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Battle of Wills

By Marolyn Caldwell All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Fantasy

Chapter 18

They all found places to sit while they picnicked. Jeff leaned against the wall near Lorie and drew his knees up. The high boot tops provided a prop for the paper plate which bridged his knees. The sun would take its time going down, he told them. He had calculated sundown, courtesy of the computer, at just about eight forty-five. The hands on Lorie’s watch showed it was exactly five p.m. She knew their efficient crew was going out the gate in the Clark’s trucks, beginning the roundabout drive back to Randolph City. She hoped none of the guards had been smart enough to count the number of workers Ginny had brought in as compared to the number who had left. But then, some of those workers had been concealed in the trucks. And, she thought, probably the guards weren’t very bright to start with.

“When do the guards change out?” Randy asked.

“Good question,” Mac said. “I’m sure the same five guys aren’t here twenty-four/seven.”

“Ginny Clark just happened to ask them,” Jeff said with a mischievous grin. “They work twelve hour shifts. Five new men come out at eight for night duty. Apparently it was hard to find locals who wanted to be here at night, so they upped the paycheck. Hopefully they’ll all be on site when we put on our performance.”

“Ten people? Will it be dark enough by eight?” Randy asked.

Jeff said with a grin like a little boy with a frog in his pocket, “Oh, they won’t be here until after it’s dark.”

Mac grinned back. “I won’t even ask. Surprise me.”

As they were eating, Randy asked the detective, “What have you turned up on the weapon used on Jeff? You should have seen him, Mac. He was bleeding like a stuck pig. I still don’t understand why the guy’s so healthy now.” He grinned at Jeff. “Must be that beautiful nurse lady sitting beside you.”

Jeff winked at him and nodded vigorously. Lorie grinned shyly, pretending innocence.

“We still don’t know what he was shot with,” Mac interjected. “The only thing close to matching those fragments of shot the doctor picked out of your side, Jeff, was minie balls. Thank god those aren’t used any more. If it had been a real one, you’d have been dead!”

Lorie reached for Jeff’s hand. It was warm. “What if,” he said softly, directing his question to Mac while he slid his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer, “a theoretical soldier jumped out of a car going at highway speed and rolled into a deep ravine?”

“You’re talking about our investigation, I assume?” Mac said sharply.

“If I’m to ask Rolf Maratti certain questions about the shirt with his name on it, these are things I should know. Would that soldier have broken limbs?”

“Not necessarily.” Mac was careful with his response. “It would depend on how he landed. If he were a trained paratrooper—and if he landed correctly on soft dirt and it slid under him, which seems likely in this case given the evidence, he could have escaped major injury.”

“If, in this theoretical case,” Jeff said with equal care, “he had a pretty good idea where he wanted to go, how far could he have gone barefoot in that ravine at night, say, the night of the 18th, with very little to cover his body?”

“It’s pretty wet in some spots down there because of the terrific storms that came through last week and the flooding that came with it. But despite that,” Mac said, just as carefully, “if he had been wearing heavy socks it would have been easier on his feet and he could have moved pretty fast—if he’d been trained to do that kind of thing. And in fact, I understand we found that type of item this morning, Randy. Two GI issue reinforced socks, at places far distant from each other. One was fairly close to where you came up the bank, Jeff.”

“Now I’m not saying it was me,” Jeff said softly, “because I don’t remember doing any of these things. But if … ”

“Go ahead,” Mac said. Randy was listening intently.

“If he was very cold and he felt something under his hand, perhaps an old battlefield grave that had opened up during a washout because of a sudden rainstorm, and that grave held a Confederate uniform … ?”

“You mean the real Major Preston’s uniform?” Mac sucked in his breath. “If you’re asking—would clothing last that long?—I’d say it would be very unlikely, unless it had been buried pretty deep. Cotton degrades quickly.” He was quiet for a few moments, thinking. “Wool, on the other hand,” he said slowly, tentatively, “and leather—animal products—might last for awhile under the right conditions. In museums I’ve seen clothing that was buried that long, or longer, reconstituted so it’s almost as good as new. If the clothing is sewn with cotton thread, though, it would pull apart. And likewise the shoes.”

“But if the wool clothing were sewed with woolen thread because the seamstress had a feeling against using Southern cotton picked by slaves, and the shoes were hand-sewn with thin strips of leather because of the same reasoning—?”

“It’s something to think about,” Mac said softly. “We haven’t examined the uniform and shoes with that in mind. Would you like us to?”

“I’m not saying that’s what happened,” Jeff said quickly.

“We haven’t found a grave, exactly,” Randy said very softly. “A few bones—old ones, so we didn’t get very excited, although we kept them for the professors to date. We like to rebury soldier’s bones, out of respect. I suppose it’s possible—could we have just found . … ?”

“I’m just theorizing,” Jeff said. Lorie leaned her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes. A lump had come into her throat once again and she was beginning to tear up, whether she wanted to or not. She knew exactly what he was thinking.

There was quiet in the room for a time. Then Jeff said, “If you fellows want to catch up on your sleep before the show begins, there are rooms upstairs with comfortable beds in them. And I know of an inside staircase so you can get there without being seen.”

“Sounds tempting,” Randy said. “I’m on leave, but Mac’s been doing double duty, because what he’s doing here is on his own time. But even if we don’t nap, I sure as hell want to see this inside staircase!”

Mac chuckled. “So do I. This is by far the most interesting house I’ve ever visited.”

Jeff grinned at them again and pushed himself to his feet. He offered Lorie a hand up.

“Right behind me.” He turned and with a few motions of his hand unlatched a panel in the wall he’d been leaning against. It swung outward, revealing a narrow staircase going steeply up into darkness.

“Good grief!” Lorie said.

“Who goes first?”

Mac put up his hand. He pulled out his flashlight and started to climb. “There’s a big latch on the wall up there,” Jeff said.

“I see it,” Mac said softly. “Very cool.” His voice faded into emptiness.

Randy was next, followed by Lorie with Jeff just behind. For some time they quietly explored the many rooms of the mansion’s second floor. Many were bedrooms, beautifully furnished. Some were modern workrooms for staff, if any were on site. And there were a couple of bathrooms, which everyone agreed might prove useful.

“Don’t flush,” Jeff cautioned. “Someone might notice.”

“Good point,” said Randy.

Each policeman picked a room with a single bed. Jeff left Lorie in a beautiful large bedroom at the front. The four-poster was elegantly canopied. She walked to the windows and pushed the draperies open just enough to see that it was a door that cut through the wall, not a window, and that it opened onto the filigree balcony that hung over the big front door.

When Jeff returned he told her he had been handing out blankets and towels. He had brought a lightweight blanket for her. “Will you join me?” she said. She had already dropped her moccasins to the floor and stretched out on top of the lacy white coverlet. Her head was resting comfortably on a soft pillow. He spread the blanket across her.

“I can’t allow myself to fall asleep, precious wife.”

“Programmable cell phones with alarms are one of the finer luxuries of modern life.” She held hers up, smiling.

He sat on the edge of the bed, thinking. Then wearily he pushed the boots off his legs and feet, dropped the belt and jacket onto a chair, and came under the blanket with her. He was wearing a close fitted long-sleeved black knit shirt, but she knew every muscle of his chest and arms by heart. He held her tightly against him at first. As sleep took him his arms relaxed, and he slumped away from her onto his back. She couldn’t close her eyes. She needed to keep him in her vision as long as she was able. His straw-colored hair was tousled like a little boy’s, his face handsome even in sleep, but the scar across his forehead was as ominous as a warning beacon. And strangely enough, in the light that was coming through the window she thought she saw the remains of another scar on his face. Right across his cheek bone. She would have to ask him about that. When his deep breathing became very regular she finally allowed herself to drift into an uneasy twilight doze.

She woke at once when the phone alarm started to vibrate. She moved to turn it off and he came awake instantly. “What time is it?”

“Seven thirty. Do you feel rested, my darling?”

He turned to look at her. Even through the lowering shadows she saw the smile in his blue eyes. “I do, Wife.” He came up on his arm, leaned over and kissed her lips, very tenderly. “There’s work to be done,” he said. He pushed himself up. A moment later he bent down again and whispered, “You’re so much softer—and prettier—than Randy’s three-times-great grandpa. He had whiskers. And you smell better, too.”

She didn’t mean to, but she laughed out loud.

He whacked her with a pillow. “Up, woman. I need help.”

In shadowy darkness, she folded the blanket, tucked it away in the closet and smoothed the bed. No one would know of their presence there.

Together they woke Randy and Mac, who both yawned and stretched, then smoothed their own bed coverings and quietly stashed the blankets in closets so no evidence of their presence was apparent to potential searchers.

“Just to make sure,” Jeff told them, handing out cereal bars and bottled drinks, “as soon as you’ve finished eating, could the two of you run checks on the equipment and see that everything is still working?”

“Yo, boss,” Randy answered. He unwrapped one of the bars and started to munch.

“Ewen Taylor is a genius,” Mac said. “These holograms he put together are like something out of science fiction movies. But they’re only about three-quarters large as life.”

“Ivan told me it’s all in the perception,” Jeff explained. “It will be dark outside. We’re only opening the curtains a crack. At a distance, given the circumstances, everything will loom larger than life. Lorie,” he turned to her, “come with me, please. We have to switch a picture and place some lights.”

In the semidarkness of the upstairs hall she watched as Jeff simultaneously pressed the centers of two blossoms in the ornately carved chair rail. The door to the hidden staircase—concealed in plain sight in the wall itself—swung open. She saw Randy glance at Mac. The two men grinned. Both shook their heads and pulled out their small LED flashlights. “Awesome,” Randy said under his voice. He sounded like a kid with a favorite toy. “They want to tear down this house? No way!”

Back in the storage room, Jeff pushed open the doorway to the drawing room and Randy and Mac stepped carefully out, flashlights in hand. Closing the door softly behind them, Jeff switched on the storage room lights and uncovered the oil painting of the Confederate major. He held it up. “Not so bad,” he said appraisingly. “It was good cover while everyone thought I was a hero.”

“You were a hero,” Lorie answered defensively, and then modified her words. “Are a hero.”

He looked at her, smiled and said softly, “Thank you, dear one.” Once more he turned off the lights and opened the concealed door. Very quietly they came out into the drawing room. “One spotlight on Maria Maratti.” Jeff handed Lorie a small sheathed light. It was attached to its own electrical source, a heavy battery. She had been told by experts where it was to be placed to illuminate the picture over the fireplace, the portrait of a beautiful woman with sparkling diamonds at her neck … if their plans worked as anticipated. She helped Jeff take down and store the picture of Jon Randolph Third, and replaced it with the large portrait of a blue-eyed Confederate officer. “Second spotlight,” he whispered, handing it to her. “Maria should be revealed the minute he comes into the room. You will know when to turn on the second light. Do you have the remote switches?”

“I do.”

“Lorie, I want you, Mac and Randy all to be witnesses to what happens here if visitors come from town. Beside the fireplace there’s a viewing panel. I’ll show you where it is. Don’t reveal yourselves by making any sound, or by coming out—unless I ask you to—or until everyone is gone. Do you promise?”

Lorie’s tension increased. “What if someone has a gun, Jeff?”

“We will take this one step at a time, Lorena. You are going to have to trust me now. We will have help tonight far beyond what we can sense with our mortal bodies.”

Her breath stopped short. She felt her body going cold and raked in a deep breath of fresh sweet air, wondering when she would faint. “Are they here? Who are they?”

“They are.” He put his arms around her. “Don’t be afraid of what you don’t quite hear and see, my darling. The life forces in this house are all allies. Old battles will be fought out in the next few hours, loyalties will be tested, and if we on the front line can only stand bold, justice has a chance.” He pulled from the pocket of his uniform a folded piece of paper and handed it to her. “If anything happens to me … ” he put a finger to her lips to silence her immediate cry of distress, “ … you, Carol, her good doctor, and the Baileys must continue the fight. I have made some sketches and a list of some of the things that might have been taken. Riverside here; Fox Haven here. The only thing of great value that I would like you to reclaim if you find it—no matter what happens to me—is the African vase Moses made for Sara when she turned sixteen. It is very large, very heavy and covered with paintings of African animals. He called it his ‘ancestor’ vase, and he took special pains with it.”

“Would raiders have thought it valuable?” she asked. “Maybe it was destroyed.”

“Moses’s African art work was purchased by many of the planters. He was an artistic genius and they knew it. He had studied art with masters in England and France. It’s obvious these bushwackers were aware of Moses’s worth. They would not have let a piece of his artwork slip through their fingers when they burned Sara’s house. It was far more valuable than his little African table. I want you to have it, Lorie. Now, what time is it?”

“It’s eight p.m.,” she said. Nerves she didn’t realize she possessed were beginning to vibrate throughout her body.

“I’m going out,” he said. “You will see me in about an hour. Don’t faint at what you see, Lorie. It is very important that you do not faint tonight.”

She swallowed hard. “Jefferson Richard Preston, I swear to you that I will not faint.” She held up her hand in true Girl Scout fashion, three middle fingers standing straight, and he smiled.

“Whatever that means, I’ll take it as a positive sign.” He pulled her close to him. She could smell every varied scent of him, his skin, his breath, his hair. She put her arms around his body and he tilted her head back with soft fingers and lowered his lips to hers.

“Come back to me,” she whispered. “Please come back to me.”

“Here’s something to keep in your mind while I am gone, Mrs. Lorena Manning Preston. I am determined to give you that fat little baby.”

“I know.” Tears welled in her eyes even through the unbidden laughter. She tried to brush them away, but still they came. “Be careful, Husband.”

“I love you more than life, Lorie. You be just as careful.” He saluted her. And then he was gone.

Shortly thereafter, the door opened and Randy and Mac entered, flashlights in hand. “Jeff said we should watch for our cues from the upstairs window,” Randy said. “Let’s go.”

Back they went up the hidden staircase and through the big house to the elegant bedroom at the front. The window faced to the west, toward the setting sun. In forty-five minutes the sun would slip down behind the trees. True darkness wouldn’t come earlier than nine, Lorie figured. Maybe a little later. They still had time to wait. Very carefully Lorie folded the edges of the draperies back, just enough for the watchers inside to view unobstructed the watchers outside.

They sat quietly for a time, observing guards pacing back and forth in front of the house. “Boring job in sweltering heat,” observed Randy. He waved his hand lightly. “I hope they’re getting lots of money for letting us sit here in blissful air-conditioned comfort.”

“I hope they’re not,” Mac said. “It’d be easier to quit.”

“Good point!” Randy said.

“Are either of you guys married?” Lorie asked them, suddenly curious. They both turned towards her, surprised. She shrugged. “Here we are, locked in an epic battle between good and evil, where any one of us might get shot or otherwise harmed, and I don’t know anything personal about you at all.”

“Point taken,” Randy said. “I’ll go first. One brother, one sister. Both married and living in far places. I’m free as a bird right now with only my parents to care, or care for. I’ve had my share of girlfriends. But right now I’m pretty focused on this case.” He paused briefly, and then added with irony, “Women don’t like that.”

“Likewise,” Mac said. “My wife of 20 years and mother of my two great kids claims she’s ready to divorce me because I’m so obsessed by this case. And except for the divorce part, I think she’s right. Those names you gave me, Lorie—Johnny McDaniels, lawyer; Ernest Merrill, developer; and Clint Samuels, developer—they’re pretty shady characters. All three of them. They’re known even within the community of developers—which is rough at best—as totally corrupt. But very wealthy. So they have power.”

“Of course,” Lorie said. “Have you found out anything about the two policemen?”

“Both bogus,” Mac said. “And someone in city hall must know it. As we supposed, something very bad is going down in Randolph City. We don’t have jurisdiction there. So if anything needs to be done we’ll have to call in the state cops. Or federal agents, if it warrants that.”

“When would we do that? And how?”

“We could alert them right away,” Mac replied, “and have them ready to move if anything gets out of hand. Once we have something specific to tell them.”

“Like what?”

“I really don’t know.”

“That’s kind of vague, isn’t it?” Lorie said.

“Well,” Randy put in, “that’s the problem with this case. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. For instance, how do we explain ‘haunting a house’ to somebody? As far as I can see, we’re the only people who’ve broken any laws. Trespassing, for instance. Except the murderers, of course. And we haven’t even proved conclusively that anyone was murdered. Or who the murderers might be.”

Lorie nodded. “I see what you mean.”

“But there is the problem of the guy who went into the ravine,” Mac added. “That’s very real. And in our jurisdiction. Jeff’s wounds were real, too. Perhaps tonight we’ll discover if there’s a connection. I don’t believe in coincidences any more than Randy does.”

They continued to chat and speculate softly as the sun went down in the western sky, leaving beautiful gold, red and white streaks behind. As the sky got darker, however, Lorie began to see clouds rising just above the treeline. “Rain?” she asked. The clouds started to scud low across the sky from southwest to northeast.

“Is that what the weather forecast called for?” Randy said. “I hate to think we’ll lose more evidence ….”

“We’re in the mountains,” Mac reminded him. “Marietta’s a different weather system.”

“Oh, sure,” Randy said in a low voice. “I’m getting rattled.”

Lorie glanced at her watch. “It’s nine. Look how the guards are checking out the road. No replacements yet. They’re an hour late.”

The night was even darker when Lorie saw the lights of two cars driving up to the new gate. Angry voices were heard from below. Randy cracked the balcony door open so they could hear what was going on.

“We couldn’t of got here any sooner,” one of the arriving men said. He was illuminated by the car headlights at the open gate. The yard light in the parking lot finally came on. “The road was blocked.”

“With what?” another voice said.

“Kids with dogs goin’ coon huntin’,” another voice said. “They was probly a dozen boys, an’ about forty dogs, and they’d got a coon treed in a big ol’ pine, and to git the coon they’d chopped the tree down and it fell right acrost that there road. They wasn’t a’gonna help us git the tree outa the road neither, ‘cause them dogs started off again, bayin’ like crazy, and the boys just rushed along after ‘em, and they left us with the tree to chop up and clear the road. We only just now got finished haulin’ the tree off.”

“Well, that better not happen again,” someone said. Lorie recognized the voice. Moultrie.

“Officious son-of-a-bitch,” she said under her voice, but Randy was chuckling softly beside her, while Mac was trying with a lot of effort to keep his laughter under control.

“I bet about half of them thar boys had red hair,” he said in a smothered voice and all of a sudden Lorie started to giggle.

Suddenly the voices of the men below went silent.

“What was that?” one of them said.

Her giggles stopped abruptly.

“Show time,” Mac said softly.

“Sounds like a horse comin’ up the road.” Another voice. “What’s a horse doin’ out there in the dark?”

A wind commenced, swaying the tops of the trees, causing the branches to rub against each other with strange gentle moans. Strange thing, Lorie thought, the way the weather was playing this game with them. Could Sara influence the weather? Well, they would see!

“I still hear it.” The man outside sounded a little uncertain. “It’s pickin’ up speed.”

“That’s our cue,” Randy said. “The party is about to begin.”

Since it was obvious no one was now watching the house, Randy and Mac headed quickly toward the main staircase. A continuing drum of hoofbeats could be heard, very softly at first, but without question approaching the house from the depths of the dark forest. Flashlights were brought out. A searchlight pointed toward the forest and then the road. Nothing. The searchlight went out suddenly. Then, one by one, all the flashlights failed.

Even the yard light failed. In utter darkness there was now only the sound of hoofbeats—faster, nearer—and then the wind rose, wailing and sighing. A bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. The shadowy figures of the guards at the tall gate seemed to move closer together. Thunder rumbled. Somebody got back into one of the cars and headlights came on—then blinked out.

“What the hell’s wrong with the lights?” Panic. Car doors opening. Slamming shut.

Swirling gray clouds continued to move in from the west, threatening to consume the sky.

Over the wind the hoof beats could again be heard. “What is it?” The tempo picked up. Then out of the dark came a high-pitched, wild, nerve-shattering scream. Lorie gripped the edge of the bed. She had never heard anything that sounded quite like that ….

A moment later a black horse glowing with eerie green light burst through an opening in the trees far below, racing toward the fence and the parking lot . The rider was unmistakably a Confederate officer, plumed hat firmly set atop his head, saber at ready. Ragged lightning illuminated the sky behind him as he mounted the hill. He reined in his black horse only for a moment when he saw the men waiting at the open gate. He thrust his saber aloft. Sparks flew off its edge. Once again a wild high cry echoed through the night. The guards backed away and began a quick general retreat toward the house.

“Shut the gate,” someone screamed. It was swinging open very slowly. Two shadowy figures ran back to try. At that moment a blinding flash split the sky, thunder cracked and both halves of the gate exploded into the air. The men went down, picked themselves up, and then sat down again. Finally able to regain their footing, they bolted for the cars. One car regained its lights. Spinning dirt, it headed out of the parking lot.

“Hey, wait for me,” another man yelled, stumbling in his haste. The car paused, the man disappeared. With the snap of a car door shutting, it sped away, giving wide berth to the approaching horseman.

The other men scrambled toward the house. Stopped cold. “What’s that?”

Now Lorie heard music reverberating through the old house below her, melancholy music, an old Civil War dirge. “Who is that?” A panicky voice. Men turning. “That’s a lady sitting there in the window.”

And then words tumbling about: “No one was inside there.” “She’s there. Look.” “No, look there. It’s a little kid.” “Oh my god!” Almost a scream.

Two more men stampeded toward the parking lot. A second car took off with a screech of spinning tires.

As the charging horse passed through the gate and approached the house, the rider rose in his saddle. Once more the banshee scream. Horse and rider broke away toward the gardens to the south, toward the memorial.

“Oh shit!” someone yelled. “It’s the Major. It’s the Major. He’ll see the monument’s broken. Let’s git outta here! He’ll think we done it!”

“Ah din’t break it!”

“He won’t ask questions!”

The sound of hoofbeats faded. An instant of quiet before shocked words erupted again.

“Somebody’s dancing in there.”

“Somebody’s in the house. Look there.”

Through her half-opened drape, Lorie saw the glowing black horse sweep suddenly around to the front from the north side. It skidded to a halt in front of the portico, reared, its high whinny cutting through the air. Front hooves dropped and the Confederate officer could be seen once again, sitting straight in the saddle, glowing saber now lowered and pointed toward the remaining guards, who backed away slowly, step by uncertain step as the horse moved toward them. From somewhere in the house soft eerie music wavered through the night.

“We’re leaving! We’re leaving! Please! Don’t hurt us! We didn’t bust your monument. It warn’t us!” `

Again the horse reared. The rider raised his saber high. A shaft of lightening illuminated the sky. Crashing thunder echoed across the hills.

“We’re going’!” In sheer panic all who had been left decamped at full cry toward the parking lot. Was that her Jeff now sitting watchful on the black horse below? That was not her Jeff. That soldier belonged to another time and place. Lorie felt a deep cold settling inside her bones.

Man and horse suddenly vanished from her view. She thought she heard muffled hoofbeats, quickly swallowed by the high wail of the wind. But she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that he was no longer there. Several of the men looked around when they reached their cars. “Where is he?” someone said, looking back. Terror!

A man pointed toward the spot where Lorie stood, mesmerized. “Who are those people up on the balcony?”

Could they see her? She was in deep shadow. They were not looking at her!

“Let’s get the hell outta here!”

A car motor started up, lights came on. Lorie saw that three people got into one car, two into the last. Both cars turned sharply and sped down the road faster than safety allowed, reflected headlights retreating through the trees.

People on the balcony? Right outside her window?

She backed up. Bumped into the bed. Sat down suddenly. As she watched, paralyzed, a sudden gust of wind blew the balcony door open and the heavy draperies apart. A beautiful young woman, illuminated by a strange light, stood right outside the door on the filigree balcony. She was dressed in a ball gown of the mid-eighteen hundreds. Her blond hair was bound up with fresh flowers. She turned to Lorie and smiled. Her eyes were blue as the skies. Or her brother’s. At her side was a tall black man in flowing African robes. He, too, had turned and was smiling at her, his teeth very white in his black face. The girl blew her a kiss and Lorie felt a rush of air against her cheek. The man raised his hand, as if in greeting. Or in blessing.

There was a scent in the bedroom that had not been there before. Honeysuckle? What else?

“I won’t faint,” Lorie said to herself. “I promised Jeff I wouldn’t faint.” She closed her eyes just for a moment and when she opened them again, the apparitions were gone.

She flopped backwards onto the bed. “I’m not fainting,” she said under her breath. “I promised not to faint.” She picked herself up, straightened the bed and shut the balcony door. Flashlight in hand she scurried down the main staircase to find Mac and Randy in the music room. She was breathing very hard. All her nerves were tingling.

“It was great, wasn’t it!” Randy said. By flashlight he and Mac were quickly disassembling the equipment, getting it ready for packing.

She didn’t answer him. Couldn’t if she had wanted to.

“Phone,” Randy said. He pulled it out of his pocket. “It’s Ewen.” He put it to his ear. “Great show!” he said with enthusiasm. “Horse and rider came through fine. How the hell did you do the green light thing? And the lightning sparks coming off the saber?” A pause. “You didn’t?” When the conversation ended, Randy was quiet for a moment. Then he laughed. “Wow! Jeff’s one step ahead of us every time we turn around.”

Silent, Lorie sat down until the trembling subsided.

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