The Sentinel Ch. 21byJPMMURPHY©
Jack? Jack? Wake up Jack." He could feel a cold damp cloth on his face and knew the gag had been removed. His arms felt cold, but he could move them again, and his foot seemed to slide before hitting something. Realizing he was no longer on the floor, he looked around frantically trying to find Jan.
"Jack. Are you okay?" a hoarse voice asked.
He knew the voice was familiar, but it wasn't until her face came into view that he recognized Linda. "Jack. Can you hear me?"
Swallowing, he managed a soft whisper. "Yes."
"Are you okay, Jack? You took quite a blow. An ambulance is on its way," she insisted.
Closing his eyes, he whispered, "I did it again, Linda. I killed her. I killed Jan this time."
Taking his head in her hands, she rolled it until their eyes were locked. "No, Jack. Jan's fine. I shot him. I shot Scott before he could pull the trigger."
With that, Jan came into view as she rolled closer on the bed, sporting deep circles under her eyes and a cheek swollen black and blue from Scott's slap earlier. Her lips were chapped and bleeding from the gag and Scott's subsequent work with the gun, but she leaned down close to his ear and whispered, low and hoarse, "I'm okay Jack." With that she kissed him lightly on the lips before collapsing back to the mattress beside him.
Jack turned on his side to look at Jan as she lay beside him, his eyes closed as she whispered, "I meant everything I said, Jack."
There was the sound of feet running up the stairs, and Jack turned to the door to find Linda leaning out, gun in hand, to see who it was. As she pointed the gun past the door frame, he heard her demand, "Stop. Who the hell are you, and where do you think you're going!"
The thundering foot falls stopped, and he heard a man say, "We're a private security team assigned to protect Mr. Pond." Linda disappeared, and Jack slid his feet off the bed onto the floor as his vision tunneled and his head throbbed. Pushing himself away from the mattress, he stood and glanced around. Linda had covered Jan with the beach towel, and her computer was still on. Beside the computer was a gun; maybe Dave's, he thought. Walking by the table, he picked it up and staggered to the door, leaning out into the hall.
Linda was holding what looked like identification in one hand with her gun in her other hand pointed loosely at two men as she talked quietly with them. Deciding there was no further danger, he turned and staggered back to the bed, falling across Jan's legs and managing to whisper, "I love you, Jan," before passing out, blood trickling down the back of his neck.
Police detectives determined that Scott Ryan had, in fact, come in through the front door and hidden in the front room. They figured he'd left the door open and snuck back to close it while Jan wrestled frantically with the phone in the kitchen. Deciding there might be more hiding places upstairs, he must have dashed up just before Jan returned to the foyer.
In the second bedroom, they found his fingerprints on a window frame where he probably hid and watched Jan as she stumbled down the front stairs, setting her own car alarm off by hitting the panic button instead of the lock release button on the small keychain.
They also found his smudged handprints on an attic access cover in the closet of the second bedroom as well as a smoked cigar butt in the attic. Scott must have made his way up there and waited, patiently as the house was searched. They decided he probably came down and slept in Jan's bed because they found one of Scott's pubic hairs between the sheets.
The next morning, he apparently woke early, made the bed, and took a shower in Jan's bathroom where they found more hair; he returned to his hideaway when Jan's secretary showed up with someone to change all the locks in the house. The secretary recalled discussing Jan's plight and the fact she would be home later in the morning. The investigators decided that's when Scott hatched his plan and decided to kill the security guards.
Once the house was empty again, he had gone down to the beach, along the stone wall opposite the guard house, being careful not to be seen. Taking off his shoes, he had walked along the beach, impersonating a beachcomber until he came to the same wooden steps Jack had found and wandered up like someone lost to ask assistance. Knocking on the window, he'd walked around, found the door, and waited gun in hand for one of the guards to open it.
Returning to the house, he'd waited in the bedroom for Jan. He didn't know it would be Dave, but he knew someone would come back with Jan. He'd waited with a length of rope - one of the ropes used to tie Jan to the bed - and strangled Dave silently while Jan called from the bottom of the stairs.
After Jack left Linda's apartment, she'd tried to get some sleep after taking a shower and getting ready for bed, but sleep wouldn't come, and she was drawn into action. Getting dressed, she'd made some calls and had been able to get a flight to Miami that actually left half an hour before Jack's. Renting a car at the airport, she'd headed out to Jan's house, deciding it was time to sit down and talk about all that had happened. After Jack's accusation, she felt guilty about not telling Jan about Scott's ruse earlier.
Being in a strange city and trying to find the obscure county road out to Jan's, Linda had spent three hours making a 30 minute journey. Finally, she'd made it to the beach and decided to just drive north on the sand until she came to something that looked like an expensive property, hoping it was Jan's beachfront property. If that wasn't it, someone could probably tell her how to get there.
After another 20 minutes, she'd come across the high stone fence and weathered wooden steps at the back of the property. The security guards were still lying in their own blood in the guard house, and she'd pulled the gun from the other one before heading up to the house.
Juan was in Miami at Jack's bedside the same evening, he was checked in. Wringing his hands, he appeared distraught as he watched his lifelong friend, dozing between the sheets. Jan was curled in a chair by the window, and looked only slightly better after a check by the doctor and a shower. Turning to her, Juan tried to explain. "The protection was my idea. I should have told Jack, but one of the clauses in the contract made the deal with the big two contingent on him being a fully active participant in the company again. They wanted Jack back in his office and running the company, or the deal fell through. His obsession with Lisa's killer and the fact he was actually going to look for him made me decide to take precautions. Then when the killer was supposed to be dead, but Jack still didn't seem convinced, I thought it couldn't hurt to keep them on until after the signing of the contract." Sitting on the edge of Jack's bed, Juan stared at the white fluffy clouds as they drifted to dusk outside. "I should have told him, Jan."
"It's over, Juan, and all is well," was her response as she watched Jack's sleeping form.
The expensive protection team had only learned something was wrong at Jan's when they picked up on the county police's frequency that they were sending units in response to Linda's call for help. Driving full bore through the heavy gate, they'd, in fact, had to fight with the airbags several seconds as the van skidded off the lane, leaving more ruts in the landscaping.
Jack had hit his head hard enough on the tile floor to fracture his skull, breaking the skin. Out of the hospital for Christmas Eve, he did, in fact, meet Jan's parents and learned the story of her flight through the yard, ending in a broken ankle.
Christmas morning they opened the gift from Juan and Mary. It was a polished silver, three-picture frame set with a shot of Jack, taken at Thanksgiving, leaning on the door frame in the dining room at Juan and Mary's house, a look of contentment as he contemplated something. He recalled the picture being taken by one of Juan's sisters as he watched Jan chatting with Juan's mother, wondering what they were conspiring.
The frame on the right had a picture of Jan, smiling at something just out of camera range. When Jack had asked, she'd only held her finger to his lips and said, "Shhhhhh, Jack, it's not important."
In the middle frame was a shot of Lisa from the knees up, holding her hands out to the edge of the frame as if reaching for both of them. Jack recalled it immediately; it was a shot Juan had taken on the trip to Mexico when Lisa had found a small group of kids playing by the beach. Taking their hands and forming a circle, she'd gone round and round in the sand, laughing as they tumbled. Her smile and expression was one of joy and contentment.
The Sentinel sat with her laptop open on her thighs and stared at the screen. She'd accepted staying in the bureau but had requested the Captain take her out of the violent crimes unit and put her into the technology side - bank theft, money laundering and technology theft.
The 'room' was gone; the computers had been sold to college kids; and light pastel paints had turned the room into a guest bedroom with a finished half-bath. Little would anyone suspect the room's previous purpose and the long hours Linda had spent sprawled naked on an old wooden barrister's chair, jumping from cam to cam, chat to chat.
She didn't consider it an addiction as much as an escape - a surrogate life to fill a void she was never really able to identify. But with help and support from friends and family, her desire to see just how long it would take to hit the pavement from her floor had finally been abated.
It may have been only streams of electrons, bouncing around the world at the speed of light, but the emotions and experiences on those screens were as real to her now as they had been then. Knowing the impact of what she was going to do would have and the tears of joy and sadness she might experience, she pulled a box of Kleenex closer and shifted on the couch to get comfortable.
Linda's finger finally moved the cursor over her browser icon and clicked once to open it. She was still drawn like a magnet to that other world…