Moon Madness - 20, Copyrightę 2001-2006 By
Larry K. Hockman, "All RIGHTS RESERVED"
ANOTHER Explosion! / Altered Plans
promised, Vince's shiny new car was parked in front of the house, reflecting the moonlight from the apex of every curve of its sleek styling. He was tired and suppressed the urge to merely crank it up with the remote key in his pocket. He resolved to thoroughly check it out in the morning light. The pleasant thought of simply sliding into bed beside Anna to get some much needed rest would more than suffice to fill his present needs.
Vince could hear Moon's impatient meow as the key turned the tumblers in the lock. He was not surprised as his old friend jumped into his arms to greet him when he opened the door. Vince carried him into the kitchen where Anna had left him a note under the small lamp on the bar informing him that a couple of fresh sandwiches were in the fridge if he was hungry. The final line told him not to hesitate to wake her if he wished for "something hot," bringing a sheepish smile to his face.
Vince put Moon down and headed back outside to unload the two mounts in the truck. Moon hissed and growled on the porch even before Vince folded back the tarp. Vince
laughed, telling him that he might just as well get used to the idea of the old boar staring at him from over the fireplace. In his haste to unload the trophy cargo, he failed to notice that Moon's aggressive attitude was directed into the south wind wafting across the scrubby woods on the lot next door. A low, snarling growl still rumbled from Moon's throat even after Vince had stowed the tarp in his tool box and locked the truck. Vince called him inside several times before Moon relinquished his haunting gaze into the restless night. Unknowingly, Vince passed off his odd behavior as relating to the boar's head in the middle of the living room floor.
Vince decided not to wake Anna and stole quietly into the bedroom by the light of the peach-scented candle she often burned as a soft night-light when they made love. He admired her sleeping beauty in the flickering light while he silently undressed and slipped gently under the arm she had thrown across his bare pillow. Moon paced nervously back and forth near the window where a vase of silk flowers created dancing shadows on the drapes.
Vince dismissed the action as feline curiosity and blew out the candle. He snuggled in closer to the inviting warmth of Anna's supple body, wondering why Moon had not jumped up on the bed to nestle into his preferred spot between their legs. The thought was soon lost to fatigue. Sleep came quickly to Vince with the comfort of being back home in bed with Anna. Moon's disturbed rambling throughout the night went unnoticed by the contented couple.
Vince awakened thoroughly refreshed. Anna slept peacefully beside him, her rapidly twitching eyelids indicating that she was dreaming. He could not remember Moon's presence on the bed anytime during the night. The absence was not normal for Moon and the thought perplexed him enough to ease out of the warm bed in an effort to locate him. He did not wish to call out and wake Anna. His stealth proved unnecessary, however, as Anna sat up in bed as he was buttoning his pants. A hint of worry altered her normal voice with the direct question, "Vince, where's Moon? Something isn't right. He knows it, and I can feel it through him." Vince agreed, "You're probably right. He's been acting strange all night."
Anna threw a robe over her shoulders and followed Vince down the hall stairway, through the den and kitchen, and into the living room, calling all the while. Moon lay by the front door as if guarding it against an invisible intruder. He paid no heed to Vince and Anna's frantic calls, visibly intent on holding his present post. Anna knelt down beside him, asking him not to shut her out. He responded by stretching his front paws up to the doorknob, an established request to let him out. Anna obliged him and opened the door.
Moon darted out on the porch, arched his back and hissed loudly, clearly upset with something he smelled or saw. Vince ran out behind him, but saw nothing. Moon retreated back inside behind Anna's bare feet. Vince told her he was going to have a look around and opened the truck door to retrieve the new magnum and a box of shells from behind the seat. He loaded the magazine and stuffed several more shells into his jeans pocket while Anna watched through the cracked front door. Vince told her to lock it until he returned and headed off towards the edge of the yard. He stopped to look for tracks, speculating that perhaps a wild hog had wandered up from the swamp some distance south of them or perhaps Moon merely had a flashback of his old enemy, the boar, from where Vince had put it on the porch the night before in order to open the door.
Vince found no tracks of any kind crossing the perimeter nor any other trace of an intruder's presence. He returned, puzzled that he had no feasible explanation for Moon's odd behavior. His own instincts nagged at him, too, but he could not isolate a reason for his feelings, either. He removed the clip from the rifle on the porch and ejected the chambered round before yelling for Anna to open the door.
Inside, Anna hadn't done much better. She could only sense a variety of mixed feelings from Moon. She had called Stacey to enlist her more sensitive empathic powers. She would be arriving shortly by way of a taxi since her car had blown a header gasket and was in the shop to be repaired.
Anna started breakfast while they waited. Vince locked the door and comforted Moon as best he could, given the strange set of circumstances.
Stacey arrived just in time for breakfast. With Anna's help, Vince explained Moon's weird behavior. They discussed several possibilities during the meal. The "enemy boar" theory was dismissed when Moon retreated behind the mounted head, all the while keeping a constant vigil on the locked door. Stacey suggested that Vince and Anna leave the room to allow her some time alone with Moon to better discern his feelings without extra interference. They agreed with the idea and left for the bedroom upstairs.
Stacey sat down on the floor beside Moon. He paid her little attention as she rubbed and stroked his furry ears. His entire being seemed focused on the door as if he expected something to literally break it down at any second. She tried in vain to convince him there was nothing to fear beyond the door. He continued to hold his ground even when she unlocked the door and yanked it open to prove her point.
Baffled with the mixed signals, Stacey went upstairs to relate the little bit of information she could decipher to Vince and Anna.
Anna noticed her perplexed expression immediately and queried, "Dead end, too?" Stacey hesitated momentarily before answering, "Not entirely, Anna. He has a variety of conflicting thoughts and feelings all jumbled together. He isn't sure how to react. His natural survival instincts are being countermanded by some tangible danger he strongly remembers from the past, but cannot see. It is something he does not quite know how to deal with because it is the direct cause of a danger which he had no defense against the last time he was confronted with it. As near as I can tell, he feels totally powerless to stop whatever it is. The eminent threat of death is very real to him. He is also worried about us becoming victims of the same fate!"
Vince interrupted, "Us? What could possibly be in his past that could relate to all of us? This is not making any sense. I don't feel anything even remotely threatening by way of my instincts, and they've never let me down yet!"
Anna corrected him, "Except when the old boar got you from behind! None of us are infallible."
Vince's voice took on a more humble tone, "Damn. I had almost forgotten about that. Please excuse my arrogance. Point well taken, Babe."
The group fell silent for several minutes, every one of them thinking along a different tangent. Vince finally broke the trance-like spell, "Let's all go for a ride in the new set of wheels. Maybe a different location will help Moon's feelings."
Stacey offered a practical extension to the idea, "Let's all go to my house. Moon can visit Crip and his kids to help settle him down. You can drop me off at the garage to pick up my car on the way and I'll meet you there shortly. We can fire up the grill and cook steaks or something for dinner. Anna can see how Midnight is adjusting and we can all relax before my afternoon exams. How about it?"
Anna looked over to Vince, "She's right, you know. It would probably do Moon a world of good." He grinned with his reply, "She cooks, too!" Anna chuckled at the family joke and politely shuffled Vince and Stacey out of the room so she could dress.
Vince and Stacey chatted casually about the boar and deer as Anna came down the stairs dressed in one of the native Hawaiian gowns she brought from the islands. The island attire seemed to initiate a calming effect on her tattered nerves concerning Moon's odd defensive behavior. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and spun around, the limp fabric swirling freely about her hips and thighs and pertly asked, "What do you think?" Vince's face lit up, "Brings back unforgettable, fond memories of our honeymoon night!" Stacey added with a smile, "Looks perfect for a Holden-style luau at a secluded Florida beach. Shall we board for the maiden voyage in your new wheels, Mr. Casey?" Vince grinned at Stacey's teen-age slang and motioned them toward the door while he called Moon.
Anna and Stacey waited on the porch while Vince held the door for Moon. Reluctantly, he finally came outside, nervously testing the wind from every direction. Anna shook her head in amazement and picked him up. Stacey told her, "There's definitely something out here he's scared of. Until we can figure out what it might be, I say the sooner we leave, . . the better." Anna agreed and turned to head down the steps.
Vince stopped Anna, "Hang on just a minute, Babe." He retrieved the new keychain from his pocket and proudly announced, "Behold the wonder of modern automobile technology!" Grinning broadly, he pointed the starter remote at the car while the others looked on patiently, not wishing to spoil his special moment.
At the touch of the button, the dormant vehichle exploded violently in a blinding orange-white flash, followed instantly by what sounded like a sonic boom! The percussion wave emitted by the blast slammed everyone into the wall and door, and shattered every window across the front face of the house!
Most of the blast had been expertly tailored to blow upward instead of out, sending all of the large shrapnel high into the air in a wide arc above the house. Before Vince, Anna, Stacey and Moon could even recover from the initial shock wave, hot pieces of metal fragments started raining from the sky, many of them superheated and still on fire!
Vince threw himself over the two women in a heroic effort to shield them as the displaced engine block crashed through the roof into the kitchen with a resounding crack of splintering wood! Several more large chunks of grotesquely twisted metal impaled themselves in the roof, while the remainder of the burning debris landed in a circle the size of a football field around the original blast site! In less than a minute, the rain of destruction ceased abruptly, the only sounds to be heard being those of sizzling hot, deformed shreds of unrecognizable parts scorching the grass and creating small clouds of steam from the damp earth below.
On the defensive, Vince asked if anyone was hurt. Anna simply shook her head no through a stream of tears. Stacey shook her head to indicate no as well, then blurted, "Shithelldamn, Vince! The wonder of modern technology almost got us killed!" Vince was quick to defend, "On the contrary, Stacey, it's the only reason we're still alive!" Stacey realized he was right and quickly apologized, "I'm sorry, Vince. I had no right to lash out at you. I didn't mean to insinuate that," He cut her off, "Forget it! Everybody in the house." As he spoke, Vince enlarged a small hole in the door with his fist, reached through, and unlocked the door from the inside.
Pinned between Anna and the door, Moon was the first to scramble in when it opened, followed by Anna, Stacey, and finally Vince after he scanned the scene one last time. He warned the women to stay low on the floor and away from the shattered windows while he crawled over to the fireplace to get his rifle from above the mantle. Sirens could now be heard in the distance converging simply by direction of the smoke billowing up from the wreckage. Stacey called the 911 emergency number from the kitchen phone, shaken to the floor during the blast. Anna rocked back and forth nervously, quietly sobbing while she clutched Moon tightly for a bit of comfort and the feline security he could offer through his acute senses and instincts.
The rhythmic chopping sound of helicopter rotors approached from the southeast, soon followed by another. Vince risked a look outside the window to see that the first was a traffic copter from a local TV station. It circled the house low a couple of times. Vince rightfully guessed it was filming the entire scenario from every angle. He watched as an FBI chopper angrily waved them off. Several cars from various law enforcement agencies were racing up the street.
Vince turned and told the ladies that everything was under control. To his surprise, Anna and Stacey had already gotten up. Very calmly Anna replied, "We know. This episode is over." Puzzled, Vince queried, "How?"
Anna stooped to let Moon down. He trotted confidently out the door to survey the damage. Stacey interjected, "Moon told us. The would-be killer is long gone. A lot of his scent was around the car and on the bomb. The blast burned it out. Moon is back to normal, now." Vince looked to Anna to see if she agreed. She nodded her answer to verify Stacey's assessment and then added, "He's found us, Vince. Same man, same game. Moon tried to warn us, but neither Stacey or I could decipher the deluge of signals he was using to make us understand." She was silent a minute, assimilating thoughts, then continued, "One thing is for sure, though. I'm positive that Moon was familiar with this man's scent even before the cabin blew up. It might help us to find him before he tries again. We've been lucky twice. I seriously doubt he will miss on the third try!" Vince embraced her tightly and muttered, "Not if I've got anything to do with it, Babe."
Vince and Anna spent the next several hours giving statements and recounting the details of their activities during the last few days to a variety of law officers.
Stacey gave only one statement and then was allowed to go take exams with an FBI escort. Stacey was not a suspected target even though she had been with Vince and Anna during both of the bombings. She would be allowed to stay at her house in semi-privacy. The FBI intended to set up an infrared security system around her property perimeter, as well as posting armed agents on the access road in and down the beach in both directions. They seemed quite confident that nobody could breach their security blanket. In the interest of safety, an agent would escort her to school, work, or anywhere else she decided to go in the next week.
It was suggested that Vince and Anna go into protective custody in a "safe" house or simply leave the state for any destination, other than Anna's cabin in Maine.
Both Anna and Vince opted for the latter suggestion. The agency strongly suggested that they leave the country and put as much water between them and Florida as possible. Their experts had determined that the bomber probably did not have the funds to chase them very far; otherwise, he would have followed them to Hawaii with all of the publicity they had generated there. They figured he had come straight from Texas.
The FBI intended to leak false information to the press that Vince and Anna had left for an unknown destination to the north. Undercover agents would portray the couple at the cabin in Maine in an effort to lure the bomber into a trap. If he had done his homework as they figured, he would know where the cabin was. If he had to try and locate it through computer services, they might possibly be able to locate him through his efforts on the internet. Either way, the scam was the best plan the agency could come up with on the few clues they had to work with.
Vince called Chief Dalhart as he had promised and filled him in on the details. Stacey arrived back with her "bodyguard," as she dubbed him, just as he hung up the phone. Anna asked her how she did on her exams. Preoccupied, she replied glumly, "Good, Anna. I did good. It probably wasn't my best under the circumstances. I hope you're not disappointed." Anna reassured her, "You've already proven your worth to me. I hope you're not disappointed with yourself. Personally, I feel sure that you made a better showing than you think. I've carefully monitored your school progress. Your knowledge and capabilities far outweigh those of your peers who've had much more time and experience in your fields of study. I, for one, am very proud of your diligence and perseverance."
Anna continued to enlighten Stacey on the latest developments. Stacey would be in charge for however long she and Vince were gone. She, the FBI, and their pilots would be the only persons privy to their destination. Anyone else inquiring of their whereabouts were to be answered with a simple "Up north somewhere." Also, Moon would be staying with her and the institute until their return. It might be dangerous for him where they were going. Moon meowed his disapproval of Anna's assumption.
Vince's ears pricked up at Anna's last statement. He asked bluntly, "Just where have you decided that we're going?" Anna turned to face him, "I haven't. It is your turn to pick the place and the activities." Taken aback slightly by Anna's skillful reverse tactic, Vince scratched his chin to stall for time while he pondered. After a brief pause, he suggested, "Let's go hunting somewhere exotic, so I can test out my new rifle."
A smile came to Anna's lips as dozens of scenic destinations drifted through her mind. She was pleased with Vince's idea, asking him only to expand on it somewhat, "Are you thinking exotic as in Alaska or Canada, or someplace overseas like India?"
Vince grinned with his answer, "Actually, Babe, I was thinkin' more on the lines of a place where one might find a vast array of game to choose from, . . someplace warm, away from the rigors of civilization, . . such as Africa! I'm sure your many travels around the world have left you with a number of contacts which could help us out with the necessary arrangements on such short notice in the way of guides, supplies, or transportation. How about it, Babe? You in for a small safari?"
Anna displayed that mischievous look which Vince had grown to love as she stretched up to kiss him and whisper in his ear, "Vince, I'd love to get hot and sweaty with you in the wilds of Africa on one condition, no big cat trophies. I will not tolerate anyone shooting the cats. Anything else we can get permits to legally harvest is up to your discretion. Agreed?" He consoled her, "Babe, you know I wouldn't harm a cat unless it was an act of self defense. Otherwise, agreed!" Anna smiled, "I can live with that. Now, all we have to decide is where to go in Africa. It is a rather large continent."
Vince told Anna to pick the spot since she was familiar with that part of the world. She offered, "How about Kenya? I've done extensive work in the area and know the terrain fairly well. Also, I have several native friends I'd like you to meet who can get us anything we should need in the way of guns or permits, depending on what species you wish to hunt. Guides and supplies should pose no problem, either."
Vince interrupted her, "I already have all of the firepower I need, Anna. I don't intend to shoot anything I can't pack out myself. I have no desire to kill an elephant or anything of such majestic magnitude. I would much rather stick to things which are considered to be fine table fare, like gazelles, impalas, blackbuck, and maybe one of the more exotic antelopes with possibly a warthog on the side. I would also dust a large hyena to have mounted if I got the chance."
Not meaning to embarrass Vince, Anna delicately enlightened him further, "That's all well and good, and I'm glad you feel that way, but don't forget what you said concerning self defense. There has been many a fine hunter who was trampled to death by a rogue elephant or cape buffalo he inadvertently stumbled into. The motto down there is "Have a big gun whether you need or not, and survive to hunt another day! It is just plain smart."
Vince needed no further convincing, "Point well taken, Babe. I hadn't thought about the situation in quite that perspective. Please excuse the ignorance of this country boy." She instantly corrected and defended him simultaneously against the snickers from one of the agents in the back of the room, "Not ignorance, Sir Vince, . . merely inexperience, like every other man in this room I dare say." She turned and glared at the perpetrator, wanting him and the others to be acutely aware that her next comment was directed at him, "At least you can go get the experience you need to be right up there with the best of them while some misguided people will always be under the impression that they can take down anything with a little 9MM popgun!"
The hapless agent tried to smooth things over with a snide apology, "I'm sorry, Dr. Fontain, I didn't mean to ruffle your feathers. I'm not the one skipping halfway across the world to go on safari. I'm merely trying to do my job and help keep your ass from getting blown off, and my little popgun is more than sufficient to take down your mad bomber!"
Anna retorted sharply, "In case you haven't noticed, Mr. Agent Man, you're on safari all the time. You just hunt people! Perhaps you would be wise to find this mad bomber before he decides to hunt you. It seems to me that he could take you all out with just one little bomb if he thought you were getting in his way! Just something to think about gentlemen. Happy hunting!"
The agent did not offer to challenge Anna again. She pivoted abruptly on her heel to address Stacey, "Can you take Vince and I back by the house for a change of clothes, our passports, and Vince's rifle?" Stacey nodded in the direction of her bodyguard, "Sure, if you don't mind my escort."
Anna picked up the phone on the nearest desk, directing a polite inquiry to the agent behind it before dialing, "May I, please?" He motioned for her to help herself and got up so she could sit down. Anna dialed Rex's home phone. Her precise, corporate voice expressed her wishes expertly, "Rex, pick up Vince and I with the chopper at Stacey's house in one hour sharp. Call Andy and Earl and tell them to have the Horizon flight-ready by the time we get there. File a flight plan for upstate Maine. All three of you bring your bags. I'll explain further on the jet. Leave a message by voice mail on Vera's machine to that effect and inform her that Stacey will be in charge during my absence, nothing else. Is that clear, Rex? Good. See you in one hour." Anna hung up the phone and turned to Vince, "We're all set to go. We can make the final arrangements in the air." She turned back to Stacey, "Are you and your bodyguard ready to go? We're in somewhat of a hurry!"
Nobody made any attempt to delay their exit. The one agent rode in the front with Stacey while Moon, Vince and Anna rode in the back. Another car with two more agents followed so closely that Stacey gave them a quick lesson regarding her feelings on tailgaters by smoking her tires in front of them to the point that they were forced to wait on the smoke to clear before proceeding. She waited for them to catch up at the next light, smiling as they lagged behind to give her some room.
Anna never so much as blinked at the antic, but requested that Stacey ask Vera the next day to have someone start repairs on the house. Vince wished her to inform the car dealership of the unfortunate demise of the new auto and explain the situation to the insurance company. Anna told her to handle that part personally and give them no more information than was absolutely necessary for her own safety.
Soon, they arrived at Stacey's house. FBI agents were working frantically to establish their planned security barrier before dark. Vince and Anna changed their clothes. Anna spent the final ten minutes writing down instructions for Stacey on how to find them if an emergency deemed it necessary to locate them. Her final instruction was not to let the agents have the information for any reason. Vince had busied himself explaining to Moon why he couldn't go.
Rex landed the chopper on the beach at precisely the one hour mark. Anna had started for the beach before he flew into earshot, confident of his punctuality. Vince, Stacey, Moon, and Crip all followed in single file. Stacey was hoping to fly with them to the Horizon to spend a few minutes with Rex, but Anna explained that all three pilots would have to fly in rotating shifts and she would have no way back to her house. Disappointed, she kissed Rex good-bye and told him to hurry back.
The chopper lifted gracefully from the wet sand in the general direction of the institute's private airstrip. Stacey watched forlornly till it disappeared from view. For the first time in her relatively short career, she felt totally alone under the full burden of actually being in charge of the company's business on the home front without the benefit of her closest friends for guidance. She scanned up and down the sands carefully, finally spotting the FBI agents partially hidden from view in obscure nooks above the high tide line on the beach.
Behind Stacey, the young agent assigned to her personally sat patiently on her back steps, watching her every move. Moon and Crip sensed her sudden anguish and rubbed affectionately against her bare legs, offering whatever support they could in her time of need. She smiled in spite of the big tears rolling down her cheeks and plopped down between them with her back to the agent. A thousand thoughts swirled through her mind in what seemed to Stacey but a mere instant. A rush of confidence displaced the anxiety she felt only a moment before she sat down with her feline friends and realized that she wasn't alone at all. She gained inner strength from the insight afforded her through her feline friends in the animal world. They were truly an invaluable asset she silently vowed to never take for granted. They would complement her own instincts to make sound judgments with minimal time and effort.
Stacey experienced a new sense of security and power, another step in her personal evolution, as well as one on the corporate level. In gratitude, she softly confided, "Thanks, guys. I should have known you would help me through this. We can handle it, can't we?" The cats purred and stretched up to nuzzle her cheeks. She jumped up laughing and told them, "Come on. We'd better go talk to Midnight so he'll let Mr. Bodyguard in the house tonight. Then we can get some sleep after supper. We are all going to the office tomorrow in our full professional capacity!"
The agent seemed leery of the idea of being inside the house with Midnight carefully watching his every move. Stacey assured him he was in no danger as long as he behaved himself and made no quick movements. She called the great cat over and introduced him to the overly nervous man, allowing him to familiarize himself with the strange scent since the man would be around for the next couple of days.
Stacey threw together a quick supper and she and the young agent actually became friends through their casual conversation over the table. He even offered to wash the dishes after the meal while she fed her animals. They both watched the evening news with great interest. The first chopper on the scene that morning had filmed a spectacular aerial view of the bomb's devastation.
Stacey realized that they were very lucky from several points of view. Her keen eye for film detail spotted a car, a vintage '69 red Camaro, parked on the wrong side
of the street in front of a "For Sale" sign barely a block from Vince and Anna's home. It was visible only for an instant at the edge of the camera's field of view.
Stacey told the agent she was sure that the car had not been there when the taxi had passed in front of the vacant house on the way to drop her off! The agent had not even seen the vehicle in the film clip, but instantly called his superiors to relay the information. They commended him highly for his alertness. The car's owner might become the prime suspect in the ensuing investigation. The man thanked Stacey for pointing out the new clue and making him look good in the eyes of his higher-ups. She told him to think nothing of it and went to the closet to get him some bedding for the couch. Stacey told him to make himself at home, pointed out the guest bathroom, and finally informed him politely that everyone got up at daylight around her house. She called all of the cats into her room, said goodnight, and disappeared for the rest of the evening into private seclusion.
This space RESERVED For LATER USE--LKH
Author's Note: Feel free to copy/paste the text contained herein to build your personal copy of "MOON Madness". As this is COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL by ME, the ORIGINAL AUTHOR, please DO NOT copy for UNAUTHORIZED DISTRIBUTION in any form or fashion. "ALL RIGHTS RETAINED & RESERVED" by Larry K. Hockman! Please don't hesitate to E-Mail me for permission to use my works in the classroom, etc. ThanX for Visitin'! I hope you enjoyed the story and pass it on to your friends. LKH
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