The Sentinel Ch. 01byJPMMURPHY©
It was a dark place - figuratively and literally - where he spent most of his time. The room was clean and neat, the only light coming from eight computer monitors on a long table against the outer wall. Here, he watched intently, pushed back in his wheelchair, glancing from one screen to the next, sometimes pausing to reflect on what might be happening on a particular screen.
To his left, a sliding glass door opened onto a small terrace with a wrought iron patio table and three matching chairs. A fourth space was left empty for his wheelchair. Several plants filled the area which was like a big open box turned on its side and set in the corner of the building with a heavy concrete roof above.
The view beyond was stunning, showing lower Manhattan at night. The lights of the skyline in the distance were like small shooting stars as their bright glow streaked across the water to their points of origin - traffic moving across the Brooklyn Bridge to destinations unknown and uncared about by the lonely sentry keeping watch inside.
The remainder of the floor which he lived on was quiet and occupied only by him. On the five floors below in small islands of music and light, the occupants toasted the coming holidays; visited on the phone; and in general, lived normal active lives. They were all very happy with their recently acquired apartments with the large open floor plans, high windows that gave lots of light during the day, and the completely remodeled rooms filled with the latest and newest in appliances and other electronic conveniences.
On returning from the hospital, he had found his Manhattan condominium unbearable. Even changing bedrooms hadn't helped wipe away the memories. It had been an easy decision to get rid of it and relocate. Choosing an empty warehouse owned by his company and paying a premium price, he'd had the remodeling completed in six months and cried silently when he left his old building. It was by no means closure - feeling more like abandonment as he quietly recalled the times she'd been there, waiting for him after long trips.
The building was a very small part of a global empire built by his father and had originally served as its principle warehouse during the early growth years of the company. But, it had soon been outgrown and had been given over to personal storage for the Pond family. It was located on a small tract of fifty wooded acres with a view of the south end of Manhattan, but Jack's father had always said the area was much more suited to a country estate than a warehouse. With his parents' untimely deaths, Jack had been left as the head of one of the largest family-owned transport and warehousing businesses in the world with offices and storage space in 62 countries. It had also afforded him an opportunity to finally create an estate of sorts although it was not the fieldstone country manor that his father had envisioned. This was more a concrete fortress - Jack's cocoon and buffer to hold the world at bay.
As urban sprawl had sent highways and other transport in different directions, it had slowly become isolated and cutoff, impractical for the constant movement of the large trucks, vans, and semis needed to support the growing business.
The isolation of the building might have been a drawback for some with no other buildings or houses within yelling distance but not for the small group of professionals that enjoyed the privacy and isolation provided by the thick stand of trees that surrounded the building. A circular drive and finely manicured lawn completed the facade with an entrance to the underground garage off to the side. Two security guards sat in a small island of light, watching sentry monitors that were as boring as black and white reruns from the 50's. A third guard was making his way down through the parking garage and then up the stairwell to listen outside the door of each apartment just long enough to know that all was well.
Half the first floor was dedicated to a small sports and fitness center with a twenty- five yard two-lane lap pool, sauna, and shower rooms. The other half was a party room, available to the occupants, and complete with a small stage, baby grand piano, and a sound system for those nieces and nephews who were coming of age and wanted to dance away the night with friends and family. A wet bar and a fully-equipped kitchen finished it off.
Jack had taken the half-billion dollar company and turned it into a billion dollar one after his parents' deaths. It had taken five years. Not really the playboy type, he was also not the wallflower some liked to think. His nose was always to the grindstone, and his only free time was the time needed to shower and shave before jetting off to breakfast and business in one country and dinner and business in another. Nevertheless, he did have a few "special female friends" around the world that were always happy to see him when he flew into town.
He was an Ivy League graduate with a feel for the blue collar worker that his empire was built on. He had found it fairly easy to bring new opportunities in and let his people build the business for him. That, coupled with the willingness of his college classmate, Juan Franciso, had made the hard work of doubling a fortune easy.
Juan Francisco Martin, better known as John F. in the states, was the son of a British father and Mexican mother, and he had opened up Latin America for Jack. The quiet rivalry during their first year at college had grown into a friendship that even their girlfriends were jealous of. Juan's parents had in many ways become Jack's own after the plane crash that had changed his life. It was not unusual for Jack to fly south of the border for a weekend. He seldom called to announce his intentions, but he was always received like one of the family and sent off to settle in the room they had christened his. Juan's three sisters found Jack fair game for practicing the fine art of Latin flirting which for some reason always left him red-faced. The girls' father only grinned knowingly, and their mother always seemed to find some obscure Saint to bless Jack with while admonishing her daughters who stood innocently watching Jack squirm.
Coming out of college and going directly into the family business had kept Jack busy; his father made certain he learned every aspect of the business - from how to store a dolly on a truck so it wouldn't slide around and damage the cargo to how to fly the Airbus 300's used as their long haul jets. His presence was expected at all board meetings even if he happened to be on the other side of the globe when notified. "Get it done," his father would say into the phone, "and don't forget to bring a tie," a small chuckle in his voice as he left Jack listening to a dial tone. And he did it. He always got it done. He always did the best any father could expect, and oddly enough, it was always more than enough. His father made no bones about the fact that Jack was the hardest working employee he had - the brightest and the best.
It was clear from the first board meeting Jack attended that he was expected to take the reins some day. Placed at his father's right hand, Jack sat at the same table he had played under many years before while listening to his father consider this and contemplate that with the group of old friends that helped during those early years. Jack was expected to be an active participant in Pond Enterprises from that first official board meeting. He was not to be relegated to the role of a well-educated showpiece, sitting in some plush office taking social calls and making 'strategic' dinner dates.
That, combined with Jack's drive and willingness to do any job that needed to be done, including sweeping the floor in the warehouse, had earned him the respect of his people and made a transition that might have destroyed other companies fairly smooth. He could still conjure up his mother's voice as she pleaded with Jack's father not to take him to the warehouse. "Sweeping the floor was no place for a twelve-year-old boy. Playing with his friends or going to a museum was certainly a more appropriate activity." But it seemed the Ryan boy had been caught stealing again, and this time, it was something much more valuable. As much as his father had hated it, he had been forced to take drastic measures and needed Jack to fill in. It would just be a few days until someone else could be found. Those few days turned into several years as Jack became a permanent fixture, running errands and filling in when someone didn't make it in for the day.
And despite all the effort Juan's sisters had put into it over the years, they had not been the ones to win Jack's heart. Ten years after graduation, he had found her at a restaurant in Paris while waiting for a business meal to start - his invited contact late as usual. She smelled of roses and looked like an angel that rainy night as he began courting her. The business contact had been a no-show, and Jack had finally decided he had better things to do with his time. Walking to her table, he had decided the direct approach was best. "Hi, my name is Jack Pond. I'm not as bright as I look, and I'm a very poor dancer. But I do have an eye for beauty, and I thought the Louvre kept the really important works of art under lock and key at night." Okay, it was corny, but he got a smile. Lisa had put up a fight but only enough to decide his intentions were sincere and that he wasn't just some rich kid on the make. Quiet and settled, Lisa was a corporate lawyer working for one of the top ten Fortune 500 companies; she was a walking corporate law book that had managed to maintain her femininity in the male dominated world of corporate litigation. Two days later and a phone call to his assistant Michelle had had him doing something he hadn't done since entering the company - taking ten days vacation. Hold the calls and I'll let you know where I am.
There had never been talk of marriage even though there was never a lack of hints from Lisa's parents. They had found each other, and that was the important thing. They lived, loved, and shared using air travel as most people would a train commute. She worked and lived in Chicago while Jack lived in Manhattan with a short commute to the Brooklyn office when he was in town. Weekends, whenever possible, were spent at each other's place, and vacations and small trips were spent together whenever schedules allowed. It was love at a level many couldn't understand until they saw them together at a dinner or on a beach. It was in the eyes, the easy touch, and loving care shown in the smallest detail of each other's life.
They had even discovered the wonder of video communication by computer and found they could enjoy some private time talking and sharing with something a little more personal than a telephone. Becoming old hands at chat and the services available, they belonged to all of them and could always find a way to connect during the day - if not by real time chat, then by snail chat - through mails that communicated so much more than most married couples said face-to-face after years of being together. They seemed to have decided without discussion that it worked for them, and this was how life would be.
* * * * *
Sitting alone in the dark, sterile room, his happiness seemed so far away now - another lifetime ago, or worse, another person's life. As he continued to glance from screen to screen watching his "Buddy" lists and the few cams he had open in frequented public chat rooms, he thought, this wasn't how they had lived and was certainly not what he had envisioned for them. Darkness and hate seemed so foreign to what he and Lisa were that sometimes he contemplated letting go of the hunt. Then he would see some phrase or line used in a chat box and wonder is he the one? At the same time, he was afraid. Afraid he would have nothing to live for if he didn't have him to find, to track down, to stand over, and to watch as the life faded slowly from his eyes.
That day seemed so real at times when part of his subconscious would conjure it up once more. Still in color, it burned on the back of his eyes as he leaned back in his chair and watched it unfold. Closing his eyes, he wandered there once more. Could he stop it this time?
He had been in Chicago for the weekend. They had gone to the blues bars Friday night- an outing though a little bawdy that they both enjoyed. There had been a wonderful feeling of freedom as they had ceremoniously turned their mobile phones off together at the first stop, followed by a small toast - "To us, to love."
The next day had been beautiful. Looking back on it now, it was as if the gods had deemed it so because it was to be their last day together: a picnic on the shore, a stroll through downtown, the opera at night, and in each other's arms for a few hours of quiet lovemaking before he had to be off. "Big day Monday and I want to go into the office tomorrow afternoon. Why don't you come with me? You can fly back early Monday." No, it was not to be. She had a case to prepare, and besides, she knew what it meant if he went to the office. They would enjoy a plane ride to New York together, and she'd be stuck at his place for six hours while he did whatever was so important. Being home for a late night snack and a night in bed did sound attractive, but she would be worn out by the time she got to the courthouse Monday morning at nine. "No, Jack, I'll look for you in chat tomorrow late, and we can say goodnight. I think I'll go see Mom and Dad and buy my groceries while you wile away your time at that stuffy, old office of yours."
And off he went. Things to do, people to see, and a stuffy, old office to visit. It was a productive afternoon but nothing earth- shattering was accomplished. Arriving home, he'd showered and prepared a snack. Carrying the laptop to his bed, he'd lifted the top and seen her request for a video conference. A click on accept, and there she was. Sitting in the middle of his bed, leaning against the headboard, he'd said, "Hi, babe, nice to see you". He had been surprised when she hadn't responded but he had guessed that the voice chat hadn't connected. Then he had seen the chat box was open and her message appear. Glancing at his programs status line, he was even more confused when he saw 'Voice chat activated'. Looking down at his speaker, he saw it was muted and quickly fixed that. She must have responded, but I didn't hear you'd thought.
If only you had read the chat, or your speaker had not been muted. If only you had looked at her face, her eyes, and not everything else in your world at that instant. But mostly, if only you had stayed.
You heard it then - the quiet sob and a metallic clicking sound as she looked to her right, off cam and said something. You heard it, didn't you? But what registered was the tension, the fear, not the message. She was emphatic when she said it. You heard it when you played it back in your mind. "Why?" The fear, followed by rage, kept you from understanding as you heard a man's voice, deep and gruff, respond, "Shut up, bitch, and do it."
You practically yelled in response, "Lisa, what is it? What's happening?" Not waiting for a response, you had grabbed the phone from the nightstand and dialed 911 while blurting out, "Hold on, I have an emergency here." You could hear the operator asking the nature of the emergency and trying to confirm your address, but you finally dropped the cordless phone on the bed so you could pay attention to what was happening on your computer screen.
Then he yelled, "Do it now, bitch." You watched, speechless, as she raised her right hand and pushed the left spaghetti strap of her silk nightshirt down, exposing her breast.
"Why isn't Jackie boy answering? See if he's there." It was a demand of an angry person wanting his way and being emphatic about it.
You answered, didn't you? You yelled your head off at him until you realized she had muted her speaker so he couldn't hear you. Looking down, you had seen it at last. "Jack, answer me here."
"What?" was all you managed as you pounded the keys.
"Good," you heard as he responded mockingly. "Tell him maybe he'll enjoy this as much as you're going to. Wait. Ask him where the hell his cam is." Watching the chat box, it appeared. "Where's your cam?" There was an explosion of yelling as the intruder became emphatic again, "I want his damn cam up so I can see his face, and I want you to tell him what I said - 'Just maybe he'll enjoy this as much as you're going to.' Do it now, bitch, or it all ends right now."
"Jack, I really need your cam on, dear, and I hope you enjoy this as much as I'm going to."
It was clear that whoever it was, thought you couldn't hear him and just as clear, was that he was threatening her life. Hitting the icon, you saw your own picture come up on the screen as a smaller image inside hers. Reaching for the phone, you had intended to give 911 as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, before your image appeared on the other end, but it was too late as you heard, 'That's it, Jackie boy. Now tell him not to move, and the last thing I want to see is him talking on a phone, or we'll see how good the color is on these things. I wonder if red really looks red?" The laugh was evil at its worst. It sent a shiver up your spine as you watched a tear fall slowly from her right eye, pausing on her upper lip before cascading away. And as instructed, she typed.
It occurred to you to read everything out loud, and maybe, the 911 operator would get it. Pushing the phone up beside the laptop, in hopes the intruder's voice would come through also, you spoke the words as you read them, making it all seem that much more real and vile.
"The other strap and make it quick." He seemed business-like that time as you watched her left hand come up, fingers shaking, as she dropped the right strap, her top falling around her waist, both breasts exposed.
"I want you to do it good. I want you to do it like I was Jackie boy. But first, tell him I want him to get his dick out and jack off while you do me."
She finally broke down and sobbed, "No, I won't do it. You can go to hell, you asshole and I hope you ro…' Her voice was cut off by a jerk of her head and a muffled slapping sound. With the imagery coming through at about a frame every two seconds, you had missed his hand and had only seen her slump back against the chair to sob. You had felt it, hadn't you - her pain, her tears? The rage had been blinding as you sat there frozen, waiting to see what would happen next.
"Look, bitch, I want his cock in his hand and mine in your mouth. Do it or die"' He was furious now, and you could see her body convulse as she slowly leaned forward and started to type. The spelling was so bad you wouldn't have understood if you hadn't heard him, but you knew what he wanted.
She looked right at the camera - her eyes intense, wide with fear and mouthed it. You missed that too, didn't you, Jack? It was months before you got that one. "I love you." She had managed to say it to you one last time, and you almost missed it.
Jerking the towel away, you leaned down to type but stopped when you heard that metallic sound again. Looking at her picture, you saw it all as if in slow motion. A gloved hand, sticking out of a brown suede coat arm, came out and turned her head sideways so she was looking off cam again. Her jaw shaking, she opened her mouth slowly. "Wider, bitch, it won't fit." And you watched as she closed her eyes and forced her mouth open more. "I want to see some tongue, bitch; I like it nice and wet." Obediently, her tongue came out and waved a little.