An Empty Grave...

Chapter 14: Hero

The next day, around five, Eric showed up and immediately started to talk with Les about security systems. An hour later, over iced gin, I asked what the security talk was all about.

"Well, Davy, I figure after you come out to the cops things just might get a little sticky and I don't think it's fair for Les and all those high priced computers of his to be in the line of fire. So, after tonight you're going to be staying with me, at my place. There's just have a couple of things I have to finish before it'll be safe. Okay?" He reached down and took Crash's muzzle in his hand and looked into her eyes. "You'll be there too, doggy, we won't forget you. And Tux gets to be king of his mountain again."

The next afternoon we loaded my stuff into my car and Eric's truck. I hugged Les and thanked him again for all he'd done for me. He hugged me back and quietly said, "Let him take care of you. He knows what he's doing."

It was the first time since getting banged up that I'd actually driven and it was both scary and exhilarating. Eric drove slowly, keeping an eye on me in his mirror. I guess that's how we missed seeing the ugly green Ford with the coat hanger antenna.

Eric's place was really very nice. It was part of a large property which Eric took care of for the owner, a lady of advanced age who actually lived in Seattle and rarely visited the place. Eric's part was two rooms with a small kitchen and smaller bath but with it's own entrance.

Taking my things into the place I said that Les was probably as relieved as Tux to get his place back to himself. Eric laughed and put his arms around me. "I don't think it's going to be quite like that, you know? If I were a betting man I'd bet that Susan will be living there with him before summer is over."

"Really? What..."

"It's in the eyes, the way they look at each other. You'll see." He gave me a kiss. "Look, I really need to go and do this one yard. They're giving a party tonight and I want it to look really good. You and Crash can get to know the place, go in the pool and I'll be back in a couple of hours, okay?"

I nodded. I figured Crash would be anxious to try out the pool and I wanted to organize my stuff as best I could.

Ten minutes after he left there was a knock on the door. I didn't know if Eric had told anyone I was going to be there and I didn't know whether or not to answer it. While I was debating the knock became a banging.

"Let me in. Please, let me in. It's all right. God has forgiven you." Then, much louder: "Let me in NOW. You cannot deny your father just as you cannot..."

I didn't hear the last part because the voice receded a bit. Then there was a loud crash, almost an explosion and the door ripped away from the frame. A man stood in the doorway, staring at me.

"You," he screamed. "Not you! Where... What have you done with Richard? What..."

We were both frozen, the reality of it holding us in place. The man had to be Rick's father. Some small part of my mind recognized the resemblance. The rest of my mind suddenly knew who Rick's killer had been. I felt movement at my side and heard a low growl. Crash was in full protection mode.

I think it hit him at the same moment. I, the man who had loved his son, the man he thought he'd killed, was standing in front of him. That had to mean that he had killed the wrong man. He had killed his own son.

"NO! I didn't. I couldn't. Not..." He stabbed his hand into his pocket and brought up a gun. "God will forgive me. You took my son away from me. Twice. Now... now I must avenge that."

I could see his fingers tightening on the gun. Then there was a dark streak through the air, a cry of pain and then the loudest explosion I'd ever heard in my life. And after that a high pitched scream. I instantly knew that Crash had been shot.

Rick's father lurched forward, into the room. I grabbed the first thing my hand touched, a heavy glass vase full of flowers. I hit him on the side of the head with it, just as hard as I could. He went down with the sound of shattering glass and there were flowers everywhere.

Crash was on the floor, looking at me. I bent down and took her in my arms. She licked my face, whimpering quietly.

I didn't think about anything. I was on autopilot and everything I did was simply an automatic response after that. My conscious mind did nothing more than observe what my body was doing. There was a roll of duct tape on Eric's desk and I grabbed it. I bound the man's legs together and then his hands, behind his back. Then I turned him over and slapped some over his mouth.

There was a receipt on the desk which I turned over and scribbled that Crash was shot and we were going to the vet. Then, how I'll never know, I lifted Crash up, all sixty five pounds of her, and carried her to the car.

I remembered the Vet's office from that first day Les and I went up to "rescue" Crash from Mrs. Freeze but I don't remember driving there at all. I don't remember carrying Crash into the veterinarian's office either but I do remember the flurry of activity it caused. They had me put her down on a steel table and the doctor was there immediately. I stood, holding her head, caressing her muzzle while the doctor gently probed her right hip.

He called the nurse to get him some medication and he gave Crash a shot. Almost immediately she went completely limp and I thought she'd died.

"It's okay," the doctor said gently. "I just gave her something to make her sleep for a bit, while we figure out how bad it is. Now, why don't you go out to the waiting room and let me work. She'll sleep for an hour or so and when she wakes you can come back in and comfort her. But for now, let me get on with it."

I was filling out some papers for the young guy behind the counter when Eric walked in. He took me into a hug and I almost lost it. I hadn't realized just how scared I was. "I went home to get the receipt for their garden stuff. It's okay. She'll be fine, I know she will."

We waited and it seemed like forever before the doctor came out. When he did, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You have one very lucky dog there, Mr. Duckworth. The bullet passed through a heavily muscled part of her thigh and did very little damage. She did lose a little blood but not enough to worry about. All in all, she's going to come out of this very well."

Eric nodded, as though to say `I told you so.'

I was so relieved I had to sit down for a minute. The young guy brought me some water and I introduced them to Eric. Then they took us in to see Crash. She was just waking up and looked at me with groggy but loving eyes.

"She'll need some pain medication for a week or so," the doctor said, "and some antibiotics but that's about all. She's in very good health, which will help the healing process immeasurably."

I him asked how long she would have to stay in the hospital.

"Well, she can stay until tomorrow if you like, but I think she'll be more comfortable at home. And probably better cared for. There's no one on duty here at night unless we have a critical case and by no means is she critical."

We helped her off the table and she was able to walk by herself, although on only three legs. The doctor's assistant gave us some medication for her and Eric paid the bill.

We got Crash into the car and she immediately went to sleep. Eric hugged me again and asked if I was okay to drive. I nodded, thinking it would give me something to do, maybe keep me from falling apart. "Take her to Les's. I'll be along in a while, just as soon as I take care of the body you left on the living room floor."

"Oh God, Eric, is he dead?"

He laughed. Not by a long shot. "But I told him that if the dog didn't make it neither would he. I guess I'll go tell him he's off the hook. At least that one. Now get along to Les's."

After Eric left us, we sat in the parking lot for a time while I cried, my head against Crash's. I cried for her, for me and, after a bit, for Rick and his dad. Then we went to Les's.

The gate was open and I could see Les at the end of the drive, pacing. When I parked he came over to the car and helped me out. Then he hugged me close.

"How is she," he asked. "Eric was kind of vague on the phone."

"She's going to be fine. She was lucky and it's just a flesh wound."

He looked at her, still sleeping on the seat. "What happened? Eric was in a hurry."

"She was protecting me. She knew he wanted to harm me and she tried to stop him. He shot her." I was shaking and Les took my arm.

"I think you need to sit for a while. Here, let me help..."

"No, Crash... In the car."

"Can she walk at all? That's a pretty big girl to carry around in your arms, you know."

That made me wonder. How had I gotten her into the car in the first place? I went around the car and opened the door. Crash opened her eyes, looked up at me and tried to wag her tail. My heart melted all over again.

"If you'll help me get her out of the car she can get around by herself. On only three legs and not very far but she can do it."

Together we got her out of the car and she made it through the house. She seemed to want to go out on the deck, out in the air so that's what we did. Les appeared with something to make her a bed and she gratefully lay down.

"Can she have water?"

"I think so but not very much. Just a little at a time."

Les went into the kitchen and reappeared with a bowl of ice cubes. "Here, she can lick these as she needs to." He put the ice near her head and scratched her behind the ears. "I guess you're a hero dog now, aren't you? Good girl."

Les got a chair and placed it right next to her so I could sit near her and touch her. "And you, my man," he said with a smile, "could probably use a little gin just now, right?"

While Les was in getting the drinks I looked down and realized that he'd made the bed for her out of the seven hundred dollar Scandia quilt. I almost cried at his unending generosity and his concern for everyone he knew, including Crash.

"Okay," he said, putting our drinks on the table. "I want to hear all of it but not yet. Susan is coming over and there's no point in having to tell it all over again. But I will say your first day at Eric's seems to have been quite exciting."

"Les, you don't know the half of it."

About that time Susan came in and first thing she did was kneel down and look carefully at Crash and her bandages. Then she looked up at me. "She's a very lucky girl, David. >From what I can see, much farther to the left and she'd have a shattered leg bone." Crash looked up at her and gave a little wag of the tail. "That's okay girl, I won't touch it." She held an ice cube out for Crash to lick. Three licks and she drifted back to sleep.

"What's she on?" she asked, standing.

I dug around in my pocket and held the pill bottles out to her. She read the labels and nodded.

"Good. What did the doctor tell you?"

I shrugged. "Keep her quiet. Give her the pills every four hours."

"Basically that's the program. This'll keep her pretty groggy, keep the pain at bay and let her sleep. That's the best thing for her just now. You'll have to keep an eye on her, recognize when she needs to relieve herself, and take her out. For the rest of it I'd let her sleep. She'll get hungry in a day or two and let her eat then. Bland stuff. Cream of Wheat, a little chicken, lots of liquids, that sort of thing."

Les came out of the kitchen with a drink for Susan. "How is it, my sweet, that you know so much about doggie medicine?"

"It so happens," she said, accepting her drink, "that this stuff," she indicated the vials of pills, "is given to people all the time. You, for instance. The last time your back did that trick thing it does and you couldn't get out of bed."

The phone rang and Les picked it up.

Susan looked at her watch. "Five thirty. It's his mother. I wonder where she is today." Les hung up the phone and Susan turned to him. "You get cut off? She's never talked less than a half hour."

Les smiled. "It was Eric. He'll be along in a few minutes. Mother, bless her shipboard heart, called earlier. She was mad at my brother and couldn't wait to dump on me." He sat down and took a sip of his drink. "One good thing came out of it though. I suggested that she might like a companion on her next cruise and she was quite receptive to the idea. I think she's getting lonely. Anyway, she's going to look through the brochures and get back to me. Then we'll call Mrs. Freeze and see how she likes the idea."

The gin was calming me and I found that I could focus on something besides myself. It felt good. "I think she'll love it," I said. "And she'll be good company for your mom. She has lots of stories."

"Speaking of stories," Susan said, looking at me, "how about..."

"I think we should wait for Eric," Les said. "He should be here shortly."

When Eric finally did get there and was settled in with a drink he looked around the table and grinned. "I think we won't hear a whole lot more from the Reverend Wallace."

"He was a Reverend? A church man?"

"Well, that's what he said he was, Susan. In some nut church up there in Mojave."

"You talked to him? Or is this what the police said?" Les asked.

Eric laughed. "Oh, yes, we had quite a little interview, waiting for the police. After I told him that the dog hadn't died but I still wasn't sure about him he became quite the little chatterbox."

Les interrupted. "You said you'd kill him? Eric, you shouldn't..."

Eric shook his head. "I never said I'd kill him. Oh, no. All I said was that I wasn't sure about him. He put his own spin on it. Anyway, it turns out that he was Rick's father."

"Wait a minute. Before you go on, how did he find me? How did he know I was, well, here?"

Eric reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled envelope which he handed to me. "Right there, everything but a street map."

It was Rick's Visa bill, addressed to him in Los Angeles. "But how..."

"Inside, Davy. Look at the bill."

I did and there it was, the last entry. Five thousand, six hundred and seven dollars charged by the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California."

He went on. "I figure he must have gotten it out of your mail box after they stopped delivering your mail to Mrs. Freeze."

Les scratched his head. "But how do you suppose he actually found David. I mean, the hospital wouldn't tell him anything. Would they?"

Susan shook her head. "They probably wouldn't but any number of the volunteers might. They all know you, Les, and that you brought him in that night. It's not much of a leap of logic to figure he's here, with you."

Les nodded. "What else did he tell you, Eric?"

"Bunch of gibberish, mostly. Said he was Richard's father and you, Davy were some sort of evil spirit who had somehow put a spell on his perfect son. Then he seemed to realize what he'd really done, that he'd killed his perfect son and he began babbling. I couldn't make any sense out of it so I called the police." He took sip of his drink. "Oh, wait, there was something else." He looked at me. "You know how he found us that time on the freeway? The guy may be crazy but he was a crafty one. He told the lady across the street that he was from the city and couldn't seem to contact you, I mean Rick. He asked her to phone him as soon as there was any sign that you, Rick, were at the house. She did and he got there just in time to see us drive away. He only saw me and wasn't sure who I was so he decided just to follow us." He grinned at me. "He didn't count on the agility of that sweet little BMW."

"He didn't count on the agility of your driving, either, Eric. I was scared to death but I had to admire your skill anyway."

The talk sort of petered out so Les refilled our drinks and then went to start the barbecue. "It's steaks, okay?"

We nodded and Susan said that in that case she'd go in and make a salad. "Don't tell any more `till I get back."

Crash woke up and raised her head. "These for her?" Eric asked, holding an ice cube. When I nodded he held one out and let her lick it. It was mostly melted and she took it in her mouth and crunched it up. Then she laid back down and went back to sleep.

"I'm sorry about the vase," I said. "I didn't know it'd shatter like that."

"Hey," he said, leaning over to kiss me, "I bought the flowers for you, for your first time in the house. I'm glad they were there but if I'd known they were going to be used as a weapon I would have gotten them in a heavier vase." He grinned. "Well, maybe not. Then you might have killed him instead of just giving him the great granddaddy of all headaches."

"Well, I'm still sorry. But thank you for the flowers."

By the time we were finished with dinner I was exhausted. It had been a long, strenuous and emotional day. We woke Crash and helped her down to the lawn where she actually did relieve herself. Then we gave her her medicine and helped her into the house.

Figuring that she would never be able to get up on the bed, or, worse yet, that she'd try to get down, Les put the comforter on the floor in the living room. "You guys can sleep here too, and take care of her," he said, handing Eric a couple of blankets.

So we bedded down for the night, Eric spooned against my back and Crash just touching my belly, so I could feel her breathing. Eric had set a kitchen timer for four hours and when it went off it was he who gave her her medicine. Four hours after that it was my turn.

Crash did better in the morning but still couldn't put any weight on her wounded leg. She did eat a little Cream of Wheat and lapped up a small dish of chicken broth, her favorite. Then she went back to sleep.

By two the police couldn't stand it any longer and came out to interview me. We, all of us, sat out on the deck drinking iced tea and I told them the whole story, from Rick's flu to hitting his father with the vase of flowers. All told, with their questions and comments, it took a bit over three hours.

"You know," Les said when I was through, "there's just one little thing I don't understand. The so-called jeweled dagger. What the hell was that all about? Why didn't he just use his gun and be done with it?"

Everyone came up with a blank on that one. "Well," said the younger policeman, "I guess we'll have to ask the father about that one. That is if he's coherent. The boys over in Riverside at the psycho ward say he's pretty far gone."

"Wait a minute," the older, and better looking, cop said, "I seem to remember something about that. Let's see..." he paused, thinking. "It was jeweled and sharp on both sides..." He snapped his fingers. "The two edged dagger! It's in Judges. Three, I think. Let's see... King Eglon, King of Moab, or was it King Moab, King of Eglon? Well, anyway, this guy was holding the Israelites hostage and someone, probably God, sent a guy named," he paused for a moment and then snapped his fingers. "Ehud, yeah, that's the one, Ehud. Anyway, God sent this Ehud to rescue them. Ehud made himself a two edged dagger and killed the evil king with it. Something like that. But that's a pretty obscure reference. I'm not sure..."

"Of course," Eric said. "He was a reverend or whatever in some nut church up there in Mojave. He probably saw himself as sent by God to rescue his child from the evil king, or, in this case, the evil man, who was holding his son captive."

"I bet that's it," the cop said with some admiration in his voice.

"Makes sense," Eric said. "But how did you come up with that King of, where was it? Moab? Eglon?"

The cop laughed. "My dad was a preacher and for my whole life it seems he's been reading the bible to us and asking questions, just to make sure we're listening. Well, until I left home anyway. But he still does it, whenever I go for a visit."

The police said they'd send a complete report to the L.A. cops and I'd probably be hearing from them pretty soon. They also said that if I had any problems with the L.A. guys to let them know because I was in their jurisdiction.

We called Mrs. Freeze that evening and I went through a somewhat shorter version of the story with her. I said I would have come up and told her in person but I wouldn't leave Crash for that long and she couldn't travel yet.

Mrs. Freeze was far more concerned for Crash than for Rick's father and told me so in no uncertain terms. She also said she would make some, in her words, "very therapeutic dog cookies" and send them down.

Five days later found us, Eric, Crash and me, living at Eric's place. "We've got to start planning," I said to him one night in bed. "We need to get on with our lives."

"We will," he said, nuzzling me in the neck. "But it's life, not lives."


Comments always appreciated and always answered.

Greg Bowden

This is the last chapter of the story. And no, I don't have a clue as to what Les does when he goes up to L.A. Sorry.