Mary Beth Writes

After I write a story, I like to let it sit and steep. This story has been in the 'story cellar' for two years. I woke up this morning thinking about it, so I think it's time to put it here.

I'm surprised by how much courage  some people have when they think they don't have much at all.  This is my take on that thought.

PS: if you like this story, forward it to others you know who might like it. Thanks. 

...

Thunder and Courage

The story we tell ourselves is that our lives are made of the choices we make as we aim at our Shining Dreams. But now that I am no longer young; now that I look backwards as much as I look ahead, I’m beginning to think that maybe our choices make themselves as we swerve away from what we fear.

Chapter I.

I am past 60; how far past 60 is a bit of a joke and there will be time for that later.  But I am definitely “an older woman” and as such, the general belief seems to be that I am settled, innocuous, cookie-sweet and Christmas-harmless.  No one wants to euthanize me, but no one much wants to explore my interior life either.

Which is okay; I can do it for myself.

Like this: I am Willa Mina Schoenberg. I was named Wilhelmina Bertha, but as I grew up, I jettisoned the Bertha and you can see what I did with the rest. A lot of my life has been just this; deciding what to keep and what to get rid of.

Or like this: When I was a kid I pulled things apart to see how they worked and in return was scolded and spanked. My father and grandfather were Wisconsin-German farmers; neither saw whimsy in a child with an inconvenient curiosity; I suppose they saw it as disobedience. Being yelled at and punished taught me how to be afraid of being yelled at and punished.

So how I responded was to marry the first guy who didn’t scare me. It was such a relief to be with someone who had mild opinions. It took twenty more years to realize how incredibly bored I was and leaving him felt like kicking a puppy.

I was surprised he had a girlfriend within three weeks of me leaving him; they married three months later and they are still together. Our kids love Jimmy; of course they do, he is a good man. Although they prefer to not spend too many hours in his company, it does get dull. Also, because there is karma and don’t you ever forget it, after I kicked that puppy I never married again. I dated some and some of those dating months were wildly good but I am alone now.

Alone and retired. After the divorce I found a job at a law firm as a secretary, but as time moved along my penchant for taking things apart, honed by living defensively among so many angry or clueless people tipped me into becoming the law firm’s researcher. I loved that job. Give me a question in the morning; usually I could find a path to an answer by noon, and the answer itself by the end of the week.

Then a couple years ago the partners sold the firm to young hustlers; the first thing the new guys said was, “We won’t be changing anything.” Then the next thing they did was lay off half the staff. Do you know how easy it is to get a new job when you are 60 and won’t work for $12 an hour?

So I retired and that is how I happened to be riding my bike mid-morning on a misty Monday in May. Retired people have the world to themselves as long as they take it at non-peak hours.

The weather was both glum and beautiful; if you are a Midwesterner you know what I mean. May conjures images of sunshine and flowers but that morning drizzle and fog smeared my glasses; I wore a fleece jacket over a long-sleeved shirt and was still chilly. Still, the damp bushes along the path sometimes rattled and out would pop a yellow warbler or a flash of rose-breasted grosbeak. So I pedaled my bike, watched for birds, and thought about what I would make for lunch when I got home. 

Eventually the path curves out of the undergrowth to a wide view of a wild slough. It’s amazingly beautiful right there; I often stop to lean on my handlebars to watch wildfowl and listen to wind rattle through cattails. On the left at the same spot, about a quarter mile up a rise, is a conglomeration of beige luxury homes; dozens of McMansions two and three stories high spread over huge lots with not a single tree tall enough to shadow a roof. Then again, they have their big windows overlooking scenery I ride my bike miles to see.

So I was pedaling slowly while watching a Sandhill crane flap steadily across the slough, a prehistoric ballet if ever there was one.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a something across the path. I slammed on my brakes and skidded my feet to the macadam just in time to not hit what at first I thought was a giant branch.

But then realized was a body.

I froze, bike still beneath me, feet on the ground, eyeing the sprawled woman. Then I got off my bike and crouched next to her. As I put my fingers to her neck I felt her cold skin against the palm of my hand and soft hair over my knuckles. She was crumpled on the asphalt; still and breathless.

Still on my knees, I unzipped my pocket to grab my phone to call 911.

My phone didn’t power on. I looked closer and then remembered I’d found a YouTube documentary in the middle of the night; I watch videos when I have insomnia. After I fell back asleep the phone kept drawing battery and I hadn’t noticed that this morning. Damn.

It was raining harder as I realized I’d seen no one since I got on the path. There was the slough to one side and to the other side between me and the subdivision was the steep embankment of this path that once had been a railroad bed. To get to the houses up the hill would require slip-sliding into the muck at the bottom and then a soggy hike through a boggy field to a neighborhood I didn’t know.

So I got back on my bike to pedal as fast as I could back to the nature center at the beginning of the trail. It had taken me 25 minutes to get that far on my ride; it took just ten to get back.

I concentrated as I pumped. What had I seen? What did she look like? I tried to recall details I knew were relevant.

Her clothes were in order; she did not appear in any obvious way to have been physically or sexually assaulted. I didn’t know her height, but she was small. She was wearing black yoga pants that were smooth, not faded from too many trips through the washer like mine were. Her hair was shoulder length and streaked various shades of dark brown; it reminded me of British Princess Kate’s luxurious tresses. She wore a big diamond on one hand and several silver rings on the other which certainly seemed to say this was not a robbery. Her jacket was dark suede trimmed with red leather on the cuffs. And she wore only one shoe; a red flat slip-on. It was some kind of textured leather, maybe dyed alligator or an upscale impression of that; an amusing little shoe for a wealthy matron running errands on a weekday morning. 

I pedaled straight to the door of the nature center. The woman in the office handed me the phone from her desk as I huffed and puffed that I had found a body on the path.

Within ten minutes a young officer on a motorcycle showed up, followed soon after by a sheriff department sedan. The officer told me his name was James and I told him I’d had a boyfriend with a motorcycle when I was young so I could, if allowed, ride with him back to the spot. He chuckled, put his helmet on me, and then we took off down the bike path. The investigators looked aggravated.

It only took a few minutes to get to the curve at the slough.

Where there was no body.

Officer James and I looked around. No body. No drag marks. No sign of anything.

I was almost embarrassed that I had reported a nonexistent death. Except I had seen the woman, touched her, felt her soft hair on my hand. I hadn’t made up anything and I have no history of seeing things that aren’t there.

When the investigators finally arrived I carefully reported to them what I had seen although they didn’t seem very interested. After I’d said all I what I could remember they said I should feel free to leave.

James regarded the officers with slightly narrowed eyes.  I am a daughter from a fraught family, and then a wife to a clueless man, and a mother to bright children - I read faces. When my 25-year-old motorcycle officer narrowed his eyes my instincts realized the detectives’ lack of thoroughness seemed as odd to him as it did to me.

At that point he took me back to my bike at the nature center. He wanted to take me home but the logistics were impossible so instead he followed me as I rode my bike. A motorcycle escort is lovely and he cleared intersections for me!

At my driveway I asked for his business card. He handed me one as I remarked, “The detectives didn’t seem very curious.”

He just looked at me as he lifted an eyebrow. “I’m new on the force. I’d never met those guys before today. I hope your afternoon is more restful than your morning, Ma’am.”

Finally back in my house, I ate a bowl of cereal and then fell asleep on my sofa, waking just in time to watch the evening local news. There was no mention of the woman. Nothing on the Internet, either. I was puzzled. Shouldn’t authorities care that a woman had died on the bike path? Was the path safe for others to use? That lovely woman must be missing from somewhere. This made no sense to me.

 

Chapter II

That night I had the nightmare. It had been ages; but once again I dreamed what I’ve been dreaming off and on since I was a child. 

In the dream I am in the backseat of a car while angry, yelling people in the front are driving way too fast and careening back and forth across the road. Outside the car windows a charcoal sky roils with clouds. I don’t know where we are going and I don’t know why the people are angry. I think the car is going to crash. I am alone and terrified and the world is very dark.

I wake rigid with fear; my heart racing. The fear and darkness of the dream take me hostage and even though I understand it’s a dream, I have to get up and move around until there is enough light to fall asleep on the sofa.

It isn’t impossible to comprehend my nightmare. I grew up in a family dominated by my grandfather’s anger at everyone and my father’s anger at my mom and at me. My sister was 12 years older than me; Petra was as hardworking and stubborn as our dad. I admired her but there seemed to be no natural ties of affection between us. I was a vulnerable youngster among all those angry, hard-driven people. It was like riding in the backseat of an out of control car in a storm.

Still, that was 50 years ago; I wasn’t stuck in those old dynamics anymore. Except some nightmare had murdered the woman on the path and if nightmares could kill one woman, it could kill more.

I had the frightening dream three nights. It was not yet even dawn on the third morning and I was standing at the kitchen window; my heart pounding while I boiled water to make tea. I watched the first glimmers of dawn as my mind scrambled. I needed my life back. I needed sleep.

I spoke out loud to myself, something I rarely do. 

“Willa, you are a problem solver. So what is the problem here?”

I answered myself. “That woman died and no one seems to care. The media is saying nothing and that’s weird. How can a person vanish and no one mentions it?”

I sipped my tea. The cup was warm in my hands.

“So what are you going to do? You are not required to be involved. You don’t know her or the story.”

“I have tried that. I have done nothing, and doing nothing is making me feel like a victim, too, so now I’m having the damn victim dream again. I don’t want this. I need to do something; if not for her, then for me.”

So, as when I researched situations at my job, I started with a pad of paper and a pen. I listed all the questions I had. Then I listed all the institutions and authorities that might have a clue.  After eating some toast, I started making calls.

I called the sheriff department first. The receptionist did not want to forward me to anyone, but I persisted and was able to leave a message for the James the motorcycle cop.

I called the local hospital and actually got through to the ER. They refused to give me information, as I expected. But I was able to talk to a desk clerk in the department. I explained what I had seen and reported to the sheriff department. I gave her my phone number and said if there were ever any questions, she should feel free to contact me. I learned years ago that if you tell people why you want to know something and then give them a way to contact you, surprising information sometimes come your way after they have had time to think.

I called all the funeral homes in the area.  I called the newspaper obituary desk and then I called the city desk. A reporter listened to my tale and said she would look into it. I called the tip-lines of several local television news shows as well as sent an email to two local news websites.

No one had any information but except for the sheriff department, everyone was interested. I seriously wondered at that dynamic.

Then I made the last call on my list.

I called Harry Bidwell. Harry is a private detective that the law firm had hired when a detective was required. Since I had been the researcher we sometimes worked together.

When I said that some of the dating months I had known after I left my marriage were “wildly good” – what I meant was when Harry and I were together.

It’s a little embarrassing to talk about the hot romance one had when one was 62. The young don’t like to think about it. Those who are as old as I am now know such relationships are more fun to live than to explain.

Harry had divorced when he was young. After his daughter graduated from college he retired from the Milwaukee Police Department detective bureau and moved to this area to open his own investigative business. 

Who glows with new love at 62 and 64? We did. We were together nearly a year until it ended and the way it stopped, well; I still don’t really know what happened. One day I received a call from my sister. Petra had moved to the Dakotas at the beginning of her career in education. She worked hard and rose to become the superintendent of her school district. She had never married. 

She called me the day after she had been diagnosed with a cancer from which she was not going to recover. Her physician had already explained to her that she was going to slowly get weaker and more confused and if she had people on whom she could depend, she ought to contact them now.

Within weeks she had quit her job, sold her house, and moved in with me. She was fragile and needy, and the next 18 months were awful. I worked, and then I came home and took care of her. When she had medical appointments I took time off to take her to wherever she needed to be; which meant I then needed to do my job at night at the dining room table. It was helpful that the firm let me do this. It was exhausting to live it.

I had less time for Harry. He didn’t like her and I didn’t blame him; I didn’t like her either. She had opinions on everyone and everything. She told him to his face that she had never met a private investigator who was anything but a failed cop.

He laughed at her for that. I remember him asking, “And as an educator, you ran into that many detectives? Must have been an interesting school district.”

Harry and I didn’t break up; we just had no time or privacy and I constantly felt guilty and sad about that. I don’t know what he felt but I was sure he didn’t need this much chaos in his life.

I think we simply dissolved under the pressure. It’s been more than a year since Petra died. That part of my life was so difficult that I don’t like to remember it.

But I had just called every institution that should have clues about the body and none of them did.

So I called Harry.

I called his office phone, not his cell. I expected to be able to leave a message which would give him time to decide how to say no to my request for help.

Instead, he answered his damn phone.

As soon as I said, “Um, Harry…” he answered in his low voice that still, apparently, made my heart flip, “Willie?”

Whatever it was we had was still there. Both of us were a little stunned.

I cleared my throat and then as professionally as I could, I explained why I was calling. “So I saw the body. I assume she was somehow connected to those big houses up on the ridge. And then she disappeared and the story did not appear on the media, and today I have called quite a few places asking if anyone knows anything about her and no one does. I am more than just curious, this bothers me a great deal and I decided I needed, for my own peace of mind, to find out what happened.”

He was quiet a moment. I could almost hear him rubbing his left eyebrow the way he does when he thinks.

“How about I dig out my bike tonight and I’ll be at your house in the morning? Let’s take a ride out there and look around.”

Like that. That is how Harry is. He listens and then he helps.

“Thank you, Harry.  I know this is awkward.”

I swear I could hear him smile. “There are the kinds of women who invite you out for a drink. You invite me to see where a dead body used to be. You are an interesting woman, Willie.”

I didn’t know what to say to that so I said nothing.

 

Chapter III.

I had forgotten how incredibly easy it was to be with Harry. He asked questions and considered options and he was doing that again.

“So what do you think happened to her?”

“I have been running it over and over in my mind since Monday. It was so unexpected; I wasn’t in a mood to invent a mystery. I was admiring a Sandhill crane while considering what kind of omelet to make for lunch and then she was just there.”

He stopped me right there. “What kind of omelet were you going to make?”

I blinked and then laughed. “Well, I was considering black olives with feta and some green scapes in my yard that somehow survived the winter.”

“Oof. I want one of those.”

He does have a boyish charm. 

I continued describing the woman. “She was expensively dressed in casual clothes that cost hundreds of dollars but which would make sense if she was going to go to the grocery store or do other errands alone. She was not dressed the way a woman like that would dress if she was going to meet someone for lunch. She thought she was alone. Whatever happened was a surprise to her. Someone came along when she didn’t expect it.”

He nodded.

“Also, she was missing a shoe. The shoe she was wearing was a little red flat.” 

He looked at me; both eyebrows up, waiting for me to translate.

I laughed. “Most women with a lot to accomplish wear athletic shoes, or maybe Crocs.” Harry looked down at my shoes. I was on a bike; I was wearing gray Asics. “Flats are just that. Small shoes with absolutely flat soles. They look great; young women wear them a lot, they make one’s outfit look cute and they say that the woman is fashion-conscious. Her shoe was leather that was dyed red but she was wearing only one, which says she was running fast and when the other shoe came off, she didn’t stop long enough to get it. So someone was chasing her. She was scared.”

Harry had his little notebook out and he was jotting down notes. He had the kind of notebook that would fit in his shirt pocket with a short pencil. He had an iPhone but the habits of a lifetime were easier for him.

“You hate to be afraid. You would figure that out quickly.”

I looked at him, a little surprised. “Why do you say that?”

“That time your sister said I was a failed cop. It pissed me off a little, but I’ve heard it before and it didn’t matter to me what you sister thought. What mattered to me was what you thought, and I could see fear in your face. You were scared. I never knew how to interpret that.”

That took me aback. For a moment I turned away and looked at the marsh.

I turned back. “Wow. Is that why you stopped coming around? Because I was afraid?”

“No. I didn’t care what happened to your sister but I could see she was exhausting you. You were less of yourself. You needed sleep and someone who could take care of you for a while but I didn’t think you were ready to let me be that person. Your sister had sort of set up a “me against her” dynamic. I didn’t want you to have to choose between us on top of all the other stuff you were dealing with, so I guess I faded away on purpose.”

He was looking straight at me. “I missed you though.”

I hesitated. “Why didn’t you call after she died?”

He shrugged. “I figured that was your call to make. Maybe you were doing better without me.” He smiled. “So if it took a dead body for you to make the call, I’ll take it.”

“I don’t know what to say, Harry.”

He kept looked into my face. His eyes are dark and intelligent, and it wakes up something inside me to be looking at him when he is looking at me.

“Tell me more about the dead woman. I admire how you think.”

I shook off the spell. “I am assuming she came from one of those houses up on the ridge. Someone threatened her. She ran and she lost a shoe, which I wonder if anyone has looked for. When I called 911, the responding investigators didn’t seem interested. So to my thinking, there are two mysteries. How does a healthy looking woman die when there seems to be no damage, blood, broken bones, and she was just running? She was healthy enough to move fast.  What caused her to die? Maybe it was a heart attack but she looked to be thin and in her 40’s, so that didn’t strike me as likely.

“And then why did the responding cops not seem very interested? I am a fairly responsible-looking person; I mentioned that I had worked at a law firm. Why did they take perfunctory notes and then send me on my way?”

He shrugged. “Let’s take a look.”

With that we locked our bikes into the scrub and he took my hand as we started to clamber down the embankment. It was damp and muddy. I was going to have to buy new Asics.

I followed Harry as we picked our way across hummocks of marsh grass. We both scanned the area and the ground as we walked.  When we got to a slight rise where we would be leaving the marshiest area, I glanced back, and saw the red shoe stuck into one of the grassy hillocks.

“There it is, Harry.” He walked back to it, pulled a plastic evidence bag out of his pocket, pulled it over his hand and then picked up the shoe and stuck it in the inside pocket of his windbreaker.

When he straightened back up he glanced at me, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

I shrugged. “I’m easily impressed by people who are prepared to do what I ask them to do. There you are, with evidence bags and a jacket with a secret pocket.”

He chuckled. “You asked me to help investigate!”

We turned to continue walking up the rise to the subdivision.  Suddenly Harry just stopped. I stopped too so that I wouldn’t bump into him.

He turned around and casually pulled me completely into his arms. I was startled, I had not expected that. His mouth moved to my ear. “There is a field camera on the tree about 8 feet ahead and to our left.  I don’t see any others around but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. We are going to turn around and walk back and then get the hell out of here.”

“Harry?”

“Yes.”

“You have a holster under your arm and there’s a gun in it.”

He kissed my ear. “It seemed like that kind of date.”

 

Chapter IV.

Back at his house Harry made coffee while I surveyed his living room, curious to see if anything had changed. Not much was different except for the titles of the books piled by his armchair. I picked up the top novel to see what it was about; a bookmark slid free. It was the strip of photos of the two of us taken at a photo booth at the wedding of one of his daughter’s friends. I’d been his date. He was in a suit; I was in a lacy dress.

I swallowed against the flood of feelings that washed through me. He had not forgotten me any more than I had forgotten him.

He called from the kitchen right then that the coffee was done. We sat at his kitchen table to figure out what we knew and what we could do next. We had speculations but nothing solid on which to pin anything. It seemed likely that someone was shielding a secret the woman had accidentally discovered. Secrets big enough for rich people to murder over tend to be about money. We would start there. Harry knew investigators in agencies in Milwaukee. He would see if he could learn of any ongoing investigations involving our particular area.

I certainly knew how to do research on the internet so I could figure who lived in the beige mansions and where they worked. Harry had access to databases I’d used at my job; I’d work from his laptop.

Within two hours I’d figured out the street addresses of houses most likely to have been the ones she had run from. I looked up those homeowners’ names, found their jobs, even found out who was past due on their credit accounts.

I started nosing around on Facebook.

Of course she had a Facebook page; I recognized her face when I plugged in likely names. She was Kerrie Turner and now the information started to come together. She was married to Roger Turner who, according to his Linked-in account, was president of Eastern Ridge State Bank. Her Facebook page showed two handsome college-aged children standing next to her. I wondered if the kids were away at school and didn’t even know their mother was deceased. The Turners had serious financial problems. Had she discovered that?  I could see tuition at the kids’ colleges had not been paid since January – and it was May. I wondered if that or some of their other huge bills had come to light Monday morning. Had she confronted him about it? But even if it that had happened, why would he murder her? And how?

I carried this news to Harry who was talking with a woman he knew who worked with the FBI in Milwaukee.

That woman actually warned Harry to stay clear of the Turners and Eastern Ridge Bank. She would say no more than that, although she was very interested that Turner’s wife was now missing.

So there you go.

“What do we do next, Harry? I wanted to know who she is. Now I do. We can guess this has to do with her husband’s bank but the FBI is already investigating. What we do? Just wait? What about her kids? No parent wants their children to be that vulnerable and undefended. Are they even safe?”

He rubbed his eyebrows. “I think we stay as far away as possible. The FBI knows there are kids involved. They will move on the missing wife pretty quickly.

“Frankly, I’m more concerned about us. Whoever put that field camera up was not kidding around. They got her body out of there immediately after you found her. Christ, they were probably watching you. When you left they removed the body as well as, it seems, arranged for specific investigators who were on the take to be the ones to show up.  That is lot of clout and planning.  And now we are on their camera so they know we are looking. They might not immediately know who I am but they will certainly recognize you.”

We had moved to the living room to talk. I was sitting on his sofa; he was in his chair. I glanced at the books next to him, utterly aware of the photo of the two of us tucked in his top book. He was talking and reasoning like the intelligent, experienced investigator that he is. But at the same time, he was a man still in love with me. I could hardly breathe. I have seldom in my life known a moment so overflowing with feelings.

“Willie? You’re staring at me.”

Life is something. It is really something. I sucked in a big breath and started to smile my best smile.

“Are you going to try to convince me to not stay home alone for a few days?”

He tilted his head and chuckled. I was ahead of him again. “Yes.”

“Can I stay with you?”

He started to smile, too. “Yes.”

“I’m not sleeping on your sofa, Harry.”

He stood up, walked around the coffee table, reached his hand out to me. “That is correct. You are not.”

 

Chapter V

The next morning I cleared the kitchen while Harry took a shower. He’d made egg, avocado, and tomato sandwiches for breakfast; I’d forgotten how much I loved them. I washed the fry pan, stuck our dishes in the dishwasher, and when I went to toss the egg carton in the trash it was full. I tied up the bag to take it outside to the bin.

In my defense, let me admit the night had been amazing and wonderful but hadn’t featured a whole lot of sleeping. Also, I wasn’t expecting thugs in the gangway next to Harry’s garage.

They grabbed me fast. The wide guy pinned me against his chest while the tall one duct taped my mouth shut, my arms behind my back, and my ankles together. They jammed some kind of rod against my back from my shoulders, under my taped hands, down and through my taped ankles. In spite of my most energetic efforts to fight them off in less than a minute I was trussed like a chicken on a spit. Together they lifted me and then, with a gentleness that surprised me, inserted me into the backseat of an old sedan. Then they jumped in the front and sped out of Harry’s driveway.

I was immobile in the rear seat of a speeding car. It was a dark and stormy morning; I saw lightning and roiling clouds through the rear window. I blinked against the irony. All the years I thought this dream was a metaphor but here I was in the actual terrifying nightmare. Did I know where I was headed all my life after all?

I listened to the thugs. They were not brilliant; they seemed to assume that because I couldn’t speak I also couldn’t hear. The tall one was driving. He had sandy hair, skinny shoulders, and as I’d see when they grabbed me, rotted out Halloween teeth. The wide one was slightly shorter with long greasy hair and he reeked as if he had not taken a shower in weeks.

Wide asked the driver, “Do you know how to get there roundabout like he said we had to do?”

Tall had a plan. “Yeah. I’ll just get us lost and then I’ll get us unlost.”

Wide was working this out. “I don’t like this. She’s just an old lady; we shouldn’t have had to hurt her like that. We know better than to hurt old people.”

“It’s okay, Dave. She’s not too roughed up. She’ll be okay.”

“I still don’t like it, Harley. Turner is a shithead. I wouldn’t do this if it was just you and me.”

So they were brothers; Harley and David. Named after their mother’s one true love?

Interesting that Turner himself could pressure them to kidnap me even though they didn’t like him. Well, that made three of us.

I saw another streak of lightning zigzag from one side of the sky to something very close; the strike resounded like a jet engine exploding next to us. An immediate torrent of rain dumped from the sky and the car hydroplaned. I felt us careen into the next lane. I was sure we were on an expressway; I waited for the spin-out that would kill us.

As I held my breath for my death I realized I was not afraid. This astonished me. I was kidnapped by thugs; I was a bound victim in car careening through a deafening storm. I was bare inches from dying.

I was not afraid.

All my life I had been scared and yet here I really was now. Bound and kidnapped in the backseat of a car hydroplaning in a violent storm.

And I was not afraid.

I felt sorry for Harley and David who apparently didn’t want to abduct me; they were too sweet to be this entrapped in a criminal life. I was pissed that I was going to lose my chance at a happy life with Harry. I wanted to hold my kids and hug my grandchildren. But all that was love. Not fear.

Maybe it was just shock, but in that fleeting moment when I was sure I was losing my life, I realized how much amazing life I had won away from fear. I had done it. I had built a life worth having. I had been fighting fear since I was a young child and now, when the situation was so dreadful, I realized the practice had paid off. Somewhere along the way; risk by risk, one ordinary undertaking at a time, I had built a courage big enough to face off death.

The car did not crash. The guys swore; the car slowed and several moments later it stopped altogether.

My earnest kidnappers hauled me back out.

I looked up.

We were at a beige mansion.

Well, of course we were. This was where my nightmare had been taking me all my life.

They pulled the pole from behind me. David picked me up and carried me as if I was a damsel in distress and he was a prince.  Harley opened the unlocked front door and we entered a three-story atrium. The floor was marble and the walls were pale beige and hung with boring paintings. There was a curved stairway with a gold bannister. The space was ridiculous. Why would anyone need that much room to take off their boots and parka? 

As soon as we were inside and they had set me on my still duct-taped feet, Harley pulled a filthy squeeze bottle from his pocket, squirted oily brown goo onto his hand and then smeared that over the duct tape on my mouth. I blinked at the acrid smell.

“What the hell are you doing, idiot?”

So that was Roger Turner. Not short, not tall. Dark hair in a perfect haircut. Eyes as pale as ice. He was wearing dark slacks and a white shirt. I had never seen such gorgeously fluid clothing in my life. Had someone enslaved butterflies to weave that stuff?

Harley hesitated; then kept smearing the oil onto the duct tape on my mouth.

“It’s WD-40, Sir. I looked up how to remove duct tape without ripping people’s skin off after you told us we had to get the old lady.”

My mouth was free. It tasted as if I’d been sucking on car parts, but the tape was off and nothing hurt too much.

I looked straight into Harley’s face. “Thank you for being careful with me.”

“Shut up, Bitch.”

I turned my face towards Turner. “Oh, hello Mr. Turner. Why did you kill your wife and where did you hide her body?”

His head jerked as if I had slapped him.

“Jesus, where do you get off?”

He reached over to a knock-off Versailles-looking desk against the staircase wall, pulled open a filigreed drawer and lifted out a deadly serious handgun. I don’t know guns, but it was black and terrifying. He aimed it at David.

“Kill her. I gave you the Glock last night. Take her outside, take her anywhere. Get rid of her.”

I was still hobbled. “David and Harley, step directly behind me right now.”

They looked at each other and then stepped behind me.

I talked calmly. “Two days ago I called a dozen people and agencies asking about the dead woman I had seen on the bike path who had disappeared. I called two local ER’s, several different departments at the newspaper where I talked to an editor, a reporter, and the obit department.  I called six funeral homes and sent emails to four TV stations and, um, I called the NPR station also. You can shoot me, Roger, but you will never get away with it. If David and Harley really have a gun, I would imagine they will shoot at you if you shoot at me.  And they will have longer to get it right, since you will have to get to them through me. I am a 62-year old woman connected to cops, investigators, FBI, and lawyers. I am your worst nightmare; a sweet little grandmother with uptown clout.”

He stared at me.  He hadn’t expected anything like this from an old lady in sweatpants and a faded hoodie.

I kept talking. “David and Harley, I am pretty sure Turner’s dead wife is in his freezer in his basement. I saw her right after she died. I suppose the two of you are already in serious legal trouble; that’s how you got roped into this. But I will tell you right now I worked more than 20 years for a law firm. If we get out of this alive I will personally make sure you get amazing lawyers. I promise you that. All we have to do is try to work together to stay alive. Don’t go to prison for the rest of your lives because of this man.”

I could hear a quiet hiccup from David. He was scared. I wondered how young he was. He looked about 20.

Harley replied. “Yes Ma’am. I’m sorry we had to tape you up. Our grandmother wouldn’t have liked what we did.”

“Is she still alive?”

“No, Ma’am. She died last year.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

Turner was edging sideways around his curved vestibule as if he wanted to be able to get off an automatic round at all three of us.

I still wasn’t scared, just incredibly furious at this vicious, arrogant man who destroyed everything he touched. “Roger, do your kids know you killed their mother?”

“Shut up, Bitch.”

“How did she die? That mystifies me. She looked so pretty and in such good health. I bet she worked out almost every day, didn’t she.”

From behind me, Harley spoke clearly, as if I had become his judge and jury and this was his chance to say his part. “Turner punched her really hard in her back. Sometimes that kills real fighters in real fights, and she was such a small person anyways. When he went to get his gun, I think she knew he was going to kill her no matter what, so she ran. I think he broke her kidneys. That can happen.”

Turner pulled the gun’s trigger right then; its blast echoed in the marbled foyer.

Plaster exploded.

Harley screamed and dropped; his blood hit the side of my face.

Suddenly a volley of whizzing blasts burst from behind me as someone grabbed me against his chest and hauled me straight back outside.

I looked up as best I could from where his huge hand was cupping my head under a bulletproof vest he’d slapped over me. It was James the motorcycle officer! He raced us across the front yard through a dozen FBI officers in helmets and vests flooding into Turner’s house, straight to a black command vehicle.

The back door was open. Inside were several people watching monitors and barking instructions, but I only saw Harry as he took me from James then sat on a bench to hold me inside his arms. I started to shake, and then to shiver, and then I started to cry which I kept doing as he and some others removed the duct tape from my wrists and ankles.  They had some ointment, too, which probably cost way more than WD-40.

The shooting stopped. An ambulance screamed down the street. I saw Harley carried out to it, his face uncovered as they ran with him. David was in custody and sobbing, tears and snot clearing clean paths down his filthy face. 

I tucked in closer into Harry’s arms.

“What happened?”

“Jesus Christ, Willie, when I got out of the shower and you weren’t there, I called the FBI and told them I would meet them here. Good God, when did you get THAT brave?”

He tucked his face against my hair.

And then he started to laugh. I felt his laughter against my scalp.

“What? Why are you laughing, Harry?”

“In the middle of all that. While you were managing three armed felons, and getting all of their confessions, with a dozen FBI agents are out here listening with awe that you could get them to say all that stuff – and you save all of them from killing each other and killing you – in the middle of the most amazing shake-down I have ever heard - you told them you are 62! In the middle of all that you LIED about your age??”

I leaned against him. “Sixty-two sounds cuter than sixty-six.”

He was still laughing a month later when we married each other in a little ceremony with a big dinner afterwards.

 Undercover FBI agent James asked Harry during his toast at our reception if Harry might need help carrying his new bride over the door lintel.  It was a very funny moment.

 

Chapter VI

Eastern Ridge had been founded by Kerrie Turner’s great-grandfather. Roger Turner grew up wealthy, yet he wanted more than to be just one more fairly rich guy; he wanted to swim in wealth and power. Kerrie’s family’s bank seemed just about right to him so he married her and proceeded to schmooze his way to the top of her family’s business. He was a contributor to the political campaigns of guys like him, men he could exploit such as the sheriff who made sure just a couple investigators and officers were always available for delicate operations.

When the 2008 recession hit most of Eastern Ridge’s investments were in worthless bundled mortgages.  That’s when Turner turned to graft, money laundering, cheating, and lately, just not paying the bills. He accidentally left his phone at home that misty, foggy Monday morning. As I had surmised, one of the colleges called and Kerrie was shocked to learn their son’s tuition had not been paid.

When Roger walked in the house to get his phone, Kerrie confronted him. While she ranted he texted to Harley and David who had been referred to him previously by the sheriff. Roger told them, in front of her, to kill her and make it look like a robbery. They resisted; she started to move; Roger punched her; she ran for the bike trail. I came along.

 

The story we tell ourselves is that our lives are made of the choices we make as we aim at our Shining Dreams. But now that I am no longer young; now that I look backwards as much as I look ahead, I’m beginning to think that maybe our choices make themselves as we swerve away from what we fear.

So now, finally, I am working to make my choices not from fear, but from curiosity and love. It’s pretty amazing.  

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Comments

Now that was a lot of fun! Couldn't stop reading it until the end. I could see all the action in my head as you described it so clearly. Thank You.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks for saying so!

Exactly what Karen K said above! Your personality shone thru in Willa!

Wow! You need to do this! I will read all your books! This was a fun read, kept me reading till the end, wanting more stories of Harry and Willie. You rock! - and Willie had your sense of humor, for some strange reason...

So enjoyed this story. I raise my glass to conquering fear! Patricia

I thoroughly enjoyed your story. I was captivated from beginning to end. I would love to see a full book about Willie and Harry. You are especially good at setting a scene. I liked your message about fear. Don’t stop writing!

It flowed and I could “see” everything! A compelling read!

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