The Prophet of Starfall: Episode 18

It was about 8 o’clock in the morning when Ryan Hayes left the hospital. He would let Nathan into Elisabeth’s penthouse in Sandy Grotto then grab some of his daughter’s things before heading back to the hospital. The doctor had said she was on the mend, but right now she needed her dad.

“I know it’s a bit much,” Hayes said as he opened the penthouse door, “but it’s my little girl’s first place of her own. I admit I spoil her, but what can I say? She’s all I have left.”

When Hayes turned on the lights, Nathan was stunned. The place was amazing, better than anything he could have imagined.

“Polished wood floors in the living room, carpet in the bedrooms, and marble tile in the kitchen and bathrooms,” Hayes announced. “At 3400 square feet, my girl’s got lots of room. If she had asked, I’d probably have bought two. The main bedroom is Elisabeth’s, but there are two spare bedrooms. Choose whichever one you want. I have groceries delivered, and a cleaning service comes in every two weeks.”

“Impressive,” Nathan complimented.

“Oh let me show you this,” Hayes beamed.

Hayes hurried over to a large set of double glass doors, unlocked them, and pulled them open. A massive balcony looked out over the lake.

“It cost me a little more than I had planned, but an unobstructed view of Sapphire Lake was a must.”

Hayes turned to Nathan and asked, “Did you know that the people who settled Crescent Bay came up with the name Sapphire Lake because the water is as blue as a sapphire?”

“I did not know that,” Nathan said. “It is blue, isn’t it!”

“It is! Anyway, I’m talking your ear off. I’m going to throw a few things in a suitcase and get back to Elisabeth. Do you have anything to unpack?” Hayes asked.

“No sir. I didn’t bring anything with me, other than what I’m wearing,” Nathan said.

“Well tomorrow, I’m taking you out to pick up some things, and when Elisabeth is well, we’ll take you shopping for a proper wardrobe,” Hayes replied.

“No, really, sir. That’s not necessary,” Nathan protested.

“I insist! It’s the least I can do. Mind you if you refuse, I’ll just have to guess your size,” Hayes laughed.

Nathan paused then said, “Thank you, sir.”

“You look exhausted, Nathan. Go get some rest. I’m just going to jump in the shower then get back to the hospital. I’ll lock up behind me,” Hayes smiled, patting Nathan’s shoulder.

“Thank you again, son. My little girl means the world to me.”

While Hayes headed off for Elisabeth’s room, Nathan chose one of the spare bedrooms and collapsed on the bed without bothering to take off his shoes. Glancing at the clock, he saw the blue digital numbers change to 9:00 a.m. He was out before 9:01.

* * *

When Nathan came to, he was lying on the hood of a car looking up. The clouds were a mix of black and deep blue. His head ached, his joints were sore, and he felt as though a great weight were pressing down on him. Slowly he sat up and saw that he was dressed in combat fatigues and a gas mask with a rifle at his side.

Dead bodies and stalled cars filled the streets, and the pavement was buckled and cracked. Some buildings lay in piles of rubble while others stood undamaged. Nathan slid off the car, bracing himself against the hood as he struggled to stand under the weight of the gear. When he walked around to the side of the car, he glanced at his reflection in the glass. Lifting the gas mask, he was shocked to discover that the face staring back at him was not his own.

“What are you doing?” someone yelled. Running up to Nathan, a man yanked the gas mask down over Nathan’s face.

“This air is poisoned! Do you want to die here in the street?”

Nathan looked up to see a soldier frowning at him from behind his own gas mask. His name tag said he was Sergeant Braden Gold.

“Come on! Get inside before somebody sees you!” Gold instructed.

Nathan followed him inside an old grocery store.

“What’s going on?” he asked Gold.

“Don’t be stupid, rookie! You know what’s going on. Captain wants to brief us before we move out, and I was sent to find your dumb butt,” Gold complained as he lead Nathan through the store’s aisles past armed soldiers standing guard in pairs.

“Why do I get stuck with the idiots?” Gold grumbled as he walked through a pair of swinging back doors into the storage area. Standing before a large map facing a platoon of soldiers was Captain Stanley Dukes.

“Thanks for joining us,” Dukes said sarcastically. “Gold, what was West up to that just couldn’t wait?”

Nathan glanced down to see the name tag on his shirt. David West.

“West was out front patrolling. Thought he saw movement. False alarm,” Gold lied then glanced back at Nathan with a scowl.

“Well next time, don’t go alone, rookie,” Dukes ordered.

“Yes, sir,” Nathan replied.

Gold pulled Nathan into a chair and whispered,

“Keep your trap shut and your head in the game. I can’t babysit you and fight at the same time.”

“Sorry,” Nathan said.

While Nathan tried to figure out where he was, what was going on, Dukes continued his briefing.

“At 0100 hours, a scout returned with intel on more food and supplies. I don’t have to tell you how important this is. The enemy is heavily guarding this location, so we’re going to split into teams. Team Alpha will make a direct assault while Team Beta and Charlie will hit the flank. Team Delta will move in from the back and engage any targets guarding the supplies. We need this win, men, so stay focused and don’t be a hero. Follow orders and we will win this day.”

As the men cheered, a side door opened and a large figure walked in wearing a gas mask and long coat.

“What’s wrong?” Dukes asked.

Suddenly gunfire erupted outside. As the soldiers readied their weapons, the masked figure drew two pistols from the coat.

Just then a group of enemy soldiers poured into the room.

In the middle of the gunfire, the figure in the coat fired off the pistols then holstered them and began tossing the enemy around like rag dolls.

A door opened behind Nathan, and he felt himself move involuntarily as another enemy soldier charged in firing his weapon. Nathan spun then ducked, dodging a spray of automatic gunfire. Without looking, he reached out and fired his rifle at the soldier, killing him and two more who ran in behind him.

Minutes later, every enemy soldier was down.

Dukes’ men all turned to look at Nathan.

“What?” Nathan asked worried.

“That was amazing,” Gold said, “the way you avoided the bullets. I haven’t seen anyone move like that since the Prophet.”

At that remark, the figure in the coat whipped around, looked at Nathan then lumbered over. Grabbing Nathan by the collar, the figure lifted him into the air and demanded,

“What’s the name of the universe?”

“What?” Nathan asked, thinking he recognized the muffled voice.

The figure pulled Nathan closer and demanded, “What’s the name of the universe?”

Nathan hesitated then said,

“Starfall.”

The figure paused a moment. Suddenly two bat wings exploded from under the long coat and the figure flew out the open door, taking Nathan along.

Up into the sky the figure flew then dropped down onto the roof of a greenhouse. When a door opened, Nathan was dragged in. After a hiss of air, a second door opened and the figure tossed Nathan inside.

“Who is this?” a man asked. Nathan noticed he was wearing a pair of old Converse high tops with the laces untied.

When the figure slipped out of the coat, Nathan saw that it was a woman. Tossing the coat aside, she reached up and removed the gas mask.

“Elisabeth! Nathan thought. “Older, but Elisabeth!

Her face was scarred, and she wore a patch over one eye.

She reached out and pulled off Nathan’s gas mask.

“It’s him,” she said.

The man took a good look at Nathan then said,

“Nah. That’s not him.”

“Yes! It is,” Elisabeth insisted. “Remember he said he would return through the eyes of another.”

“What’s going on?” Nathan asked.

“No time for questions, Nathan. I have a message from you. This is not a dream; this is real. The butterfly was released and we’re fighting for our lives against Dr. Gishlain and his army. You made a terrible mistake, and now it’s time to wake up and fix it. Do you hear me, Nathan?” Elisabeth asked.

“Nathan,” Elizabeth shouted, slapping him across the face, “it’s time to wake up!”

* * *

Nathan snapped awake in bed at Elisabeth’s penthouse where he had fallen asleep. He looked at the clock. It was 9:30 a.m.

“Nathan?” Hayes called as he walked into the room. “I heard you thrashing about in here. “Did you have a nightmare, son? Is everything all right?”

Nathan looked around and said, “No. I don’t think so.”

The Train: Episode 64

The average human mind can process 5,000 pictures in the five seconds it takes to inhale. For someone with Michael’s training and skill, five seconds was a long time. While the three men circled around the car to confront Michael, their boss stayed in the back seat watching what he figured would be a quick fight. Michael’s mind moved with lightning speed as within seconds he recalled years of training.

How to defend against multiple attackers:

Step 1: Focus on the leader.

Packs are led by an alpha. Take out the alpha and most of the pack will retreat.

This wasn’t an option for Michael since the leader was staying out of this fight.

Step 2: Know your surroundings.

The best way to lose a fight is to rush in blindly. Take note of obstacles, blind alleys. At all times, keep an eye on the position of your subjects as well as weapons or objects that might be used to protect you.

The driver of the car swung out at Michael with a sluggish obvious outside punch. Michael easily ducked the punch, struck the man in the gut then came up with an uppercut that knocked him backwards.

Step 3: Keep moving and stay on the offensive.

Remaining in one place allows your opponent to regroup, plan and eventually surround

you. Constant or aggressive movement will keep your opponent off balance, forcing him to make rash decisions.

Michael moved quickly onto the next man coming around from behind the car, his pistol raised. Michael stepped in, punched the man in the nose, causing his eyes to water, then twisted the gun from his hand and struck him across the jaw with the butt.

Step 4: Plan each impact to do the most damage.

Most fights are not about honor but about destruction or protection. Never flail

wildly. Be certain your opponent feels every strike, and fight dirty if you have to. If your opponent doesn’t fight with honor, you shouldn’t either.

With two men down, Michael took a couple of steps toward the last guy as he passed across the front of the sedan. The first step put his right foot on the running board. A second step, and his left foot was on the driver’s side fender. Before the thug could raise his pistol, Michael brought his fist down hard and struck him across the temple, knocking him unconscious to the pavement.

With the three men out of the fight, Michael collected all their weapons, tucked one inside his coat, and climbed into the back seat of the sedan with the boss.

“What do you want?” the little man sneered.

“Just a talk,” Michael said.

“Not interested,” the man spat.

“All right then I’ll talk and you listen. I want a promise from you that you’ll leave Cynthia Cooper alone, at least for the foreseeable future,” Michael said.

When the man started to speak, Michael raised a hand saying,

“Before you turn me down, let’s be clear on one thing. It would be easy to kill you right now. But since I’d rather not do that, how about we play a little game. I call it the “Do what I say or I’ll shoot off parts of your body till you do” game.”

The little man’s face showed a mixture of fear, surprise, and anger.

“Won’t this be fun?” Michael said with a grin.

* * *

Nicole crept through the narrow dark hallways of Cynthia Cooper’s apartment house. She could hear the rhythm of the rain beating against the windowpanes. The wooden floors creaked under her feet, and the air was filled with the sound of crying babies and television sets on high volume. A door opened a crack and a small child peered out. The hopeless expression on the small face stirred Nicole’s heart. When the child caught sight of Nicole, she quickly shut the door.

Once Nicole reached the stairwell, she pulled the door open and was hit with the stench of ripe garbage and moldy drywall. As she climbed the stairs, she couldn’t get the child out of her mind. From the moment she had seen Lucy, she knew she had a weakness for children. It was always her fear that one day a child would be her downfall. At one time, she had had a little sister whom she loved with her whole heart. They spent hours together reading books and imagining. But all that ended when she lost her to the first man she killed. After that, killing was easy for her. Stalking her prey became second nature. But she always kept a special place in her heart for children.

Reaching Cynthia Cooper’s floor, Nicole turned the corner and saw a young boy standing at the far end of the hall. A single lightbulb flickered overhead. She watched the small boy for a moment before stepping forward.

“Hello,” she quietly called.

The child gave no response.

“Kenneth?” she said.

At the sound of his name, the child took a step backwards, disappearing into the apartment.

Wait,” Nicole called.

Nicole hurried down the hall after the boy, worried he would fall into the hands of Morgan Lindsey. When she reached the door, she stepped into the apartment.

“Kenneth?” she called.

Cautiously she entered the kitchen but found it empty. Just to the left was what looked like the dining room. Nicole saw Kenneth seated at the table busy with crayons and paper as he worked on his picture.

“What are you drawing there, Kenneth?” Nicole asked. “Where’s your mother?”

“Mother is busy preparing for a visitor,” Kenneth said woodenly.

“A visitor?” Nicole asked.

“Mother has lots of visitors over when she isn’t at the club,” he said without looking up.

Nicole was beginning to form an image of the woman they had been trying to save.

“I wait on the fire escape when she has someone over, but it’s raining, so she put me out in the hall. The McPherson’s are out of town till Monday, so I used the key they gave me to sleep here tonight,” he explained.

“So this is the McPherson’s apartment,” Nicole said, moving closer to the child.

“Are you safe here?” she asked.

Kenneth nodded then looked up from his picture.

“Hi, Officer Lindsey.”

Nicole spun around to see Lindsey standing in the doorway pointing a gun at her.

“I don’t know who you are or why you’re here, but I’m running out of options. If you want to live, you’ll do exactly what I say.”

Published in: on September 18, 2016 at 1:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Train: Episode 63

Michael and Nicole raced back to the club only to find it closing for the night. Hurrying up to the front door, Michael tried to slip inside.

“We need to get back in there,” he told the manager.

“Sorry, buddy, we’re closed,” the man said, turning the key in the lock.

“But my friend is still in there,” Michael tried to explain.

“Place is empty, pal. I’m the last one out,” the man insisted, pushing past Michael.

“Where could Ricer have gone?” Nicole asked.

“I don’t know. He was supposed to keep an eye on Cynthia Cooper. She’s most likely headed home, so maybe the doc is tailing her,” Michael suggested.

Quickly they headed over to Cynthia’s place, hoping they were not too late.

Just down the street from her apartment, they stopped and ducked behind a car when they saw a black sedan pull up in front of her building. Four men got out followed by Morgan Lindsey.

“Hey, Michael. Hey, Nicole,” they suddenly heard Lucy say behind them.

Straightening up, they turned around.

“Hey, Lucy,” they both said.

When their eyes met Dr. Ricer’s he mouthed,

“They’re here to kill her.”

“You mean tonight?” Michael asked. “I thought we had another day.”

“The timeline has been in a complete shambles since Armstrong’s death,” Ricer explained.

“Sounds like someone can’t make up his mind,” Michael said rolling his eyes.

“It’s not my fault,” Ricer defended.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Michael said.

Michael looked toward the building and grew silent, lost in thought.

“Michael,” Nicole called.

Turning back to Nicole and Ricer, he said,

“Nicole, go around back and check on Cynthia to make sure she’s okay. I’ll keep the crowd out front busy while you move into position. Doc, are there any changes I need to know about?”

Ricer shook his head no.

“Good. You two stay here,” Michael said, pointing to Ricer and Lucy.

Ricer took Lucy’s hand and moved her to safety, while Nicole headed towards the back of the building.

Thunder rumbled in the distance as the dark, black clouds overhead slowly began to empty themselves of rain.

“Oh great. A showdown in the rain. How film noir are we going to get?” Michael asked, walking toward the men lingering outside Cynthia Cooper’s apartment building.

As Ricer watched in surprise, Morgan Lindsey left the group and went inside.

“Lindsey is the killer now?” he asked. “How many times will we have to prevent her death?”

“Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results,” Elliot said as he approached.

Ricer turned and said,

“Herman Melville.”

Elliot scratched Samuel behind his ears then waited as the dog settled down at his feet.

“What is happening? Why is it so difficult to save one woman’s life? It seems as though no matter what we try, she still dies, just in another way,” Ricer asked.

With the hint of a smile, Elliot answered.

“Since the first man took his first steps, time has been composed of moments linked to critical junctures, moments in time that define how the next stretch will go. This moment in time, Dr. Ricer, is critical. What happens tonight decides what happens next.”

“What if we fail?” Ricer asked.

Elliot paused then said,

“It’s too late to change things now, so I will tell you this. As far as I can see, there are three possible outcomes. One will leave the next stretch of time quiet and peaceful. Two will cost several lives,” Elliot said.

When Elliot didn’t continue, Ricer asked,

“And the third?”

With a deep sigh, Elliot said,

“The third will take the lives of possibly hundreds.”

“Which outcome are we headed for now?” Ricer asked.

“Too soon to tell,” Elliot replied. “All we can do is wait and watch.”

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

Michael casually walked over to the four men who were shuffling back into the car.

Once they were seated inside, he reached out and tapped on the glass. The driver looked up at him then rolled down the window.

“Beat it, Mac, we’re busy,” the driver barked.

“I just need to talk to your boss,” Michael explained, leaning down.

The man reached into his jacket, pulled out a revolver, and shoved it into Michael’s face.

“Like I said, beat it!”

Michael stepped back and swiftly pulled the gun from the man’s hand.

As the angry driver flung open the car door and got out, Michael smoothly disassembled the revolver.

“Give me that back now!” he demanded.

“Which part?” Michael asked, opening his hands to reveal the weapon pieces.

Then he flung the broken weapon over his shoulder, scattering it on the street behind him.

As a taxi flew by, two of the men climbed out of the car and slipped weapons from their coats.

“You’re going to pay for that,” the driver protested.

Michael smiled and said,

“Pay close attention, now. Things are going to happen fast.”

Published in: on August 16, 2016 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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One journey ends as another begins

“The Exile” will be ending this year, and in January, 2016, a new story “The Prophet of Starfall” will begin. I decided that a little audience participation with this story might be fun. Starting December 1, on the The Masthead Blog or the Facebook page (The Masthead) post a name you’d like to see in the story. When I’m writing the next episode, I will peruse the names and randomly select however many I need. Thank you to those of you who have been with me from the beginning, and thanks to all who have come on board along the way. I hope you are enjoying the stories! Let’s hope I don’t run out of ideas.

 

The Exile: Episode 64

As we rode the elevator down, Achilles whistled along to the bland music playing over the speakers.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To the ball, Cinderella,” Achilles smiled.

“What?” I exclaimed.

“Now I know what you’re thinking,” Achilles said, “but don’t worry. You may not be suitably dressed for a ball, but fear not. Once they see you, everything will hit the fan. I don’t think they’ll much care what you’re wearing.”

“Wait a minute! When they see me, they’re going to start shooting.”

“Well yea,” Achilles said with a laugh just as the elevator reached the ground floor and the doors opened.

“I’m counting on that,” Achilles said.

“But—,” I protested.

“Ah. Here’s your date,” Achilles interrupted.

When I turned, there stood Delilah wearing a shimmering low cut red dress that clung to her like a second skin.

As she floated up to me and took my arm in hers, my mind went blank and I could no longer form words.

“Delilah, you remember the Exile?” Achilles asked.

Her eyes sparkling, she purred with a thick Dutch accent, “Hallo.”

“Don’t worry, mate. She’ll keep you safe,” Achilles assured me.

At that moment, a burly tank of a man with a thick bushy black beard lumbered over to us and said,

“The harpy’s almost made her entrance. Is the kid ready?”

Achilles looked at me, lost in Delilah’s eyes, and said,

“Hey kid?”

Bewitched by her beauty, I stood mute.

“Hey, turn that off for a minute, will you? You’ve stupefied the boy.”

“Het spijt me,” Delilah said as she waved her hand in my face.

As she smiled, she pointed to Achilles.

The spell broken, I shook my head then noticed a very large man scowling at me.

“This is Blackbeard. Blackbeard, the Exile.”

“I hope you’re everything we’ve been promised, boy. We’re betting on you,” he said in a gruff voice.

“Well I. . .Wait what?” I asked.

“Just go on in and don’t worry. Delilah will keep you safe,” Achilles smiled.

Looking past me to Delilah, he said,

“Gaan.”

She nodded then escorted me toward the ballroom.

“Fifty bucks says we get that boy killed,” Blackbeard said.

“Nonsense,” Achilles replied.

“A hundred,” Blackbeard amended.

“Deal,” Achilles replied.

Published in: on August 19, 2015 at 4:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Exile: Episode 62

I watched in stunned silence as the woman disappeared into the hallway.

Everything I had gone through, everything I had done, was ending in what might be the worst possible way—watching my friends die.

I kept quiet and studied the two guards in the room with me. Although each man carried a holstered gun, I knew I had to try to get away and warn my friends. How could I just sit in this chair and wait for their execution? The two men were under strict orders to keep an eye on me until she returned, which might not be long. I figured I didn’t have much time.

I decided to try and talk to them, maybe negotiate. What could it hurt?

“What now?” I asked.

“Shut up!” one of the guards barked.

As the other guard walked toward a nearby door, he said,

“Hey. Watch him. I gotta’ go to the john.”

The first guard nodded and the other man opened the door, stepped into a bathroom, and closed the door behind him.

“May I go too?” I tried.

“I said to shut up!” the guard barked.

Negotiating with these two was not going to be easy. So far, I hadn’t been able to say much of anything. Trying not to panic as my time ran out, I looked around for something to serve as a weapon. Just then there was a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” the guard in the room yelled.

“Open the door! It’s important!” came the answer from the hallway.

“Who is it?” the guard yelled again.

“Now!” the voice barked.

The guard paused for a moment then walked over to the door and opened it.

Standing in the hallway was a young man with his black hair slicked back. He wore snug blue jeans and a crisp white button up shirt.

“There’s a problem. One of his cohorts,” he said, nodding toward me, “showed up and is waving a gun around. Idiot’s probably a distraction, but she needs help down there.”

The man’s eyes swept the room then asked,

“Where’s the other guard?”

“In the can,” the guard answered.

“Well there’s no time. Get down there, and I’ll bring him up to speed when he comes out.”

When the guy hesitated, the young man snapped,

“Now! There’s no time.”

At that, the guard scrambled out into the hall.

“Go! Hurry!” the young man ordered.

He watched as the guard disappeared down the hall then turned toward me and smiled.

“Greetings,” he said. “That was kinda’ fun.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“You’re the exile,” he said, “and they call me Achilles.”

“Achilles?” I asked. “Why Achilles?”

“Because like the mythical figure, I have only one weakness.”

Before I could ask what that was, the bathroom door opened and the guard came out.

He took one look at the young man and his eyes bugged out.

“You!” he snapped.

“Me,” Achilles said.

Just as the guard dove at him, he stepped to the side, sending the guard slamming into the wall.

“I’m gold. . .unless someone recognizes me,” Achilles said.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 12:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Exile: Episode 61

When the car pulled away from the curb, the man seated next to me held out a hood and told me to put it on. Slipping it over my head, I leaned back against the seat and waited.

After a long and uncomfortable ride, the car finally stopped and I heard the door open.

“Get out,” the man said, grabbing my elbow.

He kept his hand on me, leading me across the pavement. Suddenly he stopped and I heard the squeak of door hinges and felt a blast of cold air. Traffic noises told me we were not in a residential area. We moved forward, our heels clicking on the tile floor, and headed down what seemed like a long hallway. Shivering in the cold, I wished I had worn a jacket. Just then we stopped and I heard the ding of an elevator bell as the doors opened and we stepped into the car. Light music played in the background while the elevator moved upwards.

When the elevator stopped, we stepped out and the man turned me toward the left down a second hallway. After a moment, he paused and I heard a door open just before I was pulled into a carpeted room.

After pushing me into a chair, he pulled off the hood. Struggling to adjust my eyes to the bright fluorescent lighting, I began to look around. I was sitting in a red leather chair and across the room was a couch with a fireplace on the adjoining wall. Near the fireplace, a tall brunette was seated behind a massive desk. Dressed in a flowing black gown with her hair twisted atop her head, she quietly scribbled something on a pad before removing her designer glasses and looking up at me.

“So you’re the one they call the exile?”

I simply nodded.

“Your brother was one of my closest friends before he double crossed me,” she said.

“How did he double cross you?” I asked.

“Things were going perfectly until he decided to grow a conscience. He spilled everything to that redheaded ex-wife of his,” she explained.

Dropping her pen on the pad, she stood and slowly stretched her back.

“She was a problem, that is until I solved it,” she laughed, toying with one of her diamond earrings.

“Imagine my surprise when I thought your brother was as good as dead only to see you walk out. Well at least that’s settled now. All that’s left is you and that band of rats you run with.”

“You promised to let them go,” I reminded her.

“Technically, I didn’t promise any such thing. Now don’t you worry. I have a dinner engagement, so you get to sit here and think about how much you’ll miss them,” she said with a smile.

Draping a sheer black wrap over her shoulders, she reached for a small black sequined purse then headed for the door.

“Don’t let him leave,” she ordered the guard.

“Don’t worry, my dear,” she said, pausing to look back at me. “I won’t forget you. Soon I’ll return to finish things.”

Opening the door, she took one step into the hallway then turned around to face me.

“Question, Do you want to die first or after your friends?”

Before I could respond, she waved her hand dismissing the idea.

“Forget I asked. It will be much more entertaining if you watch them die first.”

Coming Soon…

The Exile: Episode 60

Heckle found an unlocked car at the edge of the park grounds and told me to get in.

“Whose car is this?” I asked.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” he said as he searched for the keys.

“Nothing,” he said, reaching for the ignition wires.

A few seconds later, we were on the road, headed to the Dark Pleasures club.

We walked inside and sat down at the bar. Filled with despair, I folded my arms on the bar and cradled my aching head while Heckle ordered drinks for us.

Throwing back his drink, he stood up and began to pace.

“I can’t believe it was a set up.”

“Of course it was a set up,” I returned, rubbing my forehead. “I should’ve known better than to think things would go that easy.”

“Well we can’t go backward and do it over, so let’s move forward. We need to figure out what to do next,” Heckle said.

“I know what to do,” I said with resignation.

“You can’t turn yourself in, Wesley. They’ll just kill you and the others,” Heckle insisted.

“Nope, not that,” I replied.

Heckle stopped pacing and turned toward me, waiting for an explanation. Suddenly he grew pale and his eyebrows lifted with alarm.

“You can’t be considering running!”

“It’s worked before. I warned them off and ran. As far as I know, it worked,” I said.

“You can’t just ditch us!” Heckle snapped.

“I’m not ditching you. They’ll reduce the guard on your brother and friends to focus on me,” I explained.

Heckle just stared at me for a moment before saying,

“But you. . . ,” he trailed off. “You’ll be alone again, running with no one to help you.”

I shrugged and said, “I’m the exile. It’s what I do.”

Without waiting for a response, I stood up from the bar stool and walked out. It was still daylight as I crossed the parking lot, my hands jammed in my pockets. Pulling out a five-dollar bill, I walked to a gas station on the other side of the street. After paying for a bottle of water, I took a long drink, capped the bottle then found a seat outside on the curb.

Halfway through the bottle, a car pulled up in front of me, and three men in matching black suits climbed out.

“You guys really need to work on your blending in,” I said with a weak smile.

“You’re needed,” the man closest to me said.

“First you need to agree to let the others go. I’m the one she wants. If she refuses to turn them loose, I’ll go inside, call the cops, and shoot up the place. You’ll probably snatch me anyway, but I’ll make certain everyone sees my face.”

I looked up smiling, one eye closed against the glaring sun.

“Deal?”

One of the men reached up and put his hand to his earpiece. After listening for a moment, he said,

“She agrees to your terms. Please come with us,” he said, opening the car door.

I stood up and climbed into the back. One of the men sat down beside me as the other two sat up front. Resting my head against the seat, I closed my eyes and remembered everyone who had helped me get here.

“At least they’re safe.”

The Exile: Episode 59

“What is this?” I exclaimed, holding up the photograph.

“I’m so sorry, sir. I thought you were dead,” Colin Summers whimpered.

I felt myself losing control and reached out to attack him. Thankfully, Heckle and Jeckle grabbed me and pulled me out of the room. While Jeckle went back in the room to talk to the frightened Summers, Cazonetti wrapped his hand around my arm and made me a promise.

“Relax, man. We’ll figure this out.”

Furious, I pushed him off me and snapped,

“That’s not me in this picture!”

My anger dissipated as my eyes filled with tears.

“I know who it is, but it has to be a lie,” I insisted, dropping my chin to my chest.

“Who is it?” Heckle asked.

When I looked up to answer, I spotted a man perched on the rooftop of one of the opposite buildings. Rifle in hand, he was taking aim at the windows just in front of us.

“Run!” I yelled, seconds before canisters exploded through the windowpanes and began filling the room with gas.

I turned toward the interrogation room but stopped when I saw that Jeckle was down and Summers was grabbing Lorelei, pinning her to the floor.

“Get down!” Cazonetti yelled at me.

Just then a bullet punched into the floor, narrowly missing me. When someone began pounding on the warehouse door, Cazonetti yelled to Heckle,

“Get him out of here!”

As the warehouse door burst open, Cazonetti reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a vial of blue liquid, the same liquid I had seen him drink in the bar. In the smoke and confusion, Heckle grabbed my collar and told me to stay low as he hurried me toward a door at the other side of the room.

Looking back, I watched in fascination as knives slipped out from Cazonetti’s sleeves and he charged the men pouring through the warehouse door.

“Come on!” Heckle yelled, dragging me through the door.

Quickly, we stepped into a hallway, and Heckle shut the door behind us, sliding a large bolt to lock it.

“We can’t leave them!” I protested.

“Listen, my brother is back there, so don’t for one second think I’m enjoying this. You’re who they’re after, so as long as you’re free, the others stand a chance. Now move it or be carried!” Heckle snapped.

Stunned by Heckle’s shift to a serious side, I slowly followed him down the long hallway. Finally, the hallway ended at a set of stairs and a door. When he opened the door, we stepped out into a grove of trees.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“The park. It was our emergency exit in case something happened.”

“How did those men find us?” I asked.

“They must have bugged Summers. He lead them right to us,” Heckle said.

“What now?” I asked.

“We call in the big guns. But first, I’ve got a question for you. What did you mean when you said it had to be a lie?”

I was silent for a few moments, not wanting to say what my heart already knew. Heckle seemed to sense my anguish and waited patiently for an answer.

“I know the man in the picture looks like me, but he isn’t. I told you a while back that to the untrained eye, my brother and I looked like twins. I can tell that this man has makeup on, some sort of disguise I guess. But the eyes are the giveaway. The man in this picture is my brother,” I explained.

“Didn’t you say he was dead,” Heckle reminded me.

“He is. But this picture explains why I’m being hunted. The people after me think I’m him.”