When All Is Said And Done

When All Is Said And Done

A Story by R.E. Vaughn
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A young woman searches for her kidnapped sister, aided by a family friend, a bounty hunter. The story revolves around the themes of displaced love, deceit, and blackmail.

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ANNA TYSON, AT SEVENTEEN, WAS A TALL, STUNNING BRUNETTE, not yet wise to the evil and danger of older men. Her older sister, Kate, slid a picture of the missing girl across my desk. The young woman had come to me like a patient to a doctor, seeking a cure for the pain she wanted to be free from.

    “Anna's been missing for a week now, and the police are no help. She disappeared the same day this photo was taken...” She paused to place a fingertip beneath her eye and wipe away a tear. “...by the same man who sent it to me. I want Anna found.”

   Kate struck me at first as the kind of young woman who distrusted men, yours truly included; she avoided my eyes, preferring to look away at the walls or at her feet. I tried to make her feel comfortable and gain her trust by asking about her father, Bruce, an old Army buddy. She squirmed in her chair, kneaded her hands together, and looked away. She said nothing. I should have been suspicious at that point, but my heart went out to Kate, given I had a daughter close to her age.

   Like her younger sister, Kate was a brunette but wore her hair short, cut straight just above her shoulders. Her attire was modest: bright white Nikes, wrinkle-free blue jeans, and a pale lavender shirt covered by a navy sports jacket that fell to just above her thighs. Kate looked as if she had just walked from a boutique dressing room--and not from a grimy Volvo that had carried her across two-hundred miles of rural highways and mountains to find me.

   I squinted at the photo, pulling it closer. “What color are Anna’s eyes?”

   “Blue,” she said. “Like mine.”

   I looked up. Kate’s eyes were indeed blue, sparkling with a bright iridescence. “Your sister, her eyes just as deep blue as yours?” I held the photo up to her. “I really can’t tell. She's too far away from the camera.”

   “Yes," she answered. She tilted her head to one side and gave me a quizzical look, her bright blues looking back at me wide and curious, almost baby-like in their appearance. “Why do you ask?"

   I gave her my most charming smile, the kind that conveys that look, you know the one that says, without a word spoken, I’m-a-great-guy-who-really-cares. "Anything out of the ordinary will help finding Anna more of a possibility,” I said.

   Kate crossed her arms, a move I might have mistaken as a defensive posture had she not rubbed them afterward. The reality was it was mid-February and my office felt like an Arctic blizzard had blown through it. I don’t care what other people pay for their comfort; I care that I don’t pay a lot for it.  “Let me turn the heat up,” I said, standing and then turning to the thermostat behind me. Even with my back turned, I could feel Kate’s eyes on me. The .44 Remington Magnum holstered on my hip had caught her attention. She was staring at it as I turned around.

   “My dad once told me you were a ruthless bounty hunter. He also said you were the best soldier he’d ever trained and served with.”

   I pulled my jacket over the weapon, concealing it from view. I sat back down. “I learned from the best,” I told her. “Your dad was a great teacher, as well as a true friend. I owe a lot to him. I wouldn't be alive today if not for him.” Something in my gut told me I should have kept those last words to myself, but it was too late.

   “That’s why I came to you,” Kate said. She uncrossed her arms, pulled up the large satchel at her side, and set it on her lap. “Everything that’s in here is yours, money included.” She raised a corner of her mouth to a crooked smile. “And I mean everything.”

   I acted surprised. “Oh, what else could be in there, besides money, that I’d want?”

   Kate placed the satchel on my desk and then leaned back in her chair. Her face now had a look of confidence and cunning, unlike the face of the teary-eyed girl I’d just met a few minutes before. “Open it,” she said, without hesitation, and with a bluntness that caught me off guard. She sounded more like a Marine Corps drill instructor rather than the proverbial damsel in distress. “I’d like some coffee,” she said.

   I pointed at the far wall behind her. “It’s over there. Help yourself.” The niceties were over as far as I was concerned. It was evident there was a lot more to young Kate than met the eye. And I suspected she wanted more from me than finding her sister. I reached in the satchel, felt the bundled money, but pushed it aside. I pulled out a pack of pictures and thumbed through them. "Your father give you these?"

  “No,” Kate said, pouring herself a cup of coffee. “He wouldn’t, so I took them.”

  I fanned the gruesome pictures across my desk. "You planning on blackmailing me, Kate?"

  "If I have to."

   I pulled my cell phone from my shirt pocket. “I’m calling your father. He--not you--should've asked for my help. This is just bullshit--you shouldn't have these.” I punched in Bruce's number and put the phone to my ear.

   “Won’t do you any good. He died two days ago,” Kate said. “Put the phone down, Cal.”

   I pocketed the phone. Instead of offering my condolences for the loss of her father, I gave Kate a menacing, unblinking stare. I was pissed as hell. “If you were a man, your a*s would be on that floor, and your soul knocking at heaven’s gate about right now."

   Kate took a sip of her coffee and sat back down. She leaned forward, got face-to-face with me, close enough that I could smell her perfume. “Well, I’m not a man, and I know damn well you won’t lay a hand on me.” She stood and walked to the window. Snow from the day before covered the parking lot below. “Uncanny isn’t it, Cal?” She turned to look at me, her eyes filling with tears. “I lose my dad, now my only sister, mom’s just a memory, brother’s killed in Iraq, and you threaten to kill me, if only I were a man. Uncanny isn’t it?”

   I was still angry and really didn’t want to answer directly, so instead I asked, “Uncanny? How?”

   “How? My dad wouldn’t have hesitated to help you, Cal. He wouldn't have asked for anything in return from you--if it'd been your daughter taken, would he?”

   "No, he wouldn't, but I haven't asked you--or him--for a goddamn thing, have I?" She shook her head no. "Then why blackmail me?"

    “Because I want more than just my sister back,” she said between tears. She walked to my desk and emptied the satchel onto it. A quick glance at the mountain of money--all of it crisp one-hundred dollar bills--and it was evident she meant business. “There’s one-hundred-thousand dollars here.” She scooped up the pictures and shoved them in her jacket pocket. “Keep the money. You’ll get all the pictures, too, but only under one condition.”

   “And what’s that?”

   Kate pointed at the satchel. “Bring it back to me--and not empty. I want the head of the son-of-a-b***h who took my sister.” She held her hand out as if to shake mine. “Please, Cal. Say you'll take the job and find my sister. I need your help.”

   I stood and slid my hand into hers. It felt warm and smooth against the roughness of my own. I squeezed it and pulled her close to me. She tried to jerk away, but I gripped her hand tighter, pulling her closer. I looked deep into her eyes.

   "Kate, I did things to other human beings that I'm not proud of. You understand me?" She looked up at me and nodded yes. The look on her face was one I wanted to see: she knew I was now in control. "Your father did terrible things, too," I said. "Understand where I'm going with this? I can't do what you're asking of me."

  "Yes, I understand," she said, "but it's you in the photos, torturing and murdering those people. My dad's not in them."

   I dropped her hand and sat back down. The money, the satchel, all of it, I pushed into one neat pile and away from me. "Take all this--and yourself--out of my office. I told you I'm not your man."

   Kate crossed her arms and leaned her back against the wall. She laced one ankle over the other. She reminded me of a stubborn child, with her lips pursed tight and eyes narrowed. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me why you won't, Cal."

   "Alright then. Who the hell do you think took all the photos, Kate? Who do you think was right there, watching me, coaching me, sometimes helping me do those terrible things that men do to each other in war, huh? Bruce may have been your dad and my best friend, but he was no f**k'n angel, that's for damn sure. He was a trained killer--just like me, but I don't kill people for a living anymore. Get it?" Kate didn't answer me. She sat down on the floor, buried her face into her hands, and began sobbing.

   I was tempted to step outside and just let Kate have some alone time to herself, but I didn't. Her state of mind--fragile as it was before she came to my office--was now unpredictable. Yeah, I'm the guy who made the poor girl cry, by blurting out the truth about her father, but I'm not the guy who started the whole damn mess. Something had to be done. I couldn't stand her crying any longer. I stood and walked to Kate, knelt beside her.

   "Kate, stay in town tonight," I said. "You've drove along way and you're tired. I'll stay here tonight and you can crash at my house." I reached into my pocket, pulled out my keys, and unsnapped a spare. I held it out to her. "Here, take it."

   She wiped her arm across her face, sniffled, and tried to stand, but couldn't. She eyed the key and laughed. "Don't bother," she said.

   "What's so funny?"

   "Help me up," she said. She laughed again and began rubbing her right leg just above the knee. "My leg's asleep. I can't feel it. C'mon, help me up."

   "Wrap your arms around my neck," I said. Lifting her was no problem; she was petite, probably weighing no more than 110 pounds. I sat back down at my desk and watched as Kate hobbled around my office until the feeling came back to her leg.

   "You're an a*****e," she said, as she gathered up the money and dropped it in the satchel. She rolled her eyes up at me. "You hear me?"

   I nodded.

  "As long as you know that..."she said, "...then I'll be fine. And I'll find my own place to stay. Thanks but no thanks."

   I pointed to the window. "Nearest motel is at least a forty-mile drive." The sun had started its late afternoon slide down the backside of the mountains. "And these mountains are dangerous to drive at night. You know-lions, tigers and bears?" She wouldn't look me in the eye, but Kate gave a coy smile as she lifted the satchel strap over her shoulder.

   "I'll be fine, Cal. Don't worry about me."

   "But I will." I held the key out to her. "Please take it. It's the last house on this street, on the right. We can talk later tonight."

   "Talk? About what, and I thought you said you'd stay here tonight?"

   I eased myself out of my chair and sat on the edge of the desk, closer to Kate. "I'll take up your cause and find Anna for you, but the guy's head comes back still attached to his body. And he'll still be alive..." I paused, "...unless he gets stupid. That's my first caveat for taking this case."

   "Okay, and what's the second?"

  "No money. I don't need it or even want it. I'll do it for your dad...and for you." I nodded my head toward the desk phone. "And that's how we'll talk tonight." I offered her the key again.

  Kate's eyes narrowed to mere slits. She held the spare key in her right hand, rolling it between her fingers. "You haven't mentioned the photos. I'm sure you want them."

   I couldn't have stopped the smile spreading across my face no matter how hard I tried. "You don't have to worry about that." I pulled the photos from my jacket pocket and held them up.

   Kate patted her jacket pocket and then looked to where she had sat on the floor. "They must have fallen from my pocket unless you--"

   That's right, I had lifted the photos from Kate when helping her stand earlier. If I'd wanted to be a hardass, I could've kept my mouth shut and let her think she'd lost them, but the woman had been through enough misery from me already. There was no rationale to being mean to Kate. She was a sweet girl with a problem that needed solving.         To be continued…..

 


© 2015 R.E. Vaughn



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R.E. Vaughn
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Added on November 29, 2015
Last Updated on December 14, 2015
Tags: Deceit, murder, extortion, coersion, blackmail, dark fiction, short story

Author

R.E. Vaughn
R.E. Vaughn

Charlotte, NC



About
I read and write Southern Literature, Rural Noir, and Dark Fiction short stories. Murder, revenge, gallows humor, deception, bad love, and not-so-nice small town and backwoods folk predominate my wo.. more..

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