The Reckoning: Chapter Thirty-Five and Epilogue

reckoning-cover

 

obrien

 

 

   CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

 

The days after the mine passed quickly as they also dragged by—in a complete contradiction of terms. Days full of hope, and lots of love and laughter. Also, a fair amount of sorrow and sadness. A lot of blood had been spilled, and a lot of life lost in the pursuit of the madman Saal Moradi.

So much of it had been innocent.

I woke up in the hospital. Saint Mary’s in Tucson, to be exact. A couple of days had passed. This time, no visits to the afterworld for me. The entire space of time was just a complete blank.

And no more visitors from the netherworld either. The voices that I had heard below the old Carson Mine had belonged to real enough people. Two men who, like us, were attracted to the sight of the vultures and the smell of death. Local retired gentlemen, they loved to spend their mornings panning for trace gold in the many dry washes of the area. When they had ventured into McCafferty Canyon that day, they had gotten a lot more “fun” than they had bargained for.

They had made a possible connection in their minds with the body they had discovered near the road, to the mine on the canyon wall above them. Once up there to check it out, they were fortunately able to spot Matt and I on the desert floor below. The fact that we had survived, was in the end, mostly just plain dumb luck, rather than our own so-called superpowers. That was often the case with Matt and me.

It was good though, that I had been able to carry Matt the short distance that I did. Without that, we would have never been visible. Apparently, we two had the old guardian angels working a lot of overtime—as usual.

I guess Matt and I couldn’t really fault ourselves too much for finally running out of gas. It had, after all, been a rough couple of weeks.

They had found us in late morning. The darkness, and the cold that I had experienced, was only in my own mind. Part of my extremely ill body and brain beginning to shut down—according to the doctors. We had been air-lifted in to the hospital, none too fast for either of us, as they had explained.

Things were going well for me. It took them a while to figure out exactly what was going on with my body while I was out. Radiation poisoning, it turned out, was not all that common in southern Arizona. Finally, they were able to get the right mixture of drugs into me to begin to dissipate the poison. I was going to make it all right, but they warned me of the possibility of long-term bone-marrow damage. One specialist said that he thought it would probably come back to haunt me in my old age. Another said that I would probably die of that old age long before that happened.

Doctors—what the heck do they really know anyhow?

The docs all asked me how it had happened. I simply replied that it was a really long story.

I would carry a couple of keepsakes of the experience. One, my time-travel abilities were gone—and they looked likely to stay that way. Hard as I tried in the hospital, I couldn’t move even a second in time. The other was that somewhere between Calvert Cliffs and the old Carson mine, what was left of my rapidly thinning hair had turned snow-white. Maggie, echoing me, said it just made me look even sexier. I was pretty sure that was not the total truth, but I loved her for the lie.

Maggie, Linh, and newborn little Albert joined us a few days after we were rescued. Maggie, to try to look after me, and Linh to care for her husband. I had gotten pretty lucky, considering some of the long odds I had been up against at the Cliffs.

Not so much with Matt McCabe. He was hurt very badly.

All of the injuries that I had observed when I found him at the bottom of the cliff were in fact true. Plus a few more. Fortunately, his neck was all right, or my moving him might have finished killing him. Along with two fractured hips though, was also a rather badly broken back. It was in all likelihood, going to put him in a wheelchair they said. That was, if he woke up from the coma he had slipped into.

They were wrong on all counts, as it turned out. But then of course, the doctors didn’t know what a determined son-of-a-gun they were dealing with. Matt did come out of the coma after only about ten days. And he also came out of the rehab center they sent him to, about four months after that. And he came out on working legs, albeit piloting an old guy walker.

The three of us made no end of fun about that to him. He didn’t care, because he knew, as did we, that it was only temporary. He finally threw it away a couple of months later on. Matt would walk, and speak, a little haltingly for the rest of his life. But walk and talk he would. And, he and his lovely wife, would remain my dearest friends until my last day on earth.

Matt would continue on, aging from where he was, for the rest of his life. He always retained his most excellent good looks, but when he and Linh showed up months later for our double marriage vow renewal ring thingy ceremony with Maggie and me, I was happy to note just a sprinkling of gray hair mixed with the black on the top of his head.

Dashing.

The cow-lick, along with his own time-travel abilities, were gone forever.

My boy was growing up. He blamed the head injury for the fact that he couldn’t “travel” anymore. Me, I thought it probably had a lot more to do with a higher power. One that had been watching over us both for a very long time. I had some proof of that fact. The two men that had found us said they had started out for another famous area mine, out on Ruby Road. But for some strange reason, they both said, they were at the last minute, attracted to the Carson diggings.

The re-commitment ceremony was sweet. Back home in Bellevue, and out on Lake Washington. Behind my house on Mercer. On a fine summer day. All four of us lined up in a row—smiling idiotically. It made for some great pictures.

Maggie and I had been married as soon as I was released from the hospital, in a small private ceremony. We both decided that we had waited just about long enough to be with each other in the biblical sense. I still wobbled a little walking down the aisle, and Maggie was still hurting plenty from her wounded side, but we did just fine on our wedding night, albeit very carefully.

And it was well worth waiting for. Waking up for the first time with Maggie the next morning was just about the finest moment of joy I had ever experienced in my life.

We were able to join with the wheelchaired Harold Wiggins about a month later back in DC for a joint memorial service for both his gallant grandson Trey, as well as the equally brave and stalwart Brick Wahl. It was a pleasure to be there to honor these men, and another one to be asked to speak and tell the world what I thought of the two of them. Wish I could tell you I got through it without tears—but why lie?

Shahida Faris, recently promoted to special agent, was there too, along with Dallin Weeks. He had survived his wounds, but had lost quite a bit of one of his lungs. He was also still in a wheelchair the day of the memorial service, but indicated that he didn’t intend to stay there for long. He was happy to accept my offer of employment with my detective agency. I convinced him that I was intending to expand it greatly on my return home, and would benefit from another skilled special investigator.

And as a bonus, that even turned out to be true.

Howard Carter had returned home to recuperate from his leg wounds, and was finally making good on his old threat to retire. The city council of Bellevue was only too happy to comply with his request to appoint his suggested replacement. It sounded good too.

Bellevue, Washington Chief of Police, Linh McCabe.

I’ll never forget the first meeting I had with him when I got home. He wanted to know just what happened to his pistol. I told him I had accidently dropped it—just before the atomic bomb went off. I told him I had slightly more important things to worry about right at that particular moment. Old Howard didn’t consider that to be much of an excuse though, and made me buy a brand-new replacement for him. I was happy to do so, and right while I was at it, got a second one for myself. Howard had been after me for a long time to upgrade my armament. After the Moradi affair, I had to confess he made a good point.

Besides, I had to admit it looked pretty darned good on me in a spanking new leather shoulder holster. My homburg was a total loss with the holes and bloodstains, and as I didn’t want to admit to Sam McCabe and his girlfriend that I had accidentally destroyed their Christmas present, I simply bought another exact copy for a replacement.

They never knew the difference, and I intentionally left that part out of my many retellings of the story.

The President made it out of the country, but he wasn’t about to be coming back. He emailed, of all things, a resignation to the new United States President, Jonas John Watkins. America was in good hands again. And the old President? Well, those in the know didn’t really believe he was going to last all that long in the bug and malaria infested dark corner of South America that he had ran to. He was wanted for high treason. It also seemed that Shahida Faris was able to file a criminal complaint with the US Justice Department against the man that had once been the most powerful person in the world—for the murder of her housekeeper. Probably wouldn’t have held up in court—but the President didn’t know that.

Poetic justice in action.

Like I always said; Karma—she can be one nasty lady.

I was also pleased to note that not a single solitary American-Muslim person had a thing to do with all that had transpired—radical or otherwise. They had simply been a fall-guy. Or more accurately, I guess—a fall-people.

The good lady at the Detroit Airport that had loaned her bullet-proof vest to Linh never did get it back. Linh decided to keep it as a souvenir of the occasion. She did send a brand-new replacement though. Along with a heartfelt thank you card. And a check for the old vest.

Large enough for the good lady to buy a new car.

And a new house.

And college educations for her two children.

And a month-long vacation for the entire family.

Like I said—Linh had some kind of class, and some kind of grace. One of a kind. And the only one that would ever exist. We had come pretty close to losing her. Her miraculous survival was enough to make me rethink myself on bullet-proof vests. You can only tempt guardian angels so much, and I thought mine must be getting pretty darned tired.

So, I bought myself one too.

I purchased the old Carson mine. It turned out that it had always been on private, not public land, and was owned and held as an investment by a Mesa real-estate developer. That fact made the deal easy. He told me he always considered the property to be pretty much a dog, and was only too happy to part with it for a more than fair price.

Before the ink was even dry on my new deed, I hired a construction company to go up there and blast the thing shut. The ugly face was now gone, and no human would ever go inside of it again. The land would never be used again either, and I would hold the deed forever to make sure that was true. The history of that place of sorrow was closed for good, and the hellish pocket-watch buried and gone for all time.

Or was it?

I knew that I was going to have to make sure.

Roan McCabe was exhumed from his crude grave, and along with the bodies of Aedan and Joshua, air-shipped overseas to the McCabe family vault in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland.  Aedan and Roan were back home where they belonged. And Joshua, we figured, in a place where he could rest comfortably. He had become a madman. But not all of that was completely his own fault. In the end, his remains were treated with the respect and dignity they deserved.

The long summer of recovery at last faded into Autumn and the first of the color was already showing in the trees out on Mercer Island. The time had finally come for me to make a couple of trips. The first was to the west coast—with Maggie. California to be exact. The warm, sunny, and very pleasant city of San Diego. To see a lady, as it were—about a girl.

A girl by the name of Jennifer Joyce Ames—the daughter of the woman Brick had accidentally killed years before in Deadwood, Colorado. It hadn’t been too terribly hard for my newest crack investigator Dallin Weeks to come up with the name and address. I remembered that Brick had told me that he regularly sent money to the kid’s aunt to help out with things. It was a tradition that Maggie and I intended to keep up.

We weren’t nearly prepared for what we found when we finally got there.

We walked in on a funeral. That of the aunt. Turned out that she had been sick for quite some time, fighting cancer. I felt more than a just a little out of place and uncomfortable as I described who I was, and what my relationship had been with their late financial mentor, Brick Wahl.

Maggie, with her amazing and disarmingly wonderful women’s ways, helped considerably in breaking the ice.

The girl, Jenny, as everyone called her, was everything and more that Brick had said she was. Bright, articulate, wise, poised beyond her years, and cute as a button to boot. Both Maggie and I fell in love with her instantly. Turned out she didn’t have a lot of options facing her at the moment, with her dear aunt gone. She had been entertaining an offer from a relative in distant New York, to live with them for the next two years, until she reached the age of majority.

Jenny was a sixteen-year-old at the moment; legal, according to California law, to make decisions concerning her own future, on her own behalf. After only a couple of hours talking with Maggie and I, she decided to accept an employment offer on our part with Watchmaker Enterprises, my detective agency. She would be joining Emily Hatcher, as yet another under-worked, but very much over-compensated employee of the firm.

Hey, it was a tradition with me, the world’s dumbest and most overly-generous boss of all time. Truth of the matter was, I loved the role, and played it to perfection. Part of Jenny’s compensation package would include her own nearby apartment and transportation—just as soon as she learned to drive, that was.

For her part of the bargain, she was only required to finish her high-school education while she did part-time secretarial work for the company. If she wanted to go on to college after that, she would most certainly be encouraged to do so, fully paid for by the “firm,” of course.

We were so happy that she accepted. Jenny would never be made to feel like a charge, or a burden. Although she would become as close to Maggie and I as a daughter, she would be supporting herself, and paying her own way in life—while at the same time, Maggie and I would be keeping a good close eye on her.

We both thought Brick would be happy with the arrangement.

I had my attorney draw up the necessary papers and contract. Jenny would be returning to Bellevue with Maggie.

Me, I had one more journey to make. I talked to Maggie about it, and she agreed.

This one, I had to do alone.

This one, was just between the watch—and myself.

 

arm-and-gun

 

    EPILOGUE

 

The taxi finally came to a complete stop. I took a look around before I finally opened the door, anxious and yet not, to see and to do the thing I had come to this place for.

I paid the cabbie off and started walking up Virginia Park Street, and to the house there that I remembered so well. I had been a guest in it once—around three quarters of a century or so before.

Now I owned it. The keys jingled in my pocket. It had been empty and on the market for some time. The purchase had been a piece of cake.

Finally, the old Victorian came into view. Surprisingly, little had changed in all those years since the days of Kid McCoy, and the spectral and ghostly love of his life, Theresa Mors.

I was sad that I hadn’t been able to find out what had happened to their daughter. It would haunt me, and I knew that someday I was going to have to do something about that.

The house, unlike so many in the once great and now fallen city of Detroit, had been well taken care of. The Kid’s hardwood floors were now carpeted, and the stylish wallpaper had turned to paint.

The color scheme wasn’t all that great, but it was all fixable—and would provide a little employment to a local home improvement company. My small contribution to rebuilding the economy of the city.

The house itself would do the same. I intended to rent it out—dirt cheap—to the first young, deserving, and hard-working area family that I could locate. The local Salvation Army post was already helping with the search for just such a family. The fact that I intended to charge rent was not to benefit me, an already far too wealthy old guy. It was to benefit them. The money received would go straight back to the Salvation Army—to help many more.

But first, I had a job to do here this day.

I opened the door to the Kid’s nursery—this time with little effort. Memories of that long-ago night, not all that terribly long ago, flooded my mind. It had been well cleaned and fixed up over the years.

It held no ghosts now—friendly or otherwise.

I made my way to the backyard, and to the stately oak tree that I knew would be there. I had already confirmed that fact from Google street view, at the time I decided to buy the property. It had grown considerably in all decades since the Kid, Brick and I had entombed Matt McCabe’s pocket-watch into its interior.

In 1940, the oak had been a young tree. One that wasn’t quite growing the way it was supposed to. The tree had developed a hollow—fairly unusual for a younger oak. Anyway, it was getting large enough, back in the year 1940, that it was probably going to kill the tree. The Kid told us that day that he had been intending to fill it with concrete. He said that generally saved the tree’s life. Since we needed a safe place to stash the watch, the Kid had suggested that it go in the hole first.

So, that’s just exactly what we did. It turned out to be a pretty job. The old hollow had closed around the cement plug over the years. I could just now make out where it had been, an exposed tip of seventy-six-year-old concrete still visible. I had little doubt that the watch was still in there, just as it was also at the bottom of the old Carson mine—covered with thousands of tons of solid earth and stone.

Common sense would tell a person that a single object cannot exist in two places at the same time. But those who would say that did not know the pocket watch from hell. I had put it in this tree. Matt and I had buried it in a mountain. Where was it now? In one place or the other? Or in both at the same time.

I intended to take no chances.

The tree removal service that I had hired arrived right on time. It was a big outfit, with a big job to do. It would take a large piece of equipment to do the job I requested—the complete removal of the old tree, and complete chipping of it, right here on the property, and right before my eyes. Even with the enormous rig, it was going to take several hours. It had cost me a fortune, but it was worth it.

The operator informed me that I need not be concerned about the old concrete in the trunk of the tree. He said that “Big Nellie,” their chipping monster machine would happily digest it too, along with any old chains, nails, and/or  screws that it might come across. They, and any other metal objects in the tree, would all come out in the end, tiny pieces—not one, larger than an eighth of an inch or so.

I made myself comfortable, sitting on the back porch with my feet up on the rail and quietly sipping soda as I observed the tree coming down. Again, as in days of yore—it was mighty pretty work. All the chips would be hauled away and dumped. Since it bio-degradable matter, the operator explained, it was all going into the fast-flowing Detroit River.

I was a little sad about killing the grand old tree, but I consoled myself that it had died for a worthwhile cause. No one would ever possess the watch again. No one would ever use its powers—powers for both good and evil.

You see, in the end I re-learned an age-old lesson.

It’s not good to fool mother nature.

And it’s not good to play with time either.

By the time the afternoon began to fade to night, the oak was gone. It was time for me to be that way too. I packed up my few things, turned the key again in the front door, and headed back out to Woodward Avenue, there to catch an easy cab to the airport and my flight back to Bellevue. There were people waiting for me there.

People I loved. One of those was that infamous scalawag Jack McGuire. I needed to get that guy back to work. Christmas was coming too, not far off. I had lights to string, and trees to decorate.

The house on Mercer Island was dark and sullen no more. It was airy and light, and full of love and laughter.

It was home.

As I walked up the street, I turned and looked around once more for what would be my last time. First, I saw the street and the house the way it was at the moment. And then my mind drifted back to 1940, and the way it had been. And then the fifties, the sixties, and so forth—it constantly changing and the scene shifting before me. At first I thought it was just a trick of my mind. It wasn’t. My body was going along for the ride.

My time-travel abilities were returning. And why shouldn’t they?—it was never really about the watch anyway. It was about my mind. As the poison of the radiation slowly cleared from the tissue of my brain, the ability was slowly coming back.

Besides—I was still displaced.

Nothing was ever going to change that.

I wondered what to do with my re-found ability. I wondered who to tell. In the end, I decided to tell no one. I had absolutely no intention whatsoever to stop being an annoying and crafty old white-haired private investigator. Such an “extra” little ability as was mine was sure to come in handy from time to time in that pursuit.

Besides—I had always thought that every man should have at least one little secret that he kept all to himself. One tiny little tidbit of information that was all his—and all his alone.

This was mine.

 

detective-2

     

     And that is the conclusion of THE RECKONING. Please watch these pages for an upcoming announcement of it’s publication on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other outlets. Thank you so much for reading. APROPOS OF NOTHING will soon begin again posting entertainment, and other blogposts of general interest.

     Looking forward to the new year, and continuing friendship with the readers that we love.

     Goodnight . . . 

 Dumb Joke of the Week:

 

dumb-joke

The Reckoning: Chapter Thirty-Four . . . The Mine (Part Two)

reckoning-cover

the-mine

 

 

Southern Arizona

Present Day

 

We smelled the body even before we saw the circling vultures.

The road to the old Carson Mine, or more precisely, what was left of it, ran for about a mile and a half, winding its lazy way along the side of McCafferty Canyon. It was weed, mesquite, and cactus choked. Not to mention lots of loose rocks—ankle breakers every one. Matt told me that it wasn’t a whole lot better back on August 8th 1952—the date of the time-travel accident that would cause so much tragedy in his life. The Carson Mine was ancient even then, dating back to the late eighteen eighties gold rush days. It was named not for the famous western hero, but for a much lesser known local Tucson business mogul; Victor Carson.

A gentle breeze blew in our direction. On it was carried the unmistakable scent of rotting human carrion. The giant birds had picked it up as well, as their lazy circles in the sky grew lower and lower. The odor was coming from a place not far from the recent campsite of the four McCabes.

We made our way there now.

A dead man lay sprawled over the recently dug grave of another. The murder weapon, a shovel, lay to one side. Even though the body was beginning to blacken and bloat, Matt was easily able to identify the man as his now very late grandfather, Aedan McCabe. We couldn’t know for sure, but it seemed likely that the grave was for his son Roan.

Their long lives, and time-travel days, were at last over.

Joshua McCabe was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t hard to imagine him as the perpetrator.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I should have guessed,” Matt said. “The mental illness in him was never as easy to see as it was in his sister. But it was there. I just refused to admit it.”

“Where do you think he is?”

“Who knows?” he said sadly. “What I do know is that he won’t be gone for long. He’ll be back.”

“What now, Matt?”

“How you holding up, Johnny?”

“Been better, Matt. But I’ll be okay.” In truth, I felt like I was about to vomit up the breakfast I hadn’t even eaten. My body was beginning to sweat in the morning sun, although I was chilled to the bone.

“I’d like to keep going, Johnny. I’d like to end it this morning. I’m glad the watch is gone. Promise me you’ll never get it back. It drove these two men mad. Both of them, and myself as well, meddled in things they shouldn’t have. You’re looking at the wages of their sin. Hell, Johnny—I’m the wages of their sin—and my own.”

“Let’s end it then, Matt. Let’s drive a stake right through the middle of its heart.”

“The mine is about a mile or so. Can you make it that far?”

“Yes. I can make it.”

 

vultures

 

We started up the road. It was still fairly cool, but it was plain to see that the morning would heat up fast, just as it had all those years ago. We walked on in silence. For some reason, it didn’t much seem like a time for small-talk. I could see the bleak entrance in the distance, just above a rock cliff.

At last we were there. The mine looked ominous enough at a distance. Up close, it was nothing less than foreboding. The entrance formed a mouth—with teeth. Above that, two smaller and shallow glory-holes formed eyes. Not friendly ones either. This place looked like a Halloween jack-0-lantern. Made of stone. My stomach lurched again as I thought of my friends bones slowly rotting away for years in that airless ossuary. There was a flat area on the outside, maybe half an acre in size. Barbed wire tried unsuccessfully to block the way in.

Matt asked me if I wanted to see the inside. He sounded like a tour-guide. I would have loved nothing more than to say no, but I knew we had to check the interior for Joshua. I drew my little Smith. For the first time, I noticed that it was empty, and had been since the tunnel. I had a couple of speed-loaders along with me and used one to recharge the little revolver as we entered the shaft. Matt still had his forty-five, but didn’t pull it. Looking back, I realize now that perhaps he was already beginning to see his fate, and just didn’t care.

Once inside, the temperature dropped sharply, as did the light-level. There was an additional hole in the roof of the shaft that provided minimal illumination, and our eyes quickly adjusted. I could make out the small room to the left, just where Matt had depicted it in his stories of that day. The door was long gone and a quick glance proved that it was unoccupied. Ahead, and to the right, the shaft opened up a bit, forming another slightly larger room. There, in the middle, was the vertical shaft that had once become a small mass grave. Someone had tried to cover it with plywood, but it had been recently kicked aside. I could easily make out the fresh scuffs in the wood. Somehow I didn’t relish the idea of checking out the interior very much, but I forced myself close enough to peer over the side.

It was empty.

I turned to look at Matt. A slight rueful smile played on his lips as he slowly pulled off his shirt, exposing his bare torso. He wrapped the arms around his waist. My eyes were pulled immediately to his upper chest and shoulder area and its mass of scar tissue, courtesy of Kylie Blakely’s butchers knife. I hadn’t seen it before. The woman had done quite a job.

He was re-creating that horrible day in 1952, almost to the letter. One little difference though. This time he re-tucked his pistol outside of the knotted arms of the shirt. Matt was ready for action.

And the time had come.

He held out his hand.

I took it.

And once again, it was August the eight—nineteen hundred and fifty-two.

And there were voices outside.

I looked around. A door had magically appeared on the entrance to the old arms room. The padlock lay on the floor. The plywood over the hole disappeared. The temperature dropped a few more degrees. I was back at the beginning—with my friend. A friend with which I had stopped a serial killer and a madman, faced Jack the Ripper in a narrow passageway of Hell, and much more recently—saved the world.

But now, this time, I could do nothing.

He looked at me. He didn’t have to ask the question that was on his mind.

I nodded. “I know the rules,” I said.

He placed his hand gently on my shoulder. “See you in a few,” he said.

“See you in a few,” I repeated. Matt turned then and walked out into the sunlight. I stood stupidly, listening to the muted sound of voices outside the mine—one was Matt’s. Others I did not know. I knew what was happening. I Had heard the story many times before. This time I simply waited for the outcome. I waited for the jury to come in. I waited to find out if my friend lived or died.

The shooting started—a lot of it. Full automatic fire, spaced with short bursts of pistol rounds. Each one wounded my heart. Yet I remained frozen where I was, unmoving—waiting.

Finally, it was over. I could smell gunpowder as it drifted into the mine. There was nothing—no sound. Not a voice. Nothing. Stone, cold silence. I waited, hardly taking a breath. Finally, after the space of perhaps a minute, I heard footsteps approaching.

Matt McCabe appeared before me. Alive. Whole. And unharmed.

He tossed his empty pistol on the floor or the mine. His eyes met mine, unspeaking. And then he simply said, “They’re dead, Johnny. All three. The third man was just behind me, about twenty feet away. I got them all.”

“What about the watch?” I asked. I could plainly see it in his left hand. It, just like Matt, was uninjured. Matt tossed it on the floor too. Right next to the pistol. Then he kicked both into the hole in the floor.

“Let’s go home, Johnny,”

“Let’s go home, Matt,” I agreed. “I think I’m just about ready for that hospital now.”

Again Matt placed his hand on my shoulder, and we returned. We were back in the present. I glanced in the hole again. No sign of either a watch or a gun. But then, over the years a lot of debris had been tossed in, no doubt burying both. It was a good place for them.

We walked outside.

“What about Cindy Matthews?” I asked. “What about Lucas McCabe?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Matt replied. “I don’t know how that all worked out. I can’t even guess. I know Cindy’s dead now. I know I attended her funeral. All the rest? Well, Johnny, that I’m leaving in the hands of God. Now—right here today, in this place and time, I’m going home to my wife and child. Linh and Matthew Albert McCabe.”

Wordlessly, I shook my head yes. We both walked out to the edge of the cliff. It was going to be a beautiful day. It was good to breath fresh air. I could see light traffic on the Arivaca road heading into town a few miles away. I looked at the face of my friend. For a long, long time he had been torn between two worlds, and between two times. Not any longer. He was finally a free man. Free of the past, free of his curse. No longer a time-travel freak. Just a normal man.

Heading into the future.

And then it happened. Way too fast for me to be able to stop.

Joshua McCabe had been hiding in the bushes, just outside the mine. Now, enraged that his grandfather had survived the shootout, he charged. Matt didn’t see him in time either, as Joshua screamed the word “bastard” and crashed into him, both men sailing over the edge of the cliff, tumbling soundlessly in the air. I reached out reflectively to try to grab them—much too late.

I heard them hit the rocks below, with a sickening thud, and then sliding noises. I tried to look over the side, but was unable to see anything. Hurriedly, I worked my way around the stone cliff and down to where I thought they would be. My stomach lurched hard with the exertion and my legs once again were trying to give out on me. My condition was worsening fast.

I found Joshua first. He was dead—his neck plainly broken. There was no pulse. Blank, lifeless eyes looked at me. Matt was just below him. At a glance I could see his fractured leg with a long piece of bone protruding from it. An arm was also grotesquely turned behind his back. I suspected a hip fracture as well, from the twisted aspect of his torso. Much worse than that was his grossly split head, just behind his hairline. He had landed on the rocks hard. Blood poured out as well from his nose and mouth.

I didn’t know how it was possible, but I found a faint pulse when I checked his wrist. I knew I needed to get him help as quickly as I could if I were to have a chance of saving his life. I tried my cell phone, but there was no signal. I ripped my outer shirt off and wrapped it around his head to try to staunch the blood flow.

Unbelievably, he regained consciousness for a few moments and opened his eyes.

“Joshua. Where’s Joshua?”

“He’s dead, Matt. I’m sorry—he didn’t survive the fall.”

His voice was faint, and halting. ‘Two of them, Johnny. Two grandchildren. Two times I have been there at their deaths.”

“It’s not your fault, Matt. You didn’t do this. You didn’t put them on the paths they took. You can’t blame yourself for this.”

“Tell that to God for me. Will you do that, Johnny? Please tell that to God for me.” His voice faded out.

“You aren’t meeting him today, Matt. I’m getting you out of here,” I said. I placed my hand on his forearm. I tried to will us away with all my strength. I tried to transport us to safety. I willed us to be gone with all my heart, mind, and soul. And nothing happened.

Not one single thing.

Matt was going out again. “Matt—I can’t get us out. It’s not working for me anymore. It must be the radiation. You’re going to have to do this, buddy. One more time.”

“Not today, I’m afraid, my friend. Not this day. Please, Johnny, drag me away from the mine. Don’t let me die at this hellish place—again.”

At those words, he passed completely out.

No cell phone, and no ability to transport us, I looked around in disbelief. We were near the bottom of the cliff. There was a fairly steep slope of loose shale, and then a space of maybe two-hundred yards of cactus and weeds to get back to the mine road. I thought that I might be able to pick up a signal there, but there was no way I was going to leave my friend behind and go for help alone. His final words haunted me. We were either going to get out together, or he was going to die with me.

I would keep my word. I wouldn’t leave him alone—at the mine.

I pulled his body down the rest of the slope. It was easier than I thought it would be. At the bottom, I bent down to pick him up and hoist him over my shoulder. My stomach lurched hard, and a sharp pain radiated up my spine. The world darkened around me as my legs turned to mush, but somehow I wrestled his body over my shoulder. I ignored the grinding sound of the bones of his body, and the sloshing sound of blood as it poured over my back.

I stumbled about half way to the road. I’d never be able to explain how I was able to make it that far by myself. But that was it though. I could go no farther. I sunk to my knees and lowered his body to the stony ground as gently as I could. His face was as white as snow. The blood wasn’t going there anymore. Again, I felt for a pulse and detected a still present heartbeat.

I told him how sorry I was. I said to him that I hoped it was far enough from the mine. I told him that here at the end, I wished I had been a better friend. I apologized that I was not going to be able to bring him home like I had said I would.

I told him I was sorry that I had failed him.

I told him that I loved him.

And I said goodbye.

And then I passed out too.

Then I lay still—dying in the desert—beside the best man I had ever known.

And at last the stars came out—and the cold comforting darkness enveloped us. There were voices in the dark, speaking softly—saying things I did not understand.

detective-2

Thanks for reading today. Be back in a few days with the Conclusion and Epilogue.

Dumb Joke of the Week:

dumb-joke

The Reckoning: Chapter Thirty-Four, Part One . . . The Mine

reckoning-cover

 

the-mine

 

      Chapter Thirty-Four

 

       THE MINE

 

                                             Going home, going home

                                             I’m just going home

                                             Quiet light, some still day

                                             I’m just going home

 

                                             There’s no break, There’s no end

                                             Just a living on

                                             Wide awake, with a smile

                                             Going on and on

 

                                             Going home, going home

                                             I’m just going home

                                             It’s not far, just close by

                                             Through an open door

 

                                              I am going home

                                              I’m just going home

 

                                                                               Going Home

                                                                                Annie Haslam

 

Quiet. And darkness. Not quiet, as much as an absence of sound. Not dark, as much as an absence of light. I floated—and, for the lack of a better word—rotated, in the void. Just myself, and my thoughts. And yet I did not know how I had thoughts. I had no body, no brain, no eyes or ears. And yet I could hear, and see—with my spirit. I waited for a brilliant light. I waited for a tunnel, or my stairway into heaven. Or even a descent into hell. I waited for the voice or welcome of those dear souls of my life that had gone before. Or perhaps the unwelcomed embrace of beings of the underworld.

But there was absolutely nothing.

Just me. Slowly rotating in blackest space. But then again, not even space. Space is a thing. Here there was nothing. No thing.

Only, again for lack of a better word—void.

I had no fear. No hunger or thirst.

Just my thoughts—and my life memories. I went over and over them in my mind, or more precisely, in my spirit.

Minutes turned into hours, hours into days. Days and weeks and months into decades. Centuries. Eons. And still I rotated in the void—thinking. Remembering. The good. The bad.

Everything. Every single little tiny thing. Every breath of my life. Every word. Every pain. Every sorrow. Every joy. Every comment. I saw the faces of those I had uplifted. Of those I had hurt. Of those I had helped up.

And those I had disappointed and let down. Lots of those. Almost an endless succession.

And at the end—my own.

I thought that this was my personal hell. My own personal punishment. To float forever in the black and the void, remembering.

And then I was back.

And I was on the floor. I could feel the solid surface under me. At least my clothes were completely dry. I guess after a half a million years or so, they should have been.

I looked up, and into the face of an angel. The face of the woman I loved.

Maggie peered down at me through the metal slats of a hospital bed. She spoke. When she did, I knew I was really home.

“You don’t look so good,” she said.

“You’re one to talk,” I replied. “At least I’m not the person in a hospital bed.”

“From the way you look, you should be,” she responded.

Having just returned from one eternity, I was ready for another—with this good lady.

I smiled. She smiled back.

“Did you kill him?” she asked.

“Yeah. I killed him.”

“You get hurt?”

“Not where it shows.”

“The bomb?”

“Exploded—somewhere. Somewhen. Not here.”

“Thank you, Johnny.”

“Welcome, Maggie. How bad did they get you?”

“I lost half a rib on my right side, and about half a pound of flesh the hard way. All said, I’d rather have just gone on a diet. Gonna have a nice scar for you to have to look at, Johnny.”

“It’ll just make you sexier,” I grinned.

I slowly got to my feet and kissed her gently on the lips.

“The others?”

“Howard’s out of surgery. Shattered knee, but he’s already bitching about not being able to get out of bed to pee. He’ll be okay, Johnny—but it’s going to take some time. Officer Weeks was hurt worse. He’s out of surgery too, but he’s in critical. Maybe a day or two before the jury is in on him. Touch and go until then. He’ll probably never be a cop again.”

“If he lives, Maggie, he’ll never need to be. He’ll have a job with me until the end of time. That’s if he wants one, of course.”

“Thanks, love. I think that’ll make a big difference for him. Sweet kid.”

I nodded my head in agreement. “How long was I away anyhow?”

“Maybe twelve, fourteen hours, Johnny. Don’t you know for sure?”

“Seemed a little longer for me, Maggie,” I hedged.

“How’d you get back?”

Tears welled in my eyes. I didn’t try to cover them. “I came back to the last thing I thought of before the bomb went off.”

“What was that, Johnny?”

“You,” I replied.

Now her eyes filled with tears too. For once, I was happy that I was the cause.

It was time to ask the big question. I dreaded the answer. I steeled myself.

“Little Albert—could they save him?”

Maggie smiled a little. It gave me hope.

“Why don’t you take a short trip, Johnny. One floor down. Room 311. Meet your godson.”

I let out the breath I had been holding. “Thanks, Maggie. I’ll see you in a few.”

“Take your time, big-guy. I’m not going anywhere.”

I walked to the door and paused. “I love you, half-rib.”

“I love you too, singe-face,” she replied. I touched my cheek with a finger. She was right. I had picked up a bit of a sunburn some darned place.

I made my way to the end of the hall and started down the stairway. It seemed to go on and on, and I wobbled a bit as I exited the stairwell and made my way toward room 311, slightly sick to my stomach. Halfway there, I could see Matt walking around outside in the hallway.

He had a small bundle in his arms.

baby-footprints

He saw me coming and a slow smile crossed his face. “You look like hell,” he said.

“Shut up and let me hold my godson,” I said.

Matt passed him over. He was a beautiful kid, combining the good looks of both of his parents. He smiled up at me. It was a good start.

“I’m sorry, Matt.”

“Sorry for what, Johnny—saving the world?”

“For getting Linh killed. I loved that girl like she was my own flesh and blood.”

“I know you did, Johnny. She loved you too. What would you have to say to her, Johnny? If she were standing right here next to you.”

I choked up slightly and my voice cracked a little. “I’d tell her what I wished I had while she was still alive. I’d tell her that she was the finest human being that I ever knew in my life. I’d tell her how sorry I am that’s she’s gone, and I’d tell her that I’ll miss her for all the rest of my days on earth. That’s what I’d tell her.”

Matt grinned wider. A voice spoke behind me.

“Thanks, big-guy. I’m gonna remember you said that.”

I spun around, nearly dropping little Albert as I did so. Linh stood before me, grinning, dressed rather fetchingly in a floppy hospital gown, and pulling an IV line on a rolling stand along with her.

Matt quickly grabbed the kid. “Better let me take over again, Johnny.”

I enveloped Linh in my arms. I hugged her. Very long, but not very hard. Finally, I turned her loose and took a step back.

“How is it possible?” I asked.

“A lady saved my life,” she said. “A sweet little middle-aged lady security guard out at the airport by the name of Katy, that loaned her bullet-proof vest to Howard for me to use.”

“I knew about that,” I said. “But it wasn’t enough. It was just a little light-weight vest, rated for maybe four or five common non-magnum handgun rounds. It would never have stopped those high-powered rifle loads. I saw them hit you. I saw you go down, Linh. I knew you were dead when you hit the ground.”

“It was close, Johnny. Those three rifle rounds in the chest knocked me out good, and caused little Albert’s early birth. But they didn’t go through the vest. It saved our lives.”

“How?”

“Mithril, Johnny—or at least Katy’s version of it. She never really did trust her little light-weight vest to save her life if it came to it, and she didn’t want to wear a heavier one, so she simply sewed another couple of panels of Kevlar onto the back. Right over the heart area—just in case.”

“And that was enough?” I asked wonderingly.

“No, it still wouldn’t have been enough,” Linh said. “But Moradi’s men wanted to do more than just kill a few American lawmakers. They wanted to make a big bloody statement. They wanted to make a real mess. They were shooting hollow-pointed rifle ammo. That’s why Howard’s leg was shattered so badly, and why Weeks is in such bad shape from his chest wounds.”

“Anyway, the tips of the bullets began to deform when they hit the first layer of Kevlar; just enough to tip them. And that was enough to stop them when they plowed into the panels sewed into the back of the vest. They came in sideways. Plenty enough remaining energy to knock me on my butt, but not enough to exit the back of the vest. Katy saved my life.”

“A miracle,” I said.

“Any way you slice it,” she agreed. She held out her hand, palm open. She was holding the three flattened rifle rounds.

“I’d like to show you the bruises these things left, Johnny. But I can’t. I’m a married woman now you know,” she whispered.

I smiled and hugged her again. And again, I hugged her long. My stomach tightened suddenly, and again I felt an odd sensation of sickness—deep in the pit of my stomach. I winced.

“You look like hell, Johnny. You okay?” she said.

“No, not so much,” I answered. “Would you mind if I borrowed your husband for a few minutes, Linh?”

“Not at all, Johnny. I’m not supposed to be out of bed anyhow.”

“Thanks, Linh.”

Matt took my cue and walked a short distance down the hall with me. We found a dark and quiet corner near the waiting room and faced each other.

“Where’s Shahida?”

“At the bureau. Tying up loose ends. She said she was probably the only junior agent in bureau history to put out an APB on a sitting president.”

“I don’t doubt it. I wish she was here.”

“Why?”

“To watch things here.”

“I can watch things here. Faris, Watkins and Wiggins are trying to round up bad guys.”

“You’re lying to me, watchmaker.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean. I kind of have a special insight into things like that these days. You’re planning a little trip, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe, hell. I remember what you were doing when you decided to rejoin our little group in Detroit. Now you’re going back to finish it, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, Johnny. I left my father, grandfather, and a half-crazy grandson back on that mountain. It’s time I went back and finished the thing we were all up there for.”

“And you’re going alone.” I said it as a statement of fact.

“Yeah, Johnny. I’ll be going alone. I’m ending what happened up there, so long ago. I’m ending it tonight—one way or the other. I’ve got a wife and a new son. I don’t especially want to see my boy and the woman I love grow older than I am—again. I had enough of that the first time around. I’ll end this curse, and grow old together with Linh, or I’ll leave her a widow.”

“And your son fatherless?”

“Yes, if need be. I won’t go through it all again, Johnny. I won’t.”

“I’m going with you, Matt.”

“Why?”

“You have to ask?”

“Yeah.”

“Because I’m your friend—that’s why.”

“Then be a friend and stay and watch over my family—tonight, tomorrow, and in the years to come if need be.”

“I’m going to be with you to bring you back to your family.”

“Dead or alive?”

“Yeah, watchmaker, exactly—dead or alive.”

He hesitated a few seconds. “Okay. All right. I guess that’s what friends are for.”

“We need to go tonight, Matt. We need to go now.”

“Why?

“Because—well, let’s just say—I’ve got some issues going on.”

“What kind of issues, Johnny?”

“I’m sick. Maybe real sick. Like maybe I don’t have a lot of time.”

“You dying, Johnny?”

“Maybe. Don’t know for sure, Matt. And that’s the plain truth.”

“What happened?”

“I killed Moradi, and I killed him hard. But his bomb went off—a long way away from here. I was up close and personal with it for a nano-second or so though when it did. Long enough to give me a little case of sunburn as you can see, and long enough I think, to give me some radiation poisoning as well.”

Matt’s eyes bore into my own. “We need to get you checked into the hospital, Johnny.”

“Yeah, but not tonight. You can check me in tomorrow. Assuming either one of us is still alive, that is.”

“Yes. Assuming, that.”

“We can’t run off either and just suppose that we can get back before they wake up. We may not come back at all. We need to tell them that it’s not quite over yet. We need to make them understand there’s a final chapter.”

“I’ll talk to mine, Johnny. You talk to yours.”

“Meet you at the front door in fifteen minutes, Matt?”

“Yeah, Johnny. That’ll do. It’s time, isn’t it, Johnny? You said we would get to this point, back when we formed our partnership. The day when all things would be made right. And here we are.”

“Yes, Matt. Here we are. Same as always. I look out for you, and you look out for me. It’s what friends are for.”

He nodded in agreement. “See you in fifteen,” he said.

“See you in fifteen,” I repeated.

We parted company. He walked down the hall toward Linh’s room. I headed back up the stairs. They seemed to wave a bit and move under my feet. My stomach heaved again. I knew I should be in the hospital. Didn’t really know if they could do anything for me or not, but I knew I wasn’t going to find out this night. This night I was going with my friend. Back to the place of his death. Back to where it had all began.

Back to the mine.

This night I was going to bring him back home, one way or another. A free man. A man liberated of an age-old curse. A free man—or a dead one. One would come back with me.

We met back at the front door in fifteen.

And then we stepped outside together—into the night.

 

obrien

 

Thanks for reading. Back in a few days with the conclusion of Chapter Thirty-Four of THE RECKONING.

Dumb Joke of the Week:

 

dumb-joke

 

The Reckoning: Chapter Thirty-Three . . . The Cliffs

reckoning-cover

calvert-cliffs

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

THE CLIFFS

 

I had taken my bearings quickly from Google maps before I left the tunnel of the dead. I wanted to come in on the beach, where it was devoid of obstructions like trees, wall, fences and so forth. It was a near miss. I ended up in about four feet of surf. The fact that it wasn’t over my head was the one positive fact that I had to cling to. On the negative side, I was wet—and damned cold.

As Howard had said; some superhero.

I waded ashore. I guess it was all right though. The water had washed away a lot of blood splatter that I had picked up in the tunnel slaughterhouse. And brought me wide awake and alert—an alertness I was going to desperately need facing Moradi.

Once on the beach, I could easily see my path to the reactors. There was only one double security fence in my way—no problem for me of course. I could see the sea-wall to my right. That would be the way Moradi would have approached by boat.

I made my way there now through the twilight, dripping red water.

And building a controlled hate. I imagined Linh, walking by my side.

I hoped he was still there. I hoped I wasn’t too late—to kill.

After getting through the fences, I made my way to the stone sea wall and began to climb. Once on top, I would be able to follow it inward nearly to the containment building. But before I did, I wanted to confirm the presence of Moradi. To do so, I ventured out onto the seawall. I wasn’t too worried about attracting attention. The Cliffs’ personnel were all busy much further inland. The chill evening was wearing on, soon to full darkness. The Sea-wall, the ocean itself, and me, were all dark in color.

So was Moradi’s rubber raft, moored about a hundred yards out.

I had guessed right. Even down to the outboard motor. What did puzzle me was the fact that I could clearly see a person inside the raft. Sitting rear and leaning against the motor. My heart skipped a beat as I realized I might already be too late. It certainly looked, at least at a distance, that Moradi was about to cast off. If that were true, it meant the bomb was already programmed to detonate, and not much to be done about it. I could go back a bit in time for sure, but my nuclear device de-activation skills were absolutely nil. I pulled Howard’s forty-cal Glock with the cyanide bullets and hurried forward to the raft.

I needn’t have worried.

The female sitting in the raft wasn’t Moradi, and she wasn’t alive either. I could see down into the raft from my perch on the sea wall. The body between the motor and the side-wall was stuck, and wasn’t about to move. She had been manning the motor and tiller until the last moment of her life. Several bullets from a .357 magnum had ended her life, and her slit throat hadn’t done her any good either. The Ice Queen was dead. As she had lived—by the sword; almost literally.

Again, lifeless eyes stared at me.

Her usefulness to Moradi was over. So, he had simply disposed of her. Remembering the ravaged homeless guy’s body hanging from a meat-hook in a Detroit warehouse, it was difficult for me to screw up much sympathy for her.

What worried me a hell of a lot more was the fact that Moradi hadn’t bothered to take his revolver or knife with him. I could see both plainly as the Queen’s blood washed over them as the raft tossed in the gentle surf. She had lost a lot of it. Looked like about an inch in the bottom of the boat.

Apparently Moradi didn’t feel a need for his usual armament. I guess he was right. After all, he now had a nuclear bomb. He hadn’t left that behind. That he had taken with him. Now I needed to find out where he was—fast.

I retraced my steps back along the sea-wall and started up a gentle slope toward the huge containment building. It was a long building, but I figured him to want to place the bomb right about in the middle.

I was right.

I could see his figure slowly making his way along the base of the building, bent over slightly from the weight of his suitcase.

I worked through some nearby trees, hoping to get close before he spotted me. He stopped precisely in the middle.

I wormed my way a little closer, moving up a slight slope. I was within a dozen steps when he spoke. Far from thinking him clairvoyant, I could clearly see my reflection in the shiny side of the large suitcase he was working into place. Moradi, and the suitcase were on a fairly narrow ledge at the base of the wall of the containment building. I was slightly above him now. A shallow marshy area about ten feet wide separated us.

“You took a little longer getting here than I would have thought,” he said.

“I’m not as young as I used to be,” I replied.

“You’ve as old right now as you will ever be, Mr. O’Brien.”

“Seems like a good night to die,” I quipped.

“Seems that way to me too, Mr. O’Brien. Glad you agree.”

Now I knew why he had abandoned his precious weapons. “Such as long way to come, Moradi—only to die with your own bomb.”

“It has been a long way,” he said. “Since I was a small child.”

“One that enjoyed pulling wings off flies?”

“No, I was never like that. I was always quite kind to animals, Mr. O’Brien. It was humans I detested.”

“Why?”

“Not necessary for you to know,” he replied. He turned to face me. Black eyes burned from the sockets in his head. I could see his left hand, handcuffed to the carry handle of the suitcase—he and death finally forming an eternal partnership.

“You killed your partner in crime.”

“She was going soft in her old age, O’Brien. Next thing you know she would have been contributing to the widows and orphans fund—and baking cookies for the Church.”

“She created enough of those widows and orphans, she should have,” I observed.

Moradi laughed. It wasn’t a good sound. “Agreed, O’Brien. But I couldn’t have that. It would have been,” He pause, searching for the right word. “Unseemly,” he finished.

“And dangerous,” I added, “if she had turned.”

“Exactly! Couldn’t have allowed a soft heart to upset the old apple cart this late in the game,” Moradi said.

“You’re not a real good man to be partners with, Moradi.”

He laughed again. “Precisely,” giving a tiny bow as he said it. “Speaking of partners, where is your precious Mr. McCabe and Mr. Wahl, O’Brien? I fancied they would be with you tonight—here at the end of all things.”

“McCabe’s busy. Wahl’s dead, Moradi. You men did manage to at least accomplish that.”

“And, did they accomplish anything more?”

“Yeah. They managed to kill a young woman and her unborn child too. Thanks to her, Wahl, and a kindly old man though, not a single congressman was hurt.”

“It was a poor trade then,” said Moradi.

“I agree. The woman was a personal friend of mine.”

“Did she have a name?”

“She did, Moradi. McCabe. Linh McCabe.”

“Her married name,” Moradi said. “I meant her real name.”

“Zhou.”

“I am glad that Wahl is dead. He vexed me for a long time.”

“And Zhou?”

“I am glad that the slope bitch is dead too, O’Brien. Her and her wretched little slope fetus.”

I raised the pistol and pointed it at his head. “My godson.”

He grinned. “All the better. So shoot, Mr. O’Brien. By all means, shoot.”

“I wouldn’t have taken you for a martyr, Moradi.”

“Hardly. But at this point it doesn’t matter anymore. Cancer, it seems, is no respecter of gods—or demons.”

“What kind of cancer?”

“Not the nice kind, O’Brien. I smoked American cigarettes for years. Another good reason to hate you bastards.”

It was my turn to grin. “A lunger then, going out in a blaze of glory,” I said. Hate flashed in his eyes.

“And a glorious one it will be, O’Brien. You, me, the foolish President, the United States, and eventually, all the rest of the world, dominos falling one-by-one. I may die—but the world dies with me.”

“The world’s survived a few like you.”

“The world’s never seen one like me.”

“The President set things up for you.”

“Indeed he did. His plan was fairly small at the time. A simple gambit to remain in power a little longer. But when your Howard Carter called him and spilled the beans about the watch, the President upped the game by quite a few notches and called in the master.”

“You?”

“Me. The President is, as you Americans always say—small potatoes. A crook, a terrorist in his own right, and a—what is it you people say?—a grifter.”

“But you are more, right?”

“I am the greatest criminal mastermind of all time.”

“Humble. And to think that at first I took you for an Islamic extremist.”

“You think small, O’Brien. That’s why it was so easy to lure you.”

“Why? It wasn’t for the watch.”

“No. The President wanted that. I couldn’t have cared less.”

“Why me then?”

“The challenge, O’Brien. And the pleasure. The pleasure of seeing a legend fall. I had an embalming table in Detroit all set-up for you. It was a real shame that I couldn’t locate you. We could have visited together and chatted pleasantly for hours—until you ran out of blood that is.”

“Your idea to involve the Russians?”

“Yes it was. I had a lot of friends in their spy network. They did the job of keeping tabs on you for me and freed me up to attend to more important matters. I convinced the President that they and he had the same basic agenda. The Russians wanted the United States. The President didn’t give a shit about it. A perfect match—made in heaven.”

“Or hell,” I said.

“Depends on your point of view, O’Brien.”

“They’re waiting for the Cliffs to go up.”

“Real-life Mongol hordes at the gate.”

“No detonation, they go home empty-handed, right.”

“That’s right, O’Brien. Like thieves in the night—but no worries there.”

“You think I can’t stop you now, don’t you, Moradi?”

“Matter of fact, I don’t think you can.”

“What about my watch?”

“If you had it, you would have used it by now.”

Well, he had me on that one. “How ‘bout I just wade over there and take that damned suitcase away from you? Doubt a dried-up and cancer ridden little lunger like you could stop me.”

 

detective-2

 

“Doubt I could either, O’Brien. That’s why I took a few extra precautions. This bomb is set to go off in just about five minutes, give or take a minute or two. There is nothing you can do to stop it, even if you had the expertise—which I’m pretty sure you do not. The code changes several dozen times per second. Not even your damned watch is that fast. No matter how quick you moved back in time, you could never catch the newest code. The last code, the one that will detonate the bomb, will be delivered by satellite. And not even Johnny O’Brien can fly—that high.”

“My left hand is depressing a pressure switch in the handle of this suitcase, Mr. O’Brien. All I have to do to blow it immediately is relax my grip. So, to make a long story short, O’Brien—you either die in five minutes or so—or in the next split-second. You could never reach me in time to stop me. You could shoot me dead—it stills goes off. I believe that is called checkmate, Mr. O’Brien—is it not?”

He was starting to really piss me off. “Ever wonder why you couldn’t find me in Detroit?”

Moradi looked bored. “Now you will wow me with the fact that you never left the city—isn’t that correct Mr. O’Brien? You time-traveled to a distant past or future and hung out in just about the same spot, invisible to my eyes—correct?”

“Correct.”

“I’m not that impressed.”

“You might be, Moradi, if you knew where I was, and when I was. And who I was with.”

“Illuminate me.”

“1940.”

“So what?”

“So, I met an old prize-fighter by the name of McCoy.”

“And this impacts us how?”

“He taught me a few things.”

“I wasn’t intending to fist-fight you.”

“And neither was I. McCoy taught me what a man is. He taught me that a man makes sacrifices—for the people, and the things he loves.”

For the first time, I could see a shadow of doubt cross Moradi’s face. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about a guy that made a big mistake—I’m talking about you.”

“I don’t make mistakes. I lured you here. I intended for you to be here.”

“Oh, I’m not talking about that one.”

“What then?”

“I’m talking about the day you blew up the hotel.”

“That was simply meant to scare you—and kill a few more Americans, as a bonus.”

“It did a lot more than that, Moradi.”

“What did it do?”

“It killed me.”

He looked at me like I was a lunatic. His mouth was smiling.

His eyes weren’t.

“What are you saying, O’Brien?”

“I’m saying you made me immortal.”

“You look pretty human to me, O’Brien, standing there dripping swamp water—and plenty alive.”

“Looks can be deceiving, Moradi,” I said as I transferred Howards pistol to my left hand.

“Looks to me like you’re getting ready to make your move.”

“I am.”

“I’m faster than you, O’Brien.”

“You are not.”

“We all die then.”

“No, Moradi. Not all. Just you—and me. I can’t stop you from blowing that bomb—but I can stop you from doing it here.”

I watched his eyes and knew the moment had come. I could sense his grip on the pressure switch relaxing. I Said a silent prayer and moved. I backed up a single second in time and crossed the short distance between us. I was up in his face with my hand closing over his before he even knew that I had moved. I don’t like to brag, but it was a thing of beauty. The Kid would have been proud.

I was about to win the biggest, and last fight of my life.

Moradi was taken completely by surprise. He tried to relax his grip, but it was hopeless. He was a smaller man than me, and cancer ridden. It was no contest. We looked into each other’s eyes from mere inches away, and in his eyes I could see his defeat. I thought quickly where I wanted to go—and as always, in just a twinkling, I was there. Just me, Moradi, and his cursed bomb.

In the Wastelands.

Unlike my previous trip to the same place with Scarface Al Capone, this time I couldn’t quite keep my feet under me. Moradi and I both fell and rolled. He struggled with me as hard as he could. He tried with all his might to relax his grip and tear his hand away. I squeezed his hand onto the pressure trigger with all my might. The bomb was going to kill me, but it sure as hell wasn’t going to kill him.

I was going to do that myself—the last act of my life.

We stopped rolling. I ended up on top. Appropriate. Moradi was about to get screwed by one of his ugly Americans. Moradi’s right hand was locked on my left arm. Despite that, I was able to twist and turn Howard’s Glock toward his body. I looked into the eyes of Satan. I could feel and smell the rancid breath that roiled out of his mouth. I could see the panic and fear on his face. I was glad that I had been the one to put them there. I pushed the barrel of the pistol up and into his diaphragm as hard as I could. I angled it toward his head. I felt him squirm with pain. Adrenalin filled, I pushed even harder as I listened to the pleasant sound of several of his ribs and sternum breaking.

He howled with agony—music to my ears.

I paused for a full second to let him absorb the fact that he was about to die, and then I calmly said; “This is for Linh McCabe—you son-of-a-bitching, cockeyed son of a mother-loving whore.”

And then I pulled the trigger. Sixteen times. All of them. Sixteen cyanide tipped and hollow-pointed bullets coursed through his body, literally chopping it into pieces. One tore off the top of his head. It was a really good look for him. Granted, it was a lot of overkill, and a total waste of good ammo, but given the circumstances, I was more than okay with it. Finally, the gun was empty. The echoes ceased. It was silent. Just me, the bomb and his corpse.

The rather shocked expression on his face indicated to me that perhaps he was more than a little surprised by what had greeted him on the other side.

The slide was locked back. I tossed the pistol aside. Moradi’s dead eyes still looked at up me. That teed me off. I picked up a rock with my left hand and turned his face into a bloody pile of hamburger. Took me a good minute to get it just the way I wanted it.

“That’s from me,” I said simply.

I broke the handcuffs with the same bloody rock.

Finally, I was done. I carefully pried his hand away from the pressure switch, keeping it depressed as I did so. I frantically looked around for something to jam into it, or wrap around the handle to keep it depressed. Of course, here in the wastelands, there was nothing. Just me, the suitcase, and the biggest pile of human garbage I had ever seen.

I stood up—a little wobbly. I looked into a blood-red sky. Fitting. One last look around at the world. Or what was left of it. What it would become. I didn’t know what had happened, or when. I did know though, that whatever it had been, it hadn’t been Moradi that had done it. Some other perverted lunatic perhaps, but not him. I had stopped that. I had stopped him. It gave me a little warm glow inside, here at the end of my life.

Just a little sense of personal satisfaction.

I sucked in my breath. I stiffened my upper lip. I said a short prayer. I stood up as straight and tall as I possibly could. I tried to think of Jan, the woman I had loved more than life itself. Funny thing though. I couldn’t bring her face, and what had been, up before my mind’s eye. What I saw instead was my Maggie, and what might have been.

“Goodbye, Maggie,” I said. “Goodbye, my love.”

Then I relaxed my hand and dropped the suitcase.

My world turned bright burning white.

And then black.

 

mushroom-cloud

cliffs

 

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back shortly with the final Chapter of THE RECKONING.

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