Chapter Sixteen ~
Amy was terrified of the man who held her hostage. She'd managed to keep her two fighting knives without detection, but he would discover them any moment if he didn't let her go. She prayed to God His will be done. She hoped it was in line with her escaping alive.
"Why are you doing this Max?" She was trying to gauge his mood. It changed like she changed clothes and she didn't know which personality she was dealing with from one minute to the next.
When he'd killed the woman who'd kidnapped her, Amy had been so scared she couldn't breathe, and she hadn't after that initial scream; for a full three minutes. She didn't want him to kill her too. She'd looked at him with terrified eyes.
"I'm doing this because I can. I'm doing this because Jude Johnson has gotten away with being an idiot his whole life and now he's gotta pay."
"What do I have to do with it? And why did you have to kill her?" She'd begun to cramp and she prayed with everything in her she didn't miscarry. Max held her up close to his shoulder as he half-dragged, half-walked her toward the western corner of the property.
"You ask too many questions, shut-up." He jerked her closer to his shoulder.
Amy had the weird thought that he didn't smell like she'd imagined a serial killer would smell. She giggled at that, half in shock from the ordeal.
The sound of a dog barking in the distance brought Max to a standstill. "I think that crazy husband of yours is coming after you," He said as he shoved her down to the ground. "Stay there and don't move."
"I don't want to..." She began but he shoved her over with his leg, hard. The ground was cold and Amy moaned when her cheek touched the frozen dirt and snow.
"How many people does your husband have with him?" Max asked her quickly.
"I don't know, I didn't come here with him, remember?" She was frustrated and sick of this whole ordeal. He planned on killing her no matter what she did. She prayed to God that the killer take her life quickly so she didn't have to suffer too much. She knew it was weak, but God knew her character, anyway.
The killer ignored her while he got down on one knee and looked through a pair of binoculars. He brought his gun up, ready to pick someone off. Amy couldn't let him do that. She reached into her pocket, pulled out her knife, and in one fluid motion she brought it down into his foot as hard as she could, and at the same time yelled, "Jackson, he's gonna shoot you, duck!"
The scream that came out of the killer was like nothing she'd ever heard. She got to her feet, swaying for a moment before taking of like a gazelle in the high weeds that were light yellow in color and dry as a piece of paper. Maybe she could set them on fire to create a diversion? She didn't know if that would be safe, even in the winter time, so she discarded the idea and continued to run for her life.
She could hear dogs in the distance and her mind told her Jackson and Jude didn't have dogs...who was coming toward her? She looked around, trying to find somewhere to hide, away from the killer, and from whoever was coming her way. That no one had answered her didn't bode well, and she veered to the right and scooted under a fallen tree lying on the ground. She had to scoop snow, ice and dirt as she went but managed to make a place for her body to fit underneath. She quickly pulled the leaves, dirt, snow, ice and other debris over her body. She only had seconds to hide herself.
She’d just managed to stop moving when the sound of someone walking heavily along the path reached her ears. She could see through the cracks of her disguise that it was a tall, fat hunter wearing a black and red checked flannel coat and a matching hat. He held a long rifle and was followed by two beagle-looking dogs.
Amy's heartbeat sped up. What if they discovered her? She hoped they would go on by and not pay any attention to her, but it wasn't to be. Both dogs stopped in front of her and began to paw at the disturbed earth around her. She held her breath, waiting for the moment the hunter would find her when the sound of a gun discharging caused her to jump. The huge hunter fell down beside her. His dogs ran to comfort him, but it was too late. His sightless eyes were pointed straight at her.
She heard the labored breathing of Max Sanders and tried to shrink as far under the log as she could, but the force of the huge hunter's fall had dislodged the earth and leaves hiding her. She looked up, right into the eyes of the monster. He pointed his gun at her face. Amy squeezed her eyes shut in terror and prayed for it to be over quickly.
Another shot rang out in the distance. It startled the killer and he looked down at her in anger and regret. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a handful of red and gold glitter and sprinkled it all over the area where she lay, and then he ran like the wind. Amy lost consciousness.
The sound of voices brought her back to awareness. She opened her eyes and gasped as the dark and handsome face of her husband formed above her. "Jackson!" She rose up and grabbed him, pulling him in for a huge hug.
"I'm so glad you're okay Amy. I'm sorry I didn't protect you, can you ever forgive me?"
"This wasn't your fault, Jackson. I have to tell you..." Her voice trailed off for a moment when her eyes fell on Lauren. ..."That Lauren and Justy are still alive and they aren't guilty."
"I can't believe you guys would think I was a serial killer," Lauren said with a smile.
From a few feet away Jude yelled at Jackson, "The hunter's gonna be okay, It's just a flesh wound. He says he was playing dead to keep from actually getting killed."
"But his eyes were open, he was dead," Amy said with certainty as she tried to get a better look at him.
"You were probably in shock, honey. He's still alive." Jackson pointed over at the spot where Jude was helping the huge hunter to a sitting position.
"This day has been so bazaar." She allowed her husband to help her to a standing position.
"It has," Jackson returned as he squeezed his wife in a bear-hug.
"Easy honey, the baby..." Amy warned gently.
"Oh I'm sorry. I don't want to hurt little Austin Skyler," He said in a teasing voice.
"Bite your tongue. This baby is a girl and her name is Natalia Blue," She huffed in play-exasperation.
"You name her what you want, baby." He squeezed her again.
"Oh Jack, I remember something important. I have to tell you now," She exclaimed as she dug her heels into the ground as much as possible with it being frozen.
"Max killed the woman who kidnapped me. Her name was Lydia. She was married to a man named Ernie and had three kids. Max told her if she did what he said he would let her go and she could return to her family."
"She saved your life," Jackson said. "She drew us a map on the inside of a book. That's how we found you guys."
"She used to work for the CIA. Max told her husband and he was so angry she'd lied to him he threw her out. That's when Max took her. The most important information, though...is they both went to school with Jude."
Jude walked up. He wanted to make sure Amy was okay too, but he knew Jackson had that little jealousy thing going on and he didn't want to make him any more tense. "Are you okay, Amy?"
"I'm fine, just a little shaky. This hasn't been good for my digestive system."
Lauren came up then and said, "I'm glad you're safe, Amy. I know Jude thinks the world of you." This time Jackson did look at Jude crossly, and everyone laughed.
They headed back to the cabin just in case Max returned. The hunter returned the way he’d come, after getting a lecture from Jack about hunting on his land.
Their victory wasn't complete because the bad guy had gotten away, but right now Jackson was just happy he had his wife back and she was unharmed.
Back at the cabin, Amos sat with Justy. After she’d told of her ordeal they made small talk. He told her about his wife and kids, and even about the family dog and how they'd been kidnapped last year. He told her how Jackson and Amy had been quick to forgive him for taking Amy when they threatened to kill his family.
"I think they made the right decision," Justy said.
"Well thank you." Amos smiled happily. God was so good to surround him with people that found it easy to forgive and eager to love.
"You know, Jude was the last one to believe you were a serial killer. He couldn't understand how he could've been so wrong about someone. He loves you very much."
"I know, and I love him. I can scarcely remember the horror I felt back in high school. I know I was totally devastated at the time," She shared with a thoughtful expression on her pretty face.
"I've been trying to wrap my mind around all this killing. I can't imagine how someone could let something that happened in high school fester and explode after all these years," Amos said.
"I can't either. I mean, I have to admit, I thought about it a lot for about five years. After that, it became part of my past. I thought that’s where it would stay. Apparently, there were other people that Jude hurt, and in a much more severe way. I can't imagine a life without him, though, so they better hurry up and catch Max."
"It's amazing what lengths this man has gone to. It would help if Jude could remember back to his school days. We'd know who the guy was already," Amos observed.
"Yeah, they'll figure it out, though. I have faith in their ability," She said, not realizing she'd just opened a whole other can of worms.
"Is that all you have faith in?" Amos asked.
"Oh no, not you too, you guys never give up, do you?"
"Well, we can't really give up. There's an eternal soul at stake," He said with a smile.
"It does make me feel good that you care enough about me to witness to me. I just didn't grow up around religion, you know what I mean?"
"I know what you mean Justy, but the truth is your soul is still your responsibility, no matter whether your parents did their job, or not."
At Amos’ words, Justy's face lost all its color. He'd insulted her parents, who hadn't even been gone a week. "I'm sorry Justy, that didn't come out the way I meant it to," He apologized sincerely.
She sat there for a moment before straightening her back and replying, "Yes, I know what you meant, and I'm afraid you're right, on both counts."
"Would you at least think about coming to church with us when this is all over? I know Jude and Jackson would love it if you did," Amos finished quietly.
"I think I might do that," She said.
"That would be great," Amos told her with a huge smile on his lined face.
"Do you think everything is going okay with the others?" Justy asked, effectively changing the subject.
"I'm sure if things had gone wrong we'd have a call from them by now. Jude and Jackson know what they're doing, and so does Scott. Otis is pretty quick on his feet too, even for his age. I'm the odd one out in this group. It takes me longer to catch on, and even longer than that to execute whatever plan they have for me. I think it's awesome they include me in the group when I don't really deserve it."
"I don't think they would call you into their group if there was no place for you, Amos. They don't seem like the false-pleaser types to me." She liked the balding older guy. He seemed like a father-type to her, and she'd just lost hers...
There was a commotion out front as the team made it back to the cabin. Justy was ecstatic when she caught sight of Amy. "I'm so glad you're okay! This has been such a traumatic experience for me, I can't imagine how you must feel, being pregnant and all," Justy said.
"You know that's true. I'm not even sure what I've told you and what I told that other woman," Amy said with a grin.
"The last time we actually talked was at dinner the night of my attack. He took me from my hallway that night and I've been here ever since. I was so scared. I didn't know what he had planned for me." Fresh tears filled Justy's huge gray eyes. They were tears of relief this time, and Amy joined in. They held each other for several long minutes while Lauren and the men decided their next course of action.
Amy pulled away from Justy and went to her bedroom for some privacy. She needed a shower and a change of clothes. There was red and gold glitter all over in this room, too and goose bumps erupted on her skin as she tried to figure out the significance of it all.
She came out of the bathroom a half hour later and asked Lauren and Justy if they wanted to take a shower, too. They were definitely up for that, so she gave them each towels and sweat suits.
"Have you decided what we're going to do now, Jack?" Amy asked as she walked up to where he perched on the arm of the dark brown sofa. She ran her hands through his silky dark hair, waiting for a reply.
"We've discussed our options and have decided we'll take you and Justy back to the house in Salt Lake, and then we'll go on a manhunt until we find this guy. He's gonna kill more people, Amy, and we have to stop him before he has the chance."
He's right, Amy. I know you're worried about him, but you have to know I would guard him with my life," Jude said sincerely.
"I don't want you hurt, either,” She said. Just as quickly, she apologized, “I'm sorry, I know that was rude. I'm anxious to get back to the kids, anyway. Are we sure he has no more key cards?"
"Don't worry about that for a second. As soon as we get back I'm having the retinal scanners installed. I balked at it because I didn't want our home to seem more like a fortress, but if it'll keep us safe, then I'm all for it," Jackson said firmly.
"It's funny because I would've disagreed about them before too, but I don't have a problem with them now. If that little machine can keep people from getting in, I'm all for it, too. I'll even help with the install if I can."
Lauren and Justy had finished with their showers and Jude and Jackson went outside to make sure the killer was nowhere around so they could leave safely.
Jackson had a mirror attached to a long metal pole and he stuck it under the SUV to make sure no one was hiding underneath. There wasn't anyone under there, but there was a note, written to Jude. It said: "You got me Jude, you got me Jack, now let's see, if I can beat you back..."
Jude’s heart slammed around in his chest and he felt like he was having a coronary. He pulled out his phone, but it had no service. The killer must have some kind of device that blocked cell phone usage...
"Let's go, we have to find a phone before he gets back to the city. He has a helicopter," Jude yelled. He felt so helpless in this situation, and it made him angry.
They rushed out to the SUV and Jude prayed to God the killer hadn't disabled their vehicle. Of course he wouldn't do that because then the team wouldn't be forced to play his game.
"Lauren, do you know where he might be headed?" Jude asked. He was sitting in the front seat beside Jackson, who was driving this time.
"I really don't. I'm sure he wouldn't have gone anywhere he'd want me to know about. He wouldn't have talked about a place like that, either. I'm so sorry I let you guys down by sleeping with the enemy. I had no idea I was seeing a mass murderer. How can I ever trust my own judgment again?"
"Everybody makes mistakes Lauren. It's over now. Let's not dwell on it, huh?" Jude reassured his partner. He was thanking God they were all still alive, but it wasn’t over yet…