Michael is an avid content creator and researcher who likes to explore challenging themes through creative writing.
No one saw it coming.
It was just an ordinary summer afternoon like any other. The street was filled with pedestrians, shoppers moving to and fro, delivery persons running their usual errands, businessmen hastening to key appointments, local college students leaving the public libraries, vendors promoting their wares. Vehicles of various makes and models formed steady processions on either side of the paved median strip with an occasional cyclist attempting to maneuver their way through the traffic.
However, some did notice the black fumes emanating from the bonnet of the chrome BMW 2 Series parked directly in front of the high court. Some managed to draw the attention of the guards posted on duty within the grounds of the tall building. But before anyone could react, the normality of the afternoon setting was abruptly and unceremoniously shattered by a deafening explosion.
Shattered glass mingled with vehicle parts became airborne - the radiator, trunk, bumper, hood, hubcaps and wheel parts - as massive yellow flames erupted and covered the area where the car had been. Cries and screams rent the air as pedestrians everywhere either dove to the ground or scattered in every direction, bumping into each other in a wild panic to flee the scene. Parents instinctively grabbed their children and took cover, motorists swerved away from the blast radius, petrified vendors beat a hasty retreat into their stores, while everyone else crouched behind stationary cars or anything else that gave some semblance of shelter.
In all the surrounding buildings, office workers abandoned their desks and filed to the windows at the noise of the explosion and watched the unfolding spectacle below. As soon as the smoke and dust began to settle, figures could be seen dragging fallen bodies away from the scene to start administering first aid. Several onlookers were already on their cell phones contacting law enforcement.
It wasn’t long before the sound of a siren was heard from a distance. Soon, teams of first responders began converging on the area - paramedics attending to the wounded, firefighters battling the flames, officers of the law cordoning off the area and intervening to bring order to the chaos. Reporters and other media representatives had caught wind of the incident as well and were on their way.
The unexpected had transpired and shattered a normal afternoon in the city.
No one knew why.
No one of course, except a single lawyer quietly watching the scene unfolding below him from his office window high up on the 8th floor of the court building. He knew. He still recalled the feeling that came upon him as he read the threatening message he received that very morning on his smartphone. As now as he watched firefighters dousing the flames on the fragmented remains of his vehicle he could almost recite it verbatim.
You have stepped over the line this time, Ryan Thornton. You will pay!
At the police headquarters, Garrett Henderson remained adamant.
No amount of questioning could make him retract the string of statements he had already provided. Throughout the hours of questioning, he stuck to his story and vehemently denied any association with the shocking incident of the previous day. This, despite the fact the local police had managed to track him down rather swiftly based on the fact that the source of the threatening message was the suspect’s own mobile phone, sufficiently damning evidence for officers to haul him in for questioning.
Ryan received the news concerning the man they had in custody with mixed feelings. It was undeniably clear that the message came from the suspect's phone, but were they really questioning the right person or barking up the wrong tree?
He contemplated the facts. Henderson claimed the reason he was headed out of town in a hurry when the police caught up with him, was that he was on his way to take care of a family emergency and not distancing himself from the crime like a fugitive of the law as they had presupposed. His story seemed to check out, but that could have been instigated prior to the offense as a way of covering his own tracks. Still, further investigation revealed there was not only evidence and a real crime scene, but more importantly there was motive. Henderson's own brother had been recently incarcerated after losing out on a complex drug and human trafficking case in which Ryan had been the prosecuting lawyer.
However, something about this matter seemed curiously odd as far as Ryan was concerned. It was all too straight. The more he pondered the matter, the more it felt somewhat staged. Would a perpetrator have the audacity to concoct a plot of vengeance of such proportions, execute it right at the doorstep of the law, and yet leave a digital trail that pointed straight back to him? Though the results of the polygraph the suspect had agreed to take were inconclusive, Ryan’s inquisitive nature and professional experience did not permit him to accept the claim that case against the Henderson was airtight.
Later that evening, the lawyer had just finished supper together with his 15-year-old daughter with whom they shared a spacious apartment in the suburbs. He cleaned up before heading to his private study to prepare notes for an upcoming trial. He could tell that news of the incident had shaken Avery to the core. He did all he could as a father to reassure her that there was no need to be anxious. The police had already launched a full-scale investigation, federal agents were involved, so it would only be just a matter of time. For her sake of course, he kept his own views concerning the suspect they had apprehended to himself.
The officer who had dropped him home had promised to stop by the following morning to check on both of them, disclosing an ongoing arrangement to provide the two of them full protection in case the situation worsened or threats persisted. Officers were however convinced that Henderson, the man they had in custody, was connected to the previous day’s incident and all was missing now was a full confession.
That night in his study room, Ryan folded his arms and glanced over the documents on his desk. One of the files he had brought home with him contained copies of the most recent controversial cases that he had been involved in, cases involving individuals whom he recalled as having to a degree expressed a desire for retribution against him. He pushed aside the notes he had been preparing for the upcoming trial, reached instead for this file and began flipping through its contents, starting from the most recent case.
A sudden noise arrested his attention.
He paused and listened again.
The sound of movements was not unusual this late at night. They had neighbors who were typically in no hurry to retire on most nights. It could also simply have been Avery, heading for the kitchen to grab a drink from the fridge as it really had been a hot day.
There it was again. This time, he knew it was right there in their own apartment.
Ryan closed the file he had been reviewing and replaced it on the desk. He edged closer to the window and took a brief peek outside. Everything was quiet. Next, he moved out of the study into the corridor, stopping for a few moments to check on Avery. From the moonlight shining through the window, he could make out her outline, quietly reposed with her favorite summer bedspread over her figure. He gently closed the door behind him and proceeded quietly toward the living room.
On the way, he stopped by the kitchen. Even with the lights off, he could see that it was clear. But before he could turn his attention to the lounge, a shadow passed over him.
He spun round, his body charged with adrenaline.
“Dad, look out!” Avery’s voice sailed through the corridor, followed by a thud, a grunt of pain and a scuffle.
Ryan instantly flipped the on the switch and as light flooded in, the source of the commotion became obvious. A tall, gray-suited figure was hunched over, retreating back towards the wall and struggling with a bundle which turned out to be a girl in her pajamas perched with her arms around his neck and chest.
Had it been in better circumstances, Ryan would have likely doubled up with laughter at the scene.
He presently raised his hand. “Avery its OK. This is just Warren from the office.”
At that, his daughter let go of the newcomer and dropped back onto her feet. Warren straightened up and adjusted his coat and collar.
“Impressive grip,” said Warren clearing his throat with one hand on his neck as he regained his composure.
“A chokehold” came the girl's correction. “And you’re welcome.”
The man turned to Ryan. “You’ve trained her well.”
“Well, it’s what you get for sneaking about without notice. Warren, what on earth---”
The newcomer raised his hands. “I know, I know. I apologize for breaking in on you unannounced at such a late hour. But you have not been answering your phone and colleagues have been concerned about you after the latest incident. So I had to come over and check on you. I saw the light in your room and let myself in through the kitchen. I did not want to wake your daughter up in case she was sleeping (which apparently did not work). Unfortunately, my memory did not improve the situation at all as I failed to recall where the light switch was since my last visit here.”
He turned to Avery who was still watching both of them with her arms crossed, leaning against the wall next to her bedroom door. Warren gestured toward her apologetically, “Sorry for giving you and your Dad such a fright. I did not mean to do so. Just came over to check whether you were OK.”
Ryan moved over to her daughter and stroked her hair. “You definitely have your mom's courage. Goodnight, princess. I’ll come check on you later.”
Avery smiled up at him, cocked her head slightly and rolled her eyes in mock exasperation before returning to her room and shutting the door behind her.
The grin was still on his face as he walked back to Warren and motioned for him to follow as he walked into the kitchen. He had almost forgotten that both he and Warren had keys to each other’s apartments and even drove each other’s cars whenever the need arose or they needed to spend extra time working on important cases. They trusted each other that way.
As Warren made himself comfortable on the dining table, Ryan moved to the fridge. “Can I fix you something, sir?”
“Not at all. Don’t bother yourself. I already ate after work." Then his hand went to his abdomen. "Your daughter almost got rid of it though.”
“I was unreachable on phone because I handed it in this morning to the detectives and I believe it has been on silent mode since then," Ryan explained. "How did you get here? I didn’t see your car outside.”
“I couldn’t find any ample parking so I left it about two blocks away and walked the rest of the way instead.”
“Well, I’ll just make some coffee for the two of us.”
“Yep. coffee is fine with me, bro.”
As the coffee machine brewed on, Ryan began bringing his colleague up to speed with the latest developments in the ongoing investigation.
“...and they’re planning to provide some protection to ensure Avery and I are safe.” He concluded.
“Wise move. Have they shared with you where exactly your new location will be?”
“No, that has not been disclosed yet, but--”
Suddenly, the sound of shattering glass followed by a piercing scream cut through their conversation. Instantly, Ryan sprang from his seat, bolted from the kitchen and hurried across the corridor with Warren close behind him. As he burst into his daughter’s room and flipped on the switch, he was stunned by the sight that met him.
Shattered pieces of glass were strewn all over the floor. Avery sat up on the bed with her back against the headboard, her arms around her drawn-up knees and the bedspread high up to her chest. Ryan immediately moved over to the smashed window and stared over the ledge at the street below. He was just in time to see a hooded figure retreating into the shadows on the opposite side of the building.
He turned his attention to his daughter. “Are you OK?”
The girl nodded, shaken but self-controlled. In the meantime, Warren had gone down on one knee and removing a handkerchief from his side pocket, was turning something over amid the pieces of glass.
“Look,” he said in a solemn tone as Ryan approached. He lifted up the object and they both examined it under the bedroom light. It was a heavy projectile, bigger than the size of a man’s hand. Attached to it was a note. It read:
We are watching you and your daughter!
© 2018 Michael Duncan