Bill and the Sting of Death

Mountain Refuge

The doorbell rang, and Carol hollered, “I got it.”

“Thanks,” replied Bill.

He stood there taking inventory of his suitcase and overheard John and Carol talking in the great room. Bill walked into the master bathroom and confirmed all his items were in his shaving kit. He stopped, looked back at the bedroom, and his heart sank. It was just two weeks ago; Lori and he had been doing the very same thing for their weekend beach trip.

Muscles tightened, and pain pierced his side as tears trickled down his cheeks. He blinked and tightened his fist to control the pain. Carol clearing her throat caught his attention.

“Are you sure you are up for this?”

Bill grimaced, “Yea. Adam said I needed to get away and give my head time to sort things out.”

“But there? There are memories in the mountains too.”

“There are memories everywhere. At least I can relax and talk to John.”

“You can talk to me.”

Bill walked over and gave Carol a hug. “It’s not the same.”

Carol turned in Bill’s direction as he zipped his suitcase shut, “I thought we were friends.”

“We are. I don’t know, it’s different with John.”

“Don’t tell me it’s because he’s a guy.”

Bill plopped the suitcase on the floor, “It’s because he’s married.”

Carol said nothing, and Bill grunted as he left the bedroom with the suitcase in tow.

John asked, “Are we doing this?”

“You know we are.”

“Can I help you with the suitcase?”

Bill hesitated and then handed John the handle.

Carol gave Bill a hug goodbye, and the men headed towards the mountain sanctuary. Neither person said much on the drive up.

John pulled up to the gated community in West Jefferson. He reached out to punch in his code but stopped, and then turned to Bill. “I have to ask. What’s the deal with Carol?”

Bill’s eyebrows rose, “What do you mean?”

“I’m simply curious about Carol. Why was she there this morning?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but the doctor wanted somebody around to make sure I didn’t do too much. She volunteered.”

“So, you guys are close?”

Bill started tapping the armrest on the door. “Look, she’s my admin and my friend, ok? She’s the closest thing I have to family now, besides you.”

John put up his hands, “Ok. Sorry. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t making any bad decisions in your grief.”

“Give me a little credit.”

“I’m sorry.”

John reached back out the window, punched in the code, and the cedar gates slowly swung open. Bill looked out over the view as the SUV climbed the curvy road to the top of the hill. With each foot higher, he could feel his body relaxing. There was something about a mountain view that helped him breathe easier.

The house came into view. It’s beautiful rock entryway and the valley’s picturesque farms below put a smile on Bill’s face. The pain that had radiated in his side faded a little. John pulled up and stopped in the gravel driveway.

John said, “Well, let’s get unloaded and decide what to do with the day.”

“That sounds like a plan.” Responded Bill.

They entered the home. No matter how many times Bill had been there, the grand living room with his tongue and groove walls and ceiling always took him back to his favorite ski lodges. He walked into his usual bedroom on the main floor. To Bill’s surprise, he did not feel sad. It almost felt like old times before he and Lori started to date. Bill sat on the edge of the bed for a couple of minutes and looked around the room.

John hollered from the main room, “Do you want a beer, or do you want to grab lunch?”

Bill wanted a beer, but he had not eaten yet, and a beer would go right to his head. He walked out of the bedroom, “Let’s do both.”

A short while later, the two men were sitting in King George’s Pub in downtown West Jefferson. John lifted his mug of a local brew, and Bill followed suit.

John said, “To good friends in times of grief. May we always be here for each other.”

Bill nodded, and they clinked their mugs, and Bill took a big swallow. “That’s just what I need.”

Both men ordered their favorite burger, and Bill sat back and watched the handful of patrons at the bar. Most appeared to be locals sharing gossip with the bartender.

John broke in, “So, are you planning on going back to your old job, or do you think you’ll take a longer break than just a couple of weeks?”

Bill shrugged, “Who knows. I’m taking life one day at a time right now. Did I mention I went to the orphanage yesterday?”

John nodded his head.

Bill leaned closer to John and lowered his voice. “I’ve been having these crazy dreams; about people I don’t know or shouldn’t know. Adam told me they had been part of my childhood.”

“Why didn’t you remember them?”

Bill continued, “That’s a long story. Anyway, they may be connected to Lori’s murder. Adam said I could be in danger, as well.”

John drew closer to Bill, “Are we in danger?”

“I don’t think so. At least, Adam seemed relieved I was leaving Charlotte. I didn’t say where I was going, so it isn’t like anyone knows where we are beside Carol and Rhonda, and I think we can trust the two of them.”

John looked around the bar a few times. “I wish you had told me before we left.”

“Does that mean you want to go back home?”

John shook his head. “No, but I have people, security. Being head of operations and traveling into some hostile countries means I’m looked after. I could have insured our safety.”

Bill picked up his mug, “Well, if you need to, call them up here. I think our anonymity is probably all we need from the way Adam reacted.”

Bill took another long swallow, and John followed suit and then answered, “You seem very calm for a guy that was shot and then told the people involved may take another run at him.”

Bill put down his beer. “Look, I have a lot on my mind. There’s more happening that I don’t want to talk about right now. Let’s just say if anyone showed up, I’m not too worried about protecting us. What happened in the office was not a fluke, according to Adam. If I can find out who’s behind this, I will make them pay for what happened to Lori.”

“I thought you already did that.”

“I think he was just the trigger man.”

John’s asked, “If you get that man, and then the one after that, and the next. How will it end?”

Bill’s face darkened, “The same way it ended for his henchman, and the henchman after him, and on down the line.”

Both men sat quietly, and their food soon arrived. They ate in silence and then drove back the short distance to the house.

As soon as they walked inside, John turned to Bill. “Are you really planning on killing this unknown Mr. Big, or whatever he calls himself?”

“I don’t know. If he walked through that door right now, I would say yes. I just, I don’t know. Can we drop it for now?”

John nodded his head. Both men walked over to the couches for their routine of sports watching and napping after a heavy lunch.

Bill’s cellphone vibrated in his pocket. His leg jerked, and he opened his eyes. The scene of wooden walls and unfamiliar furniture temporarily disoriented him. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and mumbled into the receiver, “Yea.”

Carol’s voice whispered on the other end, “I need to talk to you.”

Bill rubbed his eyes and blinked a couple of times. “Yea, go ahead.”

Carol rushed her response, “You’re getting fired.”

Bill sat up, “What?”

Carol changed her tone, “Yes, Bob. I need those supplies sent here tomorrow. We have a new boss coming from London, and the Corporate heads want this place cleaned up and looking fresh.”

Bill answered, “They can’t do that.”

John spoke up, “Do what?”

Bill ignored him.

Carol whispered, “I have a copy of your severance package. It’s two years full salary and benefits, including bonuses based on last year’s record commissions.”

“So, they’re paying me off. Why?”

Carol answered, “Give me a minute, I’ll call you back.”

The phone line went dead, and Bill stared blankly, holding his cell phone on his lap.

John spoke up, “What happened? You look like you’ve been gut-punched.”

Bill blinked a couple of times and then looked over at John to answer. His cell phone rang, and he put his index finger up to John. Bill saw Carol’s personal cell phone number and answered.

Bill asked, “Where are you?”

“Walking to my car for a coffee run.”

“There’s coffee in the building.”

“Don’t argue with me.”

Bill complied, “Ok, what’s going on?”

“The brass didn’t like the publicity the attack brought.”

Bill protested, “I didn’t have any choice in the matter. What did they expect me to do, roll over and die?”

“I’m not sure. This is still a British company. They said they didn’t like the fact that you killed four men with an assault rifle.”

“That I took off one of the assailants.”

Carol continued, “You’re preaching to the choir. I say take the deal and leave this place. You don’t need them hassling you about this anyway.”

Bill looked over at John. John had his eyes stretched wide. Bill covered the receiver, “I got let go.”

John mouthed, “Why?”

Bill held up his finger again.

Carol asked, “Are you still there.”

“Yea, I’m just trying to understand what’s happening. It seems very convenient that Lori is killed, and now they fire me.”

Carol said, “Don’t start down that damn fool conspiracy theory of yours. You told me last night Adam said some guy is looking for this Joshua and Harold, and now maybe you too.”

“Maybe they’re working together.”

“Stop it. I know investors can be dirty, but where’s the money trail? Nobody teams up with terrorists unless there is a lot of money involved. The only money I’m seeing is your parachute.”

Bill responded, “Just because we can’t see the money doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

Carol sounded exasperated, “Baby, this is your friend speaking to you. Take the money and run. You told me you had a nest egg already saved up. Well, take this, do your day trading and figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life.”

Bill let out a sigh, “I wasn’t planning on retiring in my thirties.”

“Then don’t. Just find something new.”

“Thanks. I better go. John is about to explode with curiosity.”

Carol replied, “Ok, call me later.”

“I will.”

They both hung up.

John immediately asked, “What is going on? You got fired?”

“Severance.”

John asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

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