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Part One of Three
by Jeff McCoskey
"How'd it happen?"
"I was just..."
"Sharon, Sharon what? Her name is Sharon what?"
"McNalley...is she going to be ok?"
"B-Brian? What are you doing in my house? Nnnnyaah!" It didn't look like her house. And why was Brian yelling?
"You're hurting her! Take it easy!"
"Shows signs of disorientation, multiple contusions, might be going into shock. Crap. Possible internal bleeding."
"Any sign of spinal injury?"
"Is she going to be ok?"
"No, I think she can be moved."
"Where's that goddam back board?!"
"Are you the boyfriend?"
"I, uh, yeah..."
"On threeone, two, three!"
"Where's she going?"
"Memorial's closest, we'll take her there. You following?"
"Sure. Yes. Sure."
"Your name is...?"
"Symsek, Brian Symsek."
The doors closed off the opressive babble of sound as Sharon felt herself roughly joggled outside. Daylight was a blurry streak of blue and green as Sharon tried to get her eyes to focus. She was moving, but her muscles weren't contracting. How was that possible?
A loud slam and Sharon's world became a cluttered white rumble. A red wailing seemed to emanate from her forehead. She slipped from consciousness rather than deal with it. And everything.
Brian tugged at his collar as he grabbed a champagne glass from a passing server. It wasn't even one of those two-piece plastic thingsreal glass. Brian's tuxedo was perfect, but this was the kind of wedding where what you were wearing didn't make you stand out. Who you were was enough.
Sharon wandered back over, much to Brian's relief. He watched her carefully over the glass's rim. She wore an elegant red off the shoulder gown, short skirt and sleek black stockings. Brian would never be sure any other women had attended the wedding.
Others noticed her too.
"...a lotta damn nerve showin' up heyeh," came a muttered male voice.
Brian turned, just enough champagne swirled in his stomach. "You got a lot of damn nerve using endangered species for a hairpiece, Councilman."
"Settle down, boy. You in wateh above y'head too."
Brian flushed angrily, but Sharon took his arm. "Don't Brian, just don't." They edged away from the disapproving cluster behind them.
"Are you sure you want to stay?" asked Brian gently. "No one will cry if we leave early. This is Roger's crowd, not ours. So many politicians here, I feel like any minute someone's going to slip me a twenty and point me to a ballot box."
Sharon managed a sad smile. "No, not yet. It'd be rude to leave before congratulating the bride and groom." Brian had always pictured his first date with Sharon as more blissful than this. She was getting maudlin and he was getting sloppy.
Which made it the perfect time for Roger and his new bride to approach. "Symsek, glad you made it. Sharon, hi. Do I get a hug?" Sharon hugged her former high school sweatheart decorously.
"Rog, congrats." Brian firmly gripped Roger's hand, and his grip was firmly returned.
"Melissa, this is Brian and Sharon, two old friends from high school. This is Melissa Cox, who am I kidding, I mean Melissa Blalock." The two shared an annoying laugh. "Hey, how about a dance?"
Roger dragged Sharon to the floor as Melissa and Brian followed. The ochestra's music was elegant and dignified. Brian tried his damnedest to keep from following Sharon with his eyes.
"So how long have you known Roger?" Melissa was talking to him. She'd probably never say a word to him on the streets, assuming she ever walked among the hoi. Roger had met her at Emory. The Cox family was well-connected old money from Atlanta. They were known in Calhoun even before Roger's courtship. It was quite a coup for Roger. No matter how connected or respected the Blalock's were in Calhoun, they were still big fish in a small pond. Roger had managed to break down her family's resistance with the same charm that made him a young political force in Calhoun.
Brian was only here as Sharon's date. Roger must have told quite a story to explain her invitation. Brian caught a quick glimpse of Sharon. Her face was an impassive mask over intense grief. Brian was suddenly furious. Furious with Sharon for the depth of emotion she'd squandered on Roger, furious with Roger for inviting her to rub her face in it, furious with himself for getting furious in front of Calhoun's elite, and furious at Roger's porcelin trophy wife.
"How long have I known Roger? Since he first started dating Sharon." Brian looked perfect-face Melissa in the eye. "I figure the only reason we're not guests at their wedding is that Sharon's not politically connected." Brian took malicious pleasure in the sharp arching of Melissa's eyebrows.
The rest of the dance was silent. Brian and Melissa watched Roger and Sharon with near equal interest.
Roger twisted his face as he scratched his scalp. "Jesus. Three days in the hospital? Do you know who did it?"
An older man with a superior expression knotted his eyebrows disapprovingly. "Exactly how lahge a town do you think Calhoun is, Chairman Blalock? Ah don't know how you've fooled your wahf all these years, but you must know we all know this McNalley woman is your bit on the sahd. Chrast, you pahk your damn mercedes in her drahvway."
Roger reddened indignantly. "I don't care what everyone knows, I never beat this woman. And I must say I'm disappointed you'd banter this gossip around Sheriff. Have you ever seen my alleged Mercedes in the woman's drive?"
The older man eyes shifted uncomfortably. "Not mahself, no. But don't play games Chairman. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire."
"Where there's smoke, there's usually a Democrat throwing a smokescreen. Think about it, Paul. I have a rich, powerful wife, standing in the community, a reputation. Why would I risk it for a carpet mill secretary?"
"Maybe. People will be speculatin' is all ah'm sayin'," the Sheriff equivocated. "Whetheh justified or no."
"Speculation from the public I can handlehalf of them don't believe themselves anyway. But I can't have my political allies falling for this disinformation. You've got to know I'm clean Paul." Roger fixed the older man with a firm gaze.
"Ah reckon, Rogah. Hell, ah've met your wahf. Whah would you stray with that at home?" The men shared a crude chuckle.
"Anyway, I'll trust you to quell these vicious rumors in the future, Paul. But how about real leads? Anything?"
"Jes' the boyfriend that escorted her to the hospital. You know 'im, John Symsek's boy, Brian."
"Her boyfriend? Symsek?" asked Roger coldly.
"Yeah. These abuse cases turn out to be the boyfriend nahne tahmes outta ten. Nevah figgered a Symsek for this kahnd of thing, but they say Ted Bundy was good to cats."
"Let me know how this develops, Paul. I'm interested."
"No mom, we didn't do anything, and we're not going to. And no, we're not on drugs. We're just going to the football game, we'll be in by ten. Can I go now?"
"I don't know how you can just lie to your mother like that," said Sharon's Mom with tight lips. "It's disgraceful I tell you. You'll get a reputation you know."
"Mom, WE DIDN'T DO oh forget it. I'll see you later."
Her mom yelled after her at the door. "You be in by ten sharp young lady, and don't you try to lie about what you've done tonight. I'll know. A MOTHER ALWAYS KNOWS. You hear me Sharon McNalley?"
Sharon hopped into Roger's GTO and they roared off.
"Mom crucifying you?" asked Roger.
"Christ, you know it," breathed Sharon in frustration. She slid over on the bench seat and slipped her arm through Roger's as Calhoun High School grew from a speck in the windshield. Roger pulled his car into the open field parking lot. Sharon waved to Brian and Greg as they flashed past, on their way to the ticket booth.
"Symsek. Why you waving to that nerd?" asked Roger.
"He's not a nerd, he's a pal," said Sharon with playful sharpness.
"He ain't his brother, that's for sure," grumbled Roger, also playfully.
"Nobody is. We haven't won division since he graduated." Roger killed the engine, his GTO lost in a sea of muscle cars and pickup trucks. "Wait Roger, don't get out yet."
"C'mon, Sharon, the game...oh." Roger's just-turned-handsome- from-cute face broke into a grin. "I getcha..." He sidled closer, wrapped Sharon in his arms and exchanged an inexpert, passionate kiss.
Sharon broke the embrace happily. "Well that wasn't what I meant either, but I'm not complaining. Wait a minute, though, this is serious.
"What is it Sharon?" Roger's face was all concern.
Sharon shyly looked at her feet. "I-I want to give you something." She quickly fumbled in her purse. She drew out a plain gold band on a military dog-tag chain.
Roger's eyes got round. "I-is that...?"
"...my father's wedding band." Sharon chewed her lower lip. "When he...died...he told me he wanted my future husband to have this." Sharon quickly closed her hand around the chain and looked Roger full in the eyes, in his gorgeous eyes. "I Love you Roger."
"You know I feel the same about you, Sharon. But geez, we don't graduate for two years..."
"Shhh. I know. But we know we love each other, the rest is just waiting."
"For everything?" asked Roger with comedic lechery.
"Maybe, if I can hold out!" laughed Sharon. They tumbled together in half-playful passion, mouths exploring familiarly until Sharon gently closed off again. She pressed the ring into Roger's hand. "Someday, my prince..."
"You got it Princess." Roger held her chin gently in his hand. They were interrupted by a distant roar, and the beginning off-key strains of the marching band.
"Hey, lets get going huh?" They walked arm-in-arm, laughing together towards the football stadium.
Each passing day had become increasingly unpleasant for Brian. Once Sharon passed through the critical stage, he had spent his off- hours with her at the hospital. At least twice per visit, the sheriff or his men pulled him out for questioning.
At first the questioning turned on mundane things, but soon got down to tacks. Brian had watched enough police tele-dramas to recognise the old sheriff's Bad Cop to the young freckled deputy's Good Cop.
"Have you evah hit any previous girlfriends?" blurted out the sheriff.
"Answer the question, Brian," confided the young deputy.
"Look, son. Ah know how it goes. Long day at the office, boss comin' down on ya. Girlfriend both'rin' you about why you didn't go for that position in Atlanta aftah the Deliv'rance layoffs. Sometahms she just won't shut up when you most need your quiet. We all understand that."
Brian's lip curled. "You're disgusting," he said quietly.
"Git off that hagh horse, Symsek," the sheriff said slamming his fist to the table. "Where were you two nahghts ago between eight and ten pm?" Brian paled. The answer was delivering an Eye of Justice disk to Hot Scoop!'s Ian Rutledge.
"I don't have to talk to you. Get me a lawyer."
"Git you a lawyeh! You goddamned woman-beater, I oughtta git you a bullet! If I had a dime for every abusive boyfriend in this town Ah'd buy a rope long enough ta hang y'all!"
The deputy helpfully dragged away the steaming sheriff. "Listen Brian, you get a lawyer and talk to us soon, ok? We need to find the truth about Sharon's assaillant..."
"Truth hell! It's the boyfriend. It's always the goddamned boyfriend." The scrawny deputy improbably manhandled the sheriff out the door.
Brian slipped the velcro wrist straps tight, securing the compact video receiver to his wrist.
Sharon's "aerobic injuries" of the past few weeks took on an all- new, sinister caste.
He cinched the other reciever to the second wrist. He used surgical tape to secure the fiber-optic cables to his arms, then attached them to the recording unit. This unit was on his belt, at the base of his spine. Two thin wires dangled from this unit to the ground.
"Always the boyfriend," is what the sheriff had said. Brian didn't believe that was just theatrics.
Brian pulled on a black t-shirt, then the urban camouflage blouse, matching his pants. He pulled one wire through his shirt and clipped it to a dark plastic neck piece. The other snapped onto a hand-held miniature parabolic mike. The latter slid into the large thigh cargo pocket. The former clipped into place at Brian's throat. In the remaining cargo pocket, Brian's portable Watchman was already plugged in.
Besides Good Cop/Bad Cop, television taught Brian something else. The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime. Probably with the same ROGERB license plate.
Brian pulled his dark hood over his face, adjusted the plastic at his throat, toggled a wrist switch with his middle finger.
==The kwick brown focks jumpt over the lazy dog. Ten. Nine. Ate. Seven. Sicks. Five. Fore. Three. Too. Won.
==Be vewy vewy kwiyet. Were hunting politishens. Hehehehehehe.==
Brian's defective voice recog firmware didn't irk him in the slightest, or at least any more. He doused the lights so he wouldn't be lit when he left his trailer. As the light winked out, the scale-and- eyeball embroidery was the last thing in Brian's eyes.
Roger paced Sharon's den. Sharon was groggy from painkillers, and her head trailed his stride by half a pace.
"Shit Sharon, I'd give anything to have prevented this. Anything. You know that. Who did this to you? Who's responsible?"
Sharon looked down. "Just me."
"How did it come to this, Sharon? Why are you shutting me out? Haven't I generously funded the Big Brother/Sister program in Calhoun until now? I'm sorry it's gotta stopwith the Fort in the toilet, Calhoun needs all its tax dollars for relief. You see that's reasonable don't you? After the other night, what does this charity really matter anyway?"
"Fort not, not my problem," Sharon muttered. "Tired of your problems. Federal money will...for Fort. Bigbrothersister needs the money..."
Roger suddenly grabbed Sharon and shook her. "The funding is a dead issue, Sharon. There's nothing I can do." Abruptly, the Calhoun Councilman released Sharon. Roger's face was martyred. "I thought I had explained that the other night. Before your...incident."
Sharon's eyes focussed briefly. Roger's saddened, wronged expression swam into focus, then back out. Her voice became choked. "Didn't mean to threaten you the other night. When I treaten to tell Melissa...only time you listen to me."
"That's not true, Sharon. I always listen. I supported this Big Brother hobby of yours with taxpayers dollars haven't I?"
"No, you're right, you have been there for me. I'm just so confused..."
"Sharon we share something very special. We help each other, keep each other going. Why do you keep ruining it by bringing up Melissa?" Roger's voice rose again. He mastered his emotions. "The-the other night. You wouldn't stop pushing. I wish you hadn't kept at it so long. If you had just let it go, none of this would have happened. We'd have made love instead of me going home early."
"I'm sorry Roger, I know 'snot your fault." Sharon's voice was misery. "Could never ruin your life, jus' sometimes, so jealous of her. Make threats to make you unhappy too. Shouldn't do it. Sorry, so sorry."
Roger sat down next to her. "I forgive you, Princess. Just promise me you'll never do it again. I never want to see you hurt again."
"Just get to thinking it was an omen when I lost my father's ring. Like I can't give it to you, so we can never..." Sharon turned away from him, tears starting.
"We still have each other, Sharon. Nothing has changed that. Now I need to hear you promise you'll stop this." Sharon quietly sobbed. Roger grabbed her chin and roughly turned her back to him. "Tell me."
The jarring motion sent shafts of agony through Sharon's bruised neck, throbbing pain through her head. "Nnng. Stop it Roger!"
Roger shook her again. "Say it, Sharon. I need to hear you say it."
"Let go!" Tears of pain welled up in her eyes, she instinctively struck out at his hand. Roger's free hand caught her drugged strike easily, and twisted the arm.
"Sharon, tell me you'll stop the threats to Melissa. You never used to be like this." Sharon was actually crying in pain. Roger grunted and backhanded her to try to get her to her senses.
The back door flew inward, violently slamming the wall.
"LET her GO you BASTARD!"
Framed in the doorway was a dark-hooded man wearing urban camouflage. Sharon screamed. Roger backed off a step, still holding Sharon's arm. It twisted again in his grasp, eliciting a gurgled whimper.
"You shit." The bizarre figure leapt for Roger's throat. The Councilman squealed in terror and instinctively brought up an arm to block the strike. His sudden motion threw the attacker off-balance.
Adrenaline rushed through Roger's system. He slammed a fist into the hooded face before the commando could regain his balance. The two traded desperate blows, Roger managing to land two solid gut shots. The second sent the intruder staggering back, to trip over a coffee table. Roger grabbed a lamp, and smashed it into his side.
"Don't you break in here and attack me you shit piece of shit." Roger's breath was ragged. The invader tried to untangle himself from the table, but Roger didn't give him a moment's breath. He kicked viciously at the vulnerable formtwice in the side.
The hooded man went down trying to curl into a protective fetal ball. Roger leapt in, grabbed the man's head and slammed it to the floor repeatedly cursing the entire time. With extreme effort, Roger finally made himself let go. His breath slowly returned to normal, as did his heart.
"Jesus, what the hell...are you okay Sharon?" She nodded to Roger, still trying to master her own heart rate and its accompanying throbbing in her head. "I guess you should call the policeuh maybe you should wait until I'm gone. Can you do that?"
Sharon bravely tried to signal she could, but the excitement and the pounding in her head, plus the painkillers, were making her nauseous.
"Who am I kidding? Shit! They'll never believe you subdued him anyway..." The figure on the floor stirred, causing Roger to nearly jump out of his skin. Roger picked up the lamp again. He grabbed the hood, pulling it off, rearing back to strike.
"Brian?!?" choked out Sharon.
"What the hell are you doing Sysmek?"
"Trying to hnng." Brian closed his eyes for a moment. "Trying to stop you from hurting Sharon."
"I'm not hurting her. Sharon, was I hurting you?" Sharon refused to meet Brian's eyes, but shook her head no. Roger's confidence returned. "She's safe with me. You, get the hell out of here. You tell anyone about what happened tonightthey'll never believe you. In fact I understand Sheriff Kincaid suspects you in Sharon's beating. Don't make me add heat to his investigation. I'm sure he'd love to know about your 'Midnight Militia' outfit."
Brian stared at Roger with pure hatred boiling on his battered features. "Do you want me to go Sharon?" Brian asked.
Sharon's expression was unreadable, her eyes focussing only on his chest. Her lips pursed with resolve and she nodded. Brian shakily got to his feet. Tears of frustration welled in his eyes as he ground his teeth, turned and left.
Roger sat on the sofa next to Sharon. "You okay Princess?" His big, beautiful eyes drew her in.
"I-I'm okay. My head is killing me."
"This is very important..." Roger's voice droned on about how people wouldn't understand, something about denying whatever Brian said, but she closed her eyes and impatiently gestured him to be quiet.
She knew right away it was a mistake. Roger grabbed her arm painfully. "Listen to me Sharon. If you love me, listen. Our problems are between us, but Brian might want to take me down. He's always wanted you..."
Roger's voice droned again. There was a tickling in her mind about the man that looked like Brian. Something about his shirt. About his pocket. Where had she seen that pocket before?
Roger shook her, jarring her head painfully. "Do you understand?"
Suddenly, she did. "The Eye of Justice."
Roger recoiled in surprise. "What?"
"The Eye of Justice. The man that looked like Brian, that was the Eye of Justice. Did you see his scales?"
Roger's eyes narrowed, then shot wide open. "The Atlanta drug ring? Fort Deliverance? The videotaper?"
Though it made her head ring, Sharon nodded.
"Oh holy shit. Who am I kidding? He's got me on tape."
Sharon started crying, and had no idea why.
To be continued...
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