Lena, Audrey, and Stanley all stood staring into the woods where Norman had just disappeared. They did not pursue him. They hadn’t reached their golden years without occasionally using the good sense to stay put and not go chasing after danger.
In a minute or so, they heard the siren of the Warm Springs PD as the village’s finest arrived on the scene. The Chief’s car pulled up first, followed immediately by the rest of the force – so, four people in all. Lena would have loved to rush over and pour forth the hair-raising story of her encounter with the village’s infamous marauder, but she knew that she might be carrying the dreaded COVID virus, and could, with one fell swoop, wipe out all the law enforcement that the village had if she were to spread that horrible “spike protein” sickness.
As the Chief approached her, she yelled, “Don’t get too close! Possible COVID here!”
“You, Ms. Lena?” responded the top cop.
“Yes! I am sick, and haven’t been tested yet!” Poor Lena’s throat stung with every word.
Chief Middler reached into his back pocket and pulled out an old, dirty, wrinkled N-95 face mask that might have been sterile six months ago, and put it on. “Now!” he said, and proceeded to where Lena stood. “The long arm of the law cannot be cut short by a piddlin’ little ol’ virus!”
Reality was catching up with Lena quickly, and she began to tremble, ever so slightly. She had just had a face-to-face run-in with the most notorious criminal in the history of the village, and she had stood up to him! Chief Middler could see she was looking just a bit faint, and he certainly didn’t want her to fall down, but first there was the matter of getting the pistol out of her hand without her nervousness causing her trigger finger to constrict.
He needn’t have worried. Lena’s knees gave way and she crumpled, dropping the pistol with a thud onto the soft ground, followed by a less than graceful backwards flop, which the chief was barely able to intercept with both his arms. He laid her on the ground just as two paramedics piled out of the village’s ambulance and rushed over. Seeing that the chief was wearing his trusty, worn-out face mask, they knew that the word “COVID” must have been mentioned, but they routinely wore masks and gloves, anyway, so ‘no biggie’.
Audrey and Stanley were giving their statements to an officer, and the rest of the force had scattered into the woods in hot pursuit of the marauder.
Neighbors had heard the gunshot and the siren and were now gathering in small groups at the edge of Lena’s yard, chattering excitedly and taking cell phone photos of Lena being loaded into the ambulance, the cop cars with their lights flashing, and any smidgen of action they could catch.
Meanwhile, some distance away, as far as Norman’s weary legs had carried him, and crouching pitifully in the hideout nearest the outer edge of the village, the marauder lay sniffling and sobbing. Next to him, empty and dirty, were the prescription vials that had last contained any medicine several weeks ago. There is no opportunity to see a doctor or visit a pharmacy when you are a busy, full-time marauder who must stay undercover and complete an important mission. Perhaps later, after he had killed that old woman who had just today humiliated him and dealt him a huge setback in his plans – perhaps then he would be able to see a doctor for some medicine. Until then, he would just have to take things one day at a time – no, one hour at a time – and trust his own judgment as to how to handle the situation.
It wouldn’t be easy. Already, he could feel the tension squeezing his brain, like a small vise clamping down and tightening around his poor, overworked mind. Even worse were the memories that had begun creeping into the edges of his consciousness, horrible visions that threatened to overwhelm him and push his new, carefully constructed reality back into nothingness. He could not let the memories come back. It would end him.
Lena was the center of attention at the hospital where her husband had arrived at the same time as the reporter and photographer from the Warm Springs Village Gazette. Even with a fever, a sore throat, and frequent sneezes, Lena was starting to perk up. The first thing the emergency room doctor had done after Lena had arrived, awake and obviously not in imminent danger, was administer a rapid COVID test, which had come back negative. “Hot dog!” had been Lena’s eloquent response to that piece of news.
Inside of an hour, Lena had been examined, given a list of over-the-counter medications to combat her cold symptoms, and was ready to go home. Now that she could safely visit with her friends and not worry about wiping them all out with the dreaded “rona”, she knew she was in for a good day or two of plenty of attention and pampering. She sensed that homemade chicken soup would likely be delivered to her house by the village’s premier chicken soup chef, Bette Kogut, within mere hours.
Tonight, her husband would bring her banana popsicles and perhaps a small bouquet of mixed flowers from Walmart, and would probably let her choose all the shows they watched on television. If you have to risk your life confronting a vicious marauder, at least the rewards are good, she thought.
Meanwhile, in the thick woods behind Lena’s house, and throughout many acres of the sprawling Warm Springs Village gated community, the police had not seen hide nor hair of the perpetrator who had caused fear and trembling in the hearts of the villagers for weeks, now. However, they did begin coming across odds and ends, bits and pieces of the tell-tale trail of no other animal than a human. Assorted food wrappers, a tree with pieces of 2×4 lumber nailed at intervals up to a sturdy branch that would provide a lookout spot, and then – the mother lode – a food stash! Shoved behind a large stump was an old, rusty toolbox with a makeshift clasp fashioned from twist ties, and inside it were stacks and stacks of beef jerky, crackers, and a stale two-pack of chocolate cupcakes.
They photographed the scene and carefully transported the toolbox back to the police station. The fingerprints from the toolbox, along with fingerprints from the rifle that the marauder had left behind at Lena’s house, would hopefully give them the identity of their culprit.
As the presses ran at the Warm Springs Village Gazette, and the forensics team at the village police station worked excitedly on their treasure trove of clues, Lena happily enjoyed a big, steaming bowl of homemade chicken soup and watched “Murder, She Wrote” with her devoted husband.
Norman sat curled into fetal position, upright, and rocked and rocked – until deep in the night. He thought and cried, cried and thought, and finally rocked himself to sleep. A field mouse nibbled at the tattered sleeping bag wadded up at Norman’s feet, but Norman was too exhausted to be awakened by the tiny creature. On this night, sleep was a blessing to the poor, tortured “marauder”. Even the usual nightmares didn’t break through the veil. He slept as though nothing and nobody else existed, only Norman, in deathly solitude.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE TO COME…
Chapter 1 – Click here.
Chapter 3 – Click here.
Chapter 4 – Click here.
Chapter 5 – Click here.
Chapter 6 – Click here.
Author Nancy Carlton
Nancy Carlton and her husband, Steve, have lived in the village for five and a half years. They have three children and three grandchildren. Nancy has been writing for many years, and loves to vary her projects between songwriting, authoring novels, and “cozy murder mysteries” and political commentary. Even poetry and the occasional short story are produced. She also sings with several groups in the village.
This chance to do a serial story in the Hot Springs Village Gazette is a fun and exciting new adventure!