The Lighthouse by Bill K

Chapter 11: "The Mystery of the Lighthouse Revealed"

        Robert Harrington peered into the examination room that Caroline Englehart used for her makeshift autopsy theater. The gruesome sight of Caroline wrist deep in the body's chest wrung a grunt of disgust from him.

        "Bobby, don't hover," Caroline replied, not looking around. I'll call you when the results are in."

        "You're not kicking me out, are you?" Harrington asked.

        "I am. Don't you have a murderer to catch?"

        "I," he began, then stopped, unsure how to express his fears. He didn't like showing weakness around Caroline, as if it would make her think less of him. He seemed to have trouble expressing a lot of his feelings to her. Fortunately for him, she was so intuitive about him; but not now. "I, um, are you sure you don't want me to stick around?"

        "Applying to be my bodyguard?"

        "I-I wouldn't mind the job," he said, glancing down in embarrassment.
        Englehart glanced over her shoulder at him and the corners of her mouth curled up.

        "I just hate to leave you unprotected, you know?" Harrington said
cautiously, terrified he'd say something wrong and anger her unintentionally. "I mean, after I saw what he did to you . . ."

        "I know," whispered Caroline. "Look, Bobby, you want to protect me? Find him and put him in jail. I'll be all right here until then. Remember, I'm not the only one depending on you in this matter."

        "All right," he said reluctantly. "But I'm going to check in on you periodically until we get this guy."

        "I'll have a lunch prepared," Caroline smiled.

        Just then, she sensed a presence next to her. Turning, Caroline was startled to find Harrington standing next to her, staring intently at her.

        "B-Bobby?" she whispered, confused.

        "I'm not going to let him do this to you again," Harrington said. "I will protect you, Carol."

        "Why, Bobby, are you proposing?" Caroline joked to diffuse the situation.

        "That's not a bad idea," he replied, his intent gaze softening only slightly. Caroline felt her cheeks flush. She regained control of herself, leaned over and kissed him lightly.

        "Well you might want to wait until I'm not up to my forearms in someone," Caroline replied, her smile grateful rather than mocking.

        Harrington returned her peck on the lips and left. After she heard the door lock, Dr. Englehart mulled over what had just happened before returning to her work.

        "Chief," Anne McDougald called out as Harrington entered the Constable's Office. "You've got two FBI agents in your office. They've been here about twenty minutes."

        "Good. I could use the help," murmured Harrington, ambling over to her. Anne noticed he seemed older and more worn. He pulled out some fingerprint cards and handed them to her. "Get this out to the fingerprint network. See what comes back."

        "Are you expecting them to be Flynn's?"

        "They're from the deceased."

        "You think Loharo Reeves might be right? That it isn't Donna Young?"

        "I don't know what to think anymore," sighed Harrington. "Maybe getting an ID on those prints will point me in the right direction." He headed for his office.

        "Oh, and the State Police'll be here by noon," Anne added.

        "Hallelujah," muttered Harrington.

        In his office were two people in nicely cut suits. The man was young, clean cut, nondescript - - he could be some middle manager from some corporation in Portland. His black hair was thick and well groomed, his brown eyes expressed confidence. Thankfully he didn't seem to possess the arrogance many FBI agents possessed when mixing with local law enforcement, but he didn't strike Harrington as terribly experienced either.

        The woman was only a few inches shorter than the man, but gave more of an impression of size. Her blonde hair was cut short to the collar, and she wore a jacket and slacks that were probably necessitated by being in the field. The clothes and her broad shoulders gave her almost a mannish look that Harrington scowled at. Her features were pretty, but her eyes were a cold, pale blue and
the icy look of her eyes extended to her entire face. This woman was all business and looked like she could take a reasonable sized man in a fight.

        "Understand you've got an international killer running loose around here,"the man said after introducing himself as Agent Mitchell.

        "That's right," Harrington replied. "Dennis Flynn, wanted on a multiple murder warrant out of Londonderry, Northern Ireland. He's been positively identified by several witnesses, including me. He may have already killed someone locally and has made attempts on at least two other people, plus taken a couple of shots at me."

        "We'll get him," said the woman, Agent Moskau.

        "The sooner, the better," sighed Harrington.

        "Constable," Mitchell continued, "we've got a report from a couple of days ago from one of your locals. She claims someone replaced a friend of hers with an imposter. Was that just a crank or is it somehow connected with this case?"

        "I don't know yet," Harrington said. "Something's going on around here, that's for sure. But right now I'm more concerned with getting this Flynn character put away. After we do that, if you want to stick around and help me sort all of this out, I won't say no."

        "All right," nodded Moskau. "Where was Flynn last seen?"

        Loharo struggled in the grip of the clearly much stronger man. As tall and lanky as she was, Loharo found herself effortlessly lifted off the floor and carried up the stairs, one beefy arm draped across her ribs and an iron hand clamped over her mouth. She felt the barrel chest press against her back. It was like being crushed in a vise. Though it seemed to do no good, she continued to jerk and tug at the arms keeping her pinned. Only when they reached the second floor and entered a large room did she regain her footing on the floor.

        "What's this?" Daria asked, her monotone voice leeching any emotion from the statement.

  <"Found her snooping around downstairs," replied the burly henchman. When the grip relaxed, Loharo indignantly pulled herself free. As she glanced around, she found an unfurnished room filled with long wooden crates. On one side of the room, Faith Connally was bound, gagged and blindfolded and listening intently. On the other side, near the crates, was a bound, gagged and blindfolded blonde woman wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans and a tacky western blouse.

        "DONNA!" Loharo shrieked, lurching for the woman. Her captor quickly jerked her back and covered her mouth again, but the outburst had been enough. Both Donna Young and Faith Connally, recognizing the voice, began excitedly gurgling into their gags.

        "What a happy reunion," mumbled Daria flatly.

        "What is all this!" demanded Loharo after she jerked her mouth away from the grasp of the man holding her. "Why did you kidnap Donna? Why are you holding them here?"

        "I'll ask the questions, if you don't mind," replied Daria. "Why are you here?"

        Loharo glared at the woman.

        "The police found a woman dead this morning," Loharo said, almost
defiantly. "She was identified as Donna Young. I came looking for her address book, so I could notify any next of kin." Loharo glanced over at the tied up Donna squirming frantically on the floor. "Guess she was misidentified, huh?"

        "How'd she die?" Daria asked neutrally.

        "She was tied to a tree and executed," Loharo replied, then sprouted a vengeful gleam in her eye. "Shot in the chest at close range. The Constable thinks Dennis Flynn did it."

        Daria's demeanor seemed to crack ever so slightly and Loharo savored it.

        "Well, that cinches it," Daria replied calmly. "Tie her up. We're closing down."

        The burly man moved immediately to obey, dragging the struggling Loharo over to the wall next to the exit. As he forced her to the floor, Daria walked out. Amid a chorus of muffled protests from the other captives, Loharo fought to prevent being tied up. Inexorably, she felt rope draw tight around her wrists. As rope closed over her chest, Daria returned to the room with the notebook computer. She plugged the modem cord into the wall jack and booted up.

        "What is going on here?" demanded Loharo, wincing as the rope constricted her torso.

        Daria ignored her. As Arthur began binding Loharo's legs, the
bespectacled woman calmly typed on the keyboard of the laptop. Loharo watched the screen intently, even as her hands wriggled in the grip of the constricting cords. The computer screen blinked a message - - "dialing, please wait" - - for a few moments. Arthur drew the cords around her knees tight and Loharo wished she was wearing her usual black jeans. Her violet skirt offered no protection for her legs. Movement on the computer screen drew her attention back. A
videophone image was forming on the screen. That was impressive technology. This had to be more than some sort of smuggling operation.

        Then sensation drained out of her body for a moment. Even though she'd never met him, Loharo recognized the face on the screen. Donna had talked him up enough times, even showed her pictures of him. She remembered how grateful Donna was to him for the job and how impressed she'd been with the man during their personal meeting.

        "That's Travis Grant!" Loharo gasped. Her exclamation drew muffled gurgles of surprise from Donna and Faith.

        "We've got problems, sir," Daria said to the computer. "Denise Thompson is dead. The police think Flynn killed her. I concur."

        "Why would he do that?" asked Grant, his mild Texas drawl a subtle color in his voice.

        "I tried to have him terminated in a way that wouldn't draw attention to the operation," explained Daria. "It missed. Now I think he's sending us a message. In addition, we've captured two people snooping around. They're no threat, but there's no telling how close the police are. In my opinion, the operation's hopelessly compromised. I intend to shut it down."

        "Shut it down!" roared Grant. He was obviously a man used to getting his way. "Need I remind you how important this operation is to me, Ms. Morgan? This little rat hole in Maine is the perfect launching point for the invasion!"

        "Invasion?" gasped Loharo silently.

        "Those Canadian bastards have been dragging this continent down for decades! They have as many resources as we do, but no one in the goddamn country has the balls to know how to exploit it properly! They can't succeed! Their economy's down the tubes! Their GNP is a joke! Hell, they can't even decide which goddamn language to speak!"

        "Mr. Grant," Daria tried to interject.

        "The bunch of pansies'll fold at the first sign of American's with guns! But we need an embarkation point! I will have that country, Ms. Morgan! Do you understand?!"

        "Perfectly," Daria replied neutrally. "But your plan can't succeed here. Not any longer. Flynn took care of that. If we fold up here and move to our fallback embarkation point before the plot is discovered, we have that much more chance of succeeding quickly and with little resistance or casualties. You said you trusted my judgment, didn't you?"

        Grant was silent on the other side.

        "It is my judgment that if you try to force the plan through in this location, you will be stopped."

        "Probably will, too," muttered Grant. "What do you expect from a state that produced Ed Muskie. Can you salvage the weapons you have?"

        "Not enough time, sir."

        "Goddamn it! Those were state of the art munitions! What do you think I am, made of money?"

        "Sir, I've seen your last quarterly statement."

        "Well I didn't get to be made of money by spending it recklessly! All right, fall back to the second point! We'll just have to restart the timetable is all!" Grant leaned into the screen. "But I am growing impatient, Ms. Morgan. We need to get this done before those lousy canucks manage to screw North America over any further - - or before some do-gooder here in the States gets wind of this and tries to stop us. You read me?"

        "Yes, sir," Daria said, severing the connection and unplugging the modem.

        Loharo felt her head reeling. A Texas billionaire was planning to launch an invasion of Canada through little Skeffington's Harbor? If she hadn't just witnessed it, she'd never believe it. Hell, she witnessed it and she still couldn't believe it. Her fellow captives seemed as stunned as she was. Donna just leaned against a crate, her blindfolded eyes staring down at the floor. Faith had grown quiet, even reducing her struggles to a minimum, while she tried
to comprehend what she'd heard.

        "Is he serious?" Loharo asked.

        "Why wouldn't you think he was serious?" Daria asked deadpanned. "Don't billionaires launch military strikes against foreign countries every day?"

        "He can't possibly think he'll succeed," Loharo retorted.

        "He wouldn't do it if he didn't think he could succeed."

        "And you buy into this crazy plan?"

        "Not for a second," Daria said, walking over to one of the far crates. "This is a pipe dream. It doesn't have a chance in a billion of succeeding. If the Canadian forces don't dispose of Mr. Grant's band of mercenaries and Sunday soldiers within two days of the operation, the United States will send in forces of their own to round them up and end the embarrassment. Maybe you didn't notice, but Travis Grant's got a screw loose."

        "Then why are you working for him?"

        "Because his checks have a lot of zeroes and they don't bounce."

        Daria pulled open the lid on a crate and stuck her hand inside. She pulled out seven sticks of what looked like dynamite taped together in a bundle with black electrical tape. Loharo's eyes grew wide.

        "We'll fold this operation up and move to some other little border town in Maine or New Hampshire. Maybe upper New York so we can use the St. Lawrence to bring in the munitions instead of transporting them overland. And when the 'invasion' starts, I'll disappear with my nice fat bank account and let Mr. Grant buy his way out of things when it blows up in his face."

        "Is that dynamite?" Loharo heaved. Her fellow captives grew agitated at the mention of dynamite.

        "No." Loharo relaxed. "They're incendiary flares. They burn very hot in open spaces. In enclosed rooms, they tend to very quickly engulf them in fire."

        "Mmmmmmph!" cried Donna.

        "Arthur, get a timer and hook this up," Daria said, handing the sticks to the burly man.

        "What are you going to do?" whispered Loharo, fearing she knew the answer already.

        "Arthur sets a time-delay fuse on that incendiary. That gives us a chance to load any essential papers and equipment up and leave. Then the incendiary ignites and burns this cottage down, taking with it these incriminating crates of guns, ammunition and explosives, and three very troublesome witnesses who could implicate us in the future." Daria's calm manner made her pronouncement of their death sentence seem like a college lecture. She walked over and knelt
behind Loharo. "Now open wide so I can put this gag in."

        Loharo's jaw snapped shut, even as a chorus of muffled pleas came from the other prisoners. Undaunted, Daria balled her hand into a fist and slammed it into the black woman's kidney.

        "Owwwwwwwwmmmmmpph!" howled Loharo, her cry of pain cut off by the wad of cloth jammed into her mouth. She tried to force it out, but black electrical tape held it in. Soon her mouth was covered by the sticky black tape. Daria pushed off the woman and ascended to her feet. She looked to Arthur, who had the incendiary sticks on top of the crate near Donna and was wiring a timer to the ignition caps.

        "Don't take too long," Daria said. "I don't want to be here when this place goes up."

        Loharo looked up at the device in Arthur's hands. Her chest heaved with the adrenal rush she was feeling, a rush spurred both by her recent assault and by the naked fear she felt over the prospect of looking death squarely in the face for the third time in three days.

Continued . . .

Story is (c)2000 by Bill Kropfhauser

Chapter twelve.

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