Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chapter EIGHT

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” – Amendment IV

I drove back to the Drug store but not before I noticed the patrol car following me. I needed to find out what happened to Celeste and refused to allow their tactics to deter me from asking anyone who may know her whereabouts. I parked in the nearest spot behind the store, then walked around front where I had seen Celeste laying on the ground. There was no evidence that anything had occurred. No crimson hue to the concrete, no bullet holes or scars in the surrounding scenery, no chalk outline of a body, not even the widely recognized yellow tape to mark off a crime scene. When I entered the store, I immediately recognized the man at the register as being the same man who opened the store when we first arrived.

“Excuse me, sir.” I made an effort to be as polite as possible despite the anxiety that still struggled for release inside me. “Could you please tell me what happened this morning with the young red-headed woman?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded without raising his head from the newspaper he was reading. I could tell he was an older gentleman, not at all unique looking. There were no features to define this man from any other older gentleman I’d known or seen in the past. But his voice carried with it a tone that demanded respect. Very deep, very assertive and sure of everything he spoke. He left no room for further questioning, nor was their any invitation to argue what I knew. I looked around the store for any other patrons to ask but quickly realized I was the only customer.

I struggled once again to find validation of Celeste’s demise hidden in this man’s expression or lack thereof. Maybe my morbid nature simply assumed she perished. Maybe she was only injured, unconscious from a fall. That would, after all, explain a lack of evidence out front. If she was only hurt, there would be no chalk outline or yellow crime tape. If her injury was internal, there wouldn’t even be blood on the concrete.

“Is there a hospital nearby?” I felt a selfish sense of joy in disrupting his attempts to read his paper.

“Nearest one is six miles that way,” pointing toward the same direction I needed to go to find my way back home. He never looked at me, never offered a hint of a smile or friendly inclination; he emitted only a strong unwelcoming vibe I couldn’t understand.

“Thank you,” finally realizing this man wouldn’t notice a fly on his nose, let alone anything happening outside his store. The two officers, the same ones who originally welcomed me to their town, followed me to my car and escorted me to their city limits, all from an intentionally visible distance.

I drove the six miles in the direction he pointed and found no hospital. There weren’t even signs to indicate the existence of a hospital in this area. I entertained the idea of going back but was certain those cops would be waiting for a bullshit small town reason to inflict another beating on me. I had no choice but to give up my quest to find Celeste, even convincing myself that she wasn’t my concern simply because we slept together, intentionally recounting the numerous women I’d brushed off after an intimate encounter.

The more I drove the more desperate I felt regarding Celeste, forgetting for a while the item in my pocket. There was so much that had happened to me in such a short period of time that these seemingly unrelated coincidences nagged me into a state of depression I hadn’t felt in some time. I needed answers but had no clue where to find them. Paranoia had crept in and I was sure I was being followed, so I intentionally changed course and took the first street off the main highway. I took left turns, then right turns, traveling down seemingly abandoned roads until I came across a gravel road that led straight into the woods, woods that got so dense it hid what was left of the fading sunlight.

To anyone reading this right now, you have to understand the state of mind I was in. I had plenty of time, up to this point, to give in to my conspiracy-filled delusions, and the conclusions I ended up with were not favorable to me or anyone who knew me. I was convinced that Celeste was killed because of me, and that somehow the man behind bars with me was the man responsible for the private messages and sending me to that town. What I couldn’t figure out, and to this day don’t know, is why me. In all honesty I was no different than any other conspiracy addict. Up until now, I knew what most people knew about the 9/11 tragedy. So why me? I was getting first hand experience with how covert “they” can be, without knowing yet who “they” were. In the dark I sat in my car amidst the thickness of trees and foliage, contemplating my next move, when I remembered the voice recorder in my pocket. Clarity hit me like a bolt of lighting. What was on this recorder was the reason I was on this road trip, and someone had gone through a LOT of planning and trouble to get me, ME of all people, the information on that recorder. I was scared and excited at the same time, but mostly scared.
I reached under my seat for the small tool box I kept in case of emergencies. My car’s interior lights didn’t work and I knew there was a flash light in my tool box. I couldn’t find the toolbox under my seat, so I looked under the passenger seat and discovered alongside my toolbox, Celeste’s cosmetic bag. I froze. I’d briefly looked inside the car when I got in and saw none of her belongings. I sat very silently with the make-up bag on my lap, thinking back to the moment I first saw her, and was momentarily hit with the powerful aroma of Honey Dew. I’d only known her 3 days, and yet I missed her. I opened the bag and saw the little .22 still buried underneath the mascara and eye shadow, and with a heavy heart I took the gun out and held it in my hand.

It has always been a habit of mine to take my guns out and clean them whenever I was stressed or depressed. Somehow knowing that I can at any moment put the muzzle to my temple and pull the trigger was, in a sick way, comforting. Out of habit, I found a rag and started wiping down the gun, using some Q-Tips I found in Celeste’s bag to get into the small crevices that housed the bullets. I emptied the chamber of its 6 rounds and cleaned inside. Before reloading the gun, I turned the muzzle to me to look down the barrel, thinking in my mind what I could use in my immediate inventory to clean the inside. When I jammed another Q-tip inside, I heard something unnatural, like I’d hit a piece of paper. Shining the flashlight inside confirmed my suspicions. Using a pen that I kept in my glove compartment I was able to extract the piece of paper which was scrolled perfectly to fit the width of the barrel. I chuckled to myself at the depth of which this mystery pulled me, asserting out loud, “will this ever end?” My smile instantly faded once I read the message, “Watch your back! You’ve been marked!” I felt a lump develop in my throat and knew for sure the pain in my chest meant my heart had stopped for a moment.

Every muscle in my body tensed up as I got out of my car and looked around me. The gravel path was an access road into the woods and someone’s estate, I was sure. Where I parked concealed me yet left the main road within my sight. I got back in the car, loaded the gun and placed it on my lap. I held the voice recorder in my palm, contemplating for the final time whether or not I should hear its message. I didn’t pause one more second to hit play.
“So baby, what does your heart desire this time?” spoke a woman on the tape followed by some shuffling noises and the very distinct sound of a zipper.

“Oh yea, that’s it,” the man responded in a raspy manner. There were moans and more explicit talk which had me somewhat aroused despite my increasing paranoia.

“What’s the matter baby? Am I being too rough?” Her voice started sounding familiar, so I held the recorder closer to my ear, hoping it’d help.

“No, I’m just stressed, lots on my mind now, sweetheart.”

“Well you can talk about it, it won’t stop me from doing my job,” followed by more obvious slurping sounds and subtle moans indicating her enjoyment at what she was doing.

“How long have we known each other, Celeste?” the man asked. Hearing her name took my breath away, I was RIGHT about that voice sounding familiar, except my Celeste had a southern accent; this girl didn’t.

“About six years now, sir.”

“In those six years, you’ve never once broken my trust. You’ve always been loyal.”

“That’s what you pay me for; my silence and discretion.”

“I think they want to kill me.” He said, “and I want you to have this.” I could hear the springs on the mattress react to their movement, accompanied by more shuffling sounds, only this time like papers.

“What is this and who wants to kill you?” now apparently concerned.

“Doesn’t matter who, this is my life insurance policy and you’re the beneficiary. If I do end up dead, you need to get this information out. You need to find SOME WAY to get this out without going through the media, do you understand Celeste? This is VERY important, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” His voice became more adamant; sounding without a doubt desperate.

“Yes, but please, you’re hurting me. Yes, I understand.”

“Look, Celeste.” I could tell by his tone that he struggled with his sentence. “Not everyone in Washington is corrupt.”

“I know you’re one of the good guys. Now where were we?”

“Shhh.” I heard the zipper again “Shit! Celeste you need to get out of here. I think they’re coming!”

“What? Who’s coming?”

“LISTEN to me! There’s a door that connects the bathroom to the next room, find a way! "
I then heard the faint sounds of her heels on the bathroom floor followed by a soft click of a door shutting. There was no further dialog, only a long silent pause before a crash, like a door being busted open instantly, accompanied by what sounded like quick bursts of wind; a pffft pfffft sound. I could hear the footfalls on the carpet and more doors being opened and shut, before complete silence took over. No static, no voices or movement of any kind. I fast forwarded the tape in short spurts to see if anything else would present itself, but the only other sound was the click of the recorder turned off. I sat in total disbelief of what I had heard. I knew what that sound was. It was gunfire muffled by a silencer.

My mind struggled with this revelation. A man had just been killed for knowing too much, and all I can focus on is Celeste and her apparent profession. I thought back to a bogus conspiracy years ago on GLP about a call girl and HER chatterbox of a customer disclosing information about suitcase nukes. Apparently politicians DO talk to their hired lovers, but this one didn’t say enough to indicate any possible threats here or even overseas! He just mentioned his fear and some insurance policy.

I spent what seemed an eternity trying to make sense of all this. The only conclusion I came up with was that some politician had left her a hefty sum of money, she gets out of the business, then creates some bogus story about killing cops to hide her true identity; but still seem interesting, only to die in some hill jack of a town, probably killed by the same people that killed her previous source of income, but not before dragging me into all of this. It’s amazing what a beautiful woman with a great ass can do to a guy!

I don’t remember how long I stayed hidden within those trees before I got enough confidence to drive home. So tired from a combination of driving and thinking, I’d forgotten the message left for me in the gun and never bothered to check for unfamiliar cars parked near my home, or if I was even followed. For a long time, I sat in my car and with road-worn eyes watched my windows, looking for any sign of an intruder. I don’t ever recall, before this night, being so awake. My palms were already wet with sweat when I approached my front door and entered my home. A man’s home is supposed to be his haven, his one sanctuary where he can relax, let his guard down, roam from room to room naked. Not this night. I carried the little .22 in my pocket, with my hand on it’s grip and finger on the trigger. I quietly closed the front door behind me before taking the gun and positioning it at the ready in front of me. Knowing where my floorboards creaked I walked silently from room to room in careful strides, checking all my closets before going upstairs to conduct the same search. I was stopped in my tracks to discover my computer missing and the safe exposed through torn drywall even though the door was still shut. I heard the tell-tale signs of an intruder when my floor creaked behind me. I spun around and dropped to my knees quickly, ready to pull the trigger at the slightest movement, but hesitated. If I had been any more unraveled, my cat would have been the next victim. After greeting my ‘almost dead’ cat, I went to the safe and entered the combination. The click of the lock engaging echoed eerily in a room that was never quiet until now. When I opened the safe I sighed in relief at the sight of the cardboard box, but when I picked it up, it was instantly obvious my guns were not there. So caught up in my anger and fear, it never occurred to me that I was no longer alone.

“They knew exactly what to look for,” resounded a voice not my own. I spun around and stood in utter disbelief at what I saw. I was standing before a ghost, the ghost of Celeste Armstrong.

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