Authors: Frank Peretti
Just then the police radio came to life. The sound of it always froze time in the station as everyone stopped to hear the message. “Bacon’s Corner, Bacon’s Corner, possible DOA at Fred Potter farm, 12947 197th SW. Aid crew is en route.”
Mulligan jumped from his chair, making it rumble backward and smack against the wall. “Where’s Leonard—is he here yet?” Then the phone rang. “Nuts! When it rains it pours. Get that!”
Ben hurried to the front desk.
A man and a woman were sitting in the reception area. Ben recognized the man: John Ziegler, reporter for the
Hampton County Star
; he worked the local police beat and hung around the station a lot. The lady was obviously a photographer. Ziegler had a notepad handy, and was apparently scribbling down everything he heard!
The phone rang again.
Ben kept staring at the news-hounds while he grabbed the phone. “Police Department.” The voice on the other end was frantic. “Slow down, ma’am, please. I can’t understand you.” It was Cecilia Potter. She’d already called 911; now she wanted to make sure the police were coming.
Ben knew where their farm was. “We just got the call on the radio. We’ll be right there.” So much for going home.
The back door opened.
“Here’s Leonard now,” Ben reported.
Officer Leonard Jackson was reporting in for the night shift. He was a calm, thin, easy-paced sort of guy in his forties, almost a permanent fixture around the place. Mulligan nearly ran over him bursting out of his office.
“Let’s move it, Leonard! There’s a suicide down at the Potter place!”
“The Potter place?” Leonard had trouble imagining either of the Potters doing such a thing.
Ben was quite unsettled about an additional matter. “What about John Ziegler out there?”
Mulligan looked at the reporters and started cursing, looking this way and that. “Harris! Get out here!”
Tom stepped out of the office, trying to be cooperative.
Mulligan shoved him forward toward the front office. “Have a seat with those nice people—they want to talk to you! Leonard, we’ll take your squad car.”
Tom looked at Ben for help. “They were at my house today when that lady took the kids. They took pictures of it!”
Ben could feel his temper rising. “Tom, you don’t have to say anything to them. Just go right on by them and go home!”
Mulligan must have seen something he didn’t like. “Cole, you’re coming too!”
Leonard was ready to roll. Mulligan grabbed his hat and jacket. The reporters were on their feet and coming toward Tom.
Ben asked, “Is Tom free to leave?”
Mulligan rolled his eyes at such a question. “Cole, he came in here on his own two feet—he can go out the same way. Hear that, Harris?”
Ben said quietly, “Tom, just get out of here. You don’t have to talk to anyone.”
Mulligan growled at him, “Are you about ready, Cole? C’mon, let’s move!”
Ben didn’t like this one bit, but orders were orders. He headed for the back door again.
Mulligan tipped his hat to John Ziegler and the camera lady. “Just make yourselves comfortable. We’ll be back in about an hour, and I’ll have a statement for you.”
Ben told Tom, “I’ll call you,” then followed Mulligan and Leonard.
Mulligan muttered over his shoulder as they went out to the cars, “I’m not leaving you in there with that Christian buddy of yours, no way. If you’re gonna be on duty, you’re gonna work, and you’re gonna do what I tell you and no static. We don’t need you two fanatics having some powwow in there, no sir!”
Tom went back into Mulligan’s office for his jacket and then stepped into the hall again.
John Ziegler was standing right in front of him, blocking his path.
“Excuse me,” Tom said, trying to get around.
John was insistent on having a conversation.
“John Ziegler, with the
Hampton County Star
“Yes, I saw you at my house,” said Tom curtly.
Ziegler asked, “Mr. Harris, what is your response to these allegations?”
allegations? I don’t even know why this is happening to me!”
“Do you think this will hurt the Christian school?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you deny any abuse of children in the Christian school?”
That question stopped Tom cold. He was troubled by it.
Ziegler picked up on that. “You do deny the allegations?”
Tom found his voice for that one. “I don’t know of any allegations.”
Ziegler scribbled it down.
“Has there been any reaction from your family?”
“Besides the fact that my children were terrified?”
The woman began clicking a camera at him.
“Hey, come on, now . . .”
The camera kept clicking.
Ziegler raised an eyebrow. “I understand you’re a widower. So you live at home alone with your children?”
Tom was indignant. “That’s it! I’m leaving. Good night.”
Ziegler threw questions at Tom’s back as they followed right behind him toward the front door. “Is the state considering your children as possible victims as well?”
Tom jerked the door open and glared at them for a moment.
The camera caught his angry expression.
Ziegler was satisfied. “Thank you very much, Mr. Harris.”
JUST ACROSS THE
street, Despair sat on the roof of the Bacon’s Corner Library and Gift Shop, a forlorn beanbag of melancholy filth, whimpering over his wounds and watching the two squad cars speed away.
“Oh, there they go, there they go. What now?”
Several other dark spirits were with him, staying low, muttering, hissing, slobbering in agitation. They were a motley band of tempters, harassers, and deceivers, suddenly half as strong, half as numerous, and full of anguish over the recent, terrible defeat of their comrades.
Despair was living up to his name. “Lost, lost, lost, all is lost! Our
best are gone, all vanquished but for me!”
A sharp slap bounced his round head against his shoulder. “Stop that whimpering! You make me ill!”
“Terga, my prince, you were not there!”
Terga, the Prince of Bacon’s Corner, resembled a slimy toad with a fright wig of black wire and two rolling, yellow eyes. He was indignant, and kept scratching his gnarled head purely from an itch of frustration. “Failure, that’s what it was. An abominable display of ineptitude!”
Murder was quick to object. “Had the mission succeeded, no doubt you would have been the first to praise it!”
“It did not, and I do not!”
Deception tried to objectively assess the debacle. “Our forces were strong, and I’m sure they fought valiantly, but . . . the prayers of the saints are stronger. The Host of Heaven are stronger. They were waiting for our warriors, and they were ready. We severely underestimated their numbers and their power. It’s quite simple.”
Terga spun around and glared at Deception, hating his words, but knowing the astute demon was quite correct. He paced, he fidgeted, he struggled to comprehend what was happening. “We have moved against Tom Harris and the school! The Plan of the Strongman is unfolding at this very moment. It is underway, right now! But here you are, lamenting a rout and telling me that the Plan could be marching headlong toward destruction, and all because of this . . . this . . .
Deception thought about the question, and then nodded. “That would be a fair assessment.”
Terga rolled his eyes toward the sky and wailed his fear and frustration. “Destroyer will have all our hides for this! Those who did not fall in this rout will certainly fall under
sword!” He counted the demons around him and came up shorter than he wanted. “Where is Hatred?”
“Gone,” they all answered. “One of the first to fall.”
“In chains in the Abyss, I imagine,” said Deception.
“Greed? Lust? Rape?”
He only got forlorn stares. He looked out over the town, and his head just kept twitching from side to side. He could not fathom what had happened. “Such an easy task . . . a simple little murder . . . We’ve
all done it before . . .”
Despair moaned, “When the Strongman finds out . . .”
Terga bounced Despair’s head off his other shoulder.
“He must know!” said Divination.
“Then tell him!” said Terga. “Go yourself!”
Divination fell silent, hoping some other demon would speak up.
Terga snatched a fistful of Despair’s baggy hide and held him up like a trophy. “Our envoy!”
They began to cheer, their talons clicking their applause.
“No . . . not the Strongman!” Despair whined. “Is not one thrashing enough?”
“Go now,” said Terga, “or the Strongman’s will be your
Despair fluttered crazily into the air. One wing was still battered and bent.
“Go!” said Terga. “And be quick about it!” Despair hurried away, whining and wailing as he went. “And when you’re through with that, go back to the woman and continue your duty as you should!”
Some snickers caused Terga to spin around. A few small spirits cowered, looking up at him—they’d been caught.
“Ah,” said Terga, and they could see the slime on the roof of his mouth. “Fear, Death, and Insanity, three of the woman’s favorite pets! You look rather idle at the moment.”
The three demons looked at each other stupidly.
“Back to your posts! Follow the woman!”
They fluttered into the air like frightened pigeons, clawing after altitude.
Terga wasn’t satisfied. He slapped several more demons with his wings. “You too! All of you! Find her! Torture her! Terrorize her! Do you want Destroyer to think you are the worthless lumps you are? Correct your blunder! Destroy the woman!”
The air was filled with roaring, fluttering wings. Terga covered his head to keep from getting clouted with a wild wingtip. In only moments, they were gone. Terga looked down the street, down the road that would take the squad cars to Potter’s farm.
“Our sergeant isn’t going to find what he expected,” he muttered.
IT WAS GETTING
dark when the two squad cars rumbled down the gravel driveway to the Potters’ house. The aid car was already there, its doors flung open, its lights flashing. Fred and Cecilia were out on the wide front porch waiting for the police, holding each other close. They were strong, rugged people, but tonight they were obviously shaken.
Mulligan locked the wheels and slid to an impressive, slightly side-skidding halt in the loose gravel, then bolted from the car in time to emerge like a god from the cloud of dust he’d stirred up. Leonard waited for the dust to blow by before getting out—he didn’t want it all over the seat when he got back in the car.
Ben pulled to a careful stop behind the first car and got out in calm, businesslike fashion. He was being overcautious, aware that his emotions were on a thin edge.
Mulligan was already talking with one of the paramedics, getting the lowdown. The paramedic had just come from a little farmhouse across the field. Ben could see two more flashlights sweeping about in the darkness over there. Apart from that, there were no lights.
“Deceased,” said the paramedic. “Dead at least an hour.”
“Okay,” said Mulligan, clicking on his big silver flashlight, “let’s go.”
He headed into the field, swishing through the wild grass with long, powerful strides, his nightstick swinging from his hip, his belly bouncing on his buckle. Leonard and Ben followed close behind.
“It’s that Roe woman,” said Mulligan. “Sally Roe. You know anything about her?”
Leonard assumed the question was directed to him. “Very little, Harold.”
“I think she’s one of those weird types, some kind of leftover hippie, a loser. Guess she decided to end it all.”
Ben was probing his brain as they continued toward the dark farmhouse. Sally Roe. The name didn’t register.
“All right,” said Mulligan. “There’s the goat pen. Spread out a bit, you guys. No hiding behind me.”
They came out of the field, crossed an unused, heavily weeded roadway, and came to the goat pen. The fence was crude and aged, made of rusted wire nailed to split rail posts, with a creaking gate hanging crookedly on one good hinge and one loose one. The gate was still open; all the goats were now corralled over at the Potters’. Two emergency medical technicians were standing outside the pen, putting away their gear.
“She’s all yours,” said one.
Ben glanced around the pen, shining his light here and there, just checking for anything unusual, not wanting to disturb it. His eye caught a spilled pail of goat feed near the door of the goat shed.
“Hey, check that out,” he said, pointing with his light.
Mulligan ignored him and charged right across the goat pen and into the weathered, tin-roofed shed, leaving a big manured footprint in the middle of the spilled feed. Then he stopped short. He’d found something. Leonard and Ben came up behind him and looked in through the doorway.