True love is unconditional...and forever.
Carter had made surfing plans earlier in the week with Jimmy. Jenna knew. Saturday morning after a quick cup of coffee, Carter headed for the garage to get his gear ready. As he slid his surfboard into the back of his Jeep, he looked up to see Jenna standing at the doorway. She reminded him of chores needed around the house.
“I hire that stuff, you know that.” He didn’t bother to look up again in that he knew what he would see; her hands on the hips and her foot tapping restlessly.
“Yeah…well,” she said. “The painters come today and I don’t want them to be here alone. Someone will need to supervise and that someone is not going to be me.”
Carter paused. “I told you three days ago Jimmy and I are surfing this weekend. Why did you schedule painters?” he said.
She responded with a nose in the air look and turned to walk back into the house. “My nail appointment is at nine.”
Typical Jenna, he thought. Fight it or give in; either way you lose. He dialed Jimmy from his cell phone.
“You two are like watermelon and ice cream,” he said in his long drawn good ol’ boy cadence.
“Both ya’ll are fun, but not together.”
He was right. Jenna was a lot of fun, especially in college, but married life had seemed to dampen every reason why they married. The weekend sucked and he figured it couldn’t get worse.
It did. When the painters didn’t show up, Jenna blamed him for calling them to cancel just to prove a point.
The evening got worse, if that could happen. Jenna was now in her silent treatment mode which always followed any disagreement between the two. In the past Carter would attempt to coax her into talking about the concerns but she would brush him off by interrupting the dialogue and picking up the telephone in the middle of their conversation and calling her girlfriend Marcia. He had given up on trying to reconcile and decided that a couple of drinks while sitting in the moonlight by their lake would suffice or at least relax him to where he could get to sleep.
He crawled into bed around midnight. There was a storm brewing in the west and he knew it would be a tough night. A few hours later he rolled over and opened his eyes awakening from a dream. Large red numbers were flashing which didn’t surprise him in that a thunderstorm had passed through. He had slept through the clatter and knew it was early. The wee hours were becoming his new companion and his dream was back—the one about the little girl.
Like an early alarm clock she would wake him about the same time each night. Jenna had said to quit eating Burritos so late at night believing Carter’s dreams were gastrointestinally generated. Truth was that the dreams had nothing to do with what he ate and had always haunted him. As a child his parents blew it off as his imagination. They simply assumed it was one a pretend friend thing since he had only a few friends and no brothers or sisters and his mother was a Dr. Spock reader. Today, with everything Carter knew, he wished not having friends or siblings could have been the answer.
He rolled out of bed and decided to make coffee. He sat on the back porch overlooking the lake they lived on in quiet solitude and thought about nothing. The moon’s light still shimmered on the water like a line of diamonds making it a peaceful quiet setting in contrast to the current situation within his home. This quiet should have been a second hint that his life was about to be turned upside down because we all know about storms and quiet and what inevitably happens.
Jenna was up by seven, and Carter left for work shortly thereafter. He and his partner Jack were investigating a new homicide. A body found in a sunken van. They thought they were making a little progress but by the time noon rolled around Carter Blaine was rolling towards the hospital in the back of an ambulance.
Some say life ends at death; your eyes close and everything goes black. Some will tell you there is a bright light. Some even say your soul stays around to watch and protect your the people you love. Maybe it’s a combination of all three. Carter was not so sure about how life or death worked now after his own precognitions while recovering in the hospital.
This is the story of his life—the second one. If he had begun his story with his first life, you wouldn't understand his second life. So with that we will start with the second and mix in the rest along the journey. Confused? Think about how Carter feels.
The truth according to Carter is that it will always float to the surface through all the crud and crap called life. Sometimes it’s dumb luck. Sometimes just good police work. Sometimes the dead come back and tell you everything, whether you want to hear it or not. It bad enough to have a marriage that haunts you but when it’s family, it can be worse.
Doctor Artemis Rite hovered over skeletal remains spread across a stainless steel examination table as if perusing through a jewelry store countertop looking at engagement rings.
“So that’s it?” Carter Blaine said. He stood at the doctor’s right shoulder gazing down at the brown mass of sticks. Rite had placed the fragments carefully in their respective places simulating a human skeleton. It was the best he could do considering the incomplete remains that were found in the sunken van.
“Not much to go on,” Rite mumbled.
The forensic dive team had collected twelve human bones, a skull and a slime covered high school class ring.
“That’s about it,” Rite said through a sigh as he clinched his Meerschaum pipe between his teeth.
“Can we do anything with what we got?”
“DNA could match something but it is a slim chance.”
“What do we know?”
“Young, female, dead.” Doctor Rite expressed through his bizarre sense of humor.
“I think the State’s Attorney will want a little more detail than that.”
“Not much more to talk about until the Feds come back with information on the vehicle.”
“What about the ring?” Rite looked up from the table as if Carter had said something odd.
“Either it was a male’s ring or the victim had huge hands,” Carter said.
“Oh. That. It looks like a male’s ring but I haven’t examined it yet. The victim wasn’t wearing it. I can tell you that much.”
“Do what you can. We’re going to grab some lunch and I will call you this afternoon.”
Rite waved Carter off and turned his attention to the table. Reaching for the overhead microphone he turned on the voice recorder and rattled off details as if making a grocery list.
“Female, approximately five feet four inches, limited skeletal remains, severe water damage, not remarkable, appears to a cranial fracture unknown origin…” His voice faded as the door to the examining room closed.
Carter walked back to the car and as he opened the door, his partner Jack said, “Anything?” Jack said.
“No. Not yet. Lunch?”
“Yeah. I’m starving and I can’t wait to dig into Mama Leone’s spaghettis today.”
“Okay, yeah, me too. First the ATM.”
Jack frowned. Grumpiness was his regular companion; Carter just came along for the ride. His cantankerous nature wasn’t unusual but today it was worse because of the August heat and humidity of south Florida. The air conditioning in the detective’s unmarked car didn’t begin to cool the two detectives as Carter turned out of the parking lot of the Medical Examiner’s office and drove to the back for a withdrawal. He thought this latest assignment appeared impossible to solve. The victim dead almost thirty years gave nothing more than a pile of bones in a van and that didn’t leave a lot of proof of anything. The DNA process would do the trick, but Rite had said it would take months—close to six or more—before positive identification. Then there was the identity of the vehicle. He surmised, from some of the evidence, the girl could be young—about high school age—in that thirty years ago Cold Water Creek was a hangout for teens after school. The van’s wheel rims were almost rusted off but Carter could see the rear wheels had been larger than the front and the rear of the van raised to probably accommodate larger tires. These things lead him to believe the van belonged to the victim or more likely her boyfriend which seemed more logical. He knew that the F.B.I. would take their time researching the rust bucket as it appeared to be low on their list of priorities.
At the bank, Carter found himself staring at a dead ATM thinking it would feel better to shoot the damn thing in that his day was not going very well. He looked over to his partner sitting in the car and pointed to the bank doors.
Jack acknowledged and turned his attention to the vendor cart shaded by a blue and yellow umbrella advertising New York Style Sabretts and said, “Just speed it up.”
His taste buds—straight out of New York—could not resist. He stepped out of the car as Carter jogged to the bank doors.
Three people stood in line ahead. He checked his watch and worked his way around the ropes to stand in line and filed in behind them. It was nearly noon and his stomach grumbled reminding him Jenna had said she didn’t feel like making breakfast. Her parting words were, “Grab something from McDonald’s and don’t get yourself killed before you come home.”
He had decided to skip breakfast altogether and opted for an early lunch, but the Rite had taken his time. Mama Leone was a great old school cook with a nice diner and had always kept them a special table. He knew lunch was around the corner. All he wanted was some cash and to get through the day, get back home, have a couple of beers, and watch the game.
He scanned across the front of the bank as a cop would and noticed a squirmy little guy wearing a Red Sox ball cap charge through the front doors.
“Sonovabitch,” he mumbled as he felt a spasm in my stomach. Not from a lack of food or the fact the runt wore a Red Sox cap in south Florida; it was that feeling as if the air was being sucked out of the room just before something bad was about to happen. Squirmy headed directly toward the teller counter. Carter, in instinct, reached inside his jacket and placed his hand on his service revolver.
Squirmy flung his cap to the floor and pulled a laced stocking over his head. Carter released the grip on his weapon as Squirmy presented a cheap 38-caliber handgun from beneath his baggy Black Sabbath T-shirt. A confrontation now would only ensure someone getting hurt, or a hostage, or possibly something worse.
"Everybody freeze. On the ground. NOW!" Squirmy waved his gun in the air. Everyone dropped to the floor, hid under a desk, or tried to scatter. Carter complied to let the action play out. He didn’t think Squirmy looked smart enough to know 211—an armed robbery in progress—but the sound of a police dispatcher would spoil the fun and this little guy had heard plenty of police radios in his time. Rather than reaching for his weapon he reached for the volume knob to silence the dispatcher squawking and knelt to the floor watching his every move. Jack would hear the radio call he figured, and if Carter couldn’t stop Squirmy, Jack would be waiting for him outside. This would be quick and dirty, and they would be on their way.
Squirmy sprung to the counter bouncy and shaking from his own withdrawals and smacked his hand on the marble countertop. "Gimme the money! Gimme the fuckin' money!" he screamed as he tossed his backpack over the counter hitting Helen Kowalski in the chest.
She raised her arms and fumbled to grab the bag. Her mouth open and eyes wide, she somehow managed to stay calm enough to stuff the bag with the bills from her cash drawer and a parting gift—a dye pack. Her chubby little cheeks were as red as her lipstick and tears drew black lines on her face from melting mascara but she never took her eyes off Squirmy as he slapped his left hand on the counter and yelled, "Faster lady, faster," like the old broad could have moved any faster Carter thought.
His plan was to let Squirmy finish with his demands, grab the cash, and when his arms were full, make the arrest. As he predicted, Helen pushed the filled bag across the counter and into Squirmy’s wide-open arms. His eyes bulged at the bounty before him and he grinned showing a partial grill of decayed yellow and brown teeth. He turned and pointed his weapon at the ceiling and fired two shots. Everyone hunkered down. Helen placed her hands over her ears and ran screaming to the back of the bank. Squirmy hugged the backpack like a baby and ran toward the front doors. Carter drew his revolver and jumped to his feet.
“Police Officer. Freeze and drop your weapon.”
Squirmy froze, stuck his hands up, and began to kneel towards the floor. “Alright, alright, ya got me. I’m doing it.”
Squirmy’s partner stepped around the deposit table across the room firing his weapon as he approached Carter in a steady gait. Carter heard the first shot and turned. He never heard the second shot that ripped a jagged path above his left eye and he felt the burn of hot coal as the bullet stripped across the top of his head. Carter stumbled back and his head slammed onto the marble counter. A third shot hit his leg as the partner marched toward him with his arm extended and weapon firing. Carter managed to return fire and hit the partner with a kill shot directly in the forehead. He turned to fire on Squirmy but melted to the floor—everything was fading fast.
Seeing his partner sprawled across the floor, Squirmy dropped his weapon and screamed like a little girl. The backpack exploded leaving a plume of red dust. He dropped the bag and ran toward the front door.
Like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz the security guard found his courage. He jumped to his feet tossing his billy club at knee height nailing the screaming red monkey across the back of his legs. Squirmy tripped all over himself and fell head first through the glass door. He stayed—face down, bloody and twitching—as Carter tried to stand but melted back onto the floor like a big puddle. With every ounce of strength left in him he pulled his body toward Squirmy. It was too much. He rolled onto his back with a grimace of pain and blinked at the ceiling of the bank. He wondered if he would make it home ever again. Maybe Jenna had been right.
Jack ran over and slapped his handcuffs on Squirmy and the scrabbled to Carter; blood streamed from Carter’s head and leg like a fountain. Jack knelt beside him. “Help’s coming. Hold on pal,” he said while pressing his hand against the wound as the dark red pulsed through his fingers.
Carter knew he wasn’t going to make it. If Jack couldn’t hold down the bleeding in his leg long enough for the paramedics to arrive he knew he would bleed out right there. As he began to fade, Carter saw her. The little girl. She stood just above Jack’s shoulder and looked down at him. Carter, with all the strength he could muster, pulled Jack closer, “Save her,” he whispered. “You’ve got to save her.” Echoes, faces fading in and out, sirens, voices, bright lights and he floated. Jack faded away, engulfed by a brighter light. Carter’s father stood above him and she was there again. She was crying and her arms reached out. Carter tried to keep conscious, awake until he could touch her as everything went gray, then black and silent.
“Save her Jack,” he said once more.
“Save who?” Jack said. “Save who?”