Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Christmas Stranger - Part Seven - Final

He could think of no way out that wouldn’t cost one or both of them their lives. Why on earth did his promise to his mother have to hit him between the eyes now? When he was this close to putting an end to being a road rat, his conscience had to kick into high gear?
            If he let her go Jonathon, Sr would just send someone else after her and if that someone was Bruno, he wouldn’t think twice about hurting her. As the plan was formulating in his mind he felt the need to reassure her that she was safe from him.
“I know you have very little reason to trust me, but I’m not going to hurt you,” Lance told her. She looked far from convinced, and really, how could he expect otherwise? “Tell me, what’s his method of choice?”
            Judging by the look on her face he’d done nothing to calm her, in fact, she looked like she was staring back at a madman. “Excuse me? What are you talking about?”
            “Your husband. I’ve seen that look before and I know what put it there. I won’t take you, or little Jonathon, back to that.”
            She knew better than to trust Lance of all people, but there was a part of her she was ashamed to say that did want to believe he was telling the truth. And then there was the other part, the one who knew how to survive, that was planning her escape using the frying pan on the stove if he so much as walked too near her little boy.
            “You have to change your name again. Hand over all and anything that could link you to Linda James,” he said as he told her of his plan. “You have to leave Jonathon James, Jr behind. It’s the only way you’ll be safe.”
            “No! That’ll never happen,” she said as she inched her way toward the stove.
            “That’s how I found you this time. You have to change his name too, and move far from here. We’ll burn your and Jonathon’s identification in the wood stove before you go.”
            “No.” Through her profound relief that he hadn’t meant to literally leave little Jonnie behind she still found a way to find the fly in the ointment, so to speak. “I can’t do that. It’s one thing for me to choose to give up my identity, another to take his away without him ever knowing who he really is.”
             “Take it from someone who lived on the run. I never used my real name until I was sixteen, and no, I didn’t like it. But I understood the why of it.”
            “How old were you?”
            “See? You were old enough to know why and who you were. Jonathon isn’t.”
            He could see her point but he knew they were running out of time. Just as that thought crossed his mind his phone rang and with dread he answered.
            She didn’t know what was being said or who was on the other end of the call but she could tell it was good news. Well that’s good. At least someone was getting some good news tonight. Too bad it wasn’t her.
            “That was Bruno,” he said when he hung up.
            The fact that it was Bruno and Lance was smiling ear to ear didn’t bode well for her.
            “I’m not sure how to tell you this but neither of us needs to run anymore.”
            “Care to explain?”
            “I'm sorry, well, or maybe not, to tell you that Jonathon died tonight. And from what Bruno just told me, Jonathon never got around to changing his will, and you now own everything...lock, stock and henchmen. You’re now the boss. Lance Becker, at your service,” he said with a bow.
            She stared dumbfounded at the man who’d made her life a living hell for the last few months who was now giving her the news that would free her...if she could only believe.
Linda felt a little guilty that all she felt right now was that this had to be a joke. No more hotels? No more running, changing her name? She could go back to being who she truly was? If true, this had turned out to be the happiest, merriest Christmas she’d ever spent.          
Could it be possible that her wish had come true this season? Oh, not that Jonathon would die, but to be free of his controlling, abusive behaviour without having to give up her son?
Her first order of business was to believe it. Second? To head for home and see to the arrangements for Jonathon’s burial. Then, she had some firing to do. Bruno gave her the creeps, and Lance, well Lance deserved to be set free of the life he’d led under Jonathon’s thumb. 
She now realized that if Lance had truly wanted to find her and harm her, he would've long before she'd made it this far. Maybe, as payback for all he had done for her, she’d ask Lance to stay on at the James’ house? After all, she’d need to have someone overseeing the place until little Jonnie was old enough to take over his father’s heritage. And what was her plan for herself? 
Well, her plan was to come back to Headingley, to happily and contentedly be Linda James, widow, and mother of Jonathon James, Jr.

The End

In keeping with the spirit of the season I chose to end ‘The Christmas Stranger’ on a good note.
Merry Christmas!
May Stephens

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Christmas Stranger - Part Six

She had the small town bad habit of leaving her back door unlocked which made getting in the house easier than he thought it would be. In a matter of minutes he was hiding in a dark alcove off the kitchen, listening to Lucy and Linda’s goodbyes. This was running so smoothly he could hardly believe it.
            Cooing and gurgling to the baby, she flicked on the light and walked into the kitchen totally oblivious to Lance’s presence. Putting Jonathon in his baby seat - then turning her kettle on - all the while telling the baby how much she’d missed him the night before.
“We’re never going back to that life again. I promise to keep you safe, little Jon.” She wasn’t happy to be packing to leave town before dawn. There were times, like now, when she wondered if she was being selfish dragging Jonathon away from his father. What kind of life had she set him up for, never able to settle in one place for long? What kind of life was that for a little boy?
He knew the moment she’d spotted him. Her spine went rigid and in one move she had one hand on the baby seat huddling in the corner with Jonathon behind her, her other hand on the hot kettle. “You’ll have to kill me to get to him,” she said as she spun around and faced him.
When a line like that made him feel like a shit-heel, it probably was time for a new line of work, he thought, unable to look into those eyes staring back at him with such desperation and not have a flashback into his own childhood.
In that moment, Lance was eight years old again waiting for the beating his father was about to lay on him for what would be the last time before his mother pushed Lance behind her and took the beating that was meant for him.
It was one of many she’d taken, but that night was different for after his father had drifted off in a drunken stupor, she’d taken Lance, never to return to that world again. The years spent on the run had been financially tough, but he had to hand it to his mother...not once did she consider going back.
When Lance turned sixteen and refused to run anymore, his mother swore a promise from him that he’d never allow himself to treat a woman that way. So it was very disconcerting to see that fear in Linda’s eyes and know it was fear of him.
 Correction. That was the look of fear from living the same life his mother and others like her had. And that was what had been nagging him all along. His instincts never steered him wrong and he was sure they weren’t about to start now.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Christmas Stranger - Part Five

His boss wouldn’t care that Lance sat in the cold from dawn to dusk, fearing the exhaust from his car would give him away while he watched and waited for Ethel/Linda to leave. Although his boss would be glad to hear that Lance, keeping a safe distance so as not to spook her on the lengthy drive, had the boy’s car seat in sight.
His instructions (after being assured how patient his boss had been up to now) as of an hour ago, were to get the boy tonight using whatever means necessary. This job could end none too soon to suit Lance. Then maybe he’d retire. Yeah, he thought, like the boss would allow that.
She stopped in front of a brightly decorated house, not the one he’d followed her from this morning, and parked at the roadside with him a few doors down. If anyone was watching they’d see a diehard runner in a black jogging suit out for a winter evening run.
He jogged by in time to see her step out carrying Jonathon, along with so much baby paraphernalia it was a wonder she didn’t tip over sideways into a freshly- built snow bank. Finally, his luck was turning around. That luck took a quick nosedive when it registered somewhere that although that was definitely Linda’s car he’d been following, the woman who now stepped into the light of the porch lamp was not Linda James.
“Son of a,” he said to himself while a whirlwind of questions ran through his head. Now what was he to do? Was the baby in her arms even Jonathon or had he been following the wrong woman? Had she known it was him following her this morning? Was this a set-up to throw him off her trail?
“Good night, Lucy. Tell Ethel that Jonathon can stay overnight with me anytime. And congratulate her on winning the contest when she gets back.”
“I will. Thanks again, Maggie, for everything.”
Under the cloak of darkness their voices carried, assuring him that he had at last found Jonathon. “And where baby is, Mom won’t be too far behind,” he said into the silent night, as he crossed the street and sauntered back to his car, giving her a couple of blocks lead before turning his lights on to follow.
As she parked in Linda’s driveway he cut his engine and lights in front of her neighbour’s house, and hunched down. Scoping out the quiet surroundings he spotted the path that ran between the two houses; a hedgerow-lined path that would keep him hidden from view and led right to her basement window.
Perfect, this job was going to be simple after all, he thought, as with gloved hands he opened his car door after a quick look around. His senses now humming as they always were when he knew he was close to his prey, as hidden from view, he watched Linda pull into her driveway.
One day he would look back and applaud her for the car switch that had almost – almost - thrown him off her trail, but for now, he was tired of playing her cat and mouse games. Tonight the jig was up.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Christmas Stranger - Part Four

“And the winner is...Ethel Hathaway. Ethel, if you’re listening, head on down to the station to pick up your winnings.”
            She had to have heard that wrong. It couldn’t be her. There must be another Ethel Hathaway, one who’d entered the contest.
“Well, they say everyone has a double, but I never thought it would happen to me,” said Ethel. Then she saw the look on Lucy’s face and knew. Ethel never thought it could happen in her lifetime but Lucy was so excited she couldn’t speak.
“Lucy?” Drawing her name out slowly didn’t produce the effect Ethel had hoped for.
“Well,” she laughed, “you weren’t going to enter. So I did it for you.”
Lucy knew five thousand dollars wouldn’t go very far in these times, but winning it certainly could ease the tension Ethel was feeling as Christmas approached. She saw the struggle Ethel went through each day, the stress that never seemed to be far away and wanted to make life a little easier for her and her beautiful little boy.
“Why would you do such a thing? There are people out there that need that money more than I do, Lucy. I have a job, I can provide for Jonathon,” she said angrily.
The tension Lucy had intended to ease mounted higher. She was crestfallen that Ethel wasn’t happier, indeed not happy at all by the look of things, about this.
The hurt and bewildered look on Lucy’s face was enough to make Ethel feel she should have changed her name to Scrooge but before she could attempt to smooth things over with her friend she needed to get her panic under control.
In reality, she knew there was no way for anyone who heard the broadcast to know she wasn’t who she said she was...with the exception of one...and hoped that ‘he’ hadn’t been tuned in to hear her name called. And it would be enough money to get her and Jonathon safely away, and, money that couldn’t be traced.
            “Thank you,” she said through the forced smile she was far from feeling. “It just caught me off guard. Thank you for being such a generous spirit.” And with that, and the hug she gave Lucy, her friend was back to being herself again.
            “So, what will you do with it?” Lucy asked.
            “I don’t have a clue. I suppose I should figure out when I can make it in to pick up the cheque before I try to decide what to do with it.”
Ethel was never sure when someone would come along who’d be able to out her for a fraud. If they wanted proof she was Ethel Hathaway, she had it, but she hoped they didn’t scrutinize hers too closely. The friend of a friend who’d doctored the new cards for her assured her he was the best not in the business. Maybe that’s what worried her...
            Lucy broke into her thoughts once again. “You have to pick it up by seven o’clock tonight...or you forfeit it. That was in the contest rules.”
            “I have to pick Jonathon up from the sitter. I can’t possibly make it into the city by seven.” Well, maybe it was just as well. Maybe that was a roadblock put in front of her by God so the money could be passed on to someone more deserving.
            “Why don’t I go pick Jonathon up and take him back to my place? You can come and get him whenever you get back. No rush.”
“No. I can’t let you. You don’t have a car seat for him.”
“Then I’ll take your car, and you can take mine. I just filled mine this morning, so you have enough gas to get there and back,” Lucy said as she watched the wheels of doubt turning in Ethel’s head. “You’re just looking for excuses. Now, quit over-thinking and just go before you run out of time!”
“Are you sure? Being around an infant can be very trying when you’re not used to it. What if he runs out of diapers? Or formula?”
 “I’ve seen you pack his diaper bag. I’d stake my life that you have enough diapers, formula and anything else he might need for a week packed in there,” said a now exasperated Lucy, “Am I right?” How could one person have so much stress over winning?
“Okay,” she laughed, getting into the spirit of things, “You’re right. And I know he’ll be in good hands with you. I’ll just give Maggie a call to let her know you’ll be picking Jonathon up, and then I’ll be on my way.”
Lucy had said they're goodbyes to their boss, Eddie, and was dressed and ready to leave before Ethel had even hung up from her phone call to Maggie.
“Give my little guy a hug and kiss for me. Tell him Mommy’ll be home as soon as I can,” she said as they switched car keys and headed off on their evening’s journeys. “And Lucy?” she said from across the parking lot, “I don’t know if I can ever thank you enough for being the friend you are to me.” She would miss this town, but she was going to miss Lucy most of all.