A strange voice on the other end of the sound phone sounded chipper, “Billy, it’s been a long time.”
Bill scowled, “It’s Bill. If you had ever spoken to me, you’d know that.”
The stranger laughed, “Of course, I should have remembered.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m wounded. You don’t remember me. It’s Chuck, Chuck McGill, but you can just call me Chuck.”
Bill stood up and started to pace behind the others, “Why would I remember you?”
Chuck responded, “I called you when you were still in uptown Charlotte. It’s a shame you sold that place, by the way.”
Bill responded, annoyed, “I don’t remember your call.”
Chuck laughed, “I suspect not. You sounded distracted. I’m guessing you had a lady friend.”
“My fiancée. You know, the one you had killed.”
Chuck was quiet for a moment and then answered in a low voice, “Yes, I’m sorry about that. I told my men not to hurt anyone. I don’t need the attention. Nigel was an idiot and a horrible accountant, but I was shorthanded.”
Bill growled, “So that was you.”
Chuck let out an audible sigh, “I can hear you have your brother’s disposition. I can’t blame you. I’d be looking for revenge myself. Unfortunately, we’re past that.”
“Past what?” asked Bill.
Chuck’s voice became more assertive, “Past everything. You see, I want one thing, Harold.”
“Why?” asked Bill.
Chuck answered, “I’m afraid that’s need to know, and the less you know, the better.”
Bill responded, “You sound like the CIA.”
“Let’s just say we share best practices.”
Bill’s free hand began to move around, and his pacing quickened, “I can’t give you Harold. Why am I involved? Why did you involve Carol?”
“Leverage, my boy.”
Bill stopped and growled, “I swear, if you kill her.”
Chuck interrupted, “I would never kill such a beautiful woman. Here, see for yourself.”
The phone line was quiet, and then Carol’s familiar voice quaked through the receiver. “Bill, is that you?”
Bill’s voice was anxious. “Are you alright?”
“He’s got me guarded by sex traffickers. They keep telling me how much money they’ll make off me. I swear, I’ll die before I become a slave. Bill,” the phone went silent.
Chuck’s voice responded, “You see, safe as can be.”
Bill’s heartbeat grew louder, “I swear, if anyone touches her, I’ll find you and tear you apart.”
Chuck’s voice was calm, “That is entirely up to you and the CIA.”
Bill was exasperated. “I don’t have any pull here.”
“I think you’re not giving yourself enough credit. Your brother and his wife have plenty of pull, and I’m quite certain they’ll see things your way.”
“What if they don’t?” asked Bill.
“Then I give Carol to my friends,” answered Chuck menacingly.
Bill was urgent, “She’d rather die.”
“That’s up to her.”
The phone line went dead. Bill squeezed the phone, and an audible crack caused Darla to yell, “Please, don’t. It’s the only link we have to Carol.”
Bill stopped himself and handed the phone back to Darla. She looked it over and put it back in her pocket.
Bill said, “I need to go for a walk.”
Harold answered, “Stay on the road and trails, and you should be okay.”
Darla hollered, “Wait!”
Bill turned, “What?”
“What did Chuck say?”
Bill’s brow wrinkled, “You know what he said.”
“How would I know?”
Bill answered, “Because you needed to.”
He turned and quickly walked through the opened wall, past the parlor, and was soon out the front door. He stopped on the front porch and debated heading back to his bungalow but instead went to his right and followed the driveway and shell covered lane to see where it would lead.
White LED lights sat at the edge of the foliage next to the road. Their pale white light clearly showed the path while not disturbing the night sky. Bill had not bothered to look up. He was too busy following the ground lights and blocking out everything but the eerie glow at his feet. His mindless trek stopped when he came to a fork in the road.
A lit footpath veered off to the right into the darkness. The shadows of shrubs, trees, and sawgrass sat in the distance. The other direction was the road and lights that led towards a small bend. Bill looked up for the first time and noticed the full moon. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he could make out the pale reflection on the plant life ahead.
He turned right and began to follow the path. An occasional rustle of leaves or limbs by an unseen animal or reptile would startle Bill, but he kept moving forward. Although the plants were cut back, a breeze would sometimes cover some of the pathway’s lights. He was considering turning around when the world broke open before him.
A small beach lay nestled between the water and overgrowth. The same lights lined the back of the beach. The full moon reflected off the water, creating diamonds among its ripples. Small rocks laid scattered among the muted white sand, and a large, flat boulder sat partway in the water. A wrought iron bench sat just to the right of the rock.
Bill sat down on the bench and looked skyward for the first time. A canopy of stars laid open before him. He smiled and remembered sneaking out at night after lights out at the orphanage. He would lay back on a picnic table in the quadrant and try to count the stars above his head. As he grew older, he would try and identify the clusters.
A frown formed on Bill’s face. All the stars looked the same. Concentrating, Orion’s belt began to peek out from among the stars, and then grew so obvious Bill wondered how he had missed it at all. A reddish orb, slightly larger than the rest, appeared to pulse.
Bill pointed up and said to no one, “Mars. You’re Mars.”
His forehead wrinkled, and his brow creased. Bill continued pointing to the sky and asked, “How can you do this.” He raised both hands, “Look at this. How can you make all of this and let this world suffer so much?”
Bill dropped his hands sat silent. Only the breeze disturbed the plants behind him.
He spoke again, “Why? Why Lori? Why Carol? Why am I a killer? If you created me, if you created this, tell me why. Is that too much to ask?”
“Maybe it’s above your paygrade.”
Bill jumped at the sound of Harold’s voice and sat up.
Harold continued, “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to snoop.”
Bill ran his hand through his hair, “Did you follow me?”
“No, this is where I come to think and pray.”
Bill looked over at Harold’s large silhouette as he walked towards him. He stood as Harold drew near. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was your spot. I can leave.”
Harold put his hand on Bill’s shoulder, “Don’t be silly. Stay.”
“I can see why you come here.”
Harold turned and faced the darkness and diamonds on the water. “Yes, this place has an effect on people.” He turned back to Bill, “Please, sit down. Let me grab my chair.”
Bill looked around for a chair when Harold climbed up on the flat rock. He crossed his legs and looked in Bill’s direction. Even by the moonlight, Bill could see Harold’s eyes dance.
Bill asked, “What did you come here to think about?”
“Darla told me what Chuck wants.”
“Let me guess, you’re not going.”
Harold stretched out his legs and leaned back on his arms. “Actually, I volunteered, but I was overruled by the CIA and my wife.”
“Your wife works for the CIA.”
Bill stood up, “So, my friend dies because your wife is afraid something will happen to you.”
Harold sat up and extended his hands, “Hold on. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Darla promised me they’ll get Carol back alive without giving me up.”
Bill walked over and leaned against the rock, next to Harold. “You’ll have to excuse me if I’m not convinced. Your wife seemed pretty surprised by the men showing up in the hanger. What’s to stop her from being wrong again?”
Harold shrugged, “Nothing, I guess. But, I trust my wife, and I trust Maria. Neither woman would want any other woman to end up as a sex slave.”
“So, is Maria some sort of spy expert?”
Harold answered, “No. She was sort of a housekeeper and a nanny to me growing up, almost like a big sister no boy ever wants. That doesn’t sound like much, but don’t let her humble background fool you. Her family came to our country to escape the cartel in Mexico. She saw some horrible things growing up. She understands what Carol is facing. If she trusts Darla and Garcia to get her out, I do too.”
“After talking with Chuck, I’m convinced I was right,” said Bill. “You were the target the whole time. But why?”
Harold leaned back again. “I wish I knew what’s so interesting about me. Chuck had his chances earlier to take me. I’m not sure what’s changed.”
Bill sighed, “So, Lori died for this?”
“Not just Lori, but maybe my parents too. I least I think they did.”
“You’re not sure?”
Harold shook his head. “John Richmond was a close friend of the family. He and his conspirators drove my dad to suicide with false accusations.”
“I read about some of this in the papers when John was killed. Wait, are you the guy that killed John Richmond?”
Harold nodded, “We managed to keep my name out of the news.”
Bill took a few steps away and then turned, “The papers said a resident had stopped John from killing a doctor and a housekeeper. That was Joshua and Maria?”
“How does that tie in with Chuck?”
Harold answered, “John knew Chuck. I’ve always thought there was a connection there, but I’ve never been able to figure it out.”
“What does Darla think?”
Harold answered, “She said it looks suspicious, but it probably isn’t connected.”
“I have a question. How did it feel when you killed John?”