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Twin Crucibles – Dusty Grein
(Part 4 of 4)
Amy pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders and waited for the paramedics to finish examining Mike. It looked like he needed several stitches in his leg, but it was far less than Howard needed – or maybe it was more accurate to say it was more than her stepfather would ever need. Dead men didn’t require stitches.
Their plan had started out simple.
She was going to go to the park and play her guitar, as she assumed Howard would expect her to. Mike would sneak through the park and come up behind her.
Just after sunrise this morning, Mike had found a natural blind in some undergrowth where he could watch her from concealment, and still reach her in less than thirty seconds.
She was afraid of that number.
She had tried to hold her breath for thirty seconds and found it was a lot longer than she expected it to be. Mike had insisted that he could get to her before Howard could touch her. He could see every approach to the spot where she would be playing her guitar.
Mike had made her promise to give him ten minutes to drive around the park, find a place to hide her car, and sneak into his sheltered blind. She had waited as long as she could, but when her watch showed it had been fifteen minutes, she gathered herself, steeled her nerves and made her way to the spot where she would set up her case and play.
It was spring, but it was unseasonably cool last night and the grass in the shady spots was still covered in dew. There were only a couple people in the park this early. No one was near her spot or on the tennis courts across the grass behind her.
Amy’s nerves threatened to immobilize her more than once and it was all she could do to trust that Mike was there, watching her.
She had no sooner set her guitar case down, when someone stepped out of the tree line to her right. Actually, it was two someones. Mike stood there with one arm twisted up violently behind him and there, over his shoulder, stood Howard.
Amy gasped and covered her mouth before she could scream. There was no telling what Howard might do to Mike if she did. The two started toward her, and that’s when she saw that Mike was limping, badly. As they neared, she could see that he was bleeding from the back of his thigh.
There was so much blood!
Her eyes scanned for help, but the only people she saw were an old man walking his dogs on the other side of the tennis courts, Mike with pain and rage in his eyes and Howard, who smiled as if it was just another beautiful day at the park.
“Amy, Amy, Amy. I’ve missed you sweetheart.” He pulled Mike’s arm up harder behind him, and she could see that he was holding a very large knife to Mike’s ribs under his other arm. “I think your boyfriend here and your Daddy need to have a little heart-to heart.”
“Wait!” Amy wasn’t sure what had come over her or where the courage had come from, but she couldn’t watch him kill another person she loved. “You don’t need to hurt him. He’s not my boyfriend. I was just using him for a place to shower and have a hot meal. The truth is, I’ve missed you too.”
The words tasted like bile in her mouth, and the pain she saw reflected in Mike’s eyes made her hate herself for what this lie was doing to him.
It worked though.
Howard had stopped, and his mouth hung open in shock. She let the tears flow and gave the best performance of her life.
She walked toward Howard, praying that he would keep staring at her. She raised both her arms in a gesture of helpless supplication and cried, “Daddy! Please let me come home!”
Howard let go of Mike, pushing him to the ground, and Amy ran toward her stepfather, throwing herself into his arms. He reached out to catch her, the knife clasped firmly in his left hand.
Amy grabbed his wrist and pulled the knife down into the space between them. As they came together, she tipped the blade away from herself and stepped forward, pulling up on the hilt with every ounce of strength she possessed, driving the blade under his rib cage. She then let go and he leaned back away from her. His mouth hung open and his arms fell limp to his sides as he stared down at the knife handle sprouting from below his chest.
She reached out and grabbed his shoulders, mindless of the blood soaking her clothes. Staring into his confused and ashen face, she said quietly, “That’s for Brandon. And this…” She pulled down as hard as she could while slamming her knee upward into the handle of the exposed blade, sending it even deeper into his chest. “This is for Mike.”
She let him go and watched as Mike stood, balancing on his left leg. He grabbed the dying man’s head between his hands, and with a sharp twist and a loud snapping noise, he broke the monster’s neck. “And that’s for her, you son of a bitch!”
Mike had then thrown Howard’s body to the side and collapsed, his own leg wound bleeding profusely. Amy had grabbed him and screamed as loud as she could, “Help! Someone, help us!”
The old man with the dogs had heard her, and in what seemed like minutes the police had arrived, followed by the paramedics. The responding officers were soon replaced by the two who had taken her report yesterday.
They had told her that Mike would be taken to the hospital, but she would have to wait and talk to the detectives.
She kissed Mike and promised to be there before they released him from the ER. Her nightmare was over, and whatever came next, she knew she could face it with Mike by her side.
* * *
Mike lay on his left side and watched the IV pain medication drip slowly into the line. He still couldn’t feel much from his butt down, but there was a rather intense ache deep inside, which the doctors had told him would only get worse as the lidocaine wore off.
His day got much better when Amy came rushing into the room. Her clothes were caked with dried blood, her hair was a mess, and she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
His concern for her had kept him from thinking too much about what had happened, but he knew that he wouldn’t have acted any differently, if he had to do it again.
Well, he might not have assumed his hiding spot was empty. He could still remember the tangy-sour feeling of the knife blade as it sank into the back of his upper thigh.
“Oh Mike! Are you okay?” Amy sounded on the edge of panic.
“I’m fine. The doc said I got pretty lucky.”
“Lucky? How the hell could getting stabbed that deeply be lucky?”
“Well, first off, it wasn’t as deep as all that. Secondly, the blade went in vertically, and kind of slid in between the muscles. If it had been turned sideways, the doctor said it might have cut tendons, or even worse nerves might have been severed. I might have lost all sensation in my butt and/or leg. So since I can still feel this pain in my general butt area, I’m counting it as a lucky flesh-wound.”
He grinned at her. He could feel the morphine working, and he assumed his grin was as goofy looking as it felt on his face. “Of course, I won’t be able to sit down comfortably for a while, and I might need some help with stuff like getting dressed.”
She smiled back at him. “I think we can handle that.” She patted his leg, not realizing it was his right leg until he winced. The look of shame and sorrow on her face was priceless and he had to chuckle to let her know he was okay, even though it had hurt more than he would ever let her know.
“How did it go with the detectives?”
“Really well. The older one said I reminded him of his oldest daughter, and that he only wished he could have caught Howard before the attack happened.”
There was a soft knock on the exam room door. “Come in.”
Yeah, the morphine was definitely kicking in now, which was great since the numbing agent was rapidly wearing off, and the stitched area was beginning to burn.
They both looked up as a short, heavyset man with a slightly graying head of wispy thin hair stepped in the room. He was wearing a wrinkled pink shirt, and a blue tie that had been pulled down to about three inches below his open collar.
“Detective?” Amy’s voice sounded surprised. “Did I forget something in my statement?”
“No, no. I just wanted to stop by and see how you were doing. Mike is it?”
“Mike Adams.” He held his hand out, and the detective clasped it.
“Howie Stegner, Mike. My partner Paul isn’t here tonight. He’s a rookie and gets a little excited about things. This case is pretty cut and dried, so I’m letting him do the paper work.”
The older man reached in his pocket and grabbed a roll of what looked like candy. He popped two in his mouth and chewed them. Noticing their looks of curiosity, he said, “Sorry… antacid. Dang heartburn tends to flare on me right before dinner. Listen, I’m not gonna take up too much of your time, but I wanted to let the two of you know that we won’t be filing any kind of charges. It was just lucky for you that the bastard tripped after he stabbed you and fell on that knife he was packing.”
The man had a serious and forlorn look on his face. “You know, they really need to trim those exposed roots in that park. Why, a man who trips and falls on his own knife could quite easily break his neck when he landed wrong on them.”
He winked at the two of them. “Anyway, you kids be careful going home, and stay out of trouble.”
The smile on Amy’s face as the detective left the room held more promise for Mike’s future than he had ever known before.
Author’s Note: This short story marks the first appearance of Detective Howard “Howie” Stegner, who must face his deepest fears and use his brilliant mind, to track down a notorious and psychopathic serial killer, in the upcoming novel by Dusty Grein,
(coming soon from RhetAskew Publishing)