tagNovels and NovellasThe Sentinel Ch. 04

The Sentinel Ch. 04

byJPMMURPHY©

Juan listened to Michelle's inquiry and quietly told her not to worry. He was sure everything was okay. Jack was a big boy and knew very well how to take care of himself. Placing the phone in its cradle, Juan leaned back in his chair and contemplated what it could mean.

Someone at a car rental company in Miami had done a routine check on Jack's card just to make sure the limit would cover the responsibilities set forth in the contract and had been surprised to find the credit card company had flagged it. When the rental car company had called the card company, the operator had asked to talk to the client. The rental clerk had explained that the client had already left, and the employee who had done the contract, being new, had failed to realize the mistake until just a few minutes ago.

"Okay, here's what we have," explained the operator. "Mr. Pond's card has no real problems; it's a corporate card for Pond Enterprises with no limit and no past dues - ever. But the card hasn't been used in almost two years, and we would like to confirm that it's the user who, in fact, wants to make the charge. So, let me call his office, and I'll call you back to let you know if it's authorized or not."

"Okay. Do I get a reference number?"

"Not yet, but I'm operator 163 at extension 1139. Ask for Linda."

"Okay, thanks, Linda, sorry about this. Hopefully, you can clear it up for us."

"Sure, I'll call right back. Thanks, and you have a nice day."

Hanging up with the rental agency, Linda called the number given as the office number of Mr. Pond. Explaining the situation to a Michelle who answered the phone, Linda listened closely as she casually browsed through the credit history of the client. It looked like big bucks - should be no problem here.

"I'm sorry; did you say Mr. Pond rented a car?"

"Yes, he did. A current year luxury model."

"I'm sorry, but could you tell me if that car comes equipped for a paraplegic driver - you know special controls and all - because Mr. Pond would have been in a wheelchair and would have required a vehicle that could be driven by hand." Michelle glanced at the other two lines she had on hold and wondered how much longer this would take.

"I'm sorry, but we show no special features on the vehicle rented - a two-door Luxury sedan. Let me check this code. Hold a moment, please."

"Sure." But Linda was gone, and Michelle was left hanging on the phone. Punching a button, she grabbed another line and said quickly, "Mr. Pond will not be attending the benefit this year, but I'm sure he'd like to make a donation. Could you please fax your information, and I'll see to it Mr. Pond gets it. Thanks."

She felt bad about hanging up so quickly, but someone called at least once a week to see if Mr. Pond could give money to some noteworthy cause, and she just didn't have time for it right now. Pushing the next line, she found the party had already hung up. "Damn, lost that one," she muttered and returned to the credit card company. A short pause and Linda came back on the line. "That would be a current year Cadillac STT Telstar, fully equipped with GPS, theft alert, and no special controls for use by the handicapped."

But how could that be? Did Jack hire a driver? "I'm sorry, but is there any way I can talk to the clerk that attended Mr. Pond? I would like to know who the driver was."

"Yes, you may. I can connect us via conference call. Hold, please."

There was a click, and Michelle could hear the sound of a jet taking-off or landing and voices as people walked by the counter, talking. "Hi, I'm Mr. Pond's personal assistant and would like to know if Mr. Pond was accompanied by a driver at the time of rental."

"Sorry," exclaimed the clerk, "but Mr. Pond walked up to the counter by himself and presented a driver's license. I have him listed as the only driver on the insurance contract. Is there a problem?"

Michelle was immediately alerted and explained in great detail what Mr. Pond looked like, INCLUDING the fact he should have been sitting in a wheelchair. The clerk was completely unconcerned while he explained that Mr. Pond looked more or less as she described EXCEPT the part about the wheelchair and his license picture matched his mug as good as can be expected, considering the quality of work done by the license bureaus these days.

"I'm sorry, but could you two hold on a minute, and let me check with a colleague of Mr. Pond's? Thank you." Two could play at the quick hold button, and Michelle immediately consulted with Mr. Martin. But, she was surprised to learn that Mr. Martin wasn't at all concerned.

Pressing the blinking light, Michelle announced that all was well, not to worry about the card, and thanks for taking the time to check.

* * * * *

Standing at the inner door to Jack's apartment, Juan felt a little like a snoop as he inserted the key and entered from the foyer in front of the elevator. All seemed quiet, no ominous signs of a struggle or unexpected life. A quick walk through the apartment reassured Juan that Jack wasn't lying dead in some corner and nothing appeared to be missing or out of place.

One of Jack's wheelchairs was missing which would have been correct, and the balcony door was locked, but Juan could see through the glass door that Jack wasn't out there. Glancing at the other glass door that went into Jack's secret room, Juan saw the drapes were drawn and wondered if he should check there. Jack's instructions had always been very clear. That room was not to be opened by anyone except in the case of his death. Maybe I should try and find another explanation first, Juan thought. Turning away from the door, he walked through the apartment again but slower this time. It was on the second pass that Juan noticed the footprints in the carpet. It looked like tennis shoes of some kind. Even more telling was the lack of wheel tracks from room to room. He had walked on a few of them but was still able to follow the distinct footprints left by tennis shoes through the apartment, from the sliding glass door into Jack's bedroom, to beside the bed where they appeared to go back out to the kitchen, and then disappeared on the oak hardwood floor. Glancing around the room, Juan saw some white tissue paper in the trashcan and walked over to investigate. Inside was an empty shoe box which had held new shoes, purchased and put on. Walking through to the breakfast nook with its slate floor, he stepped into the door of Jack's office and found the footprints again moving around the desk and under the picture that covered his wall safe. Finding the release, he checked the safe. It appeared to be fine so he followed the footprints over to the wall where Jack and Lisa's picture hung and noticed the footprints moved around a little as if standing for a minute before going back out the door.

Walking back through the kitchen, Juan went to the exercise room and glanced around. What's wrong in here? What is it that's not right? Running back over the inventory in his mind, Juan recalled the furnishings purchased when the building had been redone and suddenly realized - what would a paraplegic be doing with a walking machine?

Walking over, he stooped at the edge and looked closely at the belt the user would walk on. Very clean but worn. Looking closer, he could see it was worn a lot. Standing, Juan walked back to the foyer and quietly, almost reverently, closed the inner door to Jack's apartment. "Jack, you no good son of a bitch, you can walk again and didn't tell us." Concerned, Juan stepped into the elevator as the doors closed; "What are you up to, Jack?" he asked the stainless steel walls as they carried him down.

* * * * *

At the writing desk in her bedroom, Jan sat in front of a laptop computer that was open and running. She was wearing only panties and a bra which had been a point of contention for Jack wanting to leave, but Jan had won out, insisting that she would not talk to this person - not now, unless Jack was there. She just didn't feel safe. At the same time, this is how they always chatted, and if Jack wanted this to work, she had to do it her way.

Jack sat quietly out of the camera's view where he could still see the screen well enough to read the chat and tried not to be distracted by the line of Jan's leg as she did her nails and waited patiently for 'cyber' Lisa to appear. Jan had also explained that she needed to be doing something as if it were two girls getting together to chitchat and not sitting nervously on the edge of her chair wondering what kind of monster she had invited into her house - no, her life. "And Jack, no matter what happens; don't take your eyes off the chat. I won't have a chance to save it if things go as usual, and we'll loose it."

Jan's computer chimed before Jack could ask why the chat couldn't be saved, and he watched Lisa's box flash, down in the lower right-hand side of the screen to let Jan know she was logged on. Jan hesitated, and Lisa opened the chat first.

"Hi, Jan, how are you, Hun?"

Jan hesitated, and Jack was sure she wouldn't go through with it. But then, her hands came up, and she responded.

"Fine, babe, and you?"

"Not a bad day. Lot of meds, the usual stuff, you know."

"Hey," Jan typed, "did you go to that interview like I told you to?" and hit enter.

There was a pause as if afraid of what her lover might say and then, "No, Jan, I'm sorry. I can't, and you know it. I tried to tell you."

Jan was reassuring as you would expect a lover to be when she typed, "It's okay, Lisa, I still love you," and hit enter. Jan turned to Jack and stared blankly. There was nothing to say; Jack knew what she was doing.

And there it was - the invitation screen that would allow Lisa's killer to see Jan on video. Jan didn't hesitate and went immediately to the 'Accept' button and clicked. A black box opened to the right of the chat, and after about 15 seconds, a smaller picture appeared in the lower right-hand corner of the box that showed Jan sitting at her table, her bedroom behind her - a picture of what the killer saw.

"You are so adorable, Jan. Give me a hug and make it all go away."

Jack was transfixed as he watched Jan raise her arms and cross them in front of her chest as if hugging someone very thin to her. Tilting her head, she puckered to kiss the air and then smiled warmly at the camera.

"Thanks, Jan, I love you."

"I love you too, Lisa."

Jack sat watching as Jan chatted, the same small talk found on millions of chat boxes every night as people reached out to be close - to share. Theirs was laced with the endearments and intimacies of lovers.

Jan had explained to Jack that tonight was just a quick visit before going to bed. Lisa understood she had a busy schedule and usually arrived at the office early so the chat should be brief.

After about five minutes, 'cyber' Lisa typed, "Did you get your mail today?"

Lisa's question threw Jan off balance for a second. She had, in fact, not checked her mail all day due to Jack's appearance and had no idea what Lisa had written. Thinking it best not to be caught in a lie, Jan answered as truthfully as possible.

"Lisa, I'm so sorry; I had an emergency at the office and have been away from my computer all day. You want me to check them now?"

"No, babe, don't worry about it. Read them in the morning; you should have two. One is about Saturday night. I have a request, but if you can't, don't worry. I'll understand."

"You're my girl, Lisa. Let me kiss you on the forehead. XO"

"And let me tuck you in, Jan. It's been a long day, and I bet you're tired."

"Thanks, Lisa, it feels so good to hug you." And with that, Jan stood in front of the desk and reached back to unsnap her bra, letting it fall forward to the floor at her feet. Leaning on the table, her breasts exposed to the camera and Jack, she typed, "Come and help me, Lisa. You know I can't do this alone." Hitting enter, she stood again where she was; hooked her thumbs in each side of her thong; and pushed it down past her hips to let it drop. Then she stepped to one side before bending to pick it up and lay it on the table in front of the computer. As she bent, Jack got a glimpse of her eyes and could see she was on the verge of crying. Turning away, he was aware of more typing and quickly glanced at the screen, trying his best not to notice Jan standing naked over the keyboard.

"Lisa, Hun, I'm really tired. Could you tuck me in?"

The response was immediate.

"Sure, babe."

Jan reached up; turned the desk lamp off; and turning, walked to the bedroom door to hit a switch that turned the ceiling light off. Turning back towards Jack, she walked right up to him and stared over his shoulder before turning to the side of the bed and walking to the head of it to pull the comforter back to the foot. That done, she walked back up and pulled the sheet back halfway, leaving a place for her to crawl in and lie down.

Walking back to the computer, she typed "Night, Lisa, miss you already. Love you," and hit enter.

Not waiting for a response, she turned away from the machine, leaving the chat on. Then she walked back to the bed and crawled between the sheets - the whole time with a big smile on her face for Lisa. Sitting up with her body covered from the waist down she wrapped her arms around her chest again and gave a big hug, highlighted by a pouting grin. Laying her head back on the pillow she reached over and turned the light off.

Suddenly the room was completely dark except for the washed-out glow of the computer screen. Jack sat frozen in place, wondering what he should do. He couldn't step in front of the computer because the screen would give off enough light for the camera to show Lisa that someone else was in the bedroom. He could see Jan in the faint glow from the screen and see that she had closed her eyes as if preparing to doze off - if not already asleep.

He knew the microphone wasn't connected, and 'cyber' Lisa couldn't hear him if he talked, but he also knew Jan couldn't answer, or Lisa might see her lips move. Then, two beeps sounded, and the computer screen went black. Looking over quickly, Jack could see the small power light under the screen blink off.

Just then, he heard Jan's soft sobs before a hoarse voice said, "It's programmed to go off by itself if I don't touch it for five minutes. That's so Lisa can 'tuck me in' at night and make sure I'm safe in bed."

Jack was lost. How humiliating it must have all been for Jan, and he felt helpless again. Finally, he whispered, "Jan…."

"No, Jack, don't. But do me a favor. Come here and lay down with me until I fall asleep. Please, Jack, I need it."

Walking to the other side of the bed, Jack slipped his shoes off and scooted across the bed on top of the sheet where he lay gently beside Jan and raised his hand to her shoulder. He could feel her body convulse as she sobbed softly and felt her hand come up on his to pull his arm across her body hugging it to her breasts. Jack spooned in a little, and Jan pressed back, wanting her body molded into his, wanting to feel safe once again. After about five minutes, the sobbing subsided, and Jack tried to extract his arm so he could go to the bedroom that Jan had said was his, but the tightening of her hand told him she still needed him here with her.

Pushing his face into her hair, Jack wondered who was comforting whom as he fell asleep wrapped around Jan.

* * * * *

The Sentinel sighed audibly and thought how habits were so easily formed. It seemed even more so in chat. Habits seemed to be the anchor in a world of electrons flying through wires to appear on screens. Or maybe, it was addiction. 'Jan' had been beautiful this evening as always. But then, so had another dozen women on as many cams that the Sentinel had open at the same time. The victim was the key; the Sentinel had to find the right victim before it was too late. Slumping down in the chair, exhausted, a wadded Kleenex fell to the floor beside the Sentinel's chair. The breathing slowed and eventually became deep and rhythmic as the Sentinel fell asleep to dream the dreams of the tormented.

* * * * *

Leaning into the mirror over the sink, steam rising from the running water, Jack took a washcloth and wiped the mirror clean so he could see to finish shaving. He was surprised to see Jan behind him, sliding a robe off her shoulders to step into the shower he had just stepped out of. He decided it wasn't necessary to know why she chose his bathroom and returned to the task at hand.

He could hear the water splash across her body, the loud plop of suds as they were banished from her skin after performing the job they'd been assigned. Finishing his face, he wiped it clean of shaving cream with a hot washcloth and padded out of the bathroom into the bedroom where he'd left his things the previous night. Pulling out slacks, a shirt, socks and underwear, Jack laid his towel on the bed and started dressing.

"I'm sorry, Jack, but I can't be alone. I'll be okay soon, but I can still feel his eyes on my body."

Looking up, Jack saw Jan standing in the doorway from the bathroom; a huge white terrycloth towel wrapped and tucked, covering her body from across her breasts to the top of her thighs. Turning away as quickly as he'd looked, Jack proceeded to pull his pants on.

"Look, Jack, we're both adults, and I have nothing for you to see that you haven't seen several times before. Besides, Lisa had planned on you seeing it anyway, so please Jack, give me this morning and don't let me out of your sight. I feel so, well... so filthy right now."

As Jack pulled his shirt on, he could hear Jan sobbing from the doorway. Pulling the shirt down and tucking it in quickly, he went to her side, gently pulling her to him. "Shhh, Jan, it's going to be okay. Yes, Jan, I'm here." Gently, he guided her back into her bedroom and sat her on the bed beside a summer dress and panties that she'd laid out. "Here, Jan, put these on." Handing her the panties, Jack picked up the dress and searched for a zipper or buttons to open it while Jan leaned down to put her feet in the panties. Standing as she pulled them up, the towel fell away to the floor. Jack was taken by her beauty, not for the first time, but for the first time, he openly stared for a moment as he felt a slight stirring. Quickly, he raised the dress over her head and slipped it down, breaking the spell. Dutifully, as if being dressed by a parent, Jan turned so Jack could pull the zipper up.

"Let's go back to the other room. You can fix your hair, and I'll pick up." Then, with more enthusiasm, Jack added, "I'll make you one of my Jack Pond special breakfasts, and we'll do some planning. Well, then I might have to take you to the hospital and have your stomach pumped, but hey, we all need to sacrifice." That got a smile as they headed off to get the morning started.

They were both starved, their only meal yesterday being cold cuts and wine. So breakfast consisted of Jack's special, very thin, dark pancakes; poached eggs; a thin sirloin, perfect for breakfast fare that Jack had found in the freezer; OJ; and a bowl of fruit he was able to put together from what he found in the kitchen. Jan started talking and seemed to be coming out of her gloom as they both moved around the kitchen, wiping counters, washing dishes, and leaving it more or less as it was yesterday before lunch.

Moving out to the back deck, they sat around the same umbrella table from the previous afternoon, and Jack decided it was time to put forth his plan. Although he was a little afraid of asking the question, Jack needed to ask anyway even though he suspected what the answer was. "Jan, do you have a boyfriend or 'steady'. I ask because we may need to recruit his help in this."

"No, Jack, there's only been Lisa, well... the killer, since Hank. That and the company. I did go out with Dave a couple of times - dinner, drinks, and a little dancing, but it just didn't work out."

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