DEATH IS EASY
by
Russell Madden
 
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FREEDOM, As If
It Mattered
by
Russell Madden
 
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
Softcover, $24.95
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
Hardcover, $34.95
 
(Preview. Also available in a digital edition, $5.63.)

 



 

RANDOM

Chapter 1

by

Russell Madden

 



With the muzzy-headed dullness typical of his now-daily midnight transitions, Scanlon Reeves let his scrambled thoughts drift slowly upward through the foggy morass of another awakening. The first time he had experienced the displacement, near panic had seized his disoriented awareness. Luckily, he had made his initial appearance in this era in a secluded city park. No one had heard his clamoring cries of despair at losing all he had labored so long to achieve. No one had witnessed his shameful tears and the retching animal he became as he contemplated the chaos to which he surrendered. No one had rushed forward to offer the false comfort he might only too easily have accepted in a cold moment of weak loneliness.

With the gentle ease of a fluttering butterfly dancing above a sea of sunlit flowers, Scanlon opened his eyes to another new location, another fresh opportunity. As it usually did, darkness greeted him. That grateful cover of oblivion made his reorientation so much easier...but, unfortunately, also so much less interesting. That unexpected, unforeseeable element, of course, defined what he hoped to discover in these journeys into the past.

A long hissing breath whispered from between his half-smiling lips. As anticipatory tension drained from his body, he placed a bare forearm across his face. Patiently, he waited for the subtle impressions of his immediate environment to permeate his senses. Let it happen as it would. Naturally. Unforced. Unplanned.

Randomly.

Uncounted minutes passed. Eventually, the physical and emotional impulses that had become his prime movers urged him to sit up.

Swallowing dryly, Scanlon lifted his torso from the carpeted floor upon which he had materialized. The pleasant tightness of straining abdominal muscles danced around the corners of his thoughts as he snapped to full alertness. So many sensations from which to choose. Why choose at all? Let them bombard him, seduce him, enthrall him willy-nilly. Exist fully and solely in the moment.

Resting his arms on bent legs, he smiled.

His ideal beckoned him onward; had, indeed, saved him from insanity and death not only in his own time but in this more backward culture, as well. Yet such a twinkling star of fulfillment must always remain tantalizingly just beyond the tips of his reaching fingers. For glorious seconds or minutes or hours, he had learned that, yes, he could exist on that exalted plain of pure nowness. The unforgiving and unsympathetic nature of the world he inhabited, however, rarely permitted him to grasp that glorious treasure for long. The sad fact of his situation demanded that too frequently he plan and strive and delay the gratification of his whims and desires. If he had not, the bastards who had usurped his life's work would have won.

Scanlon's indulgent smile melted into the shadowy well from which it had sprung.

Only through sheer random luck had he stumbled upon their sordid plan to strip away his power and prestige. Stealing what they could not create, they plotted against him to wrench away the only true joy their miserable society had left to offer him. Those files and memos should never have been routed to his personal computer station. While he never identified the culprit of that sloppy yet welcome misdeed, he had wasted no time in implementing his little surprises for his soon-to-be new bosses at Tempus. By the time those fools committed their ungrateful robbery, he had finished his preparations. Though he had not known when his buried "bombs" might prove useful, he had been fully confident that contingency would one day arrive.

Shaking his head, he levered himself erect. Fuzzy outlines of furniture glowed faintly in the illumination of a half-hidden street light bathing the...house?...apartment?...in its early morning/late night vigil. Distractedly, he hoped his most recent landing spot was a house. A solitary abode made his preliminary work so much easier. An apartment offered too many potential witnesses, too many would-be heroes to interrupt his fun...and his escape.

Gliding gracefully among the tastefully arranged pieces of expensive furniture, Scanlon attempted to gather some impression of the people whose unoffered hospitality he enjoyed. The long fingers of his left hand skated along the arm of the richly upholstered couch that dominated one corner of the room. The soft fabric tickled his skin.

Paintings with barely discernible scenes plucked from nature -- a rugged winter mountain-scape; a line of skimmers hovering over a deserted ocean beach -- highlighted otherwise bare walls. Wrought-iron floor lamps bounded the couch. Their speckled shades promised a pleasantly diffused light for readers curled on overstuffed cushions. A bookcase packed with hardcover volumes stretched across one wall. Another, smaller enclosure held CDs and audio-cassettes.

The impression of pretentious stuffiness died as Scanlon spied a low, two-tiered coffee table piled with magazines and novels bookmarked with dog-earred strips of paper. A large, tubed television typical of this time nestled in a corner. Its blank face offered to transport its owners to whatever magical realms they yearned to visit.

The half-smile returned to Scanlon's soft features.

Those broadcast travels mimicked in an oddly constricted fashion the novel quest upon which he himself had embarked. His first balky resistance to his criminal sentence at the hands of the temporal authorities had finally given way to acceptance. Eventually, he even felt eager to be off on his new adventures.

Detouring towards the kitchen, the convicted murderer opened a white-painted cupboard door. The clear glass he selected reflected bits and pieces of light from the blue-green numerals marching out the time on the microwave display. The sound of gushing water burst out preternaturally loudly in the still room. Scanlon ignored it. He knew that brief interruption of the evening's quiet would disturb no one. If someone did happen to awaken and then foolishly patter in to investigate, well...the festivities would simply commence earlier than usual, that was all.

The spice of random changes, random alterations in routines, random disruptions of otherwise smoothly functioning lives: it made his sometimes dreary existence far more exciting and pleasurable.

Gulping down the cool liquid, he carefully placed the dewy glass in the stainless steel sink and dropped a hand towards his waistband.

Ah, yes. He had only a knife now. The .357 magnum revolver he had stolen then used to terminate its former owner had been confiscated two days before by the police. Those boastful, bumbling idiots had practically dirtied their drawers when they cornered him in the Driftwood restaurant/bar. Fear combined with amazement at their "skill" in capturing him so quickly after his crime had emboldened them. His amusement at their adrenaline-charged shouts and his lack of resistance had no doubt dulled the rush of their victory. The last thing he needed was some anxious rookie accidentally shooting him.

The intruder's smile broadened into a grin.

He could well imagine the consternation of the police and the resultant recriminations and blame-laying after his inexplicable disappearance from that high-security cell. The accusations would fly but no one would know the truth. Even if he told them directly that each day at midnight he made another transition to new and random space-time coordinates, they would have been clueless. At best they would consider him insane or accuse him of seeking a leniency he did not want by claiming to be mentally incompetent.

Licking his lips, Scanlon drew the heavy-bladed diving knife from its battered leather sheath. The lower third of the shining steel rippled with serrations designed to cut through tangled lines and other obstructions. Ingenuity, however, suggested other uses for such a tool.

With a quickened pace, Scanlon finished his brief survey of the downstairs. A spacious dining room with an oval table dominating its center. An office with (for his time) primitive computer equipment and more walls lined with books. A solarium crowded with lush plants hugging white-wicker chairs. A small bathroom with shower and tub. A long hallway leading towards a broad porch.

Taking the beige carpeted stairs two at a time, Scanlon tightened his grip on the rubber haft of his weapon. The rust-colored stains on the knife mirrored the ones spattering his white tennis shoes. His previous victims had not accepted their fate quietly.

Four closed doors along the upper hallway presented another delicious opportunity for chance to enter his deliberations. With a delicate caress, his fingers closed around the nearest round knob of brass. Did a small child lay peacefully in a tousled bed beyond the barrier of that lush wood? If so, would it be a boy or a girl? Or siblings sharing space until they grew older and more demanding of their privacy?

Or perhaps a teenage boy would bolt awake at his entry, determined with misguided testosterone bravado to defeat a relentless man only too willing to grant him a messy death?

Scanlon's heart hammered into a higher rhythm as he contemplated the possibility of a sweet, young, nubile thing dreaming wetly of a boy whose hands (or...?) had explored that blessed territory hidden between her thighs. Could he still her outcries and make her fantasies real without disturbing the others in the household until the proper time arrived?

Inhaling deeply, he emptied the potentially bewildering chaos of branching alternatives from his thoughts and surrendered to the moment. Parents or children, empty or full, he would savor whatever transpired.

With the fragile care of a man handling finely boned china, he turned the knob. It rotated smoothly. The quiet turning of the hinges likewise testified to the careful workmanship and attention to detail permeating this dwelling. He would honor those admirable qualities with a precision and conscientiousness of his own.

As the door swung inward, a shaft of diffused light captured a man and a woman fast asleep in a king-sized bed. The husband lay on his back, one hand touching his forehead as though in an odd nocturnal salute. The dark-haired woman curled beside him, her moon-frosted fingers twitching at images only she could observe.

Nodding in satisfaction, Scanlon crossed the threshold and eased the heavy door closed behind him. With pleasant satisfaction he noted a dead-bolt lock, added, perhaps, to keep out inquisitive children during special moments of intimacy. The subtle thunk of the bolt accented the finality of the upcoming interaction.

Scanlon pursed his lips and toyed with the sharp point of his blood-flecked knife. Soon, he would introduce this young couple to an entirely new type and depth of intimacy. The only question yet to be settled concerned who would first encounter the last and most exciting moments of his or her life.

With no sense of incongruity, Scanlon dug into a pocket of his blue jeans and pulled out a piece of nickel-plated copper that in this time passed for a quarter. With intense interest, he flipped it into the air and waited to see whether the man or the woman would be selected.

The coin spun up then down in a short arc before rolling a short distance on the carpet at Scanlon's feet. Like a little boy exploring a strange species of bug, he eagerly bent down and picked up the circle of metal.

Heads. Just as he had secretly hoped.

The man would precede his wife from this world. That meant any number of wonderful variations Scanlon could try out on the terrified new widow.

Skirting the foot of the bed, he lifted the blade and approached the slumbering target.

#

The warmth of the mid-May sun massaged the aches and tension from Scanlon's out-stretched body. The thick grass upon which he lay still held the springy freshness of life newly emerging from a long winter slumber. Immersing himself in the luxuriant vitality of this spring day, he listened to the chirping of birds defending territory or seeking mates. The novelty of their songs entranced him. In his past, birds existed primarily in zoos and preserves. Given the all-absorbing nature of his work before and during his tenure at Tempus, he had spared little attention for the other creatures sharing his world. Even as a child, he had devoted more of his energies to reading and exploring the universes of science and computers than to digging in the dirt or building haphazard homes high among a tree's branches.

Flickering light skittered across his closed eyelids as high, horse-tail clouds swept between him and the sun. The orange-red glow of his translucent lids created a veil mirroring the lush redness of his interlude with the Cannon family. Mr. Cannon -- Fred -- had survived only long enough to endure the slicing of his vocal cords and the spurting of his blood. Unconsciousness had rushed in to spare him the sight of what followed his demise.

Mrs. Cannon -- Tina -- had awakened at the thrashing of her husband in the throes of death. Her single scream had frozen in mid-note as Scanlon crawled over her spouse's expiring form, digging the tip of his dripping blade into the creamy skin beneath her chin.

"If you want your children to live, be quiet," Scanlon had warned her. Though he had no idea if she had off-spring or not, her wide-eyed nod confirmed his guess.

After binding her hands to the bed frame with her torn nightgown, Scanlon had proceeded to explore and enjoy every curve and crevice her young body had to offer. In gratitude for her cooperation and the pleasure she provided him, he changed his mind. Rather than disemboweling her as had been his original intent, he plunged his knife between her ribs and into her heart .

The two boys -- whose names he never bothered to discover -- each in his own bedroom, met the same fate as their male parent. Like father, like son, he supposed.

By the time Scanlon probed through the wallet and purse resting on the dresser in the master bedroom, only an hour had passed since his transition. Plenty of time remained for him to shower away the grime and mingled blood, to rest awhile in the spare bedroom, and then to prepare himself a meal of bacon, eggs, toast, and milk that would last him until midday.

Though Fred's clothes hung a bit loosely upon his wiry frame, Scanlon preferred that to pants or shirt too short or tight. The latter attracted too much attention. Bagginess merely suggested a concern for comfort. An hour before dawn, he went out to the garage, started the Cannon's recent vintage four-door sedan, and drove towards the center of downtown Menden, Ohio. A city map torn from the local phone book he stuffed into his front jacket pocket. Along with it rested the small wad of bills and handful of coins he had taken from the bedroom.

The weapon he had utilized to further his amusement remained on the kitchen counter. Like a human pack rat, Scanlon had traded the heavy blade for the 9mm Beretta snugged away in Fred's nightstand. The heavy bulk of the black metal semi-automatic hung reassuringly in another pocket.

He had yet fully to adjust to the number of handguns, rifles, and shotguns in the hands of private citizens in this country. Even though his research revealed tens of thousands of gun control laws in this era, in his home time only the police and military had access to such tools. Already during his short tenure in this century, he had narrowly averted disaster more than once when a homeowner had lunged for a pistol or shotgun. Only the oddness of his apparent materialization from thin air saved him from immediate injury or death. By the time the night-owls recovered from his magical appearance, the opportunity for them safely to retrieve their guns had passed...as had their lives.

Strolling along the crowded sidewalks, Scanlon had marveled at his good fortune. The Cannon clan would not likely be missed on a Saturday. No irate co-workers or nosy grade school teachers would call checking upon their whereabouts and demanding an explanation for their tardiness. By the time some busybody stumbled upon their bloating corpses, he might even have made his next transition. Even if he had not, the odds favored his anonymity. If the previous pattern held true, investigators would bumble their way through the crime scene. Local news media (and especially television crews in the area) would decry the tragedy and ask inane questions of grieving neighbors and relatives: "Tell me, how do you feel knowing this lovely young family was slaughtered like mindless sheep in their sleep?" By the time any real analysis of the situation occurred, he would be long gone.

An early lunch of beef noodle soup, a small house salad with vinaigrette dressing, and a turkey sandwich on homemade sourdough bread had stilled his hunger pangs and afforded him a view of passers-by from his outdoors table. He had just left a generous five-dollar tip for his pleasantly astonished waitress when he spied a woman heading purposefully towards a small pocket-park across from the restaurant.

Medium-height -- perhaps five-seven or five-eight -- and in her early thirties, the dark-haired woman had latched onto his fancy. She pulled his gaze along as she headed for a bench situated near an oval pond. There, a swirling mass of ducks jostled boisterously for begging rights to the discards of the noon-time crowd. A scattering of forlorn, hopping sparrows contributed their own motion to the general confusion.

Slowly, Scanlon had crossed the street, his eyes locked upon the woman whose short beige skirt rode up the graceful curve of her muscular thighs. Munching on a diagonally sliced sandwich, she kept her focus on a folded newspaper resting upon a shapely knee. Like a restless metronome, one tennis-shoe clad foot bobbed in a rapid rhythm to some inner beat.

Despite her physical beauty, Scanlon realized his attraction to this stranger arose from some other source. He had spent time with women more lovely than she. Indeed, Mrs. Cannon's body might well have ranked higher in any objective rating of curve and shape and line. No. This woman -- so unaware of his intense scrutiny -- exuded a quality more of personality and attitude than mere external pulchritude.

The decision made itself. He would have her. One way or another, their selves would merge in glorious ecstasy, even if only for a brilliant moment of explosive intensity. For her, it might mean immersion in a new kind of hell, the road to which she might not recognize. Such complications did not concern him, however. Only the end mannered. The means could come in any form.

So Scanlon had nonchalantly crossed the park and laid down in the grass on the opposite side of the pond from his selected trophy. Leisurely, he waited for her to finish her meal.

Rolling onto his side, he propped his head on a crooked arm. She glanced at her wrist watch. Her pale green eyes widened in startled alarm. Hurriedly, she gathered together her leather purse, the blue, cloth lunch bag, and the newspaper she had perused.

Nearly jogging, she retraced her steps. At a more sedate pace, Scanlon rose, brushed desultorily at his faded jeans, and trailed behind the mystery woman.

Working on a Saturday... What kind of employment would a creature such as this accept?

The woman's rapid pace widened the gap between her and her casual pursuer. Amused, Scanlon observed her haste. After a few minutes, she waved to a pinch-faced woman waiting on the sidewalk. His target's animated gesturing suggested a profuse apology, accepted with a strained smile by the second, older woman. Moments later, the younger of the two drew a key from her purse and opened the glass door before which the newcomer had waited. Together, the two went inside.

Before the door eased shut, Scanlon glimpsed a stairway leading upward. Seconds later, he stood where the earlier pair had been. Curious, he examined the legend neatly printed across the glass: Alicia Wade, the first line read. Directly below it were two words: Financial Consultant.

Scanlon grunted. Smart as well as pretty. Their eventual encounter would prove enlightening.

Retreating to a bookstore across the street -- the Book Stop -- he settled in for however long a wait her schedule required. To forestall any annoyed glaring or pointed suggestions from the store owner, Scanlon picked out four recent bestselling novels. Smiling, he slid across five twenty-dollar bills to pay for them. "Keep the change." Motioning towards a pair of stuffed chairs arranged near the front window, he asked, "Is it all right if I sit and read for awhile?"

With ingratiating solicitude, the proprietor nodded. "Oh, sure! Can I get you a cup of coffee?" At his customer's slight hesitation, the elderly man said, "Or tea, perhaps?"

"Tea would be nice," Scanlon agreed. "With lemon, if you have any?"

Once settled into his vantage spot, Scanlon accepted the cup of steaming brown liquid and sipped at its aromatic warmth.

Hours passed. The customer who had entered with his soon-to-be paramour left. A middle-aged couple followed then exited. A twinge of jealously flared in Scanlon when an athletic-looking man bounded up the stairs. His departure a half-hour later cooled the time traveler's anger.

Despite the appeal of the political thriller he read, Scanlon sighed in relief when the object of his desire finally emerged from her office at shortly before four in the afternoon. After locking the door, she headed to the right down the sidewalk filled with late afternoon shoppers.

Controlling his urge to be immediately up and on the move, Scanlon closed the rusty-colored covers of his book. Inhaling a cleansing breath, he placed the novel on the stand next to his now-empty teacup.

"I really enjoyed this," he said as he approached the counter and the politely curious owner. Placing a ten-dollar bill on the oiled wood, he said, "Would it be possible for me to leave my purchases here? I'd like to return tomorrow and read some more. I'd take them with me, but I have a meeting soon, and a heavy bag of books would be a bother."

For a moment, the man's bushy white brows dipped in puzzlement. His gaze dropped surreptitiously to the wrinkled bill his customer still lightly held in his fingers. "I, uh... I suppose that'd be okay."

Scanlon extended a hand. "My name's Frank. Frank Cannon. I'm new here in town. Still exploring all the available options. You know. Looking for a new routine and such."

Startled by the gesture, the older man took the proffered hand in his age-spotted fingers and shook. "Uh. Sure. I'm Al. Al Erlan. I, uh... Are you with the college?"

Unaware that Menden, Ohio, even sported a center of higher learning, Scanlon grinned enthusiastically. "Why, yes. I am. Just recently moved here, in fact."

Al nodded sagely. "I thought so. What with your interest in reading and all." Without drawing attention to the action, he nipped the edge of the bill between a finger and thumb and drew it from beneath Scanlon's unresisting hand. In a flash, the money disappeared below the counter into whatever hidden repository Al kept for such treasures. "English professor?"

Scanlon laughed good-naturedly. "Right again. You got it the first time out!"

Knowingly, Al settled back on his padded metal stool. "Well, Professor, you're welcome in here any time. You can read as long as you like, too. Open every day without fail from ten until eight. Always ready to special order, too, if you can't find what you need."

"Glad to hear that, Al." Scanlon glanced at the silver Seiko watch that had previously adorned the wrist of the real Fred Cannon. "I've got to be going. Don't want to be late."

Waving him out, Al returned to the crossword puzzle that had occupied him for most of the afternoon. "Have a good one," he called out as his new favorite customer pulled open the door.

The tinkling of the bell added a cheery note to Scanlon's reply. "Oh, I intend to, Al. I intend to have a very good one, indeed."

By the time he made it outdoors, he had lost sight of his quarry among the other visitors to this artsy section of town. An unworthy flash of panic flitted through him. Suppressing that old bad habit of concern for precisely considered plans, he lengthened his stride. As he neared the corner, he caught a glimpse of a dark-haired head held high. Alicia Wade headed purposefully for a fiery-red sports car parked in a public lot. Shouting an unintelligible greeting at the teenage lot attendant, she entered her car and seconds later sped off down Timber Lane.

Easing to a stop, Scanlon became a rock around which the stream of shoppers parted, some with irritated glances, others oblivious to whatever problems troubled this oddly thin man in his over-sized jeans and jacket.

Delving into the well of strength provided by his current philosophy, he waited for his swirling thoughts to slow under the friction of their own weight. Rapidly, they flattened into a calm surface of liquid equanimity. Tugging deliberately on his jacket, Scanlon stepped to one side to avoid any embarrassing collisions with the denizens of this backward realm.

Point by point, he took stock of the situation.

One: he knew Alicia's name and her place of business.

Two: having ditched Fred's car, he had no independent means of transportation. He could not easily have followed her even if he had been on her heels.

Three: he could look in a phone book for her home address. If she maintained an unlisted number, he might well not be able to catch her before midnight.

Four: it would take only hours to fly to Menden from wherever his future transitions deposited him. Next time, he would ensure he possessed a ready means of tracking her down.

An ironic smile curled the corners of his lips. Why, he might even make an appointment to discuss financial matters with her in person!

Five: minor difficulties served to enhance the final victory. The harder the chase, the sweeter the meal.

Fully calm, at last, he resumed his walking. He did not have far to go before an open-air phone station rewarded his searching gaze.

Pulling up the covered phone book, he spread open the curled-edged reference on the tiny metal shelf under the cabled phone. A dozen "Wades" were listed, five with first names beginning with "A." Albert, Anders, and Aaron he eliminated immediately. That left only two listings, both simple initials. Each had to be a woman, pointlessly attempting to hide her gender with a ploy a man would never use. The first "A. Wade" had an address his crumpled map informed him lay in the country. If Alicia resided there, his goal would be trickier to achieve.

The second "A. Wade" had a business phone listed under the residential number. Pleased, Scanlon flipped to the business section and slid his fingertip down the line until it stopped on "A. Wade, Financial Consultant." A brief comparison confirmed the identity of the two business numbers.

A deepening of his peaceful mood diffused through Scanlon. He could do it. Seven hours remained before his next transition.

Memorizing Alicia's address -- 1872 E. Sullivan Avenue -- he closed the phone book and let it drop into place with a clatter. Time for a light supper. Hail a cab. Wait until sunset. Introduce himself to his chosen one. Complete the ceremony. Time to rest, perhaps even sleep before midnight. Transitions went so much more easily and with less obvious disorientation if consciousness did not intrude on the process.

It was nearly seven-thirty by the time he called a cab to the Hunan restaurant where he had eaten a large plate of hot braised pork. The caffeine from the pot of tea he had consumed had him alert, almost jittery.

"1015 E. Sullivan, please," he told the bored cabby.

Ten minutes later, the cab driver slowed to a stop near the curb. Twisting about, he barked at his passenger. "Ain't no 1015 here."

Silently acknowledging his annoyance at the man's insulting tone, Scanlon merely pursed his lips and glanced at the house numbers of the nearest dwelling. "I guess Fran told me wrong. Or I heard her wrong," he allowed. He pointed at the large brass numerals. "1019. That must have been what she said." Withdrawing a twenty-dollar bill from his diminishing supply, he extended it to the wary cabby. "Keep the change."

Mollified by the ten-dollar tip, the driver shrugged and waited -- barely -- until Scanlon exited before roaring off to pick up his next fare.

To quench his anger, Scanlon slipped a hand into his jacket pocket and traced the cold, hard lines of the pistol with his fingers. Simply knowing he could have blown that condescending fool's face into bits of blood and bone helped smooth the lines from his aquiline face.

Slipping into his preferred state of quiet confidence, he began his eight-block walk in high spirits. Such sedate neighborhoods as this would, in his time, have been beyond the reach of all but the most wealthy or politically connected (which often amounted to the same condition). How refreshing to appreciate the architecture of these middle-class abodes and realize that, here and now, such interesting older homes came more as the norm than the exception. The neatly trimmed lawns and tastefully landscaped grounds testified to a credo he had long ago abandoned. Still, he could admire it with a kind of abstract understanding.

The scattered street lights fluttered to life as the sky darkened. As he passed his destination on the opposite side of the street, he saw no illumination brightening the tall windows of Alicia's home. Mildly disappointed, he continued onward, crossing the street and doubling back after two more blocks. When he again approached 1872 E. Sullivan, he scanned the immediate vicinity. Tall hedges or privacy fences hid the sources of the conversing voices he heard. To his advantage, those same barriers concealed him from any possible witnesses.

Not breaking his stride, he turned right into Alicia's drive. He had long ago discovered that people rarely questioned you if you appeared to know precisely what you were doing. The most common assumption on-lookers made would grant you the benefit-of-the-doubt. In this instance, though, no one noticed his entry onto the Wade property.

The brief thought that she might have a husband -- or more likely, a live-in boyfriend (he had detected no rings on her fingers) -- caused him to narrow his eyes. Sharing her did not set well. He would worry about that obstacle, though, only if and when it materialized.

Sufficient unto the day are the troubles thereof. Religious, he was not, but still he could accept the wisdom of not borrowing problems that might exist only in his imagination.

Finding a reasonably comfortable and secure den behind a line of trimmed bushes ringing the house, he settled in to wait. A sudden fatigue dragged upon him. Briefly, he considered fighting the urge to sleep. The arrival of Alicia's car, though, would doubtless wake him.

What did eventually rouse him, however, was not the roar of a sports car's engine but the booming crack of violent thunder. Jerking to awareness, he glanced about. A bemused part of him wondered if he had slept through another transition and missed his chance with Alicia.

Enormous raindrops pelted down then abruptly ramped into a continuous sheet of icy water. Wiping away the moisture from the front of his watch, he squinted at its luminous face. Ten o'clock. Damn. Leaning forward, he still saw no lights on in any of the house's rooms visible from his location.

An inner debate as to how next to proceed broke apart minutes later as the garage door swung up and out. Seconds later, Alicia's car -- presumably with Alicia in it -- slipped through the opening. Instantly the garage door rattled to the ground. Even if he had wanted to dart in through that entrance, Scanlon would not have had time to do so.

Shivering, he blinked water from his eyes and hungrily observed lights brightening and darkening in succession as Alicia wended her way through the house. The snapshot glimpses of the homeowner he obtained through various windows whetted his appetite for what would soon transpire.

An upstairs glow announced that the exhausted businesswoman prepared for bed. Through the backlit shade, Scanlon watched the silhouette of this most appealing woman as she removed her wardrobe and slipped into a short nightgown. A side view revealed pleasingly shaped breasts he knew would perfectly fit his cupped palms.

A contented sigh whispered from his lips. Minutes slipped by. When the upstairs room darkened, he did not immediately rush forward. A half-hour more to heighten the anticipation. A half-hour to ensure she fell asleep. A half-hour to dream about the sharing they would soon bequeath to each other.

The violence of the storm fed into the boiling tension of his own trembling passions. Without conscious decision, he surged towards the house. Pulling the unused gun from his pocket, he reversed it and held its barrel. A flash of actinic light signaled him to raise his makeshift club. He drove it down and into a side pane in tandem with the crashing thunder. Reaching in, he flipped the latch and raised the window.

Mud from the flower bed in which he had stood dripped from his shoes as he clambered into the living room. Unlike his entry into the Cannon home, he cared not a whit for the furnishing or design of Alicia's home. His focus centered him upon her and her alone.

Sheets of yellow-white light strobed through the house. That fitful source proved sufficient to guide his steps to an open doorway and stairs fading upward. Instead of sprinting up that threshold, however, he held back, sinking into the delicious knowledge that he and his woman occupied this space and time together and alone.

As though returning to a familiar home after too-long an absence, he eased along the steps. The fingers of one hand skimmed the painted wall as a tactile reminder of where he stood and where he was going.

Without hesitation, he headed towards the bedroom he had identified while hovering outside in the storm. Typical of someone living alone, the door to Alicia's room hung open as though inviting him to enter, to visit, to stay. To indulge.

Steadying his breathing, he paused in the entrance and rested one hand on the frame. Automatically, he slipped the Beretta back into his pocket. Not that way. That would only diminish the encounter, rob it of its special place in his heart.

Amazingly, Alicia lay in bed, her eyes closed despite the boom and shudder of the raging weather. Though her body shifted in response to that external stimuli, she did not awaken.

Almost self-consciously, Scanlon wiped a hand across his face and through his drenched and hanging hair. Each step brought him nearer to the slumbering form of his selected treasure. Each step zoomed her image closer in his sight. Each step tightened the coiled knot twisting in his middle.

When he stood over her, he did nothing for long minutes but gaze upon her sculpted features. Her twitching eyelids bore mute testimony to whatever drama played behind those veiled curtains.

Glancing about, he spied a multi-colored scarf resting on a nearby vanity. With reverent regard, he plucked it from amidst the accouterments of Alicia's life and wrapped it around each of his hands. For a second he closed his eyes and prepared himself to accept the flow of the now in which he existed.

Ready at last, he leaned forward, the taut scarf lowering inch by inch towards the wonderful curve of that glorious and oh-so-vulnerable throat. As the fine silk brushed against the smooth skin, Scanlon drew it from side-to-side in a gentle sawing motion. In a second, he would ram it forward. In a second, the fun would commence. In a second, all would be...

At that instant, the clock-radio on the stand to his left caught his attention. 11:24 it proclaimed in softly glowing red numerals.

Scanlon's hands convulsed. Not enough time. Not enough to enjoy this merging to its fullness. Not enough to delve into all the wondrous permutations of such a golden interaction.

Loosening his hold on the scarf, he stuffed it into his left jacket pocket and let his posture sag with release and acceptance. There would be other times. He would make certain of that.

With the ginger cautiousness of a connoisseur touching a rare and oh-so-fragile flower, he extended a damp finger and traced the line of Alicia's left cheek. She stirred slightly at the contact but did not emerge from her sleep.

For half an hour, Scanlon stood there, drinking in the sounds and sights and smells of Alicia Wade and her most private of personal spaces. As the blood-red numerals on the clock switched from 11:59 to midnight of a new day, he gladly accepted the confusion and upset he would experience by making this transition awake and conscious.

Such a small price to pay for the lingering companionship of a perfect specimen like Alicia. Such a small price to pay, indeed.

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