“Are you sure about this?” Megan Sandstrum climbed up and sat on the table as directed.
“You’ll be fine. I promise. Just lie down, close your eyes, and try to relax.”
“Won’t this work better if I’m kind of stiff?” Megan grinned.
John Bauer’s chin shot up.
“Sorry. I have a bizarre sense of humor.” Her grin died when she saw no answering smile.
“Do you think you can hold your breath long enough?”
Her eyes widened slightly and her next joke fizzled before she said it out loud. “I don’t know. I’m scared.”
“You know, it’s all done on video these days,” John said as he eyed her critically. “Maybe there’s a better way.”
He left the room and came back quickly, instructing her again to lie down and relax. “Just hold your breath as long as you can, okay?”
In what seemed like only moments, she was standing behind a glass wall staring at her ex-husband. Her hand went to her mouth as
though to stifle a scream.
“It’s okay. He can’t hear you.”
She looked up at John’s partner and nodded.
On the other side of the glass, Murray Sandstrum leaned forward and reached out to the image on the video screen. “Oh my God! I can’t
believe she’s dead!”
She snorted on her side of the glass and would have said something when he spoke again.
“How…” He choked and then cleared his throat. “How did it happen?”
“Man, he’s good.” She shivered and hugged her midsection. “I almost believe him myself.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am. You’re safe.”
She faced John later across his desk. “He was very believable, wasn’t he?” she said.
He nodded. “So were you. It scared the shit out of me when we started the tape.”
She recognized his attempt at levity but couldn’t respond. “What happens now?”
“Now we wait for him to pay off the hit man.” He paused to gauge her reaction. “I know that you don’t want protective custody, but you have
to remain hidden for the next few days.”
“Wait a minute. What about my business…and my friends?”
“What do you mean? I have to let everyone think I’m dead?”
“It has to seem real. Otherwise Sandstrum won’t pay out and all we’ll have on him is threats.”
Her insides felt as though the bowl of cereal she’d eaten that morning had been filled with lead pellets instead of raisons. She never
thought she’d be relieved to have no family, but she was now. It would be hard enough knowing that her friends would receive the
horrifying news. John had shown her the report that would appear in local newspapers, and it was going to shock a lot of people. It would
shock them even more when she showed up alive.
After two days of staying in a small hotel room that doubled as a safe house, Megan was about to start ripping down draperies and
breaking glass—anything to relieve the monotony. When the phone rang, she snatched it off the bedside table.
“He’s making plans,” John said after identifying himself.
“For the payoff?”
“No—for your funeral.”
“Oh great. Is it really going that far?”
“Don’t worry. We’ll refuse to release your…uh…body citing the on-going investigation, and in the meantime, we’ll get our undercover
officer to pressure your ex-husband for payment so that we can wrap it up.”
“Then it’ll be over and I can go home, right?”
“That’s the plan.”
It was actually two more excruciating days before Megan walked into her own home. She was beyond tired and wanted nothing more
than to sleep for the next three days, but she had phone calls to make first. Her exhaustion was bone deep when she finished spreading
the word that she was alive and well.
Even though her ex-husband was now residing in jail and would be held there until his trial, residual fear had her checking the doors and
windows before she changed into her nightgown. Despite that, she was thrilled to be home.
Once she was in bed, she couldn’t settle down. Every creak made her flinch until she couldn’t stand it any more. She was about to throw
off her quilt and get up when a new sound intruded—one that was in no way caused by the house settling. Someone was on her back
deck! Instead of reaching for the light as she’d been about to do, she forced her shaking fingers to still long enough to dial 911. The
operator told her to stay where she was and keep the phone line open. Not likely, Megan thought as she dropped the receiver, not while
someone was breaking into her house.
Where could she hide? Her rapid internal debate stalled suddenly when a huge crash downstairs almost made her scream. She stuffed
a fist into her mouth and scrambled for her closet, shoving past clothes and a suitcase to crouch on the floor at the back. She tried to
quiet her breathing and placed a hand over her chest as though to keep her heart inside when it threatened to burst though her skin with
The intruder didn’t bother with stealth. After more slamming in the kitchen below, menacing footsteps moved down the hallway from the
back to the stairwell near the front door.
Megan tried frantically to remember where she’d set the cordless phone and cursed silently, regretting that she’d ignored the operator’s
advice to hang onto it. Even that small contact would have been somewhat reassuring.
With a heavy tread, the intruder hit the lower stairs, and it would take no time at all for him to reach the top. With only three doors to
choose from, how long could it possibly take him to pick door number three and know that she was hiding nearby? Then he’d find her.
The solid wall behind her prevented her from shrinking any further into the recesses of the closet but she tried anyway. The sounds at the
top of the stairs suddenly quieted. He knew that he had her trapped and there was no need to rush. She waited, trying to formulate a
prayer that she vaguely remembered from her childhood, but all she came up with was a soundless whisper of “Hail Mary, full of Grace”.
She repeated the phrase over and over again like a mantra. An explosion of movement in the bedroom shocked her into forgetting the
words completely. In the upstairs hallway someone bellowed, “Freeze!”
The scuffle continued and finally she couldn’t stand it. Moving with excruciating slowness, she pushed the suitcase to the side, but before
she could crawl out of her hidey-hole, a face popped through the closet door and she screeched.
“Megan, it’s okay.”
It was a moment before her brain began to function again and she recognized John.
“It’s okay,” he said again. “We’ve got him.” He reached out to help her, and as she stood up, they were interrupted by a further commotion
outside her bedroom door. There, struggling against the handcuffs they were putting on him, was the undercover officer who’d been
assigned to set up her husband.
“Something didn’t seem right to me,” John said as he guided her to the side of the bed. “I’ve been sitting outside your house since you
left the hotel. My hunch paid off.”
“But why? I don’t understand.”
“My guess is that he got a better offer.” John cast a sideways glance at his now former co-worker. “It’ll be the last one he takes.”
|Copyright 2008 Donna MacNaughton. All rights reserved. Site by Donna MacNaughton
By Donna MacNaughton
(Won Honorable Mention in 75th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition)