Disclaimer: I don't own Edward, Stephenie Meyers does. However, I do like to play with him from time to time. Just like everyone else does. ;)
A BIG thank you to Fran for editing and to Southern Charm for pre-reading! And a special thank you to my son, MTC, who helped me find my way and provided me with some wonderful ideas, including a bit of dialogue!
The Lying and the Lam
"The distance is nothing when one has a motive."
The old Ford wheezed, groaned, and passed noxious fumes at every toll booth and exit ramp, but the tires are good and the radio still works, so, even though, there's nary a cup holder, or more importantly, air conditioning, I feel safe inside its chrome and rubber cocoon.
One way or another, I'm gonna find ya'
I'm gonna get ya', get ya', get ya', get ya …
I shudder when the oldies station I'm listening to blasts out the words that bracket my very existence.
I shut the radio off with a slam of my hand.
I'm not very good with a stick shift, but my aunt insisted I learned how to drive all manner of vehicles over the years.
'One never knows when one might be in a situation where they must drive an unfamiliar vehicle, Bella.'
I suppose, fleeing the scene of a crime in an old truck that used to belong to Jasper's grandfather was, indeed, a 'situation.'
Somehow, though, I doubt this was the type of scenario Aunt Marge imagined when she issued this particular warning.
Bllgh blllgggh blllllgggghh ….
I watch in dismay as the small black arrow pushes past the center line and begins to point past the tiny thermometer.
Steam gushes up, but rather than pull over, I turn the heater on full blast, just as my aunt instructed me to do should an engine start to overheat. Sweat beads on my forehead and runs down my nose, landing with a plop on my denim covered legs.
I don't bother to brush it off; they're already soaked from my tears.
'Which brings me to number three; Jasper isn't in Texas, we, bumped into each other at Logan this morning just before he boarded and had quite the riveting chat.
Oh, and four …
If you ever want to see your chubby, odd little chap again, I suggest you pick up your keys and drive back over here for another visit; he's starting to chafe from the restraints.'
With James's dire words ringing in my head, I fled my little cottage as quickly as my size seven and a half shoes allowed.
I flung open the door of my car, tossed my pocketbook on the seat, and did a wheelie out of the driveway. The cloud of dust blew all around me, but I barely noticed; I was in such a state.
I arrived at James's apartment in far less time than it ought to have taken me and found a spot under a large Elm tree.
Grabbing my handbag, I shoved the door open so hard and fast that it swung back, nearly knocking me off my feet. My hands, still bandaged from the scalding water, must have ached terribly as I rustled to close it, but I was too distraught to notice.
The moment I stood in front of his door, however, my knees began to shake and my head was suddenly full of doubt and self-recriminations.
Why on earth hadn't I called the police?
Because, when it comes to men, you, my dear, are what your dear Aunt Margaret would call, 'A real no-head.'
Nevertheless, before I could second guess my sanity for standing there in front of James's, sunny, yellow painted door with an even sunnier sunflower wreath, it was flung open by James himself.
'Isabella!' He cried. 'How good of you to come; and so quickly too!' His blue eyes gazed upon me happily.
I stood there with my mouth open, completely struck back by his happy and effervescent demeanor. But just as I was about to voice my bewilderment regarding his change of tact, I saw his eyes harden, just a fraction, but enough to jolt me back to reality.
'Where's Jasper?' I demanded, as I pushed past him and dashed into his foyer.
'My, my … you can be quite forceful when it comes to him, my dear. Such a shame you couldn't have shown an ounce of that passion when you were lying beneath me only a few nights ago. I believe I might have actually enjoyed that; you really aren't much of a lover, Darling.'
My cheeks burned with indignation and I found myself doing something I never imagined; my hand reared back and slapped him, viciously, across his smug face.
His reaction was swift.
He grabbed me by the hair and slammed me face first, into the large mahogany desk, knocking a benign framed photo of a sunset over the ocean, onto his pristine, marble floor. It fell with a crash, the glass splintering across the tiles like diamonds. I lay over the side of the desk, staring at the soft hues of the picture. It was surreal yet oddly comforting.
'Now then, shall we start over?' He whispered in my ear. I felt the soft drag of his tongue lap against my neck and I bolted upright.
When I saw the anger and lust in his eyes, I knew I was in real danger.
I attempted to run from him, but he caught me quickly and easily.
'Where do you think you're going, Isabella? We've only just started to play …'
'Jasper!' I screamed at the top of my lungs.
At this, James burst into laughter.
'Oh, Bella, Bella, Bella … did you honestly believe your precious Jasper was here in my apartment? Oh, that is rich!'
'But-but you said …' I stumbled over my words.
'I heard of Jasper's grandmother's stroke and his immediate departure when I stopped by my office before returning home. Of course, I couldn't have timed my call to you any better than if I scripted it myself. You really should have a caller ID; why that contraption you call a telephone is positively archaic … it still has a cord for heaven's sake!'
'So Jasper isn't here; he's in Texas?" I cried, angry at myself for being so naïve, but grateful that my friend was alive and safe.
'He's probably sitting by old Granny Whitlock's side right now offering her tea and sympathy while holding her poor decrepit little hand even as we speak.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief
'Of course …
He might be gagged and bound somewhere in that comical farm house he calls home.
I really can't remember.
What I do know is …
I know something you don't know' … He sang.
My pulse started racing.
'And I plan on keeping it that way
'No, James please … tell me where he is,' I begged. But he only grinned from ear to ear and shook his head, then cocked it to one side, considering.
'Why Isabella … what have you done to your hands?'
He came towards me and took them gently in his grasp.
I jumped back, but he refused to let go.
'Let me look at them.'
I stood there holding my breath while he unwound the bandages, slowly and put them in his pocket.
"These may be useful in the future,' he winked.
I have some salve in the kitchen. It's under the counter; the one where you left the bag of frozen peas.'
'You're so sloppy, Isabella. First the peas then the purse … and let's not forget your treasured barrette. I found it just inside my wardrobe.
How could I have been so stupid?
'Who are you?' I choked. 'I know you're not James Witherdale … you-you're a phony and some kind of a psychopath!' I shouted.
'Well, you're partially correct. I am not James 'Witherdale.'
But I am James.
Allow me to introduce myself to you properly … after all; we already know each other in the biblical sense, do we not?
My eyes filled with tears and the fear I felt was now laced with sadness; this was the man I thought I loved.
Perhaps it was something in my expression, but I swear in that moment I saw a shadow of genuine regret cross his face, one that told me there was another man locked inside this demon. He reached out his hand and stroked my cheek softly.
'James … please …'
But he only shook his head hard and the moment passed. His face hardened and his posture changed. He released me and began to circle the room like a vulture plotting his attack.
My name is James, James Hunter.
James Witherdale was a distant cousin of mine. We never met, but my grandfather assured me I was a dead ringer for him. I always found that description to be both delightful and apt, given his unfortunate, yet fortuitous death.
As for being a psychopath, well … they never were able to define my, er, condition, Bella. I suppose I was a psychological cocktail; a jigger of psychopath, a shot of schizophrenia, a finger of bipolar, a dash of bitters. Shaken, stirred and muddled with a variety of fetishes. Served straight up, with a twist of sexual deviancy; rocks on the side.
He continued to chuckle at his words merrily, as if I had told a great joke. I glanced quickly at the door, trying to gauge how fast I would be able to make a run for it, but he tracked my eyes and frowned.
'You're not going anywhere, Isabella.'
I heard the flat tone of his voice and began to shiver fiercely. He didn't sound anything like the man I thought I had fallen in love with, even the clipped enunciation of his accent had changed.
He lunged forward and dragged me, by my hair, to his bedroom where he tossed me on top of the four poster bed, where I landed with a thud.
'James, NO!' I begged.
Undaunted, he crawled the length of the bed towards me and I shrank back as far as I could, fearing the worst.
'Aw, we've already had the slap, now it's time for the tickle …'
Adrenaline coursed through my veins and gave me the strength to cock my legs back and shove him hard in the chest.
I rolled off the bed and ran to the door. I flung it opened and screamed. In the dim light, I had mistakenly run to the closet door instead of the one that led out to his hallway. The mannequin I'd knocked over earlier greeted me at the entrance and sneered as if to say, "Foiled again!"
James was immediately on my heels. I grabbed the smiling mannequin and used it to ward him off. But he knocked it aside and shoved me hard against the wall. The clothing carousel started up at once; I must have accidentally pressed it with my body. The garments brushed between us allowing me enough time to grab another mannequin.
But James was impervious; he cast the dummy aside, grabbed my hair, and flung me on top of the large cabinet. The banker's lamp fell to the floor with a crash; he brushed the papers and clippings aside as I squirmed and struggled beneath him.
'It didn't have to be this way, Isabella. I had no intention of killing you. Why couldn't you have simply remained ignorant? I was planning to marry you.
And your money.
What a pity you had to provoke my ire last week. Admittedly, I did forget to take my meds.
He leaned into my ear and whispered, "I forgot to take them today, as well.'
I let out another scream, but it was muffled and weak.
You know, I've never actually killed anyone before, well, aside for my Vetty British cousin, James.
It was so easy … just a few loose lug nuts and a rainy night in Merry Old England.
Dreary old England would be a better name for it … I didn't have to wait long for the skies to open up. Shame really …
It's too bad I was so much taller than him; our resemblance was uncanny. I might have been able to have assumed both his identity and his fortune, but, unfortunately for me, James Witherdale could only offer me his identification and his degree.
Old Berty just LOVED hiring a graduate from Oxford University.'
'If you kill me, he'll know … everyone will know. Jasper will come looking for me,' I cried.
'Yes, well, by then I will be experienced …' he murmured in my ear as he tore the shirt from my shoulder. The buttons flew in the air and were lost in the blur of clothing as they buzzed on by.
'Ah, the pink bra … such a shame; you know I favor you in yellow … 'He whispered as he groped my breasts and bit my neck, hard.
I brought my hands down on the crown of his head with all my might and he was momentarily distracted. Not long, but long enough for me to hop off the table.
But he pounced with the finesses of a cat and threw himself on top of me. I heard the sound of his zipper and I realized then he had more than murder on his sick mind.
Frantic, I rolled around, kicking and screaming with all my might. My hands clawed for something, anything that would prevent him from carrying out his deed.
I grabbed a hard object that was biting into my back and with every ounce of strength I had left in my being, smashed it square on James's temple.
His face looked stunned at my attack and he rolled off me and onto his back. Blood gushed out of his head and pooled on the light carpeting, staining it bright crimson.
Oh my God, I've killed him. I've killed him.
Why didn't I listen to Jasper?
I dropped the object that was still clenched in my burned hand and stared at it blankly.
The pale gleam from the dismembered, alabaster arm of the tuxedoed mannequin, the one with the blonde hair, so much like James, pointed towards the doorway as if to gesture my exit.
I didn't have to be told twice.
I headed straight to Jasper's, two-hundred-year-old farmhouse that sits nestled between rolling hills and pastoral fields and is flanked by the headwaters from the Housatonic.
I tried to call him on the cell as I left James's apartment, but it went straight to voice-mail. I debated about attempting to contact his family in Tyler to make sure he was there, safe and sound, but I didn't want to worry them unnecessarily.
Of course, what I should have done was to drive straight to the police station and turned myself in.
I know that now.
But I didn't.
There are times when a woman doesn't make the right decision; when everything in our being tells us to do one thing and we automatically do the exact opposite. This was one of those times.
Instead, I drove at record speed, plowing down the forsythia bushes at the foot of his long, gravel driveway. I didn't even miss a beat until I pulled up in the front of his red house with the white shutters and metal roof.
I grabbed my bag and dashed to the rear of the house, yelling his name loudly. I found the skeleton key he hid in the flower box and dropped it three times before I was finally able to insert it in the lock; my hands were shaking so badly. Once inside, I tossed my pocketbook on the counter and knocked over a can of Chock-Full-Of-Nuts coffee. Coins scattered over his checkerboard floor, but I didn't stop to retrieve them.
I went from room to room in search of him, fearing the worst. But he was nowhere to be found. I searched high and low (the low being the root cellar where I prayed no creature, including Jasper, would be hiding. One time Jasper had found a black snake casually eating a rat and he told me the story with a mixture of disgust and boyish glee.) There was no sign of him anywhere, so I went out back to see if he might be bound and gagged in the barn.
But his pet rooster, Foghorn, was there, flapping his wings and clucking his throat like it was his full-time job with benefits. Normally I give him a wide berth, but his presence comforted me that afternoon. I tossed him some dried corn from the pail that Jasper has hung on the side of the door and that seemed to placate him as I looked around the barn.
I searched the stalls, loft and even his Grandfather Whitlock's ancient pickup truck, which was no small task. Jasper had the bed stuffed with Civil War Regalia and uniforms, (which he ruefully lamented, 'They no longer fit,' but he was loathed to part with them, 'Just in case I ever get bored with French Fries and lose some of this pork.')
Frustrated, I tried his cell again.
You have reached the number for Professor Whitlock. I'm sorry I'm not here to take your call right now but if you leave me a message I swear on my great-great-great grandfather's grave, who died at the Alamo, to call you back.
I shoved my phone in my pocket and headed out to the vast apple orchard in the back of his property. The orchard produced thousands of apples every fall and Jasper made a tidy fortune from his annual harvest. He was hesitant about leaving it last semester but when his students heard about his dilemma they rallied together and conducted the harvest in his absence. Jasper donated the money they collected to the new History Center at Old Howie.
Though it was still early May, the apple blossoms were already in bloom due to an unseasonably warm spell in Western Massachusetts. Though the late afternoon sun was low in the sky, there was still enough light to navigate my way freely through the groves. From my vantage point, I had a panoramic view of Jasper's property. I put my hands together and shouted for him repeatedly, but there was no response.
I was just about to make my way back to the car when I heard the sound of wheels crunching the gravel on Jasper's long and winding driveway.
I stopped mid-step and froze. Though I hoped against hope it was Jasper or perhaps one of the boys who came to feed Foghorn, I knew it was unlikely.
I was too far away to run for my car or the house, so I hid behind a large Macintosh tree and held my breath while I waited to see who it was.
I heard it before I saw it; European engines always purr.
My pulse began to race.
No, no, no …
The unmistakable sleek gray hood of James's Mercedes pulled up next to my white Subaru.
My body had gone rigid, just for a second, before I forced my legs to move and run behind a dense grove of trees. I watched in fear, as James hobbled out of his car and peered into mine.
My heart sank when I saw him open the door and reach for the keys I had left in the ignition. He stood there with one hand on his bandaged head and another on his hip as he surveyed the land.
These bandages might come in handy later, Isabella …
I inwardly cringed as his words came back to taunt me.
How is he still alive? I remembered thinking.
A memory from my childhood resurfaced.
I had struck my head on the large industrial can opener in my aunt's basement one long ago summer day when I was helping her put up the spoils from the harvest. I bled so much that I was certain I was going to die.
'A few stitches and you'll be just fine, Bella. Head wounds always look like they'd keep the Red Cross in business for several decades.'
I hadn't checked for a pulse. I thought he was dead.
I was wrong.
He isn't done with you, yet, Bella. Not by a long shot.
James went to the front door and slid something, perhaps a credit card, into the lock. I watched him as he peered over his shoulder and then went inside the house.
I debated about running to the barn so I could hide, but instinct told me to stay where I was.
Why instinct couldn't have kicked in when James Witherdale first came into my wake, I will never know.
What I do know is that minutes after he went into the house he was back in the yard scanning for me.
'Isabella … come out, come out where ever you are,' he sang into the dusk.
'I know you're here, Darling. I've got your car keys …'
He circled around the front yard looking for me. I didn't move a muscle.
I watched as he strode into the barn and heard the flapping and crowing of Foghorn, followed by, 'Ouch, God-damn mother-fucking chicken!'
I might have laughed had I not been so terrified. Jasper would have a field day over the fact that James apparently didn't know the difference between a hen and a cock.
He came storming out holding his nose and screaming obscenities and threats.
I watched in fascination and horror as he struggled to compose himself.
'Isabella, I don't want to hurt you, sweetheart; I just want to talk to you …
Please come out. I know you can hear me … I know you're close; I can smell you.
He sniffed the air appreciatively and I nearly gagged.
'Pear and Magnolia … my favorite scent …'
He looked up at the orchard and I watched him begin to creep closer and closer to my refuge. I walked, stealthily towards the other side of the trees as his taunts began to echo in the growing darkness.
I flitted between the trees, moving away from him as he began to climb the side of the hill that was opposite of where I stood.
'You can't hide forever Isabella.
I didn't want any of this to happen, but you had to provoke me.
Did you think me dead? He laughed.
I shuddered, listening to him carry on his taunts and provocations.
'It takes more than a piece of plaster to do me in, I'm afraid.'
He stood in the grove far a few minutes scanning the horizon. I knew he was looking for movement, so I stood as still as my shaking knees allowed.
'I'm a tracker; a true hunter. It's in my blood, hence my family name. Blood trails, game lanes, the scent of prey huddled and afraid, the stalking of the stag. God help me, I love it.
Go ahead then … run!
I'll even give you a head start.'
I held my phone under my shirt and flipped it open wondering how long it would take for the police to arrive. The nearest station was at least fifteen miles away, but surely, someone would be on patrol?
I was just about to key in 911 when his taunts began anew.
'But, I promise I will keep track of you, Isabella.
If you tell anyone about me, I will find you and kill you.
But not before I kill your scatterbrained mother and her dyke girlfriend.
I cringed at his choice of word; what an utter cad; he certainly was not the politically correct and sensitive man I thought him to be.
'You know, I have access to all the information in the college files, including the address for your next of kin.' He laughed, sardonically.
I forced myself not to cry, faint or vomit.
'It's the end of the term, Dr. Swan.
Finals begin tomorrow.
Jessica will be more than happy to administer the exams.
She's such a romantic little fool; she'll believe me when I call her and tell her we've eloped.
As for Jasper …
One phone call from you should convince him not to call the authorities.
But I don't think he will.
Not if he wants to keep his pulse.
Perhaps old Janie Austen will help you find the right words to use to convince him.
But if he does
I will end him
I'm very good at that, Isabella.
Just ask my cousin, James Witherdale.
Oh, that's right … you can't
Because he's already dead!' He laughed, maniacally.
He stopped talking for several minutes and I panicked; thinking he was nearer to me than I'd thought. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw his shadow stretching across the apple orchard to the far west from where I hid.
I started creeping down the hillside, moving toward the barn and away from his shadow. I knew if I could see his then he could see mine and I prayed that he continued to keep to the left as I kept to the right.
I was terrified.
When he began speaking again, I almost lost it completely and gave myself away. But I managed to stifle my screams and stood as still as a statue.
'Oh, don't worry darling … if you want to return to your fabulous Old Howie next year, be my guest. By then I will have a new identity.
You can tell your slut assistant that I ran off on you. She'll love that …
What is it that Mr. Bennett said to your lovely Elizabeth?
"Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of and gives her a sort of distinction among her companions."
But if you come back before August, I'll blow the place from here to Bean-Town.
Now then, come out of hiding, Isabella, and we'll work out all the particulars together.
The devil is always in the details, isn't that right, Darling?
Twilight had given way to darkness and the fullness of the moon afforded me enough light to make my way down to the barn.
I went in the back door and grabbed the set of keys that were hanging on a beam. Foghorn stood on the hood of the truck watching me with his knowing eyes as I cranked the engine. I tried to shoo him off but he refused to budge. I saw him peering over his shoulder like a soldier ... A sentinel preparing for flight or fight. I prayed that James would not make good on his threat to kill him. I watched as his feathers began to rustle and his frightened cackles pierced through the stale air as he continued to watch me intently. I knew then that I had no choice. I hopped out of the truck, scooped him up, and tossed him into the cab alongside me.
Forgive me Jasper …
With lightning speed, I started the engine, threw it in gear and plowed through the double barn doors. Wood splintered around me as I put my foot on the pedal with all my might.
I didn't release it until I was half-way to Connecticut.
bllgh blllgggh blllllgggghh
The truck wheezes, jolts, and huffs one last gasp for air before it finally gives up the ghost and comes to an abrupt stop.
I sit, stranded, on the side of a road, in God-knows-where, North Carolina, stunned.
My fingers, white as bone, clench the wheel, refusing defeat, while my foot continues to pound the pedal to the beat of my thumping heart.
Oh God, dead.
I put my head down on the wheel in acceptance.
I knew I couldn't run forever, but I wanted to protect those I loved.
I couldn't even protect myself.
I jump back, startled, certain that I am going to see a pair of Windex blue eyes staring into the window telling me that the hunt was over.
Instead, I see two women dressed in bubble-gum pink uniforms staring back at me, smiling. One is tiny and dark-haired. She has a small kerchief pinned to her short, brunette, cap of curls. The other girl is tall, blonde, and Rubenesque. She too, has a matching calico kerchief secured on her head. I notice the badge on her lapel says Rosie.
They gesture for me to roll down the window.
But I can't.
My hands are glued to the steering wheel and refuse to move.
They nod at each other and the tall girl goes to her car, a red Jeep. I watch her take out a wire hanger from the trunk, which she expertly manipulates into a single strand with a small loop. She approaches the truck slowly and inserts the hanger into the window. I watch, fascinated, as it snakes down and pops up the lock. She swings the door open and carefully plucks my hands from the wheel.
"Are you okay, sugar?"
I take one look at her large, periwinkle eyes and promptly burst into tears.
"What's wrong with her, Rose?"
"I think she must be in some sort of shock.
Mary-Alice, get Daddy's tonic from under the back seat. It's in my makeup case; not the blue one, the pink one with the ivy."
The tiny girl nods her head and trots off to get Daddy's tonic.
I blink my eyes a few times and try to speak, but nothing comes out except a gargled sound.
The beautiful blonde sweeps the hair from my forehead and pats my shoulder, sympathetically.
"Here it is, Rose. I brought a pack of Virginia Slims and a lighter, too."
"She don't look like a smoker to me, Allie."
'No, but I figured you could use one."
"Lord knows. Now here, take a swig of this, Hun. That's right. Try to swallow it. Good."
The liquid dribbles down my chin, but I manage to swallow a tiny bit. The scorch of the alcohol burns my throat and I cough and gag, but it seems to do the trick because I finally find my voice.
"I thought … I thought I killed him … but I didn't, he's still alive … how is he still alive?" I babble, incoherently.
She stands there, hands on her hips, and stares at me, nonplussed. A flicker of a smile spreads to a full on grin and she nods her head in understanding.
"Well, honey, sometimes killing those little bastards can be tricky. Now, why don't you get out of the truck and we'll help you figure it all out.
Bless your heart."
****Welcome to What-A-Burger # Unknown!****
Thus ends the first arc of the story. Whew! Just when you thought James was finally done in ...
The second arc of this story will see some great changes for our heroine. I liken her arrival to NC to that of Dorothy's house suddenly dropping in the middle of OZ. That's when all the color is infused, and life, for her, will really begin.
What color you ask?
Hmm, I'm sort of leaning towards ...
Thank you so much for all your support with this story. I know I am sometimes slow to update but I promise you that it will be easier to update during the summer.
PS: I apologize for the use of the D word. James is a politically incorrect asshole. I, however, am not.