Chapter 24

Digging through the freezer chest, Evangeline had chosen her weapons carefully. She knew she’d have one shot at disabling Hallam long enough to get out of the basement. She didn’t dare risk trying to sleep that night; instead, she crouched at the side of the stairs, waiting for her captor to make his entrance.

As the hours dragged on, she thought about how much she was looking forward to telling John and her mother about the baby. Yes, Lisa would be upset about the unplanned pregnancy, but Evangeline figured she’d be so happy to see her, she’d forgive her. As for John, she didn’t expect impending parenthood to change the way he felt about her, but she believed he would do everything he could to be a good father – even if that didn’t mean being her husband. She tried to picture his face when she told him she was pregnant: for once he’d have a good reason to be speechless. The image of John cradling a nut-brown, blue-eyed baby boy made her smile. She hugged the frozen pot roast in her lap a little tighter.

Evangeline heard the click of the light switch outside the basement door, but the room stayed dark. Then came the clack of the deadbolt sliding back. From her hiding place she could see Hallam’s silhouette at the top of the stairs.

"Goddamn light bulb!" he hollered glaring down at the darkness. Evangeline noticed he hadn’t said, "Goddamn nigger" – he must have thought the bulb just blew. "Nigger! Where you at?" he hollered as he ventured down a couple of steps. Still not far enough for her to get a good shot at his head. "Girl, don’t make me come after you. You know I’m armed and ready."

She remained silent. After a moment, he retreated up the stairs and locked the door behind him. Her heart sank. She was counting on him coming down those stairs in the dark. If he didn’t, what was she going to do?

* * * * *

Randall Muxworthy’s head was still spinning. He sat in the passenger seat of the black SUV leading the department caravan deep into the Pennsylvania backwoods to the farmstead where they assumed his father was holding Evangeline Williamson. Dennis was driving – it almost looked like old times in the squad car except Lt. McBain and Commissioner Buchanan were sitting behind them. Randall half-expected that if he turned his head, he’d find John’s gun trained on him.

Slowly dawn was bleaching the night out of the sky as they traveled deeper into the woods. It had only taken a few minutes for Randall to piece the story together for the detectives – how he’d been estranged from his father since his brother accidentally murdered their youngest sister, how this evening had been one of the rare times he’d seen Hallam since they’d both come to Pennsylvania, how his father had a real hate on for all people of color and most whites. How he didn’t want to believe it, but he supposed Hallam could be behind the string of Killing Club murders and the one who abducted Evangeline Williamson. How his father had cut the evening short when he’d mentioned the rumor she was pregnant. How Hallam had looked like a man about to die, a man with something to prove.

It had taken Dennis and Bo twice as long to convince John that Randall should accompany them to pick up his father. John was so ready to believe Randall had a hand in the hellish mess, he wanted to lock him up on the spot. Bo only got him to back off when he made John see that they might need Randall to talk Hallam into releasing Evangeline. Bo added, "And you know what the counselor is like: she wouldn’t want us locking up Randall without the evidence to bring charges against him."

John felt a sharp pain at the base of his throat, remembering how good Evangeline was, how quick to defend the defenseless. They often found themselves on the opposite sides of a case, each convinced they were on the side of the angels. He was ready to give his life to see her eyes flashing, even in anger, one more time.

The car was thick with dread and unspoken thoughts, each man imagining the horror that might greet them, one praying harder than the rest that Evangeline would be alive and well when they got there. The sound of tires on the rough road, the occasional ping of gravel against the wheels and the crackle of the radio was all they could hear over the thoughts whirring in their heads.

Bo reached over and squeezed John’s arm. "We’ll get her back," he said. John looked right through him.

* * * * *

When Hallam threw the door open a second time a few minutes later, he was preceded by the narrow yellow beam of a cheap flashlight. Evangeline ignored his chanting, "Here nigger, nigger, nigger. Here li’l nigger and your li’l mongrel baby." She could tell he thought too little of her to be afraid of her. She watched his long legs descending the stairs until finally she could see the top of his head. Just as he turned the light towards her, she heaved the frozen six-pound pot roast at his head.

Her aim was good and she put her weight into the throw. Whack! The round packet of meat hit him hard in the side of the face, knocking him off balance as he turned on the stairs. He stumbled and fell backwards, landing in a tangle of limbs just a few feet from where she crouched in the dark.

For a moment, Hallam was stunned. The flashlight flew out of his hand and rolled across the floor, its yellow beam aiming blind in the darkness. "You fucking bitch!" he roared. "I’m going to kill you!" Hearing Hallam fumbling to get up, she raised the wrapped leg of venison like a club and swung down at his head and shoulders as he scrabbled about on the ground. She felt the first blow connect with his body as he tried to raise up towards her. She heard him go, "Oooof!" and swung again. The deer leg was heavy but she was high on adrenaline. She swung a third time, bringing the leg directly down on his head.

Satisfied he was down, Evangeline clambered over Hallam, her foot digging into his bony leg as she started running up the stairs. She was about four steps from the top when she felt his rough, bony hands closing around her ankle.

"No!" she shouted as he grabbed her leg and pulled her towards him. Her legs flew out from under her as he jerked her downwards. Then "Unnh!" --- her belly smacked hard against the edge of the wooden stair, her chin slamming against the next step up. A sharp pain echoed through her body as her tender middle whammed into the wood. Her mouth filled with blood where she bit her tongue. She grappled for the edge of the next stair and donkey-kicked Hallam in the head with her free leg. She kicked him hard enough to get loose and make it to the top of the stairs.

Evangeline blinked in the bright dawn light pouring into the farmhouse windows. The first daylight she’d seen in days and the pain of the fall on the stairs disoriented her. The scent of bacon grease made her nauseous. She staggered a few steps into a kitchen, noticing a wooden table littered with the remains of Hallam’s breakfast between her and the front door. She had to go back and lock the basement door.

Bees roaring in her ears, the taste of dirty pennies in her mouth, she turned in time to see Hallam bearing down upon her, his pistol in his hand. He was winded and weak, but she could see the damnation in his red-rimmed eyes.

Evangeline reached for the large cast iron skillet still hot on the stove. She didn’t notice the handle burning her hand or the inch of hot fat in the bottom. As Hallam raised his gun and pointed it at her belly, she swung the heavy skillet like a tennis racket at his face. She heard his scream as the hot fat hit his eyes, then, a sickening crunch, the cracking of his skull. Hallam crumpled to the floor, hot fat searing his wasted face.

Evangeline dropped the pan, dodged around the kitchen table and headed for the door. She was almost there when the pain in her womb brought her to her knees. She looked down and saw a ragged trail of blood behind her. "Oh Christ!" she cried, feeling the wetness between her legs and cramping like a giant iron fist inside wringing out her innards. She could not lose this baby. She couldn’t let this madman take her child away from her.

She crawled for the door, jerked it open and grabbed onto the doorknob to try to pull herself up. Outside she could see a field of dry grass ringed with pine trees. A small white butterfly danced among some weeds. She could hear a bird singing and feel the sun already promising a hot day. Gasping and crying, she glanced down at the threshold in time to see something that made her blood run cold: a wire stretched across the doorframe, an inch from the bottom. Her glance traced the wire to a metal box in the corner. She crawled toward the box and saw it was strapped to a dozen sticks of dynamite. Whoever tripped that wire would blow up the house and everyone in it.

"Son of a bitch!" Evangeline wept, realizing Hallam planned to lure John across the threshold. She could see it now: Hallam would hold her in the doorway, knowing John would come running, tripping the wire as he fell into her arms, killing them all.