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Part Three of Three
by Jeff McCoskey
Roger hummed quietly to himself as the liquid Georgia night flowed past his Mercedes' windshield. The headlights carved a tunnel of color in the blackened, dogwood-lined road. The Mercedes energetically chased the cone of light. Roger patted the video tapes on the seat next to him.
Things had worked out better than he had expected. He'd have to make excuses to Melissa again, but that was a trivial detail. He was practically in the clear. He knew he could depend on Sharon to stand by him. Sheriff Kincaid's investigation would progress without the damning tapesthe tapes his good friend Brian Symsek, the Eye of Justice, had given him. Roger laughed with real amusement, and it was lost in the rushing Georgia night.
Sharon tried not to clutch her purse so tightly, but she couldn't help it. She was sure her face was beet red. With her free hand, she again smoothed her in-bad-taste wedding attire. Her intent had been to embarrass Roger by wearing her most provocative nightclub outfit to the wedding. Calhoun being as small a town as it was, her message was broadcast loud and clear. That all seemed a little childish now.
With a sigh she rounded the buffet tent and rejoined the reception. Sharon looked down, but she felt all their eyes on her. She flushed, half with embarrassment and half with titillation.
"Sharon, are you OK? Where'd you get to?" Brian's voice was edged with champagne urgency and broke into her private, heady tension.
"Yes, I don't know...it's just everyone is looking at me." She finished with a tinge of annoyance. Brian turned his head around.
"Don't worry, nobody's looking. We're not important enough for the Royalty's attention. Are you ready to blow this place? I've had about all the insincerity I can stand."
Sharon ventured a glance at Roger's family and political connections. It was true. Nobody had marked her return at all. A beautiful grin spread across her face.
"Are you sure you're OK?"
"I'm fine Brian. In fact I couldn't be better. I couldn't possibly be a single bit better." Sharon giggled, which brought a sharp look from Brian, followed by a suspicious narrowing of the eyes. It made him look cute, and Sharon had her first pang of regret.
"Sharon, I'm getting a bad feeling."
"I'm sorry, I'm just a little bit giddy. I must have had too much to drink, I guess..."
"Why did you pull your purse away?" Brian was right, she had unconsciously pulled it back protectively. And thinking about it, she'd pulled it back again.
"What are you hiding in there?" She smelled the sweet alcohol on his breath.
"Nothing, I...don't you dare...!" Her exclamation came too late. Brian had snatched it from her grasp before she realized he was going to do it. "Brian, that's mine. You have no right..."
He ignored her and opened the purse. His face went gray. "Aw shit, no."
She snatched it back from his unresisting hold, snapping it brusquely shut. "Brian, I'm sorry. I know this looks bad, but there've been some developments."
"What kind of developments put your panties in your purse?" Brian hissed angrily. His face was no longer that cute, just tragic. As if on cue, Roger suddenly appeared from the house, bearing a large, wrapped box for his new bride. Roger glanced at Sharon, and she felt guilty for enjoying it. Brian watched her face closely, then followed her gaze to Roger. "Oh perfect. That bastard."
Brian spun away and marched in Roger's tracks. His shoulders were hunched as if bearing a tremendous weight. Sharon ran after them. "No, Brian don't! You don't understand." She managed to get a hand on his arm. "Stop it! This is a wedding. People will start looking at us."
"Then I'll wait."
Sharon tried to goad Brian with dances and pleas, but he seemed deaf to her entreaties. He swallowed champagne after champagne and stared at Roger across the gazebo, where the groom was cutting up with his new in-laws. Roger eventually excused himself with a kiss to Melissa. Brian was off like a shot, and Sharon chased him again.
Brian caught up to his host near the grand four-car garage. Two covered sports cars matched a Mercedes and a Jaguar. Brian shoved Roger onto a covered car, catching him completely by surprise.
"What the hell...?"
"You sick, spoiled, shit. You just married a perfect Southern Belle, and you still can't leave Sharon alone. You left her, do you understand, you broke her heart. Let her alone!" Sharon grabbed his arm.
"Back off Symsek," Roger said, awkwardly straightening himself. "I'd hate to have to take you apart like your buddy Greg."
"Leave this alone Brian. This is none of your business," pleaded Sharon. "Why don't we just leave now? Let's go."
"Yes Brain. leave. This is between me and Sharon. You're just a poor little jealous schoolboy who can't hold his liquor."
"You're not helping anything Roger," said Sharon disapprovingly. "C'mon Brian. Let's just go." Roger was eyeing Brian with smug self- assurance, and Sharon felt the tension in Brian's forearms. "No Brian. Not here. C'mon." Sharon felt his will slowly melting, and she pulled him towards the field where the guests' cars were parked. As she steered him away, she felt a cold, wet kiss on her neck that sent tingles down her spine, to be met with the ones rising from her thigh where Roger had quickly caressed. She looked back to chastise him, but he was already turning back to the celebration. She hid her smile for Brian's sake.
"Are you charging me with anything?" asked Brian belligerently.
"I don't think so. Lucky fah you, the McNalley woman refuses to testify, or even identify her assailant. We can't put you at the scene," Brian's face must have registered his triumph. "But we can't put you anywhere else, neither," the Sheriff added in a warning tone.
Sheriff Kincaid and his freckled deputy had stopped by the mill. Brian knew they were grasping when they resorted to embarrassing him at work. The mill windows had plenty of faces observing the confrontation in the parking lot. The Sheriff continued oblivious to the audience, or at least pretending to be. "I will tell you this, boy, if you know anything about this case, I suggest you come clean with it. Someone made this girl's lahf a living hell for twenty-two minutes an' if you have any feelin's for her a 'tall, you'll help us get to the bottom of this thing."
Brian hid behind his disinterested expression. The only thing he knew was about his friend Roger Blalock's affair with her, but he would be damned if he'd give up a friend to this red-faced hick with badge. And it was a cinch Roger wasn't involved any way. Roger and Sharon had been dating since high school, long before he got married.
In any case, Brain couldn't wait for the interview to be done. Too much probing might uncover his Eye of Justice activities, and then he'd go to jail for sure. Law-enforcement types, especially Omega- haters, took a dim view of break-ins at Fort Deliverance. Brain felt a nameless discomfort. Naturally, he wanted to catch Sharon's attacker, but he couldn't help the tremendous relief he felt that he was, at least for now, in the clear.
A roar from the crowd was lost on Roger and Sharon. While the rest of Calhoun celebrated yet another touchdown in this year's route of Dalton High, Roger and Sharon searched the area under the grandstand for her father's wedding band. Tear streaks ran through Sharon's inexpert makeup.
"I don't think it slipped out of your purse," said Roger sadly. "There's nothing down here but trash."
"I can't have lost it, I can't..." moaned Sharon.
"I don't know where else to look..." Roger tried to comfort Sharon as best he could, but she seemed to not even feel his arms around her.
"I...I need to excuse myself."
"Don't worry. You go to the rest room. I'll keep looking. If I can find it down here, I will. I promise."
"Thank you, Roger. I really love you for helping like this, but I couldn't bear to lose it..."
"Shhh. Do what you need to. I'll keep on here." Roger was rewarded with a quick peck on the cheek, then Sharon wandered off, pulling Kleenex from her purse. He bent to sifting the gravel again, looking for a golden gleam in the darkness. A soda cup dropped next to him, splashing his pants.
"Goddammit. This sucks." Roger determinedly continued his search, only to be brought up short by a cough from behind. He whirled around. Stadium light filtered down from the gaps in the grandstand, striping the gravel area with light. One stripe cut across Brian Symsek and Greg Austin. Symsek looked belligerent and Austin looked sour.
"What the hell do you jerks want?"
"Looking for something, Rog?" asked Symsek sweetly.
"Let's go Bri, this is stupid."
"Listen to Aus-hole."
"Back off Roger," warned Greg.
"I'm not in the mood to play around with you jerks. Sharon and I got business down here. Vanish."
"Gonna get lucky tonight are you?" asked Symsek in that same sickly-sweet voice. Memory of Sharon's tear-streaked face made Roger snarl.
"Don't push it Symsek. This is serious and it's got nothing to do with you." Roger strode forward in anger, shoving Greg aside to get to Brian. Brian leaned forward antagonistically, but before the two traded blows Greg returned Roger's shove. "What are you gonna do Austin?"
Greg stepped into Roger's space. "A little 'excuse me' goes a long way Roger."
Roger shoved Greg again, harder. "Excuse me."
Greg jumped back and shoved Roger again. That did it. Roger grappled with Greg, both trying to bind the others' flailing arms, their blows largely ineffectual against each other. Brian tried to jump in on Roger's back to help Greg, but Sharon returned.
"Stop it, stop it! What are you doing? This is so...why?" She grabbed Brian by the arms, shaking him.
Roger barely acknowledged Sharon's return. Austin had managed to pin his arms. The two tumbled to the gravel with a loud thump. Symsek's sarcastic follow-on statement was, "Okay, I'll stay out of it."
Roger found himself pinned to the gravel by Greg Austin. They wrestled in the shifting rocks, spinning wildly, forcing Sharon and Brian to step backwards. Roger managed to snake an arm free and tried to pull Greg's hair, but Austin rolled him out of reach by sitting on his back. Roger found himself face down, head being shoved painfully into the ground.
"Knock it off will youUncle already. Sharon's missing something damn important. We can take this up later."
"There's not going to be a later," said Greg, out of breath. "You just leave us alone. Sharon'll..."
Symsek interrupted. "No, you're right Greg. This was stupid. Let's leave these two to whatever it is they were getting into."
Greg shook his head and abruptly stepped clear, freeing Roger. Roger got up and rubbed his neck as Symsek and Austin walked away.
"Roger, what was that all about?"
"Nuthin'. Let's just keep looking for your Dad's ring. We'll look all night if we have to. I promise."
Sharon watched Brian's big blue truck pull into the trailer park and stop by his trailer. She got out of her little car and walked forward, trying to ignore the soreness that still affected her. "Brian?" The unexpected voice made him jump.
"Sharon? Jeez, you startled me." Brian looked deeply into her face. "Actually, you're still surprising me. I figured you'd never want to see me again." The yellowish lights from the trailer park cast harsh shadows around them.
"Can we go in?" asked Sharon without looking at him.
"Sure. Sure we can." He unlocked and held the thin door open for her. She walked in and sat on the couch she had occupied last night. Brian darted over to the bedroom door and closed it, then joined her in front of the TV.
"I've thought a lot about what you said last night. About everything really. It's making more and more sense. I think Roger is playing with my mind and..." Sharon's voice choked up. She swallowed and unsteadily continued. "You might be rightI think he might be an Omega."
Brian just sat still with a weird look on his face.
"Oh god Brian, my life is shit." Sharon broke down in tears. "I'm in love with a married man that, for all I know, forced me to love him. Now he's abusing me and I don't even remember." Brian slid closer and lent her his shoulder. "Who am I Brian? You know what some of these Omegas are capable of. Am I just his plaything?"
"No, Sharon, no. Even if he is an Omega, there's a lot of your life that he doesn't touch. Your work with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Atlanta. Our friendship. Do you remember what I told you last night? About me?"
Sharon looked desperately into Brian's light blue eyes. "Yes. I think...that's why I'm here. I need to hear something about myself that hasn't been polluted or corrupted. I need to know that there's something in me that Roger hasn't twisted."
Brian flushed and bit his lip. "Listen to me Sharon. Without Roger, you're confident, giving, funny. Sexy. I'll say it again. I've loved you since High School. I'll always love you. You're everything that, well, you're a very special woman. I better stop. This is a difficult area for me."
Sharon embraced Brian fiercely. Quiet sobs shook her. Slowly, she lifted her head from his shoulder and searched his eyes. Brian's eyes were vulnerable like she'd never seen before. Half hope, half misery. Their mutual misery finally resonated somewhere in Sharon. She leaned closer, and his lips met hers.
His kiss was tender and tentative, so unlike the familiar passion of Roger. Their lips moved together gently, longingly. Sharon wrapped her arms tightly around his slender frame, again so different from Roger's success-induced paunch. His need flowed through the kiss and for a moment entwined about her own. Their mouths gently nuzzled and caressed. The contact was deeper than she had felt for a long time. Sharon quietly ended it.
"I guess I should say I'm sorry," said Brian softly, "taking advantage of you like this. But I'm not."
Sharon looked at her lap. "No, I'm the one taking advantage of you. I...I needed that kiss Brian. But I can't stay here, and I can't give you what you want. Roger is too much a part of Calhoun, and if he is an Omega, I'm, well, I can't stay. I just can't."
A look of shock crossed Brian's features. "You can't just leave. Not now. Where will you go? How will you live?"
"I've thought about this alot today. There's some full-time jobs in the Big Brother organization out west. I'll be gone in six days." Her voice was almost conversational.
"Six days? Should I...?" Brian's face was heart-breakingly hopeful.
"No, Brian. I've got to shake Roger from my heart before I can even think about you or any healthy relationship. Please understand." Brian's jaw began clenching and unclenching. "Don't worry about your video secret. It still seems amazing that you are the Eye of Justice. I'm proud. But whatever you filmed, however many Omegas you saved, I'll never forget what you did for me." Sharon impulsively reached into her coat pocket. "I want you to have something."
Sharon pulled out her father's shining wedding ring. She looked him in the eye. "You hurt me when you stole thismore than you know. But you've also finally opened my eyes. You saved me, I guess. I want you to keep this."
"But didn't you want to give this to your husband?"
"I'd rather give it to my best friend." They embraced sadly but together. "My hero."
Brian closed the door behind Sharon. The hollow click was maddeningly final. He resisted the urge to fling the door open and make a fool of himself pursuing her. Instead he forced slow steps to his video equipment. Sharon's kiss burned on his lips just as her ring burned in his hand. The things she'd said about Roger abusing her had seemed fantastic at first, but Brian's emotions slowly sheared through his disbelief. Then the memory of his videotape flooded back. The memory that Roger had altered.
Roger had meddled with his mind, stolen the tapes. But Brian still had the editting master. With an impassive set to his face, he powered up the console, fitted the master tape and started the editor. The scene through Sharon's back door leapt to the screen. Shrugging off the last of Roger's influence, Brian remembered it all. In spite of everything, the text that scrolled through the black bar at the base of the screen brought a ghost of a smile to his face. The imperfect voice- recognition translation made it richer to him.
==If you are redeing this, you got the tapes from me. That menes you are an omega.
==You may think we have a stale mate. I no you are an omega. You no I am the I of justis. But I also no you bete sharon. And I stil have it on tape.==
The video had reached the beginnings of Brian's fight with Roger. Their furious conflict provided backdrop for the scrolling text.
==Heres how it wil go. First you will destroy these tapes. Now. Tonite.
==Second you wil yuse yore omega to convince sharon I am not the I of justis. And that she never saw me this nite. I wil check this to daze after you get this. If you obay these instructions the tape wil not be relesed. You wil kepe yore offis and yore political wife and you will stay out of jale. If you think I wont relese the tape becos it will revele my identity. Forget it. I have nothing to lose. But first I wil revele to the world that you are an omega. You know how that wil play to calhoon voters. And yore political enemees.
==And that wil pale before the asalt and batery convikshun.==
The tape had advanced to when Roger had 'thrown' him out. Roger's voice sounded faintly as the scrolling words continued.
==You wil do won thing more.
==You will break up with Sharon and never see her again. If you dont you go to jale and I go to canada.==
The tape ended with the trademark scales-and-eyeball logo.
Brian smiled ironically. It was a tremendous gamble, but the stroke of genius was the 'convincing Sharon' part. Roger was indeed an Omega. Now that Brian had been his victim, he was sure of it. But Brian was pretty sure that Roger was also a victim of it. Ever since High School when he'd been searching for the ring despite knowing he had lost it, Roger seemed too sincere in his lies. Brian was sure Roger's Omega convinced him as much as it did whoever he was talking to.
Like his fight with Greg. Greg had kicked his ass but years later, in Roger's mind, Greg had been beaten. When Roger convinced Sharon of Brian's innocence, he would also convince himself. And unlike Sharon and Brian, Roger did not seem capable of cutting through his own lies.
After his talk, and after Brian confirmed that the tapes had been destroyed, an editted version of the tape could go to Sheriff Kincaid, including the Omega hypothesis. But the true coup d'grace, the true revenge for years of tormenting Sharon, would be the tape sent to Hot Scoop!
The fire blazed in Roger's elegant fireplace. It hadn't taken much to convince Melissa that a fire in a Gerorgian summer was reasonable, though the heat had driven her from the room. As planned. The black plastic videotapes had been reduced to slag hours before, what hadn't vaporised and wafted out the chimney.
Roger sipped his nightcap. He was glad he had convinced Sharon that Brian could not possibly be the Eye of Justice. That fulfilled the first condition his video blackmailer had demanded. Not that it was a difficult thing to accomplish. It was pretty laughable to think Symsek was capable of anything like that.
Condition number two was even easier to fulfilldestroying the video tapes. It seemed to Roger he'd wanted to hang on to them for some reason, but that was another stupid idea. Just something else for Melissa to discover. He prodded the fire, swirling the liquid plastic with a flourish.
The third condition, that he end his affair with Sharon, was more problematic. He had no intention of honoring that one. His blackmailer might have the incriminating tapes, but he couldn't be everywhere. Roger would lay low for a few weeks until this blackmailer moved on, then return to her. It would be hard enough to stay away from Sharon those few weeks. Forever was out of the question.
Worse come to worse he could always 'convince' Sheriff Kincaid the tape was faked. Melissa's voice interrupted his confident plans.
Her voice was confused and frightened, though Roger barely registered it. "Roger? Sheriff Kincaid and, uh, some deputies are here to see you."
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