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By COREY MITCHELL
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Corey Mitchell
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Chapter OneWednesday, December 10, 2003, 6:00 p.m. Whitaker Residence Heron Way-Sugar Lakes Subdivision Sugar Land, Texas
Nestled cozily inside their luxurious home in the tony neighborhood of Sugar Lakes, in the upscale small city of Sugar Land, Texas, just outside the crime-filled, polluted metropolis of Houston, the Whitaker family gathered for a special occasion. They were to celebrate the impending graduation the following day of their eldest son, Bart, from Sam Houston State University.
Outside, the pre-Christmas chill had finally started to kick in and the crispness permeated the neighborhood. Heron Way, the street upon which the Whitaker home resided, was bedecked with the ever-popular icicle lights. Doors were festooned with oversized evergreen wreaths, and life-sized wooden cutouts of most major Christian-based, Christmas-themed characters were erected, like a movie set for a Western.
Inside, the Whitakers huddled together in the warmth of their lovely home, so painstakingly tended to by the family matriarch, Patricia Whitaker, known to her family and friends as "Tricia." She made sure nearly every inch of their home was covered in Christmas knickknacks-from Santa snow globes, to fake snow, to little green candy canes laid everywhere with care. But there was an even deeper devotion in this household, more than mere secular Santa-ism. Tricia and her husband, Kent, were both deeply religious people who made sure that "Christ" remained in Christmas in the Whitaker household. Kent and Tricia held tightly to their faith and made sure to incorporate their devotion into their everyday lives, whether they were attending church services and functions, or simply with how they comported themselves in their daily routines and dealings with other people.
Kent and Tricia also made it a point to teach the bountiful lessons of Jesus Christ and his Holy Father to their own two sons, Thomas, who preferred to be addressed by his nickname, "Bart," and his younger brother, Kevin. Both sons were outstanding in the eyes of their parents and both had made strides toward living a Christ-filled life.
"I'm so happy," Tricia whispered to Kent. He smiled back at his lovely bride, who, at fifty-one years old, looked as beautiful to him as the day they first met. He still felt a rush of warmth in her presence, and he knew he loved her more today than he had all those years ago.
"Me too," Kent replied. "I knew he could do it."
The couple stopped what they were doing and looked up at the portrait of their family, placed over the fireplace mantel. Their twenty-three-year-old son, Bart, was ready to begin his adult life with a college degree in hand. He was brilliant, they said to one another, and now he would be able to step out into the real world and let others see his true intelligence.
"All right, Bart"-Kent Whitaker got his son's attention-"in honor of this wondrous occasion, your mother and I decided to get you something special to commemorate your hard work and dedication to finish your studies and earn that degree."
Bart stood next to the hearth and grinned. The handsome, though slightly pudgy, son beamed back in his parents' direction. He was dressed nicely in a casual pair of brown corduroy pants, a burgundy long-sleeved shirt, and preppy bowling shoes. He smiled in eager anticipation as to what it was his overly generous parents were giving him this time.
Kent handed Bart a wrapped gift, about the size of an old-fashioned small toaster oven. Bart thanked his father as he received the package. He stood near the family Christmas tree, which was already overflowing with gifts, even though Christmas was still more than two weeks away. He looked like a little kid whose parents would allow him to open one of his presents before Santa came.
Instead of diving right in, however, Bart played up the moment. He looked at the gift, held it up to his ear, and began to shake it vigorously. He smiled as he tried to guess what was inside. "Hmmmm, I'd say it's a coffee mug." His parents played along. His younger brother, Kevin, smiled as well.
"No, Bart, just open it," his mother playfully ordered.
"Yeah, c'mon, Bart. Your mother went to a lot of trouble to find this for you," his father declared. "It's not every day one of our boys graduates from college."
Bart returned the smiles and hungrily tore into the package. After he removed the wrapping and the bow, he found himself holding a green box. The outside of the box looked like the interior of a fluorescent aquarium, complete with rocky coral shelves. He knew this was no ordinary box. He also knew it was no coffee mug.
Bart flipped the box over in an effort to try and figure out the best spot where to open it. As he did, he spotted Rolex on the opposite side. His eyes lit up. He had always wanted a Rolex watch, but he never had enough money to purchase one of the elite timepieces.
Tricia's smile was wide enough to make every orthodontist happy as she watched her oldest boy unwrap his gift. She could not have been prouder-especially since she had always wondered about Bart and whether or not he could get his act together and be a solid contributor to the family. Now she knew that his commitment to his studies was all the proof she needed to know he was definitely on the path to a godly life and financial success. She could not have asked for anything more.
Once Bart realized what his gift was, he wasted no more time in getting to it. He opened the box, then removed another box from inside. He opened the second box and there it was: a shiny $4,000 Rolex watch. He was ecstatic. Bart had champagne tastes, and his parents never let him down.
Tricia leaned up against Kent and flashed him a loving smile. He nodded toward her and then turned to Bart. "Well, what do you think, Bart?"
Bart continued looking at the watch and then slowly shook his head to and fro. "I like it. I like it a lot." Bart smiled at his brother, Kevin, who returned the smile. "No, I love it!" Bart exclaimed.
The family spent another minute or so gawking at Bart's new symbol of success. After basking in the glow, Bart glanced at his new watch, which had the correct time already. "Hey, c'mon. We'd better get going. We don't want to be late for Pappadeaux."
The rest of the Whitaker family nodded in agreement and began to perform the "getting ready to go" shuffle of grabbing wallets, jackets, and gloves. Pappadeaux is a seafood restaurant chain that specializes in fried seafood and Cajun-style crawfish. It is owned by the Pappas family from Houston, who also own Pappas Bros., which serves steaks, Pappasito's, which serves Mexican food, and Pappas BBQ, which, of course, specializes in barbeque. There are several Pappas restaurants spread throughout the state of Texas, and they are hugely successful. The most upscale of all the Pappas' restaurants would definitely be Pappadeaux. There was one located near the Whitakers, out on Highway 59, near Highway 6, less than three miles from their home.
The four Whitakers piled into Tricia's TrailBlazer and headed out of their neighborhood.
They failed to notice the car parked on the back side street, directly behind their house.
Tricia made the short drive in very little time. The perpetually under-construction Highway 6 did not cause any problems for them, as work was being done in the opposite direction from the restaurant. In less than five minutes, the Whitakers pulled into the relatively empty parking lot, exited the TrailBlazer, and headed for the side doors of the restaurant.
No one in the family noticed the person sitting in the car who watched them as they entered Pappadeaux.
Inside the restaurant, the family was quickly seated as they had called in reservations. They perused the extravagant menus, made their selections, and gave their orders to the friendly waitstaff. Drinks were also ordered, delivered, and quaffed. It was all a very pleasant evening, with happiness and celebration the key themes for the Whitakers.
After stuffing themselves with crawfish, gumbo, and fried catfish, Kent Whitaker decided to order a celebratory dessert for Bart. A big production was made upon the delivery of the house special.
"Here's to you, Bart," Kent Whitaker toasted his oldest son. He could not contain his happiness. He had been worried that Bart would turn in the wrong direction and not make anything of himself. Thankfully, his son had proved him wrong. He was now on the precipice of greatness. "Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. I only wish Lynne was here to share this special occasion with you." Lynne Sorsby was Bart's girlfriend. There had recently been talk of marriage proposals on the horizon.
"Thanks, Dad," Bart said, returning the salute. "I'll be talking with her later tonight when we get back home. She'll probably come over later, but she already had plans to go out to dinner with her folks."
Surprisingly, Bart had not thought to invite Lynne and her family to Pappadeaux to join his family for dinner. The whole celebration actually was thrown together at the last minute. Bart even had to call his father in to be sure he made it out to the restaurant. As a result, Lynne had already made plans that she could not back out of.
"Bart, honey, I just want you to know how proud I am of you, son." Bart's mom was beaming. "You stuck with it and now you are being rewarded for your tenacity and strong spirit. I wish you the best of luck, and know you will make a name for yourself, one day."
"Hear! Hear!" the other two Whitaker men chimed in. All four raised their glasses for a toast. Bart smiled at his mom as he lowered his drink.
"How 'bout some pictures?" Kent Whitaker asked. The proud papa pulled out his camera and snapped several shots of the boys and their mother, Kevin and Bart together, and Bart holding up his dessert plate. A good time was had by all.
Their appetites sated, Kent asked their waiter for the check, he paid, and they exited the now-bustling restaurant. It paid to eat early in a Houston restaurant. When the Whitakers stepped outside, the parking lot had gone from relatively barren to humming with SUVs and Mercedes Benzes. This time, Kevin asked his mom to drive her TrailBlazer. She agreed and the family members piled in and drove off the lot.
None of the Whitakers noticed that the same car from earlier was still in the parking lot. Nor did they see it as it pulled out and began to follow them home.
Kevin Whitaker pulled up to the entrance of their gated community. He punched in the security code to gain access into the neighborhood. The car behind them managed to squeeze through the gate as well, without having to enter its own code. They did not notice the vehicle as they turned the corner toward Heron Way and their home.
Kevin turned right into the Whitaker driveway and pulled his mother's TrailBlazer up close to the attached garage. The family got out of the SUV, locked their doors, and shut them. Tricia was the first out and also the first to head toward the front porch and into the front-door entrance. The porch light beckoned like a shining star in the cold night.
Kevin quickly walked around the truck and scooted past his mother. He always liked to be first to the door, and the one to open it up. Kent followed behind Tricia. Bart, however, made a beeline for the street and his Yukon, which his parents had bought for him while he was at college.
"I forgot my cell phone in the truck," Bart tossed back to his family. "I need to call Lynne so she can come on over."
Kent looked over at Bart, smiled, and followed his wife.
As Kent Whitaker rounded the corner, he looked up and saw his youngest boy, Kevin, unlock the front door and enter the house. He had no idea that when Kevin went inside, there was someone standing directly in front of him. He also had no idea that Kevin smiled at the person who was standing inside their home.
It was short, but distinct. The sound rang out clearly in the quiet neighborhood.
"Oh God, no!" Kent Whitaker heard his wife scream. He ran toward her, but he was too late. Tricia Whitaker bolted into the house to protect her baby boy. "Don't you-"
Another crack. Nothing but silence from Tricia, then a moan.
"Help," she barely muttered.
Kent Whitaker went after his wife. He unknowingly stepped over a loose garden hose on the front porch, only to see his wife and youngest son, both lying inside the foyer of their home. Both were bleeding badly. He could not tell if Kevin was moving or not. He could see that his wife was still alive as she began to take huge gasps of air.
By this time, Bart Whitaker began to run up the driveway to see what was happening inside his parents' home, the home he and his brother had grown up in.
"Dad!" he screamed, only to be interrupted by yet another ...
As Bart dashed through the front yard and hastily made his way onto the front porch, he was greeted with the ghastly vision of his father lying on his back with blood pouring out of his body. Instinctively Bart ran past his father to get inside the house. He only momentarily looked down to see his mother, gasping for air, lying in an ever-widening pool of blood. He barely caught sight of his brother farther in the house. He did not appear to be moving.
Bart sought out his target. A man dressed in black from head to toe stood near the family kitchen. Bart's adrenaline took over and made his decisions for him as he charged at the masked intruder. He grappled with the shooter and had every intention of disarming him. Unfortunately, his attempt of heroism fell short.
The fourth gunshot crack of the night tore through the frigid air. It was much louder to Bart this time as he and the gunfire were both indoors.
The masked intruder then dropped the gun and took off running through the laundry room, which led to a door that led outside to the backyard. The man took off running by the swimming pool, leaped over the Whitakers' wooden fence, and headed for a small car parked on the street directly behind the Whitakers' home. The shooter and driver slowly drove off with the car's headlights off.
The Whitakers were left to die, writhing in their own thick pools of blood.
Chapter TwoDecember 10, 2003, 8:18 P.M. Stanley Residence Heron Way-Sugar Lakes Subdivision Sugar Land, Texas
Directly next door to the Whitakers' home on the east side, their relatively new neighbor, Clifton "Cliff" Stanley, sat in his recliner in his family's living room. He was having a relaxing evening watching television.
Cliff was very fond of his new neighbors. He and his wife, Darlene, had moved into the home just six months earlier. The couple had two sons, Brandon and Dane, who had gone off to college.
Cliff's job as a vice president of a regional insurance marketing company was quite demanding and kept him very busy. Thus, he enjoyed the little time he was able to spend with Kent and Tricia Whitaker. Cliff met Tricia the day he and his wife had moved in. He described her as "just a very, very sweet person."
The Stanleys and Whitakers developed a quick, pleasant friendship. They went out to lunch together, had dinner a few times, and even made it out to the theater once on a double date. Cliff Stanley worked out of his home, so he became closer to Tricia, who was a stay-at-home mother at the time. She had previously taught at nearby Lakeview Elementary School and was acting as a volunteer there on occasion. At night, when Kent would return home from his job at the Bartlett Construction Company, the couples would "congregate out in the front yard" and catch up on the day's events.
Cliff Stanley knew the Whitakers were in for a big weekend. Their oldest son, Bart, whom he had never met, since Bart lived up north in Willis, Texas, was about to graduate on Saturday. Stanley could tell that Tricia was very excited and happy about the impending ceremony. "She was very hopeful, very upbeat and optimistic for [Bart's] future."
Cliff and Darlene sat downstairs in the back of their comfortable home, on this particular night. The couple relaxed and watched television. They were also excited to have their eldest son, Brandon, home from college for the holidays. Their son had been upstairs in his room when he peeked in on his parents in the living room.
Excerpted from SAVAGE SON by COREY MITCHELL Copyright © 2010 by Corey Mitchell. Excerpted by permission.
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