Surely there was no better solution. Every angle had been examined, and this was the most logical conclusion. It simply had to be done. Still, every precaution had to be taken to ensure success. The plan was reviewed again for the hundredth time; all of the details were accounted for. Certainly, some unforeseen circumstances would arise, but with careful planning and a willingness to act decisively, the scheme would be a success. After all, fortune favored the bold, and murder was bold, indeed.
The ride to the airport was a quiet one. It was the calm that comes with resolve. There was no turning back. It would have been more convenient if murder had not become necessary, but now that it had, there was no use shying away from the task. Problems like this had to be dealt with head-on.
As the wheels lifted off the runway and the airplane glided upwards, it was as if a huge weight was lifting. Once this was done, things would be better. The possibilities were endless…
* * * * *
Jill Pemberton stared down at the list as it lay beside her suitcase. Every item had been checked off, save one. She looked at her watch. Ten minutes until the driver would arrive to take her to the airport. Where had she put her bifocals?
At 45, she had officially crossed the threshold from needing single-vision glasses to needing bifocals. However, as a full-time author who worked most days staring at a computer screen, wearing bifocal lenses caused her to constantly need to tilt her head back to see the screen clearly. She preferred to have one pair of glasses for reading and working, and a pair of bifocals for doing everything else.
She went to the credenza by the front door and looked in the little grass basket where she often kept them, but they weren’t there. Next, it was onto the back porch where a similar basket was positioned on a small table by the screen door — still nothing.
“Now, where did I go and put them this time?” she asked herself as she wandered from room to room.
She had been looking forward to this trip ever since Stacey, her editor, had recommended it a few months back. After all, she hadn’t been on a real vacation since before publishing her first book four years ago. Back then, she was still working as an English teacher at the local junior college.
While her transition to full-time author had been a welcome one, it had not come without sacrifices. When her first two books had sold well, Jill’s editor had suggested that she consider working as a full-time author. She reasoned that Jill could likely develop a good living within a few years if she hit the author circuit hard while continuing to publish one book a year in the Clarie DeLuc Mystery series. After some serious soul-searching, and even more serious coin-counting, Jill had quit her job at the college to focus on her writing career full-time.
The first few years were filled with conferences, interviews, trips to trade shows, and, of course, writing novels – with very little time or extra funds for anything else. Books three and four had also sold well, and now all the hard work was beginning to pay off. Now she was finally at the place where she had both the time and the money to take a real vacation again.
Jill looked at her watch. Five minutes until her ride arrived and still no bifocals. She wondered aloud if maybe she should get that eye surgery that everyone was always raving about and be done with the glasses altogether. Pushing the thought out of her mind so she could focus on the here and now, she suddenly remembered where they were – the car. She headed straight to the garage.
After retrieving her wayward glasses from the center console of her red 2010 Mini Cooper Convertible, she checked the final box off her checklist and let out a sigh of relief. As she went to double-check that she had properly adjusted the thermostat, she came to a stop in front of the full-length mirror at the end of the hallway.
Jill had never been considered a beauty queen. Her inattention to fashion, less than flattering attire, and generally reserved nature tended to make her all but invisible to the opposite sex. This, along with conservatively cut, brown hair, her less than fashionable choice of eyewear, and the ubiquitous tote bag that she carried. As she observed herself in the mirror, she wondered if perhaps it was time for a change in her appearance. She did eventually want a relationship, after all. Just then the doorbell rang. Smiling, she carried her luggage to the waiting car, and the driver loaded her suitcase into the trunk.
* * * * *
The view looking out from Eagle’s Overlook was breathtaking. This was Sam’s favorite part of the day. Sipping his coffee as he enjoyed the view, he spotted an eagle soaring above the valley below. He smiled to himself in silent recognition of the beautiful creature for which this site had been named. Was it a Bald Eagle? It was too far off to tell without his binoculars.
After finishing his coffee, Sam Jenkins bowed his head in prayer.
As a kid, his mother had always prayed with him before he went to sleep. He continued the practice off and on when he was in high school, but had stopped for the most part when he went away to college – except for right before exams, of course. When he went to war in Iraq, he began praying again almost daily for protection, peace, and for God to bring him and his friends safely home. And the prayers seemed to work. The number of near misses and seemingly coincidental occurrences that had spared him and his team from death or serious bodily injury was hard to recall. There was the time he had just put his helmet back on when a mortar round hit, sending a rock hurtling towards him, smashing the helmet instead of his skull and saving his life. On another occasion, he had stepped on an I.E.D., and it turned out to be a dud.
But then there was Jerry…. Why hadn’t God spared Jerry’s life?
Pushing the unanswered question back into the recesses of his mind, he finished his prayers and walked the short distance to the golf cart that he used to navigate around the ten-acre resort. As he drove back to the main house, he thought about the previous week’s guests, and then about the new arrivals flying in this afternoon. After catering to guests all week, he always enjoyed the change of pace required to prepare for the new arrivals, especially the chance to work without having to talk to anyone besides the three other employees of the Rendsburg Resort.
As he drove along the forest path back to the house, as was his habit, he mentally ran through the usual preparations, making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything of importance. He trusted that the rest of the staff, competent as they were, would have their assigned preparations completed in time. Pamela Jones, the housekeeper, would have already taken care of cleaning and preparing the rooms assigned to this week’s guests. Tom Philips was both handyman and groundskeeper. Sam had seen him trimming the hedges in the garden just this morning. He made a mental note to ask if the loose handle on the toilet in room ten had been repaired. And then there was Jerry Simpson, the cook, who was no doubt busy preparing for the evening meal.
After parking the cart and going inside, Sam made one final pass through the house before heading to his room to change out of his grungy clothes and into something more suitable to welcome the new guests. As he stared into the mirror and brushed his hair, he could just make out the first signs of grey beginning to show near his temples.
“Well, well. Guess the family genes are finally beginning to catch up to you,” he said to himself. “Starting to look a bit more like your dad.”
He frowned slightly as he noticed the wrinkles around his eyes. Backing up from the mirror, he watched them disappear, his dark skin helping to hide the effects of time. He looked at the picture affixed to the side of the mirror showing a younger version of himself along with three other soldiers, all of them dressed in desert combat gear. How long had it been since then? Over twenty-five years, at least. It was the last picture of the four of them before the accident that took Jerry’s life. He had newer pictures with the other two men, but he just couldn’t bring himself to replace this one.
As Sam fastened his watch and took one last look in the mirror, he noticed a piece of lint on his shoulder and removed it. They weren’t required to wear formal wear at the resort, no ties or sports jackets – the owner said it helped to promote the laid-back feeling he wanted to provide to his guests, but tidiness was still required. There would be no lint on Sam Jenkins’ shirt to greet the incoming guests.
Having removed the offending blemish from his attire, he proceeded to the office to fill out supply requisitions and await the arrival of the guests.