by Tim Mead
For All Thy Mercies
Cedric was not particularly religious, but he silently offered up a prayer of thanks that he had been rescued. He believed Ferguson was deranged, and who knew what someone like that was capable of.
He shook as he put on the white coverall, perhaps from relief, perhaps from having been cold for two and a half days. He could hear his rescuers talking outside the barn. The garment helped restore his dignity somewhat, but it didn't provide much warmth. The booties over his bare feet were particularly unhelpful. He wrapped one of the smelly blankets around his shoulders and shuffled outside.
"Young Hemingway" was there with Sergeant Stonesifer. Officer Fiske was nowhere in sight.
"Mr. Jones, Sergeant Stonesifer and Officer Fiske are going to wait here for the crime scene people. I think I should take you to the Colby General ER and have you checked out."
"I'm Cedric, please." He hoped the FBI man would ask to be called by his first name, which he knew now was Bart. Although Ray Stonesifer had called him "Spike." Did those two have some sort of history? "And I don't think I need to go to the hospital. I just need to get warm and to have a bath."
McNamee reached out and removed a bit of hay from Cedric's hair. Cedric was surprised and touched by the gesture. He looked to see if Stonesifer had noticed, but the sergeant was looking into Cedric's car.
"If you're sure you're okay," McNamee said, "then I'll take you home. You can clean up, get some clothes on. I saw the candy wrappers in the barn. Have you had anything else to eat?"
"What about liquids?"
"I've had water all along."
Just then Fiske came up the drive in a nondescript black car. He got out and handed the keys to McNamee.
After thanking him, McNamee opened the passenger-side door. "Let's go get you taken care of. Then we'll meet Sergeant Stonesifer in his office and you can tell us in detail what happened."
Cedric wondered why the Special Agent and the Sergeant didn't stay behind and detail the officer to take him home. Perhaps because McNamee wanted to get Cedric's story unofficially before he made an official statement at the police station?
"Sorry, Cedric," Stonesifer said, "but we'll have to keep that blanket here. It's evidence."
"The car'll warm up quickly," McNamee assured Cedric.
On the drive back to Colby with the heater blasting, McNamee didn't say much, but he often glanced at Cedric, who guessed the agent was checking out his condition, looking for signs of shock or something of the sort. Though he suspected it was uncomfortably warm for McNamee, he reveled in the heat.
When they arrived at Cedric's apartment, McNamee produced the ring of Cedric's car and door keys.
"Won't the CSI people need those?"
"Your car is unlocked. And it will be towed after it's examined in situ."
McNamee unlocked the door and stood aside.
"If you'll let me get a quick shower, I'll dress and be with you, Special Agent McNamee."
"Why don't you take a soak in the tub while I see if I can find anything in your kitchen to make you something hot to eat?"
"I'm not terribly hungry. I had a Slim-Fast bar and an apple a while ago."
McNamee grinned. "Humor me. I'd feel better if we got some hot food in you."
"Help yourself to the kitchen. I need to get to the bathroom."
"Okay. Take your time. But don't fall asleep."
Cedric got into the shower first to wash his butt. Then he began to run water into the tub. While the water was running, he shaved off the three-day growth of beard. There was a tap on the door.
"Yes, Special Agent."
"Oh, for God's sake, call me Bart. There's just the two of us here. In court or at the police station you can use my title, okay?"
"Sure. What was it you wanted?"
"Would you rather have scrambled eggs or soup?
"The soup sounds good, thanks."
Cedric couldn't remember what he had in his pantry, but the thought of any kind of hot soup was suddenly appealing.
He usually took showers instead of baths. But this was nice. Maybe he should do it more often.
He must have dozed off despite the agent's warning, for he was awakened by another tap on the door. The water had gone tepid, and his fingers looked pruney.
"You okay in there?"
"Um, yeah, thanks. I'm fine."
"Be right there."
Cedric pulled the drain lever, got out of the tub, and dried himself off. He realized he felt much better. Assuming he wouldn't be going to the office this day, he put on jeans, a soft flannel shirt, white cotton sweat socks, and his best-looking sneakers.
McNamee had set a place at the bar separating the kitchen from the big room.
He looked at Cedric and grinned. "You look better without the beard."
"Oh, you didn't like the thuggish look?" Cedric was shocked at the flirtatious tone he had just used. But the FBI man didn't seem surprised.
"You weren't even close to looking like a thug."
Encouraged, Cedric continued, "How about designer stubble?"
"Not that, either." He twitched an eyebrow. "Merely unkempt. Now, I've made tomato soup. Hope that's okay. I would have made a grilled cheese sandwich, but couldn't find any cheese slices. Would you like peanut butter?"
"I'd love that!"
McNamee smiled. "Good man. PB is the staff of life."
"I thought that was bread."
"Well, they go together, don't they?"
Cedric chuckled. It had been a while since he'd felt like laughing. But his ordeal was over. And the company was good.
"Why don't you eat with me?"
McNamee thought about it for a moment and said, "I'll leave all the soup for you, but I'll make myself a sandwich. Would you like some coffee? That might help warm you up."
"Man, you're taking too good care of me. I'm okay now that I'm clean and dressed. What I'd really like with this fine meal is a glass of milk. But you can make coffee if you want. Or I can make it. There's really no reason for you to wait on me. Somehow I don't think this is all part of the Bureau's regular service."
"Actually, it isn't. And I'll have milk with you if there's enough. It does go well with PB sandwiches."
As he ate, Cedric mused about the agent's comment. This whole concern for his welfare seemed to go beyond what one might expect from the FBI. But then Cedric's familiarity with the FBI was based mostly on TV shows, where the agents usually appeared cold and remote. Then why the special attention? He wasn't sure about that. But this . . . domesticity . . . was cozy. He thought he wouldn't mind having this hunk around.
By the time Cedric and McNamee got to the Colby Police headquarters, Ray Stonesifer was there. The two of them took Cedric into something that looked more like a small conference room than an interrogation room. The table wasn't bolted to the floor, and there was no mirror/window for unseen observers.
After being told the whole thing would be recorded, he was invited to tell his story from the beginning. Both McNamee and Stonesifer interrupted occasionally to ask questions.
After the law men were satisfied, Stonesifer switched off the recorder.
"We'll have this transcribed and then we'll ask you to sign a copy."
"Now," Stonesifer said, smiling, "we have some news for you."
"CPD picked up Kevin Ferguson at his house this afternoon. Guess what he was doing."
"Abusing his wife?"
"No. She was at work. He was cutting letters out of newspapers and pasting them to a sheet of blank paper. His pistol was lying on the table beside him."
"Jeez. So what kind of case do you have against him?"
"Given your testimony, his fingerprints all over your car and the barn, the demand note he was working on, I'd say it's pretty strong."
"I don't want to butt into your business, gentlemen, but I'd like to make a suggestion."
The red-headed cop looked at McNamee. "I'd say he's entitled, wouldn't you, Special Agent?"
"By all means."
"I think you should make sure Ferguson gets a psychiatric evaluation. And look into his Marine record. And the circumstances around his discharge. He's got a screw loose somewhere, I think."
MacNamee nodded in approval. "All those things are either being done or are scheduled to be done, counselor."
"How did you guys find me?"
"We literally didn't have a clue until we talked with your Ms. Bott this morning. Apparently nobody missed you until Saturday night when you were supposed to be at Professor Handley and Chief Grant's house for dinner." Stonesifer looked at McNamee, who nodded. "They apparently thought it was odd, maybe even rude, but they didn't follow up on it. Tyrese James, who was at the party, called you the next day. He got no answer, of course. So he called Adam Craig. Adam went over and knocked on your door. When you didn't come to the door, he went back to the phone and talked with Tyrese. But he remembered that earlier this fall you had taken off suddenly for Cincinnati without telling anyone where you were going. So he suspected you might have done that again, especially if something had happened to your friend down there."
"Oh, shit! I can see why they would have thought that."
"So Tyrese called Ms. Bott first thing this morning to see if she had heard from you. When she said you hadn't showed up for work, he called us. We went to your office to talk with her. She told us your car would have OnStar. When we traced its location, we guessed you hadn't parked it behind that barn on your own. Since the obvious explanation was that you'd been abducted, we called the Toledo FBI office, and Special Agent McNamee got here in short order."
"I'll have to give her a big hug. No, that wouldn't be appreciated. Maybe some flowers." He turned to McNamee. "But one more question. I assume from your title you're the top guy in the Toledo office. Why did you come instead of just sending someone? You didn't know for sure there'd been a kidnapping, and I'm small potatoes."
McNamee had five o'clock shadow and it wasn't that time yet. He was obviously one of those men who needed to shave twice a day. On him it looked sexy.
He shook his head in response to Cedric's question. "Not to Tyrese James. He's an acquaintance, and he happens to carry a lot of weight locally." He grinned, and Cedric was dazzled. "Besides," the FBI man continued, "I was the only one available. I had a guy out sick with the flu and two in Quantico for a weekend seminar."
"We'll have someone drive you home," Ray said. "I'm sorry, but your car is still impounded pending further examination by our forensics crew."
"I can walk back and forth to work, but I guess I'll need the car when I run out of groceries. Or maybe I can get one of my neighbors to let me go to Kroger's with them."
"You could rent a car."
"I hadn't thought of that. Guess I'm not thinking too clearly."
"Not surprising," McNamee commented, "under the circumstances."
Officer Fiske drove him home. In the patrol car, he glanced at Cedric, "Er, I shouldn't ask this, Mr. Jones."
"It's okay. What do you want to know?"
"Are you gay?"
Cedric thought the policeman was going to inquire about his weekend in the barn, so the question took him by surprise.
"Yes, I am. Why do you ask?"
Fiske seemed flustered. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. It's absolutely none of my business."
"You're right. But I'd still like to know why you asked."
"Well, Sergeant Stonesifer's gay. He doesn't make any bones about it."
"Well, he doesn't act gay. And you don't either. You both seem like regular guys."
Cedric chuckled. "Except for who we sleep with, we are pretty much `regular guys.' I'm afraid your idea of gay men is distorted by the stereotypical image of limp-wristed guys with lisps."
Fiske was quiet for a moment. And then he pulled up in front of Cedric's building. "I think you're right. I guess I'm learning. Stonesifer's a good man. A good boss."
"I'll bet he is."
Cedric thanked Fiske for the ride and went to his apartment.
The first thing he did, after using the bathroom, was call his mother, not wanting her to hear about his abduction on the news. Assuming it made the news in Cleveland.
Since it hadn't, he was able to play down the whole thing, finally assuring her that except for being wrung out he was okay and the man who'd done it was in custody.
He'd barely hung up when his phone rang. It was Tyrese, wanting to be assured that Cedric was all right.
By the time that conversation was finished, Cedric was ready to put something soothing on the music system and have a glass of wine.
He'd no sooner sat down, however, than his doorbell rang.
When he opened the door, Adam and Blake were standing there. Without being invited in, Blake grabbed him into a hug. "Man, it's such a relief that you're okay."
"You know what happened?"
"Only the bare outline. And what we've heard could be wrong. The jungle drums spread the news, but they aren't always accurate."
"Don't molest the man, Blake," Adam said. Then he stepped forward and searched Cedric's face. The only people who'd looked at him like that before were Angel and Tim.
"Are you all right, Cedric? The bastard had you since Friday night? Have you had anything to eat lately? Have you been checked out at the hospital? Aren't you dead on your feet?"
"Great choice of words, Adam," Blake said, nudging his lover.
"Guys, I'm sorry you worried." Then, remembering his manners, he asked, "Would you like to come in? I was just having a glass of chardonnay."
"Ced," Adam said, "we understand you've just been through an ordeal we can barely imagine. We came over to invite you to have supper with us. It's a simple skillet meal, but it would keep you from having to cook. Or, if you're too tired, we can just bring you some food and spare you the inquisition."
"Yeah, Adam, I'm pretty frazzled. But I need to be with somebody this evening. I'm lucky to have such good friends. So I'd like to have supper with you. And I promise I'll tell you about what happened. You just have to forgive me if my face falls into my plate at some point."
Adam smiled and Blake chortled. "If that happens, we'll clean you up and put you to bed."
Fighting off a vision of getting into bed with Adam and Blake, Cedric shook his head. "Good. When do you want me?"
"Um, how about now?" Blake asked.
"Super." Just then the phone rang. "Tell you what. Let me see who this is on the phone, and then I'll be over. Should I bring my chardonnay with me?"
"We've got merlot breathing. It'll probably go better with the meal. But bring the white with you if you'd rather."
"Red sounds good. `Scuse me. Gotta get this phone."
It was Jake Handley calling to see if he was okay. They talked briefly, and Handley said, "Jim and I are issuing you a rain check for the dinner you missed. Probably just the three of us. Can I call you in a few days?"
"Sure. I'd like that. I'm sorry I missed your party Saturday night. But I'm going to be at home for Christmas and I have to work in a trip to Cincinnati, so we'll have to compare calendars."
"I'll call you later then."
"Give my best to Jim."
"Will do, Cedric. And we're both very glad you're okay."
Adam and Blake had prepared a macaroni-beef-tomato skillet meal with salad and crusty dinner rolls. To Cedric it was a down-home meal, almost comfort food.
His hosts showed great restraint, not offering to quiz him about his weekend.
Feeling he owed them something, he told them briefly about what had happened, admitting that he had been cold and frightened, but he tried not to over-dramatize anything. He stifled a couple of yawns as he spoke.
When the meal was finished, Blake said, "Man, I don't want to be inhospitable, but you don't look too good. Why don't you go turn off your phone and crash? "
Cedric rubbed his face. "I hate to rush off. This has been great. But I think you're right. I am pretty tired."
"Is there anything we can do for you?" Adam asked.
"You've done it, thanks." He stood. "Let me help clear the table."
"No way!" Blake said. "Just get yourself to bed. Are you going to work tomorrow?"
"I plan to. If the cops want me they can find me there as easily as at home."
They exchanged hugs, and Cedric crossed the hall, went into his apartment, and headed for his bed, stopping only to brush his teeth.
He'd just left the bathroom when the phone rang.
"Dammit," he said out loud, "who is it this time?"
It turned out to be Jay, who had just heard the news and was worried about him. They talked for a few minutes. Cedric assured his friend he was okay and that in a few days he'd tell him about his experience.
After putting down the phone, he'd barely turned around before it rang again.
"Hey, girl. How you?"
"I'm good, big brother."
"C.B. and my favorite niece and nephew doin' okay?"
"Yes, they're fine. Now will you shut up so I can ask how you are? Mama called and told me what happened to you."
"It's okay, Sis. I suppose Mama told you I was fine."
"That's what she said. But she wasn't sure whether or not to believe you. So I told her I'd call. You can tell fibs to her, but you can't fool me. So how do you really feel?"
"Keesh, I had a scary weekend and thought I'd freeze my ass off. But he didn't hurt me and I don't have hypothermia. The only thing is I'm asleep on my feet."
"For real, that's all?"
"For real. So I appreciate you callin', but I need to crash. You all still plannin' on comin' home for Christmas?"
"We'll be there Christmas Eve, with the kids and all the crap we have to carry along with `em."
"That's only a few days away. I'll tell you all about my weekend from Hell then. It'll make a good Christmas Eve ghost story. Well, not quite a ghost story."
"But scary enough, I imagine. Okay, sweetie. I'll let you go so you can get your beauty rest."
"I know you're gonna call Mama. Tell her again I'm fine and she shouldn't worry, okay?"
"She's a mother. We worry. That's part of the territory. But I'll tell her. Love you, Ced."
"Love you, too, Keesh. `Nite."
Finally, he dropped exhausted into bed.
The next morning on the elevator he was greeted by Sam Gruen, the urologist who lived in the building.
"Cedric, how are you? I heard about what happened."
"I'm fine, Doc, thanks."
"Did you get checked out by someone in the ER?"
"Paramedics at least?"
"No, Doctor. Thanks for your concern, but I'm good. Really."
"I'd really feel better if you'd call me Sam."
"But . . . ." He paused. "I heard . . . well, never mind. It's very personal, of course. I'm just glad to see that you look okay."
"What did you hear?"
"Well, I heard he kept you naked all weekend."
Damn! News really travels fast around here!
"He did, but he also left me a couple of old army blankets to wrap up in."
"That's good. No hypothermia."
"What about bruises?"
"I heard he called you names and beat you because you're gay."
Cedric couldn't help wondering how that rumor got started.
"He did call me names. But he didn't beat me."
"What about the rape?"
Cedric snorted. "He most certainly didn't rape me."
"Oh, well, if you don't want to talk about it, I understand. Denial is pretty much standard after things like that."
"Sam, listen to me! He did. not. rape me. In fact, he said he found the idea of sex with me revolting, or words to that effect."
The car stopped at basement garage level and the door opened.
"Have a nice day," he said to Sam.
"Yeah. Thanks. And happy holidays." Cedric realized he didn't have a car, so he turned to go back to the elevator. Sam called after him, "If you need to talk with someone, I can give you the name of a good counselor."
He wondered how many people in Colby thought he was a rape victim.
It's a little like the old ploy in logic: Have you stopped beating your wife? Neither a yes nor a no is a satisfactory answer.
Ms. Bott was there, of course, when he arrived at the office.
"Good morning, Ms. Bott."
"Good morning, Mr. Jones. You seem to be none the worse for your ordeal."
"I'm good. And I have you to thank for being rescued. Barton McNamee told me you suggested using my car's GPS to find out where it was."
There was the slightest hint of a crinkle near the eyes, the suggestion of a turn-up at each corner of her mouth as she said, "Well, Mr. Jones, I really didn't want to have to train another attorney."
He went into his office, where he read through his narrative report for his boss. He wondered if he should add a section on his being kidnapped. That wouldn't have happened if he weren't handling the Fergusons' divorce. He decided against it, however: it was merely work-related, not really a part of his job. He worked a while polishing the version he'd written the previous week, attached it to an email and sent it off to Tyrese.
He spent the next hour or so going through memos Ms. Bott had left on his desk.
Not long before noon he used his PC to look up florists. He'd already taken care of Ms. Bott's Christmas gift, having arranged with an online gourmet company to send her a large selection of sugar-free candies. But as a thank-you for helping the police find him, he thought flowers would be appropriate. The first florist in the alphabetical list was Cox Floral. The name rang a bell. He remembered that Brody Cox, the gorgeous ex-Marine he'd met at the Colby Queers' fall gathering, was the son of the owners. Might as well keep the business in the family, he thought, chuckling at the double entendre.
He dialed the number.
A young man's voice answered. "Cox Floral, this is Justin. How may I help you?"
"I know this is a busy time for you, but I was wondering if you could deliver some cut flowers to an office location in downtown Colby today."
"We're busy, but I think we can manage that. What did you have in mind?"
Cedric didn't think Ms. B. would appreciate his being too lavish. She might not appreciate the gesture at all, but he had to make one.
"How about a half dozen white and a half dozen red roses, mixed with some holiday greens?" That way if she's entertaining the flowers will just look like part of her decoration. "Oh, and could you put them in a vase?"
"Not a problem. Do you want something Christmassy or just plain?"
"Something plain will do, I think."
Justin asked where and to whom the flowers were to be delivered. After Cedric had given him the information, he asked, "And you'll want a card with that. Should it have a holiday theme?"
"No, I'd prefer a plain white card, please. On it you can put, `Thanks for keeping me around.' And sign it `Cedric.' Can you deliver it before 4:00? She leaves the office at that time."
"We'll make a point of it. Now, how did you want to pay?"
Cedric gave him his credit card information.
"You're Cedric Jones? Jeez!"
Cedric heard a muffled voice at the other end of the line.
"Sorry, Mr. Jones. Thanks for calling Cox Floral."
Cedric chuckled as he hung up the phone. Word really had gotten around.
About mid-afternoon he took a stack of completed paperwork and gave it to Ms. Bott. When he went back into his office he left the door open, as he often did when no clients were present.
Not long before Ms. Bott was due to leave for the day, he heard the outer door open.
"Can I help you, young man?" This from Ms. Bott.
"Yes, ma'am. I have flowers for Ms. Martina Bott." The young man had a deep voice. It obviously wasn't the Justin Cedric had spoken with on the phone.
"Indeed? You can put them here on the desk, please."
A pause while the young man did as requested, or so Cedric surmised.
"Ah, I see there's a card."
"Here, let me get my purse."
"Thank you, Ms. Bott. But we're not allowed to accept tips."
"What's your name, young man?"
"Do you work regularly for Cox Floral?"
"No, ma'am. My partner and I are just helping out with the Christmas rush. He, Justin, has worked for the company for years, part time."
"Well, thank you, Bailey. And Merry Christmas to you and Justin."
Bailey thanked her and left.
A few moments later Ms. Bott came into his office.
"Mr. Jones, they're lovely! You must come and see them."
Cedric went with her. On her desk were the flowers. It looked like more than a dozen roses. A quick count revealed there were nine, not six, of each color.
"You really shouldn't have, you know."
"Ms. B., I'm grateful to you for keeping things on an even keel around here and for being patient with me while I'm learning the ropes. But now you've saved my, um butt, and I just had to say thank you."
"Don't think I'm going soft, but I suppose I can tell you it's been my pleasure."
A little later, just as she was leaving, she said, a definite twinkle in her eye, "It's too bad you didn't see the young man who delivered the roses. He was quite good looking." That was the first time she'd ever alluded to his being gay.
They thanked each other again, and she left. Cedric closed up the office and walked home soon after that. It was already getting dark. He couldn't help looking over his shoulder and being aware of passers-by along the way, even though he knew that Kevin Ferguson was locked away somewhere.
Christmas came and went. It was a pleasant time, good for Cedric to get beyond his abduction. His most pleasant memory of the holiday was of lying on the floor while his niece and nephew, Cheyenne and Little Jakey, crawled over him, demanding horsey rides.
It was good to be with his parents and Keesha, of course. But his brother-in- law always seemed a little tense around Cedric. C.B. was born and brought up in Morgantown, WV, and his parents still lived there. He had been a basketball player at Villanova, but hadn't been quite good enough to get into the NBA. Once he had earned his MS however, he was offered a choice of jobs as a coach. He seemed to be quite happy as an assistant basketball coach at Penn State. Keesha loved the State College community, so it looked as if they were there to stay for a while.
It wasn't as if C.B. ever said anything unfriendly. But he always went for a handshake before Cedric could hug him. And though he wasn't much of a talker, he kept up his end of conversations with the senior Joneses. He almost never asked Cedric questions, however, and seldom made any effort to keep a conversation going after Cedric's attempts to start one.
Oh, well, Cedric thought. He's a good man. And he makes Sis happy. I wonder what he thought about the kids crawling all over me. Maybe he's afraid they'll catch the gay thing from me. He chuckled.
His trip to Cincinnati to see his friends came at the same time as the holiday gathering of the Colby Queers. He was sorry to miss getting to know some of those men better, particularly Ray Stonesifer and the exquisite Jesse, as well as the hunky ex-Marine Brody Cox and his partner Dave. Still, he was just as happy he wouldn't have to spend an evening explaining to people that yes, he was fine, and no, he hadn't been beaten and raped.
Two conversations remained firmly fixed in his mind as he drove home from Cincinnati on I-75.
The first had been when he had gotten some alone time with Mark.
"I have some idea how awful this whole thing has all been for you, Markie. How are you holdin' up?"
Mark's face was thinner, and there were dark smudges under his eyes. But some sparkle had returned since Cedric's previous visit.
"Yeah, you do, don't you? You had your own encounter with a car. But at least my memory's okay."
Cedric didn't want to mention it, but Mark's physical injuries were much more severe than his had been.
Before he had a chance to reply, Mark continued, "I'm gonna get through this next operation, Ced, and all the fucking physio because, dammit, I want to get back to work and to a normal life with Casey."
"Casey's been pretty terrific, hasn't he?"
"Oh, God, yeah! He claims he'd never have made it without Pops and Doug, but he's been a rock. Surprising. I'd never have thought he had it in him."
"I don't know quite how to ask this."
"Maybe I know. You're thinking about what I said to you on the phone that day last fall, about some of his mannerisms bothering me?"
"Well, you put it a little more forcefully than that."
Mark put out his hand and Cedric took it.
"Man, could you just forget what I said? It was wrong of me to mention anything like that. Two people who live together are going to rub each other the wrong way sometimes. Sure, Case wears a lot of fairy dust. But if I ever doubted before, I know for sure now how much he loves me. And that kind of love maybe happens only once in a lifetime. So I'll tolerate his . . . airs and graces . . . just like he puts up with my occasional preoccupation with my job, and be forever grateful."
"That's good to hear, brother." Cedric thought he'd had that kind of love once. He wondered if he'd ever have anything like it again.
The second conversation had involved Chaz, Trey, Mark, Casey, and Cedric. Stan and Doug were having supper that evening with the Greeleys, to give the "boys" a chance to have beer and pizza and talk about old times.
Of course the subject of Cedric's abduction came up. The others knew about it but this was the first time they'd ever been able to talk about it as a group. Cedric was required to give a detailed account of the event from beginning to end.
When he was finished, after being interrupted often for questions, Chaz commented, "Well, I hope they send the guy away for life."
"Oh, I hope not," Cedric replied, sounding dismayed.
"Why not? That's the penalty for kidnapping, isn't it? And throw in assault with a deadly weapon? I'm not the lawyer in the group, but it seems to me . . . ."
"Ced," Trey asked, "what was it like having that pistol held against your head while you were driving? If you don't mind talking about it, that is."
"Looking back on it, I think that was the scariest part. There's this dude in the back seat and at first I didn't have a clue who he was or what he wanted with me. And he didn't put the tip of the barrel against my head. He put it against my neck." Cedric shivered. "I can still feel how cold it was. And it occurred to me that if he shot me in the temple it would probably kill me. But if he shot me in the neck, it probably wouldn't. At least not right away. And that's what had me nearly crapping my pants."
"So the bastard should spend a long time in jail," Chaz said with some emphasis.
"Well, I'm not sure. The last I heard he was undergoing psychiatric evaluation. And that's a good thing. And I hope they're checking into his military record. From what I hear, he was a good Marine in the First Gulf War. But when it came time for his third hitch, he wasn't allowed to re-up. I'm guessing by then that he was showing signs of PTSD or something of the sort. But he must have fallen through the cracks, since he got no help from the VA."
"God, Ced!" Tim exclaimed. "It's even more frightening to think that the guy with the gun to your neck was mentally unstable."
"You know, guys, I've thought a lot about all of this."
"I'll bet you have," Trey commented.
"And, you know, the guy didn't ever abuse me physically. He said some nasty things about my being gay. But he supplied food and water. He gave me blankets to keep warm. Granted I got cold that weekend, but the scariest part once he put his gun away was wondering what he was going to do to me when he didn't get what he wanted from the police and his wife."
"Cedric," Mark observed, "you're sounding almost like a defense attorney."
"I hope he gets a good one. The guy has been out of work for years, his unemployment has run out, he's gotten no counseling for whatever's fucked up in his mind. But he has one item of belief he hangs on to: the reality of the commitment you make when you take the marriage vows. The reason he always gave when Crystal, his wife, wanted to push on with the divorce, was that they'd promised to be together all their lives. He thought she was sleeping with other men. She says she wasn't. All he wanted, he said, was for her to quit catting around. All she wanted was an end to the verbal abuse."
"Facts always complicate things, don't they?" Mark said. Trey chuckled.
"Then maybe this Ferguson guy needs to spend the rest of his life in a mental hospital," Chaz said.
"Well, I'm not going to push the case against him. If I'm required to testify in court, I'll tell them exactly what happened from my perspective. But I'm hoping Kevin will get treatment that can help him. I'd hate to see them just put him away and throw out the key."
Then, deciding to turn the conversation to another topic, he asked about Trey's new nephew. They were regaled with anecdotes about having a newborn in the house. Both Trey and Chaz seemed delighted with the addition of young George to the Withers/Greeley family.
As he pulled out to pass a semi on I-75 northbound, he thought, I'll call Ray after New Year's and see if he's learned anything
Bart McNamee's probably long since moved on to things more important than my weekend sharing the barn with the rodents.
But damn, I'd sure like to talk to him!
If you want to email me about this chapter, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim