Jazz came out of her bedroom around noon, still unable to believe what had happened. She slumped on the couch, tears falling from her cheeks, sitting there in shocked disbelief. She wiped her tears and rose. She couldn’t stay there forever. She peered out the window. The two men were still standing outside, as if to remind her last night’s events had not been a terrible dream.
She wondered if she should call the police. She picked up the phone book, but could not bring herself to open it. No, Victor was right. What would she tell them?
As she fixed her lonely lunch, she wondered if the watchers were ordered to ignore Victor and concentrate on her. After all, she was the insurance they needed to hold him to his task.
She wondered how a killer prepares himself for a kill. She thought back on all the old suspense movies she’d seen and tried to imagine Victor as the bad guy. That just didn’t seem to fit. The truth about him had come as such a shock.
She didn’t know what she was going to do. She couldn’t hide forever. She had to go to work and wanted to go to church. Something told her that she needed to be around people as much as possible. As long as she was, she’d be reasonably safe.
She thought about going home to visit her mother and dad, but was afraid of letting Monroe and Johnson know where they lived. No, she had to stay in town. She’d have to just pretend they weren’t there.
The best thing to do was what Victor told her, she knew, but thinking about going to church was more than she could bear. If someone said something, she was afraid she’d blurt it out with Friday’s events still raw on her nerves. She’d spend the weekend getting up her courage to go to work Monday.
Saturday and Sunday were the longest days she could remember. She spent much of the day trying to catch up on reading or watching movies, but there was absolutely nothing that could keep her mind occupied. As she’d planned, she stayed home Sunday, but wished she’d taken the chance afterwards and gone. It would have made the day less eternal. She’d not realized how she’d come to love Victor’s company on the weekends.
By Monday she was ready to be among people. Nervously she dressed for work and barely ate breakfast. She stepped out the door, but almost before turning to take her first step toward her car she was shocked by her vulnerability. Fear almost hindered her resolve. If she didn’t show up for work, there would be questions. Too many questions would reveal the truth.
She had to force herself to keep moving toward her car. Each step seemed harder to make than the last. The snowy sidewalk did not help. Not able to go back and too afraid to stop, she continued to the driveway knowing at any moment someone would grab her shoulder. Her spine prickled as if a million tiny needles were sticking in her back. What would she do? Fight? Run? Give in? “NO!” She clinched her teeth. “I will not give in!” but she desperately regretted sending Victor away; and it wasn’t just because of the danger she was in. She felt so empty going to work. What would she say when she saw him?
Suddenly a dog barked and startled her, almost sending her into a blind run. “No, calm down. Walk normally.” She forced her concentration. “Do not run!” The sudden noise of the neighbor’s old car backfiring, a sound she was quite familiar with, almost pushed her to the limit. If the prey ran, the predators would chase her down. She had to keep her composure. “Breathe. Just breathe and walk. Concentrate.” She prayed as she walked, “Father I can’t do this without you. Please help me.”
When she finally reached her car, she was as much out of breath as if she’d run three miles. She leaned her head back on the seat and closed her eyes. Tears threatened her, but she could not allow herself to go to work with a red face and swollen eyes. She held them back grimly. “I will not cry, crying would raise too many questions. I still have to think what to say to everyone if Victor doesn’t show up for work.” Conflicted, she didn’t want to see him, but she wanted him to be there.
Driving the familiar route, the fear began to wear off just a little. In its place a sense of surrealism came over her. At every turn closer to the office, she felt less and less certain of the weekend events.
She pulled into the small parking lot, got out of the car and started across almost feeling safe, but nearing the building, she saw Johnson’s men. With only a fraction of a second’s hesitation, she forced herself to walk to the door. Keri met her there, and the two walked in.
“Hi, Jazz… hey are you okay? You look a little pale.”
“I’m fine, I guess I’ve had a rough weekend.” Jazz’s heart fell further than she thought possible. Victor wasn’t there to let her in.
“Have you seen Victor? I guess he was supposed to come in a little early today, but never showed up.”
“No, I haven’t seen him since New Year’s.”
“Did something happen?”
Jazz hesitated, “Yeah, he asked me to marry him, I said no.”
“Why’d you say no? You guys have been pretty tight since before Christmas.”
“I got to thinking about what you said, and decided we needed to cool it down a little bit. He didn’t like that at all.”
“Did he get violent?”
“No, don’t jump to conclusions. He just got upset and took me home. I thought I’d see him today, but he hasn’t come yet?”
“No he hasn’t. Really I’m glad Jazz. I don’t think he was good for you.”
When they came out of the elevator, Jazz went to her desk to begin her day, but she just sat staring at the desktop wallpaper on her computer. It was a photograph of her and Victor with their faces together. It was so strange to be sitting there after everything that happened this weekend. She whispered to the screen, “Everything’s the same here except me.”
Unexpectedly, Jazz jumped at someone’s hand on her back.
“Jazz, hey! I didn’t mean to scare you.” Keri exclaimed, “Tell me the truth, did Victor hurt you? You’ve never been so jumpy before.”
“Oh, sorry, Keri, No I was just deep in thought.”
“Do you want to talk?”
“Not really. I’ll be all right. This is just going to take some time.”
“Why don’t we have lunch together?”
“I was going to eat here. There didn’t seem to be any point in going out today since its so icy and looks like its going to snow again.”
“Sorry, I’m not letting you off that easily. I’ll be by at 11:45.”
Jazz watched Keri walk back to her desk. She didn’t really want to go out at all, not with those goons following her. And she knew Keri would hammer her with questions about Victor. Keri would insist, Jazz would give in, Keri would cause trouble.
On the other hand, maybe going out was a good idea. Her shadows wouldn’t want her to leave work, it would make things a lot easier for them. So, okay, she’d go to lunch with Keri, she’d just make sure she didn’t give Victor more complications than he had already. She’d be with her friend and they’d be in a public place. If those guys’ job was to watch her, she wasn’t going to make it easy for them. And why should she alienate herself from her friend?
When 11:45 came, Jazz was ready for Keri, who asked where she wanted to go.
“Mexican? But the only good Mexican restaurant is across town. I thought you didn’t want to get out in all this snow.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll drive. I’m really hungry for their tamales and it won’t hurt if we take a few more minutes. It won’t be too bad. Not as many people will be there with the roads like they are.”
“Okay, if you don’t mind driving.”
They made their slippery way on the ice-covered street to the car. She didn’t feel quite as vulnerable as she did when she was alone. She knew it was crazy to feel safer. Together they wouldn’t be any match for the men following them if they decided to attack, and she was putting Keri in danger.
The sky was gray with heavy clouds. Not surprising either of the women, snow began to fall. Jazz laughed.
“What?” Keri asked puzzled, trying to look out the car window to see what was funny.
“Oh nothing, it just feels better to get out than I thought it would. You know I love gray days, that’s all.”
“Oh. Jazz you’re so funny about weather. I still can’t understand you.
“I really expected to have a fight on my hands when I came to pick you up. I was surprised when you suggested Mexican. I know all this has something to do with Victor, so tell me, what happened on New Year’s Eve?”
“Victor took me to a restaurant so we could talk. He told me he’d seen me when I worked at the bank in Houston and wanted to get to know me then. He followed me to Prairie Oak and got a job with the magazine so he could be near me.”
“You mean he was stalking you?”
Jazz nodded her head, “Then he asked me to marry him. That scared me so I told him I needed to think about it and I wanted to go home.”
“I thought you said you told him no and he got upset.”
“He took it as a no,” Jazz recovered quickly, not sure if Keri believed her.
“So what are you going to say to him?”
“I don’t know. I might not see him again now.”
“I think you’d be lucky. He’s scary Jazz. He’s too quiet.”
“Some might say you’re scary too, Keri. Some might think you talk too much. Just because a guy is quiet, doesn’t mean he’s bad.”
“No, but Victor has a kind of calculating quietness. I’ll bet he’s hiding something. I’ll bet he’s wanted by the police.”
Jazz’s throat clutched as she tried to think of something safe to say, “Keri, you have an overactive imagination. Let it go.”
“I think if a guy really cares he’d be back. I think Victor is using you Jazz.”
“Just because you’ve had some bad experiences with guys doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Just let it go.” Jazz, on the verge of losing her temper with Keri, hoped she would take the hint. Keri just shook her head.
“You’re not telling me everything Jazz. I’ll drop it for now, but you’re going to have to tell me later.”
“You can think what you want to Keri. I’ve told you all I need to tell. You’re just going to have to accept what I say.”
“See? I knew you weren’t telling me everything. You just admitted it.”
“Keri, you need to mind your own business here. There’s no point arguing about it anyway. He’s gone.”
“Are you going to be okay? I’ve never seen you this upset over a guy before.”
“I guess I’m missing him more than I thought I would.” Jazz replied as they walked to the door of the restaurant. At that moment Jazz lost her footing on a patch of black ice and started to fall. Just before she hit the ground, however, a man caught her and helped her to her feet. Feeling a little shaky she made sure of her footing and looked up. When she saw who had helped her, she gasped. It was the guy with the dark hair who’d first made her and Victor get into his Suburban. Now she was even more afraid than when she thought she was going to hit the ground. She said nothing to the man who smirked and walked into the restaurant.
“Jazz, you didn’t say anything to him. He kept you from falling, and he’s not bad looking either.”
“Sorry, Keri,” was all she could say. With her heart pounding, and not wanting to go into the restaurant now, she was almost tempted to tell Keri she wasn’t hungry anymore. Trying to explain would be too difficult so she gulped and went in with her friend. They sat down.
While Keri was ordering, Jazz looked over her friend’s shoulder and saw the bald man sitting down at a table near by. She averted her eyes. She couldn’t believe he had the nerve to come in the restaurant. She adjusted her chair so she wouldn’t have to look at him. Unfortunately the other man was sitting at another table. He smiled wickedly at her again, frightening her.
“Aren’t you going to order Jazz?” Keri nudged.
“Oh, yeah, sorry.” Jazz brought her attention back to her friend. She ordered the tamales and a glass of milk.
“Jazz that’s got to be gross.” Keri shuddered.
“Tamales and milk.”
“Oh, but it’s good. The milk cuts the heat. Pop does too, but I was in the mood for milk.”
“You should try it sometime.”
“No thanks. I’ll stick with pop.”
“You just don’t know what you’re missing.”
“The only thing milk is good for is a deep rich chocolate cake.”
“Yeah. I could go for that.”
They ate their lunch, and for the rest of the conversation Jazz was able to ignore the men at the tables, for the most part. Trying to keep control over her face and voice, and trying to avoid appearing to Keri that she wasn’t nervous took a lot out of Jazz. They finished their lunch and after paying the bill, went back to the parking lot. It was now snowing harder than it did when they went in.
“It’s funny,” Keri began after they got into Jazz’s car, “but that guy seemed to be watching us. Did you notice? I saw another guy too. Did you see him?”
“Nope.” Jazz answered shortly, hoping Keri would pass it off.
“I wonder who they are.”
“Who knows. They were probably noticing how beautiful we are.”
“Yeah right,” Keri scoffed.
Jazz just laughed. After that near fall, she was more aware of the slipperiness of the road and the crunch of snow under the tires kept her alert for dangerous road conditions. She was relieved when they arrived back at the office. Once she got back to her desk, her fear seemed to overwhelm her more than she expected. She had to face going to her car alone later that evening and then she had to try to get to her apartment without help. Her stomach stayed in knots. The milk she drank at lunch which was supposed to calm her nerves, was curdling in her stomach.
When the time finally came for her to go home, she was tempted to ask someone to walk her to her car. She decided not to. Not in the habit of needing an escort she was afraid of unnecessary questions, so she decided to walk out with a group of people.
Everyone wished each other a good night, and each went their own ways. Jazz climbed in her car, locked the doors and took a deep breath. She started the car and pulled out of the lot. Looking in her rearview mirror, she could see them, stalking her. Her mind used the word. Her heart broke when she remembered that she’d accused Victor of it. This is what it really meant to be stalked.
At home she didn’t know how she was going to get in the door normally, but somehow made it back within the safety of the locked door and windows. The late afternoon winter sun set the peacock aglow. He seemed to glare at her as if to mock her, accusing Victor of abandoning her when she needed him most. How could he involve himself so much in her life and then leave her? In the same thought her mind reminded her that she’d sent him away. When she thought of his eyes pleading with her, his kiss trying to help her see his love for her, she burst into tears all over again. How could she be so cruel to him? But how could he keep that secret from her? How could he leave her in this predicament? Did he really love her? Yes, she knew he loved her. Her dinner had no flavor, she pushed it away and cleaned her kitchen.
In the middle of her dishes, she began to cry. “Father, I don’t know what I should do. Should I call the police?”
It seemed as if there was no answer. She felt alone and scared. What’s the point of being a Christian if she couldn’t rely on God to help her when she needed him? Then it seemed to her that a thought formed itself in her mind, as if someone was whispering to her, “Why have you waited until you’re in a crisis to talk to me.”
She felt ashamed. It was true. Most of her life was spent calling herself a Christian, but never thinking much about God or Christianity except on Sundays. She’d never spent time in prayer alone like she knew her parents did.
“What do I do now?” A verse came to her mind from a vacation Bible school a long time ago, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” Where was that verse?
Spurred on to discover what she couldn’t remember, she pulled out her Bible. The pages still smelled of new ink and binding. She looked through the concordance. There it was. It was Jeremiah 29:13. She read the verse. “Lord,” she prayed, “it seems to be that you’re saying that if I try to have a relationship with you, you’ll help me find you. Please help me seek you with all my heart so that I can find you and really become the Christian woman you want me to be. I really want to live my life for you.”
The phone rang, Jazz was instantly afraid. Was it Victor? No. The caller I.D. indicated Pastor Jim.
“Hi, Jazz. Are you okay? We missed you and Victor yesterday.”
“Victor and I had an argument,” Jazz cringed. How could she lie to her Pastor when she’d just decided to become more dedicated? But how could she tell him the truth? Well, they really did have an argument, but… Jazz realized that trying to live more for the Lord wasn’t going to be easy.
“Do you need Andrea to come to see you?”
“No, I’m okay. I just didn’t feel like being around a lot of people yesterday.”
“I understand. “
“Thanks. Can I ask you a question?”
“What’s the best way to start praying?”
“Ah, there’s a subject that would take a whole series of sermons to talk about. I promise not to go into a sermon though. You know we preachers are notorious for that.
“Basically everyone has to develop their own quiet time. Some people have music playing, some people find music distracting. Some people write, some people pray out loud. Some people pray in the morning, others pray at night. It really doesn’t matter how you pray, just do it.”
“What about Bible reading? Where do I start?”
“It’s best to pray first. At the end of your prayer, ask the Lord to direct you in the book or verses you should read. You could start from the beginning, but if you’ve never really read the Bible, you should probably start with the New Testament, especially John. Then later, when you’re ready, try reading the easier books of the Old Testament, like Esther and Psalms. Proverbs is good too, but it doesn’t follow a story like other books do. Just remember, both the Old Testament and the New Testament are important.”
“Thanks Pastor. I appreciate it.”
“Good luck Jazz. Remember it’s always hard to get started. You have to be committed because it’s easy to get distracted. You’ll be glad you stuck with it.”
“Will we see you Sunday?”
“I think so.”
“Okay, have a great week.”
Pastor Jim had never called before when she’d been gone. Jazz wondered what the change was. She hoped he and Andrea were okay.
She decided to start her devotions early in the morning. It was the best time of day for her anyway, and she’d be able to begin her new day with something positive. She was tired tonight. She went to bed a little afraid, but she quickly became aware of a feeling of peace she couldn’t understand. Soon she was asleep.
In the morning, the alarm went off, earlier than usual. The beeping volume increased until she found the off switch. She groaned not wanting to leave the comfort of her bed to get up and start something new. She rolled over, but now she couldn’t go back to sleep, her body began to ache. Stretching, she got out of bed and made her way to the kitchen. She turned on the coffee maker, took her Bible off the shelf and began to pray.
As she prayed, she found her mind wandering, and her eyes nodding off to sleep. She shook herself, and stretched again, noticing the coffee was finished. She poured herself a cup found a notebook and began to write. Owie jumped in her lap, purring.
“Father, please help me really make time for you. I’m desperate right now, I don’t know what to do,” She took a sip of coffee, feeling energized by the warm liquid going down her throat. She rose again, put on some soft music and continued with her prayers. Then, as Jim had suggested, she asked the Lord to help her read.
Not knowing how else to start, she opened her Bible’s table of contents. Scanning through the New Testament books, she noticed Philippians. Jim had preached on Philippians a couple of Sundays ago. What was his text? Oh yes, it was Philippians 4. She turned to it, and after reading the first verse she stopped. “…so stand fast in the Lord, beloved…”
Beloved. Jazz couldn’t believe what she was feeling. The Lord had spoken to her himself, through his own words written with Paul’s hand, and he’d called her Beloved. That verse was for her today, and she knew it; but what exactly did stand fast mean? She wondered, reading the verse again. As she pondered, its meaning came to her in the quiet of her morning and the warmth of her coffee.
To stand fast was like a mountain climber holding onto a lifeline as he climbs up the mountain. She was supposed to stand fast in the Lord. Then another verse from her childhood came to her. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”
She couldn’t believe how much strength she’d received from the written words as well as the remembered, especially the single word “beloved”. She knew the message for her today was to be strong and hold on, because she was God’s beloved.
“Lord,” she prayed aloud, “Help me remember this and continue to pray every day. If this is what happens, I want to keep on. Help me be strong and help me now. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
She wrote a note in her Bible by the verse that had spoken with such love and strength. She closed her Bible and began to get ready for work, but something would not let her rest with just writing a note in her Bible. She needed some kind of confirmation in front of her every day. She wrote a note to herself and stuck a magnet on the refrigerator to remember this moment. It would give her what she needed to keep going. She left for work, carefully observing her surroundings.
As the week went by, Jazz often felt close to tears and panic, but in all this she discovered strength she’d never had before and knew it was because of her new routine. God gave her a certain and separate peace she’d never experienced before. It was amazing, too, the more she read and prayed, the more came back to her memory.
On Friday, a week after New Year’s, Jazz stood at the counter drinking coffee before she left for work. A dark cloud hovered over her as she struggled a moment to regain some of the power she’d been receiving, but it wasn’t coming. In frustration she grabbed up a towel and threw it at a piece of calligraphy her dad had given her last year for Christmas. She walked by it every day, but today she seemed to see it as if she’d received it yesterday. “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and a future.” A sense of awe came over her as she contemplated its meaning. Picking up her Bible, she sat on the couch. She looked up the passage quoted and read. It gave her the courage to go on.
Just before walking out her door, she stopped and smiled. Making a split second decision she poured coffee in two disposable cups and looked out her window. There they were. She walked out with a confidence she was unused to, and handed the cups to her stalkers, “Good morning,” she said, stunning the men, “I brought you some coffee. You two have a great day. By the way, I have to stop for gas on the way to work. You might want to do the same.”
The two men watched her, dumbfounded.
Jazz stopped at the gas station and filled up. She almost laughed when she saw her escorts pull into a stall next to her. Still feeling invincible, she smiled and waved. She was elated to see them give her a sheepish look before looking down. They were still holding their coffee.
Feeling like she was ready for anything, she walked through her building’s front door and rode the elevator up. She was enjoying this more than she realized. She sat down and began to work with more enthusiasm than she’d felt all week. A co-worker stopped by and began to chat. Hearing the rumors of Victor and Jazz’s apparent break up, the co-worker carefully avoided mentioning him.
As they talked, Chief Duncan Ray stepped into Jazz’s office. Jazz’s friend quickly excused herself.
“Oh, Mr. Ray, you startled me. What are you doing here?”
I wish I could say I was just coming by to say hi to a friend, but I’m here on official business.”
“Is there something I can do to help?”
“I hope so.” Duncan pulled a chair over to sit more comfortably. “I’m hoping you can tell me where Victor is.”
“Victor?” Jazz asked. She noticed her palms beginning to sweat.
“Yes,” Duncan replied leaning in a little, “I know you two have been dating.”
“Yes, we are...were. I...I haven’t heard from him all week. He’s not even been to work.”
“We know. Listen Jazz, We suspect that Victor is a man we’ve been tracking who is linked to several killings. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
“Yes, I understand, but I haven’t seen him. We got in a fight. I don’t know where he is.” Jazz struggled to keep her emotions under control. She could not let him see her get upset. Who knew what she would say.
“Jazz, your father is like a brother to me. That makes you family. I need you to be careful, okay?”
“We believe Victor is a man whose birth name is Kevin Frye, but there are also many others. He’s Michael Clark in California, Harold Brewster in Michigan and Frank Carlotti in New York. He’s a hired assassin and very good at what he does. He’s not been known to form any real bonds with others, unless he has an ulterior motive. Jazz, this is really important. He could hurt you. Would you please call me if you see him? He’s dangerous, Jazz. Don’t forget that.”
Jazz nodded, but inside she writhed. Duncan rose, patted her shoulder and left the office.
The longer Jazz sat at her desk, the worse she felt. Fear manifested itself into actual nausea. She ran to the restroom and got to a stall seconds before loosing her breakfast. Retching over and again, she finally stopped after a long bout of dry heaves. Her stomach empty, feeling weak, she sat down on the floor and leaned her head against the cool tile of the wall. She closed her eyes
Hearing the door open and the clicking of heels on tile, Jazz groaned. This was not what she wanted her co-workers to see. Hoping the person who’d walked in would go into one of the other stalls, she sat quietly on the floor.
Someone knocked on her door, “Jazz?” Keri’s voice called, “Are you okay?”
“I don’t feel too good right now.” She said as the door opened. She wished Keri would leave her alone. She meant well, but sometimes....
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, not really,”
“Why don’t you take the day off? You’ll feel better on Monday.”
“Thanks. I might just ask if I can. I don’t think I can last.”
Jazz left, glad she was getting away from too many caring, prying, nosy eyes. She went to her car, and began the drive home. She saw the two men waiting for her. How could she have been so reckless earlier this morning and feel so afraid now? She did not see Duncan in another car with his partner, but someone else did.
She came in the house, and immediately went back to her bed, exhausted. When she got up, it was mid-afternoon, and she felt only a little less nauseous than she had at work. A maelstrom of questions swirled around in her head: Where was Victor? Was he out taking care of the job? Did he really want to change like he said, or was Duncan right about him? Should she have sent him away? And what would happen if Officer Ray… suddenly the phone rang, jarring her nerves. The caller I.D. came up unavailable.
Afraid to answer, afraid not to answer, she let it ring five times before rushing to pick it up.
“Jazz?” Victor whispered, “Are you okay?”
Jazz was so relieved she almost cried, “Oh, thank God. Are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m okay. Why are you home early? Did you know you picked up another shadow?”
“It must be the police. Chief Ray was at the office today, he asked me questions about you. I was so upset I came home.”
“Damn. What did you tell him?”
“That we’d had a fight and I’d not seen you for a week.”
“Good. We’ll talk more when I get there, but that won’t be until dark. I’ve got to go. Leave your window unlatched tonight.”
“But…” Jazz heard the phone click. She went to her room, and unlatched the window.
Jazz went to bed almost as soon as it was dark. She waited, expecting to hear the window push open with its particular squeak. Listening carefully in the dark, she soon fell asleep.
In the middle of the night she was suddenly wakened, aware of a man’s lips kissing hers, her eyes flew open. In the dark, she could not see the man, but knew it was Victor.
“I’m so glad you’re okay.” She gasped, kissing him back.
“I’ve missed you so much, Jazz,” She felt him lift the covers off her and slide in. She wrapped her arms around him as he began kissing her eagerly and caressing her with his gentle words sweeping her away with him. Suddenly she realized she needed to stop him, but now she was afraid. What would happen if she told him no?
Duncan’s words came back to her. Would he force her if she said no? While enjoying his touch, she was also very aware that this was not what she wanted, that it was wrong. She had to say no, she had to protest. She loved him, and knew she wanted to be his wife no matter what, but she didn’t want this until they were married. While she hesitated, he continued to wander her body, becoming more insistent in what he wanted. Now, she had to say something or he would have her. His hands were searching and loving. She put her hands on his, “Victor, I don’t want to now.”
“I love you,” he said between his kisses, “I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I want you so badly it hurts.”
“Victor, no, please.”
“But Jazz, I’ve wanted you for so long...”
“If you really love me as much as you say you do, stop now. I don’t want to do this.”
Victor kissed her again, a long sensuous, knowing, exploring kiss. It was a kiss she was afraid of, a kiss she enjoyed. “Okay Jazz. I love you. I want you to love me. We’ll wait.”
Victor got out of the bed and went to the living room. After a moment’s hesitation, Jazz followed him and switched the lights on, embarrassed to see him in his boxers and T-shirt.
“Jazz, we need to talk, but I have to get some rest first. I haven’t had a good sleep all week.”
“I’ll get a pillow and some blankets.”
“Okay, thanks.” Victor took her into his arms again. He still struggled with his desire for her. The old temptation to take her and make apologies later came over him again. He held her close, struggling with the temptation. She returned his embrace. He buried his face in her hair, kissing behind her ear. No, he wouldn’t make her. She trusted him, and he decided he would change. He wasn’t going to force her. He closed his arms more tightly around her, and then released her.
He went to the couch; she went back to her bed. Victor slept long and hard and in the morning he awoke to the sound and smell of bacon sizzling and coffee brewing.
Going into the kitchen, he put his arms around Jazz, slid his hands across her stomach and held her to himself, kissing her neck.
When he turned her around, he was alarmed to find her crying. “Jazz, what’s wrong?”
A few minutes went by before she was able to speak. She sat down and sobbed until she could gather herself together. When she felt strong enough to speak, she found she could only say two words, “Last night.” Her eyes filled with tears, her throat constricted, sobs replaced words.
Victor sat down, stunned and angry at himself. What he thought was loving tenderness toward her, was actually trampling her. As much as he wanted her, he assumed she’d want him in the same way.
“I’m so sorry. I really have no excuse.”
“Did I ever make you feel I wanted that right now?”
“No. You made it clear, you didn’t want it at all.”
“Victor I was afraid of you last night. I didn’t think you’d let me say no.”
“I didn’t realize you were scared. I thought you wanted me to keep going since you didn’t say anything. I love you. I promise I won’t do that again. Okay?”
“I’ve been keeping an eye on you all week. Did you know that?
“I wasn’t sure what to think yesterday morning when I saw you bring coffee to Johnson’s men. What did you do that for?”
“I don’t know, but it sure makes me afraid now that I think about it. I don’t plan on doing that again.”
“I have to admit you scared me, but I had such a hard time stifling a laugh when I saw their faces that I almost blew my cover.”
Jazz chuckled a little.
“Jazz, you have to be more careful. Do you see how easily you can be followed and not know it?”
“Chief Ray, the two thugs outside, you... I’ve never been so popular with the boys.”
She gave him an uneasy smile.
Victor returned her smile and picked up her hand. “You forgot Duncan’s partner.”
“Duncan has a partner?”
Jazz shook her head, “I was glad to hear your voice yesterday.”
“I know you sent me away, but you have to know I love you. I couldn’t leave you to face this alone.”
“I felt horrible sending you away, but I just didn’t know what to do. I’m glad you’re back.”
Victor kissed her check, “I’m really proud of you for going through your regular routine. I was concerned when you didn’t go to church.”
“I just couldn’t bring myself to leave. I think I can do it tomorrow.”
“Well, don’t worry. I’ll be there too. You know, I’ve come to really enjoy listening to your preacher.”
“Do you think Pastor Jim and Andrea will be okay?”
“I’m not sure. I hope so. We’ll have to trust God to take care of everything, including your Pastor.”
Jazz’s eyes got big, “Wow!”
“I know. Before this... before you, I wouldn’t have given God a second thought.”
“I’ve been praying and reading the Bible a lot this week, and it’s what’s kept me going. Can I show you what I’ve been reading?”
Loving her, he smiled, “Of course.”
They spent time together reading her Bible. It was a mystery to Victor how it seemed to speak to their situation. When they were done, he said, “Don’t you think we should pray for Pastor Jim and ourselves?”
“No reason, I was just surprised you suggested it.”
“Jazz, if we’re going to trust God in all this, we have to pray; right?”
“You’re right. Do you want me to pray?”
“I think we should both pray.”
Not used to praying, Victor faltered, “God, keep Pastor Jim safe and show us what to do. Amen.”
After Victor, Jazz prayed, “Father, we don’t know how to pray, please help us and Pastor Jim and Andrea too. We need you. In Jesus Name, Amen.”
Victor held Jazz in his arms.
“I don’t think Monroe will do anything to jeopardize the job he’s hired me for. He’ll wait to deal with Jim afterward. By then we’ll have taken care of the problem so Jim will not be in any danger.”
Jazz didn’t want to ask how. It started snowing again, the winter was turning out to be unusually snowy and cold, which was just as well since it was safer to stay home. Victor kept an occasional watch out the window at the men watching the apartment. In the back of their minds both Jazz and Victor wondered how this would end. There were so many unanswered questions, so many unknowns. All either one knew was the love they felt for the other. Jazz refused to think about who Victor was. All she wanted now was to be near him. All that mattered was that they were both together and safe, even if just temporarily.
Too soon it was dark and time for Victor to leave. They went to the bedroom window, “Jazz, would it be okay if I come in at night to sleep? It will sure make me feel better if I’m here while you are asleep. I’ll be able to protect you and get the rest I need. I can’t be at my best without a safe place. I can’t go back to my apartment.”
“Sure Victor. I’ll leave blankets and a pillow on the couch.”
“Thanks.” Victor held her in his arms, they kissed. “Goodbye, I’ll keep in touch. If God can’t help us, no one can. Be careful.”
“You too, I love you.”
“I love you too.” Victor whispered as he slipped out the dark window.
In the morning, Jazz prepared to go to church, knowing she was bringing guests. She laughed to herself. She’d never brought so many people to church with her so often. And what a relief to know Victor had not left her!
After church, she went home and ate lunch, spending Sunday as she used to before Victor came. A sudden desire to talk to her dad came over her. She started to pick up the phone, but hesitated. What was she supposed to say to him? She’d end up telling him about Victor, and then what? He’d never accept him, knowing what he was. She put the phone down again. She was thinking too far ahead. They had to get through this mess first. Later would be the time to decide what to tell her dad and mom.
Late in the night, Victor came, pausing to watch Jazz sleep peacefully. He was cold and hungry, and struggled to fight the temptation to crawl into bed with her. He left the bedroom wishing she’d fallen for a guy who didn’t make his living with death.
In the living room he found a note, “Victor, there’s some dinner in the fridge for you. Love you.”
At the refrigerator door, he noticed the note she’d written to herself. Glancing over it he got the gist of the verse she’d written. “‘...so stand fast in the Lord, beloved…’ He felt a strong sense of an unknown presence lingering nearby. He read the rest of her note: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.’”
He opened the fridge carefully, took out his dinner, and heated it up. He never realized how much his lonely life was missing until he’d been with Jazz these few months. He ate, then lay down on the couch wishing for her warm body next to his. In his mind he could almost visualize a quiet Sunday winter afternoon as they lay under the warm covers of their bed. No, he had to stop thinking about that. It was thinking too far ahead. They had to get through this mess first. Later would be the time for the quiet enjoyment of a winter afternoon.
His mind went back to the words on the note, “Trust in the Lord...” He fell asleep with that thought on his mind. His soul quietly rested.
Arising before dawn, he left again, and spent the day following Jazz, uneasy with the time he was spending, not taking care of the problem. How was he going to take care of both Johnson and Monroe, and keep an eye on Jazz too? The words came settling back down on him, “Trust in the Lord....” Time had not diminished the feeling of peace those words were for him.
Late at night he wearily crawled into her room again, not stopping to look at her. Again he went to the kitchen and took dinner out of the fridge. As he waited for it to reheat the phone rang. Startled, he stopped, expecting to hear her voice answer. Who was calling her this late? The phone continued to ring. It stopped. Alarmed, Victor rushed into her room, and turned on the light. No one was there. Now his cell phone rang.
“Hello Victor.” it was Johnson.
“Where is she?”
“Oh, she’s safe. Don’t worry about that, she’s safe. I decided since you went to the police, we should keep her here so she doesn’t get hurt.”
“Safe? That’s like leaving the wolves in charge of the lambs. We didn’t go to the police.”
“I suppose it doesn’t matter, the police are involved now. And you’re exactly right. Your little lamb will go to my wolves if I don’t get what I want. You’re taking too long.”
“If she is harmed in any way, you’ll have me to deal with.”
“You don’t scare me,” Johnson hissed, “Remember, I have your girlfriend. You’d better be careful about threats. I’ll send her back to you one piece at a time. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, I understand.”
“Good.” Johnson hung up.
Victor sat heavily on her bed. He’d never known so much fear before. He knew of Johnson’s cruelty, but he was an intelligent man. He wouldn’t allow harm to come to Jazz until it served his purpose. When he did kill… Victor stopped himself from thinking what might happen.
His thoughts shifted. Those blasted cops. If they hadn’t decided to follow Jazz, this wouldn’t have happened. Victor ground his teeth. It was time to get them off his trail.
Stealthily he climbed out the window, out to the dark street, and slowly, silently, crept toward the cop’s car he’d seen when he’d climbed into Jazz’s window.
Looking in the window from a distance, he could see that no one was in the car. Perplexed, Victor shrank back into the nearest shadow, unsure whether they were watching from another observation point. Victor glanced back toward Jazz’s apartment door, and scanned the ground around the stairs. Something unusual on the ground caught his experienced eyes. Victor approached the stairway slowly, carefully, keeping his peripheral aware of every angle and movement.
When he reached the stairs he looked to his right. One of police officers lay on the ground. He was dead, there was no doubt about it. Not far from the dead man he saw the other cop and his blood. At first he thought he was dead too, but Victor realized his knee was the only thing that was bloody. It looked like it was busted.
The cop lay very still. He smiled. Someone else had shot him, he’d just finish the job. Unexpectedly the man groaned. Laboriously, Duncan looked at Victor who raised his silencer Lugar, and put it to the man’s head. Carefully he began to apply pressure on the trigger. He stopped, lowered the gun and looked in Duncan’s eyes. Again he raised the Lugar, but somehow his finger would not obey his command to pull the trigger.
He lowered his pistol. It sure would be a lot easier to get rid of this guy who’d already caused problems. He raised the weapon once more. Why this hesitation? He’d never been indecisive about a job before, why now? Curious at his own uncertainty a voice that was not his own spoke to him. “You were going to change.” The voice reminded him. “Are you really serious? Here’s another opportunity to show a true change.”
“Another?” He felt his own consciousness ask.
“Yes, another,” the other voice said. A moment of quietness came to Victor before the name “Jazz” was spoken. Then Victor understood. In spite of his desire for Jazz, he’d stopped what he’d wanted and allowed her to dictate the terms of his physical affection. At another time in his life, he would not have cared what she wanted.
The icy wind was beginning to blow. Victor sat back on his haunches beside Duncan, who ebbed in and out of consciousness. What had that preacher said? It was something like Jazz had once said.
It was change. It was impossible for a man to really change without God. And that God wouldn’t answer without Jesus. He’d quoted that same verse Jazz had, “With God nothing is impossible.” They were supposed to pray in Jesus name. Victor shook his head. How could it be that they were supposed to pray in Jesus’ Name and expect help? Hadn’t they used Jesus’ name when they’d prayed together? Now Jazz had been kidnapped.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart...”
“But how can I trust now?” he asked the voice.
“...and lean not on your own understanding...”
The words were ripe with meaning. He was amazed at how the words came to him so easily after only seeing them once. With the silencer in his hand, Victor looked down at it, “God I can’t change alone. That preacher said I could do anything with your help, and so I ask Jesus to help me, I don’t understand why I feel like I should ask you to help. You let Jazz get taken. I’m afraid for her, but I don’t know who else to turn to. I want to change for my sake and hers, but it seems impossible.”
“With God nothing is impossible.” The voice repeated.
Victor thought a moment, holstered his Lugar, and hoisted Duncan up. The man groaned in pain, but didn’t have the strength to fight him. That knee was bad, and started bleeding, but Victor had to get him back to his car or he’d weaken even more from exposure. He raised Ray’s arm over his shoulder and neck, and supported him as he made his way to the car. Duncan was a heavy man. After some struggle, he finally got him in.
Getting him as situated as comfortably as he could, he dug around in the cop’s pockets until he found the keys. He started the engine, set the heater on, and picked up the radio in the car. He pressed the call button.
“Man down,” he said to the dispatcher. He shut the car door, and slipped away into the night. GPS would help the police find Ray. He had to leave. He couldn’t allow them to catch him now. Not long after leaving he could hear the distant sirens. As he drove away in his own car, the ambulance sped past him. Satisfied to see the emergency team, he contemplated his next move.
Since he knew that Johnson had Jazz, he was pretty certain he knew where she was being kept. Johnson wouldn’t let his insurance very far from him, but trying to rescue her from Johnson’s house was unthinkable. He knew he needed to flush Johnson out of his fortress, and he needed to flush him out with Jazz in tow. In his own home, Johnson had an advantage. Outside, where he and his enemy were both in unfamiliar surroundings, the odds could improve a little, even though Victor knew Johnson had a lot more men at his disposal. Victor had to act alone.
But getting Jazz rescued was not the first thing he needed to do, and he knew it. He carefully made his way to his apartment. He felt an urgency to obey the voice, even to the point of not worrying about Jazz.
There was a case in his apartment he had to get to, but he had to be careful. He knew his place was being watched as surely as Jazz had been watched.
He parked his car a distance from his apartment building, and made his way to his home. The area was dark. He kept himself in the bushes and trees pausing, listening, watching, and advancing. He was patient. He had to be, but it was cold. Stealthily coming to the back window he slid it open and crawled in. Leaving the lights off, he flipped on his red Swiss Army light, and found his case. He crawled out the window, waited a few minutes watching for anything unusual. Cautiously he walked back to his car.
He took a long winding road out of town, watching his rear mirror frequently. Satisfied he was not being followed, he drove to a lake deep in the wooded hills of a nearby state park. He got out of the car with the heavy case in hand, and threw it as far as he could. In the dark he could hear the splash and bubble as it quickly filled with water and sank to the bottom. In a few seconds the ripples from the submerged gun case came lapping at his feet. Every weapon he owned was now gone, beyond his reach.
He got back in his car, but a feeling of turmoil was insistently clamoring that he’d forgotten something. What hadn’t he done?
The voice answered with one word, “Lugar.”
Victor pulled out the gun and held it in his hand. He had always enjoyed the feel of this particular Lugar. He had acquired it early in his career, and it had saved him from many disasters. He could feel an argument coming on with the voice. He shook his head. He couldn’t lose this gun, it was always with him.
The voice was silent, then, “Change” was spoken.
How could he throw it away? But how could he keep it? All during his profession, he’d only allowed himself to take down men in the mob. Tonight was different. Tonight he almost pulled the trigger in anger, almost killed a cop. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Without another thought, he got out of his car and walked to the lakeshore. He brought his arm around and flung the pistol as far from himself as he could. It was gone.
“God, I sure hope that’s really you talking. I don’t have any weapons left.” He prayed aloud.
“Good.” The answer came back as the ripples on the lake washed up on his boots.
The empty holster seemed a strange comfort. Why he felt unexpectedly reassured he could not understand. Now that voice urged him to rest, but where? His apartment wasn’t safe, but neither was Jazz’s. The police would look there first after Duncan was discovered.
The church. That would be a good place to hide and be relatively safe. He looked at his watch. It was just before midnight. No one would be there at this time of night. He immediately acted on the decision.
Although it wasn’t a long drive, he felt exhausted by the time he arrived. He was a little surprised to find a car in the driveway, but he didn’t think much of it. He drove to the back of the church and parked near the trees.
Quietly he made his way to the only lighted window in the building. It was open a crack and looked like he could pry it open further and crawl in. He stopped and listened but didn’t hear anything. Someone must have accidentally left the light on. He managed to open the window further, hoisted himself up the wall and scrabbled half way in. He was looking into the stall of one of the bathrooms.
Once he was standing on the floor, he brushed his jeans off, opened the stall door and found he was not alone. Pastor Jim stood in front of him with a shocked look on his face.
Here's where I'm going with my something to say. Check out the link if you have something to say .