|Primary Characters:||Richard, Jean, Chuck, Maggie, Gerard|
|Description:||Charnquist wants to get rid of Kimble. To get to him, he goes after Jean. She’s tougher than he thinks and she defends herself. Then she decides to find her ex. Together they will catch Charnquist and turn him over to Gerard.|
The one-armed man was watching the door closely, while keeping an eye on his closest neighbors at the bar. His contact was late. If he didn’t show up within the next fifteen minutes, Charnquist would leave. But there he was. The small Asian man cast a shifty glance inside the poorly lit, smoky room, before venturing over to the bar. He ordered a bourbon, which he left untouched, then again surveyed the room warily. Not until then did he pull out the envelope from his jacket pocket.
“Here. Pictures of the woman and her children. From what I hear, the kids spend some time with their father. Especially now that she’s -”
“I know all that.”
Charnquist was eager to get going. He reached into his own inner pocket and brought out another envelope, containing the Asian’s pay.
“If anyone asks -”
“I never saw anyone looking like you.”
With satisfaction, Charnquist noted the glint of fear in the little man’s eyes. Though connected with Chinese organized crime, apparently he still feared the retribution of an unconnected operative. Good. If he was scared, then maybe he’d really keep his mouth shut. In any case, Charnquist was dead. Only a stubborn doctor fighting for his freedom even knew of his existence, and fortunately, another stubborn guy, a cop, hated the doctor enough never to put any stock in independent sightings of a one-armed man.
Five minutes later, Charnquist unlocked the door to his black van, slipped inside and drove off.
That night, he opened the envelope and studied the pictures of Maggie Kimble-Hume and her two children. Those kids were a bonus. People always tended to fold and give you anything when you could use their offspring as leverage. The woman would tell him where he could reach her brother, or she’d watch her children die, or maybe become invalids for life.
Either way, this time, Charnquist would finish off what was left of the Kimble family. That was the only way he could continue with his work undisturbed by meddling amateurs. If he drove all night, he’d be at the Kimble woman’s house. With luck, the children would be there too, but even if they weren’t, he’d tell her he had them. That tended to shake up any parent, especially one, he told himself, who was weakened by cancer.
The first indication that his plans wouldn’t be realized as easily as he’d expected came when he saw that the house looked unusually dead. Empty. Deserted. Not a curtain in any window, no lights on, nothing.
Could she somehow had been warned off? That pathetic website seemed to keep a close track on his whereabouts, but this was ridiculous. No. This had to be unrelated.
Charnquist caught the paper boy, doing his rounds, and asked the kid about the lady who lived in the house.
“I don’t know. She’s cancelled her subscription, that’s all I know.”
“Since this week.”
The boy scampered off to grab his bike. He’d been frightened by the intensity of the stranger. Charnquist shrugged it off. By the time a concerned parent had time to investigate, he’d be gone.
How inconvenient. Now he’d have to approach one of the neighbors. At least people were up and about. He settled for the house on the right. A man in a suit, carrying a briefcase opened the door.
“Hello. Sorry to disturb you like this. I’ve just returned from a trip abroad. My ex used to live next door to you. You wouldn’t happen to know what happened to her?”
“No. Sorry. Ms Hume has moved, but I haven’t heard anything about where she is now.”
“Well, thanks anyway. I guess I’ll have to keep looking.”
Yes. He would. But he didn’t want to waste time on another tiresome Kimble. He’d have to think of something else. Or rather someone else. Richard Kimble’s ex, Jean Trabant, might be useful. Charnquist’s sources informed him that Kimble had been in touch with her at least once during his time on the run. Chances were the woman might know where to find Kimble, and Kimble would care enough about her to come to her rescue.
He got a room at a motel, then continued the following morning. It didn’t take him too long to reach the Trabant woman’s place. Some discreet scouting revealed that she wasn’t in. No one else seemed to be about either. Charnquist decided to risk entering the house. Circling round the back, he found an open window. Careless of her. Not that a closed window would have kept him out. He still had the tools of his old trade handy. Picking a lock wouldn’t slow him down much.
Once inside, he chose a convenient out-of-the way corner to hide himself in, while he awaited the woman’s return. He had a long wait ahead of him. It was getting dark outside when he heard a key turn in the lock. What could have kept her away for so long? Work? Either way, she wouldn’t be working again for a long time. Charnquist smiled cruelly as he prepared himself.
Jean opened the cat carrier, expecting mr Jones to follow her inside. To her surprise, the cat slunk away, vanishing in the shadows under the hedge. If she hadn’t been so tired after a long day at the vet’s. She knew she was right and the vet wrong. The appointment had been for 1.30, not 5.30, but she hadn’t felt it was worth making a fuss about. So she’d waited. And waited. Since she let mr Jones outside once in a while, she knew he needed to have his shots regularly.
Mr Jones cowered under the hedge, wishing he’d had a way of warning mom. Stranger in the house. Bad stranger. If he’d been a big dog, he might have been able to help defend mom. As it was, he knew he had to lie low.
Jean was tired and hungry, so she headed straight for the kitchen, intending to start preparations for dinner. But first she needed a cup of tea. While she was boiling the water, she heard a slight noise from behind her. She turned and froze.
A strange man was standing there and the look in his eyes didn’t leave her any doubts about his intentions. Jean shrank back towards the sink, desperately seeking a way out. But the man was blocking her exit, and she was trapped. She could read in his eyes that he enjoyed her panic, her helplessness.
“Hello, dr Trabant. We haven’t met before, but we have a mutual acquaintance. Dr Richard Kimble.”
Richard. Something clicked inside Jean, and suddenly, she knew that this was the one-armed man. Charnquist. Remembering Helen, Jean knew what was in store for her, but she wouldn’t let that happen. She had to think of something.
“Have you heard from Kimble lately?”
While cas ting about in her mind for a weapon of some kind within reach, Jean’s eyes never left her attacker. She mustn’t let him guess what she was planning. If she could catch him unawares –
“If you tell me, I might go easy on you. Either way, you will tell me. Sooner or later. What’s it going to be?”
A soft noise from the kettle told her that the water was about to boil. Boiling water – Yes. And as if on cue, there was the sound of a car slowing down outside. Charnquist’s eyes left her and strayed towards the window for just one second. One second was all she needed.
When he turned back towards her, about a gallon of almost boiling water hit him straight in the face. Jean didn’t stop to evaluate the effect her attack had had. Her hand settled on one of her sharpest carving knives. When the man came at her again, his face red and scalded, she was ready for him. The carving knife flashed, and a fountain of blood poured from Charnquist’s shoulder.
Pressing the wound, the man seemed to hesitate, then turned and ran. Perhaps it had something to do with the car that had parked outside, perhaps it was the injury. Either way, he was going.
Shaken, but not defeated by the sudden invasion of her privacy, Jean thought over her situation. Apparently, she wasn’t safe in her own home. She would have to go. Now.
Only giving herself time to collect the merest basics, Jean now remembered mr Jones. Where was the cat? Charnquist couldn’t have – If he’d hurt mr Jones, she’d find him and make him pay.
She picked up the empty carrier, gathered a few other odds and ends, then warily opened the front door and gazed outside. She didn’t dare to call the cat’s name, but she hurriedly packed her stuff into the car, while looking anxiously around. When she felt something brush her leg, she nearly screamed. With a sigh of relief, she recognized her cat.
“Mr Jones. You’re safe. Come on. Let’s go.”
Elegantly, the cat jumped into his carrier, and let his mom close the door. Jean put the carrier in the back of the car, then returned inside to turn out the lights, and lock the door. She had a feeling that she would never live in thathouse again. It was sad, but she knew that in the last couple of years, the predominant feeling had been loneliness. All the same, there were no regrets. Home was where your loved ones were, not an empty house.
When she’d slammed the door shut behind her, and turned the key in the ignition, it occurred to Jean that she hadn’t given any thought to where she would go. To work? Hardly. If Charnquist knew where she lived, he’d have taken the trouble to find out where she worked. Besides, hiding wasn’t to her taste.
Charnquist had torn Richard’s life to pieces and now he’d come after her. It was time they fought back. Richard had been fighting on his own for too long. Jean remembered Maggie. The two women had been keeping in touch by email, which meant that Jean was probably the only person who knew where to find Richard’s sister. Jean had no idea if there would be room for her in Maggie’s new home, but it was someplace to go to begin with. With a bit of luck, Chuck would know where to find Richard.
“How about it, mr Jones? Let’s go and see your aunt Maggie.”
The enthusiastic miaow from the cat seemed to be intended as encouragement. Either way, Jean had already made up her mind. Chuck Brixius’ place would be the first stop on her way.
Jean kept on driving until she was too tired to see the road properly. Then she stopped at a roadside motel. The place was cheap and not quite clean, but at least they didn’t ask awkward questions about pets. She slept for a few hours, drank gallons of coffee, and kept driving for another nine hours.
By now, she was wondering whether she ought to call and warn Maggie and Chuck about her imminent arrival or not. She didn’t for a moment believe she’d been followed, or that Chuck’s phone would be tapped. Still, she didn’t know how to explain the situation over the phone. A vague plan was stirring at the back of her mind, and she wanted to think it over before she told anyone about it.
So she went on driving until she was on the outskirts of town. There she stopped again, more to consider her next move, than to have another coffee. It occurred to Jean that the two young lovebirds might not want another woman looking over their shoulders. On the other hand, Maggie and Chuck could probably use some help keeping the children occupied, to leave them some privacy.
Besides, there was far more to the situation than what anyone would find comfortable. This was about Richard as much as about anything else. After recalling Richard, Jean felt much better. If there was no room for her at Chuck’s place, it didn’t really matter. She would only stop briefly anyway. There was something much more important going on.
Maggie had told her a little about her new home, and Jean was guessing it might be a bit crowded in there, but surely they’d let her sleep on the floor for one night, before she continued on her way? If not, she could always get a hotel room. Jean finally arrived outside Chuck’s house – or rather, Chuck’s mother’s house, with a slightly impatient cat, who was eager to get out of his carrier.
“Sorry, mr Jones. I know it’s been a long trip, but I’m sure you’ll like it here.”
While driving, Jean had had plenty of time to think over her new situation and she’d realized that a cat didn’t have any place in her life for the time being. She was fervently hoping Chuck – or his mother – wouldn’t be suffering from an allergy. Maggie and her children did not, Jean seemed to recall. Hopefully, she’d be able to leave mr Jones with Maggie, while she went searching for Richard.
With the cat carrier in her hand, Jean stepped up to the door of the guest house and prepared herself to knock. Not until now did she think to wonder if anyone would be at home. She didn’t really wish to introduce herself to mrs Brixius, trying to explain her connection to the lady’s son. But she was worrying unnecessarily. The door was flung open by a little girl with flushed cheeks. Apparently, she had called at a time when the children were busy playing.
“Hello. Oh, is that a cat? Or a puppy?”
“Hello. It’s a cat. You must be Emily? I’m a friend of – your uncle Richard. Is your mother at home?”
“Can I play with the cat? What’s her name?”
“His name’s mr Jones. Alright. You can play with him. If he wants to.”
“Come in. Mom.”
The little girl seemed far more eager to get acquainted with the new playmate, than to find her mother and tell her about the visitor. Jean was left standing on the doorstep, watching her cat disappear with his human cousin. At least she knew that mr Jones was very good at looking after himself, without causing bloodshed. If he didn’t want to play, he’d make himself invisible.
Looking around, rather hesitantly, Jean was wondering whether she ought to walk straight inside, looking for a more grownup person to introduce herself to, or if she should wait a while longer. She was feeling a bit awkward, as if she’d just opened the door to someone else’s house and walked in, without asking permission.
Before she’d made up her mind, a blond young man looked out of a room on the right, and on catching sight of her, straightened out, and walked over. Jean was feeling even more embarrassed by now. He was only wearing his jeans, and his hair looked slightly dishevelled. What if she’d barged in on a very intimate situation?
The young man appeared no less self-conscious about his appearance. He’d been hard at work all night, at the computer, not really caring about the way he looked in front of his lover and her children. Now there was this guest standing on the doorstep, and he couldn’t even find a clean shirt. Maggie was asleep, and the children had been left to fend for themselves. Clearing her throat nervously, Jean prepared to launch into an explanation about her sudden appearance in his house.
“Hello. I’mJean -”
“DrJean Trabant. I know. Hello. Chuck. Chuck Brixius.”
“You know? Oh. The website. It feels a but funny to have your whole life exposed to the public like that.”
Chuck’s face took on a deeper shade of red.
“If you think I’ve invaded your privacy, I’d be happy to remove the information about you from the site.”
“Don’t worry about it. Speaking of privacy – I guess you’re wondering what I’m doing here. Sorry. I should have called first, but -”
“Not at all. Maggie will be pleased to see you, I know. Sorry about the mess. I was up all night working and -”
“Oh. Don’t worry about it. When I’m working – Chuck, do you think I could stay here for a while? At least for one night.”
“Of course. It’s a bit crowded, but I’m sure we can squeeze in one more.”
He took another look at Jean’s face, and seemed to derive some information from it.
“Are you alright, dr Trabant?”
“I’m a bit tired. It’s been a long drive. And – By the way, where’s Maggie?”
“She’s asleep. The treatment’s making her tired and -”
“Oh. I see. Well, I suppose I can fill her in later. Maybe it’s you I need to talk to anyway. Since you’re the one coordinating the work for the website.”
“Maggie helps out too, these days. Until she can go back to teaching.”
“Yes. Chuck, can we sit down?”
“Of course. Sorry. Here. Is something wrong?”
“In a way. You see the one-armed man, the one who killed Helen came to see me.”
“What? Charnquist was at your house?”
“Yes. I think – I think he wanted to find out where Richard is. And – well, I guess he was going to kill me.”
For the first time since she’d confronted the intruder, Jean allowed herself to speak that thought out loud. She’d been about to get killed.
“You’re not injured?”
“No. But he is.”
A weak smile was playing on Jean’s lips. That killer had come to force information out of her, to kill her, and he’d walked away with his face scalded and a stab wound in his shoulder. Not bad for a mere amateur.
“You managed to injure him?”
“Yes. I poured boiling water in his face, then stabbed him in the shoulder. That sort of made him stop and think a bit and I guess his conclusion was that I wasn’t worth the effort. But I realized that I had to leave my home.”
“You can stay here for as long as you like.”
“Thanks, but I think I need to find Richard. Do you have any idea where he might be?”
“Well – I know where he was last sighted. But dr Trabant -”
“Jean. And you know my name’s Chuck. Please, don’t go after him. If Charnquist has taken to coming after Richard’s friends and family – It’s not safe.”
“Richard’s out there on his own. That’s not exactly safe either, is it?”
“No. But he’s got no choice. If you want to help, you can stay here and -”
“And what? Help you and Maggie with the website? I don’t think so. But I’m not going anywhere for a while. And I’d be grateful if you didn’t worry Maggie with my plans.”
“Right. But I hope you’ll reconsider. Not that it’s any of my business -”
“I appreciate your concern, Chuck, I really do, but don’t you think this has gone on for long enough? Richard -”
Again, Chuck took a closer look. Yes. He was no expert on other people’s emotions, but he was positive Jean wanted to try again with Kimble. That was something he could easily sympathise with, especially now that he was happily involved with Kimble’s sister.
“Anyway, please make yourself at home. Do you have any stuff you’d like me to go get?”
“If you would. There’s not much. I didn’t have time to bring more than a few basics.”
“Ok. I’ll get right on it. When Maggie wakes up, I’m sure she’ll help you get settled in, and tomorrow you can go shopping for anything you’ll need.”
“Thanks. Maggie’s a lucky woman.”
“Oh. Richard Kimble’s a lucky man.”
Jean stared at the young man. Was she that obvious? Or perhaps there was much more to this shy kid than met the eye. Either way, she wasn’t going to keep any secrets from Maggie and Chuck. At least not from Chuck. Due to Maggie’s condition, sharing the plans Jean were hatching might be a little premature.
“We’ll see about that. First I have to find him, and if he’s like you, he might not even want my help. In that case, you and Maggie could find yourselves putting me up for years, until Richard can solve his problems on his own. But in the past, he always respected my ability to take care of myself.”
“I didn’t mean -”
“That’s alright. I understand. But there are times when you just have to bite the bullet.”
“I suppose you’re right. Well, I’ll go get your stuff. Then I’ll get started on dinner. You don’t suppose you could keep an eye on the kids?”
“Oh. Sure. I’d better go see how Emily and Stuart are getting along with mr Jones. That reminds me. I hope you’re not allergic to cats? Or that you can’t stand them?”
“Cats? No. I’m not allergic and I like all animals. In fact, cats seem to like me a lot.”
The house wasn’t very big. Jean soon found her way to the back door, and through that into the back yard, where the children and mr Jones were happily coexisting. Emily didn’t look too disappointed that the cat wasn’t in a mood to play. Instead, she sat down next to him, where he was lapping up the last of the afternoon’s sun, reaching out a sticky hand from time to time, to pet the silky smooth fur. From the way his ears were twitching, Jean could guess how much of a sacrifice mr Jones was making, but on the other hand, Emily wasn’t trying to squeeze or carry the cat around, so apparently both sides were adapting. That was promising, considering Jean’s plans for the immediate future.
When Jean returned inside, she met Maggie Kimble, looking a lot thinner and paler than when they last met. Still, considering the circumstances, Jean judged that her future sister-in-law, if everything went according to plan, was looking better than could be expected.
The two women exchanged greetings and caught up on the latest news for a few minutes. By then, Chuck was back with Jean’s luggage, and the children had returned indoors, with the cat, all three of the latter clamoring for dinner.
“Mr Jones. I guess you’re here to stay, Jean?”
“Is anything wrong?”
“Maggie – I just told Chuck that – but Emily and Stuart are hungry, and so is mr Jones. Maybe we should talk later -”
“Yes. Alright, kids, let’s have dinner. Come on, help Chuck set the table.”
Jean went to unpack mr Jones’ food, then helped Maggie get dinner ready. It wasn’t until more than an hour later that Jean and Maggie had a chance to really talk.
As Jean had suspected, the news about Charnquist was a bad shock to Maggie. It was obvious that Maggie was now beginning to fear for her children’s safety. Jean and Chuck had to do their best to convince her that the one-armed man wouldn’t be coming to their house.
For a moment, Jean wondered if that was true. Now that he’d failed to find her, wouldn’t he go after the people who would be most likely to know where Richard was? After that, Jean found herself forced to play down her plans, instead making Maggie believe she was only going to visit an old friend from college while the worst of the situation blew over.
At last, by the time Chuck had retreated to put the children to bed, Jean felt that she had succeeded in making light of her own immediate plans, and that Maggie was, at least for the time being, reassured about her own situation.
“Jean, I’m so glad you decided to come here first.”
“Yes, well, old Hughie is allergic to cats, so I was hoping mr Jones could stay here for a while. Do you think you and Chuck can manage?”
“Oh, absolutely. Emily’s been badgering me to get a puppy. At least now I think I’ll get a reprieve. I don’t think I could deal with a dog in this small house, not right now. Although Chuck’s mother has been making plans to move to her sister, so we can use the big house.”
“That’s very generous of her.”
“Yes. She’s a wonderful person. You have no idea how I feared meeting her. But when I did see her, she was really sweet.”
Chuck returned, after putting the children to bed, and it wasn’t long until Maggie too, felt that she needed to get some rest. She cast an exasperated glance at Jean before she got up.
“Remember I used to be such a night-owl? Now even mom wouldn’t have been able to find any fault with the hours I keep. As soon as I get the kids to bed, I’m so exhausted I have to go as well. Poor Chuck.”
“I’m not complaining, and you know it. Anyway, the hours I keep mean that we’ll get to spend time together, no matter when you’re awake. Speaking of sleeping, though… I’m sorry, Jean, there’s no extra bed. Unless you’d like to go up to the house, you’ll have to take this sofa, and I’ll sleep on the floor with the kids.”
“Oh, no, Chuck. I can’t make you do that. If anyone’s got to sleep on the floor, I’ll do it. It’s alright.”
“Absolutely not. I’ll be fine. And Stuart’s going to be thrilled. He loves this going-camping approach to sleeping.”
“Chuck’s right. In the past, I always had trouble getting Stuart to go to bed. Now he can’t wait. All because of the mattresses on the floor. But it did give John another weapon to use against me in court.”
“You’ve already had your hearing?”
“No. It’s coming up in about two months. I’ve got it all covered, so I’m not concerned. My attorney says I have a strong case. Well, I’m sorry, Jean. I’d love to stay and chat, but my doctor says I need to get plenty of rest.”
“I know. That’s good advice. But I have to tell you, you’re looking even better than I was hoping.”
“Yes. I feel great, and that’s all thanks to Chuck.”
Chuck’s pleasant face again grew a bit more pink, but he only smiled adoringly at his lover, before he got up to find some pillows and a blanket for his guest. With Maggie safely out of earshot, Jean decided that Chuck was reliable enough to discuss the matter that had been on her mind for some time.
“Chuck? Do you have a moment? He gave her a wary glance, as if something had been weighing on his mind as well.”
“Sure. What’s the matter?”
“You know, I was trying my best to convince Maggie it’s still safe for you guys here, but really, I’m a bit concerned.”
“I know I’m showing up here, bringing nothing but trouble, but do you think there’s some place you and Maggie could go for the time being, to stay out of the way?”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking, and yeah, there is a place we could go to. Mom and all of us. And mr Jones. My aunt, my mother’s sister Pauline, lives in the country. She’s got a huge farm house, and I know we’d be welcome there. Even my cousins don’t mind me so much these days.”
“Oh. What a relief. I’d hate to think I’d brought anything down on you.”
“It wouldn’t be your fault. Everything’s happened because of this Charnquist. Do you have any idea why he’d go after dr Kimble’s family?”
“I’ve been asking myself that, ever since this nightmare began, but I haven’t the slightest clue. All I know is, it’s certainly helped me get to know who my real friends are.”
There was a bitterness in Jean’s voice that got to Chuck. And he knew how Maggie had been treated by her ex-husband, and her friends since her brother had been forced to become a hunted fugitive. Knowing some of the circumstances in Jean’s life, he could guess what her experience had been.
“My fiance – Well, maybe it was for the best. Thinking back, I know I wouldn’t have been as happy with him as I know I can be with Richard. I guess you never forget your first real love.”
“You don’t have to tell me. Maggie is my first love. I’ve had crushes before, but never loved anyone like I love her. And I hope you and Richard get to be as happy together as I am with Maggie.”
“Thanks. Now I won’t keep you awake any longer. Just one thing, will you be going tomorrow?”
“I think we’d better. What about you?”
“Yes. I’ve been afraid I’d have to do that all along. But it’s alright. Better get it over with. I know that if I do find Richard, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do. When he left me, he thought I was still going ahead with my relationship with – my fiance. You don’t want to know all that. Good night.”
Jean turned rather abruptly and began to straighten out the makeshift bedding, while Chuck retreated into the room where his family was sleeping.
Late in the afternoon, Maggie and Chuck and the children were finally packed into the van, and mrs Brixius had been seen driving off in her own car. Jean had decided to wait until the Kimble-Brixius household were safely on their way. She didn’t have much to pack, but she felt since she was the one bringing bad news, the least she could do was stay and help.
Mr Jones had given her one reproachful look, as he disappeared inside Chuck’s van, with Emily enthusiastically cooing to him through the door of the carrier. It seemed both children thought the excursion one glorious adventure. Maggie looked a bit more doubtful, but she agreed that both she and the children could use some time in the countryside.
After one last goodbye, Jean got into her own car, feeling as if she’d just embarked on the most dangerous journey in her life. As she watched the van disappear in the other direction, she remarked wryly to herself that she was probably right. If she’d subdued her doubts and her feelings for Richard she might have been safe and sound with her Brian. Her parents would have encouraged that decision.
But she was a big girl. She’d been making her own decisions for years, and living with the consequences too. Anyway, she was committed to this course of action. Armed with Chuck’s last sighting of Richard, she set out, reassuring herself with the memory of how Charnquist had looked after her unexpected attack.
She was betting nothing like that had ever happened to the man in all his life. Unless the person who had cost him his arm had caused the same stupefied look to spread across his features. Taking comfort in the thought that she wasn’t quite as defenseless as people like Charnquist – or Gerard thought, she continued on her way.
It wasn’t long before Jean learned two things: Firstly, that it wasn’t easy being on the road, even though she wasn’t wanted ‘Dead or Alive’, and secondly, that if she continued searching for Richard this way, they might be missing each other by minutes or yards and never know how close they might have been.
Though it was a big risk to take, Jean decided to use the same method Chuck was using when he wanted to contact Richard, namely placing an ad in a certain paper. She could always pretend to be Chuck, or – she could come clean about her real identity, all without giving Gerard or Charnquist any helpful hints. The problem was, if Richard deemed her move too foolhardy, he might never agree to meet her.
In the end, Jean decided that honesty was the best course of action. If she lied to Richard, how would that make her look? She had enough to explain as it was. When Richard had left her, he’d been under the impression that she was going to give Brian another chance.
Jean wasn’t even sure why she hadn’t made the truth clear to Richard. Possibly, she hadn’t wanted him to feel obligated to return to her, when his time on the run was over, assuming it ever would. Her problem had been with Brian. That didn’t in any way give her the right to expect Richard’s feelings to remain the same.
After his marriage, and his wife’s death, he could be be wary of entering into a new (or old) relationship. Whatever the result of her meeting with Richard, Jean felt that she hadn’t had any choice but to do what she had set out to do. For the rest, she could only hope.
To her relief, Richard did agree to meet her, face to face. Her coded message had reached him, and more importantly, he’d remembered. It was a veiled reference to a place they’d once spent a romantic weekend together, at the beginning of their relationship. No one else had known, because at that time, they hadn’t wanted to jinx their love. So far so good. If Richard had been surprised to hear from her, he didn’t say. No doubt he intended to hear from her personally, the reasons for her sudden re-appearance in his life.
The place where he was currently hiding out was an isolated spot in the mountains. Jean almost had to laugh, as she imagined her ex-boyfriend, hopefully soon to be present lover, as a cowboy, herding cattle, pitting his wits against unruly horses. If she’d had time to elaborate her look, she would have dressed the part. As it was, she’d just have to think of something else.
And it dawned on her, that there were only so many reasons a woman would seek out a farm hand, in such a remote area. Either Richard would see the humor in her cover, or he’d be hopping mad. Whatever his reaction, it should be good for a laugh, and that was probably something they could both use, as they braced themselves for the immediate future.
In these parts, apaprently, people kept themselves to themselves and didn’t believe in asking too many questions. It occurred to Jean that it might be a good place to hide out, for a fugitive, escaping justice, or in this case, seeking justice.
When she checked into the motel, the girl behind the counter looked her over silently. Jean looked back, without being the least bit deterred.
“Is there anything to do around here? In the evenings?”
Again, the girl stared at her, without a word. Then finally, it seemed to occur to her that a reply might be needed.
“There’s the bar. We have a jukebox. On Saturday night we have a Karaoke special. And of course the tv’s on all night. WWF. Gladiators. That sort of thing.”
She made it sound as if asking for more would be totally unreasonable. Booze, music, tv. What else could you want? A fight? Making out round the back? As it happened, Jean wasn’t after entertainment of any kind. She just felt it was prudent to pretend to be interested in whatever the place had to offer. As she was leaving, she paused, as if suddenly thinking of something, or rather, as if finally making her mind up to ask.
“Is there a guy called Vince Aiken staying here?”
This time the look was colder, more challenging. Either asking about anyone simply wasn’t done, under any circumstances, or – the girl had her eyes on Richard. If she had, maybe Jean could use it to her advantage. To promote the story she was trying to put across. Jealous, or possibly – yes, pregnant girlfriend coming after her man.
“He might be. Who wants to know?”
Jean paused to let this information sink in. She thought she had put just enough possessiveness into her voice to show the girl who the hot cowboy belonged to. If that wasn’t enough, Jean planned to somehow leak the information about her ‘condition’.
“All the farm hands come in and have a couple of beers in the evenings. Check it out for yourself. If you don’t find your guy, you might find someone new.”
That was direct. Apparently, the guess about the girl’s interest in Richard had been right. Or else, she simply disliked the older woman on sight. That was a sound principle. Jean herself didn’t particularly like other women either. Maggie was one big exception. A few of her closest friends were others.
“Right. I’ll do that.”
Reaching over the counter to grab the key that the girl was still hanging on to, Jean decided to end the conversation and take a look at her room. Two hours later, after a simple dinner of a stale sandwich and a lukewarm soda, she was ready to sample the entertainment a town of 1800 souls could offer. Most of those 1800 souls appeared to belong to tall, muscular men in their 20’s and 30’s.
The girl’s suggestion might not have been such a bad idea, Jean remarked to herself as she walked in. She wasn’t hailed by whistles, but she could feel the men’s eyes boring into her as she fearlessly approached the bar. When you’d worked as an intern for years, 48 hours a day, or so it seemed, dealing with violent drunks in the ER and performed autopsies, a crowd like this didn’t really hold much terror.
She walked up to the bar and ordered a scotch and soda. Having established her as a no-nonsense drinker, she retreated to a table at the back of the room. Incidentally, it was also almost diagonally opposite to the jukebox. The music seemed to run through a selection of scratchy old country songs. That wasn’t really Jean’s first choice, but soon she had drowned out the background noise. If the girl had been right, every man working on the farm would be in. That meant Richard ought to walk in any minute.
In the meantime, Jean contented herself with admiring the rear end of another well built young man playing pool with a rather less attractive man. A minor brawl broke out over the pool game and distracted Jean. When she looked back towards the entrance, Richard was walking over to her table, a beer glass in his hand.
Richard used the name Jean had signed her email with. She had picked it because it was the name of the song they’d listened to that first weekend together. It was also, though Richard didn’t know this, the song she’d been listening to the first couple of weeks after he’d left her. They were both aware of the listening ears straining in their direction from all over the smoky, crowded room.
“I guess you didn’t expect to see me here, Vince.”
“No. No, I didn’t. What’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong. But sit down. They don’t charge extra for the chairs, do they?”
By now, Jean was tired of putting on this act. She had a sneaky suspicion they weren’t fooling anyone anyway. Fed up with the snooping, she cast a very chilly glance around the room. That did seem to have the desired effect. Everyone went back to what they’d been doing until Richard’s arrival. Jean pointed to the chair right beside her, and after a moment’s hesitation, Richard sat down in it.
She leaned closer and pulled him into her arms. It wasn’t just part of the act. What a relief it was to see him again, apparently safe and sound. And Jean knew that whatever plans the girl from the reception desk might have, Richard would never be tempted by someone like her.
Carried away by her own emotions, she found herself kissing him more passionately than she’d thought possible. For a second, he tensed up, then returned the kiss. It seemed he didn’t want to question his luck. For the time being, he’d just take what was on offer.
For the benefit of the audience, she pressed a hand to her abdomen in an unmistakable gesture. She couldn’t resist pausing for a moment, to let the implication sink in, causing a look of astonishment to appear on Richard’s face, before whispering into his ear the real reason for her arrival.
“We need to talk. The one-armed man came to my house. Can we get out of here?”
He’d spoken too loudly, and he glanced around shiftily before lowering his voice.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. I’ll tell you more about that later. Your place or mine?”
She had to smother a laugh. That was pretty much word for word the first words she’d uttered when she’d met Richard at a frat house party. She’d been drunk. More drunk than she liked to remember. The morning after had been bad enough to cure her of the urge to ever repeat the experience. Fortunately, Richard hadn’t been nearly as drunk, but he’d still gone with her to her room.
A shadow of a smile flew over Richard’s features. He’d lost weight. And the pain in his eyes hurt Jean too. But he’d remembered and he was amused by the seeming similarity of the situation.
“Yours, I think?”
They finished their drinks and got up. Jean didn’t forget to put an arm possessively around Richard. Hopefully, they’d convinced any potential spies of their purpose. Outside her room, she let go, and impatiently began to search through her pockets for the key. Finally she found it and unlocked the door. She took a few seconds to look around, making sure that no one had gone through her stuff, then turned and take a closer look at Richard.
“Let me look at you. You’ve lost weight. Are you alright?”
He avoided her gaze, but she thought that, considering the circumstances, he was more or less ok, physically.
“Yes, yes. But what about you? Charnquist showed up at your house? What happened?”
“I’m fine. But he isn’t. Well, I guess he’s beginning to heal now, but -”
“Slow down. Tell me everything.”
“I got back one evening and there he was.”
Richard took a step forward and was about to pull her into his arms, then appeared to think better of it, instead choosing to sit down on the only chair in the room.
“I think – Well, to begin with, I think he wanted to find out where you were.”
“He asked about me?”
“Yes. He’s looking for you. And -”
But she didn’t think she needed to spell out what Charnquist would have done to her, after succeeding or failing in forcing the information out of her. Richard’s eyes held such anguish, he couldn’t have been in any doubt about her eventual fate.
“I’m sorry. All I do is bring bad luck to everyone I – to everyone around me.”
“No. Don’t say that. As you can see, I’m fine.”
“But how – I mean, what happened?”
“I had some water boiling and I poured it into his face. Then I followed up with stabbing his shoulder. Brian gave me a set of knives – Anyway, a car stopped outside and he appeared to change his mind and turned and ran. That’s it. I decided it wasn’t safe for me there anymore, so I left.”
Jean was wondering if she ought to tell him about his sister and Chuck Brixius. Richard didn’t seem to know about that. It was all very recent, and perhaps Maggie wanted to give him the news herself.
“Jean, I’m -”
Richard appeared to be stricken. He buried his face in his hands. This had to be reminding him of when he found his wife dead in their own house. But Jean was hoping there was a small chance his feelings for her had returned and that this was the reason for some of his concern. Either way, she couldn’t bear to see him in such pain, so she walked over to once again pull him into her arms. This time, there was no acting involved. She held him until he had collected himself.
Though she was dreading explaining the rest to him, she knew she might as well get it over with. This wasn’t their honeymoon. If he didn’t want her help, that was it.
He looked up, filled with new concern.
“What is it you’re not telling me?”
“I’m fine. But this can’t go on. Your health is deteriorating. While your sister’s going through a bad patch, you’re unable to be with her. Now that creep has come after me. Enough is enough. We have to strike back.”
Warily, Richard stared at her as if he wasn’t hearing correctly.
“What did you have in mind?”
“We have to go after him and bring him in. The police isn’t doing anything. That man Gerard seems to have a personal grudge against you for some reason. He’s never going to find Charnquist.”
“I know. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
“I’ve come to help you. If you’ll let me.”
“You? You’re going to help me? Jean, you can’t be serious. No one chooses this life of their own free will. If you had any idea of what it’s like, week after week, month after month – Dad was dying and I couldn’t – Maggie got sick and I wasn’t there for her.”
“You were. If it hadn’t been for you, she wouldn’t be alive. But they don’t have the right to take all these years from your life. It’s time we put a stop to them. Charnquist. Gerard. Brian. By the way, it’s over between us, Richard. I couldn’t go on seeing him. It was his fault that crazy bounty hunter almost got you.”
“But I thought – It’s got nothing to do with this.”
That was like a slap to her face. But she forced herself to go on.
“I know. But I want to help. Besides, I’m not just choosing to go on the run, on a whim. Do you think the police would be able to protect me? That guy Charnquist isn’t just going to give up.”
“Maggie. He could be going after her right now.”
“No. After I left home, I went to see Maggie. Richard – if you don’t know about that already, there’s something I have to tell you.”
Fervently hoping that her friend would forgive her for giving her secret away, Jean prepared to tell Richard about the new development in Maggie’s life.
“What? She is alright, isn’t she?”
“Yes. In fact, more than alright. You see – Maggie’s involved with a new guy.”
“Yes. And it’s someone you know.”
Richard looked as if he couldn’t even begin to guess.
“It’s Chuck. Chuck Brixius.”
“Chuck? Oh. I had no idea. This must be really sudden. She didn’t mention anything about that at the hospital.”
“We’ve been keeping in touch all this time and Maggie told me that her ex husband had been giving information to Gerard. She found out as she was about to leave the hospital. So she got fed up with John and sold the house. She and the kids are living with Chuck now. That’s not the first time they met, of course. Maggie went to see Chuck to get information about you, I think. That’s how – Anyway, right now, they’re away visiting a relative of his. You see, they’re quite safe. Charnquist won’t be able to find them.”
“Thank god. But Jean, you have to see that this ridiculous idea just isn’t going to work.”
The shock of finding out that another woman he loved had come close to dying at Charnquist’s hands had shaken him badly. As the first shock passed, Kimble found himself getting angry. She just couldn’t put herself at risk like this. He needed to know that the people he loved were safe. That was the only way he could force himself to go on.
“Exactly. What do you think you’ll be able to do to help me?”
“Well, I don’t seem to have done so badly so far. You have to admit that I handled myself quite well.”
“That’s got nothing to do with it.”
The shock replaced by anger made Kimble snap at her. Jean’s temper flared and she pulled back and stood over Richard with flaming eyes, and cheeks burning. After all she’d been through, after all he’d been through, he had the nerve to dismiss her. Nice to see you, Jean. Glad to see you’re alright. Now run along and play. How dared he? She wasn’t a child. If he could survive on the run, so could she. In the past, everyone had always said that he was the one who was a soft touch. She was the one who was as tough as nails.
“How dare you talk like that about me? I’m already involved. It’s a bit too late to tell Charnquist to back off.”
Her hand flew through the air, making contact with his cheek, leaving a red mark. His face lost its harsh expression, and there was a stunned look in his eyes, as he pressed a hand to the mark.
“Jean, I’m sorry.”
They were both still breathing fast, their chests heaving. Though the anger had left them, there was still tension in the air. It was as if the violence had sparked another type of passion. Jean closed the distance between them. She pulled him close, her lips reaching for his. Suddenly, they found themselves tearing at each other’s clothes. They reached the bed and dropped down on it. For the moment, Charnquist, Gerard, and the outside world were all just a distant memory.
Seemingly hours later, they emerged into reality again, both looking and feeling slightly foolish. Especially Richard, it seemed. It was a while before he even gathered up the courage to speak to Jean. That gave her plenty of time to worry about his reaction. Was this his physical need speaking or – could it mean that he wanted a relationship too?
“Jean – I -”
She was feeling as shy as the first time they’d woken up together, but was determined not to show it. Besides, she was far too happy to let anything worry her.
“I don’t want you to think that I’d just – I mean, it has been a long time, but – What I’m trying to say, is that I wouldn’t have – Jean, I’ve missed you so much. I’m glad you’re back.”
“Are you saying -”
“Yes. This isn’t just about the sex -”
That was as far as Kimble was able to bring himself to comment on what had just happened. But Jean thought she could read him just fine. Dear old Richard. He never was much good at expressing his emotions.
“I know that. Besides, I’m not complaining. It’s been a while for me too. And this aside -”
Jean was actually enjoying Richard’s embarrassment over what they’d just done.
“I think we make a great team. Remember?”
“Yes. I can’t believe I was ever stupid enough to -”
Kimble stopped himself just in time, when he realized what he’d been about to say. He’d never regret his time with Helen. But in a way, Jean was right. There had never been anyone he’d connected so perfectly with. Never.
He couldn’t believe she had just agreed to give him a second chance, after leaving her the first time, after being accused, tried and sentenced for his wife’s murder. Though he had hoped his loved ones would believe him, there had been no guarantee. Especially when it came to Jean. She could easily have done what the rest of world had – distanced herself from him. Instead, she’d risked her life for him. And now – not only had she dumped her fiance, but also come back to him. That was more than he’d ever been able to hope for.
“So – Where’s mr Jones?”
“You didn’t think I’d risk our baby’s life on a venture like this, did you?”
“No. So where -”
“He’s with Maggie and the kids. And Chuck.”
“I just can’t believe that. Chuck’s a -”
“Kid? Not anymore. He’s grown since you last met him, I’m willing to bet. The children love him, and he’s doing a great job as a stepfather.”
“That’s amazing. But I wish them both all the best. I just never knew – Oh, wait a minute. I did know Maggie was into younger men. She once dated one of her students. After graduation, naturally.”
“Naturally. Speaking of which, did you ever -”
“What? Date a student?”
“No, silly. A teacher. Dr Thayer?”
That, apparently, was a bit too close to the truth. Jean had the satisfaction of seeing Richard’s face take on color before he looked away. Her usual effect on him.
“No. Not that I didn’t want to at one time or other – But -”
“She was never interested? That’s changed too. Maggie told me that dr Thayer is seeing dr Augustine. Remember him? Maggie said you’d met at the hospital when -”
“Oh. Well, he’s a very nice guy. And I’m not looking for any other women.”
“That’s good. Richard, I think we need to make plans.”
“I know. You’re right. There’s nothing to be done about your involvement now. But I just couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you. I guess you won’t consider going to stay with Maggie and Chuck until -”
“No. Richard, I have to do something. Your life is in ruins, my life too, now. We’ll have to find a solution. Now. Not ten or twenty years from now, when Charnquist might really be dead, and you won’t be able to prove a thing.”
“Yes. But – Well, I guess I didn’t really think you’d give up once your mind was made up. You’re a fighter.”
“So are you. Right. What’s the next move you’ve got planned?”
“I was following a lead – to this place. But it turned out to be a dead end. So, I was just going to stay for as long as I dared, maybe a few more weeks. Beyond that -”
“I see. Well, I have a plan, if you’re willing to take a big chance.”
A slow smile spread across Kimble’s features. Though Jean didn’t look it, she’d been apt to take chances. Wild, far-fetched chances, just on a hunch. He’d been the one to try and hold her back, but in the end, she’d usually been right. Her hunches paid off most of the time. This was beginning to feel a little like old times.
“Yeah? You would. Tell me.”
“Alright. Until now, you’ve been chasing Charnquist, and he’s always managed to stay one step ahead. Right?”
“How about we make him come to us?”
“That would be fantastic. How do you suggest we do that?”
“As it happens we have something he wants. Two things he wants, actually.”
“And what is that?”
“Me. And you. But since you’re wanted by the police, I think it’s better that we keep your presence a secret.”
“My presence where?”
Kimble was warming to this sort of game. On those rare occasions Jean had felt like filling him in on her plans in advance, they’d often played out this sort of scenario. She making him ask questions, he drawing her out. Though he suspected she was doing it for his benefit. This way, he had time to get used to whatever idea she was outlining for him. If she just sprang it on him ready made, he’d usually say no. That never stopped her, but it invariably left him far behind.
“At my place. If Charnquist knows I’ve returned, he’ll think I’m careless. I’ve been lying low someplace for a while, but now I’m thinking he’s given up. That’s it’s safe for me to return home. But he won’t give up that easily, will he?”
“I don’t think so. So what happens next? He comes to your house, where I’ll be hiding out again. Then what?”
“We get him.”
“As easy as that?”
“As easy as that.”
“You’re kidding. I’ve been fighting this guy so long, I can tell you he’s not going to just roll over and play dead.”
“Not on his own. That’s where we come in. The element of surprise and -”
“A conveniently administered drug. I know just the one. One I can easily get my hands on.”
She told him the name of the drug, and again, Kimble smiled approvingly. Jean had always been good. And time hadn’t made her lose any of her sharpness. This just might work.
“Ok. So we knock him out, keep him under. And – we take him to Gerard?”
“Yes. What do you say?”
“My compliments, dr Trabant. A brilliant plan. Except for one small detail.”
“You’ll be risking your life.”
Jean swallowed hard and looked away. Yes. That was the downside of her plan. She was well aware of that. But she’d faced Charnquist once before and and walked away unscathed. And this time, she wouldn’t be alone.
“That’s where you come in. He won’t know you’re there. If we find a way of injecting the drug without giving him time to react, we’re home free.”
She didn’t add that if Charnquist did have time to react, they’d both be finished. Whatever the reason the one-armed man wanted to find Kimble, it was a safe bet that he didn’t just want to reminisce. Jean’s guess was that Charnquist had grown tired of always having to watch his back for this minor inconvenience. If he’d killed mrs Kimble, why shouldn’t he kill dr Kimble and any friends or relatives of his that could be found?
“I don’t like it, Jean. If you were to get hurt -”
“I know that. But sooner or later, I’d get hurt anyway. Either he’ll find me whatever we do, or – he’ll find you.”
Kimble didn’t have to look into Jean’s eyes to be able to tell that his death would cause Jean as much pain he’d felt over the loss of Helen. Right in the middle of all the chaos his life had turned into, he’d been given this gift. The love of a woman like Jean. A second chance. And if she was brave enough to risk everything to save him – his life, his reputation, his future – shouldn’t he be there for her, and give her all the assistance he could?
“Alright. Let’s do it. I’m tired of always running. Charnquist had caused enough pain as it is. It’s time we put a stop to him.”
“I hardly recognize you, Richard. You were always so laidback. Life seemed to be all about achieving success, not about solving puzzling problems or setting new challenges for yourself. Now look at you. I’ve never seen you so – determined. I mean, so forceful.”
“I guess I had to learn how to be tougher. If I hadn’t, I never would have survived a week on the street. You’re right. Life was too easy for me. Too pleasant. Everything just sort of fell into my lap. For you, it was different. Even if success came easily to you too, it wasn’t enough.”
“No. A cushy job at a big hospital wouldn’t expand my mind. Besides, science and research is only one part of life. You need to broaden your horizons.”
“I think you have changed too.”
“Of course I have. I had to. You leaving me left me in a sort of vacuum. Everything I’d been taking for granted was gone, and I had to find a new purpose in life. It took me a while to find it, but I did. You know, if all this had happened earlier. Just after you’d met Helen, I’m not sure how welcome you’d have been at my house when you showed up that day. Not that I’d ever have turned you over to the police -”
“Jean, I’m really, really sorry. I’ve been selfish.”
“Maybe, but I wouldn’t have wanted you to stay with me just out of loyalty. If it was over, it was over, no matter how I felt about it. Living a lie wouldn’t have been any consolation to me.”
“Forget about the past, Richard. We’re here now. So – I think we should leave tomorrow. Or maybe even tonight. I can call Rick and Leo and have that drug ready for us when we return. It’s no use putting things off any longer, is there?”
“No, I guess not. If we wait, we’ll just lose our nerve – and it could give Charnquist a chance to go after Maggie. Yes. I’m not too tired. We could get going right away. Just let me go and pick up a few things.”
When Kimble entered his room, his mind was on the tremendous change his life had gone through, only in the past few hours. This new development so absorbed him that he failed to notice, until the very last minute, that someone was lying in his bed. Someone who didn’t seem to be wearing much, though it was hard to tell since the girl was partially covered by the sheet. She seemed vaguely familiar, and Kimble had time to identify her as the girl from reception, before she turned on the charm.
He averted his gaze, deeply embarrassed. This was something he didn’t have time for, especially now. A partially dressed girl, or for that matter, any person, wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to him, at least not in his professional capacity, but he certainly had no wish to encounter such a person on his own time.
Her smile was so brilliant her teeth seemed to shine in a somewhat predatory way. The girl shook out her golden hair – Kimble wasn’t expert enough to see the dark roots – across her shoulders and turned towards him, to present the most favorable picture possible.
“Hello. You must have the wrong room. I’m sorry -”
“No. Not the wrong room at all. Vince, there’s something I’d like to – talk to you about.”
“What? I’m in a bit of hurry -”
The girl’s tone changed and her eyes darkened.
“Excuse me, but I can’t see that it’s any of your business. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go.”
The girl pulled up the sheet to her shoulders in a gesture that seemed to say how dare you. Seconds later, Kimble saw the last of her swishing through the door. She left it open but he could still hear the sound of her feet pounding down the corridor. He shook his head in confusion.
But he couldn’t be distracted. Packing what few possessions he had, it was only minutes until he was on is way again, back to Jean’s room. By the time he got there, she had already packed her stuff into the car and was anxiously looking over her shoulder.
She whirled around, tensing up, then relaxed as she recognized him.
“Oh, it’s you. You’re ready? Good. I was afraid -”
“I’m alright. Let’s go.”
As soon as he’d slammed the door shut behind him, she stepped on the accelerator, and far quicker than was advisable on the steep dirt track, the car shot off.
“Hey, take it easy.”
She gave him a look, at once so familiar, and so reassuring, Kimble began to relax, despite the reckless pace.
“Alright. You’re looking awfully glum. Don’t tell me you’d forgotten that I like to drive fast.”
“It’s not that. When I got to my room, I had an uninvited guest.”
“What? Not Gerard – Who was it?”
“No, not Gerard. The girl from reception.”
“I should have known. That cheap little tramp. I guess I don’t need to ask what she wanted.”
Kimble studiously avoided facing his ex-fiancee turned lover again.
“Uh – no.”
“Well, at least you got out of there in a hurry.”
“I would have anyway.”
Jean shrugged. As far as she was concerned the incident was over. The girl had tried her best. Most of the hormone-packed farm hands would have jumped at the opportunity, and for all she knew, one of them was right now enjoying what Richard had turned down.
But she was wrong to dismiss the scene so completely. About a week after their departure, the girl, who still felt badly treated, happened to see a familiar face flashing by on television. A fugitive, wanted for the killing of his wife. On the girl’s lips a smile began to play. She hurriedly jotted down the phone number that appeared on the screen. Two minutes later, she was trying to get an uncooperative switch board operator to patch her through to a cop by the name of Gerard. At last, she managed to get the man on the line.
Though she didn’t know it, she’d caught him on a bad day. He’d just been on the phone with his wife, having a heated discussion about his daughter, and he was in no mood to listen to another crank call about someone who ‘had seen Richard Kimble acting suspiciously’ around their neighborhood. In nine cases out of ten it was a false alarm. The man in question would be taller, shorter, fatter, older, younger, or even of a different color of skin than the real Kimble.
“There’s no need to be so rude. I’ve got information for you.”
“Yeah, you and a thousand others, lady. Alright, what’s the information?”
“If you don’t want it -”
“Yes. Go ahead.”
“A man looking like your fugitive, Richard Kimble, was up here until last night.”
Here we go again, Gerard thought. If he didn’t get back in a hurry, he had a suspicion neither his daughter or his wife would be there.
“And where is up here?”
The girl told him.
“Alright, I’m listening. What was he doing?”
“Working. Like the other farm hands. Until yesterday, when that bitch showed up -”
“I don’t know. Some dark-haired old bitch. She was looking for Vince – well, I guess his real name was Richard.”
Dark-haired. Not that Gerard was convinced that the informant had anything of value for him, but she definitely had his attention now. Could be dr Jean Trabant. He had always felt that she had been far too attached to her ex.
“They went off to her room and stayed there for hours. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what they were up to.”
“Miss Landon. What you’ve described doesn’t sound like a crime to me. Two consenting adults -”
“If you don’t want my information, I’ll go to the papers. I’m sure they’ll be more interested.”
“I do want your information. What made you suspicious?”
There was a pause, in which Gerard’s sixth sense warned him that she was going to make something up. She’d seen someone she believed was Kimble, but now she wasn’t going to be completely honest. He could always tell. But her lack of honesty would only make her useless as a witness in court. What she had to tell him could still be of a great deal of help to him.
“You’d think he’d have had enough after what he and that bitch did, but right after that, he came after me and – He tried to rape me.”
Gerard wasn’t the kind of cop who automatically assumed a woman who claimed to have been attacked by a man was lying, but something told him that this was far from the truth. In the time he’d been chasing Kimble, he’d never once seen evidence of this sort of behavior. More likely, the girl had made a pass at Kimble and he’d turned her down. That seemed to square more with the facts, if he’d had an intimate moment with his ex-fiancee just before. Without being aware of exactly when his skepticism had turned to belief, Gerard found himself listening more closely.
“I see. Well, that’s a serious accusation. Are you prepared to come down to the nearest police station to make a statement and look at a few pictures of Kimble? I’ll have them faxed to the sheriff.”
Again, there was a calculating pause at the other end of the line.
“I suppose so. How much is the reward?”
“All in good time, miss Landon. First we have to make sure you’ve made a positive id.”
“Oh, alright. I’m going first thing in the morning.”
Though he was impatient to have his suspicions confirmed, Gerard knew he could hardly send a squad car out into the woods to pick up a girl who might or might not have seen Kimble up close. And at the moment, he didn’t need the confirmation anyway. He could always check out dr Trabant’s house. But first of all, he needed permission to put a few men on a stakeout outside her home. If not, he’d need to take some time off.
Time off. That reminded him. He’d been on his way home. His daughter – Biting back a curse, Gerard left his office, hoping that he’d find someone in the house when he got back.
“How do we know he’s going to show up?”
Jean sighed. She had expected Richard to have become more bold in the years he’d spent on the run, but it was obvious that if anything he’d become more wary. Maybe that was only to be expected.
“I guess we don’t. But sooner or later -”
“I know. It’s just that I don’t have time to sit here waiting for Gerard to show up.”
“Alright. I see your point. But what do you suggest? I did make a bit of an entrance, going shopping for groceries, asking a few of the neighbors about the mail and so on. Trying to be as conspicuous as possible without being ostentatious. I really don’t see that we have any choice. Or have you changed your mind? I could do this on my own -”
Immediately after the words had left her mouth, Jean regretted them. She wasn’t going to emotionally blackmail Richard into helping her put her plan into action.
“I didn’t mean -”
“I know you didn’t, and I know you’re making an enormous sacrifice to help me. What a jerk I am. Can you forgive me? Let’s do this. He’ll show up. I was just being an idiot.”
“No, you weren’t. If Gerard were to show up, I know it would be the end.”
Kimble put a hand over Jean’s. The least he could do was to support her the way she was supporting him, though she had absolutely no reason to do so.
And in a way, this was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to throw away. After what that sick bastard Charnquist had done to Helen, to him, to everyone in his life, and others too, it would be satisfying to turn the tables on him. To finally look into his eyes and be able to say: What you did to my wife wasn’t ok. You hurt me, and now I’m going to hurt you. No. That wasn’t right. Charnquist might be that way, but Richard Kimble was not. Still, to be able to turn him over to Gerard and finally get that bloodhound off his back would be so sweet.
It was getting late. Plan or no plan they might as well get some dinner and try to get some rest. They had agreed to sleep in shifts. There was no telling when Charnquist would show up, and even if neither Kimble or Jean thought it likely that Gerard would be back, they had to keep an eye out for him too, just in case.
After dinner, they went over the details of their plan and looked over their gear. Ever since the bounty hunter had shown up, Jean had been keeping a gun in the house. She was an excellent shot, since college when she used to compete. The gun was an old one her father had left her, and its familiar weight in her hand reassured her.
Kimble was staring at it with disapproval, which Jean noted but made no comment on. It wasn’t as if she’d ever guessed she might have to aim it a human being. Instead of the revolver, Kimble had picked a baseball bat. Violence was alien to him, but he wouldn’t hesitate to use his weapon against Charnquist.
At the very last, Jean brought out her medical kit, and made two syringes ready. They’d only get one chance, and the one of them who got to inject the drug into Charnquist would only have seconds to make the move. It was better not to assign the respective roles in advance, and play the situation by ear.
“This is enough to put him under for 12 hours at least. Plenty of time to deposit him at Gerard’s doorstep.”
Kimble nodded. He couldn’t afford to risk Charnquist waking up and somehow making his escape, like the last time.
“Good. Did any of your neighbors ask about the van?”
“Yes. I told the nosy old guy that I’m planning to do some work at a rented cottage in the woods. Peace and quiet, you know. And after all this, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. Of course, I won’t be writing a book like I said, but I think we could find something to occupy our time with, don’t you?”
Kimble’s tense face relaxed into a smile. Yes, he could definitely think of a thing or two they could do. Though writing a book might not be such a bad idea. Maybe one day he would. When all this was behind him.
Jean smiled back and held out her hand to him. They embraced but broke apart within minutes. It wouldn’t do to let their attention wander. They agreed that Kimble would get some sleep first, then Jean would wake him. Jean had stocked up on all kinds of groceries for the ‘trip to the woods’, so they’d have plenty of food. No need to leave the house until everything was over.
He woke up to feel Jean pressing her hand over his mouth. For a second, he panicked and was going to fight back. Then he recognized her and saw her warning gesture. This was it. Charnquist was here. Or was it Gerard? No, Jean would have been urging him to leave, if the cop had shown up. Noiselessly, he slid out of bed, all senses on the alert now. Jean handed him the case that held the syringe, then tiptoed off ahead of him. Her courage had always impressed him, but never more so than now.
Though he knew there were no guarantees, he was filled with a wild exultation. They were going to succeed. He would finally be free. Charnquist would at last get what he deserved. They spotted Charnquist before he saw them, and were able to make the decision that Jean would confront him first. Then Kimble would spring at him from the side, hopefully gaining the advantage of surprise.
Now the one-armed man caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye and swirled around. Kimble cursed under his breath. This wasn’t the way they’d planned it.
“Dr Kimble. How courteous of you to accomodate me. I was just going to drop by and ask the little ex where to find you. And here you are. Don’t make a move, or the little lady gets it right in the chest. Do you want to watch this lover die as well? I thought not. Drop that baseball bat. Yes, that’s it, nice and easy.”
While Charnquist’s attention was on Kimble, Jean released the safety on her gun and raised it.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, dr Trabant. That gun goes on the floor too, thank you. Go on, or this time it’s Helen Kimble’s husband who dies.”
When Jean appeared to be hesitating for a second too long, Charnquist raised his own gun and pointed it straight at Kimble.
“On the count of three. One, two – Wise decision. Now move closer to each other. Slowly.”
Kimble cast an agonized glance at Jean. It was happening all over again. How could he ever have thought he would beat this man? Why hadn’t he put Jean off somehow? He would have lost her, but at least she’d still be alive and well.
Jean’s eyes were veiled, and he couldn’t read her at all. Was she beaten, or was she still pondering a next move? He had his answer, as Charnquist, secure in the knowledge of his superior strength, moved closer to –
They never learned exactly what it was he had been about to do. Jean’s hand moved too quickly for Charnquist to follow. A curse told Kimble that the guy’s good arm had been hit by the syringe. Then followed a muffled noise – a gun shot? Charnquist must have brought a weapon with a silencer. A sharp burning pain seared through Kimble’s shoulder, but he didn’t let that stop him. Instead, he barrelled into Charnquist and managed to knock the gun out of his hand.
By now, Kimble had learned the hard way that even unarmed, Charnquist was a formidable enemy, so he didn’t take anything for granted. He followed up with a knee in Charnquist’s groin. That wasn’t the way his dad had taught him to fight, when he was a kid, but this wasn’t a fair fight, never had been. Against someone like Charnquist, anything was fair.
Jean picked up a lamp and brought it down on Charnquist’s head. For a second, it looked as if that had only had the effect of enraging their enemy further, then Charnquist’s knees seemed to buckle, and wavered back and forth for a second, then went down without another sound. Kimble could see that Jean was kneeling beside the now unconscious man, feeling his pulse, and apparently forming a favorable opinion about the man’s condition, her whole posture relaxed.
But Kimble’s head was suddenly feeling so light, and he had to squint to keep seeing Jean, as she walked up to him. His vision was blurring and though he heard someone talking to him, as if from a great distance, he couldn’t hear what was being said. A whirlpool of darkness was swimming in front of his eyes and he was felt he was being sucked into it. That was the last thing he knew for a quite a while.
Next thing, he remembered noticing was the sun getting into his eyes. Someone was sitting beside him, looking down on him. Jean. It was all coming back to him now. Charnquist. Gerard.
“Welcome back. You had me scared there for a while. Don’t worry about it. I took out the bullet. You’ll be fine.”
“I was injured?”
“Don’t you remember?”
“I – Yes. Charnquist shot me. How bad is it?”
“Not bad at all. It’s amazing. The bullet seems to have lodged in your shoulder, but it missed the bone and all major arteries. There’s just some muscle tissue damaged. How do you feel?”
“Good. A bit woozy, but -”
“Great. Because you see, we’ll have to get going. I don’t think anyone heard anything last night, but just in case -”
“Oh. How long have I been out?”
“About 5 hours. Do you think we could get going? If we don’t make a move soon, Charnquist will come round before we reach Gerard’s. Though I did bring two more doses. If there’s any more delay, we’ll just give him another shot.”
“Is that safe?”
“Safe enough for someone like him. He’s not going to die. And I can’t bring myself to lose any sleep over Charnquist losing a couple of braincells, what about you?”
“I guess under the circumstances -”
“Exactly. How about some breakfast?”
“I don’t know. Just some orange juice will do.”
“Ok. I’ve packed some sandwiches and other necessities. We’ll bring some coffee and we’ll be all set to drive.”
“But you haven’t had any sleep.”
“A little. You know how it is. We learn early on to snatch a few moments of sleep here and there. Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll take turns driving -”
“No, you won’t. This is your doctor speaking, mr Kimble. You can help by talking to me. Keep me awake. Tell me some stories about your time as a fugitive.”
“Alright, doctor. Whatever you say.”
Gerard was looking at the piece of paper he held in his hand. If he kept holding on to it like that, it would be worn out by the time he had time to show it the smug bitch, dr Trabant. But first he’d stake out her house. He was betting he’d find the man he’d been searching for for so long in there. Impatiently staring at his watch, he wondered if it had stopped. It seemed to be moving so slowly.
With an effort, he forced his mind to stay away from thoughts of his own home. His daughter had gone to visit her grandparents, the parents of his first wife. If he was out of luck, his wife would be back with her parents by the time he got back.
But he couldn’t allow himself to dwell on that now. In just a few hours time, he’d be getting his hands on Richard Kimble, the man who had led him such a chase, up and down the country. No one made a fool out of him like that. No one.
The local police department had agreed to loan him a car, but he had met with no welcome. That meant nothing to him. By tomorrow, they could think what they liked. He’d be remembered as the man who brought in Richard Kimble. Right now, that was all that mattered to him.
But when he pulled up in front of dr Trabant’s house, it looked so – empty. Had he been wrong after all? Had that smug bitch gone to be with her ex somewhere else? Not until now did it occur to Gerard that maybe dr Trabant wasn’t as stupid as he’d like her to be. Maybe she was with Kimble, just not here. But he’d come too far to let petty doubts put him off. He waited, well into the afternoon and early evening. By then, it was getting dark, and he felt it was safe to approach one of the neighbors.
“Dr Trabant? You just missed her. Left this morning. She’s going away to some cottage in the woods. Writing a book, I think she said.”
“Did she say where she was going?”
Gerard had to use all his willpower not to shout at that tiresome old man. Couldn’t he just spit out the words?
“No. Just that she was going away. To a -”
“A cottage in the woods. Yeah, you told me. Any idea where those woods are?”
“Sorry. What’s wrong?”
“She’s suspected of harboring a dangerous escaped felon.”
“Really? Who would have thought? Which one?”
The cop pulled himself up to his full height. He wasn’t there to give information.
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
And Gerard turned and left without another word. Too late. She’d been here. And now that the trail was getting cold, Gerard was convinced that Kimble had been with her. It was always like this. So close, but always, somehow, Kimble managed to stay one step ahead. The man had the devil’s own luck. And after all this trouble, Gerard just knew that the judge wouldn’t be so easy to persuade the next time.
His voice was toneless as he made the call to the station. Once again, he’d been thwarted. When he got his hands on Kimble, he’d – but that was no way of thinking for a cop. Whatever else Gerard was, he wasn’t dirty. He played by the rules, no matter what. Why should he bother checking in at the station? Soon enough, they would all know he’d lost again. He might as well go home and see if there was something he could do about his personal life.
But when he got back, it was just like he’d feared all along. The house was empty. He could feel it, even before he’d turned on all the lights and looked through all the rooms, calling his wife’s name. Even – though he knew it was no use – his daughter’s name. Nothing. Then the phone began to ring. He picked up on the second ring.
But the woman’s voice at the other end of the line wasn’t the one he’d expected. Whoever it was, seemed to be making an effort to hide her true identity.
“Speaking. Who is this?”
“That’s not important. Go out back. By your back door, you’ll find a man. Charnquist. The man who killed Helen Kimble.”
Dr Trabant. This time he’d get her and her lover. Gerard didn’t even bother hanging up. Instead he reached for his cell phone.
“This time we’ve got them. The son of a bitch. And his girlfriend too. I need a car, two uniforms. Now. My place. Did you get that?”
“Yes, sir. Who are you talking about?”
“Kimble. And that Trabant bitch.”
“Right away, sir.”
Gerard put down the phone and pulled out his gun. He’d show them. The man was tried and convicted. This time he wouldn’t get away. He’d fry and as for that girlfriend of his – Time enough to relish her fate later.
Cautiously, he made his way to the back door. Before unlocking it, he warily glanced out the window. Nothing. But even Kimble wouldn’t be reckless enough to just stand around. Something was blocking the door. Gerard had to shove quite hard before it budged. He could hear something sliding slowly down the steps. Something heavy.
What was this? For a horrible second, Gerard feared it was his wife. Kimble might have thought of this as a way of getting back at him for the years of running. And though Gerard would never have admitted it to anyone else, he knew he’d been harder than strictly necessary on Kimble’s friends and family. What if –
But when his shaking hand had reached the light swith and turned the light on, he found that the person lying on his doorstep was a man. Charnquist? No way. He’d been dead for years. His existence had been dreamed up by Kimble just to shift the blame from himself. Still – Who was this guy? And what was he doing here? Gerard had no doubt the unconscious man – he’d just made sure the guy was still breathing – had been left there by Kimble and dr Trabant. Why? He had to admit that the man looked an awful lot like the guy in those passports Kimble had sent him. Impossible.
So this was someone who resembled Charnquist? So what? Gerard’s job wasn’t to bring in a ghost. He already knew who the killer was, and this time he was going to get him. The sound of a car squealing to a stop outside, brought him back to reality. Time to get to work.
He went to meet his colleagues, giving them their orders. In the meantime, he’d better get that guy downtown. Even if there was no way he could be Charnquist, this needed to be explained one way or another. And though he was no doctor, he could tell that this guy just seemed to be sleeping, despite a lump on his head, the size of a ripe plum. So he might as well explain himself. With a bit of luck, there would be added charges against Kimble over this. And if not against him, then his girlfriend.
Towards morning, Gerard wasn’t as sure of himself anymore. Fingerprints, physical characteristics, including the prosthetic arm – everything checked out. What finally convinced Gerard was the DNA test.
This was a nightmare. Could Kimble have been right all along? Unless it could be established that the one-armed man and Richard Kimble had been working together, it looked like Kimble would walk. And Gerard had no hope at all that such a connection could be proven. In all the time he’d been working the case and Kimble had been ranting on about the one-armed man who had killed his wife, Gerard had never been able to find a single trace of him.
No. He had to finally face the facts. Kimble was innocent. An innocent man had been sentenced to die for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe that loser, the computer geek, Chuck Brixius, had been right. Maybe his wife’s death had blinded him to the truth.
Gerard buried his face in his hands as he recalled in startling clarity all the times he’d neglected his family while searching for Kimble.
How many times had he gone too far in his relentless hunt? He knew that he’d been unforgivably hard on Maggie Kimble. A woman, close to dying of cancer. Kimble’s father had died, while his son was still on the run.
If he lost what was left of his family, Gerard felt he only had himself to blame. In a moment of ruthless introspection, Gerard knew that his own past had influenced his actions. That kid had been right. Maggie Kimble had been right. All that remained now was to face the truth and accept it.
The sound of a phone ringing interrupted his brooding and for a second, Gerard considered letting the phone go on ringing. He was through here tonight. All this dedication to his work, where had it got him? Not anywhere careerwise, that was painfully obvious. And his family – But it was no use. He might as well face the music. He wondered if it would be the judge or his boss.
“Did you get him?”
This time the voice was all too familiar. Of course, Kimble had called to gloat. It would be all over the media by now. Helen Kimble’s killer caught. Dr Richard Kimble’s name cleared.
“Yes, dr Kimble, I got him. As you must know by now. Happy?”
There was a silence at the other end of the line, making Gerard to think that Kimble had hung up on him.
“No. How can I be happy? Even though you caught the killer, my wife’s still dead. So is my father. My family is in ruins. But I guess – I’m glad it’s finally over.”
“I suppose you expect me to apologize now.”
“You don’t have to do anything. Just tell me you believe me and that Charnquist is finally going to pay for what he did to Helen.”
“Yes, dr Kimble. You’ve convinced me. Charnquist killed your wife. Not you. And – I do apologize for being so hard on your sister. She – Please tell her she was right. I may have gone too far a few times. But you know I always played by the rules.”
“Yes. I appreciate that, despite everything. So what happens now? Am I free to go -”
Kimble stopped, as he realized that the word he’d been about to say – home – just didn’t exist anymore. His house had been sold and he certainly had no wish to ever see it again. His father’s house? Maybe. As for now, he had no idea where to go or what to do.
“Yes. You can go wherever you want. Just stay in touch. We’ll need to go over your statements again. And there are other formalities. You have to finger Charnquist in a line-up. That sort of thing. But take some time to be with your family if you like.”
His family. Yes. Jean. Maggie, the children. And – if he could believe Jean’s unlikely story about who his sister’s new boyfriend was – Chuck. Strangely enough, he couldn’t think of anyone he’d rather have as a brother-in-law.
After hearing Gerard hang up, Kimble remained standing, the receiver still in his hand, until Jean gently pried it out of his fingers and put it down.
“Jean. It’s over. I never thought I’d live to see the day when Gerard would accept the truth.”
“Yes. Let’s go, Richard. We’ll find a hotel room and then -”
“I’d like to go and see Maggie and the children and -”
“Yes. I can’t wait to see the little guy again.”
“Come on. I think I could sleep for a week. Getting old, I guess. No more working for three or four days straight. It’s time to settle down.”
While they were talking, they’d returned to the van and were trying to find a hotel.
“Jean, I know the timing isn’t right, but do you think -”
“Do you think mr Jones is ready for some baby brothers or sisters?”
“Richard – are you saying -”
“You’re right. The timing is a little off, but yes. I thought you’d never ask.”
She stepped on the breaks, alarming Kimble.
“What? Did you hit an animal?”
“No, silly. Change of plans. I guess I wasn’t as tired or as old as I thought I was. Let’s start right now.”
Jean didn’t reply. Instead, she pulled Richard into her arms and began to kiss him more passionately than he could remember doing for a long time.
“Hotel room now.”
“But I want to -”
“I know. Me too. But I guess I’m more tired and old than I thought. After all this time on the run, I’d appreciate a comfortable bed and some other conveniences. I know I’m a bore, but -”
“No. You’re right. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. It’s a great idea. Just let me a get a few hours’ sleep. I’ll call Maggie. Considering what you told me about her and Chuck, I don’t think she’ll be too upset if we delay our arrival a day or two.”
“Yes, she will.”
“Of course. I knew that. Ok. We’ll delay starting a family with a day or two.”
“Alright. We need to get back to them anyway, or our son will never forgive us. Mr Jones might be tolerant, but he’s not fond of little girls.”
“Mm. Ok. Lead me to the hotel room, dr Kimble. I’ll take it from there.”
Kimble still hadn’t been able to take it all in. After all the pain he’d been through, could it really be true that it was over? He was free. No more running. No more looking over his shoulder. No more worrying if the few loved ones he had left were safe. But looking into Jean’s eyes, he realized that it was true. The nightmare was over. They could get on with their lives. There would always be a piece of his heart missing after Helen’s death, but the pain would go away. Now the future once again held promise. He couldn’t wait to get his life back. With Jean by his side, he knew he’d be strong enough.