Moon Madness - 17, Copyrightę 2001-2006 By
Larry K. Hockman, "All RIGHTS RESERVED"
Damage Survey, . . Then Florida Bound
spotted two of the familiar black-and-white patrol cars of the Texas Highway Patrol division in the airport parking lot as Earl banked the Horizon into a semi-circle pattern to adhere to the tower's explicit landing instructions. Room for the jet in a remote hangar had been arranged by the local police to insure the safety of its cargo and passengers. A couple of detectives clad in street attire chatted nonchalantly near the sliding doors while the Horizon taxied inside and were instructed to seal off the hangar as soon as the jet was inside.
Chief Dalhart, a childhood friend of Vince, waited patiently for the entire group to exit the jet before explaining the planned procedure. Vince solemnly shook his hand and introduced his new wife and her faithful crew.
In the interest of safety for all concerned, they would be flown to the crime scene via state chopper manned by FBI pilots. The main town would be off-limits. All necessary business calls would be handled through a special security line monitored by agents on the helicopter. Stacey would be allowed to talk briefly with her mother as well.
During the short flight, despite the grim circumstances confronting them, Chief Dalhart offered a bit of optimism and congratulated Vince on his recent victory in the big buck contest. His buck's antlers had practically dwarfed all of the other local entries and the official score qualified it for a spot in the state record book. Vince could pick out a new rifle and collect his other winnings whenever he wished. Regrettably, the mounted head would not be fully cured for another month.
Anna's eyebrows raised when the chief turned to her and said the boar's head would be ready about the same time! Puzzled, Anna asked him who had promoted that idea. He explained it was Vince's warden buddies at the state park. When they learned of the incident on the news, they had gone to the cabin, field dressed the hog, and taken it to the same meat processor Vince's deer and hog were at. When the engagement was subsequently published in the paper after Christmas, they arranged to have the head mounted for a wedding gift. The meat packer cured and processed the meat free of charge as his "Christmas" gift to Anna. He also said he would store everything until the two of you were settled somewhere and ship it to you at your convenience. Anna turned to her husband, "Looks like we have lots of thank-you notes to write." Vince simply nodded in agreement, a troubled frown crossing his brow as they neared his land where the cabin had once stood in placid solitude.
Vince squeezed Anna's hand tightly as mangled pieces of unrecognizable debris became visible in the frozen tree-tops literally hundreds of feet from the main clearing! He swallowed hard to contain his blatant anger and muttered, "Must have been one hellacious bomb to do that much damage!" The chief added, "Had its twin gone off, most of this stuff would've been scattered over the next county! The FBI is dissecting it for clues."
Moon stretched up to look out the window as the chopper started its careful descent to land in the only spot completely clear of rubble and debris, the cabin's
concrete foundation! A gray cloud of ashes, charred wood chips, and tatters of burnt cloth settled on the dirty snow, rudely disturbed from their final resting places by the harsh downwash created by the rotors.
Moon was the first out when the chief opened the door. He darted to and fro, stopping only for a few seconds at each corner of the foundation to sniff for some clue of where his once beloved home had disappeared to. Stacey could both feel his growing bewilderment.
Vince squatted on his good knee, propping his elbow on it to rub his forehead. Moon trotted over to him, glancing around nervously as if to spot some undetected danger he did not understand. Vince tried to calm his fears after Moon directed one pitiful meow to express his feelings, "I'm sorry, Moon. Home will have to be somewhere else, now. For the time being, this land is no longer safe for us."
Anna rubbed Vince's shoulders from above, recounting the once tranquil setting, wishing to etch her own fond memories of it permanently into her mind. Vince stood back up to embrace her for comfort. Anna whispered in his ear, "Nothing can ever destroy the love I found in this place. I will miss it as much as you and Moon." With new confidence, Moon continued surveying the overall situation, scouting the perimeter as he once did by moonlight. Anna felt his fear slowly being replaced by anger and resentment for whoever was responsible for this act of terror which had altered their lives. Stacey felt it, too, only much, much stronger than Anna. Moon was building a pronounced hate of the same sort that drove him to attack the big boar hog in an effort to kill it! Stacey decided it best to keep that fact to herself.
Scanning the devastation behind Moon's chosen route, Stacey suddenly realized just how close she and the others had come to death. She had felt the same way after killing the big bull. She started trembling involuntarily, partially from the natural fear of death, and partially from the cold. She turned to Rex with tears in her eyes, who accepted her with open arms, confiding that she wanted to see her mother before they left Texas. He assured her that it could be arranged somehow, shaking his head with disbelief at the total destuction of the quaint homesite. They returned to the warmth of the chopper to wait on the others. Crip followed her inside.
Vince and Anna wandered here and there picking up remnants of Vince's past and evaluating whether or not it was worth saving. The overall destruction was appalling. Moon soon completed his personal assessment of the grounds. He lingered only at the crushed barrel which Vince had utilized as a trash can, snorting his disgust towards an unseen foe.
Vince called him as he and Anna headed back to the chopper, Anna rubbing Vince's back to offer whatever comfort she could. Vince requested that Anna go on without him to the chopper. She figured he wanted only a minute for personal reflection. If anyone deserved it, she thought, he did. Anna did as she was asked, but being concerned for her husband's state of mind, could not help herself to pause momentarily at the entrance to the chopper and turn to offer her silent condolences to the man she loved. She watched as Vince and Moon proceeded silently to the old stump where Vince normally split his firewood. Moon sniffed curiously around the base before Vince picked him up. He casually glanced around before flipping the entire stump over to reveal a hidden compartment below ground level! The revelation startled Anna somewhat, but she felt sure Vince would explain it to her in his own time. Vince let Moon back down and kneeled again on his good knee to remove a black case secured with a padlock. Moon sniffed at it, but Vince cut his investigation short, scooping him up abruptly and heading towards the chopper. Rex had arranged for Stacey to meet her mother in their absence.
The group left the scene in silence, each engrossed in their individual thoughts as to who, what, when, where, and why this twisted turn of events had transpired. Anna wondered what was in the case. Chief Dalhart broke the silence to inform Vince that he had personally picked up the Winchester with its shattered stock and taken it home with him. He had also cleaned and oiled the action and barrel to keep it from rusting. Vince thanked him for his efforts and told him he could have the gun if he wished to replace the stock. The chief tried to refuse the offer, but Vince insisted since he had a new one coming. As if knowing the secret of the case, he cautioned Vince to allow time for justice to run through the proper channels. Vince said nothing as response to the remark.
The helicopter flew a direct course for a medium-sized town next to the interstate highway, forty miles to the east. It had a nice, obscure motel slightly off the beaten path where they could stay the night and conduct any urgent business they might need to take care of. An undercover detective would be stationed at the motel as well. Stacey's mother would be escorted to her room to visit. Stacey expressed her concern for the leopard back at the Horizon. The chief explained that he had arranged for the local zoo to handle his care in their absence. Stacey thanked him, expressing the fact that the cat's well-being meant a great deal to her.
The helicopter landed in the median across from the motel. The entire group was given room keys without the usual formalities of signing in. Vince and Anna shared a room. Rex and Earl had one between them, and Stacey had one to herself. She told Rex she would call him after her mother left. He kissed her and followed Earl to their room.
Although Stacey's mother was very worried, she nonetheless was ecstactically proud of her daughter's amazing accomplishments. She showed Stacey a scrapbook displaying every news article published in their home town concerning Stacey's actions. Stacey informed her that as soon as she was settled in Florida, she wanted her to move there as well, free of charge, of course. Her mother respectfully declined, telling her that she was perfectly capable of taking care of her own expenses. Stacey would hear none of it, explaining to her that she would not be where she was had her mother not taken over when her father had died. As long as Stacey could provide it, they would both have a taste of the good life. Tearfully, her mother accepted the offer. She was overwhelmed that her daughter had so graciously acknowledged a need for her since her father had died. From that point on, they would always be close. Before she left, Stacey called Rex and asked him to come and meet her. To Stacey's amazement, they got along well from the start, her mother even commenting on how handsome he was!
Stacey reported to Dr. Allman and filled him in on the details not revealed by the press. He calmed down somewhat, but insisted that he must see Vince and Anna. She told him she was sorry, but she would have to clear the request with Chief Dalhart, first. Disgusted, he told her to have the chief call his office ASAP and hung up the phone.
Vince and Anna had been busy on the phone as well. Vince informed the Park Service of his present intentions in relation to the flood of unusual circumstances. Anna called Florida, preparing her people to be ready for Midnight's arrival and to book Stacey into the Hilton Hotel until she located her a place to live.
Stacey and Rex walked down to Vince and Anna's room to locate the chief and relay Dr. Allman's request. She had tried to no avail to get through by phone. They were well-received. The chief was about to call them to invite them for dinner on him even though it was a bit early. Everyone was famished and accepted the offer. Rex called Earl, telling him to meet them in the restaurant. The chief then called the doctor and gave him their location.
The good doctor arrived just as the meal was over. Surprisingly, after noticing the crude modification on Vince's cast, he ordered himself one stiff drink and gulped it down before addressing Vince, "I guess it would be absurd of me to fancy the notion that I might persuade you to leave that cast on for another week, huh?" Vince said nothing in reply and the doctor continued, "I didn't think so. I've got everything I need in the car to remove it."
Vince thanked the doctor as he turned to Anna, "You on the other hand, young lady, will have to let me alter yours somewhat if you insist on walking on that ankle. I will put you a cleated rubber pad underneath that might at least keep you from slipping and breaking your leg as well! You know, in all of my years of practice, I've never treated a more stubborn or headstrong pair than you and Vince! Maybe that's a sign that I'm behind the times and should think about settling down and retiring. Maybe Liz would consider marrying me since she has been taking care of me for several years. I really don't know if I could get along without her, now. Oh, by the way, congratulations on your marriage. This is for the both of you." He retrieved a brown envelope from his breast pocket and handed it to Vince. Anna leaned on him as he opened it, reading aloud, "Be it known that all expenses incurred by Mr. and Mrs. Vince Casey in the medical facilities of Doctor Herman Roy Allman have been hereby waived by the undersigned in an effort to help the happy couple start their marriage by standing on their own four feet!" It was signed by Dr. Allman.
Before Vince could refuse the gesture as the doctor had figured on, he quickly led a round of applause for the couple.
Vince waited patiently until the clapping stopped before trying to speak. Dr. Allman saw it coming and held up his hand to cut him off, "Please Vince, let me do this one little thing for you and Anna. I know you're going to say that you both have excellent insurance and it won't cost either of you a dime, but take it from an old-timer who, with some intrinsic damage to his personal integrity, has gotten very rich off the insurance companies and that particular analogy. Believe me, . . it WILL cost you! Your premiums will skyrocket! I would much rather you say, "Thank you Dr. Allman. Point, well taken," and shake my hand, cause whether you like it or not, I AM your doctor, and I AM going to have the LAST say in this matter as my FINAL contribution to the medical field!" Everyone was silent. Vince scanned the room. He looked at Anna. She displayed a cute smirk that told him, "It's your turn." He broke into a broad grin, "Point well taken, Dr. Allman!" Another round of applause broke out.
When the noise ceased once again, Anna interjected, "Dr. Allman, seems to me like you ought to inform Liz of your secret intentions concerning matrimony!" As if that were her cue, Liz strutted proudly into the diner, proclaiming, "'e already has, but it took 'im long enough! You didn't actually think 'e was goin' to change that bloody cast without my help did you?" They all roared with laughter while Liz proudly showed off the engagement ring Dr. Allman had given her. A round of hugs ensued. Drinks were ordered for the occasion. For the moment, the trauma of attempted murder was thankfully forgotten.
A short time later, the party was over. Dr. Allman and Liz made the necessary adjustments to Anna's cast and removed Vince's altogether. Chief Dalhart took Stacey's mother home after introducing the undercover detective who would be staying at the motel as a precautionary measure. Vince and Anna bid him good-night, thanking him for everything he had done.
The night was quiet and uneventful. A needed period of rest was welcomed by all involved. Even the strongest yearnings of young love were postponed in the interest of the well-being of the majority. The natural curiosity of the cats seemed to mellow to coincide with the general need for recuperation of the body and spirit of their human friends.
The entire group slept soundly late into the morning. In singles and doubles they gradually filtered into the dining room for breakfast or brunch. Even though the cats had enjoyed an early treat from room service, arranged by Vince and Stacey the night before, they were allowed into the diner at Stacey's and Vince's joint request.
A restless attitude nagged at the once-contented souls of the hapless victims of the murder attempt. They jointly agreed at the diner to carry on a "business-as-usual" approach to the situation and try not to let it alter their plans for the future. They would simply have to be prepared should the malady follow them to Florida. A pact was made between all to report anything unusual immediately to the others. After all, they would be very hard to keep up with once they were back into their own separate activities when they got back to Florida. Being together at Anna's place in the evenings would put Vince and Anna at the highest risk. Vince would be scouting for a new place to build a cabin while Anna was at work. Between her studies and corporate duties, aside from finding a comfortable place to live, Stacey would rarely be in one place long enough to be at risk. With luck, she and Anna would be spending some of their time on assignments either out of town, the state, or even the country! Vince assured them of his and Moon's capabilities to care for themselves in their absence. Thinking of the mystery case, Anna accidentally revealed that the mere thought of Vince's intentions weighed heavy on her mind. Acting as a mediator, Moon calmed her fears. Through him, she understood that whatever Vince's secret plans or thoughts were would be revealed only to her when they were alone. Anna felt comfortable again, confident that all would be revealed in time.
Although Stacey could read the message as well, she understood that it was not meant for her and to simply disregard it. To do otherwise would jeopardize Moon's trust in her with respect to family matters. It was ultimately plain to her that Moon meant the gesture as nothing personal, only that it was his wish for her to allow his immediate family this one bit of privacy. Stacey took it as a compliment that Moon had acknowledged her superior prowess in the empathic power department and politely excused herself to go to the ladies' room. She felt confident that the information would be open to her when the time was right.
Rex and Earl were oblivious to the unseen exchanges of information between the cats and the women. Their evaluation of the situation never faltered, . . everyone must stay on their guard and watch everyone else's backside.
Before Stacey returned, the detective entered the diner rather briskly, proceeding straight towards Anna. He stopped abruptly between her and Vince, "I'm sorry to bother you at breakfast, Dr. Fontain, but a slight problem has developed." He was interrupted by Stacey's irritated voice, "I have to leave, Anna. The zoo has mishandled Midnight and he's become rather beligerant. They don't understand his fear of cigarettes! They're about ready to dart him. It is not necessary and I do not intend to let it happen! I'm going to get him and take him on to Florida where he can get the care and attention he needs from our people."
Anna turned back to the dumbfounded detective, "You were about to explain, officer?" Hesitating slightly while he stared at Stacey, he continued, "The cat stepped on a cigarette the feeder had thrown down and slapped the meat bowl from his hand! Nobody can get near the cage without him growling and slapping at them!" Baffled, he directed his next question to Stacey, "How could you have possibly known that?" Flashing a "Silence" look to Stacey, Anna seized control of the situation before it got out of hand, "Stacey and the leopard each saved the other's life at one time. It is her personal cat. The two share a bond similar to what you might call ESP. Actually, it is quite common, certainly nothing to be alarmed about; however, if you could possibly carry her to the zoo where the cat is detained, I'm quite sure she could amend the current situation to everyone's satisfaction. Meanwhile, Vince and I will contact Chief Dalhart to escort us by helicopter back to our jet where we can rendezvous with Stacey, the leopard, and Rex and be on our way. Vince has already informed me that there seems to be nothing else we can do here and we are all anxious to get back to our normal lives." She squeezed Vince's thigh beneath the cover of the table to let him know she was simply "arranging" things for the good of everyone involved. Stacey simply smiled, deeply appreciative of Anna's constant coaching of her abilities, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the seed Anna had planted in the mind of the officer would blossom exactly into the scenario which would benefit them all.
The officer said he would be honored to escort Stacey and Rex to the zoo. He only had to notify his superiors and they could leave right away. Anna said she would call
ahead to postpone any action the zoo personnel might implement against the cat. Earl went back to his room to call the airport, file a flight plan and have the Horizon fueled for the trip. Anna told Stacey everyone would meet at the terminal restaurant, regardless of who got there first. The officer made a phone call to relay the new plan and have the chopper sent for Anna, Vince, and the cats.
Midnight posed no problem for Stacey. The zookeepers were amazed when the great leopard calmed immediately when Stacey entered the room with a leash in her hand and demanded the cage key. She squatted outside momentarily to allow Midnight to rub his long whiskers on her cheek. Awestruck, the keepers watched in silence while she deftly unlocked the cage, snapped on the leash and walked out with the black cat following obediently on silent feet. They wasted no time in stepping aside to let her pass. A little disgusted with the way the cat had been treated, Stacey's disdain for the handlers was more than obvious as she strode by in silence and pitched one of them the cage keys when she reached the exit door. They could not help watching her lead the great cat on to the car where the detective was patiently waiting for her. She had requested that he and Rex stay in the car. Stacey led Midnight around to his window and told him to stick out his hand so the cat could get a sniff of his scent. Rex got out and opened the rear door. He was not surprised that Midnight's immense body completely filled up the rear of the car. Stacey laughed as she rolled down the windows so he could stick his head out one side and his tail out the other. He seemed to enjoy the wind in his face during the trip to the airport. Curious onlookers usually stopped behind them, stretching to see, but not trusting enough to get up beside the animal's head, even with their windows up!
Nearing the terminal, Rex muttered, "There's my number two baby! Looks like they took good care of her." Stacey knew he was talking about the Horizon. Heat waves shimmered behind her engines as Earl performed his pre-flight check of her systems. Stacey turned to Rex, "Who is in the honored spot of number one?" He grinned slyly, "I think you already know the answer to that one." Stacey leaned over to kiss him on the cheek confiding, "I was hoping you would say something to that effect." The detective was waved through the gate by an airport security guard who pointed to the jet. The detective scanned over the plane before shutting off his motor, "That's one fine-looking piece of machinery you people cruise around in!" Pleased with the compliment, Rex answered, "Why, thank you officer. She's like Stacey, here, an SS model." Stacey turned to him inquiring, "You think I'm a super sport?" He grinned, "No. In this case it means sleek and sexy!" Stacey blushed when the officer said he agreed on both counts.
Stacey put Midnight in the comfort of the climate-controlled cabin on board. The officer parked his car outside the gate and followed her inside for a cup of coffee. Rex stayed outside to start his own check of the jet. Chief Dalhart was telling Vince and Anna to keep him informed of anything happening which might be connected with their case. He would do likewise for them if a new lead should develop. He and Vince chatted briefly on the "good old days" while Stacey filled Anna in concerning the uneventful collection of Midnight at the local zoo.
Earl returned inside to inform them that the Horizon would be ready for take-off as soon as Rex had completed his co-pilot's pre-flight check. Anna thanked him and said dinner for all was on her at the Flagship Restaurant if he could get them back to Florida by suppertime. Earl grinned as he extended his hand, "You're on, Boss. This is one bet you're gonna lose for sure!" She stood up as Rex waved from outside to signal the Horizon was ready. Anna announced in her business tone, "Ladies and gentlemen, let's go home." She and Vince shook the chief's hand on their way out and thanked him for all he had done. A short minute later, they were streaking up to the clouds.
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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