Authors: James Sheehan
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For John, Justin, and Sarah
You have made this journey all it was meant to be
illy Fuller had spent his whole adult life as an employee of Dynatron, a major energy company located in northwest Florida, until the company folded and he lost everything. He had two recurrent nightmares that left him constantly tired and on edge and haunted him during the daylight hours as well. This night he was dreaming about his wife, Laurie. It was always the same dream.
He’s sitting in the chair by Laurie’s bedside, watching her as she lies there with her eyes closed. Dark, hollow sockets harbor those eyes, her cheeks are gaunt, her body ravaged by disease.
Her eyes open. She turns as she always does to where he is sitting and smiles. At that moment, she is so beautiful to him. He wants to cut his wrists open and give her every drop of the good, clean, healthy blood that flows through his veins.
“Come here,” she says, and Billy comes to her and kisses her on the lips.
“I love you,” he says.
“I love you too, honey.”
He sees a faint twinkle in those deep-set eyes. He wants to reach in, pull it out, and make it light up her whole body. He wants his life and his wife back. This time he wants a happy ending.
She raises those thin arms, arms that are black-and-blue from the IVs. They are part of her beauty too. She puts her hands on Billy’s shoulders.
“My body’s tired, Billy. I’m going to have to leave it soon. I can’t fight anymore,” she says. “I need you to be strong for the kids.”
“Don’t say that, honey. There’s still time. There’s still hope. I need you. I can’t do this alone.”
“Yes, you can. I’ll help you. Part of me will always be with you.”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ll have to trust me on this one, sweetheart,” she says, closing her eyes. “I’m so tired.”
Billy puts his hands to his face then and weeps.
, he says to himself.
The sound of his own voice shouting those words wakes him up.
His other dream was about his best friend, Jimmy Lennox. Jimmy had stood with him through Laurie’s hospitalization despite his own personal setbacks. He’d been Billy’s lifeline.
Billy is sleeping. The phone rings in the middle of the night. He doesn’t want to answer it. He knows. But he is compelled to get out of bed and pick up the phone.
“Billy, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your friendship and all you’ve done for me.”
“What are you talking about, Jimmy? It’s me who should be thanking you.”
“Billy, I can’t take it anymore.”
“Take what? What are you talking about? We can take anything, you and me.”
“I’m sorry, Billy. I really am.”
“Jimmy, Jimmy, don’t hang up. I’ll come over. I’ll be there in a minute. We’ll talk this out.”
He hears the click.
He runs out of the house. Calls 911 on his cell phone as he jumps in his car and races over to Jimmy’s house. “Come on, faster,” he yells at the car as he presses the accelerator to the floor. Finally, he reaches Jimmy’s apartment. The door is unlocked. He walks in and sees Jimmy on the living room floor, his arms and legs splayed out, the phone in one hand, a revolver in the other. Blood oozes from his right temple. His left leg is twitching.
“Oh my God! Oh my God. Hang on, Jimmy.”
He kneels down, opens Jimmy’s mouth, breathes into it, presses down on his chest. Does it again. And again…until the police and paramedics arrive and pull him off.
“No. No,” he yells as they drag him away.
Then he wakes up in a sweat.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
azillionaire Roy Johnson was, among other things, a lush. Every night somewhere between ten and eleven, Mighty Roy would get a bottle of red wine from his wine room, walk outside into his enormous backyard garden, and sniff his various, expensive tropical flowers. Then he’d sit in his overstuffed chair, drinking by himself until the bottle was empty and he’d have to get up and get another one.
He’d screwed a lot of people over to get to that position in life.
Johnson had been the CEO of Dynatron, a major energy company in the United States and overseas that employed over twenty thousand people. In his heyday he’d dined with kings and queens and heads of state, including the president. A little over a year ago, over a period of three months, Dynatron stock fell from seventy-five dollars a share to fifty cents and then to nothing as the company slipped into bankruptcy.
Roy was not around for that debacle, however. He’d long ago cashed out to the tune of a hundred million dollars.
His employees were there, though—to the bitter end. Their pension savings had all been converted to Dynatron stock before the collapse, and the fund had been frozen so they could not transfer their assets to other securities.
No word or combination of words could capture the collective havoc inflicted on those people. In addition to their jobs, every employee lost his or her retirement and health insurance. Some lost the ability to hope; some lost their spouses and families; others took their own lives.
None of that seemed to bother Johnson as he sat in his garden chair gazing at the stars. When he was good and soused, Mighty Roy and his bottle would take a walk on Gladestown Road, a two-lane road that was the only entry and exit into Gladestown, the little town where Roy had chosen to build his kingdom.
After Dynatron collapsed, the feds determined it had inflated the value of its stock for several years through a series of sophisticated accounting procedures. The chief accountant pled out to a three-year sentence. Mighty Roy claimed no knowledge of wrongdoing, and so far there was no evidence linking the slimy bastard to anything. That was it. Millions of investors screwed, twenty thousand employees decimated, or worse, and one guy got a three-year sentence. Case closed.
Or maybe not…
He was walking down the road with his bottle in his hand. He loved this sleepy, little town with its clear moonlit skies. There were no lights on the road, no traffic, and no other signs of civilization. The only sound was the croaking of the gators who resided in the swamps that surrounded the narrow asphalt strip. There were hundreds of them down
there, he knew, and they could smell him for sure as he walked along. It was such a narrow, artificial line between safety and danger, life and death. He laughed out loud as the thought struck him.
A gator could shoot out of the swamp at any time and grab him. Hell, they crossed the road all the time. Others had disappeared. Maybe it was him, the smell of him, that kept them at bay. Fear. Irrational fear. He loved it.
He turned and started back toward home, staying in the middle of the road, mindful of the fact that if he slipped by the shoulder and fell, he would have crossed the line. There would be no hesitation then. They would be on him in a heartbeat, and to them he would become just another piece of meat.
He heard the engine behind him, saw the road light up from the headlights, and moved to the left side of the road, paying careful attention to where the asphalt ended and the swamp began. It was a little strange for a car to be out here at this hour of the evening, but he wasn’t worried about it. There was plenty of road for the car. His fuzzy brain didn’t detect the sound of the engine increasing speed, didn’t notice until it was too late that the headlights were focused dead center on him. The car hit him without attempting to stop, propelling him into the murky darkness. There was a splash as his body hit the water, immediately followed by a thousand other little splashes as the creatures of the night raced each other for a piece of the unexpected evening meal.
arlisle Buchanan was the sheriff’s man in Gladestown, an insignificant, old Florida town with a population of three hundred fifty people. Situated at the southwestern tip of the state on the western edge of the Everglades and surrounded on two sides by swamp and the third side by Florida Bay, Gladestown didn’t even have its own police force. It was under the jurisdiction of the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff occupied a tiny A-frame at the intersection of Highway 41 and Gladestown Road.
Carlisle was a native. When Sheriff Frank Cousins decided he could not commit an officer to the little hamlet because of its distance from his main headquarters in Verona some sixty miles away, he decided to hire somebody local to keep an eye on things at a much lower pay rate than a sheriff’s deputy. Carlisle was far and away the best candidate. He was twenty-seven years old, stood six feet two inches tall, was strong as an ox, and knew everything about Gladestown and the surrounding waters. Even though he was not required to carry a gun for the auxiliary job, Carlisle was an avid outdoorsman, well versed in all kinds of weaponry.
Carlisle hadn’t wanted the job. He didn’t even apply. Office work was simply too confining. But Sheriff Cousins had stopped at Rosie’s Café one day and found out about him from Rosie. After that, the sheriff wouldn’t let go until he had his man.
“Just open up in the morning, Carlisle, and stick around for a couple of hours. After that, as long as you have your phone on, you can patrol the town, the surrounding waters, the woods—wherever you want to go.
“I just want you to be my eyes and ears out here. If there’s any trouble, you just contact headquarters.”
The job paid better than what he was doing at the time, so Carlisle finally relented. It had turned out to be a good decision so far. In the two years since he’d started, Carlisle had little occasion to even call headquarters.
Things were about to change.
On Monday morning at eight thirty-five, he was puttering around the office—sweeping, cleaning desktops, anything to stay busy. Carlisle didn’t like just sitting around unless, of course, he was out on the water and he had a fishing rod in his hands.
He was putting the broom and dustpan away when a woman walked in. It was such a rare event that Carlisle was startled for a moment.
“Can I help you?” he asked politely as he walked toward the counter.
“I’d like to report a missing person,” the woman said. She had that well-heeled look: tan and toned in a plain white summer dress with plenty of accoutrements—earrings, necklace, watch, bracelet, two diamond rings, and a white gold wedding band. Her skin was smooth and her seemingly natural golden blonde hair was tied in a ponytail.
“A missing person,” Carlisle said. “And who would that be?”
“My husband, Roy Johnson.” She waited for the look of recognition on Carlisle’s face when she uttered the name of the most famous part-time resident of Gladestown.
“When was the last time you saw your husband?” Carlisle continued in a professional manner, grabbing a legal pad to document the conversation.
“Last night around ten or eleven o’clock. He went out in his garden as he usually does. I went to bed as I usually do. When I woke up this morning, he wasn’t there.”
“So you just noticed him missing this morning?”
“Have you checked around town or called his business associates or friends?”
“My husband doesn’t frequent any places in town, and he has no friends or business associates around here.”
Carlisle was not all that concerned. Missing husbands were not uncommon in Gladestown. Usually they were out all night on their boat or at a buddy’s house. Sometimes, they went to Verona, the big city down the road, for the night. He had never filled out a missing person’s report, and they always showed up either the next day or, in rare cases, the day after. A guy with resources like Roy Johnson could be anywhere. Carlisle remembered the whole town talking about the time a helicopter landed on Roy’s front lawn to pick him up.
“Doesn’t your husband have bodyguards?”
“How did you know about them?”
“I ran into them one time.”
Carlisle had walked to the office late one night from his home, a distance of a little over a mile. On the way back, he decided on a whim to look around the great Johnson mansion. It was set back off Gladestown Road right on the water where the canal opened out onto Florida Bay—a lovely spot. There was no gate or fencing. Set amid the serenity of the swamp, the tall pines, the cypress and cedars, it stuck out like a canker sore.
Carlisle had been down by the dock looking at the yachts when two men came out of the dark with guns in hand and made him lie on the ground facedown with his arms and legs spread apart. They only let him go after they found his wallet and saw his identification as an auxiliary police officer. Carlisle was angry at himself over that incident. He vowed that he would never let anybody catch him off guard like that again.
“They don’t know where he is either.” Sylvia Johnson brought him back to the present.
strange. It seemed like a man with bodyguards would at least let them know if he was disappearing on the wife for a while. And from what he’d heard about Roy Johnson, there were a lot of people who would like to see him disappear forever.
“Ma’am, I’ll report this to my superiors right away.”