VII. 16 years ago
Liz Baldwin stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes. She had a dishwasher but when she had a lot on her mind, she preferred to wash dishes by hand. Keeping her hands busy helped with the racing thoughts. Her husband Jo was working late. Again. Conveniently enough. He had dropped a bombshell before he left for work that morning about a promotion. While a promotion seemed like a good thing Liz also knew it would involve a lot more work which translated to more time. More time at the office and away from home. Jo already devoted so much time and energy to the office. She preferred him to spend more time and energy at home with her and Cooper. Their son was growing up, he was already nine. Soon he would be a teenager and then all to quickly he’d leave for college. Liz knew now was the time for a father and son bond to develop.
When they had first moved to California they said it would be temporary. But a lot had happened since then. California had become home. Not only that, but California became her brother Tony’s final resting ground. She never knew the full details of what had happened to him almost nine years ago but what she was able to gather is he was involved in some kind of sting operation for a drug dealer. The deal had gone bad, obviously, and Tony fell in the river after being shot. His body was never recovered so Liz treated the river as his grave and when she needed to feel close to her big brother she would walk the bank. She had a feeling she would be walking there tomorrow while Cooper was at school.
She finished the dishes and walked to the front door to double check it was locked. It was secure just as she expected and she walked up the stairs hollering to Cooper that she was on her way and he had better be ready for bed by now.
She tucked him in and sat on his bed. “Talk to me.” That’s what she said every night to prompt him to tell her about his day. She noticed he tended to retreat inside his own head so she wanted him to be able to express himself and recognize his feelings and emotions. After he regaled her with his day and his interpretation of events she read a story to Cooper and kissed his forehead. “Hey, Mr. Big Man, you know I love you more than anything, right?” she asked.
He rolled his eyes. “I know.”
“And?” she asked.
“Mom,” he said dragging it out to two syllables.
“Humor me,” she said.
“I love you, too.” He hugged her neck and scooted down into bed.
She paused at the doorway and turned off the light. “Sweet sleep.”
“Sweet sleep,” he mumbled.
She headed for her bedroom when she felt a cool breeze. That was odd, everything was locked. There should be no breeze in the house. She went back down the stairs and stopped when she saw the front door ajar. Jo wouldn’t use the front door, he would use the garage door.
“Jo?” she called out anyway.
There was no reply. She didn’t move.
It had to be Jo. It had to be. “Jo?” she called out a little louder but could feel her hand get sweaty while holding the rail.
A movement in the kitchen caught her eye and she turned just as a hooded figure moved into a corner.
She ran up the stairs to Cooper’s room and closed his bedroom door.
Cooper sat up. “Mom?” he asked.
“Shhh,” she said and pulled him out of bed and grabbed a bat from the corner. They knelt by the bed as she watched the door.
“Mom?” Cooper asked again sensing his mom’s tenseness.
“Shh,” she said again.
The door handle started to turn.
She pushed his head down and clutched the bat with both hands. “When I tell you to, you run out the door and straight to Malone’s. Do you hear me? Have his mom call the police.”
Cooper was scared and started to cry.
“Be a brave boy for me, can you do that? Be brave.”
He nodded and tried to blink back the tears.
The door opened and Cooper could hear a heavy footstep enter the room.
His mom waited until the footstep stopped then jumped up and swung the bat. She connected with her target and the man staggered backward.
“Now, run now!” She yelled and swung again.
Cooper ran past his mom, out the room and to the stairs. A rather large man ran in from the kitchen. Cooper stopped and backed against the wall. The man saw the boy and ran up the steps to him. When the man got close enough, Cooper noticed a big, thick black beard. The man had huge hands and was solidly built.
“Get out!” the man said in a deep, booming voice and maneuvered Cooper with one large hand down the stairs. The man turned and ran back up the stairs and continued down the hall to the bedroom.
Cooper ran out the front door and headed toward Malone’s house.
An older man sat in the backseat of a car across the street.
“The boy escaped,” the driver told him.
“He is a boy, what can he do? Have them search the place. If the pill is here I will know.”
The driver put his finger to his ear and listened intently. “Luck is here,” he said.
The older gentleman narrowed his eyes. Ant Luck had been his nemesis for years now. “That is a problem,” he sighed. “Have them take care of it. Leave no witnesses. Get me out of here before the police show up.”
The driver communicated the instructions into his mic then started the car and drove away.
Cooper banged on the Winn’s door before he remembered to exhale. Gloria Winn opened the door and he blurted out the instructions his mom had given him.
When Ant Luck entered Cooper’s bedroom he found Liz on the floor unconscious. Her assailant saw Ant and attacked him. The two fought until the hooded figure ran out the bedroom door and down the hall. Instead of chasing him, Ant bent down by Liz and cradled her head in his hands. She opened her eyes and blinked. “It’s you,” she said before slipping again into unconsciousness. She never opened her eyes again.
The police labeled it a robbery gone bad. That was an understatement. By the time the police arrived there wasn’t much left of the Baldwin house. Someone had done a number on it. Every room destroyed. All the Baldwin belongings were smashed and broken. But all that was just stuff. It looked like the bat Liz Baldwin had used as protection was used on her. Liz succumbed to her injuries shortly after being admitted to the hospital. Jo was by her side holding her hand and Cooper waited in the hall with Gloria Winn.
Shortly after Liz Baldwin’s funeral, Jo and Cooper left California with Liz’s ashes in an urn. Father and son moved to Wyoming where Jo became a consultant and worked as his own boss. The last words he heard from his wife continually played in his mind. He refused to work anymore late nights. Now was the time to bond with his son.
Shortly after Jo and Cooper relocated to Wyoming, a young girl went missing from an orphanage. Al found a place to stay with a woman named Dahlia that took pity on the young street urchin. The older girls at the orphanage had taught Al to fight to live Dahlia taught Al living was a fight all its own.
When the Baldwin family assailant reported to the old man that he hadn’t found the pill and special agent Ant Luck was still alive he received his compensation for his failures in the shape of a shallow grave in a Nevada desert.
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