Church the next morning was a joyous event. Matt stood in for Patsy as music director and Atticus announced the arrival of Patsy and Le’Vander’s boy.
“What are you doing?” Jeremy hissed at Venutha.
“What? Nothing.” She sat back on the pew.
“You look like you’re looking for someone.”
“I might be.”
“Who are you looking for?”
“Well, sit still and she’ll find you. What, did you bathe in perfume this morning?” Jeremy rubbed his nose.
“It’s not a her. It’s a him. And he happens to like my cologne.”
“Shush!” Wren-at-Dawn commanded. He turned his attention back to the choir and the way Lanza’s lips moved as she sang.
Venutha stuck her tongue out at him. Jeremy grinned.
Debbie sat with her eyes closed. Her head ached with the remnant of a nightmare and her left shoulder twinged. She must have slept on it wrong. In her lap and sprawled beside her was the dog Venutha told her last night was named Awohah. The dog sighed deeply and Debbie rubbed his ears.
“No kidding? My kid has been begging me to take her to Gatlinburg.” John Parker frothed two lattes for the couple at the counter. “I don’t suppose you’d do me a favor?”
“What?” the older man asked cautiously.
“If I give you a postcard, would you mail it from Gatlinburg? Then she could – you know – have a piece of it.”
“That’s sweet,” the woman said.
“Here,” John snatched one out of his apron. “I already had it made out and stamped.”
The older man hesitated but the woman took it. “Elizabeth Court. What a lovely name.”
“Ah, she’s a real killer, she is. I don’t get to see her often; I move around a lot. So she keeps tabs on me by the postmarks. Puts pins in this huge wall map, following me around the country.”
“Isn’t that sweet,” she smiled.
The man held out a ten.
“No, no. The latte’s on me. One favor for another.”
“Well, thanks,” he softened.
John Parker smiled. He’d always been able to tell so much of the truth that what little – but vital – bit of it that was the lie was overlooked by all but the most cynical of listeners.
Isabel Cortez made him send out a postcard every Monday, to keep track of his whereabouts in his search for his daughter. Now that he’d found Hreno, he had to find a way to snap the leash that Earther held on him.
When he first escaped five and a half years ago – he broke the neck of an orderly at the prison’s clinic, stole his clothes and identification, and left at the end of his shift – he discovered the wonder of this new planet Earth. Cars – Stelt like cars – and dancing. Stelt loved to dance. The food was tolerable, once he got the hang of money; and got some money. But he liked popcorn, the kind with butter and salt that left his hands all greasy. What he didn’t like were the whores. Women and men would befriend him and take care of him, but then they wanted sex but refused to be married. That made them whores, and he killed every single one of them, after raping them as punishment for their promiscuity. When he was arrested, after wandering in search of his daughter for seventeen months, he freely admitted to three of the slayings. Had they asked him about all the others, he would have admitted to them, too, but they didn’t ask. While awaiting trial, she showed up – Isabel Cortez. When they were alone, she proclaimed herself as his new lord, his Strategia Oscura. She offered him freedom of a sort, if he could find his daughter.
“Of course I can find my daughter. We’re connected. She’s woven from me. Set me free and I’ll lead you to her if she’s still on this world.”
It was completely the truth. Everything except, “I’ll lead you to her.” He would never allow Cortez near his little girl. She made his last Strategia Oscuro look meek.
He heard the bells on First Baptist’s tower and took off his apron. He had the afternoon off. And he did have plans.
When Debbie arrived at the old church at 9:45 Monday morning, Morgan was waiting for her.
“I turned on the air, and started a pot of coffee. I set up the chairs in a circle. Didn’t know if you’d need the tables or not.” He opened the door and took the canvas satchel from her. He frowned at the weight of the bag.
“Books,” she supplied. “Crochet books.”
“I’ll put them on the counter.”
She watched him as he walked away from her toward the kitchen. He was trimly dressed in khaki jean shorts and a flowered Jimmy Buffett shirt. Leather – hand-tooled by the look of them – sandals allowed his feet a quiet passage along the Formica floor. Debbie glanced up at the florescent lights and ceiling fans. “This is nice. Thank you, Colonel.”
“Actually,” he brought her a mug of coffee. “It’s General, or it will be soon.”
He shrugged. “It means I’ll only have five years before I have to retire, but I’m ready.”
“A lot can happen in five years.”
“A lot has.”
“The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps.”
Debbie looked down. “It’s an old gardener’s saying about transplants. It seems to apply to major life changes, too.”
“You’re very wise. It like that.” He stepped closer. “I like you.”
He put his arms around her and drew her into his embrace. She succumbed eagerly to his kisses.
Debbie bolted upright, muffling a little shriek.
“Geeze, sorry!” Thomas backed away.
Debbie looked at the clock beside the bed. “These damn nightmares.”
“Mommy, Grandma said ‘damn’!” the boy ran down the hall.
To Hold Back the Dark
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.