Reginald Stanley James was not nearly as indifferent as he appeared.
He knew very well that most believed, even though they would never admit it to his face, that he was a truly horrible person. He could see it in their eyes and he was very good at reading people, which was, of course, one of the many reasons he was so damn good at his job. Every now and then, someone would ask him, usually in horror or misery after one of his many victories, how he could such things to such poor “victims.” He would usually shrug and say, “So that my kids can eat” as if he was utterly incapable of finding a less cruel job with his talent and skills. That was where the belief of his indifference came.
After all, a lawyer of his level could easily find other work and still make a six-figure salary. They thought he simply didn’t care but, if he were to be perfectly honest with anyone other than himself, he would tell them that he both genuinely enjoyed what he was doing and had no delusions about it.
He enjoyed the way the cavemen cried when their livelihoods were flushed down the toilet and he loved the way his clients, all-powerful men and women of the world, relied on him and him alone, to survive. He was the king, his clients the lords and the cavemen were the lowly, unwashed peasants. The best part was that for all his supposed harm and damage to the cavemen in the wake of his greatness, he had never once broken the law. He was so far from a “bad” person that he was, in fact, one of the most sought-after lawyers in the United States of America.
For the last thirty years, he had worked for Julian Bartlett and his family, committed no crime whatsoever and made himself a multimillionaire. Life couldn’t be better.
Stanley, the name Reginald Stanley James preferred to go by from the very few people on Earth he considered friends, stepped out of the Bartlett Mansion in the early morning light and looked out at the snow-covered white world around him with deep contentment. He was a skinny, boring-looking man, barely topping five feet, with straight dark hair combed in the same style his mother had approved since early childhood, and wearing a very expensive, tailor-made, black suit with a matching black winter jacket over it.
His black 2013 AUDI A4 had been brought of the garage by the Bartletts’ maid and was ready and waiting for him. He slipped inside, turned it on, and drove casually toward the Bartlett Mansion’s property line without a worry in the world. As he went, his mind drifted to that traitor and his expression darkened considerably.
Stanley had spent the night going over a long plan on how to destroy that filthy Roosevelt to Julian’s daughters. The boy was a traitor to his family, to his class, to America, and all decent human beings. The little bastard was squandering his wealth with idealistic foolhardiness for the laziest of the lazily low. Not just lazy whites, which could be acceptable if necessary, but blacks and other despicable minorities as well.
Nothing on Earth would give Stanley more joy than sending such garbage back to the California trailer park he came from.
His lawyer too. Another goddamned white knight fresh out of Harvard, all pretty and sexy, ready to change the world. Lawyers who thought that way offended him more than an assault on his wife and children would have. He hated her even more than he hated Ethan Bartlett and he was going to do his absolute best to destroy her career.
Ethan Bartlett would enter the court a millionaire and he would leave a pauper. His lawyer would enter with a promising career and leave a pariah. The traitor could go back to California and work at Taco Bell or McDonald’s and the slut could go give hand jobs for quarters out on the streets of NYC.
To do such a thing would fail to create any form of guilt or shame just as it had for all the other lives he had “corrected” over the years. Stanley had broken no laws, he was completely in the right, and he was as innocent as a baby and as righteous as Jesus.
The knowledge brought up a wide, satisfied smile on his face and a warm, happy feeling in his heart.
He left the property line, turned west down Edmonton, and drove casually through the covered Nathaniel Bridge. He was then inside the midtown area but he didn’t notice it much. It was unworthy of his notice, for one, but also because the town was improving and the people there did not like him. They didn’t approve of Julian’s good work and Stanley’s involvement in it and for those reasons alone, they did not deserve a better town.
He turned north up Worthington but even before he completed the turn he saw something blocking him just past Charlotte Rd.
There had been some construction yesterday on the west side of the road and that hadn’t much changed but earlier that morning, a couple of cars somehow managed to crash into each other on the other side of the street. One was a green and brown station wagon from the early 1990s, another a 1980s Ford, and both were flashing their emergency lights.
Stanley frowned as he came to a stop behind them. He would have thought two drivers who had been driving for two and three decades respectively might have learned to maneuver around construction properly. He frowned, lowered his window, and was about to call out something to one of the constructor workers nearby when a man in a red, black and yellowed jacket approached him.
He repelled from the sight of the man in horror, the horrible dream that he had never forgotten gurgling back up into his mind like bile.
Thirty years ago, around the time he just started working for Julian, he went to sleep one night and dreamt of a hanging. In the dream, he was in the French Revolution, which for some reason involved a rope instead of a guillotine, and all-around a nobleman with his head covered in a bag were dirty peasants pulling the rope that hanged the man from a tree. He was hanged high, thirty to fifty feet, his legs dangling below him with his hands tied behind his back.
In the dream, helpless to stop himself and peculiarly desperate to see who the nobleman was, he moved through the crowd, climbed up the tree, and removed the bag.
The nobleman was himself.
He had awakened in a cold sweat, his pajamas soaked and his wife very unhappy, but that wasn’t the end of the nightmare. Every now and then, usually right after a job for Julian, that dream returned with some differences but always with a few things that never changed.
There was always a tree, always a hanging, always an upperclassman and peasants, though the era sometimes changed, always him as the nobleman, and four distinct people. One was the executioner, a man with a beard who carried a rope and had a hook in or as his hand, two girls watching from behind a tree and another man who was the ringleader.
The ringleader who always wore a red, black and yellow-checkered jacket.
The big man wearing a terribly similar jacket in the real world approached, his hands covered in black gloves, his legs wearing brown-colored cargo-style snow pants, and black boots over his feet. Those boots made crunches in the snow as he approached and then, very gently, the man put a hand on Stanley’s car. Then, almost as gently, he leaned over and revealed himself to have a handsome, youngish face wearing a hunting cap with fuzzy flaps over his ears that matched his jacket.
He looked into Stanley’s eyes with an emotion Stanley had not seen in many years.
It was contempt.
“Looks like you’re going to have to turn around,” said the man simply. His voice was both soft and cold at the same time.
“Do you—” Stanley looked into his face uncertainly. For the first time in a long time, he didn’t know what someone was thinking. “Do you know who I am?”
“I do, Mr. Reginald Stanley James, Lawyer Extraordinaire,” he replied simply. “I just don’t care.”
You know what, a long-ago voice whispered in his head, Someday, you’re going meet someone who doesn’t care about laws or lawyers and you’re going to be very sorry. His brother had said that to his face, the last thing he ever said to him when Stanley managed to get his and his sister’s part of their father’s inheritance. It was barely over thirty thousand dollars but it needed to be done. The fools would have just squandered it anyway and, of course, it wasn’t as if it was illegal or anything.
Marshall James was a car dealer in Texas still and while Stanley still laughed at his memory and the vain threats that came from time to time from angry other losers in court, they suddenly did seem so funny anymore. Suddenly, and for the very first time, Stanley saw that speech not as a threat but as an earnest warning.
It suddenly made sense.
Stanley swallowed. “I need to get—”
“It’s going to be a fuck long time, sir,” said the man in a voice that had become stranger somehow. He sneer-smiled at him for a second before his face turned cold again. “You will need to detour out of here.”
“What about the tow—”
“Hours. There’s a mad wreck out of town somewhere and it’ll be at least several hours or so I’m told.” He shrugged. “Take east on Charlotte, head north up Kurtwood, go under the freeway, take Went Drive west, then go south on Worthington, and then merge on the freeway.” He shrugged in a mocking way. “A big shot New York City lawyer like you should have no problem finding his way out of a Podunk like this, am I right?”
Stanley opened his mouth to speak but hesitated. The five construction workers there were staring at him coldly, one of them holding a cement saw. He opened his mouth to speak once more.
He jumped as someone banged on his hood and then looked over through the windshield to see a woman in front of the station wagon. She was rather pretty, blond-haired, blue-eyed, and wearing tight blue pants and a dark gray fur-lined jacket. “The fuck you doing?” she asked. “It’s going to be hours? Don’t you have a victim waiting to get ass fucked by you in a New York City court somewhere?”
Stanley leaned back, deeply shocked. No one had ever talked to him like in his life. Also, that woman looked kind of familiar. Where had he seen her before? “Do I know—”
“Hey, Reggie,” said the checkered jacketed man. He looked up at him. “I’d fuck off if I were you.”
Stanley swallowed a lump down his throat and then backed his vehicle a bit, closed his window, and turned his car around. As he headed back toward Charlotte St, he looked into his rearview mirror and saw the woman crossing her arms and glaring at him. The construction workers did not go back to go work and, along with the checkered jacketed man, just stared at him.
At least, the checkered jacketed man had not lied to him. He knew the town pretty well as he had memorized its streets for countless cases and that really was the closest detour to the Freeway.
Stanley turned east down Charlotte, not liking the way his discomfort wasn’t fading and decided it might be better to go farther ahead and head north up Wicker St instead. Then he could just take Went Dr east to the nearest town and get on the freeway there.
As he neared the Kurtwood Rd, however, two large old trucks, one red, one blue, left their parking spots off the road under the white-coated trees, moved across the street and stopped in such a way as to completely bar his way. A second later, two large fisherman-type of men in heavy jackets stepped out of their trucks and faced him.
Behind them was the bridge of Orange River, a stretch of uninhabited road along the Engelstad, and his turn up north to freedom.
Stanley opened the window, leaned out, and said, “Can you move please?”
They did not even blink in response. The two young men, maybe thirty if that, stood there like two statues.
Stanley leaned back into his car and felt wholly disturbed. He knew he didn’t dare call the police, not after he helped ruin Captain Simms’s brother and had helped sue, and win, the police force on three separate occasions.
He turned north up Kurtwood, passing Walton Park on his left, which was completely empty, and then continued cautiously onward. Past Walton Park were a series of trees along his left and abandoned houses along his right. He started to feel better but he did not feel comfortable and wouldn’t so long as he was in this city.
That was it, he decided. The final straw. No more. No more ever. It was too much for him. If Julian’s girls needed him again, it was going to be by phone, by skype, or they would just have to get off their pampered asses and go to New York City and—
He had looked up in his rearview mirror and now saw the two trucks that had blocked his way were following him on both sides of the road.
“Oh no!” he gasped.
Ahead of him, two more old, 1970s model trucks appeared and then stopped facing him on both sides not far from a right turn into a neighborhood of those abandoned houses. He stared, horrified, and then looked around in sudden paranoia.
He saw nobody around, it was just a snow-covered morning, the park was gone, and there no other roads or paths either. He couldn’t even cut through the tree line if he would have dared. He couldn’t understand what—
He heard one of the trucks suddenly accelerate. He looked through his rearview mirror and saw the one on the right, the red one, come flying toward him with its huge, black push bumper on the front.
“No, no, no—”
The car bashed into him, crunching his AUDI’s back end and he suddenly accelerated in fear. He looked up, saw two men had stepped outside of their cars ahead of him and were carrying rifles. They aimed them at his car before he could formulate a thought and opened fire.
He let out a cry as he ducked down, jerked to the right, and shot into the abandoned neighborhood. He looked back, saw them firing, and watched the trucks from behind reach the turn and slow down.
Stanley turned his head forward again and then let out a sudden shriek of shock.
In his panic, he had sped down a cul-de-sac and the end was not a house but an opening between the trees and the woods. He flew through it before he could blink, his left rearview mirror torn off by a tree the same instant, and he slammed his brakes. It was too late though, his car now over icy grass terrain, and he went sliding along it tilting slightly toward the left. As Stanley pumped his breaks in desperation, he saw something that caused his mind to reel with shock.
Wild, real mountains, dressed in snow in a landscape where no such thing should or could exist. Connecticut had hills and mountains, sure, but no Rocky or Appalachian Mountains such as what he was seeing. Even if there were, there sure as hell wouldn’t be anywhere near that close to the ocean line.
Then he saw the falling slope that he was sliding toward.
Stanley screamed, yanked his emergency brake up, but he just continued sliding. “No, no, NOOOO!” He slid across a tree hard enough to break his passenger and back right windows but not directly enough to stop him and he went flying over the edge and fast enough as to fly over it like he had gone over a low angled ramp.
He let out a scream as time seemed to freeze. He saw the snowy mountains, rivers and forests beyond, and through his panic and fear, he realized he was flying off a mountain himself. His AUDI slowly pointed downward and he saw a drop well beyond where the ocean should have been.
He saw hundreds, or maybe thousands, of feet of air below but long before the bottom there was a path built into the mountain and he was flying right toward it. He pressed on his brake in panic, even though his emergency brake was already on and it could do nothing anyway.
Stanley went down at least a hundred feet before he slammed right into that mountain path and lost consciousness.
* * *
As Stanley’s interior darkness faded away, he leaned back up from the emergency airbag. Soon, calmness entered his mind, and he let out a breath of relieved air. “Evidence,” he said. There was evidence of what happened above and as soon as he was in a courtroom, it would all be corrected.
He reached for the door, found it was open, and then a second later an arm grabbed his. He cried out, looked over and saw one of the big men from the truck was holding his arm. The other one cut his seatbelt with a pocketknife and then the first yanked him out of the car and dumped him roughly out the snowy dirt trail.
He landed on his side and cried out in agony from the pain that covered his entire body. He rolled onto his back, looked up into the bright blue morning sky, and saw the hill, forests and trees covered in snow all around and above him along the slope to his right.
“Oh god, where am I—” His words turned into a cry of shock as hands grabbed him, yanked him upward, and shoved him against a rocky wall-like section of slope hard enough to make him cry out. The man who had lifted him up was an older black man wearing a yellow winter jacket from the 1980s era, a black beanie with a yellow fuzzy ball at its end and gray pants.
“Fucking prick crashed into the trail,” said a man’s voice. “If he had gone over it, we wouldn’t have to deal with this.”
“It’s better this way,” said the black man holding him in a bitter voice. “This way we can be sure.”
The man in the checkered jacket moved up beside him. “He would never have survived that fall and even if he did, he’d never find his way back up.”
“This is a dream,” said Stanley and he shut his eyes. He must have blacked out because when he opened them again, there were a dozen more people around him. He recognized several of them instantly. “What’s happening here?” he asked and he tried to step away but his ankle hurt so bad, he couldn’t make a single step and would have fallen if the black man in yellow hadn’t been holding him up. “What is this?”
“You’ll see,” said the checkered jacketed man.
“What does that mean?”
“It means ‘you’ll see,’” the man replied.
Stanley blinked, looked to his left and saw a winding road against the slope at his back. One side was the hill, the other a sheer drop off into what seemed like infinity. The opposite direction was more of the same but with the addition of his AUDI slammed into the ground about five or so feet away. Had the slope been less steep, the car might have leveled out over the path and flown over its edge instead of simply slamming into it.
“What is this?” asked Stanley. “Do you have any idea who I am—” He suddenly saw someone that made his head go dizzy with a shock that he didn’t think he had left.
An old fisherman-type of man with a gray and white beard, light blue eyes, and a heavy gray jacket approached him. He was a large man, built for the job of fisherman and nothing else, his face lined with rage. In his right hand was a large fishing hook, the kind that had a wood handle, and in his left hand had the thing that completed his living nightmare.
It was the coil of rope with the noose on one end.
“You get away from me!” he cried. “You’re not real!” The man gave him a strange look, turned to the others, and they all shrugged. “I know your name!” Stanley cried when he looked back. Recognizing him as a living person should have helped but it didn’t. “You’re John Perwin!”
“So, I am real now?” asked the fisherman.
“You, black girl, you’re Natalie Merrick! Your son is that delinquent, Matt Merrick, who harassed Julian Junior! You’re lucky Owen Merrick was a business partner of Julian Bartlett!” He pointed at another woman. “Nancy Calvin! You’re Simms’s adopted daughter!” He found a very attractive man standing there with his dark hair combed backward and his handsome, middle-aged face staring into his coldly. “Christian Crocetti! Yeah! I know all of you!”
He didn’t know all of them but he knew most of them and the ones he knew were all people who had friends or were themselves so-called “victims” of Bartlett lawsuits. “I know—” he lowered his hand “—no. No, that is not what is happening here. That can’t be happening here.”
“Oh but it is, my friend,” said the man in the checkered shirt with something like a ghost of a smile.
His brother’s warning came back to Stanley. “N-no,” he began. “This is wrong—”
“So is rape!” hissed the woman in the fur-lined jacket from the station wagon above. “Do you remember me? I was five when we last met.” He didn’t. “Amy Edwards but I guess all prepubescent vaginas look alike, to you.” He recognized the name when she said it, one of his first cases there, almost thirty years back. One of Julian’s girls.
“Because my daughter was not a virgin, you turned her into a whore,” said Crocetti. “You told everyone she was a slut and deserved to get half of her face melted off. You threatened that judge. I saw it on his face. You would have ruined him if he had done his job.”
“That’s not what I said or what happened!” Stanley cried but, in essence, it was and they both knew it.
“My beautiful girl got half her face melted off by a maniac and because of you, he walked off scot-free! For months, I was terrified of leaving her alone because I thought she would kill herself!”
“Now you all just back off!” Stanley cried and he tried to limp away. They let him but only got a few feet before leaning up against the rock in the sudden agony that came from learning on a badly sprained ankle. They started toward him and he started back awkwardly. “You! Natalie Merrick! Your sister-in-law is a policewoman!”
“What’s your point?” asked Natalie.
“If this is over some beef Julian had with the Fullers—”
“My maiden name is Parker! Remember my little sister, Rose! Julian Bartlett raped her and you had helped him get away with it!”
They were getting too close and he started to limp away from the rock, arms swinging around, his ankle exploding in pain. “No!” he cried.
“Yes!” cried Natalie.
Nancy Calvin rushed forward and grabbed him by the arm. “You let go of me!” he cried but she instead shoved him toward the others where they roughly caught him. Nancy Calvin’s parents had died in a car accident when she was about nine or ten. Arnold Simms was her godfather, and her father’s best friend, and had raised her from that point on.
Julian had destroyed Arnold Simms’s electronic business for no particular reason, aside from the fact that the man probably deserved it, and Stanley had been instrumental in its success. Simms tried more than once and Julian came back after him each time. After the repeated loss of his businesses and dreams, Arnold lost his lifelong battle with depression and committed suicide. The family tried to sue Bartlett for his harassment of Arnold but, of course, they were never going to win that battle.
“It was legal!” he cried at them as looked up into their hostile, hateful eyes. “It was—” He felt the icy cold barrels of a double-barreled shotgun press against his right cheek. He held up his hands slowly and looked to his right. The man holding the shotgun was black and he did not look like he was messing around.
“No!” Stanley whimpered. “This is a bluff! Yes, it’s got to be a bluff!” He was pulled over to a tree growing on the slope near the path and he watched as the fisherman handed one of the men his hook and tossed the rope over the tree. “You can’t do this! I have broken no laws!”
“Either did the Nazis, technically,” said the checkered jacketed man. “What’s your point?”
“You were trying to shoot me earlier but you didn’t hit me or the car! You were faking it!”
“Yeah, those were blanks. We didn’t want to kill you in town if we could avoid it.”
“Who are you?” asked Stanley suddenly. He had seen him in his dreams and somehow, he did not know how, this man was at the core of the whole thing. “What is your name?”
“Does it matter?”
Stanley looked around, looked for him, but he didn’t see him there. The boy had a reputation for viciousness but he was “heroic” in the outdated, peasant sense. He was overpaying those idiots, reopening unnecessary businesses to help a wasteful community, but the little bastard had something like honor. Surely, he could be talked out of lynching an innocent man. “Where is he?” he asked. “I want to talk to Ethan Bartlett?”
They all smiled and a few actually laughed.
“Why is that funny?” he asked.
“If Ethan was going to kill you, he wouldn’t have hired that expensive lawyer to fight you in court,” said the checkered jacketed man. “You were right, Nadine. He is an idiot.”
“Idiot?” No one had ever called him stupid before but he felt stupid then. He could not wrap his mind around any part of what was happening. This was not how things were supposed to happen in the world. Not when you had the power.
“Let’s just get this over with,” said Nadine.
“You cannot do this! This is not acceptable!” He would recognize them! He would get them in a police lineup and they would all be in jail for the rest of their lives! Then he would go home to his penthouse, drink a martini, and take the week off. They were not going to lynch him like in some kind of pulp novel from the fifties or as if he was some gutter-level blackie. This was all for show. They wouldn’t dare.
Yet, somehow, he could not make himself believe that.
“Give me back my hook,” said the fisherman in a very soft voice.
“I think we’re getting a little too complicated here,” said the checkered jacketed man. “Hold him down.”
“What?” asked Stanley.
Several of the big men grabbed him behind his back and the checkered man stepped forward and punched Stanley in the stomach.
The blow felt as if he had been kicked by a horse and his breakfast rose up out of his stomach and poured out of his mouth onto the ground. He had never felt pain like that in any memory he had and he let out a groan of shocked agony.
“Anyone else want a go? Girls get the face, boys get the torso. That sound fair?”
“That sounds good to me,” said Nancy.
He tried to speak but when the man moved aside, Natalie punched him across the face. Nancy was next, a harder, straightforward hit that broke his nose and then the men came, one after the other, pounding him in the torso like they were tenderizing meat.
Nothing in Stanley’s life prepared for that. He had seen girls raped, lives ruined, people assaulted and mutilated but never had he a taste of what he so callously disregarded in others. He thought a fiftieth of what he had felt was worse than death and it wasn’t over yet.
They really were going to kill him! His brother had been right! He had finally met someone, or in this case more than one “someone,” who genuinely did not care about laws!
“Julian!” he whimpered as they tied his hands behind his back with a different, slenderer type of rope, blood pouring over his lips and chin from his broken nose. “Julian did it!”
“If you think we’re stupid enough to let you roll over on him, then you’re stupider than you look,” said Nancy. “And this isn’t about him,” she added.
“I just did my job!” he hacked out as if he hadn’t heard that last part. “I have to eat! I have children! You would kill a father? Leave children without a parent?” Their faces all darkened instantly but most especially the expression of the black man in the yellow jacket.
He smiled in a nasty way that didn’t touch his eyes or decrease the darkness within them. “All your children are grown, Reginald. That’s something I didn’t get to have because of the client you protected all these years.”
He punched him in the ribs, breaking them in one hit, and Stanley thought he was going to die right then and there. He was quickly disillusioned and he lived on in agony.
“The man murdered my brother and daughter!” he snarled. “He slammed my brother with his car because he got the NAACP snooping on him but at least there was some honor in that. My daughter, on the other hand, was a beautiful, wonderful and innocent girl and she killed herself after what your friend did to her! I couldn’t watch her all her time and she killed herself!
“So many times I saw Julian Bartlett get pulled into court over the same crime! With Nancy, with others, and every time I dreamed of him going down! I watched every time, hoping at long last some measure of justice was about to happen but you took it from us! You took it from Nancy, from my Annabelle, from Rose, from all of them and all of us who had to watch!
“Now you are going to pay!”
He punched him in the same spot and the pain that followed was so great he almost lost consciousness. When his senses returned, he felt the rope tightening around his neck.
“No!” he whimpered. He looked over and the burlier, younger men were preparing to pull the rope and hoist him up in the air. “No, please! I swear, it wasn’t me! It was Julian! Julian did this!”
“We know that,” said the checkered jacketed man as if he was an idiot. “When Julian was alive, he’d just get another asshole just like you if you didn’t do the job. However, now, it is pretty clear those dumb bitches at the Bartlett House couldn’t get another one of you if they tried. Julian didn’t like women enough to train them in the family business or any of his businesses for that matter. Herein lies the dilemma you have created for us.
“Ethan Bartlett is his grandfather’s son, putting money back into the community, revitalizing the town, rebuilding our fisheries and the cannery and the like. Bartlett Bay is about to come back to life and you have made yourself the only thing trying to stop that.” He gave an exaggerated shrug. “Whatever do we do?”
“You haven’t fooled us, Mr. James,” said Natalie. “You loved what you did just as much as Julian and if it wasn’t for you, he couldn’t have gotten away with a tenth of what he had done over the last thirty years. He would have been in jail instead of fucking my sister.”
“He wasn’t that smart either,” said the man in the checkered jacket. “That leaves a lot of his success, and clever judicial cruelties, clearly under your responsibility.”
“This is justice,” said John Perwin. “It may not be legal but it is justice.”
“J-j-justice?” The word sounded alien to him and he was surprised to find that it really was alien. He had used it countless times but it had never held any true meaning to him. It was just a word to describe how he imagined the results were when he succeeded in court. “Ethan Bartlett did this!”
The man in the checkered jacket smiled and said, “Unlike you, he actually reached New York City. A lot of cameras. A lot of alibis. Did you know he has collaborated with the local acting community? As soon as the bridge is repaired, they will be performing at the Sea Crest Theatre now. In appreciation, they gave him two tickets to an off-Broadway performance called Elizabeth and Essex out in New York City and he has taken one of their actresses. Good-looking girl. She’s showing him the town. He left yesterday to get an early start on the weekend.”
Stanley’s face was confused.
“You really thought it was him, didn’t you?” He shook his head. “God, if you’re not dealing with law, you’re as dumb as a mule.”
Stanley tried to start convincing, to do what he was born to do in a court, but the time for talking was over. The rope tightened around his neck and he tried to cry out the words, “It’s not legal!” as he was hoisted up into the air but nothing came out.
His bladder let loose as true panic began to take over and he fought vainly against the ropes on his neck and hands as he pulled higher and higher. He swung his legs down, hoping beyond hope he was hallucinating and his feet would hit the ground, but they didn’t and the ground just grew farther and farther away from him. He ended at thirty feet or so in the air over the path and, as this so was so much like the dream, he thought might be the dream and so he looked over to his right, up the slope, and there saw the last two dream people that had been missing.
Two girls, one with gold hair in white and another with red hair in blue, were up the hill some distance, hidden behind the trees and watching.
Would they save him? Would they go for help? He tried to beg them with his expression but they didn’t move and he saw no sign of them reaching for a cellphone.
He soon lost consciousness and never regained it.
* * *
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Ethan had said when he had left the play that evening.
“What is it?” asked Rachel Walton. She was a very pretty, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl who was part of the Bartlett Bay Acting Company that became his second ticket. She was dressed fantastically in a tight black dress and a long, white jacket and she utilized her sex appeal to great advantage.
“Between the time we had entered Elizabeth and Essex and now, I’ve been called seventy-two times by my drunk cousin Anne. Whatever.” He had shrugged it off. It was turning out to be a pretty damn good weekend for Ethan. He was dating one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen and beginning on Thursday afternoon, he was enjoying a wild weekend in New York City. His free ticket to Elizabeth and Essex was just one part of it, a Friday night show, and now it became the weekend in earnest and he was really looking forward to it. Rachel had been a regular in New York City all her life and was going to show him all the sights including some only locals knew about.
The last thing in the world he wanted was to ruin the occasion with a call from his cousin.
However, she called five more times over the next hour and the fifth time he stared down at the words “Drunk Bitch Cousin” on his cellphone’s screen, he caved in and picked it up.
He cringed as Anne Bartlett shrieked incoherent accusations into his ear for almost three minutes. “Jesus,” he said when she stopped to breathe. “What the hell is your problem?”
“What the fuck did you do to him?” Anne screamed.
“Do to who?”
“Reginald Stanley James!” she hissed. “He’s completely disappeared! He was supposed to call us later but he has not checked in at his office or home or anywhere!”
“I don’t know,” he replied honestly. “I have no idea what happened to him. Lucky for me, I guess.”
“Yeah, no shit! That’s why I called you!”
“Look, we can have this conversation when I’m back at home.”
“What do you mean ‘at home?’”
“Oh, I’m in The Big Apple, baby! It’s where The Warriors took place. I’m checking out Coney Island tomorrow. Rachel Walton is showing me around. She’s an actress, don’t you know. You should definitely check her out. Her parents are also ex-New Yorkers and they took her everywhere in this city growing up so she knows it like the back of her hand.”
“What are you doing in New York City?” she asked incredulously.
“Uh, watching Elizabeth and Essex? I got free tickets when I partnered with the Bartlett Bay Acting Company. They’ll be performing in the Sea Crest Theatre from now, by the by. The play was pretty good but I’m pretty sure it’s the same story adapted from the one play that became The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn.”
“It’s an original version of the same real-life relationship that both are based on,” said Rachel half-grumpy, half-amused and she threw her arm around his neck and kissed him deeply in the cheek. “Everyone’s a critic.”
“Well, Rachel thinks it was fabulous and she’s in a better position to know as she is an actress and a good one.”
“You done?” asked Anne.
“No,” he replied. “I’m taking Rachel to God knows where in New York City for God knows what reason for things that I will not regret in the slightest. Chicks, you know. I don’t really understand them but I’m a slave to them all the same.” Rachel kissed him deeply and giggled.
“What did you do to him, Ethan?” she asked in a soft voice.
“I really didn’t do anything to him,” he replied. “Maybe he wants to relive the glory days of working for your father and is now getting some pedophile off of a rape charge.”
“That’s not funny!”
“I’m not laughing,” he replied. “Look, if something were to happen, surely you could locate his killer from a suspect list consisting of, you know, everybody.” He burst out laughing. “Now I’m laughing!”
“You’re an asshole!” she cried. “You will fucking pay for this!”
“More than my hot lawyer is costing me?” he asked and then he laughed again. “He’s probably fine,” he concluded. Unless someone murdered the man, he was bound to pop back up. Men like him never conveniently just “disappeared.”
“I know you had something to do with this!”
“You are wrong and I have better things to do. I’ll talk to you later, Anne.” He hung up, turned to Rachel and watched a sultry, sexy smile spread across her face. She started backing down 7th Ave, grinning at him below the bright lights around the famous pillar of Times Square located between 7th and Broadway.
“Anne Bartlett is kind of a bitch,” said Rachel as she walked backward in a graceful way only a professional-level dancer could.
“Big time,” Zane replied.
“I know a club that would be perfect for us.”
“Oh, I bet you do,” he replied with a smile.
She smiled back at him. “You’re a good man, Ethan Bartlett.”
“If I was a good man, I’d have a lot more friends.”
“Hitler had lots of friends,” she replied in a strangely and suddenly serious way. “Having friends isn’t always what makes a man good.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” he replied.
“And you have more friends than you know,” Rachel told him and she walked up, kissed him deeply and then pulled him off into the city.