Chapter 25 – Training
Fear gripped greater Kansas City. There had been a string of home invasions which were troubling enough in themselves, but it was the brutal nature of these crimes that was generating so much alarm. They were always carried out at night but not at any particular time. There was no predictable frequency to their occurrence, no characteristic interval between incidents. Seemingly at random, different communities in the metropolitan area had been hit. There was no apparent racial or physical preference of victim.
Young couples were being targeted in middle class and upper class neighborhoods. After binding and gagging the occupants, five armed and masked men would search a house and take items of value. Once this was accomplished, they would gang rape the wife, shoot her husband in the head, and leave her alive. Semen samples and other forms of evidence had yielded no clues as to their identities. Their fingerprints and DNA were not in any law enforcement data bases. That they took no precautions against leaving specimens behind belied either foolish carelessness or the thrill of taking risks. In light of their deliberate cruelty, the latter was deemed more likely.
Adam and Eve had made remarkably rapid progress in their Tae Kwan Do and self defense studies, so much so that their instructor was both baffled and challenged. His pupils had such exceptional physical and mental ability that to hear something explained was to understand, and to see a motion demonstrated was to be able to perform it. He was astounded at their coordination and kinesthetic awareness. As an experiment, he had them go through some of their basic moves with their eyes closed, a task which they completed unerringly. Unsuccessfully, he tried to persuade them to consider competing in tournaments.
They explained to him that they didn’t care about ranks and belts of different colors, that they simply wanted to learn as much as they could in order to protect themselves and others should the need arise. Knowing of Adam’s involvement in the Walmart incident, he was honest in explaining to them his concerns. If they progressed in their physical skills too quickly, they might not learn the necessary discipline and restraint. He did not want to be responsible for turning them into weapons that were not properly under control. Their reassurances that fear of harming someone was one of their driving motivations for taking lessons convinced him to promise that he would teach them what he could. It was agreed that they should take private lessons after the students from the various age group classes had cleared out.
The facility, or Dojang, in which they trained was a converted storefront with a large mat covering its floor. The door and front wall were of glass and, in effect, constituted one, big window looking onto the sidewalk and the street. White, plastic chairs were lined up along the front edge of the mat so that parents could watch during classes for their children. Pictures and a few posters were on the side walls, and the back wall had a shelf with numerous trophies.
The curriculum to which they were subjected consisted of forms, sparring, and the breaking of boards. Adam especially was interested in learning the correct forms, for in this he saw a way to safeguard against unnecessary violence. Eve, too, enjoyed these but more for their elegance and beauty of position and motion. The philosophy of the martial art they were learning placed more emphasis on speed than on mass. She found this to her liking, and she developed some formidable skills. Adam’s quickness and power were deliberately subdued, especially during sparring sessions with Eve or his instructor. He used this type of practice to concentrate on the application of technique at what for him was reduced speed. Given his strength, breaking boards was unimportant in itself. What did matter was breaking them properly, and this enabled him to hone his mental focus and physical precision. For her part, Eve loved this activity.
The high school dropout and the college graduate alike were impressed with the structure of their curriculum. Stationary positions laid the foundation for slow movements which could be accelerated into spins, punches, and aerial kicks. Along with blocks and other countermeasures, the strikes were incorporated into live sparring. But there was much more. They engaged in stretching and relaxation methods, and they studied the ethics and discipline of Tae Kwan Do. Great emphasis was placed on respect, courtesy, and justice. Though they were not trying to achieve ranks, they took various written and practical tests, and they took a vow not to misuse their skills.
In addition, Adam and Eve learned how to deal with an armed attacker. They went through some simulation exercises in disarming a man wielding a knife. Adam rehearsed these moves at full speed and at night in the back yard of the Andrews house. He estimated that his unrestrained quickness would enable him to get guns away from multiple felons, and this made him wonder. Why was he thinking like this? He was aware of something, and so was Eve. He could tell by certain expressions on her face that they often thought synchronously without communicating aloud.
Their martial arts training complemented the benefits of therapy, but their transformative experiences on two different hills were of primary importance. Inquiries into the nature and character of the responsible entity became the most common topic of conversation with Janice and Jonathan around the dinner table. Exhaustive comparisons were made between those simultaneous incidents, Jonathan’s dreams, and Janice’s forbearance. The efforts of the retired counselor were a type of moral and social glue which held all of these things together in their perception.
On a gloomy morning in February, Adam and Eve found themselves alone on the living room sofa. Janice and Jonathan had recently left to go shopping in Joplin for whole grains and other items not available in town. They had also decided to eat out, and they would be gone for most of the day. Though they were adults, the young couple felt like teenagers who had been left in charge for the first time.
“This feels funny,” Eve mentioned. “This is where they normally sit.”
“They must trust us,” Adam concluded.
“It’s not like we’ll burn down the house. We don’t play with matches.”
“And they don’t have to worry about us making out.”
It bothered him that he felt a trace of insincerity as he said this.
“Definitely not,” she laughed.
Despite her casual manner, she seemed to stiffen a little, and he regretted having said anything at all. It grew awkwardly silent.
“I’m sorry. That came out wrong.”
“Okay,” she conceded. “I wouldn’t want to ruin anything.”
“Would you care to go for a walk?”
She was obviously thinking about something. One minute passed, then two.
“Adam, can you do me a favor?”
“What kind of favor?”
“You don’t have to if it makes you uncomfortable.”
“So what is it?”
“I need to practice. If you say yes, I’ll have to put you out. I want to know how long the effects last.”
Now it was his turn to think. It didn’t take him long. Other than reviewing what he had learned from his counseling sessions and his martial arts lessons, he had no definite plans for the day. They weren’t scheduled to work that night.
“Go ahead. Have at it.”
His words and the touch of her hand were the last things he remembered. When he came to, Eve was leaning against him and reading the Chickering translation of Beowulf.
“Welcome back, sleepyhead. It’s a little slow, but I’ve been enjoying the imagery of this poem.”
He felt no after effects.
“It looks like you’ve gotten pretty far.”
“Yeah. I’m about done.”
She looked at the number of pages remaining.
“Well, maybe not.”
“How long have I been out?”
“At least four hours. I got bored after the first two and went up to the library to get this so I’d have something to do.”
“Are we done, then?”
“If it’s alright with you, I need to try this one more time. Only now, I need to try waking you back up.”
“Do you think you can?”
“I don’t know, but I can’t help feeling that I can do more than this.”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt, and I’m not groggy. I guess it couldn’t do any harm. Do you promise not to walk off and leave me if this doesn’t work?”
Still leaning against him, she reached across her body and a put a hand on his arm. He was instantly gone. She touched him again in an attempt to summon him back to consciousness. He did not respond. As a test, she tried the conventional method of shaking him but to no avail. Then she shouted.
“Adam! Wake up!”
He slumbered on, and this was telling. He was normally so attuned to her and to his environment that agitation in her voice could summon him from the deepest sleep. She didn’t like having this connection with him broken, and her sense of thoughtfulness and responsibility reminded her that she had already cost him over four hours. Touching him again, she concentrated on waking him up but soon stopped. The strain of this effort was all wrong. She remembered the former stress of the mental state that had rendered her toxic, and a better idea occurred to her. Keeping her hand on his forehead, she relaxed and simply thought of Adam awake, and his eyes opened. Her musical giggle greeted him.
Their training continued. They exhausted the store of skill and knowledge possessed by their Tae Kwan Do instructor, and their lessons came to an end. This freed up more money for household expenses and for paying down Adam’s medical bills. Under mild persuasion, Adam volunteered for some lost evenings so that Eve could develop her proficiencies in anesthesia and analeptic stimulation. The only side effect at first was a shortened perception of the passage of time, but she was able to add yet another wrinkle. Adam allowed her to make him suffer selective memory loss as long as she would then inform him of exactly what he had forgotten. The lost items consisted of nonsense syllables strung together in humorous fashion, and Eve showed herself adept at creating these. Adam received the benefit of laughing at them twice and remembering them once. As the weather improved the chimera and his feminine friend also spent hours on the back porch and simply watched and listened. Taken together, these various disciplines were for more than protecting themselves from others and others from themselves. Intuitively, they still knew that they were preparing for something as yet undefined, and they waited.
Jonathan took out a digital subscription to the Kansas City Star. Though he had chosen to live in a small town, he preferred big city newspapers. He had made his subscription available to the entire household, but he alone perused the articles with any regularity. That changed on an otherwise dull afternoon in April. Adam and Eve had reached a lull in their conversation. Having practiced their forms and basic moves, they found the prospect of further exercise unappealing. They were mentally restless but not in the mood to tackle the more challenging intellectual fare in the upstairs library, so they retired to their respective rooms. Independently, separately, and simultaneously, they were drawn into reading the on-line Star. They found a very disturbing article and systematically worked backward to previous issues to find related accounts. Fingers fidgeted. Toes tapped. The tempo of these movements increased. A mottled forehead frowned, and a pair of distinctively colored irises contracted.
Chapter 26 – First Date
“Uh, Jonathan – can we borrow your car for the night? We’ll make sure the tank is full when we get back.”
He stopped reading and looked up quizzically.
“What for? You’re not working tonight.”
It was mid-March and still a bit on the cool side, but this had not discouraged their routine in the past.
“You and Eve normally like to go walking in weather like this,” he continued, “and I know you’re not planning to go see a movie. The Century 6 is just past Walmart and the interstate, but you mentioned filling the gas tank.”
“Well… it’s like – oh, I might as well say it. I can’t lie to you. We’re going to go catch the gang that’s responsible for those home invasions up in Kansas City.”
“Those aren’t just burglaries, Adam.”
“I know. We’ve been reading about it in the Kansas City Star.”
“On your phones.”
“Well, sure. You gave us your password so we could read it.”
“That I did,” the physicist sighed.
“So we found out about the rapes and murders. I talked it over with Eve, and she agrees. We’ve got to stop them.”
“Because that’s when they’re planning to strike next.”
“Don’t tell me. You just know.”
“Have you gotten any specific instructions?”
“No,” Eve blurted, “but we know we’re supposed to go.”
She had been standing by silently until then.
“Great,” Jonathan muttered. “I get to defy common sense by saying yes because, in a way, I helped set you up for this kind of thing.”
“What did you just say?”
Janice had been sitting next to her husband on the couch, silently crocheting. Now she was standing. He followed suit.
“You weren’t objecting. I thought it would be alright.”
“Alright? I was trusting you to handle this.”
“And I did.”
She hadn’t raised her voice, but its tone bore the force of a distant storm.
“Eve, could you and Adam take a long walk? Jonathan and I need to have an argument.”
The younger couple was genuinely awed, and they vacated quickly. Once they were suitably alone, the older couple braced for an activity at which they had become quite proficient. In their many years of marriage, they had learned how to fight. It was a skill poorly practiced by novices, but they were familiar with the rules: no name-calling, no personal criticisms, respect for the opinion of the one with whom having a disagreement, no shouting, no coercion, and, lastly, confining one’s comments to the issue at hand.
“They aren’t ready for this. They’ll get in over their heads.”
“Janice, they’re more prepared than they’ve ever been.”
“But is that enough? Intellectually, they’re adults, Jonathan, but, emotionally, they’re still teenagers. He was fueled by rage and she by revenge for so many years that it locked part of each one of them in adolescence. They haven’t had adequate time to re-condition their nervous systems. Substance abusers face a similar problem, especially if they began in their teens.”
“Granted,” Jonathan admitted, “but how do they get unlocked? Can it all take place in a therapist’s office? They’re responding to a higher voice.”
“I’ve come to expect better from a Ph. D. in physics, dear. You’ll need to try something more effective than that.”
“Didn’t you say some time ago that maybe they need to find out for themselves?”
“Don’t use my words against me. It isn’t fair.”
“It wasn’t a trick. I meant what I said.”
“Sometimes I marvel at their maturity,” she persisted. “In other instances, they remind me of children.”
“Have you ever wondered if we bring out a residual immaturity in them?”
“Yes, I have, though I hate to admit it. We’re the closest thing they have to parents.”
“Shouldn’t we encourage their initiative? We don’t want them to be dependent on us, do we? They survived hardship remarkably well for twenty-five years on their own.”
The retired counselor was struggling with a relatively new set of emotions. Childless, she still hadn’t fully adapted to maternal cares.
“They were so damaged in spite of that.”
“And we – especially you – helped them. Wouldn’t it be healthy for them to apply what they’ve learned?”
“Their physical powers,” Janice moaned as she put a hand to her forehead. “Adam’s a superman, and Evelyn is a force of nature.”
She dropped her shoulders in resignation.
“And we’re about to loan them our car so they can range through Kansas City as vigilantes.”
Her husband gently laid his palm against her cheek.
“They already have. Remember? We’ve trusted this process so far, and it’s working out. I think this is the next step. They don’t belong to us, and neither of us is in charge.”
She exhaled loudly.
“This has to be the most logical, the most asinine debate we’ve ever had. I can’t believe I’m agreeing with you. Thank you for letting me vent.”
“My darling, you are, as ever, a worthy opponent.”
When Adam and Eve returned from an atypical walk without words, they stepped cautiously through the front door and hesitated. Janice and Jonathan were seated on the couch, and only their backs could be seen from the arch between the front hall and the living room. Each had an arm around the other, and their heads were together. Dr. Andrews raised his free hand without looking behind him and tossed the keys over his shoulder to Adam.
“Pray for them,” his wife directed after they were gone. “They’re in more danger than they realize.”
He nodded pensively.
“So are five very bad men.”
Chapter 27 – A Dance on the Precipice
It was night. The car’s occupants became progressively more irritable and tense as they passed Harrisonville and then Belton. Odd and unpleasant memories came back for both of them as they approached Grandview. They hadn’t been in the metropolitan area for roughly three years. This was the scene of conflicts addressed in retrospect, but they were surprised by solid reminders of things past. Eve fell into her tracking mindset.
“We’re not going to be on some mat with an instructor,” Adam cautioned. “This situation’s going to be fluid, unpredictable.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Eve said somewhat testily. “I’ve done this before. Remember?”
“Sure, but it’s not the same.”
“I know that. Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“I’m just saying we’ll need to improvise.”
“So we’ll improvise. I didn’t suddenly turn into a dummy.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You were talking down to me.”
Frustrated, he stopped talking. They were both on edge.
“The last home they invaded was in Overland Park. Take I-435 West.”
“No,” he disagreed. “That’s the wrong direction.”
“How do you know that?”
“I can tell. I can feel it. Alright?”
The car passed the exit and continued northward toward the heart of the city. They rode in ominous silence for some minutes. I-49 ended. U. S. 71, which had merged with the interstate through more than the southern half of Missouri, continued and was now a divided road with a combination of off ramps as well as intersections marked by stoplights. They passed under some interestingly designed and decorated bridges.
“So it was the wrong way, huh?”
“Yes it was.”
“Sure it was. Men know best. Is that what you’re saying?”
“What’s gotten into you?”
“You say you’re right, and I have to shut up and accept that while you drive wherever you good and well please.”
“Look, Eve. Let’s not do this. I know I’m right about this. Okay?”
“Aren’t you the arrogant one.”
“Will you trust me and let me drive?”
“Stop trying to control me!” she shouted.
Shocked by her outburst, he took the first off ramp he came to and turned down some streets he remembered. It was irrational, and he didn’t think about where he was going. He’d never been this flustered, and he wasn’t used to feeling pointlessly out of control. This was the angriest he had been since going through counseling. He impulsively turned down one street and then another.
“Do you even know where you’re going?” she demanded.
He didn’t answer but stared intently through the windshield while gripping the steering wheel tightly. Eve felt a sudden panic. Her friend was acting out of character and behaving erratically. He had assumed a command he was unwilling to relinquish, and she was trapped in his unexplained opinions. The air inside the car was restrictive, suffocating.
“Adam, stop the car and let me out!”
Alarmed by the sound of her voice, he pulled the car over and took the key from the ignition. The street was nearly empty. They were in a bad part of town.
“What’s wrong with…”
Not giving him a chance to finish, she opened the door, jumped out, and ran.
“Eve! What are you doing? Come back here!”
He sprang out of the car, and started after her. At first, she didn’t know why she was running. A proverbial nerve had been struck, and the impulse was almost reflexive. She knew only that she wanted to get away from him. He was too fast, and she could hear him gaining on her. Out of respect, he was actually holding back. Turning right abruptly, she darted into an alley, and he followed. She was surprisingly fast, but he quickly caught up with her and placed a hand on her shoulder in an effort to make her stop. Batting it away, she wheeled around and confronted him.
“Is this what you do? Is this what you all do? Are you polite until you don’t get your way?”
This outburst reminded him of what she used to be – but in somewhat distorted form.
“Angel – Eve, I don’t understand.”
“You – you wouldn’t listen to me. I was trapped in the car, and you weren’t doing what I asked. Your way was the only way.”
“You weren’t asking,” he protested. “You were ordering. Besides, you can knock me out at will.”
“Not while you were driving and only if you let me. You’re too quick. You used force to stop me when I ran.”
Her voice sounded genuinely wounded. The exchange had gotten out of hand, and an unseen pit was opening beneath them. Sensing this despite their anger, they stopped and looked around. Evelyn was aghast because she had momentarily lost track of her surroundings. She couldn’t remember this having happened before. The place where they were standing was alarmingly familiar to both of them.
They were in the alley where Adam had found her. They hadn’t known this at first because they had entered it from the opposite direction as before. She was standing on the exact spot where she had lain, but that wasn’t all. Silent and invisible, something hideous was there with them. It was so powerful that it clouded their reason. The first suggestion registered in Adam’s mind.
How long have you been putting up with her attitude? She’s a tease. Just grab her.
“She’s not the type,” he mumbled in confusion.
Every woman’s the type. All it takes is the right approach. Look at her. Who wouldn’t take that? Go ahead. She’ll give in.
In a more rational state, he would have known instantly that nothing could have been further from the truth, but the presence was dominating. He tried to sort out the jumble of thoughts and emotions skirmishing in his head. Was this the same, silent voice he had heard before? No, it was too forceful, too insistent, and it did not wait for him to ask questions. Despite their harmful intent, the sensual appeal of its demands fascinated and disturbed him. Evelyn saw the darkness settle on him, and she became aware of something overshadowing her as well.
You’ve become weak. Men always think they’re in charge. Take control. Seduce him, and get it over with.
The thought of subduing such a strong man with his desire for her body agitated her with a giddy thrill. She could use his passions to manipulate his strength. If he tried to control her physically, she could turn that to her advantage and control him mentally. Trembling, she almost succumbed but then rallied. Aside from the fact that all of this was a lie, the philosophy minor was remembering her ethics. She was better than this.
“No,” she whispered, assuming a half crouch. “Love should be good. This is perversion.”
“A good design.”
And you want to copy it. Where’s the creativity in that?
Her encounter on the hill at Osage Village came back to her.
“Above me and above you.”
Another blow landed in Adam’s mind.
Teach her a lesson. You can easily overpower her.
He, too, weakened but recovered. He stepped forward menacingly and clenched his fists, but there was nothing to hit. His outstanding prowess was useless, for what he faced wasn’t physical. He flashed back to the wooded hillside above Radio Spring Lake. Abdominal urges were arrested by the knowledge of something more honorable.
“I’m not a monster,” he stated in a low, even voice.
From their relative postures, they looked like a victim and her assailant. A desperate suggestion forced itself on Eve’s awareness, and her pupils constricted.
Hurry. He’s going to assault you. Change back to what you were. Eliminate him, and get on with your work.
This was a new consideration. Having transformed, she could revert. The possibility of that was more frightening than all of the neglect and abuse she had endured at the hands of violent men. Now she recognized what was happening. This was the monster she had struggled against her entire life. Her whispered argument continued.
“That would destroy everything. He’s my best friend.”
Would you give away your purpose for friendship? Better the curse you choose than the blessing you don’t deserve.
There it was: the accusation following a nihilistic appeal to independence. As absurd as the obligation seemed now, it was the same trap into which she had repeatedly fallen, a vain attempt to fend off emotional trauma. Her sessions with Janice had rendered this tactic impotent.
“It’s not working. You’re out of moves.”
And so it was. She had spoken the truth, for there were no recriminations, no further questions. Eve had won. Straightening herself, she saw the shadow lift off of Adam as she felt it withdraw from her. Relaxing his hands, he dropped them to his sides and stood erect. What had countered these mental attacks for both of them was not a voice but a memory, a recollection of what it felt like to be clean.
They stared at each other with uncertainty. Though it had mimicked their own thoughts, the onslaught had not come from either of them. They had faltered, but they had survived the test. For a few minutes, they did not speak. He was as unnerved by the way she had been looking at him as she was by the way he had been looking at her. Ashamed and embarrassed, they were both frightened by how close they had come. They spoke the same words in unison.
Adam looked at Eve as he had formerly, and he remembered their walks and conversations together. Her irises relaxed. This felt better.
“Janice and Jonathan have a copy of Paradise Lost in their library,” he offered weakly.
“Milton,” Eve nodded. “I’ve read it.”
“I’d be surprised if you hadn’t.”
“He also wrote Paradise Regain’d,” she added hopefully.
“They have that upstairs, too. Those poems are quite a workout.”
“Great dialectic, yeah?”
He pondered this for a few seconds.
“Dialectic…. We both had to do that a few minutes ago, didn’t we?”
She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she gazed wistfully at him for a few seconds.
“I think we might have just had our first dose of real in vivo exposure.”
“Real world practice.”
“Other world practice.”
They looked at each other and their apprehensions faded. This kind of exchange, this was them.
“Before our fight really cranked up, you told me to trust you. Do you trust me?”
His expression became pained.
“You know I do. I’ve been in awe of you since the night I found you here.”
“Good. Raise your hands.”
He knew better than to question her or to refuse. She reached around his torso, clasped her hands behind his back, and buried her forehead in his chest.
“May I hold you back?”
“Not yet, Adam. I’m sorry. Please keep your hands up.”
The urgency overtook him again.
“With you, I was too late. I don’t want that to happen again. Other people are in danger. I know you can track, but when I feel that pull, it can get us there faster. It’s what helped me locate you when you were attacked.”
She let go and looked unblinkingly into his eyes.
“And you’re feeling it now?”
“I’m feeling it again.”
“Another of your latent gifts,” she said with amused resolution. “Then we’d better hurry – and put your hands down. You look silly standing there like that.”
In their right minds once again, they ran back to the car and drove away. As they continued on their way, Adam apologized.
“I’m sorry. I knew what I was doing – following that sense of someone pulling, I mean – but I didn’t communicate it to you properly.”
“You knew it would happen tonight,” she reasoned with newfound respect, “and I was just trying to pick up their trail.”
“But that’s no excuse for how I treated you. I wasn’t aware of how I was making you feel. Knowing what we were here to do got me agitated. I was only thinking about myself and what I would do, and I forgot all about those calming techniques I’d learned… and the need to listen to that common voice that’s been guiding us.”
“Me, too,” Eve admitted in return. “I didn’t know all that animosity was still in there. I must have been storing it up for years. Even though it’s different this time, being on a hunt again must have kicked in some bad instincts, and it broke our connection.”
“But we’re better together than apart, right?”
“What do you think set us off?”
They thought for a few seconds. The same notion struck both of them.
“We were played,” they announced simultaneously.
“I was honestly getting a sense of direction,” Adam explained in a low voice, “but I reverted to taking care of things by myself. I didn’t know that habit would be so hard to break.”
“There’s something else,” she informed him. “After all we’d been through, we didn’t trust each other. You could have expressed yourself better, but my first inclination was to doubt you. I knew you’d been hearing things like I had, but I didn’t like the idea of you knowing something I didn’t when I was supposed to be the one who was good at tracking.”
He sounded very contrite in what he said next.
“We can’t afford to get sucked into a debate over our respective roles. That episode back there cost us some time. I hope we’re not…”
He tried to go on but found himself unable to choke out the remaining words. She reached over and gave his shoulder a firm squeeze.
“I don’t want to go back to being Tommy and Angel. We should be able to figure this out.”
“I’m afraid that has to happen quickly. We don’t really know what we’re doing, and we’re about to confront five armed men. I don’t want to get shot again.”
“And I don’t want to get assaulted. When I was at Osage Village, he told me we had to take care of each other.”
He. Without asking why, they had taken to identifying their invisible benefactor solely by that personal pronoun.
“Let me know if he tells you anything else.”
She smiled for the first time since they’d left Nevada.
“Has that ever been a problem?”
Following Adam’s internal compass, they ended up in the Gladstone area north of the Missouri River. They were driving through a residential neighborhood. It was hilly, and the car had just crested a rise. The street in front of them was fairly level.
“What is it?”
“Do you see that third house on the left?”
“What about it?”
“Does it look darker than the others?”
“It does to me. Pull over.”
This was more like it. They were cooperating now.
“It’s definitely in the right direction,” Adam stated as they got out of the car. “What we need now is your advanced…”
“Quiet,” Eve instructed, “and be careful closing your door. They’re in there. I don’t want them to hear us coming.”
He reached into the car and pulled a couple of items out of his duffle bag. They included two black ski masks.
“Here put this on,” he whispered.
“Are you kidding?” she whispered back.
“Do you want to be recognized? We’re pretty distinctive.”
As she donned her mask, he retrieved something else and carefully closed the door.
“Okay, but why the gloves?”
“For me, not you. The patterns on my hands…”
“You’re forgetting that I can cause selective memory loss.”
“Won’t that be more complicated? Anyone we save will have to press charges and testify.”
“Right. Are we nuts, or what? Maybe we should call the police.”
“They might not get here in time,’ he reasoned while pulling on his disguise. “If they do, it could turn into a standoff with hostages.”
For a second or two, they were in the clinch of uncertainty. Their eyes locked. Eve touched her partner’s masked face.
“We can take them, Adam.”
They moved into the deeper shadows beneath some trees on the property line and surveyed the house. Eve saw the house, and she saw through the house. It wasn’t X-ray or infrared vision. She simply saw the nonphysical within the physical, detected its movement.
“It’s darkest downstairs near the back. That’s where they are.”
“The side door – it’s a covered entrance, and the window above is open. We can climb the columns. If we try to go in on the first floor, they might hear us before we can get to them.”
They crept swiftly across the lawn, and he put his weight carefully against a column. His whisper was so soft he could barely hear it. He knew Eve could without difficulty.
“It’ll hold. Ready?”
She tapped his forearm. Despite his weight, he ascended noiselessly by bracing his palms against the back of the column and the balls of his shoes against the front. Eve also proved herself an adept climber. She was light but strong. Adam stepped carefully over the railing and gradually tried to place his weight on the roof of the overhang. It creaked slightly, and he slowed his movement. He meticulously worked the screen loose once he was close enough to the window. Supporting himself as much as he could on the windowsill, he slipped a foot through the open window then extended his hands and nodded to Eve. She took them and leaped adroitly into his arms. At the instant she landed, he lifted his one foot from the roof outside, shifted his weight to the foot inside, and pulled her in after him as he slipped through the window. His steps landed as lightly as a cat’s on the carpet, and he set her down. Given his size and that of the window, it had been a precise, athletic maneuver, one accomplished with a smoothness of motion and a bare minimum of sound. Mentally and physically, they were completely in synch.
Even with her acute hearing, Eve was surprised by how silently he moved. It was extremely slow going. Each footfall had to be tested, and their centers of gravity had to be shifted slowly in case the floor might creak. Fortunately, the floor was hardwood, extremely solid, and covered with plush carpet. They slipped out of the bedroom by which they had entered the house and then moved along the upstairs hallway. Their sternest test was the stairs. Adam continued to lead the way. One step started to complain almost imperceptibly, and he backed up cautiously. Skipping this step, he pointed to it until Evelyn nodded.
The floor in the front hall was terrazzo, as was that of the kitchen, and they traversed these quickly. The kitchen opened into a carpeted dining room with arches at either end. One arch led to the living room by the front hall, the other to the family room at the back of the house. The lights were off downstairs except for a shaded lamp in one corner of the family room. Keeping to the shadows, Adam and Eve moved to where they could see what was happening. Due to their black attire, they were virtually invisible.
Two people, apparently husband and wife, were bound and gagged on the floor. The woman’s sobs were partially muted, and the man struggled against his bonds. His efforts drew derisive laughter from five men. Like Adam and Eve, they were attired in black and wearing masks.
“Forget the T.V. It’s too big. Just take the Blu-ray player and anything portable that looks like it’s worth something. We haven’t hit the second story yet.”
Four men were carrying out the speaker’s orders and stuffing various items into bags. He turned and spoke sharply to the distraught woman.
“Hey! Stop crying. We’ll get to you after we find what we’re after. Hubby gets to watch before we cap him.”
Her pleas were muffled by the gag in her mouth.
“Do you want to know why? I’ll tell you. We’re going to do it for the looks on your faces when you know you can’t stop us.”
Adam and Eve knew then that the words of the speaker – delivered in the first person plural – meant more than he’d intended, that an entity was infusing his voice with its own. These men were moving willfully within an oppressive shadow that only Evelyn could see. This had nothing to do with physical gratification. It was about the sick thrill of domination, and the dark motive was eating away at them, defiling them as it stripped away their humanity. Eve pulled on Adam’s neck to bring his ear within range.
“I’ll distract them,” she whispered. “When they hear my voice, they won’t shoot.”
She walked through the archway and into the middle of the room. The terrified couple was at her feet. Confused by the unexpected presence of another masked figure, the assailants didn’t react immediately.
“Come on guys,” she scolded teasingly. “You’ve got to stop.”
“How about that?” the one whose voice they had heard, said sarcastically. “A burglar with a conscience. Babe, you picked the wrong house. Tie her…”
Before the man – apparently their leader – could finish his sentence, each invader saw a large, black blur in his peripheral vision. It moved too quickly for them to defend themselves, and there was a series of soft thumps as guns hit the carpeted floor. Bodies followed in a matter of seconds. Unwilling to risk killing again, the chimera resorted to using only body blows, uppercuts to the stomach that incapacitated four of his targets.
For all his athleticism, he had a limitation. He was quick enough to handle four violent men. He was unable to reach the fifth, who was standing apart from the others. This one aimed his firearm as his comrades landed and lay gasping for breath on the carpet. In his panic, he had forgotten Eve, and she quickly reached for him and shoved his arm upward. The surprised hoodlum swung at her head with his other arm, but she dodged the blow and took hold of his wrist with her bare hand. The gun went off, but the bullet lodged harmlessly in the ceiling. All of this happened in the space of three seconds or less, and her martial arts training had paid off. As she swung him to his knees, the man was rendered almost instantly unconscious by her touch.
“Stay down,” Adam thundered to the rest, “or I’ll unload on you.”
“He can’t stop all of us!” one of them shouted. “Get the guns!”
It was like playing whack-a-mole with the exception that all the moles were getting whacked. Each of the four received a square blow to his back which further knocked the wind out of him. They had hardly gotten off the floor, and now they were finding it even more difficult to get a breath. Their captor pinned two beneath his knees and the other two with his unyielding hands. Eve dispatched one of them simply by touching his forehead as he reached for a nearby revolver.
“Could you do that to the rest?” Adam requested.
She knelt down and put a hand each on the necks of the nearest two. This action triggered the memory of killing the man who had shot her friend, and she shuddered. The last offender, who was still conscious, took advantage of the pause to look defiantly into her masked face.
“Are you going to kill me, too?”
“They’re not dead,” she answered. “They’re asleep, and you’ll all be alive to stand trial.”
“We’ll get out sooner or later. Then maybe we’ll pay you a visit.”
Either it was bluster, or he knew something he shouldn’t be capable of knowing.
“I doubt you’ll ever be released. If you ever do, how do you know we won’t be tracking you like we did tonight?”
The prisoner’s façade changed from arrogance to fear. In this, Eve hoped for an opening, a chance to reason with a receptive human being.
“Haven’t you learned anything from what just happened? Why would you want to keep living like this?”
His whole demeanor became different, and his vocal inflections altered as if another personality had taken over.
“Why did you want to? What makes them so different? They’ll go to prison while you remain free.”
This was but another variation of a familiar strategy. Instead of a call to physiological violence, it was a summons to remain trapped within the guilt of past mistakes. She narrowed her eyes at the darkness interlaced with the man on the floor.
“We did this already. I was wrong, but at least I was trying to help others.”
“It’s futile,” he sneered. “There are more of us. Lock these away. Kill them. It won’t matter. We’ll come back. We always come back. Someone will choose to let us in.”
Adam broke in.
“That’s enough dialectic for one day. Put him out.”
She did, and Adam removed the masks and wallets from the five offenders with his gloved hands. Eve commented on the appearance of the unconscious men.
“They’re younger than we are.”
“Just past college age,” he concurred as he looked at their driver’s licenses. “They didn’t think they’d get caught, or they wouldn’t have been carrying these.”
“And now their lives are over,” Eve murmured.
They untied the bound and gagged couple.
“Don’t worry,” Eve reassured. “They won’t wake up for hours.”
“Are you willing to press charges?” Adam asked them.
Visibly shaken, they nodded.
“Call the police, and tell them exactly what happened. We can’t be here when they arrive. Will you do that?”
They nodded again, and Adam and Eve helped the husband and his wife to their feet. The woman found her phone in one of the bags the criminals had been using, but she was trembling too much to tap in the number. Adam called 9-1-1 and held the phone to her spouse’s ear. The husband had trouble talking, but, somehow, he managed to relay the information. Adam handed him the phone, and he and Eve led them out the front door. They left them crying together on the lawn. The couple would remember later that they had forgotten to say thank you.
Before long, there was the sound of sirens. Parked a couple of houses down the block, Adam Smith and Evelyn Morris watched to make sure that the perpetrators were in custody. Flashing lights faintly illuminated their faces from a distance as five unconscious men, now in handcuffs, were loaded into patrol cars. In addition to ballistics tests on their weapons, there would be plenty of evidence to link them to the other crimes now that their identities were known. Stolen items from the various break-ins would later be recovered from their places of residence.
Neighbors were coming out of their homes to ascertain the nature of the commotion, and rumors began to spread that those responsible for the brutal series of home invasions had been apprehended. Police would confirm this to the press on the following morning. As they maintained their vigil, Eve squeezed Adam’s arm enthusiastically.
“That was so cool.”
She could feel him shaking.
“We almost didn’t make it.”
“But it turned out right.”
He shook his head.
“They were too far along.”
“Look, Adam. We both made mistakes, but they were covered.”
“It was so ugly – like finding you, like the parking lot after we got off work.”
“It didn’t get that far.”
“But it could have. We almost didn’t…”
He was interrupted by the pressure of her hand on his chest.
“Adam, you’re looping, and you need to stop.”
“I can’t forget this lesson, Eve.”
“You won’t. Adam, you’ve earned my trust. Have I earned yours?”
He nodded, but his shivering intensified. He was going into mild shock.
“Then let me help you.”
She held her hand in front of his face.
He nodded again.
“You have a sensitive conscience. You’re a good man.”
Eve placed her palm on his forehead, and he fell into a deep, relaxing sleep. When he regained consciousness, it was still dark. She was beside him, and the car had not moved.
“How long was I out?”
“About fifteen minutes.”
“Was that all?”
“Think of it as a power nap. I touched you again and woke you up. I’m starting to get the hang of how this works.”
Adam was concerned about his momentary instability. He had exhibited weakness.
“Eve, you know I trust you, but why was that necessary?”
“Did it make you feel better?”
“Sure, but I want to know why.”
“You were in the process of establishing a bad neural circuit. Counselors have methods of their own for interfering with that. Mine helped me do some rewiring during our sessions. I just saved you hours of therapy, and it was free of charge.”
He scratched his chin and thought a bit. They stayed at their post until the police left. Now that the show was over, the street cleared as the neighbors headed back inside. Two, apparently friends, stayed behind and spoke with the intended victims. They ended up accompanying them into their house. The neighborhood would have little success in getting to sleep that night. A number of the younger couples would receive additions to their families in another nine months.
Instead of turning the keys in the ignition, Adam looked whimsically at Eve and opened his door.
“Where are you going?”
“Come on, and trade me places. I think you’d better drive.”
Later, as they rode south on I-49, Eve fidgeted with her hands on the wheel. She was deciding whether or not to say what she was thinking.
“Okay,” her friend prodded. “What is it?”
She waited a bit and then went ahead.
“I know we already apologized and all that, but we’ve never indulged in drama before. I feel foolish. Let’s not go there again.”
“No argument here,” Adam agreed, “but it’s easy to say that now. Do we need a safe word or something?”
She picked up on his attempt at humor.
“It’d have to be funny,” she suggested. “You know – something to break the tension.”
“How about ‘rutabaga’?”
They were able to laugh at themselves.
“I don’t think so. I’ve always been partial to ‘aardvark’.”
“I’ve always wanted to poke my long snout into an ant hill and lick up the ants.”
“Then ‘aardvark’ it is,” he conceded facetiously.
“Can you find a good radio station? That might make it easier for us to stay awake.”
“What are you in the mood for?”
“I don’t know. Neither one of us has listened to much in the way of music. Let’s try until we find something we like.”
He worked the tuner, and they settled on a jazz station because it interfered less with their conversation. They both found the complex rhythms and melodies interesting as the instrumentals established a distinctive mood in the car. The lights of Grandview and Belton were behind them, and those of Harrisonville approached and then faded in the rearview mirror. They were traveling on in darkness. Adam sighed contentedly. What had threatened to become disastrous had turned into a pretty good date, albeit an unorthodox one. Once again, they had grown comfortable in each other’s presence and felt no need to talk just then. After a good fifteen minutes, Evelyn turned the volume down so she could ask a question.
“Adam, do you think Janice and Jonathan would let us borrow their car again?”
“After this afternoon and tonight, we’d need a good reason. Why do you ask?”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“I have a ghost to banish. I need to find my mother.”