Chapter Twenty-Three ~
Amy went to the kitchen and washed the dishes her brother hadn't bothered to do. She hadn't really expected him to, but it would've been nice. The men had disappeared, and she was kind of angry about it because they hadn’t bothered to tell her they were leaving.
She went to the dining room and sat beside Angie. "Wow, that's a neat picture."
"Thanks Mamie. It's of me, you, Benji and Daddy, oh and Teenie, too, see?" She pointed to a formless blob on a couch.
Amy smiled. These kids were a joy to be around. "Yes, I see her. That's a good job." She gave her a hug.
"Mamie, lookie here," Benji said. He was pointing to a scribbled mass of colors on his paper.
"Oh, how pretty Benji, what is it?"
"It's the ocean Mamie, can't you tell?" His frustration was cute, and she smiled.
"I do see. What a wonderful job." She got up and gave him a hug, too. He gave an exaggerated grunt and she laughed with joy.
Not one to be outdone, Teenie began to cry. She picked her up from the car seat and pulled her up against her chest. She rocked and swayed to the music playing in the background. She quit crying almost instantly.
Jackson stood just inside the front door, watching the scene unfolding before him like a panoramic movie. He felt as if a ton of bricks were lying on his chest, but he didn't know why. He felt an overwhelming tenderness for the woman showing such love to his child. He walked into the room and cleared his throat. "When you've got a minute, I'd like to talk to you."
She jumped, and he gave a half-grin of amusement.
"Is something wrong?" She put Teenie in the swing and looked at him expectantly.
"No, I just wanna tell you what's up with our investigation, and what we're planning to do."
"They should be fine for now. They're so engrossed in their drawing I doubt they'll even miss me, and Teenie will be sleeping in seconds. She's still weak from the measles, and she’s had a really rough day." She walked over and closed the door behind them.
They walked out onto the patio and Amy plopped down on the swing. Jackson chose a chair made of cedar right beside her.
"We each called someone we trust in our respective departments to give us information and help us if we need it."
"What if one of the people you trust turns out to be the insider you say is giving the bad guy information?"
"I hope that doesn't happen, but if it does, we'll have to deal with the consequences."
"How long are we staying here?"
"We'll stay until we find the head honcho and get him locked-up. We can't take a chance on your life, or the lives of my children again." It's not that bad here. The kids have plenty things to do, and one of us can go and grab you some clothes and stuff. We can go hiking and exploring, it'll be fun."
"Sure, it does sound like fun."
"Don't knock yourself out with enthusiasm." He grinned widely.
"I'm sorry if I seem ungrateful.”
“It’s okay, you’ve been through a lot, I understand.”
"Where are the rest of the guys?"
"They went to the store for bait. They're gonna go fishing."
"You're kidding me? How in the world can they go fishing at a time like this?"
"They aren't really interested in Fishing, silly. They want to scope out the people in the area and since most of them are fishing, it’s a logical place to start."
She stood there, not understanding, until realization finally dawned. "Oh, I get it."
He laughed, and she punched him on the arm as hard as she could and stomped into the house.
Jackson walked back to the barn behind the cabin and pulled out his phone. "Hey Chester, how are you? That's great, I'm so sorry this happened to you. We're gonna get them, don't worry. I know who’s behind it now."
"How is the little filly? Is she okay? What about the kids?" Chester sounded weak and frail.
"They're safe, Uncle Chester. I've got them up North with me. I've got a place up here, and that's where they'll stay until this is all over. Has anyone visited you?” He hated to lie, but he had a feeling Chester's phone was bugged. If it was, this would be the perfect opportunity to set up the terrorist who was wreaking havoc with their lives.
"I didn't know you had a place up North. Is it a nice one?" His voice was becoming feebler as whatever pain medicine he was on began to take effect.
"I'll call you later Uncle Chester. You sound like you're drifting off." He was worried about the old fellow. He loved him dearly, and it would tear him up if anything happened to him.
"Okay boy, I love you, too."
Jackson flipped his phone and shoved it into the front pocket of his jeans and went in search of Jude. He hoped his team leader, Jacob Walsh, would have some good news for him before the day was out. If he got his Special Forces Team in on the investigation, maybe they could close it sooner.
Jackson ran into Jude on the way back to the house. “I just talked to Chester. I think his room is bugged so I told him we were up North. I’m thinking I’ll set up an operation to catch the bugger. If he's listening in on our conversations, he'll definitely rise to our bait.”
“That sounds like a plan to me, man, anything to get this guy. He needs to be locked up, that’s for sure.” Jude walked into the house and Jackson followed.
Scott and Otis were already in the kitchen hunting up some lunch.
“Do you guys want a sandwich?” Scott asked as they came into the room.
There was a chorus of yeses. Even Angie and Benji said yes.
Scott swung the little boy up in his arms, tickling him as he did. Benji squealed with delight and giggled happily. "A hungry little man, are ya?" He sat him gently on his feet and went to the cupboard. He got out a stack of paper plates, cups, and a bag of chips. They worked together, getting the plates ready. A few minutes later they had a lunch of sandwiches, chips and Kool-Aid made-up and on the table.
"Does anyone mind if I pray?" Otis asked. Everyone looked up in surprise, but no one objected, so he folded his hands, bowed his head and said, "Dear Father, thank you for this meal. Thank you for keeping us all in one piece, and please continue to do so, amen." He looked up and examined each face, but no one looked upset. “Thanks guys, I always pray at meal time, and I appreciate you not minding."
"I love to pray, but figured no one else did." Amy said. She gave him a reassuring smile.
"I pray, too." Scott said.
At Amy's incredulous look he said, "What? I do pray, all the time. Just because you perceived something about me doesn't mean it's true."
"That's right, I pray too." Jude told them. Everyone automatically looked at Jackson to get his response.
Jackson had that 'deer in the headlights' look on his face before admitting, "I've been praying a lot lately...I don't know how, but I've tried."
"Well that's a start." Amy came to his defense.
"Yeah, it's a start." Angie said in her little-girl-voice.
"Yeah that's right." Benji mimicked.
Everyone laughed and ate the cold lunch.
"Jude and I might be leaving in a day or so. If you and Otis want to come along, just let me know. We could always use some extra hands." Jackson said into the quiet room.
"Where are you going? You can't leave us here, Jack." Amy said forcefully.
"Nobody knows you're here. I wouldn't leave you if I thought you were in danger."
"That's what you thought before. What am I supposed to do if one of the guys you called just happens to be the traitor in your midst?" Her voice rose dangerously and the men looked at each other in angst.
"Calm down. None of us told anyone exactly where we are."
"What if someone traced the call? Can't they find out your exact location that way?" She asked.
The men looked at each other in renewed worry.
"Let me guess. You genius detectives didn't think of that, right? I mean, do you ever watch TV?" She raised her voice, feeling the hysteria rising.
"You need to take some breaths. I'm not going to leave you defenseless. I'm going to take you out behind the barn and do some target practice with you. The security system here is just as good as the one at the house. The only difference is that nobody knows about this property.
"I don't like violence."
"Don't think of it as violence then. Think of it as self-protection, and protection for the kids." Jackson gestured to the little ones eating sandwiches in the corner.
She thought about it for a second and said, "Okay, since you put it that way. But I can tell you I won't shoot anyone unless I absolutely have to."
"I should hope not." He gave her a lopsided grin.
"You're a beast."
"Hurry and eat and I'll take you out. Otis and Scott can go down to the fishing hole and see what they can see.”
The men scooted their chairs away from the table and left the house. They didn't even question Jackson's authority. As three-letter-men, they all knew someone had to be in charge, and the natural leader was Jackson.
"I can't leave the children. She was surprised he hadn't thought of that.
"Hey Scott, would you stay for a bit and watch the little ones? Jude can go down to the lake with Otis." Jackson asked as he was heading out the door.
"Yeah, that'll be great."
"Is that better?" Jackson threw her a crooked and disarming grin.
"Yes." Could Scott really watch them adequately?
"You don't have to worry. I won't eat them while you're gone, I promise."
"You don't know the first thing about kids, Scott. You better be careful with them." She waggled her finger in his face.
"Go on, Sis. I'll be fine, and so will they. You'll see how good I am with them, and then you'll regret being so hateful toward me."
Jackson laughed and tugged on Amy's shoulder to pull her out the door. "Come on Shotgun Annie, before you do something we'll both regret."
Amy turned and punched him in the arm again and he winced in pain. "I'm sorry, I was just playing."
When she went toward him to check his arm, he grabbed her and tickled her sides until she squealed. Angie and Benji came running out of the dining room to see what was going on. "Daddy, stop hurting her!" Angie said, her little face crumpled in anger.
Benji ran into Angie’s back when she stopped in the door way. "Yeah, stop it.” He mimicked.
Amy rushed over and got on her knees in front of the worried child. "It's okay Angie. Your Daddy was tickling me. He didn't mean to worry you, and he would never hurt me." She pulled the little girl in for a big bear hug. She rubbed her back reassuringly, and then did the same for Benji. She dropped kisses on both small heads and followed Jackson out the door and to her first shooting lesson.
The main thing to remember is not to point your gun at me." Jackson lectured as he walked.
Amy sped up and gave him a swift kick in the pants. He laughed and picked up his pace.
The playfulness was nice, but Amy didn't want to give him a false idea of who she was. "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for, and unladylike to boot."
"It's fine. I know you were teasing."
"No, it doesn't matter if I was teasing or not. Morally, it was the wrong thing to do."
"Wow, are you serious? Is it really morally wrong?" He seemed genuinely curious.
"It is, but even more wrong is me being alone with you. Circumstances are kind of weird right now, and I want to take this opportunity to say I'm not promiscuous."
Jackson pulled his head back and roared with laughter. He laughed so long Amy was tempted to kick him again. Instead, she asked, "What's so funny? I was serious."
"You don't have to worry about your virtue around me. I don't rape women. Besides, you're the nanny."
Amy felt a rocket-like stab of pain course through her body at his statement. The hurt she felt was unexplainable, but there, nonetheless.
"Of course, I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. I know you aren't interested in me that way." The words felt like saw dust in her mouth, and she wanted to wash them away in tears of pity.
When they got to the barn, Jackson pulled-out his 9mm and handed it to Amy. She grabbed the gun and looked at him questioningly. They spent the better part of an hour shooting at a target he’d set-up at one end of the field.
After the lesson was over they walked back to the house silently until he said, "You're a natural. I'll take you out again after supper. The one rule I'll give you is not to have it in the room the kids are in unless you have to.”
"You don't need to worry. I won't bring it anywhere near the kids. I don't like guns."
"It's not a case of liking them. It can be the difference between life and death. If you use it responsibly, there's nothing wrong with owning one." He reached around her and opened the door, and they went inside to re-join the others.