The morning was cold, foggy and damp. Yellow and brown leftovers from the last snow sat in melting puddles along the streets. As far as Johnson was concerned, the weather was perfect. Low visibility could be a card against him, but that was fine. A little more of a challenge was always good, and the low visibility was more of a benefit than liability in any case.
Jazz was forced to sit tied and blindfolded in a car between two men. She shuddered as each man had a hand on her leg, wandering up and down. She knew their intentions, even if she didn’t know Johnson’s. Fortunately the trip didn’t last long, and soon she was made to get out and walk. She was cold and could feel icy mists on her face.
Walking blindfolded was difficult. She stumbled frequently in spite of each arm being held securely by the men on either side of her. They walked in silence.
Soon she was forced to sit on something cold and wet that felt like cement and quickly soaked her clothes. She was tied again. As she tried hopelessly to escape, one of the men chuckled just loud enough for her to hear, he patted her leg.
The time seemed to go slowly for Jazz, sitting in the cold, getting colder as nothing seemed to happen. It was terrible sitting there with that blindfold, not knowing if she sat out there alone, if someone would come up behind her and slit her throat, or put a bullet in her back. Her heart pounded in her ears as she strained to listen for a footstep, or feel the cold blade of a knife on her neck. Every nerve in her back prickled. She wondered if she’d feel a lot of pain dying from a gunshot.
She shook herself, trying to think of other things. Victor came to mind many times.
After securing Jazz, Johnson left one man to hide, watching her while he and others slipped into the trees; a few were with him. Not long after, Johnson and his men saw Monroe arrive with his men. Johnson snorted, but was pleased. It was predicable. Monroe thought to bring some men, but didn’t think to come sooner. Johnson looked at his watch. It was 7:20; the light was just beginning to penetrate the forest fog. He smiled. It seemed an appropriate place for Monroe’s demise. The cemetery was always good for death.
He whispered to the men with him. They slunk off into the trees. They’d take care of Monroe’s men, he’d take care of Monroe. Later he’d take care of Victor. Johnson tugged on his glove, tightening the fingers in the leather. A habit he’d picked up in his early days. How many times had he been glad of this little check?
He crept back to view the headstone on which Jazz sat. Patiently he waited for Monroe to appear.
At 6:45 Victor, Jim and Buck got out of the car and walked to the gravestone Johnson had indicated to Victor on the phone.
“It’s there,” Victor whispered and pointed, “let’s go back and watch the road. I want to see when Johnson arrives.”
Jim shivered, wishing he’d brought a heavier coat. The three men sat beneath the trees, not far from Victor’s car. Of the three, Victor was most at ease, doing the job he’d done for ninety percent of his adult life: watching, waiting and looking for the right time.
Diffused light began to shine through the clouds when Johnson arrived with Jazz.
Jim pointed with an agitated whisper, “There she is, let’s get her,” but Victor put his hand on Jim arm, Buck, his other arm.
“Not yet, Jim. We have to wait.”
“Because there are too many. They’re experienced, and they’re alert. You’re not experienced, and that’s not the way I do things. We have to take our time. It’s never a good idea to rush.”
“He’s right Pastor. What are we going to do next, Victor?”
Victor put his hand to his lips and indicated they should follow.
Duncan watched while Johnson and his men led Jazz down among the tombstones. He picked up his radio to order reinforcements and followed Johnson at a distance, realizing he must be the man that Victor had referred to. So there was a Phineas Johnson and he did have Jazz. This part of Victor’s story was true, but he was sure he couldn’t believe anything else.
He quietly followed Johnson and his men, knowing Victor, Jim and the third man were somewhere nearby in the trees.
At 7:30 Monroe was on the path, openly curious at the shivering girl. Johnson appeared,
When he saw Johnson and Monroe talking on the path, Victor quietly slipped from his companions. Carefully he made his way amongst the trees, and behind Jazz. He refrained from whispering to her. It was good to see her, but what had they done to her while she was a prisoner? He corrected himself. She was still a prisoner. He refocused on Johnson and Monroe, putting Jazz’s discomfort out of his mind.
“Well, for once I’m on time and you’re late, Johnson.” Monroe laughed. Gesturing toward the girl, he asked, “What’s up with this?”
“I hired a hit man to do a job for me, but he refused. Since he knows so much abut our operation, I thought we’d better get rid of him and dump them both in the river. This is his girlfriend.”
Monroe smiled. Johnson was always so clever. He’d let him do the job, then he’d have his gunman shoot Johnson from the trees. This would serve Monroe well. Yes, Johnson was clever, but it would be the last clever thing he did. Monroe reached his hand out to shake Johnson’s who grabbed his hand enthusiastically. Suddenly Monroe gasped, feeling the cold, sharp bite of a blade in his gut.
Johnson thrust the dagger he’d been holding so far up and into Monroe’s massive chest, just under the breastbone that he lost the blade, pulling his fingers out of the squelching mass. Monroe fell to the ground, just short of falling on Johnson. Just as Phineas had calculated, the blade thrust a hole in a lung, making it impossible for Monroe to cry out.
Victor could see the look of satisfaction on Johnson’s face. He watched the man reach down and wipe Monroe’s blood off his glove with the dead man’s shirt. Then Johnson sat beside Jazz. She struggled against her bonds and tried to put distance between her and the unknown man beside her, but he threw his arm around her shoulders and forced her closer to him.
“Victor,” Johnson called out loudly, ‘I have your little lamb. She’s cold, maybe I could warm her up.” He began to kiss her neck. Jazz struggled even harder to get away, but she was unable to escape.
Watching from their vantage point, Jim was startled when Monroe fell over. He turned to whisper to Victor, but found he was gone, “Buck, where’d Victor go?”
Buck shrugged his shoulders. By this time Johnson was pawing his captive and calling out to Victor. Victor had been watching, waiting for the opportunity to get Jazz away, but none had come. He expected Johnson to do something about Monroe and was not surprised when the large man fell over.
While Johnson was occupied with Jazz, Victor crept silently closer to the back of the tombstone. Slowly pulling his belt from his pants, and then winding one end and then the other around his black gloved hand, he quietly crept until he was just behind Johnson.
Suddenly, expertly, Victor had the belt around his adversary’s neck. Johnson’s hands instinctively began pulling it away from his windpipe, while Victor pulled in opposition. Immediately several things happened at once; Jim rushed to help Jazz, Buck rushed to stop Jim, and three shots rang out, startling everyone and wounding Victor in the shoulder. Jim and Buck were thrown to the ground from the impact of a bullet each. Victor lost his grip on Johnson, who whipped his pistol out and leveled it at Victor. He smiled a cruel smile, “I knew I could bait you. Monroe’s men met my men, and the advantage is all on my side. Well, well, Victor. Now you’re really in a jam.” Johnson smiled as he rubbed Jazz’s face and neck, “You know, it’s been a very long time. I’ve forgotten how enjoyable a woman can be; and when I’m done, I’ve promised my wolves that they can have her. There’ll be plenty of her left for them, but not much after they’ve finished.”
When the reinforcements arrived, Duncan had them search the grounds for Johnson’s men, and anyone else they might find. He warned them to be silent. Duncan had been following the scene before him. There was the miserable Monroe talking with Johnson, he could hear every word of their exchange. So Victor was telling the truth. What of it? He’s still an assassin and needed to be punished for his crimes. Duncan bit his lip. He could sense the Almighty’s presence, and almost before his still, small, but omnipotent voice spoke he knew there would be an argument.
“No, Lord. He’s a criminal. He has to pay for his crimes.”
“He deserves to go to jail, at the very least.”
“Lord if you weren’t the Almighty I’d be angry at these one word arguments.”
“But I Am.”
What could Duncan say to that? He’d said it to Moses, Jesus had said it, and now God was repeating himself again. So how many times does humanity have to hear it?
“It’s wrong. I have to do my job.”
“So do your job.”
That was an answer Duncan didn’t expect. He shot a wordless question to the Voice, but before he could comprehend an answer, Monroe was falling to the ground. Duncan’s question left his mind without a returning answer. He saw Jim and Buck rush out, heard three shots and saw both Jim and Buck fall and then Victor take the hit. Johnson had his gun leveled at Victor; Duncan brought his weapon down, aimed at Johnson, and pulled the trigger. Instantly the man fell, landing on top of Monroe.
Watching from the trees Johnson’s bodyguard observed the scene below him. He’d waited for Monroe to fall, and then aimed his gun in the direction of his master, waiting for Victor to show up. He’d not expected Jim or Buck, but was a quick enough thinker to bing them both before wounding Victor as his boss had ordered. When he saw his boss fall from another gunshot, he didn’t waste time worrying about where this shot came from but jumped out of his tree and ran. A police officer saw him, fired off a shot at the big man and hit him in the chest. He was knocked back on the path dead.
Victor turned to help Jazz out of her ropes. By now she was freezing and shivering uncontrollably from fear as well as the cold. Victor gave her his coat and wrapped her in his arms. She was having trouble comprehending the miracle of her safety.
Jim sat up. He’d been hit in the shoulder. Applying pressure to stop the bleeding, he turned to Buck. Buck blinked up at him, smiled and whispered, “It’s okay Pastor. I understand now.” He was gone. Duncan came limping down from the trees, with his men.
“Jim, are you okay?” Victor asked, holding Jazz.
“Buck’s gone.” He stood up unsteadily, wiping the tears away. Seeing Duncan, he smiled a weak smile and held out his hand, “Great to see you. That limp gives your walk character.”
“Thanks a lot preacher.” Duncan replied with a grin, shaking his hand. “So here we all are. Isn’t this nice?”
“Hey Capt,” one of the officers yelled to Duncan, he had a wallet in his hand, “What was the name of that guy you’ve been following?”
“I think we’ve found him, look.”
The officer handed Duncan the wallet, and Kevin Frye’s license.
Duncan looked at Jazz and Victor, his expression was difficult to read. “This looks like the guy I’ve been looking for. He’s been linked to several killings.”
Victor did not show the surprise he felt.
“We’ll have to take a statement from all three of you, but let’s get you to the hospital first. You could bleed to death if we don’t get that looked at. Afterwards maybe we can talk about the future.” Duncan said, handing the wallet back to the cop.
Victor laughed to himself. So God does work things out. Inwardly he shrugged to the Voice. It was the only job he knew. Maybe he needed to start working for the law, instead of against it.
The spaghetti strap pearl-white satin dress flowed like clouds behind Jazz as she walked down the aisle toward Victor, her Dad beside her. The dress shimmered with a hint of rainbow colors. With Duncan beside him as best man, Victor smiled as he watched Jazz come toward him.
“Who gives this woman away?” Pastor Jim asked with a smile.
“Her mother and I.” Mike repeated the words hundreds of fathers have echoed through the years. He gave Jazz’s hand to Victor and took his place beside his wife.
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