disaster, there isn’t a single challenge the fire department could not handle,” Heath said, a wide smile on his face.

“Now I know you must wondering what that has to do with anything. Well I’ll tell you.”

Heath stepped off the balcony and knelt down in front of Parker, placing his hand on the councilman’s knee and addressing him like a small child.

“That kind of timing is perfect for when Mommy accidentally burns the rolls and the drapes catch fire. But for someone like me? Well it makes burning a few strategic buildings to the ground a bit difficult.”

Heath stood up and turned to look out over Coldwater. As he pressed a few buttons in the cell phone, he said,

“So a man like me has to plan ahead, and the best way to deal with quick response fire departments is to overwhelm them.”

Heath paused as he turned from the city and smiled at Parker.

“And the best way to overwhelm emergency services is not to give them one problem to deal with but. . .”

When Heath pressed another button on the cell phone, five separate explosions went off across town, one after another. As fire lit up the sky, Heath held up his hand, fingers spread wide, and mouthed the word.

“. . .five!”

Published in: on March 19, 2018 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Medical Delay

The updates will be here soon but due to a minor medical emergency there will be a delay. My most sincere apologies and thank you for you devotion and patience.

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 6:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Unsettled: Episode 8

It was late evening when Ray and Rory pulled up outside the city capitol building. Work had just been completed to stabilize the building’s foundation and repair damage from the recent hurricane that had blown through town. The street lamps cast a soft glow onto the three-story red brick building as the wind stirred the towering pines that formed a border across the front.

As Ray and Rory climbed the front steps, Rory asked,

“Aren’t these places usually closed after five?”

“Some,” Ray said, testing the door.

When he found it unlocked, he smiled at Rory and added,

“But sometimes people work late.”

Rory followed Ray inside, stopping at a directory to find the listing of Councilman Parker’s office.

“Third floor, room 304,” Rory said.

At the lobby elevator, Ray tapped the button, and after a moment the doors opened.

“What if he’s not in?” Rory asked as he punched the button for the third floor.

“He’s in,” Ray assured him.

“What makes you so certain?” Rory asked.

“Oh just a feeling,” Ray replied.

“More like wishful thinking,” Rory commented as the elevator doors opened.

When they stepped off the elevator, the only sound was the tap of their shoes on the highly polished tile floor. The white sterile hallway was empty as they headed for Parker’s office.

At the door of 304, Rory turned the knob. The door was unlocked, so they stepped inside. The front office was empty.

“See,” Rory laughed. “No one here.”

Ray saw a second door just past the secretary’s desk. The gold lettering on the door’s frosted glass panel read Councilman Owen Parker. Ray listened for a few moments then knocked. He heard a loud thump and a man’s voice yelled,

“Just a moment.”

After the sound of muffled voices stopped, the door opened and a young woman came out of the office. She quickly smoothed her hair and began to close the three open buttons on her blouse.

“May I help you?” she smiled.

“Yes. I’d like to speak with Councilman Parker, please.”

“I’m afraid he’s busy right now,” the woman answered.

“I can see that,” Rory said. “But this is important.”

When Ray glanced past her, he saw Parker quickly throw on a pair of glasses then grab a gold wedding ring off the desk and jam it onto his finger. He was around middle age with graying hair and a slight paunch.

“Now is not a good time,” the woman insisted.

“That’s all right, ma’am. I’ll just go have a word with Mrs. Parker. This matter concerns both of them,” Ray returned.

“What matter?” Parker asked, walking to his office door.

“Nothing that can’t wait. I’ll speak with your wife first. Of course I do tend to share too much and may tell her what I saw here. Hope she doesn’t misunderstand,” Ray said.

“It’s okay, Veronica,” Parker said. “I can speak with them now.”

Ray sweetly smiled and excused himself as he walked past Parker’s secretary.

In a huff, Veronica marched toward her desk, loudly closing the councilman’s door behind Ray and Rory.

Parker offered Ray and Rory a chair and sat down behind his desk.

“Now what can I do for you gentlemen this evening?” he politely asked.

“I am a voter,” Ray said, “and I have a few questions.”

“Well I’m here to help. My door is always open,” Parker said.

“Excellent,” Ray replied. “My first question is what is the city council doing about the crime rate?”

“Crime is down,” Parker said, leaning back in his chair as he laced his fingers across his chest, “and City hall will continue to work with the police department to guarantee it stays down.”

“Next question,” Ray said. “Does the name Charles Heath mean anything to you?”

Suddenly Parker’s friendly expression changed to a scowl.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“Name is Raymond Slats, and I was wondering why is it you hired Charles Heath to in his own words ‘burn the city to the ground?’ ” Ray asked.

Parker stared at Ray for a moment then said, “Wait a minute. Raymond Slats. I know that name. You’re from Whitelake not Coldwater. Why did you tell me you were a voter?”

“Well technically I am a voter, just not in your district,” Ray said.

“I don’t have anything more to say, Mr. Slats. You can find your way out. Bother me again, and you’ll need an attorney,” Parker threatened.

As Ray stood to leave, he said,

“This kind of thing usually doesn’t end well, Councilman. If I were you, I’d get help before things get away from you.”

“Out!” Parker barked.

Turning to leave, Ray noticed a photograph of Councilman Parker with three other men on a golf course. Three of the men were laughing as the fourth retrieved his golf ball from the hole.

When they reached the elevator, Rory asked,

“That’s it?’ We just walk out?”

“I already got all he was going to give. His reaction said enough. Plus, I saw a photo of Parker with the mayor, the police commissioner, and another guy I didn’t recognize. I’d bet my social security check that those men are on Heath’s hit list. We need to find Billy and the others,” Ray said.

As they stepped into the elevator and punched the button for the lobby, Rory asked,

“And by the others you mean?”

“Mavis and Kristina,” Ray replied.

“Good,” Rory said, relaxing a bit.

“And Billy’s other personalities,” Ray added.

Rolling his eyes, Rory groaned as the elevator doors closed.

* * *

As Ray and Rory pulled up outside the Coldwater Chronicle, a uniformed police officer stopped them and told them to stay behind the cordon tape. Squad cars filled the lot as officers and Crime Scene worked the area.

“What’s happened?” Rory asked.

“More importantly,” Ray said as Rory parked near the street, “where are Mavis, Billy and Kristina?”

“Hey, there they are, across the street,” Rory pointed out.

They got out of Rory’s Bronco and crossed the busy street.

“What happened here?” Rory asked.

“I have no idea,” Billy said.

Mavis looked around to see if anyone else could hear before she explained,

“When we got here, Lucas told us to stay outside while he went in. He told us to wait a bit, turn the power off and on, then get into our car, which we did. A few minutes later, we saw the lights of a helicopter as it lifted off the roof. Next thing we know, Billy’s walking out of the building and asking us what happened?”

Rory looked at Billy and inquired,

“What happened inside?”

Billy shrugged and said, “I honestly don’t know. Last I remember, we were at the diner.”

“Wait a minute,” Ray said with skepticism. “You mean to tell me you don’t remember anything?”

Mavis nodded and said, “I believe him, Ray. Sometimes the others block out Billy completely, like when they do something they don’t want him to remember. That way, he stays completely innocent.”

“In that case, I need to speak with the others,” Ray said. “How do I get one of them out here?”

“Won’t work,” Kristina said. “Afraid we already tried. They’ve gone into hiding, I’d guess until things calm down.”

Before Ray could continue his questioning, a slender young woman in a crisp suit, her brown hair pulled back in a bun, walked up to them, her eyes on Billy.

Removing a police badge from her suit, she introduced herself,

“Detective Joeslyn Márquez, Coldwater PD.”

As she slipped the badge back into her pocket, she watched Billy.

“I saw you at the police department earlier. You were there just before detective Ethan Snow was murdered.”

“Detective Snow is dead?” Billy asked in surprise.

Márquez studied Billy’s face as though the answers were there.

“You were there. You didn’t kill him, but you know something. First Snow’s murder, then this? You’re involved all right.”

“What happened in there, Detective,” Ray asked.

“Dale Tanner was murdered. We also found several armed men unconscious and tied up. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” Márquez asked Billy.

“Tanner is dead?” Kristina asked, her hand covering her mouth.

Seeing her grief, Márquez said, “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“I honestly have no clue what’s going on. Last I remember, I was at a diner with these guys,” Billy said, an innocent look on his face.

Márquez watched Billy for a moment then ordered, “Don’t leave town. I may have other questions.”

As Márquez returned to the crime scene, Jack suddenly spoke up.

“So much has happened. We need to get to safety and figure out Heath’s next move.”

“What happened in there?” Mavis asked.

“Not here, love,” Jack replied. “Later, where it’s safe.”

* * *

Irritated by Ray’s visit and threat to tell his wife, Parker gathered his papers, shut off the desk lamp and walked to the door. As he closed and locked it, he said,

“Veronica, I’m sorry, but I’m too upset right now. I’m heading home for the night.”

When he turned around, he froze. Veronica was face down on the floor in a pool of blood. Standing over here was Charles Heath with his bodyguard.

“Hello, Councilman,” Heath sneered. “It’s time for phase two.”

As Heath’s bodyguard pointed a pistol at Parker’s head, Heath asked,

“Won’t you join me for the rest of the evening?”

Unsettled: Episode 7

His hand gripping the bloody hammer, Charles Heath looked down at what remained of Dale Tanner. He watched as Tanner struggled to draw his last breath. Heath had to admit this attack had been just the stress relief he needed after William Brannon almost ruined his escape. From the look of Tanner, a couple more strikes was all he could hope for. Just as he raised the hammer, the lights went out.

Heath froze then looked up toward the ceiling.

“What is it, sir?” Heath’s security guard asked.

“Brannon’s here,” Heath said.

“In that case, sir, I recommend we leave at once,” the guard advised. “There’s a helicopter waiting on the roof to take you to safety.”

“I’m not afraid of him,” Heath said. Then after a pause he added,

“I’m done here.”

Heath handed the claw hammer to the security guard, exchanging it for his pistol. Then turning to Tanner, he smiled,

“Thank you. This was just what I needed.”

Tanner looked at Heath through his swollen bloody eye. He saw Heath raise the pistol and heard the shot just before he slipped into eternity.

After holstering the pistol, Tanner removed his gloves and stuffed them into his pockets. Running his fingers through his short hair, he said,

“Now we can go.”

Exiting Tanner’s office, they headed for the stairs leading up to the roof and the helicopter.

 

*          *          *

 

 

When the lights cut out, Rowan felt his heart race. With trembling hands, he reached out and switched on his tactical flashlight, at the same time ordering the men to follow suit. A surge of panic ran up his spine when he saw that Brannon had disappeared.

“Sweep the room,” he ordered. “Keep your radios on. Target is in the area.”

After searching the room twice, Rowan called out to his men,

“Anyone see anything? Check in.”

Four of the five men gave an all clear. After a moment, Rowan called to the man who had not responded.

“Alexander, check in.”

“Sorry, sir. Thought I saw something. All clear,” Alexander answered.

Rowan ordered the men,

“Keep your eyes open. He’s here somewhere.”

Suddenly Alexander’s tactical light went out.

“Alexander!” Rowan called out.

When no answer came, Clark, the man nearest Alexander, said,

“I’ll check, sir.”

Rowan watched as Clark’s tactical light turned in the direction Alexander had last been seen. Clark did a quick sweep and came back on the radio,

“There’s no sign of him, sir.”

“Keep at it. He has to be there somewhere,” Rowan replied.

Before Clark could respond, another tactical light on the opposite side of the room went out.

“Carter, turn your light back on,” Rowan ordered.

When Carter did not answer, Rowan knew he was losing control of the situation.

“Someone check on Carter.”

Before anyone could respond, Clark’s tactical light went off.

With three men missing, Rowan slowly backed up towards the wall. There were only two men left.

“What are you?” Rowan asked into the darkness.

“There’s no sign of Carter, sir,” Briggs replied.

“Keep looking!” Rowan snapped.

Before Briggs could answer, his light went out.

In a panic, Rowan began frantically to sweep the room.

“Please don’t kill me,” he whispered.

“Forget this,” Granger said. “I’m out of here!”

Rowan watched as Granger’s tactical light moved toward the front door. Suddenly it stopped. Rowan tried to shine his light toward Granger but was terrified of what he might see. Then he heard a slow click that echoed off the walls as Granger’s light went out.

Rowan could hear his heartbeat in his ears as he slowly stepped toward the front door. The only light in the room was his tactical light and a low glow from the streetlamp outside. He figured that if he could just make it to the front door, he could escape with his life. The other men were on their own. His knees shaking, he inched his way toward the front door of the lobby, moving his light from left to right as he went. When he was about halfway to the door, the lights suddenly came on, blinding Rowan for a moment before he adjusted his eyes to the light. The room was empty. No sign of his men. No blood. No equipment.

As a chill ran up his spine, Rowan did what he’d seen every stupid teenager do in every horror movie he’d ever watched. Instead of running for his life, he slowly turned around, sensing something was behind him.

Standing just a couple of feet behind him with one fist clenched and the other open was William Brannon.

“Please don’t hurt me,” Rowan whimpered.

Then he screamed as the last thing he saw was Brannon diving for him.

 

*          *          *

 

 

Leo Walker and Chad Burns, two of Heath’s men, were stationed in the second floor hall leading to the editor’s office. Both were under orders to stay behind and cover Mr. Heath’s escape. A few moments after the lights came back on, they heard someone downstairs crying for help.

“What is that racket down there? Sounds like a bunch of little girls,” Walker sneered.

“With Rowan in charge, could be anything,” Burns said.

“In charge? That guy is useless!” Walker said.

“All they have to do is deal with one guy while the boss escapes,” Burns said.

“Leave it to Rowan to make a mess. No telling what he’s up to,” Walker said.

At the entrance to the hallway, a man suddenly appeared. Taking a few purposeful strides, he stopped in full view of Walker and Burns.

“Hey! Isn’t that the Brannon guy Mr. Heath warned us about?” Walker asked.

“Well he’s not one of our idiots,” Burns replied.

“That’s far enough. We’ll shoot if you come any closer,” Walker ordered Brannon.

“Heath said not to kill him,” Burns whispered.

“If it’s down to my life or his, I’m shooting the guy,” Walker said.

“Turn around now!” Burns yelled.

Keeping a steady eye on the two men, Brannon did not move.

“Who is this guy?” Walker asked.

“I don’t know. Mr. Heath didn’t say much about him. Just said he’s important and not to kill him,” Burns replied.

All of a sudden, Brannon began walking forward.

“Stop right there! Don’t come any closer!” Burns demanded.

Brannon ignored the warning and kept walking.

“Forget this! I’m shooting him!” Walker said, taking aim.

Suddenly the lights went out, plunging the hallway into darkness.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Unsettled: Episode 6

The building that housed the Coldwater Chronicle had once been a proscenium theater whose doors were closed after the leading lady died on the opening night of the theater’s first major production. It sat empty for years until it was sold and converted into an office building. Shortly thereafter, the owner of the Chronicle, the city’s largest newspaper, had leased the entire upper floor for his staff’s offices. Seated in the largest of the suites was Dale Tanner, the Chronicle’s chief editor. On his desk, papers lay in great stacks, spilling onto the floor, as he scribbled some notes to pass off to one of reporters in the morning. Tanner gave the best of himself to his mistress the Chronicle, and after two failed marriages, he had settled for meaningless affairs with more lovers than he could remember. In his 40 years at the Chronicle, the only thing that remained constant was his paper.

A light rain rolled down the windowpanes as Tanner removed his glasses, resting them on his notes, and stood to stretch his back muscles. He knew he spent too many hours hunched over his desk or staring at the computer screen, but the Chronicle was his baby. Turning to face the window, he watched as the drops splashed against the glass. He remembered when he took the job as editor. He was a handsome young man who could have landed a modeling contract. Now his reflection reminded him that he had more hair over his ears than on his head. Over the years, he had put on so many pounds that he started wearing loafers so he wouldn’t have to reach over his gut to tie his shoes. It had been a long day and was turning into an even longer night. Except for a murder downtown at the police station, the day had been quiet so he couldn’t complain.

His tie felt like a noose, so he loosened the knot and rubbed his temples. Spent and past ready to go home, he sighed,

“I’ll just finish the notes in the morning. I can’t think straight anymore.”

When he turned away from the window, he saw a stranger standing by the door with another man beside him.

“Can I help you?” Tanner asked.

“Yes. I do believe you can,” the man said.

Tanner had been in this business long enough to recognize a dangerous man.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“My name is Charles Heath, and I believe we work for the same gentleman,” Heath said walking into the room. “Councilman Parker sent me.”

Tanner knew where this was going and he had to stop it at once.

“Look, you can tell Parker that just because I helped him one time doesn’t mean he owns me. I only buried that story because his daughter was fresh out of rehab. I’m not burying anything else for him,” Tanner clarified.

“Oh something will be buried this night,” Heath said, “but it won’t be a story.”

In his right hand, sheathed in a black leather glove, Heath held an old claw hammer with a wooden handle. In his left hand, a nickel-plated revolver.

“You will die tonight. No way around that. Only question is, how would you like to die?” Heath asked.

“What?” Tanner said. “You’re insane! I’m calling the cops!”

As Tanner reached for his cell phone, Heath took two steps forward, closing the gap between them, and struck Tanner across the knee with the hammer.

Screaming in pain, Tanner grabbed his leg and fell to the floor.

“I will ask one more time before I choose for you,” Heath shouted over Tanner’s cries.

Holding up the hammer and revolver, he asked again, “How would you like to die? The hammer or the gun? The choice is really quite simple.”

Terrified and helpless, Tanner managed to answer, “The gun, I guess.”

Heath shrugged then handing the gun to the man behind him replied,

“Personally, I would have gone with the hammer.”

As Heath raised the hammer, Tanner instinctively lifted his hands in defense.

“This will hurt you more than me, but to each his own I guess,” Heath added.

Then with the coldness of a machine, he swung down with the hammer.

* * *

The rain was just beginning to slow as Mavis and Billy pulled up out front at the Coldwater Chronicle. Admiring the building’s decorative stonework, Mavis noticed that the lights seemed to have an ominous glow in the cold rain. As Kristina shut off her motorcycle, Mavis and Billy climbed out of the Jeep.

“This is the place,” she said. “Dale is a good guy. He kind of looks like a troll, but he’s a good man, always working late and coming in early. He practically lives here.”

“You think he’ll know anything about Parker?” Mavis said.

“If anyone does, he will,” Kristina assured her.

“Okay. Then let’s go talk to him,” Mavis said.

Suddenly Billy clamped his hand on Mavis’ arm and Lucas said,

“Wait. It’s not safe. Someone else is here.”

“What makes you say that?” Mavis asked.

Billy released her hand and Jack explained,

“That car up ahead matches the one we were chasing earlier. Based on the amount of water under the car versus on the street and the amount of rain coming down, I would estimate it’s been here for at least five to seven minutes.”

“Heath is here?” Kristina asked.

“It would appear so,” Jack said.

“Everyone stay by the car,” Lucas ordered.

“Wait a minute. You can’t go in there alone,” Mavis pleaded.

“We have to,” Lucas explained. “There are two more vehicles around the side of the building that have been here as long as the one carrying Heath.”

“So?” Kristina asked confused.

“He brought backup,” Dylan said.

“I’d guess eight to ten men, based on how many would fit comfortably in each car,” Jack estimated.

“And they’re probably armed, so you can’t go in alone! Let’s just call the police or at least Ray,” Mavis insisted.

“No, we have to go in now,” Dylan said, “and you’ve got to stay here. It’s not safe for you. Besides, Billy would be distracted.”

“But you can help,” Lucas pointed out.

“How?” Kristina asked before Mavis could protest.

“Wait five minutes then turn off the power. Then wait two minutes and turn the power back on. Then after one minute, turn the power back off and run. I’ll attend to the rest,” Lucas instructed.

When Mavis started to protest, Kristina grabbed her.

“Let’s go!” she said.

* * *

Rowan, one of Heath’s men, stood in the lobby of the Coldwater Chronicle. He and five others guarded the bottom floor while two more men secured upstairs. His job was simple. Watch the front doors. Suddenly he saw a man cross the street and head directly toward the building, his hands balled into fists.

“We’ve got company!” he warned.

The other five men entered the lobby, each armed with a pistol and machine gun with a mounted tactical light.

As the man drew closer, Rowan saw who it was. Mr. Heath had given orders to watch out for him.

“It’s that guy Mr. Heath released from prison,” he said, raising his weapon. “The boss wants him alive, but shoot to kill if necessary.”

A few seconds later, the lobby doors opened and Billy stepped inside.

“Mr. Brannon, Mr. Heath asked you to stay away until he calls for you. I will shoot you, if I have to.”

The look on Billy’s face made Rowan nervous. He took a deep breath to calm his rattled nerves.

“Please leave the building at once or we will open fire,” Rowan warned.

Without a word, Billy stood still, his eyes unblinking.

“Please leave now!” Rowan insisted.

Billy slowly tilted his head to one side, holding Rowan’s gaze.

Suddenly the lights went out, draping the lobby in darkness.

Published in: on December 16, 2017 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Unsettled: Episode 5

It was getting late when Billy, Mavis, Ray, Kristina and Rory crowded into a booth at the all night diner Seaside Sunset. Rory grumbled in between every sip of his third cup of coffee as Billy polished off a hamburger and plateful of ketchup soaked fries.

“First he escapes the nut house then he breaks out of jail and steals a car,” Rory complained, ignoring Mavis’ glare.

“Technically, it was a truck,” Jack clarified.

“Somebody explain to me why we haven’t turned him in yet,” Rory asked.

“Because I will kill you if you try,” Mavis threatened.

“Easy, May,” Kristina said. “Why don’t you calm down, Rory, and have a slice of pie with that coffee?”

“What about we make a plan? Heath is still out there, and right now he seems focused on Billy,” Ray pointed out.

“Not interested in me yet,” Billy said before shoving a handful of fries into his mouth and washing it down with a swig of soda.

“Explain,” Ray asked.

“Back in the jail, Heath told Jack that he wants me and the others to try and stop him but not yet. Said first he wants to take care of things.”

“What things?” Ray asked.

“And what others?” Rory asked.

“Sorry,” Billy said. “The other personalities.”

“Oh them,” Rory said with a snort.

“He’s aware of them?” Kristina asked.

“It comes and goes. Right now the others aren’t in control. They sometimes go into a state of sleep, leaving Billy’s higher brain functions free. That’s why he acts clueless sometimes and other times he’s rational. It depends on how much space they’re using,” Mavis said. “That’s the way the doctor explained it.”

“Clueless is right,” Rory sneered.

“Please, Rory, you’re not helping,” Ray criticized.

“Billy,” Ray asked. “Where are the others right now?”

Billy stuck out his thumb, pointing over his right shoulder to an empty table and said,

“Over there discussing something.”

“What did you mean when you said Heath wants to take care of things first?” Kristina interrupted.

“Heath mentioned Councilman Parker and said that Parker worked for him,” Billy said.

“Councilman Parker has been under investigation recently for suspicion of corruption,” Kristina said. “I’m friends with the editor of the Coldwater Chronicle. I’m pretty sure I could get him to talk.”

“The councilman is certainly involved, but I believe his motives may be self-preservation rather than power, love, or money,” Billy said with a British accent.

Mavis removed her arm from around Billy’s shoulder and sighed,

“Hello, Jack.”

“Sorry, my dear,” Jack said. “Heath is working with or for Parker. Based on what we heard and recent public events, I believe Parker is trying to protect himself by getting rid of any loose ends.”

“That makes a lot of sense,” Kristina thought aloud.

“But why wait till the last minute and why hire someone like Heath? There has to be a bigger reason,” Ray said.

“There is, and I believe I know what that reason might be,” Jack said with a wink.

Jack paused for effect then said,

“Captain Bonkers.”

“The killer clown?” Rory asked. “Now I know you’re off your rocker. He’s dead.”

“No, he isn’t. The police killed an imposter, and Parker knows that. Bonkers is the reason Parker’s rushing to clean things up. He sat back and watched as Bradford King’s empire was cut down piece by piece and King was shot in his prison cell. Parker was afraid his small web of corruption would be dismantled like King’s was. I believe Heath is a cleaner, someone Parker hired to get rid of any hint of corruption,” Jack said.

“If that’s true, then why threaten to burn down the city?” Ray asked.

“Because much like when you’re using fire to clean up debris from your yard, if you are not careful, it can get away from you,” Jack explained.

“So we need to get to Parker before Heath can go too far,” Kristina said.

“That’s what I propose,” Jack said. “However, I think it best if we speak to your editor friend first. He may be able to provide us with a list of Parker’s known associates.”

“All right. Now we have a plan,” Ray said. “Rory and I will go pay a visit to Parker. Mavis, you and Billy go with Kristina to talk to the editor.”

“One problem,” Lucas chimed in.

Billy motioned to the parking lot as Lucas said,

“A black four-door town car has been parked out there since we got here. The two people inside haven’t moved. They’ve just been sitting there waiting.”

“They’re here for us?” Mavis asked.

“Most likely a warning,” Dylan said. “Someone like Charles Heath wouldn’t go through the trouble of releasing us just to turn around and kill us.”

“Unless he enjoys the chase,” Eddie replied.

“It doesn’t matter,” Lucas said. “You guys wait here. I’m going out to have a little talk with our friends.”

When Billy stood up, Rory stood as well.

“No chance, cowboy! I’m not letting you go out there alone.”

“Billy, please!” Mavis pleaded.

“Don’t worry, love. We’ll keep him safe,” Jack said as Billy left the diner with Rory.

“He’ll be okay. Just wait here a minute while I pay the tab,” Ray insisted.

“Hey! Billy took the saltshaker,” Kristina said.

 

*          *          *

 

The front door of the diner closed behind them as Billy and Rory stepped out into the parking lot. When they approached the town car, the two men inside climbed out.

Turning toward Billy, one of the men said,

“Mr. Heath wants you to stay out of this. He is not yet ready for your part—”

Before he could finish, Billy, his hand wrapped around the saltshaker, struck him across the face, knocking him to the pavement. Then he threw the shaker like a fast-pitch softball at the man standing by the passenger door, smashing his nose. Before the driver could recover from the blow, Billy pulled the pistol from his holster, struck him across the jaw, and then took aim at the passenger as he reached for his weapon.

Rory, making his way around the trunk, stopped and watched as Billy looked down the pistol sights at the passenger.

“Tell your boss I won’t stand on the sidelines while he commits murder,” Lucas ordered. “If he wants to play a game, he needs to understand that the game has already started.”

As the passenger cupped his bleeding nose, Eddie spoke up.

“If I were he, I’d just wait till your back was turned then shoot you. Who’s to say he’s not already planning his next move?”

“We have him cold,” said Dylan. “He’s too stupid to try anything.”

As the other personalities chimed in, the man on the ground shook his head and slowly reached for his back up pistol.

“Watch out!” Eddie yelled.

Before Rory could react, Billy, his eyes still trained on the passenger, switched the pistol to his left hand and shot the driver in the shoulder.

“Now go tell your boss what happened here,” Lucas said.

“But you may first go to a hospital. That wound doesn’t look good,” Victoria instructed.

Billy turned to Rory, ejected the pistol’s clip, and then threw the pistol into a nearby trash can.

“We should get back to the others,” Jack said.

After a moment, Billy shook his head and said,

“Wonder what they have for dessert.”