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DESPERATE CONSEQUENCESA SEQUEL TO DESPERATE STRANGERS
By Bruce M. Phillips
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Bruce M. Phillips
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMike Ryan was sitting at his desk reviewing several divorce cases pending this month. It was January 17, 2002 and the sky was Arizona blue, free of clouds, just light jacket weather, a typical day in the Valley of the Sun. The hyperventilating over the World Trade Center attack was still reverberating through the news with threats of retaliation being poured in against the perpetrators; Al Qaida, Taliban, whoever. For a few months, the sports world had seemed disappointed that the Diamondbacks won the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, as if the New York Yankees win would soften the tragedy of the horrific plane crashes in their city. Of course, the Arizona fans were ecstatic. With the tragedy of the New York World Trade Center's destruction, the main news media was concentrated on retribution. Life was going on, however, and for most, those events seemed far away.
Since his meeting with the love of his life, Jennifer Spencer, in Las Vegas, and their tearful separation, Mike had returned to work in earnest on his existing cases. Her voice still echoed in his head when they parted. It seems that phrase "I have to go" was the hallmark of their relationship. After they parted, he had flown his Comanche 250 back to Phoenix alone again.
At the office, his four partners noticed how quiet he had become after the holidays. They had no idea why his attitude seemed different, but it was palpable. His secretary, Cheryl also was aware of the change. He spoke only of cases and business without much interplay as was his custom before the Christmas lull in legal matters. Noticeably absent was the humorous banter she had become accustomed to every day. He had hired Cheryl after her stint in the County Attorney's office almost eight years ago. She was tall, and had long dark brown hair. Her short dancing career in Las Vegas, her divorce and a somewhat private life aside, she gave him the dedication that he counted on in his office. Although the thought of her had stirred some sexual desire (he was still a leg man) when she first worked for him, his prior secretary with whom he had a fling, left after they broke off their late night tryst and moved out of state. He promised himself that it would not happen again.
Cheryl came in one day and asked him to represent a friend who turned out to be the man she had been seeing. He was a pleasant man in his forties who wanted a divorce. His case turned out to be a royal battle with a wife and two daughters to support as well as a custody battle.
A call came in later that morning from Ken Hawkins, his best friend. Cheryl put him right through without any announcement. He answered, "This is Mike Ryan, can I help you?" "Hey, old buddy, this is Ken. I haven't heard from you in over a month. What's the matter, you don't love me anymore?" Ken said with a laugh.
"Ken, I am sorry for being AWOL, but I have been trying to concentrate on business. It's sad when you are getting close to forty to loose track of time. What is going on in your world?" Mike was glad to hear his voice. He had been so lost in his own thoughts that he had not realized how much he missed hearing from his friend. They had been friends since high school and had served together in the Army, 101st Division, in Iraq in '91.
After high school, Mike went to Arizona State University, then on to Tucson at the University of Arizona for law school. Mike had finished law school, married, and then he joined the 101st, serving with Ken in the shortest war since the Israeli seven-day conflict, opting out for the Guard to finish his military commitment.
Ken went to Phoenix College for two years after high school. When he had graduated, Ken planned to join Mike at ASU. However, Ken wanted his independence, and joined the Army. His tour of duty included Desert Storm in '91 where he and Mike reunited in the 101st and served together in the same unit. It was there that they became the best of friends.
When their unit fought its way towards the main highway between Bagdad And Kuwait, later known as the Highway of Death, Mike had saved Ken's life. Once their time was over Mike applied for early release and joined the Arizona Army National Guard as a Captain. Ken remained in the service for his remaining two years, then returned to Phoenix and married Alice, his high school sweetheart. When his dad suffered a heart attack and passed away, Ken inherited his dad's machine shop and took over. He still supported his mom, his wife, Alice, and their two girls. He had done well.
"Mike, I need to go check out the cabin and make sure it is winterized. I wanted company since Alice and the girls went back to Ohio to see her mom. She isn't getting any younger, and the kids are on a break. How about driving up there with me tomorrow? If you can get loose around 2, we can beat the traffic." "Hold on Ken". Covering the phone, he called out to Cheryl to see if he could leave early and then said, "Sounds good. I can meet you at the shop. Is there anything I need to bring?"
"Just a toothbrush and duds, Mike. I will see you tomorrow." After he hung up the phone, Mike sat back in his chair and thought that it would be good to get away for a couple of days, especially with Ken. The cold nights and brisk days up in Star Valley, outside of Payson, sounded like just the break he needed. He picked up the Dictaphone and continued on a long set of interrogatories in one of the auto accident cases he was handling. Some basic questions had become standard in discovering why the other driver had run the red light and broadsided his client's car. Fortunately, there were two witnesses as to the condition of the light just prior to the accident who were courteous enough to stop and leave their information with the police. Mike's investigator had reported some good interviews. He checked the rest of his calendar and was satisfied that everything was on track. He confirmed his court dates and advance notices for filing deadlines for the next week. He needed to work on a couple of cases when he returned, but nothing out of the ordinary.
He drove through the late afternoon traffic to his home in Moon Valley just north of the metro Phoenix area, almost on autopilot over the same route he has driven for the past five years. Nothing has changed ... but him. He pulled into the garage and closed the automatic garage door behind him, and then entered the kitchen. The quiet of the house had once been his enemy. Now, the stillness of living alone gave him a sense of peace. The kitchen chair reached out and received the coat he threw at it. The bar beckoned him and he poured a double shot of Crown Royal in a short crystal glass, then went to the refrigerator and retrieved some ice cubes.
As he reclined in the easy chair and grabbed the remote, the news at 5:30 was just coming on. He sipped and stared at the screen without seeing much of the day's disasters. The local news followed at six and there was nothing of interest. He flipped the TV off, and then headed out to the Jacuzzi with a refill in hand. He turned off the pool lights after checking for any creatures that might have fallen into the bubbling water. He had left the heater running the last couple of days and jumped in nude into the frothing water, and leaned back into the jets forcing the water to massage his lower back. He stared up into the blackened sky and closed his eyes.
He had achieved the rank of Major in the Army Guard by the summer of 2001 and served his weekends and two-week stints each summer, training others in the use of armaments and field tactics. He had taken command of a unit of young recruits who pushed him into staying in shape for those obligatory runs and hikes he was starting to hate. His body was aging in spite of his efforts to remain trim and slim. His three-time a week workouts were starting to slip. He knew that by this summer, he would have to push himself harder than previous years. However, that was for tomorrow. He wanted to get his 20 years in and retire. It would at least provide him some benefits for his later years, which he regretted worrying about at 38.
His mind drifted back to Jennifer. Her face was etched in his memory so that he could still feel her body against his. He could relive their first encounter, the first time they had made love, the thrill of having such a beautiful woman hold him and guide him into her. She was there with him, now only in his memory, a constant companion in the dark night of his mind. It was there that he no longer was alone but buried alive in her memory. If she could only hear him. JENNIFER, JENNIFER, PLEASE COME BACK!
Chapter TwoMike met Ken at his shop and left his Cadillac there. He jumped in Ken's new Ford four-wheel drive with his bag and they drove off towards Payson. They talked about old times in high school and some of the rowdy days of football and girls. They had double dated on a number of occasions with varying stories, real or imagined, sharing some laughs. Mike felt relieved and enjoyed the friendly banter. It was always a good time, well, nearly. He came up from Tucson when Ken's father got sick and was with him the night before he died. It was a time that they had not talked about since his father's death. Both of them lost their fathers, so they avoided any serious talk on the trip up to Payson.
Ken's cabin had been started before his father died. They had the log cabin shell built, but worked hard together on completing the interior. It was two stories tall with four bedrooms, two on the main floor and two in the loft. The green all weather roof set off nicely against the light stained logs with a giant two story front bay window overlooking Star Valley below. During the day, you could see over forty miles up to the rim country. At night, the small valley below was semi-lit with the lights of the houses and a couple of businesses below. They arrived just before dark, and the surrounding pine trees shading the cabin. Most of the summer folks had left and returned to the warm Phoenix area for the winter.
The street leading up to the cabin was still and shadowed in the retreating sunlight as they passed a number of other cabins devoid of occupants. Ken pulled his truck into the circular driveway, stopping in front of the double door entranceway. He took a flashlight, and then disappeared around the side of the cabin and within a minute, the lights came on and lit up the cabin as Ken opened the front door. Cabin may not be the correct description. It was over 2500 square feet, not counting the double garage. Mike knew the procedure; he pulled out the box of food out of the truck, his bag of clothes and his trusty bottle of Crown Royal, putting them in the kitchen in two trips. He retrieved some Cedar split logs and started the fire in the 360-degree glass fireplace in the center of the main room. When Ken walked in, after turning on the water and closing all the drain valves, his glass was full and sitting on the table in front of the sofa facing the fireplace.
They were quiet and allowed the quiet of the night to fill the room. The room warmed quickly replacing the accumulated cold stored there since the last visit. They both shed their jackets and sat back to listen to the crackling of the fire. Ken spoke first. "When it is quiet like this, Mike, I remember my dad and me working away on framing, dry walling the rooms, putting in the kitchen cabinets, wiring and plumbing the whole place. It is funny how I can picture him here even now. I never thanked you for being there for me when he died. I guess I just expected it. Anyhow, thanks for being my friend. I don't think that I could have got through it all without you." He paused, waiting for Mike to respond. When he did not, he continued. "Mom won't come up any more. She says it is too hard to see what he built and never got to enjoy. Finally, Mike spoke. "How is she doing Ken? I haven't seen her since the funeral." "She withdrew into herself and just mopes around her house in Tempe. I have tried to get her to move in with us, but she politely declines. She brightens up when Alice and the girls visit her but then slips away to some dark recess of her mind. I think she won't last long if she continues to live alone."
"Sounds like some one else ... me" Mike said with a choked laugh. "After my mother died, I watched my father bury himself in a bottle most nights. He was letting the business go downhill without any real concern for me. When he died and left me, I felt that both my mother and father had abandoned me. When we were over in Iraq, there were times that I was hoping that I would stay there, buried in some unmarked sand dune. Even Christie needed to get away from me. The divorce was not easy emotionally, but my parents already abandoned me, so what was one more. Patty was a mistake, but I felt like I was trying to adjust. Chose the wrong wife ... again."
They both rose out of their seats almost together and headed in to the kitchen for a refill. This time, Ken reached under the counter, got out his Jack Daniels and poured himself another stiff shot of bourbon, while Mike refilled his with the Crown. It was then that Mike leaned against the kitchen counter and started weeping uncontrollably. Ken had never seen Mike cry, even at the funeral. Now, all that hurt was pouring out in sobs. All he could do was to put his hand on his shoulder and let him cry. Ken started to cry with him and they both embraced for a long time. When the tears subsided, they sat on the sofa and remained quiet again, watching the embers of the fire burn with glowing coals of reds and orange. Ken put another log in and sat down. "Tell me Mike, what is going on with you? You have not really been the same since last summer. You cannot keep it all bottled up or you will end up like my mother."
Chapter ThreeMike took a long sip of the Crown and swallowed it back. Then he started with the story of Jennifer.
"You remember that child molest case I defended last year, you know, the one where the daughter accused her father of touching her?" Ken nodded and Mike continued. "There was a witness the state had listed that I did not know anything about. I called an acquaintance of mine, a lawyer that I had associated with in a case a few years back. His name is Addam Stein. When I went by to meet him, he introduced me to his paralegal, Jennifer Spencer. I was blown away, Ken, she was beautiful. You know, the kind of woman you know is way out of your league beautiful. Anyhow, he had some information for me and she dropped it by my place one night. I was going to use the Jacuzzi and invited her to join me." At that, Ken smiled. The old Jacuzzi trick, Ken thought. "I know what you are thinking Ken, and with someone else, you would be right on the money. However, she was different, at least so I thought. She was the aggressor and we made out in the bubbles of the Jacuzzi. There was something about her that didn't add up."
"This went on for a couple of weeks, always at my house and then she would leave. I didn't know where she lived, or for that matter, anything much about her at all. I decided to check her out and found that she was married. When I questioned her, she broke down and told me everything, I think."
"She told me that her husband was a drug dealer and that she had no idea about that when she married him. She broke down and wept as she described his cruelty, his sadistic treatment of her and how petrified she was of him. She also told me that she had come on to me under the direction of her boss, Stein, who was her husband's attorney for his criminal enterprise." When Mike paused, Ken went and retrieved both bottles of booze, set them on the coffee table and refilled their glasses and sat back down.
Mike took a small sip and continued. "She told me that her boss was being squeezed for five million by her husband for some drug deal he had put together, but her boss didn't want to or couldn't come up with the money. He hatched a plan to entice me to kill the son of a bitch. Ken, I saw the bruises he left on her. I really cared about her and felt she was truthful. Besides who could make up such a story if it wasn't the truth? Anyhow, that molest trial was going on when I found out about the meeting with her boss and her husband. That is why I borrowed your sniper rifle and got the truck. I was going to do it."
Mike saw Ken leaned back in his seat with a look of fear. "No Ken, I didn't do it. I did not use your rifle at all, except for the scope. I positioned myself so that I could see the meeting place and was going to blow his head off, but someone beat me to it." Ken let out an audible whistle and said "Jesus, Mike, no wonder you have been so distant these last six months. Why didn't you talk to me earlier? Who did you see?"
"Nobody, Ken, the lights of the car that came in blinded me for a moment, and then I heard a shot. By the time I could refocus, the other vehicle left. It was so quick, Ken, someone else beat me to the punch," Mike lied. Mike leaned back, took a slow sip and put his glass down with a thud.
Excerpted from DESPERATE CONSEQUENCES by Bruce M. Phillips Copyright © 2011 by Bruce M. Phillips. 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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