He parked in the same place as the night before. Out of his vehicle he locked it and took several minutes to look around. Satisfied he was alone he shuffled off to his hiding place. Once there he stood quietly watching the house. One light was visible on the second floor. He waited for over an hour after the light went out.
At the door he waited again, his ears straining to detct any sound. From his backpack he produced the necessary tools and within seconds he was standing inside the the house.
What happened after would sent Detective Aaron Tidwell of the Jackson County Sheriff's office on the longest manhunt of his career. It would also send him into a seedy world unknown by average citizens.
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The Absence of Purity
By T. O. Stallings
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 T. O. Stallings
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSilhouetted by the rays of a dying moon the house stood cold, silent, and uninviting. Standing in the thin layer of snow which blanketed the ground, his rigid posture mimicked the coldness of the structure. As time slipped past, his lack of motion sent the beginnings of numbness into the bottom of his feet. Still he remained immobile. His mind played out different scenarios, all of which he finally concluded, would leave signs of his presence. After all the planning, the hours of waiting, and the mental exhaustion, tell-tale signs were not acceptable.
Someone on the second floor flicked a light switch. Through the blindless window he saw the movement and it mesmerized him. Tall and graceful, like a ballerina the naked figure made its way across the room, through the door and, turning on the necessary switches to light the way, into the hall. He knew the route. He had walked it hundreds of times in his mind. He knew the location of every switch, every discarded piece of clothing that would be navigated around, and every squeak of the flooring. Soon downstairs lights would be illuminating the interior, the power of their brightness casting shadows on the immediate outside vicinity.
A less organized individual would have retreated in fear of detection. His courage was in the knowledge that from his vantage point he was invisible. Daylight was more than two hours away and his confidence kept him glued to his position. Two hours could be a lifetime. Two hours could be the beginning of something truly wonderful. It could also be an end.
Watching the activity inside the house birthed images in his brain and the familiarity of past actions shrouded him in an unrepentant arousal. All the memories of the past were unleashed and for a moment he shuddered with his thoughts. Another time, he told himself. Another night when circumstances were perfect, he would return and then the pictures he envisioned could, and would become reality.
Slowly, forcing his stiff limbs to move, he stepped backwards, not wanting to lose sight of the house. Finally he turned. Breathing heavily he walked with his head down, his eyes focused on the ground. He had parked two miles from his hiding point and when he arrived he started the engine and turned the heat to full. Lighting a cigarette he noticed his hands shaking. After the times before they had shaken violently and he took it as a positive omen.
Finished with the cigarette he held it between his thumb and forefinger out the window, rolling it back and forth knocking the ash to the ground. What was left of the butt he placed in his jacket pocket. Placing the car in drive he eased his way onto the road, slowly increasing his speed. Ten minutes later he turned on the headlights and maneuvered the vehicle onto the highway. At that time of the morning traffic was sparse and it afforded him time to replay the past hours in his mind.
Parking in his driveway while the sky was still awakening to a new dawn he exited the vehicle and moved quietly up the steps of the porch and into the foyer. The house was silent. Stripping off his footwear and jacket, he walked in stocking feet to the mudroom where he stripped his clothing and tossed them into the washing machine. From the mud room he made his way through the house, up the stairs and into the bedroom. In the dimness of the predawn light he could make out the form sleeping under the blankets. Gently he pulled back the bed linens and stretched out beside her. Within minutes he was asleep.
Within the house the day's activities had been limited. A product of habit, the early wake up in the darkness meant nothing more sinister than having extra time to prepare the standard weekend fare of pancakes and waffles for breakfast. Showers came afterwards as did the accomplishment of tasks delegated for weekends. As was their sacrament, weekend afternoons were reserved for bedroom intimacy. Before five they had again dressed. Venturing out doors they had driven to a nearby store, made a few select purchases, then returned to the house. To those they encountered during the trip they greeted with smiles and cordial civility. Not habitually inclined towards idle chatter and adhering to their self-imposed cloistered lifestyle, the few words they spoke were gracious and friendly. Favoring the accomplishment of their tasks as swiftly as possible they did not linger.
Stopping at the end of their driveway they retrieved the mail from the metal box prior to continuing to the house. Noting they had received a movie and letter from Germany they continued to the house. Finding homes for their newest acquisitions they moved about the house without distractions. Saturday evening dinner was a simple casual affair. A cold meal served with copious quantities of wine. The trio conversed with the ease of humor and familiarity of intimacy. The male was of average height with brownish hair and a lean but physical frame. The woman was taller than the male. She too was of average height. Neither thin nor fat her body showed the toning of the regiment of exercise in which they all participated. Despite her obvious good looks she was often teased, in good nature, by the other two for her smaller than average breasts and her slightly enlarged buttocks. The girl was always referred to as beautiful. Blemish free skin enhanced a sumptuous figure which was further embellished with the tightness of her clothing. Collectively they enjoyed her ability to catch the attention of all who met her.
The note which accompanied the movie was brief, stating only wishes for their enjoyment. Seated together on the large sofa they watched the home made video without comment. Filmed in black and white the movie lasted a few minutes short of two hours. As it rewound the suggestion was made to again view the film the following afternoon. Nodding heads agreed. Making the nightly rounds of securing doors and turning off lights the trio made their way up the stairs into the bedroom. Not bothering with the lights they assisted each other with undressing. Soon they were sprawled across the bed indulging in the passions the movie had inflamed. When all three were gratified they extinguished the light and drifted into the sleep of contentment
The day had dragged by. He had busied himself with mundane chores in the barn and the yard. The day's sun had melted the remains of the snow but its temporary warmth had been replaced by a cold wind. The forecast for the night called for a freeze. In the afternoon he checked his backpack. Satisfied it contained everything he would need he spent the rest of the day pretending to read and watch the news.
"I have to go to Asheville tonight," he announced at the dinner table.
"What time?" His wife looked up from her plate.
"About ten or so," he responded.
"It's going to be cold. You'd better wear your heavy parka."
"I'll be okay," he said, a slight sneer touching his lips.
"When will you be back?" Her eyes rested on his face.
"In the morning if everything goes alright." He pushed his plate away from him. "If you could make me a thermos of coffee." He said it more as a statement than a request. Standing up he left her sitting at the table. Alone, she finished her meal then cleaned the kitchen. After preparing the thermos she turned off all the lights and went to the bedroom.
He was there laying on the bed, half dressed, eyes closed with his forearm over his face. "You asleep?' she asked.
"Coffee is on the table in the kitchen."
He moved his arm so he could see her as she undressed. The process captured his attention and he counted the strokes as she brushed her shoulder length hair. Without bringing attention to himself he exhaled slowly. The site of her nakedness still excited him and for a moment he considered satisfying the excitement. No, he reasoned. He needed his energy for what was to come this evening. The morning would be more suitable. As she climbed under the blankets he turned and kissed her. "Time to go," he whispered, and swung his feet off the bed onto the floor.
He dressed silently in the dark. Retrieving the thermos from the kitchen and the backpack from the barn he tossed them in the front seat. Taking a deep breath he started the car and drove into the night. The dashboard clock glowed 10:05. The radio, turned down to a barely audible level, accompanied him during the drive.
He parked in the same place as the night before. Out of the vehicle he locked it and took several minutes to scan the area. Satisfied he was alone he shuffled off to his hiding place. Once there he stood quietly watching the house. One light was visible on the second floor. He waited. Within minutes the light went out. He continued to wait.
After an hour he stepped from the trees which had been shielding him. Stealthily he walked across the field and the yard. The temperature had dipped into the low twenties yet he detected a bead of perspiration across his brow which the slight breeze did not evaporate. At the door he waited again, ears straining to hear any noise or movement. There was none. From his backpack he retrieved his tools and within seconds he was standing inside the house.
Chapter TwoFounded in 1852, and named after the former president Andrew, Jackson County, North Carolina is situated in the northeast corner of the state. With an ancestry of almost an equal mixture of English, Irish, German, and Scot-Irish, with local Native American descendants from the Cherokee nation thrown in, its land area totals nearly 500 square miles. The terrain is heavily wooded and mountainous. The county's fifteen townships boast names like Balsam, Cullowhee, Dillsboro, Webster, and Sylva. A poor county, the average income remains below the national level. Although there are three major roadways in the county, the Smokey Mountain Expressway in the north which runs east to west, state road 107 which runs north to south, and US 64 in the southern part of the county which also runs east to west, there is also a plethora of back roads which zigzag across the landscape. To travelers unfamiliar with the secondary roads and dead end trails, the potential to become disoriented or lost is quiet real.
Sunday mornings in Jackson County are historically a quiet time. For the vast majority of the population it is a time for family breakfast, for preparing for morning worship services at one of the many churches, or for lounging about reading the paper. Local retailers do not open until churches are closed. A Sunday morning in a winter January was expected to be quiet and Aaron Tidwell was one of those who partook of the opportunity of spending extra time in bed. The phone disturbed his tranquility. "Yes," he said trying to stifle a yawn.
The words, more than the voice, jolted him awake. Listening intently he nodded saying "Okay" and replaced the receiver. Jumping from bed he dressed hurriedly in the first clothes he could put his hands on. Stopping at his dresser he opened the top drawer. Staring back at him from their resting place were his badge and his nine millimeter automatic. The badge went into his shirt pocket and the weapon into its holster. Carrying a cup of coffee his wife had made for him he kissed her good-bye and went out into the coldness of the morning. Instinctively he knew it would be a very long day.
Pulling onto the Great Smokey Mountains Expressway and turning west, he flipped on the cruisers blue lights but left the siren off. Easily passing the limited number of other vehicles he navigated his way to Thomas Valley Ranch Road, headed north and, slowing so he wouldn't miss the turn he drove onto an unnamed dirt lane. A marked patrol car was parked at the side. Waving to the officer he continued up the lane, through the jungle of pines, and emerged into an acre clearing. Parking so he would not block access to the lane he shut down the lights and exited the car.
The front lawn was littered with vehicles. He counted three fire trucks, two ambulances, and another four patrol cars. From what he could see the wood deck on the front of the house had been nearly destroyed by the fire, its carcass still shedding whiffs of smoke. To the left of the deck and up the exterior of the two story home to the roof line he could see where the fire had charred the logs but not destroyed them. Where windows once protected the interior from the elements there were gaping holes. If knocked out by the firemen or having exploded due to the fire he couldn't tell. On the right side of the deck the flames had licked their way upward but had not reached the second story.
"Glad to see you Aaron." The greeting came from James Woody.
"Jim," Aaron responded to the fire marshal. "Looks like you had a hell of a fire."
"Fires out now. We're just here to make sure there is no flashback." He removed his headgear and ran his hand through his thinning gray hair. "It was definitely arson and I've already called the boys at state to send an investigator. But that's not why you're here. We found three bodies on the second floor."
Tidwell looked at the fireman. "Forensics been called?" Jim nodded yes. "Fire kill them?" A shaking head said no. "Okay then, let's have a look."
"You can't go up the front, it's not safe. Go around to the back. Those steps didn't get the full blast from the fire. They're safe enough to use."
Deputy Roger Sherman was standing at the bottom of the back porch steps and four other deputies stood a few feet away engaged in quiet conversation. Tidwell nodded to Sherman as he made his way up and in. The back door led into the kitchen area. Standing amidst the charred smoky interior he knew immediately the crime scene, or what little remained of it, had been unavoidably compromised by the necessary actions of the firefighters. The stench of smoke attacked his nostrils causing him to sneeze. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket he covered his nose.
Between the fire, the smoke, and the high pressure water used to extinguish the blaze, the downstairs resembled the aftermath of a tornado strike. Groaning he picked his path through the rubble. When new the house had been like hundreds of others he had seen during the course of his career. Downstairs had been split between a living room, a dining room, kitchen, and laundry room. Upstairs had contained the three bedrooms and two baths. A deck had been attached to both the front and the back. Now, standing in the front room which he guessed used to be the living room because of the remains of a television, he was convinced the house was a complete loss. On the opposite side was another room in the same condition. Between the two rooms was the stairs to the second floor. Another uniformed deputy stood at the bottom. Aaron nodded to him and made his way upward.
At the top of the stairs the smell of smoke was not as intense and he stuffed his handkerchief into his jacket pocket. Pulling on latex gloves he stood motionless taking in the layout of the second floor. The hall formed a tee at the stairway landing. To the left he could see three closed doors. At first glance they appeared to have been spared the heat of the flames. To the right the single door was open. He moved toward it unsure of what to expect.
The room had filled with smoke and someone had cracked the windows. The cold breeze of the morning air had exploited the opened window, filtering itself inward, cooling the room. Against the back wall was the king size bed, to the right a door leading to a bath. The left wall supported a long dresser and opposite it on the right a tall bureau. The wood floor was partially covered with a rug of some kind of animal skin and discarded clothing. The night stands on either side of the bed were cluttered with glasses, paper back books and magazines. The beds linens had been removed: discarded in a heap by the right side. Any pillows that might have lived on the bed were missing. The bodies were on the bed.
Excerpted from The Absence of Purity by T. O. Stallings Copyright © 2011 by T. O. Stallings. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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