Unsettled: Episode 1

The Garden Path

 

 

 

A blanket of heavy rain clouds covered the sky over Coldwater as Mavis flew across the causeway in the chilly air. She looked up, hoping to see a break in the clouds, but it seemed the sun was not coming out of his tent today. Three months ago, Mavis had been pleased that her father had enough confidence in her to pass his properties into her hands after his retirement. But the joy she felt had been brief, diminished by the thought of leaving behind her friends in Whitelake. She had grown to love them like family.

She glanced at the speedometer and gasped when she saw how fast she was driving. Her new blue Jeep Wrangler was barely three months old, and already she was driving it too fast. She had promised her father that she wouldn’t exceed the speed limit. With the top down, the wind was whipping her hair around, tying it in knots, but Mavis had too much on her mind to care. Most of the half hour drive to Whitelake was over bridge spans with stretches of road and white beaches creating a beautiful scenic route. Despite the menacing weather, speedboats and fishing boats bobbed in the choppy water, the captains seemingly oblivious to the approaching storm. On the surface, Coldwater was a utopia, a vacation paradise where only the rich came to play. That atmosphere is what had drawn Mavis and her family away from their home in Montana. Regrettably, after living there for only a few months, they saw that the charming tropical spot was a façade.

Seagulls flew alongside her, squawking as though pleading with her not to leave, but Mavis had no choice. She had promised herself she would let him rest, but circumstances had grown worse, much quicker than she had expected. Shaking her head clear of doubts, she reminded herself whom she was doing this for.

“He came back for me,” she told herself, “so I won’t give up on him. Ray will know what to do.”

The moment Mavis entered the city limits of Whitelake, the clouds parted and the sun appeared. For a moment, Mavis looked up and let the welcome sunshine warm her face. Then she pushed in her music for the road cd and hit the play button. Steve Winwood’s soulful tenor voice soothed her as “Roll With It” played over the speakers. Mavis tapped her hand against the steering wheel and sang along.

She figured she would find Ray either with his daughter or at his own house, so she took a shot and drove to Richard and Deborah’s neighborhood. She was thrilled when a few minutes later, she spotted Ray’s black Cadillac parked in their driveway.

Mavis pulled up to the front of the house and cut off the engine. She took a deep breath, pulled the keys out of the ignition, and tried to smooth her hair.

When she slipped out of the jeep and crossed the lawn, everything came flooding back to her. At the front door, she stopped and listened. She could hear laughter inside as she reached out and knocked frantically.

After a moment, Richard opened the door.

“Mavis? What’s wrong?” he inquired.

“I need to talk to Ray,” she said, a worried look on her face.

“Sure. Come on in.”

Mavis hurried into the room and crossed to Ray.

“Ray! I need your help!”

“What’s going on?” Ray asked.

“A friend of mine is in jail, and I need you to get him out.”

“What did he do?” Ray asked.

“He stopped a hitman from killing a Coldwater PD detective.”

“Which detective?” Richard asked.

“Ethan Snow,” Mavis answered.

“And he was arrested for that?” Deborah asked.

“Snow said he could not be certain who was attacking and who wasn’t, so he arrested both men,” Mavis explained.

“That’s Snow all right,” Richard said, shaking his head. “He doesn’t like being saved. Thinks it makes him look weak. He’s done this before. So sad.”

Richard turned to Deborah and said,

“Sweetheart, let me borrow your phone.”

“Where’s yours?” Deborah asked.

“In the bedroom charging,” Richard replied.

“Oh. Okay,” Deborah said, handing him her phone.

“What are you doing?” Mavis asked Richard.

“Calling the CWPD Commissioner. He’s a friend of mine. I’ll straighten this out.”

“No!” Mavis cried out, almost slapping the phone out of Richard’s hand.

“Sorry, Richard, but the less people know about this, the better,” Mavis said.

“Okay, Mavis, what’s going on?” Ray asked suspiciously.

“My friend. . .,” she hesitated, “has a record, and I’m afraid if anyone finds out what he’s involved in, it will cost him.”

“Please, Ray, help me,” she pleaded.

“Are you talking about William?” Tommy asked.

As tears filled her eyes, Mavis looked at Tommy and nodded yes.

“Ray, you’d better go,” urged Tommy. “There’s no time to waste.”

“What is going on?” Richard insisted.

“I’ll explain later,” Tommy said. “Right now, these two need to get moving. The sooner the better.”

Ray slowly stood and planted a kiss on Deborah’s forehead.

“Come on, buddy,” he said to Pete. “Let’s go.”

Ray headed for the front door but stopped and turned when the little dog didn’t follow.

Pete stayed curled up beside Deborah, refusing to move.

“How about you stay here and protect them?” Ray asked.

When Pete barked, Ray couldn’t help but smile as he left with Mavis.

“I’ll drive,” she said, heading for the Jeep.

“So why don’t you tell me what’s going on and who William is,” he said when she started the engine.

“First, I’d better tell you how we got to this point. William might be a little harder to explain. He’s. . .,” Mavis paused to search for the word, “different.”

 

*          *          *

 

 

Billy sat on the prison cot and picked lint off the ugly mud brown polyester pants the staff had issued him when he left the hospital. His shoes were a bit too tight, and the tacky Hawaiian print shirt covered with its neon-colored parrots, palm trees, and flamingos scratched his skin. There was one good thing, though. He was out of the hospital, at least for the moment. Talk about short-lived freedom. As he tried to figure out how he got here, he sat back against the wall and watched the other prisoners wander around the cell like restless caged animals at the zoo.

“I don’t understand it,” Lucas said.

Lucas paced in front of the cell door like a trapped coyote, his muscles flexing under his faded blue muscle shirt. Slipping the black cap off his head, he began to twist it in frustration.

“What’s not to understand?” Eddie asked from the wall he leaned against. His brown leather jacket squeaked when he shifted his weight on the cold stone. Running his fingers through his short brown hair, he pulled back a loose strand and let it drop to the floor.

“He saved the cop and got locked away for his effort. Clearly that cop wants something, or he wants Billy out of the way.”

“Why would he want Billy out of the way?” Dylan Desmond asked.

Dylan Desmond was the second oldest in the group, trained in law and order. He scratched his chin as he stared at Eddie and waited for an answer.

“Cause he’s a bad cop,” Eddie said, putting a finger to his temple. “Duh.”

“Corrupt cops don’t arrest you, Eddie. They take you out back and shoot you,” Dylan said sarcastically. “Duh.”

“He probably wants to make sure Billy is innocent and really a hero before he lets him go. He’s being wise, cautious,” Victoria said.

The only girl in the group, Victoria was the voice of compassion, always looking for the best in people. With her long blonde hair and soft blue eyes, she was the embodiment of subtle sexiness. Everyone usually listened to her. That is, unless Jack had a different opinion.

“No, my dear,” Jack said turning away from the wall he had been studying.

Jack, the oldest, was the patriarch of the group. His white hair and beard gave him an air of wisdom. With his thick British accent he said,

“It does not make sense that he would arrest William out of caution. Involves too much paperwork. But he does not plan to kill him. If he did, he would have done so instead of arresting him.”

Jack paused to consider his next words before speaking.

“This behavior is closer to someone who is taking orders. If someone else is dictating his actions, the detective probably arrested William because it was the best way to secure him until the boss could tell him what to do.”

“So what happens next?” Lucas asked, turning to Jack.

“I do not know,” Jack said. “But it would be wise to exercise caution. I do not have enough information to predict what will happen next.”

“Just say the word, boy,” Eddie said with a Texas drawl, “and I’ll have us out of here in no time.”

“We’re not breaking out of jail,” Dylan Desmond growled.

“Not yet anyway,” Jack added. “For now, we wait for our opponent’s next move.”

 

*          *          *

 

Officer Dixon’s shoes clicked on the tile floor as he walked back to the cells. When he came to the first cell, he tapped on the bars. Sitting alone in the cell on a cot across from the door was a young man wearing brown pants and a cheap Hawaiian shirt. With his short, spiky hair and close-trimmed beard, the ugly clothes made him look out of balance.

“What’s your name, son?” Dixon asked.

“William Brannon,” the young man answered.

“I thought I heard voices. Anyone back here with you?” Dixon asked.

“No sir,” he answered with a distinct British accent. “As you can see, I am quite alone.”

When the young man smiled, Officer Dixon nodded and said,

“All right. Just keep it down.”

“Thank you, Constable,” Brannon answered then corrected himself. “Officer.”

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The Cadillac Diaries: Episode 77

Sandpark Carnival stood shadowy and still. Two years ago, the smooth cry of its persuasive barkers and the screams of its electrified patrons had been silenced. The ancient death-defying rides with their squeak and pop had slowed and ground to a halt. Now they rested in the scattered moonlight like giants, frozen in battle.

When Raymond Slats reached the front entrance gates, he saw that the locks were broken, rusted long ago.

As he stood at the gates trying to spot the roller coaster track, he remembered Rebecca Conrad’s chilling words.

“I know Bonkers is coming for me next. I know there’s no stopping him.”

Pity stirred in his heart at the tremor in her voice.

Suddenly his phone rang. When Ray slipped it out of his pocket, he noticed that the caller ID read “Unknown.” He decided to answer it anyway.

“Hello?”

“Slats, David Crandall. Look. All bets are off. I’m not going to bother hiding anymore. Yea, I work for King. So what. And yea he’s not a nice guy, but I don’t much care anymore. I’m only interested in my wife. I lost my daughter, and I’m not losing my wife too. I know Rebecca’s at Sandpark Carnival. It’s where we used to take our daughter on her birthday. I’m heading that way now and bringing every cop willing to work if the money’s right. At this point, it doesn’t matter to me if they’re on King’s payroll. They don’t know you, and I don’t care. This is a courtesy call, Slats. You stay out of this! I won’t warn you again.”

Before Ray could respond, Crandall ended the call. He pocketed his phone and looked down at Pete.

The eager pup was intently watching Ray, waiting for a command.

“What do you think, boy?” Ray asked.

Pete looked toward the gates then gave a low-pitched growl and a couple of slow barks.

“You sure?” Ray asked.

Pete kept his eyes on the gates as his ears moved forward to catch a sound.

Just then Ray’s phone rang again. He saw that it was Richard.

“Hey, Richard,” he answered. “How are you?”

“Tired, Ray. I feel like I’m chasing my tail,” Richard sighed.

“Kane?” Ray asked.

“Something doesn’t make sense, Ray. Kane was locked inside a panic room with the door sealed shut. We just now managed to get the door open, and. . . ,” Richard paused, “. . .he’s dead, Ray. Explain that to me. How can someone all alone locked behind a six-inch steel door and bullet-resistant glass be murdered?”

“Bonkers must have been waiting inside the room,” Ray suggested.

“What are we dealing with here, Ray?” Richard asked.

Ray thought for a moment then said, “Someone who’s had a long time to plan his revenge.”

Richard let out a long, loud breath.

“Well at least you’re safe. That’s one less thing Deborah can hound me about.”

“Well. . . ,” Ray trailed off.

“What?” Richard groaned.

Pete looked up at Ray and barked,

“Harr-ruff!”

“Pete says hi,” Ray laughed.

“Ray, where are you?”

“I don’t want to say. You’ll just yell at me,” Ray teased.

“Ray, either tell me or I’ll let you explain yourself to Deborah,” Richard threatened.

“I’m at Sandpark Carnival,” Ray confessed.

“Ray, you know that place is a haven for drug addicts and homeless psychos,” Richard scolded.

“Right now it’s where I’m supposed to meet Rebecca Conrad,” Ray said.

“Crandall’s ex-wife?” Richard asked. “Why is she there?”

“She’s next on Bonkers’ list and she knows it. Before Bonkers kills her, she wants to hand over everything she has on King. She was his bookkeeper,” Ray explained.

“Ray, get out of there!” Richard demanded. “I don’t want you involved in this anymore.”

“I don’t have a choice, Richard. David Crandall already called me. Said he’s headed this way with an army. He’s going to shoot anyone who isn’t his wife,” Ray said.

“Everything is spinning out of control,” Richard growled.

“Why do people always say that just before the end?” Ray wondered aloud.

“Ray, this is an order! Stay out of there! I’m on my way!”

Suddenly the line went dead.

Ray knew he should listen, but Richard was over in Coldwater, a good thirty-minute drive to Whitelake. Even if he floored it, he’d never make it in time. Ray knew what he had to do. He bent down to Pete and scratched him behind the ears.

“Buddy, promise me if things go south, you’ll run for help.”

Pete sat still with no response.

“Please?” Ray asked. “I need to know you’ll be okay.”

When Ray stood up, Pete snorted then ran through the open gate into Sandpark Carnival.

“Okay then,” Ray said opening the gate and following him in.

* * *

David Crandall pulled to a stop just outside the gate to Sandpark Carnival. When he climbed out of his car, he spotted Slats’ black Cadillac.

“I’m getting sick of that car and the old man!” he told himself.

He stood in the pale mix of moonlight and dull street lamps as he looked out over the park. For a moment, he could hear the rush and clack of the roller coaster.

“Daddy, Daddy! I want to ride!” his daughter squealed.

Suddenly the night’s breeze blew through his hair, taking with it the sweet memory.

Now the park looked like a nightmare’s paradise, but he knew all about nightmares and monsters and demons. Not even they would stop him from saving Rebecca.

Just then three cars pulled up at the gate and a handful of men got out. Crandall knew some from the police force. Others were ex-military. Each man wore a bulletproof vest and carried an automatic rifle.

“Okay. You know the rules. There’s a woman somewhere in there,” Crandall said, pointing toward the grounds. “I don’t care what you do to anyone else, but she is not to be harmed. Is that clear?”

Some of the men shook their heads while others gave no response.

“Burn the place down if it suits you. We’re not cops tonight. We’re hunters,” he said.

One of the men raised his hand and asked,

“What about the clown?”

“Shoot on sight. Don’t let the clown mask fool you. This guy’s dangerous. Another thing. There’s an old man, a P.I., in there. Name’s Raymond Slats. You find him, let me know. I want to shoot him myself,” Crandall said.

As he looked over the men, Crandall decided that letting them go solo was a bad idea.

“Higgins, you and Ford start at the east end of the park at the concessions and move in towards the center. More, you and Seal start on the west side with the offices and move inward. Newton, you and Price start on the north side that’s directly opposite the gate, and I’ll start here. Check everything. Oh and forget what I said earlier about Slats. Shoot anything that isn’t my wife,” Crandall instructed.

“Go!” he ordered.

After the men moved out into the park, Crandall checked his pistol and shotgun then slipped inside the gate. He would fight the devil himself if it meant saving his wife.

* * *

Standing on a maintenenance platform atop the highest part of the Shadow Serpent, Rebecca Conrad waited. Ever since the death of her daughter, she had felt dead inside. That day, all the color and music went out of the world. Only one thing kept her from killing herself. She wanted to be certain Bradford King paid for his crimes, paid for the families he had destroyed. She knew everything, every dirty secret. After her daughter died, she had divorced David and gone to work for King, a man far worse than the monster who had murdered her daughter. King took advantage of her grief and used it to entrap her so deeply in his business that every day she felt like she was drowning. When word of a Captain Bonkers spread through the city, she had felt relief. Here was a comic book clown, making his way through King’s army, killing anyone connected to King by even the frailest of threads.

Finally her pain would end and she would be with her daughter. Once she was sure Bonkers was successful, she had contacted Raymond Slats. She knew he could be trusted.

Now as she waited for her meeting with him, she looked out over the park from its highest point and saw David and his men spread out like a small army, moving through the park searching for her. He had come to save her even though he knew she didn’t want to be saved.

“He was never good at listening,” she laughed under her breath.

Somewhere out there in the dark was Raymond Slats. She had seen him pull up to the gates in his black car shortly before David arrived. She would give the evidence to Slats then wait almost eagerly for the clown.

Captain Bonkers wasn’t a murderer. He was her angel of mercy, come to send her home to her baby girl. She smiled as a light breeze blew through her hair. She was tired but in just a little while, she could rest.