The afternoon passed into dusk. At Allison’s house dinner had been served, the dinner dishes cleaned
and put away, but there was no sign of Allison. Her mother was worried. Her father was incensed.
Alvin Gardner was not usually an angry man. He was a pillar in his community. The church congregation looked
up to him with high regard. He had raised his children not only to respect themselves, but to respect others as well.
Sixteen years ago, Alvin had come to Cool Ridge, North Caroline after he’d been forced to sell the
only home he had ever made with his wife. Due to a bad set of economic circumstances, Alvin had lost his job, his home, and
his dignity. Those Alvin had once considered his friends had turned their noses down to him. When he had called out for help,
everyone had turned their backs on him.
In the end, Alvin had no other choice but to move away from a place where no one had wanted him. It had been
a sad time for him and his wife. But they had come along way since then.
Today their future was stable. There was enough food on the table, clothes on their backs, a roof over their
heads. What more could anyone ask for? Alvin had done everything he could to provide for his family. Maybe he wasn’t
as wealthy as some, or as intelligent as others. But through all the hardships he’d suffered, he had maintained his
self-respect. He had escaped poverty. He had escaped a life of pain and humiliation.
Alvin would not be sneered at in mockery, or in self-disgust. He had an image to uphold. Maybe he shouldn’t
be so concerned with what the community thought of him and his children. But he did. It was of the utmost importance.
Alvin was an upstanding citizen, with a wholesome set of values and morals that he lived by. He expected
no less from his own children. Allison especially. Only because she was his daughter, it was more important for her keep her
image pure. He would not allow the family to succumb to ugly rumors and gossip.
After pacing the living room for almost an hour, Alvin was tired of waiting for his daughter to show up.
He suspected that she was with that Eddie Montgomery. He had always despised that boy. He’d been trouble since he was
old enough to walk. Alvin blamed that on his parents.
They were always too busy running their own lives to worry or care about their son. Larry Montgomery ran
the auto body shop in the roughest part of town. He barely kept the place going. There wasn’t much demand for that type
of work in a small town like Cool Ridge, North Carolina.
Alvin considered Larry one of the lower-class civilians in the community. It wasn’t that he considered
himself better than Lawrence Montgomery. But the two of them belonged on different sides of the road. And Alvin wanted to
keep it that way.
And he wanted to keep that son of his away from his daughter.
Now livid with a wrath he never knew he could possess, Alvin stormed out of his home, marching the few hundred
yards over to Lawrence Montgomery’s house. Margaret Gardner was trekking after him, calling out to her husband, but
knowing it was falling on deaf ears.
It was hard to keep up with Alvin in her heels. She was always in a dress. Alvin expected it of her at all
times. It was part of the image she had to uphold in the community. She had to be the perfect mother. The perfect wife and
In order to do that, she had to dress for the occasion. Her image always had to be as pristine and as immaculate
as possible in order to please her husband.
It was a task that Margaret did not enjoy. It was grueling and exhausting to say the least. She, frankly,
was tired of trying to live up to the standards that Alvin had set up for his family.
In all his efforts to make a good name for himself, Alvin Gardner had never given his family any consideration
in the matter. He never cared how burdensome it was to his wife to always keep a clean house just in case one of the neighbors
might drop by. He didn’t care that his children suffered because very few people wanted anything to do with them. And
She was a good kid. Margaret was proud of her only daughter. So she missed a curfew now and then. It was
no disgrace to the family. She was a clean kid. She stayed out of trouble. She was faithful to the Lord. She was everything
a mother could want in a child. Allison had a good head on her shoulders. She knew what she wanted out of life and wouldn’t
settle for anything less. She had hopes and dreams and lots of ambitions. She would be a success one day and leave this sorry
excuse for a town.
Ever since coming to Cool Ridge, Margaret had hated it with a passion. But it was her duty as a wife to do
as her husband wanted. She had honored him at the sake of her own happiness. She had conceded to his every wish without ever
taking into consideration her own needs and wants.
At the time she had been in no condition to argue with him. They had needed a place to live and Cool Ridge
offered them what they had needed.
Margaret had hoped that it would only be a temporary thing, that once things were better, they could afford
to leave Cool Ridge and go somewhere else.
But Alvin had found himself a smidgen of success and everything had gone downhill from their. His success
had gone straight to his head. He had become arrogant and proud to a degree of shame. Only he didn’t see it that way.
He saw it only as a crutch. Something to be proud of. Something to pass down to his children.
Alvin didn’t realize that behind his back people scoffed at him. Margaret had been keeping that burden
for so many years now, she had forgotten how long it had been. The ladies of the church shunned her. It had become such a
lonely, desolate life for Margaret that she had begun to hate every minute of it.
She only put up with it because Alvin was her husband, and the Bible told her she was suppose to. But she
was growing weary. She couldn’t keep up the pace anymore. Her marriage was falling apart and she wasn’t so sure
she wanted to try and keep it together.
She had prayed about it often. She had even considered seeing the pastor about it, but she was afraid that
small town gossip would spread like wildfire and somehow Alvin might find out about it.
Margaret wasn’t ready to confront him yet. She still had too many things to consider. Like how she
would raise six children on her own. The thought was scary and she wasn’t sure she could do it alone. But if that’s
what God wanted from her, then that’s what she would do.
At last Alvin hammered his fists against the Montgomery’s front door. The minute Larry opened the screen,
Alvin barged his way inside the house. He was out of control and Margaret knew it.
Her embarrassment showed when Larry allowed Margaret to enter behind her husband.
"Do you mind telling me what is going on here?" Larry Montgomery demanded.
Alvin was stomping around his living room. His face was red with anger. "I want to see my daughter. And I
want to see her now."
Margaret admonished her husband right in front of their neighbor. She tried to quieten him down, but her
effects were not very effective.
"I’m sorry," Margaret apologized. "Allison is missing and my husband thought she might be with your
Larry Montgomery gaped at Margaret in astonishment. Then he spun around to face Alvin with a fury that he
could not restrain. Larry seized his neighbor by the shirt front and eyed him with a dangerous leer. Alvin could smell the
hint of liquor on his breath.
"My son ain’t with your daughter," Larry informed him savagely. "In fact, she was with that new kid
this afternoon. From what my boy says, the two of them ran off together."
Larry released his grip, shoving Alvin in his haste, purposely knocking him backwards. Alvin stumbled against
the coffeetable, nearly overturning it in the process. He righted himself, adjusting the collar of his shirt.
Without as much as a thank you, Alvin left the Montgomery’s as quickly as he had arrived.
By now the streets were in total darkness. There were no street lights to give them any type of illumination.
Margaret and her husband progressed blindly down the road. She could feel the heat of her husband’s ire.
Margaret moved slowly, trying not to stumble on loose stones in the road. Alvin, however, plunged along as
if in a stupor. It was as if he weren’t aware of his wife’s presence. She felt ill. She had never seen this side
of her husband and it frightened her. Margaret was not sure what her husband was capable of doing. For once she feared that
he just might be capable of murder.
The thought didn’t settle well with her. It made her want to wretch. How had things gotten so out of
It took about fifteen minutes to get to Hannah Lane’s home. The front porch light was on and the old
woman was pacing outside on her porch. A worried frown creased her lips.
Alvin thundered up the few steps to Hannah’s porch. The woman looked pale and feeble. Margaret could
see the tremor in her wrinkled hands.
"I want to see that grandson of yours," Alvin said in way of greeting.
The poor woman looked frazzled. "I’m not sure where he is, Mr. Gardner. He hasn’t returned home
from his outing this afternoon. Has he done something wrong?" Hannah asked solicitously. She was sweating now and finding
it hard to breathe.
"He’s off with my daughter," Alvin informed her in a loud roar. "I swear if that boy has laid a hand
on that girl, I’ll . . . I’ll"
Alvin backed away from Hannah. He stomped his way down the steps and headed toward the back of the house.
On wobbly legs, Hannah trailed after him, followed by Margaret. By now Hannah was in a state of alarm. All her fears were
coming to life. She had let her son down, now her grandchild was in trouble.
She had failed her duties. She would never forgive herself.
Suddenly Alvin stopped traipsing along the side of the house and turned to his wife with a fire in his eyes.
"Do you have any idea where Allison might be?"
"No, I don’t," Margaret responded with a quiver in her voice.
This only seemed to outrage Alvin more. The fire in his eyes roared to life and blazoned like a beacon in
the darkness that surrounded them.
"You’re her mother, Margaret. Don’t you know what your daughter does all day?"
Margaret didn’t like his tone, or the inflections in his words. They were harsh and utterly uncalled
for. She was offended by them and felt the need to defend herself. "I happen to trust my daughter, Alvin, which is more than
I can say for you. I don’t find the need to keep up with her whereabouts every minute of every day."
"Yes, and because of that, she’s missing."
"I’m sure there’s an explanation," Margaret replied.
"Well there had better be," Alvin warned, "Or else I won’t be responsible for what I do to that boy."
Alvin resumed his stampede toward the back of the house. He continued on through the backyard, passed a few
old storage sheds, and a few straggling houses that stood between Hannah’s home and an empty field of wild flowers.
Alvin began to call out his daughter’s name. He shouted loudly and furiously.
"Mr. Gardner, my grandson is a good boy. I don’t believe he had any ill-intentions with your daughter."
"You best hope not, old woman. Because if he has . . ."
Margaret notice that Hannah’s color had faded to a pasty white. She was now gasping for air, as if
every breath was a struggle. The trembling in her hands had worsened.
"Hannah," Margaret pleaded with the old woman, "why don’t you and I go back to the house. You don’t
look so good. I think you might need to sit down."
Margaret offered her hand to assist Hannah away from the field, away from the scene before here. Alvin was
like some crazed animal that had escaped from its cage and was on a rampage. By now the neighbors were interest in all the
commotion and a small crowd of onlookers had gathered around them.
Hannah refused to be led away. She was not going to leave her grandson to face the wrath of this man alone.
"I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Gardner, but I’m fine. I need to be here for my grandson."
Alvin was now trampling the grasses and flowers. His shouts could be heard from miles around. The spectators
stood silently by, wondering, waiting, watching. Hannah and Margaret perched at the edge of the field. One prayed while the
other barely held on to her life.
Allison awoke to the sound of her father’s rage. At first she was disoriented. A blackness surrounded
her and she couldn’t remember where she was. Then, as reality dawned, she became fearful. The last thing she had remembered,
was laying there in the field, talking to Ricky.
Terror set in. Immediately Allison started shaking Ricky to wake him up. His clothes were a little rumpled
and so was his hair. She was on the verge of panic. Her hold on Ricky was like a death grip. She kept shaking him and shaking
him even after he was fully awake.
Ricky extracted Allison’s hand from his shirt and held them firmly to her sides. Then he heard the
shouting. It was at a distance. It started out faint, but it was growing closer and more urgent. He had a fear that consumed
him so completely that he thought he might surely die from it.
"That’s my dad," Allison whispered. "What are we going to do?"
Ricky tried to remain calm and focused and optimistic. It was hard when all he could see was the horror in
Allison’s eyes. "Allison, we haven’t done anything to be ashamed of. Your father should understand that."
"But he won’t, Ricky. You don’t know him like I do. He can be unreasonable," she said at last.
Allison’s father was drawing nearer. The closer he got, the more overwhelmed Ricky became. His palms
began to dampen with his own perspiration. His mouth went dry and for the life of him, he couldn’t think of one plausible
thing to say.
He assumed now would be a good time to pray, but he didn’t know where to begin. He had never considered
that one day he would find himself in a position to defend his honor or to protect the innocence of a girl. But that’s
what he was prepared to do.
Ricky stood up and adjusted his clothing. Without any further thought, he began to march off in the direction
of Allison’s father.
"Ricky, are you crazy? You can’t go after my father. He’ll kill you."
Allison’s voice was nearly a cry. She was pleading with him, but one thing Ricky wasn’t and that
was a coward. He had done nothing wrong. He had nothing to be ashamed of.
Allison was chasing after Ricky, trying to slow him down. She kept pulling at his arm and he kept jerking
them away. He was getting flustered with her and finally he turned to her and snapped, "Allison, you may be afraid of your
father, but I’m not. I will stand up to him. I will make him understand that we didn’t do anything wrong."
"It won’t work. He won’t believe you." Allison stood there in the middle of the field watching
"Then I’ll have to make him believe me."
Ricky rushed on through the tall grasses and flowers. He tripped from time to time, but it didn’t take
much to recover his balance. He wished it was that easy to regain his confidence. He needed it badly at the moment.
From the distance Ricky could see Allison’s father. He looked intimidating, even in the darkness. His
voice was rough and callused. Ricky was leery about facing the man without every having met him before. From what Allison
had said, he was not someone to be reckoned with.
Ricky tried not to let that bother him as he stepped out of the darkness and faced the man squarely. "Mr.
Gardner," he stated, "I’m Ricky Lane. I’m a friend of your daughter’s."
"You miserable, low down punk," Alvin shouted. He snatched Ricky’s arm up with a brutal intensity and
began to drag him helplessly through the empty field. "I have every right to pummel you right here in front of everyone."
Ricky struggled to free his arm from the menacing grip, but he was propelled along at the mercy of this man.
His feet could barely keep up the pace and they became tangled with each other. He stumbled forward, falling against Allison’s
In his anger, Alvin pushed the boy down, causing him to fall backwards.
"Ricky." In tears Allison ran to Ricky’s side, trying to lift him off the ground.
"You leave that boy alone," Alvin ordered. "You are not to see him again, is that clear?"
Allison found herself trapped in her father’s grasp, being pulled along as if she were a rag doll.
He was unnecessarily rough and she gasped out in pain. Ricky hauled himself to his feet running swiftly to catch up with Allison
and her father.
"Mr. Gardner, you can’t treat Allison like this. She hasn’t done anything wrong."
"Then I suppose you are taking all the blame for what has happened here today?"
"Mr. Gardner, I respect your daughter. With all due respect to you, sir, we need to stop and talk. There
is a misunderstanding here."
A loud laugh bellowed out from the darkness. "Tell me where I have misunderstood, boy. It is obvious that
you have seduced my daughter. And you will have to pay the price for that."
Allison continued to whimper as her father drug her along beside him. Her arm was now stinging were his fingers
burned into her flesh.
"Daddy, listen to Ricky. He speaks the truth."
"I don’t have to listen to anything that boy has to say."
At the edge of the field, Alvin took his daughter and tossed her onto the ground. She fell to her hands and
knees, skidding across loose gravel and other debris. She felt small stones embedding into the palms of her hands. She didn’t
have the strength to move. She could only lay there sobbing, feeling the tremendous ache in her hands.
Hannah felt the tightening in her chest and the pain radiating down her left arm. It felt as if part of her
brain had been severed from the rest of her body. She was numb, almost paralyzed. Her eyes rolled back under her eyelids.
Her pallor had turned a chalky gray. Her breathing was labored and difficult. She felt light-headed, dizzy. and as she gasped
for one last breath of air, she sensed herself falling backward, hurtling into an oblivion.
"Grandma," Ricky screamed. He caught his grandmother just before she hit the ground.
The house loomed in front of them like some kind of bad nightmare. From the street it looked vacant, but
Joe Hines’s car was sitting in the driveway.
This neighborhood resembled any other middle class suburban neighborhood in Florida. The homes were well-kept
and clean, the lawns immaculate. Most of the houses were one-story dwellings, but there were a few two-story homes as well.
Joe’s house seemed to stand out amongst the others. His lawn hadn’t been cut in weeks or even
months. The grass was knee high and thick in most places. The flower beds required weeding and the edging around the curb
and driveway were in desperate need of a maintenance.
The paint was peeling off the outside trim and the necessary repairs to the structure had been lacking. The
entire facade of the house was deteriorated from the elements. Boards were missing in places. Bricks were chipped, the window
screens were torn and hanging loose, even the front door was barely on its hinges.
It seemed as though Joe had been neglecting the upkeep of his home for a quite some time. Officer McKnight
began to wonder if he even resided there any more. He was beginning to have his doubts. He’d gone through a lot of work
to secure a search warrant for Joe Hines’s residence and his car. Now he wondered if it was for nothing.
Office Benjamin McKnight looked over his search warrant one last time before shoving it deep down into his
shirt. He checked and rechecked his weapons. He made sure his bullet-proof vest was securely in place.
There was a line of patrol cars up and down the street. A hundred officers waited for the command to raid
Joe’s home and to seize everything he had. There was a certain restless energy among the men.
Captain Lee stood outside one of the patrol cars assessing the situation with a practiced eye. He noted all
the other houses in the area. and he prayed this would go down without a hitch. He always worried about something going wrong.
An officer getting shot, an innocent neighbor getting in the way. Yes, a raid in a residential area was always risky, and
it always put him on edge, but the captain realized this was all apart of his job.
They had taken all necessary precautions. The streets had been barricaded on either side. Neighbors had been
ordered to stay in doors. Instructions had been given to every officer present. It was only a matter of time now.
Waiting was always the hard part. Waiting for just the precise moment to catch someone off guard. Officers
had been placed at the back of the house, taking cover behind large trees and shrubs or anything they could find. Others stood
to the front of the house like perfect soldiers.
Officer Knight began to count the seconds before it was time to ambush. Ten, nine, eight . . .
Before a raid took place, as always, Ben experienced a certain eagerness and anticipation. But today was
different. There was much more at stake here than just apprehending a suspect.
Ben, like everyone other officer standing with him today, could not tolerate a trader. No one could stand
a dirty cop. It was like the worst kind of deception.
Benjamin had been a member of the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department for almost a decade. He had taken his
oath solemnly to uphold the laws of the state of Florida and to protect its citizens against criminals. That oath had been
like a shield he carried with him where ever he went.
When one of their own violated that oath, it was imperative to get him off the streets as quickly as possible.
Not only to protect the citizens, but more importantly to protect fellow officers against negative publicity.
Officer Knight was not a fan of the press. He had seen too many widely publicized stories in his time that
had demoralized the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department and had provoked a rampant display of public hostility toward the officers
Too many times Captain Lee had found it necessary to clean up the mess left behind because of some over-zealous
reporter. Benjamin hoped this would not be one of those times. Thus far in the investigation they had kept it from the media
and out of the public eye.
Captain Lee was hoping for a quiet arrest and full cooperation on Joe Hines’s part. If, in deed, he
could even be found.
Ben felt that he might be halfway to Europe by now.
It had taken a couple of days to get all the necessary documents prepared to file for the warrant, then it
took another twenty-four hours for the judge to authorize its issue. That meant three days. Three days since Pep was found
in the back of his car.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Joe Hines had been behind the killing. But three days had
passed since then and Joe Hines’s could be almost any where. That meant that all local airports, railroad stations,
bus depots and private boating companies had been notified that Joe Hines was being sought after. Road blocks were in effect
on all the main thoroughfares leading out of the state of Florida and every police station and coast guard across the United
States had been alerted to be on the lookout for Joe Hines. He was considered armed and dangerous. Any one aiding in the disappearance
of Joe Hines would be detained for questioning and arrested for obstructing the law.
Seven , six, five . . .
In view of everything, Joe Hines didn’t have a chance of surviving. The odds were against him. It was
one man against a nation. There wasn’t a place he could hide that he wouldn’t be found.
Finally Officer Knight got the nod from the captain.
"Now," Benjamin shouted at his team. "Go, go, go," he ordered. And the dozen officers scattered in all directions.
They surrounded the house, their adrenaline pumping in their veins. They held firmly to their guns, waiting, listening, observing.
When everything seemed under control, Benjamin Knight kicked in the door, storming the compound. Everyone filed in behind
him, running down hallways and into bathrooms, closets, bedrooms and attics.
It was total chaos. The officers overturned chairs, tore down curtains, ripped up the carpet. They emptied
the kitchen cupboards by throwing the canned goods onto the linoleum flooring. Lamps were broken, mattresses torn to shreds.
The garage was searched. and in the end, there wasn’t a square inch left untouched.
There was no sign of Joe Hines. And from the looks of it, he had been gone for some time. They did, however,
find the murder weapon. Or what appeared to be the murder weapon. Along with the rifle, there was a one way ticket to Denver.
It was clear to Captain Lee that Callie’s safe house was no longer safe. That Joe Hines was on his
way there. It was evident that he knew the airports were too risky, so he had chosen another means of transportation. Finding
out which one was the key. And getting Callie away from there was mandatory. If it weren’t already too late.