The Sentinel Ch. 19byJPMMURPHY©
Jack pressed the call button at the gate for the fourth time, holding it down 15 seconds while he stared into the security camera. How could this be, he thought; something's wrong. With the security Jan had, the gate intercom should have been answered before he had pulled his finger off the button the first time.
Putting the car in reverse, he backed up about thirty feet and dropped it into park while inspecting the gate. It was a heavy, wrought iron assembly, set into stone pillars, and placed at the end of eight-foot-high stone fencing, running in either direction to the edge of the property. He decided he couldn't break it down without possibly setting the airbag off which would be a dangerous proposition.
Something's wrong, and I have to get there, right now. Climbing the gate was a possibility, but his recollection was that it was still a good mile to the house. Seven or eight minutes might be too long. Putting the car into drive, he pulled the wheel to the right and drove almost half a mile along the stone wall through the field between the fence and main road. At the corner, he saw what appeared to be the neighbor's barbed wire fence which ran back out to the main road. Picking up a little more speed, he barreled through the barbed wire fence, hoping the tires would survive. Then he turned left toward the ocean, driving in what appeared to be an undeveloped field of clover and weeds that ran all along Jan's fence to the sea.
The terrain of the property seemed to roll gently like Jan's did which made the steering sloppy. About three-quarters of a mile farther, the roll crested, giving him an unobstructed view of the slate blue color of the ocean, still another mile ahead. The stone wall appeared to end at the edge of the beach. As he forged ahead, the steering felt even worse, and he became concerned he'd either blown a tire or the ground was becoming too soft, leaving him in danger of getting stuck.
He gave the car a little more gas as he fought the wheel and tried to keep it pointed toward the ocean. He felt it take flight before he saw the erosion drop-off, hidden by the tall, unending grass. Pushing hard on the steering wheel, he pressed the back of his head against the headrest and waited for the inevitable. The front of the car dropped just before hitting the opposite side of the wide ditch with a solid thud; it was followed by a popping sound, rather like a 22 caliber gun being fired, as the airbag pushed out to meet him on his journey to the windshield.
It pressed him back into the headrest before deflating completely to drape over his chest and arms. A little sore across his lap where the belt dug in, he released the buckle and forced his door open, stumbling out into the soft mixture of damp soil mixed with sand.
Standing to brush off, Jack did a quick personal inventory and decided he was fine. Getting his bearings, he jogged the last fifty yards to the edge of the stone wall where he jumped onto the beach. Running about 15 feet to his left, he found three wooden steps, weathered and neglected, that would take him up the three-foot ledge to the yard. Jogging toward the house, he saw what appeared to be the security building to his left, built into the stone wall. The building was about the size of a two-car garage with polarized windows on three sides, and there was a 4x4 parked on an asphalt drive that ran along the stone wall, back toward the front gate.
On firmer footing, he ran to the closest window and banged on it, unable to see inside. As he continued around the building, constantly banging on the glass as he went by, he thought surely someone would want to know who the idiot was that had breached their security.
Turning the next corner, he got a closer look at the 4x4 with its windows down and looked left to find a grey metal door standing open. Stopping at the entrance, he listened while he caught his breath. The static rush of a police scanner, filled with snippets of conversation, was the only thing he heard. Pressing his palm against the door, it pushed in, revealing a tile-covered floor and rush of cool air as the air-conditioned interior found its way outside.
Taking a few cautious steps inside, he paused and listened once more before calling out. "Hello. I need some help. Is anyone here?" Nothing, but the drone of the scanner answered back. Taking five more careful steps he stood in what must have been the main monitoring area with several color monitors, showing different views of the grounds. A yellow light marked 'Front Gate' was flashing, probably in response to his frantic button pushing earlier.
There was no sign of life as he strode to the back of the room and pushed in on another door that was slightly ajar. Rubbing the wall on the right with his palm, he finally slid across the light switch and was confronted by the sight of two uniformed men sprawled on the floor with what appeared to be shots to the back of their heads. Forcing himself to move farther into the room, he glanced around at what appeared to be an equipment and storage area before bending over to pull a gun out of the holster of one of the dead men. Stepping on the edge of the pool of blood, he noted it was still very liquid. This couldn't have happened more than an hour ago, he thought.
Leaving the room, he returned to the monitor console and scanned the counter below the screens for a phone. As he walked forward, scanning the yard through the huge window over the counter, his hand went to the phone and drew it to his ear. Dead.
He dropped the handset and headed for the door he'd come in through, finding what he expected right beside the door. Plucking the keys to the 4x4 from the key rack by the door, he ran out and jumped in, starting the engine, he made a tight U-turn, electing to cut across the grass toward the house instead of following the small service lane.
Passing a bunch of ruts in the ground, he recognized them as tire tracks. From the looks of the grass, there had been several cars parked, with people milling around recently. Spurred on, he accelerated and skidded to a stop as he bounced over a sidewalk and curb at the edge of Jan's drive; he was behind a dark blue Lincoln with the trunk open which was parked behind Jan's Mercedes.
Jumping out and leaving the motor running, Jack ran around the front of the vehicle and up the porch stairs to find the front door standing open, inviting him in. He stopped in the doorway and listened as he looked down at the 45 semi-automatic in his hand, finding the safety and thumbing it off.
Hearing nothing, he stepped into the foyer cautiously, noting Jan's purse and a pile of loose keys on the table under the big mirror. Slowly, and as quietly as possible, he pulled the slide back on the pistol, loading a bullet into the chamber and cocking the hammer back. Bringing it up in a two-handed grip, he pointed it at the ceiling, close to his body, as he stepped quietly to the front room doorway and scanned the room. Finding no one there, he turned toward the kitchen doorway and moved forward quietly.
Pausing behind the wall around the doorway, he crouched before swinging one foot through. Staying low as he went into the entrance, he quickly scanned the room across the barrel of the gun. Still nothing. Stepping quickly into the kitchen, he turned and leaned against the door frame, looking back into the foyer. Glancing over his shoulder to see what was scattered on the floor in front of the refrigerator, it took him a few seconds to recognize the phone.
His heart raced as he became very aware of the situation. The security guards had been brutally murdered sometime this morning. Something had happened in the yard, but he couldn't tell when. The house was wide open. There had been some kind of struggle in the kitchen, and he couldn't find Jan.
Steeling himself, he crept around the wall of the staircase to the bottom stair as he scanned them across the barrel of the gun. He tried to recall if the wooden stairs made much noise but decided there was nothing he could do about it anyway, as he started toward the landing, two steps at a time.
So far so good, he thought when he made it to the landing with no giveaway creaks or moans from the old wood. With a quick scan back down the stairs, he continued up, one step at a time, stooping to keep his head below the top of the stairs as long as possible.
Stopping three stairs below the top, he raised his head and looked out across the hall floor. He could see that Jan's bedroom door was open but nothing else. Continuing up the stairs, he froze when the top step creaked loudly.
Sweat beaded on his forehead and ran down his face in small streams to drip off his chin. Hearing nothing, he lifted his foot off the board, hoping it wouldn't creak again and stepped over it onto the hall carpet.
Moving along the hallway wall on the same side as Jan's bedroom, he slid past the closed door to the bedroom that he'd stayed in before and moved closer to Jan's. The first thing that came into view was Jan's laptop, sitting on her makeup table; it was open and running. A step closer and a camera came into view; it was pointed away from the table toward the direction that the bed would be. Looking back at the computer, Jack could see a chat box open and what appeared to be a black box where the camera's broadcast view would have been.
Stopping at the edge of Jan's bedroom door, Jack listened intently, still holding the cocked pistol in both hands, pointed toward the ceiling. Glancing across the hall, he saw the door to Jan's study slightly ajar. Shifting his head, he could see nothing but part of her desk and bookcases behind it. Deciding the bedroom seemed to be the only place with activity, he leaned up to the edge of the door and peered around the frame.
There was Jan spread-eagled on the bed in just a pair of panties, her breasts heaving as she strained to look down across her body at the door. A gag stopped her from yelling or calling out, and a heavy white plaster cast on one foot, contrasted sharply with her tanned, smooth skin.
Jumping through the doorway, not caring about the noise, Jack scanned the room over the barrel of the gun and almost shot what appeared to be someone slouched in the corner by the closet until something about that person's posture told Jack they were either passed out or dead already. Taking a deep breath, he surveyed the familiar form and finally realized it was Dave - the security guy he had wanted to fire. Seeing no one else in the room, Jack was at the edge of Jan's side in two strides and found she was tied to each corner of the bed.
Eyes wide with fright, Jan's head bobbed as much as it could while her body strained against the constraints with a soft moaning sound coming from behind her gag.
Jack dropped the gun beside her body and moved quickly to the closest wrist where he tried to figure out how to untie it. Jan seemed desperate as she pulled and bucked when he gave up on her wrist and followed the rope to the corner of the bed to see if he could break the bed or untie the rope at that end.
"Shhhhh, Jan, it's going to be okay," Jack whispered as he finally worked the rope's loop under the leg of the Hollywood frame, setting her arm free. Coming up from his crouched position, Jan's arm flailed wildly, whipping the rope across his back, before coming off the bed to point toward the door.
Spinning on his heels, Jack knew he was too late as he felt the blow to the back of his head. The sight of Jan's heaving, naked breasts and her eyes wide with fear faded quickly as he slipped into darkness.
The two men in the antenna farm on wheels sat, slouched against the two front doors of the van. They were parked off the main road over a small knoll just out of sight of the entrance to Jan's lane, talking about last weekend's football game. Both were seemingly bored to tears while the one in the driver's seat smoked a cigarette and fiddled with the radio, trying to find a station that suited him. The static sound of voice and hiss from a police scanner droned in the back of the van.
The chirp of a cell phone seemed to bring both of them up in their seats as the smoker reached on the dash and flipped the top open on the small silver phone.
"Yeah," was the only thing he said, holding the small piece of plastic to his ear. A minute later, he closed the phone, hanging it up without saying goodbye.
"The Woo woman isn't in her apartment. Charlie finally gave up when he saw no activity after Mr. Pond left and snuck up the fire escape to peer in the windows. Couldn't see anyone so he climbed back down and went back up inside and picked the lock. There was no one home, and he said she probably left when it was still dark, shortly after Mr. Pond did."
"Have they checked the airlines, yet?"
"Doing that now."
"I don't trust her."
"Neither did Charlie. That's why he stayed behind to keep an eye on her." Pausing to study the horizon, he added, "Mr. Martin is not going to be happy."
The other shifted in his seat and said, "Tell me about it."