THE NEXT CHAPTER: A sequel to The Next Three Days

By Atonia Walpole

(Picture creations also by Atonia)

Chapter 1

John Brennan sat on the side of the bed scrolling through the pictures he’d taken with his phone when they’d first arrived. Now and then a smile crossed his face but only briefly. He went back and looked at the pictures taken before his nightmare began when every morning Lara insisted on a family picture. The difference, other than the fact Luke was now nearly seven years old, is that his pictures now only contained Lara and Luke. Except for one.

He stared at that picture and remembered taking it a few days after they’d arrived in Venezuela. She’d turned her head away at the last minute. He’d given her freedom and her son and that seemed to be all she needed. Three years in prison had changed her. It had taken him a while to see it, so caught up in the joy of having her back had he been. He looked at the photo again and then turned his phone off. The service was discontinued anyway. He hooked his phone up to the new laptop he’d acquired and transferred the photos. His new phone lay on the table silently idle.

The tiny apartment was silent, too, except for the street noise down below. It was private, two small rooms over a music store. They’d fled to the outskirts of Sucre. Caracas was too international. Too many American companies had moved their headquarters into the capital area. He could not and would not spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, and so he’d brought his family here. It wasn’t suitable for them, but for now…for now.

He left the laptop while it worked the pictures, walked over to the window and looked out. Lara had taken Luke to try and enroll him in a private school. He lived with a nervousness inside, waiting…waiting for what? Someone to come and separate them, take them away…or for her to leave him? It was unthinkable but he’d recognized the possibility.

The story had come out in pieces-parts of how they came to be there, where the money had come from…all of it. She’d shaken her head and moved away from him. The look in her eyes…unbelieving…she couldn’t comprehend what he’d done. The father of her child, her husband. They were different people now.

And then there was the boredom, day after day. She wanted to work and couldn’t stand being cooped up in the tiny apartment.  It was wearing thin. He also needed to find something to do. He’d applied for a work permit but these things take time. Caracas was a modern city with all the amenities you could ask for. Sucre was smaller but still it was a livable place with a high standard of living. He’d make it work. He had to.

The taxi pulled up in front of the music store and he watched from the window as Lara and Luke moved to the outside staircase that would bring them to him.

Luke was still a quiet, withdrawn little boy.  John was tutoring him in Spanish and trying to keep up his studies from books they’d found in a store in Caracas.  Little by little he’d moved toward his mother. He’d had to learn all over again what a mother was to him.

John stepped out into the hall and opened the door to the outside landing. “Everything okay?”

Lara paused on the top step. “Yes, they’ll take him but he has to be tested.” Luke passed by them both and went to lie on his bed with his hand-held computer game.

“What kind of place is it?” he asked, looking into her eyes.

“You should have come with us. Are we going to live like this forever…never going anywhere together?”

“No, Lara, but for now give it some time to die away. We’ve talked about this.”

She ran a hand over her forehead and walked past him into the apartment. She went into the little kitchenette and pulled a soft drink from the fridge. “The school is in an old building. It’s nice inside and might have been an estate of some kind at one time. There are stacks of apartment buildings and offices around it now.”

John sat down at their kitchen table and disconnected the old phone from his laptop. Now he looked down at it and went about deleting everything from it, pictures, contacts…everything that had anything to do with him. “Does he like it? Did he say?”

“He didn’t say anything except to answer questions put to him. At least there are other American kids there.”

John looked up at her a moment and then back to his phone.

“Their parents work for Proctor and Gamble. I could get on there if…I know I could.”

“Not an American company, Lara.” He spoke quietly. “There’s no hurry. We’re all right.” He’d been changing American dollars, stolen from the meth house, in small amounts into local currency.

“It’s not the money. We could live like royalty if we wanted to here. But we don’t. We’re crammed into this box. I spent enough time in boxes, John.”

“Soon we’ll be out of here. We’ll find a house and buy it. We’ll start living again. I promise that is coming. One step at a time. I don’t like this apartment either but I also know we can’t jump in and start spending without any means of support.” He tossed the phone on the table.  “We’re safe and that’s all that matters right now. The rest will come.”

She sat down and leaned on her hand. “You’ve got it all planned out, don’t you? I can’t do this much longer.”

John looked through to the other room. Luke had his knees drawn up on the bed, concentrating on his game. “You’ll do it for him.”

“He’s so quiet…he won’t talk to me.”

It bothered John, too. Nothing had been explained to Luke except that they were moving. He couldn’t imagine what went on under that mop of hair. He’d seen too much and what he understood of it was for now locked in silence.

“Tell me about this dean, Mr. Ramirez.”

“He seemed nice enough. There are sixty-seven boys in the school. He’s master of all of them. He had kind eyes. He spent part of his life in the states, Texas, and he speaks English very well.”

John nodded slightly. “We need to get a car.”

“Two cars.”

“One car is all we need right now. I’ll take care of it. I’ll have to take a driver’s test and I read Spanish better than you do.”

“Why do you have to take a test? You’ve got a drivers license. I saw it.”

“It’s from Pittsburgh, Lara.”

“You…aren’t planning on staying here…are you?

“Yes, for the time being. We can’t go back…you know that. We can’t go home. Home is a…a cell…a box for both of us. Luke would for all counts be an orphan. They can’t extradite us from here.”

She knew they couldn’t go home but it was hard for her to accept it.  Life as she’d known it would never be again. She looked across the table at John and she didn’t know him anymore. He was a teacher, not this…fugitive from the law, not a murderer, a thief.

She had to trust him. After all he’d gotten them this far. But would they ever live together as a family again? Doing simple things, daily things like shopping and going to work, taking Luke to school? She couldn’t see it. She hadn’t lived it for so long. Three years and all that time he was teaching and caring for Luke while she counted hours, days, weeks, years, hoping for the truth to come out. The truth that would set her free but it hadn’t come. John had come instead.

“John…I need a place to call home.” Her hand found his on the table.

He smiled and held her hand. “I can do that for you.”

Within two weeks he had his driving permit and a car he’d paid cash for.  It was easier now. At least they could get out around the city and begin looking for a place to call home. Luke was admitted to the school after testing and was entered into a third term. He essentially skipped a grade. This freed Lara and John for hours during the day to house hunt.

Real estate agents tried to steer them toward areas where the Americans lived. John didn’t want to live there. It was better for them if they lost themselves in the population. Lara reluctantly agreed. What John had said about them not being able to be extradited wasn’t exactly true. It could happen but the odds were against it. at least as long as Chavez was in power and relations with North America were at a standstill. Venezuela was an oil rich country but corruption was rampant. Anything could happen and John was well aware of it.

Something else he was becoming aware of was the cost of living in Caracas. He and Lara had been into the center of the city to get their official documentation that would allow them to live and work in Venezuela. It had been a nerve racking experience for both of them. They retreated to a restaurant for a drink before heading back to the tiny apartment in Sucre.

“It’s the most expensive place in the country to live.” John was thumbing through a real estate publication.

All around the city on the hillsides were stacks and stacks of houses, slums. They looked as though they were built one on top of the other.

“We have to think about that.” He looked up at Lara. “I don’t want to pour all the money into a place to live. Neither of us is working right now.”

They ended up renting an apartment in a small complex of six units in Sucre. It was on the third floor and gave them a view of the ocean over a few rooftops. The rent was reasonable and it was furnished. John allowed moving expenses because he knew Lara had to make it hers. It was a twenty-five minute drive to Luke’s school but gas was cheap.

John got a job with a local high school teaching English. The pay wasn’t much and he’d never rise any higher because he couldn’t produce his credentials. Lara began working for a local hotel, selling vacation packages. They were running the car all over and transporting Luke back and forth to his school. Lara begged for a car of her own and couldn’t understand John’s reluctance to buy her one. He couldn’t tell her of his fear. If he gave her wings...would she fly?

Lara had been a strong and independent woman. More and more she began to exhibit some of her old behavior. When she had enough money saved up she bought a small, inexpensive car. It was a start and she thought later when she was able she’d trade it in on something bigger. John was angry but he kept it under a lid. In another life he’d accepted her strength, encouraged it and even admired her forcefulness. Something had changed and that something was him. He did not want her to be independent of him. He wanted her to need him.

“Aren’t you even going to go down and look at it?”

“No,” he replied. He was grading papers and did not look up from his task.

“I don’t see what the big deal is. I’ve always had a car.”

“I think you forget sometimes, Lara, we are not in Pittsburgh. It’s too dangerous for you to be alone. Some of the places we have to drive through are lethal. I’ll take care of getting Luke to and from school.”

“It’s not lethal for you? Your life is not important?”

“I can handle myself. I don’t want to be worrying about you driving into Caracas.”

“Maybe we should move Luke out here.”

“You’re the one who wanted a private school for him.” He straightened the stack of papers and slid them back into his briefcase. “He’s fine where he is. He’s doing well there…no problems. It’s not a problem for me to take him to school.”

“Don’t be angry with me. I don’t think I can stand it.”

“I wish you’d told me what you were doing…that’s all. How do you even know what condition the car is in? Do you think you can trust a salesman…here?”

“I don’t want to be here!” It came out louder than she’d meant it to. “I’m sorry…I-"

John  got up and went to her, folding her in his arms. “Nobody wants to be here but here is where we are and we’ve got to make it work. It will if we both try.” He lifted her chin and kissed her. “I love you, Lara. I know this is not ideal. It’s not easy for you. It’s the best I can do for us right now.”

She leaned her head on his chest. “I know…I know. I have to go into Caracas tomorrow to see a doctor. They want to do a evaluation of my diabetes. My old prescription doesn’t count here since I’m not Lara Brennan anymore.”

“What time is your appointment?”

“It’s at 10:30 at the university medical center.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? I could have gotten someone to take my classes.”

“I don’t need you to go with me. I’m not a child, John. I’ve been doing this for…I used to do this all by myself.”

“That was then. I’ll make a few calls and see if I can get a substitute. It’s short notice and-"

“NO! I don’t need you to go with me. Just…stop smothering me.”

He dropped his hands from her arms. “At least take my car.”

“All right, I’ll take your car.”

Leaving the medical center Lara got into traffic and instead of getting on the expressway she was funneled off onto a side street. She remembered this happening with John once and he’d driven fast without stopping through the tenements until he could find an entrance to the highway. She increased her speed but there were intersections where she slowed to look for traffic.

She saw the men converging on her car, six of them, and she hit the gas pedal but they’d sent a child out into the street. She hit her brakes and skidded into him. It all happened within a matter of minutes. Windows smashed and roughly she was jerked from the car.

John dismissed his class for lunch and he pulled out his phone, calling Lara. He’d asked her to call him when she left the doctor’s office and she hadn’t. It rang three times before a male voice in heavily-accented Spanish answered.

“You want to see your pretty wife again?”

John staggered into the blackboard behind him.

“I’ll be in touch,” the voice said and the line went dead.

He tried to redial the number but it didn’t ring.

“Oh, God! Oh, God no!” He was going to be sick and he grabbed a trash can.

“Mr. Pearson? Can I help you?” It was the aide from the school office. She stood back near the door.

“I…I have to leave…something…please tell the head master…I had to go.” He stumbled past the aide then ran down the hallway.

Chapter 2

He went home since it was only a few blocks away. There he tried the medical center to find out if she’d been in and when she left. Next he called the hotel where she worked. All the time his heart was beating so loudly he had to press the phone to his ear. She was not expected back at the hotel until 2:00…taken the morning off for a doctor’s appointment. As near as he could tell something had happened between 11:30 and noon. He left for Caracas unsure of exactly what he was going to do when he got there. He ended up at the medical center and questioned several people around the entrance. One remembered her leaving.

He sat in her car in the parking lot of the medical center, watching a police car drive through the parking lot and exit. He thought about hailing it but didn’t. Too many questions would be asked. He looked at his watch; nearly an hour had passed since he got the phone call. Starting the car, he pulled out into the traffic. He headed for the highway that would take him to Sucre, telling himself this was the route she would have taken. The exit sign caught his eye for Rios Street. A police car passed him and turned off the exit. He followed it down the ramp and underneath the overpass. Remembering where he was, he began paying attention to the sidewalks and the street.

Two blocks into the tenement neighborhood the police car pulled up by an ambulance. There was already another police car there. He slowed, trying to see what was happening. A crowd had gathered around as a stretcher was loaded into the ambulance. That’s when he saw his car pulled against the curb. The window on the passenger side was broken. A policeman was waving him on. He couldn’t stop.

This is where it had happened. Someone had taken her here. He looked in the rear view mirror to see the police around his car. They would trace him from the papers in the glove box but he had a little time. He hadn’t changed the address on his registration. They would visit the tiny apartment over the music store first.  John turned his car around, made one more pass by the incident, then headed for the ramp and back into the city.

In a hotel lobby he used the phones and called every hospital in Caracas, using her doctor’s name. Lara Pearson had not been brought in by ambulance from Rios Street. It had been an outside chance and now it was gone. He sat in the lobby by the phone and stared at the floor. The stretcher…his car…something else had happened there. Had she run someone down before they got her?

Someone else wanted to use the phone and John left the hotel lobby. He found the car and drove to Luke’s school. He was early by two hours but he didn’t know what else to do. He felt a strong need to have his son with him. With Luke in the back seat, he drove back to Sucre. Parking the car in the garage, he locked it and went upstairs with Luke, locking the door behind him. He had thought about taking a room in Caracas at the hotel. The possibility that Lara might yet turn up at home stopped him.

He’d just sent Luke to take a bath when someone knocked on his door. Inside he was quaking but he appeared calm when he opened the door. The police…he asked them what they wanted in Spanish.

They introduced themselves and gave a description of his car and asked if he was the owner.

“Yes, it’s mine.”

“Where is the car, Mr. Pearson?”

“I…I don’t know.” For a moment he thought about telling them it had been stolen and then he thought of Lara and the possibility that they might be interested in helping him. “My, um, wife drove it to Caracas this morning to see her doctor.”

“Where is your wife, Mr. Pearson? May we come inside?”

He stepped back and allowed the one uniformed policeman and detective Perez to come in the apartment.

“I don’t know where she is. She left this morning and has not been back. She was due back at work at 2:00.” He had his phone in his hand and he looked at it for a moment and made a decision. “I received this.” He played the saved message for the men.

“I don’t know what it means. I’m afraid she’s been kidnapped.”

The detective listened to the recorded message and fixed John with his dark eyes. “When did you get this?”

“A little after 12:00.”

“Why did you not report it?”

“I don’t know. A crank call…maybe. I was going to wait for her to come home.”

“Do you know she ran down a young child today? Witnesses have seen this and called the police.”

“No.”

“He is now in the hospital in serious condition. They say she ran from the car and they do not know where she went.”

“That’s a lie!” It came out forcefully. “She did not run from an accident. Something happened to her…the phone call.”

“It may be a crank call, like you say. She could even now be in hiding…afraid of what she has done.”

“No, she wouldn’t. Where is, um, the car?”

“It has been towed to our garage. Who is here?” The detective heard a noise from the bathroom.

“My son is in the bath. No one else is here but me.”

The detective walked past him into the living room and looked around. “What is it you do, Mr. Pearson?” He picked up a framed photo of Lara and Luke from a bookcase and studied it.

“I, uh, teach English at Sucre Secondary School.

“And your wife, does she work?”

“At the Caribe Hotel.”

“You say she went to see a doctor, why?”

“She’s a diabetic and he wanted to do an evaluation. She needs a new prescription for insulin.”

The detective turned to the policeman who brought out a little black zippered bag from a brown paper bag. “This belongs to her?”

John’s eyes widened. “Yes, she has to inject herself every morning.” He moistened his lips. “Don’t you see she wouldn’t have left it behind. She was taken from the car by someone, against her will.” There was a touch of desperation in his voice.

“The accident happened on Rios Street. Do you know where that is, Mr. Pearson, or why your wife would have been in that neighborhood?”

“I know where it is and I don’t know why she would have been there. We were driving from Caracas once and I was in the wrong lane. I ended up on Rios for as long as it took me to get back on the highway.”

“Well, then you know it is not a place for a woman, especially a North American to be driving alone.”

“Yes.”

“Unfortunately it is controlled by a gang. We do what we can but as long as there is no trouble we do not go into Rios. I will see what we can find out about your wife. If you get another phone call…you will call me, yes?”

“Yes.”

The detective and his policeman moved toward the door. “Good evening, Mr. Pearson.”

He closed the door on them. Had he done the right thing? “Oh, God!” He looked up toward the ceiling.

“Dad.” Luke was standing in the door of the bathroom. “Where is Mom?”

John didn’t know how much he’d heard. “I don’t know.”

“Are the police going to put her in jail again?”

“No…no, they won’t. Time for bed, Luke. We’ll find out more tomorrow.” John put him to bed and as he’d done in the past he lay down with him and they talked quietly for awhile about his school and the friends he was making. Just before Luke drifted off to sleep he told his Dad to tell Mom goodnight.

John lay there for a moment and then quietly slipped out of  his room, pulling the door closed. He was trying awfully hard to keep himself together, trying not to think of the horrors Lara was surely suffering in the hands of her kidnappers. He found his seat on the sofa and held his head in his hands. He looked through his fingers at his phone lying there on the table. “Ring,” he said.

Lara screamed until a hand was clamped down tight on her mouth. She’d been dragged into a shop and out of the back door. No one was paying any attention to her. All eyes and ears were on the screaming woman in the street bending over the boy who lay broken on the pavement. The shop owner had rushed out to aid the boy. Later when the police were finally alerted by the medics who’d arrived, the onlookers had a story for them.

A woman was driving the car. She rushed out and ran away. No one knew where she’d gone. Few had even seen her. A description was gathered of a woman with blond hair, Caucasian woman. Different accounts were given about her looks and which way she’d run. No one seemed to know why the passenger window was broken out.

No one knew anything of value for the policeman and the detective who soon arrived at the scene. They noted the skid marks on the pavement, broken light on the driver’s side. The policeman thought he’d found drug paraphernalia inside the car but the detective knew what it was. His wife was also a diabetic. They put her medicine in a brown paper bag from the shop.

One young woman who worked in the shop could have told them exactly what happened but no one asked her.  A petite girl, half hidden behind a rack of rubber sandals when the men came through the shop with the struggling woman, she’d heard the car screeching to a halt and the screams as she was pulled from the driver’s seat. She’d ducked behind the rack when the owner rushed out. It was not wise to talk to the police.

Now she sat on the front stoop of the ramshackle house behind her and smoked a cigarette. She was barely sixteen and still lived with her mother and father. She wondered what had become of the woman. Her father would know but she couldn’t ask him. She didn’t talk to her father if she could help it. She knew what his business was.

“Cara, you come in now. It is late.” Mrs. Molina stood in the doorway of the house.

She flicked her cigarette out into the yard and looked down below at the house windows in front of them. Stephan Rochas lived there and he had not come home tonight. Stephan was twenty and he worked for her father. She was six weeks pregnant with his child but no one knew except for the two of them.

“How much money do you think you are worth, eh?”  He was an older man with some gray in his hair and he’d pulled a chair up in front of Lara. Barrel chest with his bare arms bristling with black hairs, he had an air of authority about him.

Lara couldn’t answer him because she was gagged and tied to the chair. She’d been slapped around earlier while they tied her hands behind her and her legs to the chair legs. She shook her head.

“You drive a nice car. Maybe your husband has means, yes?” He stared at her without expression. One eye slightly drooped. A scar separated the eyebrow above it.

At the mention of her husband tears began slipping down her cheeks over the bandana tied around her mouth.

Molina pulled her phone from his pocket and found the number again for John. “We will see what he will do for you. Maybe he don’t want you back.” He laughed and then became serious when his call was answered.

“Yes?” John held the phone close to his ear.

“Two things I want from you. No. 1 – you do not go to the police. If I see policeman around here I will kill her. You understand this?”

“Yes.”

“No. 2 – you will pay me $600,000. When I have the money I will let her go. You have  48 hours. I want the money in a shopping bag. You will come into Rios Market at exactly 8:00PM. You cannot miss it. It is painted bright yellow. You will hand the money over to a young woman and you will leave. You do not talk to her or anyone else. You get in your car and leave. I will call you with directions to the place your wife will be waiting.”

“How…how do I know she’s…she’s alive?”

“I am looking at her right now. You can say hello to her.” He reached over and jerked the gag from Lara’s mouth and held the phone up to her ear.

“John.” Her mouth was so dry she could hardly speak.

“Lara! Lara, are you all right…Lara?”

“So you know she is alive. We will keep her that way as long as you follow directions.” He ended the call.

John’s eyes overflowed. “Oh, nooo…Lara!” After all they’d been through to come to this. It was beyond belief. $600,000 might as well have been $6,000,000. He had a little over $100,000 left.  He listened to the message again and noticed the card the detective had left on the table. ‘I will kill her’ rang in his ears.

“Detective Perez.”

“John Pearson…I received a call. I want you to stop looking for her. He said…said he’d…kill her.” His voice broke and he fought to get himself under control. “No…no police.”

“I am afraid I cannot do that, Mr. Pearson. Your wife will be charged when she is found. The boy has died from his injuries. Already we are making inquiries.”

“No…no, you can’t! He’s going to kill her if he sees police around …he said-"

“Do not think I am so stupid as to send uniforms into his lair. I have dealt with these people before. We will find her.”

John ended the call and threw his phone down on the table. It had been a mistake to ask the police for help.

Chapter 3

A young man came into the room with something wrapped in a towel. Lara watched him move to a dirty table and put it down. She could smell food and her stomach answered with a growl. Molina had been on the phone with someone, speaking in rapid Spanish. She couldn’t follow the conversation.

“Ah, he brings you food. Stephan, you will guard her…only untie one hand, yes? Let her drink and go to the toilet. Tie her to the bed and if you touch her…you know what I mean?”

“I will not touch her,” the young man answered. He was a strikingly good-looking young man, taller than Molina and slender. He unwrapped the plate of food and picked up the chair Lara was tied to, moving it over to the table. He untied her left hand. “You eat.” He moved away from her, holding a wicked-looking knife in his hand and settled down to watch her while she ate.

She emptied half the bottle of water before she began to eat. She could hear a TV in the other room and Molina speaking with someone. She hadn’t seen the third man yet unless he’d been one of the six that brought her to this filthy hovel, high above the street where she’d run over the boy. She hoped he was all right. She hadn’t meant to hit him. He couldn’t have been any older than Luke. She put her fork down and rubbed her wet eyes. Luke.

Cara readied herself for bed and then went to her window to wait for him to come home. Downstairs she could hear her parents arguing. Her mother was loud, her father was louder.  She leaned out of the window and looked up at the stars. Suddenly her bedroom door slammed open. Her father. Her breath caught in her throat…did he know about Stephan?

“You, Cara, I have a job for you.”

“No, no, no you do not listen to him!” her mother wailed behind him.

Stephan had not gagged her when he set about tying her to the bed posts. “Your name is Stephan?”

“Yes.”

“Let me go.”

“I cannot do that, senora.” He had a deep sensual voice that matched his looks.

“You’re too good for this. With your looks you could be on TV or even in the movies. Why are you working for that thug?”

He stopped a moment and looked at her, flattered by her words. “The money is good.”

“It’s not good enough…not for you. I could help you. I know people. I’ve met  them where I work.”

“Senora, you are in no position to help yourself. You cannot help me. Don’t talk to me anymore. You go to sleep.”

He turned out the lamp and closed the door.

John drove Luke to school and visited the two banks where he had money deposited. All in all he had about $180,000. Nowhere near the amount the kidnappers wanted. He stuffed the money in his pockets and some in the trunk of his car. He was wary about putting it all in one place. He still had stacks of bills in a canvas bag under his bed.

He took the exit to Rios Street and found the yellow market. It was the same market where his car had been parked the day before. He parked and went into the market. Walking around and picking up objects and putting them down, he got a good idea of the place and placement of the doors.

Cara Molina was behind the counter watching him. She was alone in the store and he was not from around the neighborhood. John had seen her, too. Finally he walked to the counter to pay for a bottle of orange drink. She stared into his eyes for a moment too long.

“You know who I am, don’t you?” John asked.

She rang up his purchase and took his money, audibly counting out his change. “I don’t know you.” She wouldn’t look up at him now.  She was certain he was the woman’s husband, the one who would bring the money.

“You know, don’t you? You know where she is.” He grabbed her wrist as she gave him the change.

“No, I don’t know! Let me go!”

“I’ll give you money…a lot of money. Tell me where she is.”

“I can’t…I don’t know…please, I don’t know exactly where.”

“Find out and I’ll make you rich.”

She laughed a little and rubbed her wrist.

“I’ll be back tomorrow. You’ll know by then.” He looked around the store, pulled his sunglasses down over his eyes and left her. He’d wanted to strangle her for whatever she knew and wouldn’t tell him.

He left Rios and drove back to the old neighborhood. A few blocks down from where they had lived was a gun shop. It felt like déjà vu to him when he paid for the gun. He knew where the bullets went now. He loaded it in the store and went with the clerk out back where he shot a metal trash container. He looked at the clerk and nodded. Different gun but it’s purpose was the same. He slipped the clerk some extra money to forget him.

As soon as Mr. Ortega came on duty in the market Cara ran up the hill and into the Rochas household.

“Mama Rochas, is he here?”

“Oh, yeah, he’s here. He’s out all night, that one, and now he sleep all day.” Mama Rochas fanned her considerable bulk with a magazine. She was watching TV and smiled up at Cara.

“Can I go up?”

“Yeah, you go but you watch yourself, eh?” She raised a brow and shook her head. Cara had been hanging around since she was twelve. She’d grown into a well-rounded-in-the-right-places, pretty girl.

Cara quietly opened Stephen’s bedroom door. He shared a room with a younger brother but he wasn’t around today. “Stephan, are you sleeping?”

He rolled over and blinked a few times. “Cara, what are you doing here?” He raised up in the bed, reaching for a cigarette.

Cara sat down on the side of his bed. “You didn’t come last night.”

“No, I was working. Did you miss me?” He placed a hand behind her head and kissed her.

“Yes, I miss you. I think you were with some other woman.”

“I wasn’t. You know you are the only one.”

“Stephan, if you had a lot of money would you leave this place…go away…far away from Rios?”

“That’s heavy. I just woke up. If I had a lot of money I could do as I wish…yes, I think I would leave.”

“Would you take me with you?”

“Your father would kill me.”

“He’s going to kill you anyway”

“You haven’t told him?” He looked at her with alarm.

“No, you think I am crazy? I tell him nothing. He makes me work for him tomorrow night.”

“Doing what?” He blew out a stream of smoke.

“I stay in the store and take the money…deliver it to Ramos.”

Stephan frowned and shook his head. “He should not involve you…that is crazy…he is crazy, you  know.”

“I hate him. This man, he comes into the store today and he says he can make me very rich if I tell him where his wife is.”

“Oh, hoh…Cara, no, no ,no! You stay out of it.”

“But if we took the money and ran away? You think about it, Stephan.”

“$600,000 is a lot of money.”

“It is a fortune!”

John was keeping watch on the time. He’d spent the past two hours cutting up magazines, books, newspapers, anything he could find, in the size of dollar bills. On top of each carefully wrapped stack of fake bills he’d placed a $100 bill. He was placing them in a plain white gift bag he’d bought for that purpose. He finally had to call it quits and clean up the trimmings. It was time to pick up Luke from school.

He was trying to keep things as normal as he could for Luke. Tomorrow night, though…he didn’t know what was going to happen.

“Buckled?”

“Yes…did Mom come home?” Luke asked.

“No. You’ll see her soon.”

“She’s in jail, isn’t she, Dad?”

“No, Luke, she’s not in jail.” Luke looked at his father for a minute and then looked out of the window. John started the car and headed back to Sucre.

Luke watched TV while John prepared their dinner. The question of what to do with Luke while he went for Lara still hadn’t been answered. He didn’t know anyone well enough to ask them to watch him for awhile.

“Luke…dinner.” John placed the plates on the table and sat down. “Do, um, any of your new friends ever ask you over to their house?”

“No, I don’t have many friends.”

“You have some, don’t you?”

“Only at school. We aren’t friends when the bell rings.”

John smiled and looked at his son. He shook his head slightly. “Someday, Luke, you’ll have too many to count.”

“Not too many.”

“Is there anything you’d like to do tomorrow night?”

“Tomorrow night? I don’t know.”

John looked at his plate, moving his food around. “We’ll think of something.”

 

Lara was glad to see Stephan was back. He brought her dinner and let her up. She’d been tied to the bed all day with only two bathroom breaks. He tied her ankles to the chair when she sat down to eat.

“Sorry, but it has to be done.”

“There was a bag in my car, a black bag. What happened to it?”

“I don’t know. The police took the car away.”

“Police?”

“Yes, they came because you ran over the boy. He is dead now, did you know?”

“No…I didn’t know. I am so sorry. I couldn’t stop. They sent him out…a man did. I saw him give the little boy a shove toward the street.”

“Yes…it happens sometimes. You were supposed to stop.”

“I tried to stop.” It made her sick to think of it. Her eyes filled with tears.

“You had better eat.”

Lara ate and wondered who she was. She and John both…who had they become? Murderers…

“The black bag…what was in it?”

“My medicine. I’m a diabetic. I have to give myself a shot every day.”

“You will be free tomorrow night if your husband brings the money.”

Lara knew they didn’t have that much money left. Still she was confident John would bring it. He would do something. She’d realized there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her.

“How much do you get paid for what you do?”

“That is none of your business.”

“It’s not $600,000…is it?”

He moved from the chair where he’d been sitting and walked to the door. “No,” he said barely above a whisper. All afternoon he’d been thinking and then trying not to think about what Cara had suggested. It was a sure way to get them both killed.

He didn’t talk to Lara anymore or answer her questions. After he got her settled back in the bed and secured to the posts he took the empty plate and left. Lara could hear him moving about in the other room and then the TV came on. She lay on her back and stared at the ceiling, thinking of the boy she’d killed.

 

Chapter 4

After dropping Luke off at school, John headed for the airport. He bought three tickets to Georgetown, Guyana. Whether he would use them or not he didn’t know. He then went back to their apartment and packed. Everything was loaded in the trunk of the car.

As he was walking back down the steps to leave his phone rang.

“Mr. Pearson, are you ready for the delivery tonight? Do you have the money?”

It was the detective and John hesitated before he answered. “Yes, I’m ready.”

“Good, you will not be alone. There will be a brown car on the side of the street as you enter Rios. Stop and pick up the driver. He is my man. I do this for your protection, of course, and that of your wife. He will have instructions for you. I am sorry we do not have any information as to where she is being kept. We have tried but it is difficult to get anyone to talk in Rios.”

“Right.”

“So, I hope to see you later tonight, yes?”

“Yeah, later tonight.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Pearson.”

John looked at his phone for a moment then made a decision. He didn’t trust the detective.

He parked in front of the market and went inside. The girl was ringing up a purchase for a woman with a baby. He kept his head down and moved to the back of the market, glancing at the back door. It was open. He could see across the narrow alley the foundations of a row of houses. The hillside went up steeply.

Cara saw him come in and took her time ringing up the woman’s shopping. What was he doing here? She had to look away from his intense gaze when he came to the counter.

“You are early. You are not supposed to come until tonight.”

“I couldn’t wait. Where is she?”

There was something different about him and it made her afraid. “I don’t know.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t know.”

“He wouldn’t tell me.”

“Who wouldn’t tell?” He grabbed her arm and brought her around the counter. “Take me to him.”

“No, I can’t! You don’t understand.”

“It’s you who doesn’t understand. Take me to him…remember the money.”

Cara was confused. The thought of the money…but it was all happening too soon, too fast. She was being pulled out of the store and into his car.

He started the motor. “Which way do I go?”

Cara was beginning to sprout tears. “Up…you go up there between the buildings. She held her breath as they neared Stephan’s house. “Here…stop. I…I will get him if he is there.”

John got out of the car with her and followed her into the house with his hand inside his jacket, resting on the gun in his jeans.

“Mama Rochas, Mama Rochas?” There was no answer. “Upstairs.”

Stephan was in bed but he sat up when the door opened. He’d been awake for awhile. “Who is this?” he said in rapid Spanish.

“This is the man with the money, the man who wants his wife.”

Stephan blinked a few times. “You bring him here?”

“Where is she?” John asked.

“He has the money.” Cara looked at Stephen with her eyes wide and bright.

Stephan waited a beat. “You have the money…now?”

“I have it and it’s yours if you take me to my wife.”

Stephan looked at Cara. “Where is your father?”

“He went into the city this morning with Ramos.”

Stephan threw back his cover and reached for his jeans. He pulled on a tee shirt and his shoes. Nervously he again looked at Cara. “We are signing a death warrant. You know that.”

“We will be far away. Please, Stephan, it is our only chance.”

Down the stairs and into the car. Cara’s mother was standing on her stoop. “Cara, Cara, what are you doing? Cara?”

Cara ignored her and twisted her skirt in her hands. Stephan was in the passenger seat, directing John farther up the hill. “Stop here,” Stephan said. “It is the blue house.”

“How many are in there?”

“One I know, Carlos.”

John looked at him. “You’re coming with me.” He showed him that he had a gun.

Stephan wished that he had armed himself before he left the house. This was all unexpected and money or no money he did not want to die today. He entered the house while John flattened himself just outside the door.

“Carlos, you pig, what are you doing?”

“What are you doing here?”

“I forgot something…in there.”

“She is a quiet one.” Carlos turned back to the TV.

Stephan went into the other room where Lara lay tied to the bed. He put a finger to his lips and untied the strips of cloth that held her down.

He stepped from the room looking at the back of Carlos’s head. “I’ll see you tonight.” He wiped the sweat from his brow.

“Yeah, yeah.” Carlos did not turn around.

Stephan stepped back and held onto Lara, helping to support her. Two days of being tied up had taken its toll on her. She was also feeling the lack of insulin. He was almost to the door.

“Hey, what are you doing!” Carlos sprang to his feet.

John stepped into the doorway and shot towards Carlos sending him reeling back onto the sofa. He grabbed Lara and carried her to the car, passing her into the back seat.

“Keep your head down!” He called and started the car.

Carlos staggered to the door and got off a shot hitting the car.

“John, oh, John!” Lara called from the back seat.

John didn’t have time to talk to her. He was flying down the hillside. He hit the brakes and skidded half way across the pavement before righting the car and heading for the exit ramp.

Cara was laughing hysterically caught between joy and absolute fear.

He made it up the ramp and headed into the city of Caracas.

“Why is the car slowing? you need to go faster,” Stephan said, with a hand on the dash as if trying to help push the car along.

John looked down at the gas gage. He’d filled the car up that morning and now it was hovering over empty. “Bullet must have punctured the gas tank.” He began drifting toward the curb. A horn blasted behind him. He’d cut off a driver who gave him a bump. John looked in the rearview mirror to see him shaking a fist. He stopped the car suddenly and jumped out.

In a matter of moments he’d pulled the driver out of his vehicle and hit him on the side of the head with his gun. He went down and John screamed to his passengers, “Empty the trunk!”

He ran back for Lara and placed her in the passenger seat. With Stephan and Cara’s help he transferred their bags to the vehicle.

“You’re on your own,” he said to Stephan and handed him the gift bag.  “There’s only $60,000 in there but that will get you somewhere.”

“You going to leave us here!” Cara screamed at him.

“Steal your own car.” John jumped behind the wheel and took off.

John slowed with the traffic and turned in the direction of Luke’s school. “Lara, are you all right?”

“Yes. No, I don’t think I’ll ever be all right again. Where are we going?”

“To pick up Luke.”

“I knew you’d come. Whatever it took…I knew you’d come.”

He glanced over at her. “We aren’t out of it yet. Stick with me, Lara. That’s all I ask.”

She looked at him and reached over, laying her hand on his thigh. “Did you ever think I wouldn’t?”

“I didn’t know.”

He pulled into the parking lot of the school. “I’ll get him. Don’t move.” He locked the doors and ran into the school.

Lara burst into tears but by the time John came out with Luke walking calmly and carrying his book bag she’d pulled herself together.

Luke stopped while John unlocked the doors. “You got a new car…and Mom.”

“Yeah, again- get in and buckle up.”

“Luke, are you okay?” Lara leaned over the seat and touched his face.

“I’m okay. Where are we going now, Dad?”

John looked back at his son and smiled. “The airport.”

Luke grinned back and looked at his mother.

At the airport Lara went into the bathroom to clean herself up as best she could. She changed her clothes and gave herself a shot.

“You okay?” John asked when she came out.

She nodded and smiled. “I’m okay now.”

He took the bag from her and led them to the waiting area for their flight.

“How could you think I wouldn’t stay with you? You are the most amazing man in the world.” Lara reached for his hand.

“I was afraid…I’m not the man I used to be.”

“I’m not the woman I used to be. Too much has happened…I might have been innocent of one murder but not…not another. I ran over a little boy.”

“I know. I don’t care. I know you wouldn’t have run over a kid on purpose.”

“It was an accident." She looked around the waiting room. “What language do they speak in Guyana?”

“English.” He squeezed her hand. “We’ll be all right. Time to go.” He picked up their bags and handed one to her. “Can you carry it?”

“I can do anything as long as I’ve got you.”

He leaned over and kissed her.

That night they were in one of two hotels in Georgetown, Guyana. It was clean and tourist ready.

“John, you gave away $60,000. How are we going to keep going?”

“It was only money.” He ran a hand down her back. “I’d promised the girl. If he’s smart he’ll get them out of Caracas. If we need money we’ll find it.”

She looked up into his eyes, a hint of merriment there. “You are…yes, you are.” Her arms went around his neck.

“I’ll do what I have to, Lara, to keep us together and alive.”

“So will I, because I love you, John. You and Luke are my life.”

 

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