Chapter 4

© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell

Karen arrived home earlier than she’d been in months. The day’s events had taken their toll on her and exhaustion pulled at both her mind and her body. She carried her bag into her bedroom, deciding against dinner in favor of a hot bubble bath. She’d worry about eating later.

As she ran hot water in the oversized tub- a luxury she thanked herself for every time she used it- she added some lavender scented bubbles. While the hot water ran, she retrieved a small china plate from her kitchen and added two vanilla butter creams- one of very few indulgences she permitted herself. She then lit some candles and lowered herself thankfully into the chin-high bubbles.

Karen felt the tension slowly seeping out of weary muscles and her thoughts turned again to the woman she couldn’t seem to get out of her mind. Both Tom and Jack had dismissed the topic, turning away her questions firmly, and increasingly defensively. There was obviously more to this than they wanted to say and frankly, Karen didn’t know what to think. In any event, did she really believe Tom capable of murder?

Fourteen years earlier, Tom Delaney had established himself as a conservative AM radio talk-show host in a world that looked more and more often to others for advice. He made his living doling out advice to exhausted housewives and disgruntled souls who longed for someone to tell them what to do. It was true however, that once or twice a year, he mobilized the public to make some difference in their day-in day-out lives. He had started a Thanksgiving meal program that every year gained momentum. He also supported a Christmas toy drive for underprivileged children. Tom and Ellen were often photographed with high-profile conservative leaders that came through town for fund-raisers. His marriage with Ellen seemed solid enough. The man was a consummate politician, it was true, but he didn’t seem capable of committing the kind of violence that had ended that woman’s life.

That woman… Elizabeth James. After a quick search at work, it hadn’t been hard to figure out how Tom had been connected to her. Apparently, she had made a lot of money in construction with her late husband and was a rather generous contributor to Tom’s campaign. But Karen doubted that their relationship had been as quiet as they might like to believe. It was hard to hide something like that.

Had Ellen known of Tom’s relationship with the late Elizabeth James? Had she been the one behind Tom’s attempt to break things off, if that was indeed what Tom had been doing? That’s what it had sounded like, she thought expelling a breath of frustration. Karen hated not knowing. Her job was to know and to assess the risks and that was impossible to do without some form of candor on behalf of her candidate… The only fact that Karen knew with any certainty was that she knew nothing right now. Elizabeth’s death might have had nothing to do with Tom at all. But why did she have no inner peace with that assertion?

Karen followed her instincts in almost every situation she faced- it had been, at times, her greatest asset. And her instincts were screaming that she had better get some answers immediately. With the adrenaline kicking in again, Karen drained the tub and dressed comfortably for an evening spent in research. She wore a pink velour jogging suit over a white tank top, and left her feet bare. The hardwood floors were comfortably cool next to her warm feet. Walking into her living room/office, Karen sat down at the desk. She got online and immediately put Elizabeth’s name through several search engines, much as she had done earlier in the day.

Hmmm… thought Karen. Elizabeth and her husband contributed to a great number of campaigns. There were names from both sides of the political aisle on the lists- almost all of them victors in their race of choice. They had been a well-connected and politically savvy couple. But that didn’t necessarily mean anything… or it could mean everything.

Karen’s cell phone vibrated suddenly, indicating an incoming call. She didn’t recognize the number, but answered anyway.

“Karen Cook,” she said.

An unfamiliar male voice replied, “Good evening, Miss Cook. This is Detective Transom with the Denver Police Department. You sent me an e-mail earlier this afternoon?”

Karen turned her swivel chair away from the computer, and leaned back.

“Of course, Detective. How are you this evening?”

“Fine, fine thank you. I’m rather interested in the information that you alluded to earlier today and I was wondering if you might be available yet this evening to meet with me.”

Karen thought for a minute, faintly irritated. “Couldn’t we just conduct this over the phone? It would certainly alleviate any hassle for you.” And then I wouldn’t have to get all dressed up again.

“I usually like to do this in person.”

She mentally sighed and replied, “Alright then… what did you have in mind?”

“Well, if you’re home now, I could just come by there. If you’re already out, we can arrange to meet somewhere else.”

“I’m home, Detective. Let’s meet here.”

She gave him her address and they agreed to meet in an hour. While she waited, Karen continued her search but came up with nothing that led her to any sense of discovery.

Barely twenty minutes after the phone call, Karen heard a knock on her back door. That’s strange, she thought. Why wouldn’t he come to the front? Then Karen realized that she hadn’t heard a car pull up.

Wariness caused tension in her back. Something was not right. Karen’s eyes narrowed in thought as she stepped into the darkened kitchen. Then the door knob began to jiggle violently- whoever prowled out in the darkness was trying to get in. Furious shudders shook the frame when it became apparent that Karen had no intention of answering the summons.

Her hands began to shake as with every kick, the heavy wooden door sounded like it was splintering. Karen felt paralyzed, as if her thoughts and her body were frozen with some primeval fear. Then panic or adrenaline kicked in. Karen began pushing her kitchen table in front of the door. She threw chairs against the door- on and under the table. What else was there? She looked around the kitchen jerkily, looking for something else with which she could barricade the door. The intruder must have realized what she was doing because the kicking suddenly stopped.

Karen stood deathly still, her breathing and the thud of her heartbeat the only sounds as she fell back against the wall. She saw a shadow pass by the kitchen window that overlooked her yard. Could he see inside? Was he leaving? She grabbed a knife off of the counter and tried to follow the shadow in the night with her eyes.

The silence was broken by the sound of glass shattering. A window broke on the side of her bungalow in the living room where she had been only a moment ago. Karen ran back in and flipped off the light switch- she couldn’t see out, but he could surely see in and she wasn’t about to give up any advantage. Moonlight filtered in, and Karen’s eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness. Where was he? Every nerve ending in Karen’s body tingled and burned as she strained to see or hear where her home was being invaded. She dared not exit her home, fearing what lay waiting in the darkness.

Slowly she reached behind her and felt for the cell phone she had left on the computer stand. Locating the phone, she flipped it open with one hand while her other held the knife at chest level. Clumsily, she tried to dial 911. Suddenly, a large shape hurtled through the window and landed rolling with a grunt on her rug. The rug slid a few feet, and the shadowy assailant was launched into the wooden legs of the couch, causing a sickening thud as his skull made contact. Slowly, the presence rose. He moved with awkward jerks, unable to locate her in the semi-darkness.

Karen screamed and slashed at the figure with the knife as she stumbled backwards into her bedroom. She slammed and locked the door seconds before the man had flown at her.

Oh, God, please,” she prayed. She had to get out of there. The man in her home had been bigger than her and his face, shapeless and black, was hidden by a ski mask. He pounded on the door, pushing as if he could plow his way through it. The door jostled on its hinges under the onslaught.

Karen looked around and realized her only way out was through the window. She crossed the room quickly, not wasting any time. She still held both the knife and her phone, and she dropped them to raise the wooden pane. Behind her, the door was beginning to give way under the repeated assault. She awkwardly severed the window screen with the knife before pocketing her phone and grabbing the purse that she had left under the window only hours before. Loosening the sash, she released the drapes which she hoped would cover her exit for a few moments at least.

She lowered herself down to the ground mere seconds before the intruder succeeded in breaking her door in. At that moment, she heard a walkie-talkie go off in her bedroom. While she couldn’t understand the jargon, she understood one thing: it was the type carried by police officers.

Karen heard him throwing things as he searched the room violently, throwing open the door to her closet. Her neighbor had a gigantic lilac bush that had always lent its scent in the night hours. It seemed surreal- to be crouching outside her own bedroom window listening to its destruction while she breathed in one of her favorite aromas in the world.

Shaking herself out of her reverie, she began to half walk-half crawl out of her crouch toward the street. Once she reached the corner, she ran around the front of her house and fumbled with the keys in her purse. Her hands shook in panic and fear as she tried to get the key in the doorlock of her car. The thumps and crashes had ceased in the house and she had a feeling she was close to being discovered. He had to have figured out by now that she was not in the house. The question was, which way would he go?

Finally, she succeeded in gaining entrance to her car. She slid into the driver’s seat, slamming and locking the doors. Fumbling again, she managed to insert the key in the ignition and threw it into reverse, the tires squealing as she backed into the narrow street. She saw her front door open, and while it contained only shadows, she knew he stared out at her. Fighting a stab of fear, Karen gunned the engine and sped away from her home and into the night.

HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Kendra Cornell if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.

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