tagNovels and NovellasThe Sentinel Ch. 16

The Sentinel Ch. 16

byJPMMURPHY©

Over the weekend following Thanksgiving Jack and Jan had watched the news closely as 'cyber' Lisa failed to appear in chat and Jan's mails went unanswered. They were both shocked to learn the identity of the 'On-screen Killer', and Jack harbored a resentment he couldn't quite identify, not wanting to acknowledge his disappointment in not being the person who pulled the trigger.

They seemed to flounder as the common goal that had consumed much of their shared thoughts and moments was taken away. Monday morning found them both in an awkward embrace at the airport as they said goodbye, confirming their Christmas date.

The previous evening they had dined with Juan and Mary amidst subdued joviality and gentle teasing from both. "Miami?" asked Juan. "What's in Miami? This is New York - the center of the universe," he exclaimed.

Seeing no response from Jan, Mary gave it a try. "Jack," her quiet voice, drawing the attention of all three, "You lost someone very dear to you once, and she is gone now. Don't make that same mistake again."

The rest of the meal was moody and bleak, and saying goodbye when the limo dropped them off at Jack's was more a feeling of relief than the feeling of a warm friendship.

They lay in bed that night, holding each other and talking quietly. Jan ventured the thought that maybe Lisa's death was fate - meant to be whether by the hands of the killer or at the wheel of a car. Maybe God's plan was more complex, and Lisa had been an angelic messenger.

Jack smiled and brightened as he pulled Jan close, kissing the side of her neck. "Maybe you're right," he whispered. They talked more and made love one last time. Jack pointed out he should be assisting Juan with the upcoming deal, and Jan admitted she did need to get back to the office to see how Christmas buying was shaping up.

"Look at me, Jan." Cupping the side of her face, Jack searched her eyes before continuing. "I love you. I know it now. But I need a little time. What do you have planned for Christmas?"

Jan snuggled in and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Christmas day with my parents, Jack." Seeing his disappointment, she quickly added, "But I bet they'd love to meet you."

Sealed with a kiss, they made plans for Jack to fly down on the 23rd for Christmas with her family.

"Listen you," Jan teased, pulling Jack closer at the terminal entrance. "I don't want to hear anything about last minute meetings. There are more important things in life than multi-million dollar business deals, you know. I will be waiting for you at the airport and I do not want to be disappointed."

Jack smiled and kissed Jan one last time, yelling at her back as she walked away, "I'll think about it." Jan turned at the x-ray machine to return his mischievous smile.

*****

It was a small news item - not really front page material - concerning one Juanita Lopez, a maid at one of the five star hotels in midtown Manhattan. She was found beaten and bleeding behind the hotel she worked at early Friday morning, following her shift Thanksgiving Day. Although injured, she would recover and seemed foggy on details concerning what happened. The doctor told the reporter he thought it was shock-induced amnesia and might pass with time. Fortunately, there was no sign of sexual penetration, and the attack appeared to be the result of rage.

By Monday, she reported back to work after stopping at the bank to make a five thousand dollar cash deposit, and she was sure her memories of that particular Thanksgiving Day would never return.

Dave sat at his post and watched Jan walk through the reception area toward the elevators that were working once again. "Hi Dave. How was your Thanksgiving?"

He noticed how relaxed she looked and her smile that was so much more than a beautiful, sunny day. Putting his anger aside, he told her it had been great, and he'd actually taken some time off to visit friends.

Turning before getting on the elevator, Jan asked about the package. "What package?" Dave asked, having forgotten completely about his ruse while in New York trying to locate her. Her expression brought it back, and he scrambled to recover. "You didn't get it? I know the messenger service got in touch with me and couldn't find you. I sent that e-mail to you and didn't get an answer. I just figured you got the package. I'll check today and see what I can find out."

Damn, he thought, as she disappeared behind the brass-covered, art deco doors of the elevator. What the hell did she have to go to New York with that asshole Jack Pond for anyway?

*****

Scott methodically returned the badge, identification, and gun to their hiding places in his desk and the safe. Taking the old tattered suitcase from the corner where he'd left it upon arriving; he walked out through the kitchen to the deck where he sat it on a patio table beside the gas grill. Starting the grill, he methodically pulled the clothing out of the suitcase, one piece at a time, and placed them over the flames, poking and prodding to be sure every thread was completely destroyed.

Turning the gas off, he pulled the ashtray out and collected what remained of zippers and buttons in a plastic bag which he stuffed into the trash compactor in the kitchen before pressing the 'Compress' button.

An interesting turn of events he thought. Smiling, he carried the suitcase back to the closet within a closet, locking it away until needed again.

A slight smile played across his lips as he sat at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of coffee and making plans.

*****

Linda watched the Captain shift on his feet as he stood at her bed side. She was glad for the distraction but not too pleased with the Captains insistence concerning her declaration just before being shot. She shifted slightly under the sheet and feigned fatigue. Fortunately, she was under strict orders not to use her voice, and the cables and wires still connected to her body made it awkward to raise her hands high enough to use her bed table as a desk and write any answers.

"Okay, Woo. Have it your way, but you better believe me when I tell you that being a hero and saving a fellow agent will not get you off the hook. I still want to know what you were doing in New York, buying an illegal firearm, and I also want to know what the hell you meant just before you were shot."

The Captain, turning to look out the window caught her reflection in the glass; he noticed the slight rolling of her eyes and an uncomfortable shift in the bed in response to his interrogation. Turning back and poised to begin again, he was interrupted by the nurse who strode in, sending him off. It seemed that it was time for her meds and her morning shower.

Linda rolled her head on the pillow to stare out the window as the nurse fussed with her chart. "You'll be going home tomorrow if things continue as they are."

Stepping to the side of the bed, the nurse helped Linda stand and daintily pulled the ties on the back of her hospital gown free before pushing it off her shoulders, being sure it didn't tangle in the IV drip.

Shuffling like a senior citizen, Linda leaned on the nurse as they moved toward the bathroom and shower. She avoided the mirror as she stepped under the warm water, luxuriating in the soft, clean smell of soap on her skin again. The nurse stood at the door and watched, in case she might fall, and Linda felt her body slowly come back to life as she washed away what seemed like a months' worth of grime. It was truly amazing what feeling clean could do for your health.

Shutting off the water, she stepped out of the stall and stood in front of the sink, staring at her image in the mirror. An incision ran from under her ear on the right side, down and across her neck. The skin rolled in at the point of contact and ugly, black thread crisscrossed, holding it together. "Don't worry, dear. The plastic surgeon will make that all but disappear later."

Inspecting the green and yellow bruises on her shoulder - the point of impact with Sara - she had a flashback of John, raising the gun again, pointing it at Sara's naked body. She could smell the musty bed and see her captain looking over the shoulder of a SWAT officer who was taking aim at John. Not now, she thought. Let's leave it alone.

Opting to sit in her chair awhile instead of being stuck in bed all day, Linda was surprised when Tom tapped lightly on her door. "A penny for your thoughts, Slick."

For the only person that could make her smile, she responded with a small one and tapped the arm of her chair, motioning him to sit beside her.

"Yeah, we've had so many complaints from the hospital staff that you won't shut up, I thought I'd come over and see if I could help out."

Leaning into his hip, Linda's smile broadened. Pointing at the laptop case he'd brought, she looked up, questioningly. Unzipping the case, Tom pulled out her office laptop and set it carefully on her thighs.

"Thought you might find it easier to 'talk' with this rather than pen and paper."

That brought another smile. Turning the computer on and going through the log in procedure, she opened a Word document and set the font size to 18 so it could be easily read from a distance. Shifting around beside Tom, she typed, Hey there, worthless. They still let you work over there?

"Oh, yeah, you know that place would go to hell in a hand basket without me."

Tell me what's going on, Linda typed.

"Well, it seems they've confirmed that the gun John had at the motel was a match with the gun used to kill his wife. They also found where he had it hidden in the basement. Checking dates, they've discovered he had 'access' to all the other killings, and that's pretty much a wrap." Tom watched closely for Linda's response.

She knew it wasn't true. How could they be so blind? Shifting a little in the chair so Tom couldn't see what was being typed, she finally shifted the laptop so he could read the screen. He's not the killer. I know he's not. Besides, the gun was not the same type used in the other murders.

Tom waited a beat before responding. He'd read the reports from Thanksgiving Day, and the captain wasn't the only one that had heard her declaration. Not pursuing the whole thing would be so much easier because he feared that the truth might be much worse than current accepted reality. It would be simple to let John take the fall and see if he could help Linda get through this. Surely, he was wrong, and he felt bad for what he was thinking.

Rubbing between her shoulder blades and offering a wide smile, he said, "Who knows, Linda; let's not worry about the office right now. You'll be tied to your desk soon enough." Standing up, he walked to her bed to sit on the edge, facing the chair she was seated in before continuing. "I talked to your parents and told them I would come by and take you to their house tomorrow. Seems they're going to let you blow this joint."

Linda typed furiously and turned the computer. No, Tom, I don't want to go there. I can take care of myself, and besides, I'll rest better at my home. You can take me there if you want.

Not surprised, Tom responded with, "Okay, Slick, but your parents will be pretty disappointed. I hear they have a sign language teacher all lined up."

The talk turned to Tom's family and their Thanksgiving Day meal with a mention of Sara and how she was dealing with her close call at the motel. There were other bits and pieces of idle chitchat as Tom watched Linda closely trying to make a decision.

"Well, Slick, some of us still have to work for a living." Turning to leave, he stopped and pulled a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket, dropping it on top of her laptop keyboard before turning to leave again. Pausing at the door, he looked back at the small, pale creature in the chair, balancing her laptop on her knees.

"That's a name I left off the short list. Thought you might want to see it." With that, he was gone.

Picking up the paper, Linda unfolded it and stared at the name above the list of 40 different chat ID's. Obviously a prime suspect, she thought, cynically. Rumpling the sheet of paper into a tight wad, she fished around for her computer case at the side of her chair and dropped it inside. It seems that Linda Woo had, in fact, made the short list after all.

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