Authors: Nick Russell
Pain. A depth of pain he had never experienced before. A depth of pain he had never known existed. The beating had been terrible, but it was only the start. At some point he had passed out and his tormentors had stopped hitting and kicking him and had waved an ammonia capsule under his nose to bring him back to consciousness. Then they brought out the pruning shears.
They didn't take off his left pinkie finger all at once. That would have been too quick. And too kind. Instead they had removed the tip, then used the same ammonia capsule to revive him while they took off another section. He had passed out a third time and once more they had brought him around, the acrid smell of the ammonia ampule doing its job, awakening him so he could experience the agony as they finished the job.
How long had he been driving? Hours only, but it seemed like days. He wanted to stop and sleep, but he knew if he did they would find him. Not those two, they were dead. But Torres had more where they came from and he knew whoever he sent for him this time would be even more brutal.
How much further? Could he make it before fatigue and pain and loss of blood took their toll and his abused body finally gave out like an old jalopy that had been pushed to its last mile before finally disintegrating into a heap of rusted metal and rubber and glass with it's oil and gasoline and grease spilling out onto the blacktop, just like his blood was leaking out of him? He looked at the GPS, finding it hard to focus his eyes. Three more miles. Three more miles was nothing. He could do that. He had come so far already, what was three more miles? Three more miles might as well have been the distance from the Earth to the Moon. If he could just pull over and rest for a few moments. Just close his eyes and rest.
No! He knew if he stopped he would never move again. It was only three more miles. He could make it.
When he first saw the gecko on the wall in the corner of his bedroom a week earlier he was going to catch it and put it outside. But it had been too fast for him. Three times he had tried to snatch it and three times it had scurried out of his reach. Frustrated, had gone into the kitchen and found a plastic flyswatter.
"Don't kill it," Beth Ann had pleaded.
"I'm not gonna kill it, I'm just gonna knock it out so I can throw it out."
"Don't do that, John Lee. They're good luck."
"No, rabbits feet are good luck. I've never heard of lizards being good luck before."
"I bet rabbits don't think their feet are so lucky, if people are always killin' 'em so they can hang them on those little chains."
"I never thought about that," he admitted. "Hold still, you little bastard."
John Lee slapped at it with the flyswatter and missed. The gecko ducked behind the corner of his dresser.
"And even if they ain't lucky, they eat bugs. Long as he's here you won't have no bugs in your house."
"This is Florida, Beth Ann, there are always going to be bugs in the house. And so what if he eats them all? I've got a lizard in my house instead of a bug. Is that any better?"
"Just leave him and come back to bed. I promise I'll take your mind off of it."
"I don't like Magic watching us in bed. I damn sure don't want a lizard watching us."
"Come on, John Lee, come back to bed."
So he had, and Beth Ann had had been right. It only took a few minutes for him to completely forget about the gecko.
Since then he had come to grudgingly accept the freeloading lizard. Mostly because he couldn't catch the damn thing anyway. So they seemed to have come to an agreement of sorts. As long as the gecko kept the insect population in control and minded its manners, John Lee would think of it as a living bug zapper. But the first time he found it in his bed there was going to be hell to pay.
Magic, his 100 pound protection trained German Shepherd, had not been as quick to welcome their new roommate. But over time the dog stopped growling at the gecko, though he followed it with his eyes whenever it moved.
John Lee was asleep when the dog growled, waking him up. But it wasn't the noise he used to signal his displeasure with the gecko. This was a lower, deeper growl. One of warning. One that there was trouble nearby.
The red numbers on the digital clock on his nightstand said 3:28. He swung out of bed and walked into the darkened living room. Beside him, Magic growled again.
"What is it, boy? Somebody out there?"
He peered through the wood Levolor blinds. It had rained earlier and the moon and stars were hidden behind the thick clouds cover. Even so, he managed to see the dark shape of a strange vehicle in his driveway.
Going back into his bedroom, John Lee pulled on a pair of jeans and a dark blue T-shirt and slipped his feet into tennis shoes. He went to his spare bedroom and retrieved his Bushnell Lynx night vision binoculars and returned to the front window. The car was still there, a silent trespasser.
Kneeling down at the bottom of the window, he pushed the blinds up enough to be able to see out and trained them on the car. The green tinted image showed somebody inside, sitting behind the wheel unmoving.
John Lee called the Somerton County Sheriff's Office and when the dispatcher answered, he said, "This is John Lee. Who's on duty tonight?"
"Maddy and Barry."
"Are they busy?"
"Maddy's working a one car accident out by the EZ Rest. A couple of kids ran off the road and into a ditch. No injuries. Barry's at the Harris place. Tom caught a couple of kids siphoning gas from his pickup and was holding them at gunpoint. Did you need something John Lee?"
"I don't know. There's a car parked in my driveway."
"Do you want me to see how soon I can get somebody out there?"
"No, not yet I'm going to go out and check on it, see what's up."
The dispatcher's name was Tony Ramsey and there was concern in his voice when he said, "Don't do that, John Lee. Let me see if I can call somebody at home to give you some backup."
"It'll be okay," John Lee assured him. "I've got my dog and he's pretty good backup. I'm taking my radio with me. If you don't hear from me in ten minutes, called out the cavalry."
"You think it's somebody from... well, you know?"
"I don't know, probably not. Probably just kids necking or something."
Months earlier John Lee had killed a man in an on-duty shooting. Though the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had ruled the shooting justifiable, the man's father had sworn to get revenge. Since he was the richest man in the county, he certainly had the resources to send hired guns to get even with the deputy.
"I really wish you'd wait and let me call somebody."
"We'd both feel pretty dumb if all it is is a couple of teenagers making out. Hang tight, Tony, I'll be back with you in just a couple of minutes."
John Lee tucked his 9mm Browning Hi Power pistol into his pants behind his right hip and picked up his 12 gauge Remington tactical shotgun and a high-intensity LED flashlight and went to the back door of his house. "Come on, Magic, let's go see who's visiting us at this time of night."
He scanned the back yard with the night vision binoculars, looking for anybody who might be waiting in ambush. Seeing nothing, he eased out the door, giving Magic the command to stay close at his side. He went to both back corners of the house and looked through the binoculars again. Nothing. Moving at a crouch, he crossed the open side yard, every sense alert to danger.
Keeping to a line of trees at the far edge of his property, John Lee and the dog made their way toward the front. He hoped there were no snakes around. John Lee hated snakes and feared them more than he did any bad guy with a gun or knife.
He moved stealthily until he could cross behind and approach the strange vehicle from the rear. The person inside had not moved. Holding the flashlight away from his body with one hand and resting the shotgun on the trunk lid, John Lee pushed the button to turn on the light.
"Show me your hands!"
"I said, show me your hands. Get them up in the air where I can see them!"
He thought he saw the head make a slight movement, but not much.
"Show me your damn hands or I'm gonna shoot!"
When there was no response John Lee left the shotgun and drew his pistol. He eased his way up to the side of the car. The man inside still hadn't moved. John Lee looked at the man through the window. Brown hair, maybe early to mid-50s. It was hard to say because his face was covered in blood. The driver's window was down. He knocked on the door with his flashlight and the man managed to turn his head enough to look at him.
"Are you John Lee Quarrels?" The voice was weak, not much more than a tortured whisper.
"That's me. Who the hell are you?"
"I'm your father."