Thursday, August 31, 2006

1. Bump in the Night

The barking brought Cade and Melissa Becker back to consciousness, if only barely. The floodlights were on, meaning that something had triggered the motion sensors.

He mumbled something, and she responded with a sleepy groan. “Loki, come on, buddy, shut up.” Expecting the dog to throttle back to growling, as he always did when he wanted to bark but his owners most decidedly wanted him to not bark, Cade drifted down, a few glorious degrees closer to slumber.

Loki, uncharacteristically, continued to bark.

“Friggin’ deer,” he said as he stared at the ceiling. “You need to do a better job of marking your territory. Now shut up!” Loki paid him no mind, and barked louder than before.

Dog owners know that a dog is like a baby in many respects, not the least of which is that the dog owner learns to decipher his pet’s different barks the way a parent can decipher a newborn’s cries. After a while, he knows when a dog’s hungry, sees a squirrel, wants to play…

…and when he knows something’s wrong.

Cade bounced out of bed, instantly awake, and walked to the balcony doors. The spotlights threw out a wide cone, but the back yard was large and a great deal was lost to shadows. He absentmindedly scratched Loki, his hackles raised, behind the ears. Still he barked, and that had never happened before. Cade stared into the backyard intently, concentrating on the fringe of the light, knowing that anything within it would be noticeable.

A small voice came to him. “What is it?”

“Nothing, babe. Go back to sl-“

To his left, but exposed in the light, something made a beeline to the back of the house. It was not a deer, unless they had learned to run on their hind legs. Cade jumped back, and that’s when the pounding started. Whatever it was didn’t care if it was seen or heard, only that it got into the house.

“What the fuck?!?”

“Oh my God! What is it?”

Loki bolted downstairs, making a vicious sound the whole way. He wanted to tear whoever was trying to get in his house apart.

Cade couldn’t agree more. He threw open the closet door, and fumbled in the dark for the keypad he knew was there behind half a dozen suits he never wore. “Call the cops.” They simultaneously punched in numbers: she on her cellphone, he on his safe. The door swung open. He pulled out the handgun, popped in a magazine, and hit the slide.

“You…are not...going outside. Wait for the police!”

He grabbed the spare magazine and shoved it into his pajamas pocket as he slid on his shoes. Now the attacker was screaming something that may have been, “Where is she?” Over and over again…”Where is she?”

The pounding was moving all along the back wall of the house randomly, as if the wannabe intruder was too far gone to notice that there was a very large, very breakable plate glass window close by. He was hidden from sight by the balcony, but Cade got the impression that the intruder wouldn’t care if he had a neon sign on his back.

“This guy’s fucking crazy, honey. He’s in the light, he’s screaming, he knows we have a dog in here, and he’s still trying to get in. He could leave us and go next door, and I don’t want any dead neighbors on my conscience. I’m not going after him unless I have to…I’m not stupid…but I need to keep him in sight.” He gave her a kiss. “I’ll be fine. Promise. Be sure to tell the cops what I look like and that I’m armed.”

She began speaking into the phone as he bounded down the stairs. Between the pounding and the barking, he couldn’t even hear his own footfalls on the wooden staircase, so he knew he didn’t have to worry about losing the element of surprise. He opened a window in the study and slid out as nimbly as his tired thirty-year-old body would let him.

Moonlight and familiarity with the land allowed him to sneak around the side of the house quietly, not that it was necessary. He peered around the corner. Sure enough, the madman (he was sure it was a man, now) was running back and forth along the back wall, hitting whatever happened to be in front of him. Cade could hear Loki matching the man pace for pace inside the house, his snout only a few inches from his prey.

Maybe I should have just let him out, instead. Where are the goddamn cops?

True to his vow to not be stupid, Cade only watched. Something about the way the man moved reminded him of…someone he knew. What bothered him was the way the man was pounding. His left arm was moving normally, but his right never got raised above shoulder level. Almost as if he had an injury…or an artificial shoulder.

Just then, by design or accident, he found the window. It cracked, then broke.

That woke him up. Melissa was in real danger now, so he yelled, “Hey, asshole!” and moved around to the back to get a clear shot. The man turned, and it all fell into place.

He thought of the man screaming, “Where is she?” He knew that panicked voice. He had heard it for the first time when he was a young boy, lost in the woods during an ambitious game of Hide and Seek. “Game’s over, Cade! Where are you? Where are you? He remembered thinking how mad Mom was going to be when his big brother couldn’t find him, and how funny that would be.

Then Matt Becker charged, covering the distance too fast, way too fast.

To be continued...