Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Growing Together
Book Six of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2008, 2011

Chapter 20

Kwame all but tipped the chair over as he got up to leave. Shantel was a little slower to rise, but Tanisha could see a faint smile on her face, as well as a tear rolling down her cheek as she shook her head. She'd said not a word through the whole affair, as if she'd have a good reason to fear what would have happened if she did. Kwame threw a stony glance at her, and she hurried to catch up with him.

As soon as they saw Kwame's back leave the room, Jon said softly, "Well, I guess that's that."

"Yes," Tanisha agreed. "I'd rather it hadn't ended that badly, but I guess it was about the way I expected it to happen."

"Actually, I thought it might come out so we could exchange Christmas cards, at least until you got your back up toward the end."

"I thought so, too," she sighed. "I got to realizing that he was the same old Kwame, and there was no way he was going to change. At least maybe we got the message across."

Jim Bricklin came over and sat down in the chair Kwame had occupied. "Leopards don't change their spots, do they?" he said in a face devoid of a smile.

"No, I guess not," Tanisha smiled. "Do you think I overdid it?"

"Maybe a little," Bricklin replied with a slight frown. "At least now you know you have an enemy for life, but at least I don't think he's going to be a threat to you now. I think you managed to get across to him that you're not an easy target like that Hammerstrom woman."

"Yeah, and that we've got some support behind us," Jon said.

"And that the support will be keeping an eye on him," Bricklin added. "I'm glad you didn't bring all of that out."

"I came very close," Tanisha nodded. "He may have gotten the hint that we knew about Hammerstrom anyway, but if I didn't say anything, he couldn't be sure that I knew. He has to suspect we know about it, just like he has to suspect that we know about his girlfriend. But saying it might have pushed him to try to shut me up, and then we'd be back where we started."

"Except worse," Bricklin sighed.

"Right, except worse," Jon agreed. "Basically, things haven't changed at all. We still don't know what he might do, especially now that we've got him rattled a little bit."

"A kidnapping attempt seems a little unlikely," the Halloran man said. "I only hope he realizes he's going to be the most likely suspect if anything happens, and there are other people who know about it. Hopefully that will keep him a little scared."

"Could be," Tanisha agreed. "I guess now we get to see just how vindictive he really is and how much risk he'll take. You're going to keep a little closer eye on him, I hope?"

"Well, we can't watch him all the time without the cost being really exorbitant," Bricklin said. "But my guess is that if he doesn't try anything in the next few days he won't try anything ever. I like the way you didn't reveal anything about yourselves that would indicate where you are, and laid some false trail in the process, but we'll put a little extra security on you for a while, just to be on the safe side."

"That's what we planned," Tanisha agreed. "It's too bad that we didn't accomplish anything."

"Like I told you before this started, it was doubtful that you'd accomplish very much. And don't think you didn't accomplish anything, because you did. You established that you're not a threat to his position in the church unless he wants to make something of it, and that you have the resources to do it if you want to. Best of all, you established that you're not easy targets. What do you say we get out of here and get heading back? The local guys are hourly, and we might as well save Stan a buck where we can."

Although this was Crystal's third trip on Skyhook, she'd never had the chance to sit up front, so when Jennlynn offered to have her join her to keep her company, Crystal took her up on it. It wasn't long before they were in the air, headed for Phoenix.

As glad as everyone was to be aboard the Learjet and be heading back toward home, there couldn't help but be a somber mood on the Learjet. "Maybe it wasn't totally a waste of time," Jon said as he, Tanisha, Bricklin, and Preach sat in the facing seats in the back cabin. "But I don't know if we're in any better shape than we were before. We're still going to have to look over our shoulders. At least when I was on the outs with Dad, I knew that all I had to do was stay the hell out of Chicago and everything would be fine. This always was worse, and it still is."

"I keep trying to tell you it's not a total loss," Bricklin shook his head. "We know a good deal more than we knew before you raised the issue. In cases like this, ignorance is not bliss."

"I almost hate to say this," Tanisha said, "But I'm a little worried about Shantel. She really seems to fear him. I mean, she always used to be rather submissive to him, but it's worse now."

"Remember, Kingfisher had his suspicions but wasn't able to document any instances of abuse," Bricklin pointed out. "That's not saying it hasn't happened, but if it has it's been out of sight. As much as we'd like to, we can't know everything, but it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest."

"Like you just said, ignorance is not necessarily bliss," Tanisha shook her head. "I'm worried that she's going to be the one hurt over this. He was furious, and who else could he take it out on if he can't take it out on us?"

"She has a point," Preach agreed. "I've seen it happen, people taking their anger out on their families. It's never pretty."

"The hell of it is that Shantel is a nice woman," Tanisha sighed. "It's just that she's been so beaten down by him for so many years it's like there wasn't anything left of her at all."

"I noticed that," Preach said. "I mean, not even a word of greeting. She didn't say a thing, and that tells me more than if she'd actually said something."

"She's pretty shy anyway, and has been as long as I've known her," Tanisha agreed. "But that was way beyond what I've ever seen before. I don't know if I could do anything for her, and I don't know if I should if I could. I mean, she had to have known about the Hammerstrom woman, and she has to know about the Frederick woman he's supposed to be seeing now, if Kingfisher picked the stories about both of them up from gossip in the church."

"You'd think so," Bricklin shrugged. "But it doesn't always work that way."

"The people who are most likely to be hurt by stories like that are often the last to know," Preach nodded, "Especially in churches. Again, I've seen it before, and not just at Glen Hill. Believe me, I went to a conservative religious college and all too many of the stories going around were beyond hurtful, even if they didn't have a lick of truth to them. I sometimes wonder how I stuck it out as long as I did."

"I don't know," Bricklin shook his head. "I'd certainly warn you to not do anything that would draw attention to yourselves, that's for sure. Unfortunately, there's not much we can do about it either, but I'll tell the people in St. Louis to keep their eyes open. Something might come up. You never know."

Given the speed of the Learjet and the time zones, it was mid-afternoon when they arrived back in Phoenix. "Thanks again for the ride," Jon told Jennlynn after he'd done what little he could to help get the sleek white machine parked in its hangar. "It's always nice to have a friend like you who we can count on."

"That goes both ways," Jennlynn smiled. "You kids have been there for me when it counted, and all I'm doing is returning the favor."

"Can we take you to dinner or something to help thank you?" Tanisha asked.

"No, I'm going to head back over to the office and try to get some catch-up done," the tall, raven-haired woman sighed. "If it weren't for the fact that Will has some duty or other this weekend I'd have dropped you off and headed for Biloxi, so it makes for a good weekend for it."

"I suppose," Jon shook his head. "Tani and I have worked through a few of them ourselves."

"I guess Preach and I'd better be heading back to Flag," Crystal said. "Church tomorrow, and then I guess in the afternoon we'd better get back to rigging. We've got a raft to paint. That's always a pain in the ass, and it's better if no one else is around when we do it. The paint is really nasty stuff and you have to wear face masks."

"We could stick around if you want, and then leave early enough in the morning to get to church," Preach offered.

"No, that's all right," Jon said. "We're just glad you could come. Sorry the trip was such a waste for you."

"It wasn't a waste," Preach grinned. "I never figured I'd get to ride in a Learjet."

Soon, Jon and Tanisha were headed back to the townhouse in their car. Even though they were still a couple months away from making their move, the townhouse didn't seem much like home anymore.

"You know," Tanisha said as soon as the car doors were closed, "I'm a little surprised that Jennlynn didn't head on up to the Redlite. I'm wondering if she's going to give it up."

"It's still too soon to say," Jon sighed, "But I suspect there's a real good reason she's been in Biloxi just about every chance she gets."

"If you're going to have a long-distance romance like that, then I guess it's just as well she has a Learjet," Tanisha laughed. "Boy, wouldn't that be a pain in the butt on an airliner?"

"As if you could get her on an airliner now, anyway," Jon shook his head.

They rode along silently for several minutes before either of them spoke again. Finally, Jon broke the silence. "Well," he said, "I guess that's that."

"Yeah, I guess it is," she sighed.

"You got anything you'd like to do this afternoon? Maybe look for furniture for the new house or something?"

"Jon, I have to say my heart isn't in it right now," she sighed. "Can't we just go home and chill out?"

"You mean . . ."

"No, for once my heart isn't in that right now, either," she sighed. "Maybe tomorrow."

"I'm willing to give it a pass if you are, but I ought to point out that it'd be a good way to put this morning past us, too."

"We'll see," she grinned. "You might be right at that."

Weeks passed, mostly uneventfully.

When they'd had the confrontation with Kwame in the middle of March, Tanisha had been visibly pregnant when nude, but it hadn't been obvious with the loose top she'd been wearing. By the time they sat down at the table in the bank's conference room a month later, there was no question about it. A further ultrasound hadn't been able to refine her due date much more than they'd known in February -- it was still going to be somewhere around the first of July, give or take a little. Tanisha was a little surprised to discover that the late stages of her pregnancy weren't as uncomfortable as she had expected them to be. She and Jon had to make a few modifications to their usual routines and slowed them down a little, but there could be no thought of cutting them out, not for either of them.

It turned out that Joy's instincts had been correct. Both of the owners of the houses were anxious to sell out and move themselves; one was moving across town, but the other had a new job in North Carolina and was getting antsy about being out of the old place and not having to make two payments. Both the Russells and the Chladeks had wound up having to concede a little on price and closing dates, but nowhere near the original asking prices and terms, so they wound up coming out nicely ahead on the deal. Both couples had gotten together more than once to spend an afternoon furniture shopping; they hadn't actually settled anything at the time the closings came down, but they'd been able to get an idea of what they wanted.

On Friday morning of the week before closing on the house, Jennlynn walked into Jon and Tanisha's classified office and, in a rather subdued manner, announced she was going to be heading up to the Redlite for the weekend that afternoon. "It may be too soon," she said, "But I've got to find out."

She was still subdued when she came back on Monday. When they asked her how it had gone she told them, "OK, I guess. I told everybody to use my old work name, Rebecca, so that kept things down a little. It was nice to just be a lineup girl instead of a headliner, but maybe the thrill has gone out of it a little. I don't know that I'm ready to hang up the spike heels yet, but I'm starting to wonder how much longer I want to wear them."

"Well, Jennlynn," Tanisha told the older woman, "We do all have to grow up sometime."

"I suppose," she sighed. "Will and I had a long talk on the phone about it. For now, I'm only going to head up there once in a while to see if I still want to do it. George and I had a little talk about maybe me buying up a piece of the business if I want to keep my hand in, and I don't know about that, either. I really haven't minded being an anonymous part-time prostitute all these years, but you know damn well I don't like the idea of being the nation's most famous prostitute, either. It's something he and I are going to have to work out." She smiled and added, "That's one hell of a mid-life crisis, isn't it?"

Work at Lambdatron kept them busy. After the relatively slow period they'd had in February and early March things picked up a lot. They worked late several nights, and sometimes on the weekends. A couple project tests had come back with unexpected results -- not necessarily bad ones, but ones they had difficulty understanding until they spent a good amount of time wondering what was really going on. Fortunately, their unique talents held true, and they were able to have things back under control and relatively placid as the date of their move approached, and there was a good chance things would stay that way until after the baby's arrival. Fortunately, Stan announced that he was going to assign them an intern exclusively to help them with their non-classified work, so that would help them keep things under control a little.

In spite of everything, the knowledge that Kwame was still a loose cannon out there somewhere hung on their minds. Before the confrontation they'd sometimes been a little lazy about going armed outside the house, but those days were in the past. The threat still didn't seem serious, and it seemed unlikely that he knew where they were, but Tanisha was well aware of the stories of her childhood about retributions carried out on people who had harmed church members. While little could be proved, it seemed to them as well as to Leroy Kingfisher that there was still some going on. However, as time went on it seemed as if the worst of the danger had passed.

Still, they'd consulted with Bricklin and some other Halloran people about some special security measures that would be added to the new house as soon as they had occupancy of it. There was a period of two weeks when they'd own the house but be staying at the townhouse; Jeff and a couple of his friends planned on coming down from Flagstaff to take care of some of the work on both of the houses. Stan had been able to tell them of another crew that could be depended on to give the places a thorough cleaning at a reasonable price; Ben and Joy were just about as pleased to find that out as Jon and Tanisha.

One day not long after the closing they got a message that Bricklin wanted to talk to them in their official office. They headed up from the classified office out back, wondering what was happening now.

"Good news," Bricklin told them. "Tanisha, I think it's safe to say that the threat from your brother is much reduced."

"Did you guys do something to him?"

"No, he brought it on himself. You remember Martin Clemmens, the guy Kwame had tried to set you up with?"

"The garbage truck tail gunner?" she snorted. "I'm trying to forget him."

"Well, it seems he paid a visit to Myrna Frederick's apartment the other night; you know, the gal Kwame was stepping out with?" Bricklin grinned. "In fact, Clemmens was pounding the hell out of her, trying to get her to admit that she'd told someone about Kwame and her. Not a real good idea when her next door neighbor was an off-duty cop."

"Oops," Jon grinned.

"Clemmens tried to just make it seem like a domestic disturbance, one that would mostly get overlooked, but Clemmens is just as dumb as you said he was, and he told the cop that Kwame had sent him to do it."

"And of course Kwame protested that it was just racist cops looking for a chance to hang something on him," Tanisha nodded. "That's how he works."

"Oh, yeah, he screamed like the proverbial stuck pig, no matter that the cops involved and their supervisor were all black. Well, along about that time one of our investigators happened to hear about it and sort of made it known that there were a lot of people who thought Clemmens was a suspect in the Hammerstrom disappearance. So, while Kwame was protesting his innocence to every media outlet that would answer the phone, the cops leaned on Clemmens a little, and to make a long story short, he sang. It's all over the St. Louis news now. You might want to check some of it out on the net. Stuff is coming up faster than we can keep up with it, but Kwame's out of action now and he may be for a while. No telling where it'll come out, since they never found the Hammerstrom woman's body, and as far as I know it's Clemmens' word against his. It wouldn't surprise me if he walks, but even if he does he's going to be too damn busy to be able to cause you much trouble."

Tanisha looked at the floor for a moment before replying, "You know, in a way I was expecting to hear something like that. I mean, as much as I dislike him, he's still my brother and it really stinks to know that he'd be involved in such violence. I always suspected he was capable of things like that, but it hurts to know for sure."

"Well, yeah," Bricklin nodded. "But it proves you were right to get out of there when you did. In any case, I'm sure there's media that would like to talk to you if they could find you, but with the firewalls we've set up I'm sure there aren't many leads on locating you. So, I'd suggest you keep your head down till this blows over."

"Well, we should be able to manage that," she shook her head. "After all, we've had enough experience in doing it. So, do you know anything about Shantel and the kids?"

"All I know is that the police have been talking to her," Bricklin shrugged. "Whether she'll be able to tell them much is anybody's guess."

"Thanks, Jim," she sighed. "Look, can I trust you to keep us informed of any major developments that might affect us? I don't feel like I want to spend a lot of time browsing web sites and feeling crappy about the whole thing."

"Sure, I can do that. We'll be keeping a loose eye on this until it's settled, since it still represents a security issue, but for now I think you can stand down and relax a little."

"That's good to know," she nodded. "I've got enough other things going on in my life right now."

In a couple minutes they were heading back to their classified office. "Well, I guess that's good news," Jon opined.

"It would appear to be," she sighed. "Jon, would it bother you if I said that while I wanted Kwame out of my life, I didn't really want it to be that way?"

"No, I can't blame you in the slightest. He is your brother, after all. Even though you pretty well knew the truth, the revealed truth can't help but hurt."

"It does," she sighed. "When you took me out of St. Louis I was willing to get along without a family. We had to do it for a long time, and I pretty well figured it would be forever. Now, I know I'm not going to have my family ever again, but at least it's good to know that your family has taken me in so nicely." She walked along silently for a moment before she added, "At least it takes some of the sting out."

"Don't forget that we're going to have more of a family," he pointed out. "That's going to make things different, too."

"Yeah, it is," she agreed. "At least Barbara and her brothers or sisters aren't going to have that problem to deal with. They may have others, but not that one."

"Brothers or sisters?" Jon smiled. "You mean, plural?"

"Of course," she grinned. "I mean, why go to all this trouble for just one?"

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To be continued . . .

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