Terror Comes Knocking
Sam stood over his brother's grave. A curious combination of sorrow and liberation flitted through him. Like a tapestry of death, its weave created patterns of loss and love that gutted his soul, twisting him inside.
The agony of grieving again for his little brother had hit him hard. Although he'd mourned in stages since Billy disappeared fifty years ago, he'd never had closure. Until now. A week ago, his three best childhood friends admitted to burying Billy's body in the pool near Healey's Cave. When the boy had slipped from the crossing log and slammed his head in a lethal fall, they'd panicked, afraid of being charged with murder. Their childish fears escalated, and they'd pinned Billy beneath heavy stones, his eyes wide open and dulled, hair waving in the water, skin wrinkled like prunes.
Sam shook himself.
Stop it. Stop torturing yourself.
He glanced at his SUV sitting under the shade a hundred yards away, its four doors gaped open to provide relief from the heat. With her motorized scooter parked alongside, his wife of forty years, Rachel, perched sideways on the passenger seat, a cell phone clamped to her ear. Their grandson Evan rhythmically tossed and caught a softball nearby. They'd accompanied him to the gravesite and had left after his request for a few minutes alone.
To think. To stare at the earth. To remember that the physical markers of Billy's young life were just that. Placeholders. Reminders. Cold ground and stone.
Someone else's funeral on the nearby hill ended, and its mourners scattered like dandelion feathers in the wind. Sam watched them drift toward the parking lot for a moment, then turned back to the grave.
He fingered the green marble in his pocket and looked up to the cirrus clouds that stalled overhead. Chalk white against a steel gray sky, they paused in their frenetic journey as if trying to get his attention.
I know you're not really in the ground, Billy. I know you're up there.
The cottonwood leaves rustled overhead, stirring in a breeze that came from out of nowhere.
The marble warmed his fingers in response—his talisman, his connection with Billy's spirit. He closed his hand around it so the people walking by wouldn't see the glow of green blushing through his khakis.
The marble pulsed. Sam's heart skipped a beat.
Billy's spirit hovered in the clouds, the leaves, and in Sam's heart. His very essence connected through the marble Sam clenched in his hand.
A cardinal hopped down from a nearby branch. He perched on the headstone, cocked his head at Sam, and twittered. "Weeka. Weeka."
Sam refocused and straightened. A wry smile stole across his face. He nodded toward the bird. "You're right. I should be going. They're waiting for me."
He headed for the parking lot, ambling under a sugar maple that arched overhead and cooled the grass below. He left its comfort and moved into the bright August sunshine, his steps lighter now.
A pair of young men hovered over a new grave, arguing. One man gesticulated wildly, flapping a bouquet of flowers back and forth. The stems bent and petals showered the mound of dirt below. As Sam passed, they turned their backs and lowered their voices.
Arabic? Sam thought. Strange. But not completely. The local college in Conaroga, New York, attracted students from all over the world.
The taller man hissed when he spoke. Sam couldn't help but notice that no sense of grief arose from his tight posture and hot words. There was no quietude born of loss. No sloping shoulders from the cold misery that accompanies death.
Sam shrugged mentally and moved on, disturbed by the intensity of the argument he'd overheard.
When he reached the Highlander, Rachel looked up at him. Gray bangs kissed her forehead and fluttered in the light breeze. She snapped her phone shut and slid it into her purse.
"Beth?" Sam asked.
She shook her head. "No. I still can't reach her. I'm worried, Sam."
Sam patted her hand, leaning on the roof. "I'm sure there's an explanation. She might've gone away for a few days, maybe with her roommate, Zafina. She's done it before."
"I know. But she usually sends me an email. She doesn't like to worry us."
He straightened and nodded. "Wasn't Zafina's brother supposed to visit soon? First time in the country and all? Maybe they took him on a tour of the area. Let's try her again tonight. Did you try her work number and her cell?"
"Mmmhmm. Got her voice mail every time."
Sam walked around and started the car, pushing the air conditioner to max. He helped Rachel slide onto the passenger seat and watched as she buckled up. "All set?"
She smiled. "I'm good."
He closed her door and walked around to Evan. "You okay, sport?" He slid an arm around the boy's shoulders.
Evan leaned into Sam's chest, wrapping an arm around his middle. He squeezed, then stepped back and looked up into Sam's face. "I'm okay. How ‘bout you?"
Sam didn't hesitate. "I won't lie to you, son. It's been hard. Very hard." He lowered the ramp for the scooter, then guided it inside. "But I'm okay. Now, let's go get your little brother."
Timmy strained against the shoulder straps on his car seat. "Wanna git out!" he screamed.
Rachel turned around and shushed him. "Timmy! Quiet, now. We're almost there." She faced forward again and flashed a tolerant smile at Sam. "Poor baby. He's so tired."
The boy had tumbled from his crib and crept into their bed at three in the morning. They'd been babysitting for both boys since their daughter-in-law was called away to tend to her seriously ill father in St. Louis. Since their son Andrew Moore had been shipped off to Iraq, Sam and Rachel pinch hit as babysitters all the time. Today, Sam had planned the cemetery visit during Timmy's nursery school.
In the dead of night, Sam had made a nest for Timmy between them, and the boy thrashed elbows and knees into his grandparents until they finally gave up and rose at five thirty. Sam's eyes felt gritty from lack of sleep.
Timmy squealed again. "Want nuggets!"
Evan rolled his eyes. "Geez, Timmy. It's right over there, see? You're gonna get your nuggets. Don't worry."
Timmy's face lit up, but his eyes still looked overtired and almost frantic. "Nuggets!" he screamed. "Fetch Fies!"
Sam spun the wheel to the left. The Highlander bumped over the parking lot, and he pulled into a vacant space near the entrance. Rachel slid her cell phone out of her purse and flipped it open. "Let me try just one more time before we go inside, honey."
"Sure." Sam went around to get the scooter out of the back.
Timmy shrieked again and thrummed his feet against the car seat. "Fetch Fies!"
Evan shushed him. "Be quiet, buddy. Gramma's tryin' to make a phone call."
Timmy's face lit up. "I call! I call Mummy!"
Sam opened the door and unbuckled the baby. Timmy slid down to the floor and began to pick up the stale Cheez-its that had fallen beneath the seat. "Nummy," he cooed.
Sam grabbed his hand just as Timmy was about to mush them into his mouth. "No, buddy. Yucky. Just wait a sec now. We're almost ready."
Rachel groaned. "She's still not answering, Sam."
A flicker of alarm shot through him.
Where the hell is Beth? Why hasn't she called?
He closed Timmy's door momentarily, then opened Rachel's door to help her into the scooter.
"Papa! Papa! Wanna git out!"
"I know, buddy. Just hold on one little second."
"I've got him, Grandpa. Don't worry about it." Evan lifted him out and slung him onto his hip.
Rachel snapped her cell phone shut, and her frown melted as she watched Evan. "What a big help you are, sweetie. Thank you."
He shrugged. "I'm used to it." He shifted the toddler around to his back and piggybacked him inside.
With Sam's help, Rachel slid onto the scooter and zoomed up behind him. He clicked his keys toward the SUV. The lights flashed and the horn honked.
Minutes later, they sat around a table munching on salty, fried food. Today was Wednesday, senior discount day in the local fast food restaurant. Sam tolerated it, but given his druthers, he'd prefer seafood. Alaskan king crab legs. Shrimp scampi. Maine Lobster dripping in butter. He almost drooled over the fantasy.
Shoving away the vision of white succulent seafood, he returned to his cold fries and dipped them in the small white cup of ketchup.
Timmy grabbed for his milk carton, trying to drink out of it as if it were a sippy cup.
Sam's hand shot out and grabbed it before the boy dumped it all over his shirt. "No, Timmy. Don't tip the carton. Drink it like this, buddy." Sam held the base of the milk tight to the table and watched Timmy suck it through the straw.
When his thirst was quenched, Rachel reached over to dab his ketchupy mouth with a wad of napkins. "What about Beth's boss's number, Sam? You have it, don't you?"
"I do. It's at home on the computer. I'll call them this afternoon. At least they should know if she's on vacation."
Rachel accepted his suggestion and sat back heavily in her scooter.
"Tired, honey?" Sam asked.
She nodded, then closed her eyes and grimaced. Her hands reached up to her middle, kneading her abdomen. The constricting muscles wrapped around her, pulling tight from her back and around to her belly. She'd described the sensation to Sam months ago when the new symptoms cropped up. The nurse at the multiple sclerosis clinic had responded to the phone call with near jocularity. "Oh, yeah. We know all about that. We call it the MS hug."
Rachel's eyes had widened in disbelief when Sam told her. "The hug?" she asked. "My God, it feels like my insides are being squeezed out. It hurts."
They'd prescribed some muscle relaxants and suggested a warm bath. But Rachel had to be careful about that, too, because the hot water could set off her leg weakness. Heat and MS were not mutually well-suited.
Sam pulled himself back to the present and stood. "Come on, boys. Let's get out of here. Time to go."
Evan rose and collected the garbage, neatly stuffing it back into the paper bags.
Timmy held his arms out to Sam. "Uppy."
"Okay, little man. Here we go."
"Ride on Gamma?" His eyes widened with expectation.
Rachel scooted backwards, then held out one arm. "Okay. As long as Grandpa holds onto you, too. Just a little ride, baby boy."
Evan dumped the trash, grabbed Timmy's plastic toy that came with the meal, and rushed to open the door for Rachel. Timmy enjoyed a short ride to the door, and Sam scooped him up and carried him to the Highlander. The boy snuggled into his neck, suddenly tired. As they drove the five short miles toward home, he fell into a deep sleep.
After settling Timmy into his crib, Sam hurried downstairs to switch on the PC in the living room. With his help, Rachel had hobbled inside on her cane, changed to her light wheelchair, and pulled up to the kitchen table with Evan. Per their usual routine he dumped a puzzle onto the table surface, and the pieces tumbled out with a satisfying clatter.
Sam swiveled in his chair to watch them while the computer booted up. "Which one are you doing today?"
"We're doing the fishing boat on the sea, Gramps."
Sam nodded. It was a hard one, full of ocean waves with no distinction. "That's a torture puzzle. Good luck with it. I hope you can finish it before dinner."
Rachel laughed. "Your grandfather's always worried about his stomach."
"Darned right I am."
The screen blinked blue, then snapped to his desktop wallpaper showing Timmy in the shallow swimming pool. The baby's eyes squinted at the camera, his belly protruded over his soggy swimming diaper, and rivulets of water ran down his face. Evan had just drenched him with the hose.
Sam remembered the day fondly. He clicked on the Firefox icon. Months ago, Beth sent an email with all of her contact info, including her boss's phone number. All he needed to do was conduct a search among the thousands of unfiled messages in his inbox. He sighed, knowing Yahoo wasn't very good at this.
He started a search in his inbox for all mail sent by Beth with "work" in the body of the message. Seventy notes popped up. He sighed, looking down at Lila, who purred around his ankles. "Hey, girl. Guess I've gotta tighten the search criteria, huh?"
He absentmindedly stroked Lila's smooth white fur, tapping one-handed at the keyboard. She wrapped around his legs, hopped onto his lap, and pushed her face into his chin. Her whiskers tickled his face. "Okay, okay. Enough already." He gently pushed her down. She stalked away, tail twitching.
After playing around with various field values, he found the email in question. He printed it out and dialed Beth's boss's number.
He left a message on the voice mail, and had just flicked off the monitor and walked halfway across the room when the phone rang.
Rachel looked up expectantly. "Beth?" She mouthed the words silently.
Sam ran to the phone on the side table. "Hello?"
"Mr. Moore? It's Zafina. Zafina Azziz."
"Zafina? Are you in the apartment? Is Beth there? We've been trying to get hold of her."
There was no hesitation. "What?" She paused and a rush of words escaped her. "I thought she went home. That's why I was calling, to talk to her."
Sam's heart thudded against his ribs. He put his hand to his eyes and rubbed them with his thick fingers. "Zafina? How long has she been gone? Did she pack a suitcase?"
Her voice shook, but she answered with conviction. "Yes. Her big red bag is gone. That's why I thought…"
Rachel's eyes were riveted on Sam's face. Sam shook his head, covering the mouthpiece momentarily. "She's not there."
Rachel rolled closer.
"Mr. Moore?" Zafina asked.
"I'm coming upstate. Maybe we should discuss this in person, see if we can figure out where she might've gone."
Sam nodded. "Okay. I'd like to ask you about her friends. Boyfriends. You know."
Zafina answered quickly. "Of course. We'll be up tomorrow. My brother Hashim's starting college near you, at Conaroga University. That's in your neighborhood, right?"
"It is. It's about a five-minute drive from our house."
Rachel heard Sam's side of the conversation and understood. "Ask them for dinner," she whispered. "Tomorrow night."
"Where are you staying, Zafina? And when do you think you'll get here?"
"We're leaving at six in the morning, so we should be there by noon, don't you think?"
"Sounds about right if the traffic's not too bad."
"My brother's renting an apartment with three freshman. It's the second floor of a house on Oak Street, near the college. The others should be arriving tomorrow, too. I'm staying on the couch for a few weeks to help him get a car and insurance and such things. And I'd hoped to visit Beth while I was there. I don't start back at NYU until just before Labor Day."
Sam's heart thudded. His mind flipped channels.
Where's Beth? Why didn't she call?
He pulled himself back to the conversation. "Why don't you and Hashim get unpacked and settled in, then come on over for dinner with us. Around five?"
They agreed on the time after Sam gave her directions. As soon as they hung up, the phone rang again. "Zafina, did you forget something?"
"Hey, guy. It's Bruce. Sorry to bother you so soon after the funeral."
Sam's shoulders dropped. "It's okay."
"By the way, who the heck is Zafina?"
"She's Beth's roommate."
"Oh? Okay." He sounded disinterested. "Listen. I called to tell you something big. Really big." His voice changed, charged with enthusiasm.
Sam slumped into the chair by the desk. He answered, but felt no interest in the senator's latest news. "So, what is it?"
Bruce ignored Sam's flat tone and barreled on. "You know about my possible…er…nomination, right?"
Sam couldn't help a good-natured smile. Was Bruce about to tell him he'd been given the nod by the Republican party? "Yes, Bruce. I've heard some rumblings."
Bruce didn't skip a beat. "Well, I think this is a good sign. The President's coming to East Goodland. To my house. He's coming here, Sam."
"That's nice, Bruce. You must be excited." Again, Sam didn't feign interest. He couldn't. All he could think about was Beth.
"What's wrong, buddy? Is it Billy?"
Sam shifted the phone to his other ear. "No, no. It's Beth. We can't seem to locate her."
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys.
Author web site.
Green Marble Mysteries
Terror Comes Knocking Copyright © 2012. Aaron Paul Lazar. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.
Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Mobi, Palm
Double Forte' by Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the category of Mystery.
For the Birds by Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the category of Mystery.
Healey's Cave by Aaron Paul Lazar is the winner in the Commercial Fiction category for the 2011 Eric Hoffer award, winner in the Paranormal category for the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards and 2011 Global eBook Award Finalist in Mystery Suspense!
Tremolo by Aaron Paul Lazar is an Award-Winning Finalist in the category of Historical Fiction Contemporary in the 2011 Global eBook Awards.
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Web site copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2012. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved. This page last updated 02-15-12. Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni. Cover artwork copyright © 2012 by Ardy M. Scott.
Back to the Featured books
Back to Twilight Times Books main page
Web site copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2012. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved.
This page last updated 02-15-12.
Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni.
Cover artwork copyright © 2012 by Ardy M. Scott.