Oh, God, why is she haunting me as I lay here dying? All I see is her face and those three days. Why not my wife and my two daughters? Shouldn't they be my last thoughts in this world? After all, they are the reason I stole $1.5 million in cocaine and $5 million in cash and drove half way across the country.
Is that smoke I smell? I remember there was a fire. Everything is getting hazy. My entire past is disappearing, except those three days. Is this Hell? Is God punishing me for what I did in that small Kansas town?
Oh no, it's starting again.
Washington's top DEA agent, or ex-DEA agent of two days, James Whitten (Dane Cole by his drivers license) drove his Government issue Expedition down a deserted stretch of Kansas highway. His eyes moved nervously from the road to the rear view mirror behind his sunglasses.
The hazard of carrying one point five million in cocaine and five million in cash.
He had stayed on these little used highways since leaving Washington to avoid police and anyone who might be looking for him. Which were law enforcers of the entire United States.
It amazed him that one day he is considered the greatest hero America has ever seen, then America's most wanted the next. But the real question was, would he still be a criminal if America knew that had stolen the cocaine and cash to save his family from the very man the cocaine and cash were taken from?
Actually, he thought not.
It really surprised him that he hadn't been caught yet. After all, he was driving a Government vehicle. He guessed the most obvious means of escape were the last to be thought of. It made him want to laugh.
The only reason he didn't was the signs that lined the side of the road.
JESUS IS COMING
REPENT AND LIVE FOREVER IN GLORY
And that was just a few.
He wasn't a religious man, and chills ran up his spine every time he saw one.
James sighed and glanced into the rear view mirror for the 12,439th time before reaching for the pack of cigarettes on the dashboard. Before his fingers could touch the cellophane-covered box, there was a loud pop under the hood, followed by a pounding. If he looked close, he could see the hood jump up slightly at every bump.
"What the fuck?" James muttered and looked to the instrument panel.
All needles dropped and the engine died.
"This is just fucking great," James said ripping the sunglasses off and throwing them into the passenger seat. James turned the wheel and coasted to a stop on the shoulder.
Once the Expedition came to a stop, thick white smoke billowed from under the hood. James threw the Expedition into park and turned the key off. Not that it needed, just a force of habit.
James then angrily threw the door open and climbed out. Time was short and this was the last thing he needed. He popped the hood before slamming the door shut. There was a loud click and the hood lifted slightly.
Cussing under his breath, James walked around to the hood. This was the last thing he needed. If he wasn't in Texas by morning, Joy, Kristin, and Anna would be dead by the hands of Enrique Mandez.
James reached the hood and lifted it. Smoke poured out and James could taste the sweet nauseating taste of antifreeze. Before the smoke could clear, James was turned away from the Expedition and facing a green highway sign.
He pulled his cell phone, well the cell phone, from his pocket. His cell phone was sitting in the front seat of the moving van at the bottom of the river. This was the cell phone Enrique had left in his mail box two days ago, the only means he had of being told his next move. James dialed 411.
"Redemption," he said when asked the city.
Ten minutes later, James saw the red tow truck coming his way. The closer it got, the more he wondered if it was red or just covered in rust. It slowed and pulled onto the opposite shoulder and James saw the words GARRET'S GARAGE painted on the side of the door in yellow.
James stood next to the Expedition as the tow truck backed up. When the tow truck stopped, the engine shut off and a skinny man dressed in grey coveralls and covered in grease climbed out of the drivers side. The man had long curly greying hair sprouting from under a cap, a five o'clock shadow and wire rim glasses and had the slight look of a simpleton.
Redemption must be a small town, James thought looking at the man. He was the exact stereotype for the small town garage owner.
The man started towards James and the Expedition, a small smile on his grease streaked face.
"You're obviously the one who called, so I won't ask," he said. When he reached James he extended a hand. "I'm Garret."
James looked at Garret's hand. It was the only part of him not streaked with grease. James took Garret's hand and shook it. "Dane Cole," James said. He wasn't sure if Garret watched the news, but he gave the alias to be on the safe side.
Garret's smile widened slightly. "Well, let's get 'er hooked up and take a look"
James nodded as Garret released his hand and went straight to work hooking the Expedition up. He wasn't sure why, but he like this man immediately. He just had the feel of a good man.
James was looking out the window when they passed the city limit sign.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE A CLEAN SLATE WITH THE LORD?
James tried not to laugh.
They drove down Main street, the perfect Rockwellian small town. Brick buildings, clean streets, white picket fences, polished lamp post, I guess you get the picture. Before they could reach the court house and town square, which James could slightly see ahead of them, Garret turned the tow truck into a small garage and filling station.
Garret backed the tow truck perfectly into one of the two spots in the garage and lowered the Expedition. James and Garret got out and Garret unhooked the Expedition in seconds and parked the tow truck off to the side.
When Garret came back into the garage, he walked straight to the Expedition. "Let's have a look see," he said lifting the hood.
James stood next to him, not that he knew any thing, he was as illiterate in the car business as Garret was in brain surgery.
Garret looked over the engine, poking and prodding here and there. After two minutes, Garret lifted his head and looked to James. "Well, the good news is, the engine's fine."
"What's the bad news?" James asked.
"Well, your drive beat snapped and wrapped around the alternator pulley and spun around cutting the battery wire, and most of the power wires, plus it put a large gash in the radiator."
James sighed heavily and closed his eyes.
"The good thing is," Garret started seeing the defeat in James face. "I can fix it, but it's going to take a while."
James looked at Garret. "Like how long?"
"That depends," Garret said. "I don't have the parts here and nothing's open today," There was a short pause. "I could call a friend of mine in Tulsa and see what he's got."
"Good," James wanted to say more, like what are you waiting for? But he knew the man was doing the best he could, it wasn't his fault. James pulled the cell phone from his pocket. "I need to make a phone call myself."
Garret nodded and walked into the office. James walked out of the garage and dialed Enrique's number.
There were two rings then, "Why are you calling me James?" Enrique said in his heavy Spanish accent.
"I've got a slight problem," James said holding back the anger at this monster. There was silence on the other end. "I had a little car trouble and the garage I'm at doesn't have the parts I need."
"That's rather unfortunate for you and your family," Enrique said. The sounds of screaming in the background erupted.
"No," James whispered.
At that moment, Garret stepped out of the garage. James turned to him. "I can have it done Tuesday morning," he said.
Garret stood there a moment, Joy and the girls screams filled his ears as he looked at Garret. Garret finally turned and walked back into the garage.
"I'll be back on the road Tuesday morning, I promise," James said, tears welling up behind his eyes.
"Not good enough," Enrique said. James could hear the smile in his voice.
There was the ear shattering sound of a gun shot that silenced the screams.
"NOOOOO," James yelled.
"Now the real question you have to ask is, did I really shoot your wife and kids or not. And if I did, who did I shoot?"
The phone went dead in his hand. James dropped to his knees and started to cry. His life had been in order, he had a good job, and his family was nearly perfect. All destroyed by a single man who by all rights should be behind bars right now. The glory of the American Judicial system. It amazed him how one small technicality could put a murderer, drug dealer, and all around monster back on the streets.
James slowly wiped the tears away and stood up. He took a deep breath and walked back into the garage. Garret was already busy under the hood of the Expedition.
"I think I'll take a walk around town," James said.
Garret looked out from under the hood. "Okay, but you won't find nut'un. Everything's closed for the revival."
James had to smile. "Revival?"
"Yeah, everything in town closes every Sunday for church. Or revivals. The glory of living in the bible belt."
"Why are you open?"
"Not much of a God man," Garret said, then smiled wide. "And the wife hates it."
James smiled back. "I just might check this revival out myself."
"Have fun," Garret said and went back to the job at hand.
James stood there for a moment before turning and walking out of the garage. James didn't know it at the time, but he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life.
The streets of Redemption were lined with cars, and main street was overrun with shops, but there was nobody out, and all the shops had CLOSED signs hanging in the door. As James walked west towards the town square, he could hear singing. With every step closer, the singing grew louder. He could also see a large red tent revealing itself with each step.
Once the town square was fully in view, he could see the large tent standing in the center with a posterboard sign.
LADIES OF CHRIST
INVITE ALL TO REJOICE IN THE GLORY OF THE LORD
James crossed the bright green grass and pushed the tent flap aside. The heat, smell of saw dust and sweat, and singing hit James, nearly suffocating him. Hesitantly, James stepped in.
The chorus of some Hymn James didn't recognize bellowed from the choir and the people in the audience. Some voices were too high, some too low, and most were completely off key, but one voice rang out like crystal. James scanned the audience and choir until his eyes fell on one girl that stuck out like a sore thumb.
She had long blond hair, bright blue eyes, and skin that looked flawless from where he stood. She was also the only one in the tent dressed in a color other then black, white or tan. She wore a pink v-neck blouse that revealed just a small fraction of cleavage and was nearly sleeveless, and tight blue jeans. She was a vision of beauty, and the voice to match.
James and the girl locked eyes for just a moment. James felt his heart speed slightly and a heat rise in his groin, but thoughts of Joy and the girls quickly killed the fire.
The choir finished and the girl smiled at James as they sat down. An old man dressed in a three piece blue suit stepped up to the podium on the stage.
"Let's give our wonderful choir a hand," he said wiping sweat from his brow.
The crowd clapped loudly.
Reverend Hannam leaned against the podium and spoke into the microphone. "Let's give praise to the Lord for this glorious Sunday morning."
"Amen," the crowd chanted in unison
"Our Lord and Savior came to me in a dream last night," Hannam continued. "He said, 'My son I have a job for you.' And I told him speak and I shall obey."
"What did he say?"
"He told me, 'My son you are my voice in Redemption. And I want you to be my voice there.'"
James looked from Hannam to the girl again. She wasn't paying any attention to Hannam, she was watching James. He felt nervous and edgy suddenly. Did this girl know him? Was his rescue attempt over? He felt his throat close at the prospect of being turned in. He had to get out.
"And from here, he told me to spread his word to the world. He wants Redemption to be the center of his great and holy word."
"I feel my job is done here, now I must branch out."
"But to branch out, I beg of you children of God, dig deep and give so the word of God can reach the ears of the world."
James had had enough. Not only was the girl making him paranoid, but this pompous ass had this whole town brain washed. He would bet everything that the whole town was reaching deep into their pockets or purses to fund this asshole. It was probably money to pay for his whores, no, the old women of his "flock" would do that for free if he said it was what "God" wanted. It was more likely for drugs or gambling debts.
"Fuck this," James muttered as he turned and exited the tent.
James found himself sitting on a bench in front of what could only be described as a soda shop. It was closed, but through the large front window he could see the bar and stools. It had an authentic '50's look to it.
The sun felt good on him, and the cigarette he was puffing on tasted even better. The paranoia of the girl staring at him had ceased and through the power of deductive reasoning, he decided that Enrique more then likely didn't shoot Joy, or one of the girls. James had just as much advantage over Enrique as Enrique had over him. If not for his current situation, life was good again.
After an hour of sitting on the bench, he started seeing people walking around. The revival of the "Great and powerful Hannam" must be over. James was about to stand and walk back to Garret's when the blond in the pink blouse sat down next to him.
James jumped slightly.
"Why'd you leave?" she said smiling at him. "You missed my solo."
James looked around. This had to be a dream, he didn't know this girl, yet here she was talking to him like they were old friends. James looked back at her.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Do I know you?"
"Oh sorry," she said and gave a small laugh. "Mary Mae," she said "And you are?"
James opened his mouth but stopped. He had forgotten his alias for a moment. "Dane Cole," he said after a moments pause.
"Now that we know each other," she said, the smile never leaving her face. "Why did you leave the revival so early? You missed my solo."
"Sorry," James said. He suddenly felt at ease. Now he knew this girl, Mary, but didn't know who she really was. "But I feel the Reverend Hannam is a bit of a pompous ass."
Mary laughed. "Thank God, I thought I was the only one who felt that way."
James laughed, he couldn't help it, her laugh was contagious.
"To be honest, the only reason I go to his church is because it's expected from the towns pride and joy," she said rolling her eyes.
"Pride and Joy?" James laughed slightly.
"Don't laugh," she said still smiling. "This is a small town and I'm the first to be accepted into an ivy league college."
"Oh yeah, what college is that?" James asked. Just as with Garret, he couldn't help but like Mary. Not only was she beautiful, but she was smart too.
"Yale," she said, lifting her head slightly. She looked to James and laughed again. "Sorry, I have to practice my snotty look."
James shook his head and smiled at her. "I never would have guessed you as a high school graduate, I was thinking along the lines of sixteen."
Mary hit him lightly on the arm. "I'm insulted."
James rubbed his arm. "Believe me, when you reach my age, you'll enjoy people saying you look younger."
"What do you mean? You can't be more then 24."
"33," James said.
"Wow grandpa," she said.
James looked at her a look of fake hurt on his face. She leaned closer and shoulder bumped him. Stop, he told himself. She's flirting and you're flirting back. You are a married man. The voice quickly quieted.
"So, you're obviously new to town," she said. "What brings you to Redemption?"
"I had some car trouble outside of town, and now I have to wait a few days for it to be fixed."
"Well, it's a good thing you broke down now," she said.
"There's a fair tomorrow night, but for tonight I'll take you to Della's, the best café in this part of Kansas." she said.
James looked at her and smiled. "Boy you don't beat around the bush do you?"
Mary only smiled.
"Besides, I can't. I'm married," he said showing her the wedding ring on his left hand.
"Well, where's the wife?" she asked, never losing her smile.
"She's in Texas," he said truthfully. "We're moving there and her and our daughters went ahead and are waiting for me," he lied.
"Well, it doesn't have to be a date silly," she said. "I just thought I could show you around the enormous town of Redemption. I can even show you the way to the hotel."
James could only stare at her. He couldn't take his eyes off her. "Okay," he finally agreed."
Her smile widened and she slapped his leg before standing. "Good, let's go."
James stood and followed her west.
Twenty minutes later, James and Mary were seated in a both at Della's café. The café was filled to capacity and boomed with overlapping conversation. All patrons were still dressed in their Sunday best. James didn't say anything, but he was never more uncomfortable.
A large plate of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, a large slice of apple pie, and a large glass of iced tea sat on the table before him, barely touched.
"You haven't eaten much," Mary said looking at James. Her plate was nearly clean.
"Not much of an appetite," James said faking a smile. In truth he was feeling more then a little guilty sitting here with Mary. Sure they weren't doing anything, but he would be lying if he said those thoughts weren't running through his mind. Mary was full of energy and a very bubbly young woman. She had talked ever since they had sat down and James half listened. And when Mary would lean forward to tell him something she didn't want the rest of the café to hear, his eyes shot straight to her chest. Each time, she seemed to lean slightly more forward, revealing more of her cleavage.
James didn't realize it, but the Reverend Hannam had approached their table.
"Your singing was angelic today," Hannam said, startling James.
Mary looked to Hannam and smiled. "Thank you," she said smiling. James let his eyes linger on Mary a moment before looking to Hannam.
"And who is your friend?" Hannam asked looking at James.
"Oh, sorry Reverend," Mary said. "This is Mr. Dane Cole. He is visiting our little community for a few days."
"It's just Dane," James said extending a hand to Hannam. Hannam took his hand and shook it.
"I saw you at the revival this morning," Hannam said almost accusingly. "You didn't stay long."
"Yes," James said. "It was just a little too hot in there for my taste."
"I see," Hannam said stiffening slightly. "Very well. See you Wednesday for choir practice Mary?" he asked turning to Mary.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Mary said smiling.
"Good," Hannam said and turned to James. "Mr. Cole," he said bowing his head slightly.
"Father," James said, smiling at Mary. Mary smiled back.
Hannam took a deep breath and walked away. Mary couldn't old the laugh, she let it out and James followed suit. Her laughter was still contagious.
"You shouldn't insult the Reverend that way," Mary said still smiling. James hadn't seen that smile waver since the moment he saw her in the tent.
"Fuck 'im," James said.