Chapter 34

© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell

“Steve, come on in. How much time do you think we have?”

“I don’t know. I found out what was happening, and came straight here.”

“What did Larry do- call a meeting?”

“Actually, yes. They want to meet tomorrow night to discuss this with you. Well, by discuss, I mean throw you out. By rights, you have the right to present your case and then we take a vote. I’d say just about half are buying what Larry had to say. But the clincher came when he asked Trudy to join us. She said the woman she ‘caught’ you with the other morning looked just like the woman they were showing all over the news.”

“But you don’t think she had called the police yet?”

“No, but by the end of the meeting, there were strong suggestions that this wasn’t something we could deal with on our own. They all thought that the police should be brought in. Which leaves you very little time to figure out what to do next.”

Glenda and Karen had joined the pair, and had picked up the gist of the conversation.

Karen piped up first, “Paul, I have to leave. I can’t stay here if it’s going to get you in trouble professionally. It’s already bad enough that you could get in trouble legally for letting me stay here.”

Paul looked worried and confused. Steve remained silent. But Glenda laid gentle hands on both Paul’s and Karen’s shoulders.

“So far, nothing has changed. If Karen believes the police to be involved in this effort to bring her in falsely, then she still isn’t safe there.” She thought for a moment… “Can we bring her to the church?”

“That’s the first place they’re going to look. She’d be caught for sure.”

“Look, Steve, it’s in God’s hands now. I believe that He brought Karen here for a reason. And even if they find her there, it’s out of our hands.”

Steve remained silent, and then said, “She can come to our house.”

“No, Steve,” Paul answered. “We have enough people involved here. I appreciate you coming here to warn us, but you’ve risked your neck too much already. Get out of here. Go home. I’ll call you when I know more.”

Swallowing, Steve nodded, and wished them all the best.

“Alright, Karen. I’ll take you over there, and let you in. When you’re inside, go into the basement. There’s a supply closet with a hidden loft. Climb up somehow and hunker down. I don’t know how long this will be, but I’ll be there when it’s safe to come back. Okay?”

Karen agreed, gulping down her nervousness. Her heart had begun to race. It was the same feeling she had had during her escape a few days ago. This time though, she wasn’t alone. And the thought brought unexpected tears to her eyes. Impulsively, Karen embraced Glenda.

“Thank you… for everything you’ve done for me. No one has ever- I mean, I just…”

Glenda hugged her shoulders and whispered, “I know. Now get out of here.”

Paul took Karen’s hand and they left the house under cover of darkness. Running across the street quickly, Paul unlocked the church doors and opened them, stepping back to allow her entrance.

Karen turned to him, “Paul, I…”

Paul looked at her in the shadows, her outline barely visible. His heart thudded inside his chest, and it wasn’t only because of the rising panic of the situation. Her hand was still curled inside his own.

He had no idea how she felt about him, and this definitely wasn’t the time to start worrying about it. At some level, he understood what she was trying to say but didn’t know how to respond. Instead of trying to find words that would be meaningless in this time and place, he squeezed her hand.

“You’d better get inside.”

She nodded her head in the dark and was lost in the shadowy interior of the church. Quickly, Paul closed and locked the door behind her and turned back to his home. His mouth was dry, so he uttered a silent prayer, ,i>Lord, I don’t know yet why you brought that woman into my life. But I pray that you would protect her. Send your angels to watch over her. Guard her and keep her in your hand.If it be Your will. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

He crossed the street in the darkness and entered his front door. Paul nodded to his mother, signaling that the deed was done. Closing the door behind him, he sent an ongoing prayer heavenward.

But outside, parked in the shadows of the gigantic, old trees, Karen’s attacker sat alone, having taken in the entire thing. Adrenaline and anticipation pulsated under his skin.

Now I’ve got her, he thought. She’s alone, and there’s nowhere else for her to go.

Inside the church, Karen waited for a few moments, willing her eyes to adjust to the gloom. Faint light from an exit sign was the only illumination, and she dared not turn on any lights. She had no idea if the police were out there waiting for her or not. And she didn’t want to alert anyone to her presence. Slowly and quietly, Karen made her way down to the basement.

Here, it was even darker. There was almost no light to outline anything, and Karen bumped into chairs and tables, bruising her legs. Hadn’t there been a nightlight down here before?

How am I going to find that stupid closet?, she asked herself. Panic impaired her ability to think, and made her impulsive. She knocked into another chair, tumbling over it onto the floor. She stood quickly, the clatter deafening in the dead silence.

Stopping, Karen felt with outstretched arms for the wall. She found it only inches to her right, and placing both palms on it to orient herself, she slowly sank down to the floor and rested her back against the wall.

Breathe Karen. Think! Last time you were here, did you notice a closet? Did you see anything like that?

Biting her lip, Karen found herself doing something she had never done in her life. It felt awkward and uncomfortable, like stretching muscles that had long been dormant.

“God, I don’t know if you’re even up there. Um… Paul talks about you like you care. I guess what I want to say is, if you’re there and you actually know who I am, could you please help me? I’m blind down here, and I can’t see two feet in front of my face. And I don’t really know what else to do. Thanks, I guess.”

Karen ended her prayer there. She felt no different than she had before. There was no life altering light from heaven. Nothing looked any different in the pitch black interior of the basement. But as Karen sat in the stillness, an inaudible voice seemed to speak to her from somewhere deep inside. Get up and move!

Karen rose and felt along the walls further into the basement than the way she had come. Her hands felt an indentation in the wall, the surface had changed from the textured wallpaper to a smooth wooden expanse. Then her fingers felt a small metal grate at about eye level. A door! I found the door!

Excitedly, Karen felt lower for a doorknob. The cold handle turned easily in her hand and she stepped off the carpet onto concrete. Closing the door softly behind her, Karen felt along the walls for a switch. A heavy, old-fashioned metal plate with a thick switch flipped up and Karen squinted at the sudden light. She knew that the light shone out of the ventilation grate in the door, but she needed to see if she had indeed found the supply closet.

The closet smelled of peppermint and concrete- odd but not an unpleasant combination at all. Karen looked up at the ceiling, searching for the loft that Paul had spoken of earlier. A series of wooden shelves held industrial sized bottles of glue, plastic jugs of drink mixes, and an assortment of old craft supplies. The tallest shelf was a little higher than eye-level- Karen estimated it sat at about six feet.

Rising up on her toes, Karen realized that there was a depression behind the jugs. Could that be it?

Karen carefully stepped on the lowest shelf, her feet searching for a firm foundation. Slowly, with muscles aching in protest, she climbed up the wooden shelves until she could navigate between bottles. There was a platform about six feet deep and four feet wide. Three shelves on a hinge were pushed back against the wall. Testing the strength of the platform, she found it creaked, but didn’t threaten to give way under her weight. Karen pulled the shelves away from the wall, and they swung outward, forming a solid wall of shelving and effectively hiding her away. Karen shared the space only with an old sewing machine, covered in a dusty green oilcloth.

Exhaling, Karen smiled with satisfaction looking around her private hideaway. Then her eyes widened in panic and realization. She could see around the closet! Karen had left the light on.

With frustration and anger, Karen carefully climbed down the shelving again. Switching off the light, she realized that she was going to have to navigate the steps in the dark. Holding her hands out in front of her as guides, she felt the shelving. One foot rose and searched again for a foothold.

Her going was slow, and she sustained more than a few bumps and bruises as her knees banged into metal boxes. Knocking over one of the plastic jugs on the top shelf, Karen climbed onto the platform and sank down into the dust. She righted the large container and swung the hinged shelving back into place.

For the next few painstaking minutes, Karen knew all she could do was wait.

The man wore black again, a mask covering his features. He entered the church the same way she had, breaking the glass easily and as quietly as he could. Stepping into the silent interior, he stopped and listened, his ears straining for any sound that might guide him to his prey. He heard nothing.

He stood on a landing between a hallway leading down the stairs and a double wide set of stairs leading up to a large open room. Alright, Karen. Which way did you go?

Outside, the night was suddenly lit with flashing red and blue lights. Quietly, he murmured, “Good going guys. Keep them busy until I can find her and get her out of here.”

He decided to go down the stairs, knowing that there were probably more places to hide. The darkness enveloped him. He felt as though it was alive- pulsing inside of him. It gave him energy. He inhaled it as though it would give him life. His pulse raced with nervousness and excitement. His mouth was dry. Finally… finally he was close to everything he had always wanted.

He crept inside what felt like a large room. The darkness seemed to expand. He dared not turn any lights on. He didn’t want the police to come here any more than she likely did at the moment. Of course, there was also the element of surprise. He didn’t want to alert her either.

He headed to his left, hitting a chair that clattered with a metallic clank onto the ground. He uttered a soft curse, moved around it and continued on. He found a doorway, and smelled the lingering odor of natural gas and spices- nothing he recognized. Must be the kitchen, he thought.

Moving into the space, his boots felt carpet change to linoleum. He heard the faint hum of a refrigerator in front of him. Frustration rose inside him. He reached along his belt to where he had attached a flashlight, but it was no longer there. Cursing, he knew it had been lost somewhere. He felt blind and helpless, neither sensation enjoyable. Tracing his hands along the wall, he found the light switch. Did he dare, for just a moment? There was no other way to orient himself.

Quickly and decisively, he flipped the switch. A medium sized kitchen was immediately illuminated- a large center island housed the sink, but was otherwise clear. Across the room, he smiled when he saw the item that would make his life much easier. Almost as quickly as the light had changed, it was doused. He headed across what he now knew was open space and felt along the counter for the black rubber flashlight.

He flipped it on quickly. It cast enough light for him to see, but he knew it wouldn’t be seen from outside. Maybe the fates are smiling on me tonight. The thought gave him confidence and bolstered his determination. There was a small pantry which he searched quickly. Nothing there…

Moving back out into the great room, he swung the beam across a series of circular tables surrounded by metal folding chairs. Along one wall, long straight tables were set up, chairless and empty. He knelt down and swung the beam under the table nearest to him. She could be anywhere and he didn’t want to miss her… not this time.

Along the far wall, there was a wooden door. Quietly, he crept across the room his footfalls silent on the carpet. Turning the ancient metal knob in his hand, he opened the door to a small closet that smelled of peppermint and concrete… Nothing met his eye, and he turned to go when a small sound met his ears. He froze and turned slowly. That was when he noticed the dusty footprints across the floor and up the shelving. Smiling, he closed the door softly and turned off the flashlight. He walked a few steps and silently pulled out a chair. Seating himself, he sat in the darkness and stared through the black to the door. Every nerve in his body tingled in anticipation. Everything he’d worked for built to the culmination, and he was determined to enjoy every second.

She’s in there. And soon, she’s going to be mine.

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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