The rescue (the running.., p.1
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       The Rescue (The Running Suspense Series #4), p.1

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The Rescue (The Running Suspense Series #4)

  The Rescue

  By Diane Strong

  Installment Four of The Running Suspense Series

  Copyright Diane Strong 2012

  ISBN: 9781476323275

  Also available by this author:

  Out and Back

  Newspaper Bundle

  The Running Suspense Series:

  The Run #1

  Falcon Point #2

  The Other Way #3

  Reservoir Run #5

  Merry Christmas Mr. Saunders #6

  This story is dedicated to my mother in-law, Kay, who always supports me by buying my books.

  The Rescue

  ‘Sure am going to miss you guys while I’m out exploring the good ol’ U.S. of A on a train over the next 12 days. Don’t work too hard! My vacation starts in 3, 2, 1…’

  Luke Randal, a 57 year old engineer sits in his office at the computer. He hits ‘enter’ and his current status becomes visible to all of his co-workers and friends on Facebook. He shuts down his computer, stands up from his desk, and pushes his chair in.

  As a shy man, partially balding on the very top of his head, Luke carries his six-foot-two body timidly, making him appear much smaller than he actually is. As he walks down the corridor to the exit, he sees a smiling co-worker walking toward him and worries himself about having to talk to the man.

  “Hey, Luke! Off on vacation I hear. What do you need a vacation for anyway, don’t you retire in less than a year?” The co-worker tilts his head with a happy expression on his face.

  “A year and three months. I’m counting down the days. Not soon enough though, so I’m gonna use my vacation time.” Luke speaks softly, touching his dainty hands to his ear nervously.

  “Lucky bastard. What have you got planned, the beach again?” The man stands holding a stack of papers and speaks quickly as if in a hurry.

  Loosening up now, Luke lets the excitement he feels feed his ability to converse. “No, no beach this time. I’m headed on a train. I’ll get on tomorrow and head west. Twelve days total. I’m pretty excited, I‘ve never been on a train.” Luke’s heart jumps a little with the thought of vacation and adventure, then hitches when he remembers he will be alone on the trip.

  “That sounds great, Luke. You have a great time. I’ll see you in two weeks.”

  He nods and turns, then starts heading back down the hall, relieved that the conversation is over.

  Luke gently drives his little car into his garage and pushes a button causing his garage door to roll down. Gathering his lunchbox and mail, he climbs out of his car. After pushing his car door closed, he wipes the fingerprints away with his shirt sleeve.

  Inside the tidy kitchen a sleek gray cat jumps from the counter and runs to Luke’s leg as he enters. They both relish the reunion.

  “How is my beautiful girl, huh? How is Sheba today?” Quickly putting his things on the counter, he reaches down and scoops into his arms cradling her and pets her purposefully. “You are such a good kitty, Sheba. I bet you want a treat don’t you? Is that the only reason you like me, because I give you treats?” He walks over to the cupboard and pulls out a bag of treats. The cat begins a soft cry mixed with a purr.

  The cat is leftover from his 21 year marriage. There is a special bond between him and this animal that also shared his wife. Because of this, he feels a huge responsibility when it comes to caring for it. Losing this cat would mean losing the last piece of her…so Sheba gets the best he is able to give.

  Standing at the counter, Luke stares at a piece of paper containing a numbered list of things to do for his trip. He strokes the cat while reading through it.

  “We need to find your feeder, Sheba, and your automatic waterer. Let’s see…” Crouching down, still holding the cat, he opens one of his cupboards. “Here they are.” He pulls them out one by one and sets them in the sink. “I need to put you down so I can wash them. I don’t want you eating or drinking out of dirty dishes.” Setting her down gently, he starts running the water.

  Luke holds a hose on the side of his house spraying water on his perennials. Another piece of his past. They had planted this part of the garden together the year before the diagnosis. That evening is still so clear in his mind. She was gorgeous the way the light caught her hair and her delicate hands worked the earth. As the sun began to set, pink streaking in the sky, they had drunk wine to celebrate their accomplishment.

  A squat older woman wobbles up to him from the neighboring house.

  “Those flowers are looking good, Luke. You sure have a green thumb. Are you off on your trip tomorrow?” She wipes her hands on her apron.

  “Sure am. I’m about set. You sure you don’t mind throwing some water on my flowers while I’m gone, Doris?” Luke lets up on the sprayer and walks the hose to the spigot.

  “Not at all, dear. You go have fun on your train ride. You want me to go in and check on Sheba while you’re gone too?” She scoops up some hose and drags it toward the hanger to help him.

  “Naw. She has her feeder and automatic water. She uses her cat door and goes to the bathroom outside. She could take care of herself indefinitely if she had to. Besides, she stresses out when people come into the house. I think she’d be happier left alone. But thanks for offering.”

  In preparation for leaving tomorrow, Luke carefully lays out his clothes to make matching outfits on the bed then neatly folds them into tight individual piles. Moving his lips as he goes, he counts out underwear and socks then pulls out a couple pairs of running shorts. There should be plenty of chances to run at the layovers.

  This trip is both difficult and easy. The first year he took a trip without her was one of the most difficult things he had ever done. For twenty-one years they had taken a vacation together, never the same place twice. Since they had no children– she was unable – they seemed to have more love available for each other.

  He puts all of his things neatly into his suitcase. A toiletries bag sits on the bathroom counter ready to go as soon as he finishes showering in the morning. Before going to bed he pulls out a set of running clothes and sets them on top of his running shoes. He’ll go for a nice long run in the morning before he has to leave for the train at noon.

  Luke flicks the lamp on, turns off the overhead light and climbs into bed, just exactly the same way he does every night. A book awaits him on the nightstand. He picks it up and opens it to page two-hundred and three, remembering the many nights he shared with his wife. Reading was such a sweet part of their nightly ritual, their quiet time before bed, a special moment shared after a hectic day.

  Sheba comes flitting into the room, hops up on the bed and kneads the blanket that lies over his stomach. She moves in a circle just before laying herself down. Luke picks up his hand and sets it on her back.

  The sun peers through the slats of the shades and Luke’s eyes open lazily. Excited to begin his day, he takes a deep breath and glances over at his clock on the nightstand- it reads 6:15am. Instinctively, he reaches over to the other side of the bed; still empty. With a sigh, he tosses the covers off and climbs out of bed one leg at a time. Moments after his feet touch the ground, Sheba finds his ankle and begins rubbing her body against him.

  Grabbing his running clothes, Luke heads to the bathroom. Minutes later, he stands at the counter drinking a cup of coffee and studying at his list of things to do. All of the tasks are completed except a quick trip to the bank on his way to the train. With a quick stroke to Sheba’s head he starts out the door.

  As Luke stands in his driveway, stretching his body from one side to the other, he ponders his running route options. He can go north toward town but he doesn’t like all the traffic and artificial sounds. Maybe he will go south, deeper into the lush country where the hills will challenge him. He loves the narrow winding roads filled only with the sound of birdsong and cicadas.

  Lost in thoughts of vacation and train schedules, his rhythmic pace carries him past old oak trees and the occasional house. A car surprises him as it rounds the bend, the first he has seen since setting out on his run thirty minutes ago.

  Luke allows his mind to wonder and indulges in the thought of meeting a woman on his train ride. She is a brunette with shoulder length hair and brown eyes, a friendly smile. They talk about books and maybe end up having dinner together on one of the layovers. Then he scolds himself for having these thoughts, feels guilty since his wife died only five years ago. He just doesn’t want to grow old alone.

  Luke checks his watch, 45 minutes have passed, it’s time to turn around and head back. Caught by the sudden urge to pee, Luke slows his pace to a walk, scans the area, and notices the base of a long driveway. Up the driveway a few yards, he rounds a large row of bushes, opening his view of an old abandoned house. Out of habit, he steps behind a bush before relieving himself. As he does, he takes a moment to glance around.

  It’s a small frame home probably built in the late 1800’s. Though useful in its time, simple and tightly built, it is a far cry from healthy today. The roof has completely caved in and is partially missing over the entire left side. At one time, shingles covered the roof, now only fragments remain. Someone cut the electric to the house and pieces of paper clog the windows, advising intruders against trespassing and of the imminent demolition of the home.

  The thigh-high grass tries unsuccessfully to hide dozens of bags of trash that spill their contents onto the lawn. A sad old metal swing-set, brown with rust, has tipped over in the front yard next to the remnants of a chicken coop. Beyond the house sprawls a dense forest of untamed scrub cedar, oaks, ash and maple.

  Luke adjusts his shorts as he steps back out to the driveway. Reaching up with both arms as he walks, he stretches his lanky body side to side, trying to loosen his muscles before he restarts his run. With one last glance back at the forlorn little house, something catches his eye. There is movement on the front deck. Luke stops, leans into the house squinting, urging his eyes to make sense of what he saw.

  He stands focused and waiting for more movement, and then it happens. There is something. Luke walks up to the deck and cautiously steps onto it, being careful to avoid the rotted and broken boards. Old shoes, food containers, and an old steel chair stand in his path as he goes. With the next step, he hears a whimper, and from behind a long piece of plywood, appears a fluffy black and white puppy.

  Luke’s heart instantly softens in delight. “Hey there, little guy. What are you doing here?” He feels dumbfounded- the last thing he expected to find out here was a puppy. With no homes in the area, he can’t imagine where it came from, someone must have dumped it. He squats down and reaches out to pet it. The tiny puppy can’t be more than eight weeks old with its mouth full of sharp little baby teeth. As Luke strokes the little animal, he notices sores on the puppies back. They almost look like cigarette burns.

  Without a second thought, Luke decides to rescue the little puppy. He has always wanted a dog, but she never did. This one obviously needs him as much as he needs it. As he reaches out to pick it up, the puppy panics and slithers out of his hands then runs off and around the house to a covered side-porch. Luke follows quickly. “Hey. Come here little guy. Here, puppy.”

  On the other side of the house Luke finds a graffiti-covered door slightly ajar. He stands at the door briefly to listen before hesitantly pushing it open.

  “Come here, puppy, come here. Where are you, little guy? I’m trying to rescue you. Do you want a real home?” Luke talks continually as he hesitantly walks into the house, despite being a grown man, he still fears ghosts and the unseen. Once over the threshold, he glances around to take it all in.

  A mattress leans against the wall and garbage blankets the floor. Clothing spills out of a plastic bag in the corner, full ashtrays clog a coffee table, and sheets, dotted with raccoon feces hang over a window shielding the morning sun. It reeks of chemicals, stale cigarette smoke and mildew. The instinct to cover his mouth pulls at Luke but he has to use his hand since he isn’t wearing a shirt. He refocuses on finding the puppy so he can escape from the stench as quickly as possible.

  Light peers in from behind the hanging sheet casting a long beam with floating dust particles. Luke steps softly, peering into the dark nooks and behind doors. As he rounds the corner into the single bedroom, he sees the bottom portion of a mattress. Something on the mattress moves. Thinking it’s the puppy, Luke heads purposefully into the room to grab it.

  Out of nowhere an unknown force slams into Luke and drives him face first to the ground. A heavy weight lands on his back holding his entire body to the hard floor. As he tries to turn his head to see, a strong hand from behind grabs Luke’s forelock and yanks his head backward, another hand covers his mouth with a toxic smelling rag. He fights to shake it off, the smell of ether fills his nostrils and seeps into his brain. Like an old time television channel, his vision blurs then the haze grows stronger eventually turning to darkness.

  Luke’s body gradually tingles to life, his brain still in a fog from the ether he tries to connect his mind to his body. The fuzz clears quickly as the fresh air reaches his brain. Shocked into reality he scrambles to his feet in a panic.

  As soon as he reaches his knees, a weight pounces on him from behind. A heavy body slams him back down to the floor face first, he struggles to free himself. As he fights off the unseen body, the side of his head is slammed with a fist. The world spins briefly, then he shakes it off.

  “What do we do? Fuck!” A female voice yells from the corner of the room.

  “Sit on him!” A male voice demands.

  The voice belongs to the man who sits on Luke’s butt and holds Luke’s shoulders down with the palms of his hands. Luke continues fight.

  The girl scrambles over and climbs on Luke’s chest. The man clumsily grabs hold of Luke’s swinging hands, trying to contain them.

  “Put him out! Grab his neck and put him out!” The girl grabs around Luke’s neck from behind and puts a strangle hold on Luke, pressing her fingers hard into his jugular veins. Luke’s eyes roll back as he loses consciousness.

  As soon as Luke’s body goes limp, the man slides to the table, grabs a loaded syringe then slides back over to Luke. He presses his knee onto the inside of Luke’s elbow causing a healthy vein to bulge. Jamming the needle in the vein, he draws out a bright red spill of blood before squeezing the plunger, injecting the pale yellow liquid mixed with blood. “Let go!” He sighs, the girl lets off the strangle hold.

  “What the fuck did you do that for? You just gave him our shit. What the hell were you thinking?” The girl thrashes out at the man, who defends his face with his arms.

  “I don’t know. He was, like, gonna kill you… I think. He was all trying to get away.” The man shakes his head confused, struggling to put thoughts together. His reactions are without thought, his actions random.

  Luke’s body lays motionless, his chest rises and falls calmly, still breathing. His eyes open slowly, roll back in his head, and then close again.

  Something licks his toes. My toes. Lick, lick, lick. It tickles. He feels carpet beneath his feet. Laying with his eyes closed, he doesn’t have the energy or desire to open them just yet. This deep relaxation feels very good, comforting even. The wetness on his toes feels nice. It’s cool. Hot breath. Lick, lick, lick.

  “Hmmm, that’s kind of nice.” Luke says in a long drawn out voice, blending one word into the next. The licking quickens in response to the voice.

  “Mmmm, I like that. That feels good.” He rolls his head back and around with his eyes softly closed. As he brings his head to center, he pulls one eyelid open just a hair, and lets some light into his brain. A fuzz of browns and grays seep in. He stares ahead with a grin of satisfaction on his face.

  Luke begins a conversation inside his head: I feel happy and content. Warm. Fuzzy. What a beautiful day with nothing to worry about. What a wonderful color that wall is. It must be a moody color. It is happy and deep. This carpet is warm and cushiony…I should put this carpet in all of my rooms.

  “Hey, Shelly, I think your little friend is enjoying our shit.” A spindly-looking man with scabs on his face stands in front of Luke. He’s bent over with his face inches from Luke’s eyes and blowing smoke at him.

  I see my eye’s reflection. Look deep into my eyes…I am. I can’t breathe. My eyes are getting foggy. Luke starts hacking. With each cough, sparks of sensations splatter the back of his head and shimmer in his peripheral vision.

  “Ha Ha HA! What’s wrong, Jock, you don’t like me? You want me to get Shelly for you?” He dances from one foot to the next, swaying his entire body with motion. Scratching his neck, he glances over at Shelly then reaches down to his arm and starts picking at crusty scab near his elbow.

  I like to watch him move…it’s like watching music. Joanie would like him, too. He is so smooth. I wonder how he does that. I like the soft feel on my arm. Luke lets his head fall and sees a heap of fur on his lap. It’s my teddy bear. I remember you! I love my teddy bear. Mommy gave me it. It helped me sleep at night. Oh, teddy bear.

  Carefully he lifts his heavy left hand and puts it on the fur. Wrapping his hands around the fur, he pulls it to his chest. I love you, teddy bear. The fur squiggles and slithers out of his hands scratching his arm. Huh?

  “My teddy bear ran away. He bit me.” Luke holds his arm up close to his face searching for a scratch then drops his arm with a thud and watches as the teddy bear turns into a puppy. “Wow.”

  “His name is Fuck Head, not Teddy Bear.” The scrawny man scolds Luke.

  “It is not! Her name is Sugar, because she’s so sweet. Come here, baby.” A strikingly pale-skinned girl with tight black leggings and a plaid cut-off t-shirt reaches down and scoops up the puppy. She pulls it to her face and it licks at her lips. While staring at Luke seductively, she sticks her tongue out and licks the puppy hard from its nose to its ear.

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