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Nothing is Ever That Easy

Murdock stopped his forest green Subaru Outback in front of the Wendover Palace and looked through the gate to the courtyard. It was lit by the lights from the street but shadows lingered at the perimeter fence. Thirty minutes past midnight. It was quiet and empty. He drove around to the side where he knew the blacksmith shack was and the wheelbarrow full of yew wood was waiting for them.

“I’m nervous,” Jade confessed. “What do we do if someone sees us?”

“No one’s going to see us,” Murdock whispered back. “Think positive.” He turned and looked at her. “Once I get out, you get in the driver’s seat. I’ll pop the hatch and get the ladder. All you have to worry about is keeping an eye out for headlights or anyone out walking. You see anything, shine your red flashlight on that tree above the fence right there.” Murdock pointed at a large maple tree, its branches hanging low over the stone wall he was about to climb over. “If you have to shine the flashlight and then whoever you saw goes away, shine it twice more so I’ll know I don’t have to climb back over. It shouldn’t take me long to get the bark. Once you see the bag come over the wall, push this button here,” he pointed at a button under the steering wheel, just to the left. “It releases the hatch.”

“Do you have everything you need?”

“Yeah. Hatchet, flashlight, contractor trashbag. Are you ready?”

“Am I ready?” Jade asked scornfully. “ Are you ready?”

Murdock opened the car door and went to the rear of the car to open the back. He pulled the small, folding ladder out and shut the hatch back. He estimated the wall to be approximately twelve feet high. The ladder he bought from the home improvement store telescoped to thirteen feet. As gently and quietly as he could, he extended it so it would reach the top of the wall. He had also bought a toolbelt, the leather loops of which he put the hatchet and flashlight in. He tucked the large trashbag in his pocket and began to climb the ladder.

Upon reaching the top of the wall, he swung one leg over, then reached down and pulled the ladder up so he could put it back down on the other side of the wall. Once he had the ladder back down and stable, he placed a foot on the second rung from the top. Within a few seconds, he was at the bottom and walking over to where the wheelbarrow was. He kept looking at the maple tree to see if any red was shining on it. At the blacksmith shack, he found the wood. Wasting no time, he set a log on its end, grabbed the hatchet from his belt and started taking the bark off. After finishing with each log, he took the pile of bark and put it in the trashbag. There was a total of nine logs.

Fifteen minutes later, he had the logs piled back on the wheelbarrow, just as he found them, minus the bark, and was gathering the top of the bag together to tie it in a strong knot. Just as he began to walk toward the ladder, he saw the maple shine red. Rather than throw the bag over, he decided to tie it to his belt. Slowly, he ascended the aluminum rungs. Looking up again, he saw the red light flash twice, alerting him that the coast was again clear. At the top, he peered over to make sure and the red light shone directly in his eyes. He saw headlights approaching from up the street and quickly pulled his head down below the crest of the wall. A minute later, he looked over again and the headlights were gone. Seizing the moment, he made his way back over

The ladder back in the car, along with the bag of bark, he took off the toolbelt and opened the passenger door, tossing the belt in the backseat. Sitting down, he shut the door and buckled his seatbelt. “Let’s go.”

Murdock drove away from the palace grounds, without headlights, using only the light of a crescent moon to see. His eyes widened and he quickly stopped the car on the side of the street, turned the ignition off, put his hand on the back of Jade’s head and pushed it down below the window, hiding himself as well.

“What’s going on?” Jade whispered.

“Be still and be quiet,” Murdock scolded. “Blue lights glowing around the corner.”

Slowly bringing his head up just enough to see out the window, he was confident that whatever police or security vehicle that had their lights flashing was gone. He started the car again and began to creep forward. Pulling into the intersection of Hancock and Middle Street, his butt puckered just a little as he saw blue lights come back on two blocks away. He thought about putting the gas pedal all the way down on the floor but logic took over.

“We’re going to get caught,” Jade said, freaking out.

“Nah, we’re not,” Murdock returned, turning his lights on and casually driving forward. “Do you have a shirt on underneath the black sweatshirt?”

“Yeah, a pink t-shirt.”

“Take the sweatshirt off as quickly and smoothly as you can and throw it in the back.”

“Okay, but don’t look in case my shirt comes up.”

“I’m watching the road, Miss Thorneheart.”

Murdock could see the blue lights pull behind him in his rearview mirror. “Relax. Let me do the talking. If he asks you anything, just go along with what I say.”

The officer tapped on the window, shining his flashlight into Murdock’s eyes. Murdock rolled down the window. Warm breath rolled out like a thick fog bank. “Cold night to be out and about this late, ain’t it?” the officer asked as he adjusted the flashlight to look at Jade as well.

“It is. We just got done helping me brother do some landscaping and take down his Christmas lights.”

“No problem,” the officer assured them. After going back to his squad car and checking Murdock’s license, registration and seeing that he had no outstanding warrants or any other red flags, he walked back to his window. “Here’s your license back, Mr. Murdock. Do you mind if I look in your vehicle, Sir?”

“Not at all. Do you need us to step out of the car?”

“Yes, Sir. Are there any weapons in the vehicle?”

“No firearms, Officer, but there is a hatchet in the back that I was using to break up an old stump.”

“Ok, that’s fine. Step out if you would, please, Sir, and open up the back hatch here.” The officer stepped around to the rear of the car and waited for Murdock and Jade to join him. When Murdock unlocked the hatch and it lifted up, the officer saw the large, black trash bag. “What’s in the garbage bag?”

“What’s left of that stump. I figured we could use it for mulch come spring.”

“Can I have a look inside it, please?”

“Certainly,” Murdock said calmly. Jade stood by with her arms crossed, shivering in her t-shirt. He pulled the bag closer to him and worked the knot free. He opened it up and the officer pulled the top of the bag wider so he could see the contents.

“Okay, Sir. You can tie it back up. I appreciate your cooperation. You two get back in the car and get warm. Your lady friend looks like she’s freezing.”

“Thank you, Officer. Have a good night.”

“You do the same.” The officer waited for the two to be back in the car before he turned to get into his own car.

“See?” Murdock said as he turned the ignition on and drove down the street toward the highway that would take them back to the RV. “Nothing to worry about, Miss Thorneheart.”

Murdock pulled up to the stoplight at the intersection before crossing the bridge to East New Bergen. He heard a tapping on his window. When he turned his head and looked, he saw the square cheekbones of the muzzle end of a Glock semi-automatic pistol. The last and only other time he had a gun in his face, it was his older brother and it was a cap gun. He was seven years old. He nearly peed his pants then and now, he was dangerously close again. These days, toy guns had orange muzzles. This one was black. Holding the trigger was a man dressed in a hunter green parka, with the hood pulled over his face and cinched so close that only a small part of his face was visible.

Murdock put his hands up as the man with the gun reached for the door handle and pulled, opening the door.

“Get the hell out of the car!” the man yelled. “The lady over there, too.”

Jade slowly opened the door on her side and got out, keeping one eye on the carjacker the whole time.

“Give me your keys, man!” the punk said, holding out his hand, the gun still aimed at Murdock’s chest.

“Here…,” Murdock said, handing his keys over. “Take ’em.”

Just a short ten seconds later, Jade and Murdock were standing on the side of the street, in the cold dark of night, watching their only hope of getting Zachary back home disappear around the corner.

“Well, thas’ jus’ grand. The car I’m not too worried about, although, it is going to be an uncomfortable walk to get somewhere warm while we wait for a cab. But now we have to figure out where we’re going to get yew bark from.”

“We’ll just have to research some,” Jade said, holding her phone up to her ear. “Even if we have to travel to find it… I can deal with that a whole lot better than doing nothing at all. If anything were as easy as initially thought, I would suspect something.”

“You’re right.”

“Yes. We need a taxi on… what street is this… East Bridge Street. Yes, near the bridge. There’s a convenience store nearby. You know which one? We’ll be waiting there.”

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