The woman on the floor was out cold. Jake stared at her. He wondered why his Master had seen fit to put this evil spawn in the middle of his golden path. She had almost messed up everything for him.
The police had no evidence directly linking him to his father’s death. Even these small town yokels could see a set-up when it dropped in front of them. A bloody axe under his bed? The moron who put it there should be whipped and hung.
When the cops came for him, he thought they had found what he’d buried in the desert. It would be a simple matter to tie the items to a crime scene back east, especially if that crime was the unsolved murder of a prominent evangelist. Jake knew the man’s family would hunt down the killers until the end of days. They would never allow law enforcement to let the case go cold.
During the car ride in the back of the cruiser, in between taunting his stoic sister, Jake tried to figure how the cops found out about his little desert trip. When they later released him, he thought about his time in the desert. Who else had been out there?
What else had been out there?
Something led him to this woman’s house. He didn’t know if it was exactly a heavenly lead or just instinct on his part. Maybe it was seeing her filming the neighborhood’s every move. Whatever it was, it guided him to the evil woman’s house.
The desert footage playing as he crept up behind the woman had been benign. He hoped. He couldn’t be one hundred percent sure he had not been caught in a frame or two. Or three. Or a hundred. It threw Jake into a dilemma.
This evil woman would not have all the footage in one place. Like Jake, she would have secreted the film in a number of places. Any blackmailer worth their salt didn’t put all the rotten eggs in one decaying basket. The problem was she may have sent the footage offsite. If so, there was no way for Jake to recover it unless he killed the Internet.
Jake crouched down as the woman gasped for breath. Straddling her, he placed one hand over her mouth and the other over her nose. She struggled a little bit, but it was a primitive survival reaction since she was still in the twilight zone of consciousness. It would make her ascent to the golden path easier.
He looked, really looked at her face. A ghostly shadow from too long ago flitted in his mind. In shock, he reeled back and his hands slipped off.
Time stopped for Jake. The evil woman’s face was the face of his long-dead mother. Shaking his head to clear his mind, Jake couldn’t shake the image out.
There was a reasonable explanation for this. Maybe the woman’s bone structure was the same. It wasn’t her skin tone or hair. Something in this evil woman’s face was mimicking his mother’s.
“Jake-jake, don’t,” a voice murmured in his ear. No one called him Jake-jake but his mother. Wheeling around, no one else was there.
Stress. That’s what it was. He was imaging things and seeing things and hearing things because of the stress he was under. Maybe this woman wasn’t evil incarnate like he thought. Looking down at her, he wondered how long it would take the police to match the hand prints around her neck to his own. As the woman on the ground stirred into consciousness, Jake wrapped his hands around her neck again.
Cut off the airway, just a little bit, and you can keep a person out cold for as long as you like. Brain damage was inevitable, but that was of little concern to the person behind the throttling.
She slipped back into unconsciousness. He didn’t feel guilt at this woman’s ultimate demise. She was, after all, too evil to be allowed life in this realm. Maybe in the next spiritual plane she’d be granted a better existence. On this earth, at this time, she was not anywhere close to her own golden path.
Maybe it would be a blessing to send her on to the next stage. Jake would not quibble if he was sent to his own glorious destination sooner than planned. As long as he was allowed to complete his work and save a few particular souls on his list before his departure, he would have no problem giving up this wretched life.
“Go back, Jake-jake,” his mother’s ghost whispered.
Not real. She was long dead and ghosts don’t exist. His father’s famous novels were hokum. Evil people were attracted to those books. Evil people were attracted to Morris.
The woman groaned again. Jake covered her mouth and pinched her nose. Struggling wildly this time, the woman’s body instinctively knew the end was near.
The hair stood up on the back of his neck as his mother’s voice said, “Why did you kill me, Jake-jake?”
Releasing the woman, he stood straight up and whirled around. He fully expected to see his dead mother holding his dead father’s severed head. It would be a fitting retribution. No, appropriate retribution would be for her to stand around and do nothing while someone killed her eldest son. After all, he had done the same to her.
He was conflicted. This evil woman must be dispatched. In her way, she was as reprehensible as Morris. Yet, the voice of his mother haunted him and warned him to stop. His father, on the other hand, was as silent in the afterlife as he was in death.
Jake bent down and looked at the woman again. Whatever had reminded him of his mother was passing. He had a job to do. His destiny demanded he follow his golden path duty.
As his hands covered her nose and mouth one more time, he heard a door open and voice call out, “Egypt! Are you here?”
Quickly taking the woman’s head in both hands, he raised it a few inches and rammed it brutally against the hard tile. He heard a crack. Might have been her head or simply the sound of it hitting the floor. He didn’t have time to analyze the sound. He ran from the room and out the back window he’d crept through earlier.
“Oh, my God,” he heard someone yell as he raced through the backyard. The misting rain was the perfect cover for him. But, the rain was not exactly his friend when he slipped on the wet rocky ground as he rounded the corner. His skinned hands were on fire.
The fall was a wakeup call to his chaotic mind. Had he really tried to kill that woman over something that may or may not have been in the video she’d shot? His justifications didn’t make much sense anymore. His mind was becoming as warped as his father’s.
Even if he was in the footage, there was no way anyone would find the buried items. The desert was a big place and no one could search every inch of it. On the slight chance they were found, it wasn’t his fingerprints on the tools that had killed Harvey Whitman. The evangelist’s death was not Jake’s doing.
No, they wouldn’t be found unless someone had followed him, but he’d made sure no one was behind him. What he hadn’t counted on was being followed by a high-powered camera lens.
It didn’t matter. The woman would live. Whether her mind would be right, who knew? Maybe this would be her saving grace. A feeble mind was much closer to heaven than an evil one.
In the event she came to and regained all her senses, Jake couldn’t count on leniency. He wouldn’t be cut any slack if she remembered his face.
He ran as quickly as possible on the wet ground. Opening the back door of Morris’s house, he bolted in and almost knocked his sister down.
“What happened to you?” Mary’s surprise showed on her face.
“Slipped,” he abruptly said as he made his way to his room.
Throwing essentials into his backpack, he quickly changed clothes and slipped on the hiking boots. Coming back out, he met his sister coming out of the kitchen.
“Not that I really care, but where are you going?”
He knew Mary really didn’t care. He did feel obliged to the ministry, though. There was no time to get a message to them, so he’d have to rely on his sister. Heaven would see that Brother Anthony knew he was stepping onto his golden path.
“Heaven’s wilderness, sister.” His quick hug caught her by surprise and she inadvertently hugged him back.
“I know we’re not close but I want to make sure your soul was on the golden path, sister. I lost mine when I came here. I need to go away and find it again.”
He released his sister and quickly walked out the back door. As he headed toward the desert, the hard rain beat down on him. He had the sinking feeling he would be in the wilderness for more than forty days.