Chapter 23: What was at the Root is now Exposed
Thump, thump, the dull sound of knocking roused Samantha from her unplanned slumber. Who’s at the door now?
She tried to slip back into the peaceful darkness of sleep when she realized she was not at home, but in the backseat of a moving car, propped up on her side, face tilted towards the window. Where am I going?
She leaned slightly forward. Ouch my face, the left side of her face hurt, terribly. Then she remembered being hit, hard, after seeing Zen— Zen, where’s Zen? Looking to her right she found her cousin slumped over in the corner on the seat next to her.
Zen’s head bobbed lightly against the car’s leather upholstery. A purplish bruise marred his left eye, his lower lip busted with traces of blood on the open wound.
Fighting back the urge to cry, Samantha turned her attention towards the front seat, looking for those responsible for her cousin’s pitiful condition and to her dismay, she saw Ms. Emily sitting in the passenger seat.
They’ve taken her too!
Then, to add more confusion to her already confused state, Samantha saw the librarian glance over at the driver and smile adoringly. What’s going on?
Dark brown hair and broad shoulders is all she could make out of the driver. Who is he?
It was time to wake Zen and alert him to their predicament. Taking hold of his knee, she gently shook him. He didn’t respond. His eyes didn’t even flutter. After a second attempt to rouse him with no response, she became worried. Placing two fingers to the side of Zen’s neck, as her dad had taught her to do once, Samantha checked for a pulse. He had one. He must be unconscious.
Now fully aware of her surroundings, Samantha could tell the knocking was coming from inside the trunk of the car.
“Kenneth sweetheart, I thought you said you tied him up?”
She barely recognized the sickly sweet tone in Ms. Emily’s voice.
“I did, but it won’t keep him from kicking around back there. What else could I do?” The male driver sounded like a young boy pleading with his mother not to be upset with him.
Ms. Emily and this man have stuffed someone in the trunk!
“Do you think this is a good idea, Mother, bringing them back here. This may force the police to re-examine the other cases.”
“It’s called poetic justice dear,” Ms. Emily callously replied. “The little snoop wanted to find out what happened to her self-righteous family members, right? We’re simply obliging her, giving her just what she asked for.”
“Are you sure they approve of what we’re doing? You know the Sentinels dislike headlines and scandal.”
“Positive. I’ve already warned them of her meddling. We simply need to take care of this last little mess.”
“Haven’t I done enough for them? You would think after all this time they would see fit to—”
“Kenneth, did I ever tell you that I attended the ceremony the day the Sentinels made your father a part of their inner circle?” Ms. Emily interrupted.
“Yes, Mother, you have.”
“When I contacted the Sentinels earlier this week, I could tell they were ready to offer you your father’s old post. You will soon be known as, Kenneth Randall, Director of Historical Genealogy for the powerful Sentinels organization. We are so close to returning our family back to their rightful place among society, and you know the Sentinels are the only ones who can make this happen.”
Could this be graduate student Kenneth Randall who found Great-Grandma Nanna in her office? He’s Ms. Emily’s son!
“Let me go!” Zen thrashed his arms wildly.
“Good, you’re both up,” Ms. Emily said, glaring into the backseat. “It will save my son from having to carry you.”
“What’s going on?” Zen asked, rubbing the back of his neck, and touching his lip. “Who are these people?” His speech sounded odd through his swollen lips.
“Zen, it’s Kenneth Randall,” Samantha said, leaning in closer to him. “You know, the man we read about in the paper? He’s Ms. Emily’s son.”
“What? Who’s Ms. Emily?” Zen asked.
Samantha could see he was still confused, she tried again. “Zen, they have someone in their trunk. I heard them kicking around in there. I think Ms. Emily and her son had something to do with Ameara and Nanna’s death!”
“I knew you were a clever girl, Samantha, from the day I first met you. Then again, you are the high and mighty Nanna Fairland’s great-granddaughter,” said Ms. Emily.
Samantha tried fitting the pieces together. What’s she talking about? Why would Ms. Emily be involved with something as awful as…murder? Who are these Sentinels? “I don’t understand? What did my great-grandma ever do that would make you hate her, want to… hurt her?”
Ms. Emily turned her body completely around to face the back seat of the car. She looked Samantha directly in the eyes. “What did my great-grandma do,” she said, in a little girl’s voice, mocking Samantha. “No, you have it all wrong; it’s what she refused to do. So get that straight in your head. Nanna Fairland did nothing for Kenneth.”
“What…but I still don’t understand. What was she supposed to do for Kenneth?”
“To tell the truth! Morally, self-righteous Professor Nanna Fairland was supposed to tell truth!” Ms. Emily screamed at the top of her lungs.
Then, as quickly as the old librarian lost all self-control, she just as quickly composed herself. Touching her hand to her chest, she took in deep long gulps of air. Her eyes took on an unexpected tenderness as she reached a finger out to touch Samantha’s cheek, causing Samantha to recoil.
“I’ve met your mother, Samantha. She seems like the sort to teach you when someone asks you a direct question you must answer honestly. Is that correct, Samantha? Your mother teaches you to be truthful?” Ms. Emily asked, in her now calm voice.
“Yes…“Samantha hesitantly answered. She wasn’t sure where this was leading.
“Well, thank goodness Kenneth saw fit to kill Nanna and Ameara before they could pass their lying ways onto your mother, because they were both LIARS!”
Samantha flinched at hearing Ms. Emily’s demented words, and grabbed hold of Zen’s hand.
“Your great grandmother was in possession of crucial data important to the Sentinels, and Kenneth knew it. Data my dear late husband spent a lifetime researching. I personally feel Nanna stole my husband’s research records from the university. If she had done the right thing and handed that data over to the Sentinels, it would have solidified my son’s position with them, and maybe, saved her own life.” By the time Ms. Emily was done talking, her face was as red as a beetroot.
“Well, if your son already knew this stuff, why didn’t he just give it to these Sentinels himself?” Zen piped up, now fully with the program.
“I didn’t have the precise coordinates to the location the Sentinels were searching for. My father never discovered it. However, your great-grandmother did.” Kenneth said, his dark eyes peering at them through his rearview mirror.
“But how do you know she did?” Samantha asked.
“Because I did several research projects under Professor Fairland, and I had access to her field notes. I came across her data of an area in West Africa that looked very familiar. Professor Fairland had mapped out an area very close to the place my father suggested the Sentinels should begin their search. I tried to get more information from her about this location, but she brushed me off, telling me it wasn’t research for the university, that it was data for her next book. Essentially, she told me nothing, and she was careful I never saw that data again. This is when I knew I needed to tell the Sentinels about her, and let them handle the situation.”
Kenneth made a hard left turn, causing Samantha and Zen to roll into each other and jostle around whoever was in the trunk. Righting herself, Samantha saw a sign that read, Eastern Vermont University.
“I stood outside Professor Fairland’s office that morning and listened as she discredited me to the Sentinels representative!” Kenneth spoke his words through gritted teeth. Samantha could tell the more he spoke, the angrier he became, and the more erratic he drove. He seemed to be reliving what had happened that day twenty-six years ago. She held onto the seat as he steered the car away from the campus buildings and down a back road near the university grounds. She thought maybe her and Zen could jump out and make a run for it, but looking over at Zen, she wasn’t sure he was in any shape to take that leap. From the front seat, Kenneth went on with his frenzied recounting of events.
“At first I didn’t understand why she would lie about even being in West Africa,” Kenneth said, pounding his fist on the steering wheel. “I soon had my opportunity to ask her reason for lying when the Sentinels representative suddenly left her office. That’s when I entered and confronted her.”
Kenneth pulled into a secluded area at the edge of the university that led into a heavily wooded area. Samantha looked over at Zen. In his eyes, she could see they were thinking the same thing. They were in serious trouble. Kenneth turned off the car and faced the backseat. His dark brown eyes were set close together in his soft doughy face, under his protruding forehead.
“I demanded to know why she wouldn’t simply tell the representative what he wanted to know. She looked at me with pity, and started lecturing me on the people I was associating with,” Kenneth said, laughing now. “She had the audacity to tell me how horrible these people were, these people, she called them. Then she called them, Maskhim. By her daring to mention this name, I knew she was their enemy and now mine. I dealt with Nanna Fairland and Ameara as she tried to escape through the woods, as I knew the Sentinels would’ve wanted them dealt with.”
Staring at Kenneth’s hand gripping the headrest, Samantha couldn’t help but imagine what he’d done with that hand to her grandma and great-grandma. Hearing the click of the glove box, she looked over to see Ms. Emily removing a gun, before her and her son exited the car.
“Zen, they’re going to kill us.” Her voice quivered from anger at what Kenneth had confessed to doing, but mostly her voice was shaking out of fear.
“Not if I can help it,” Zen spoke bravely through swollen lips. His left eye already sealed shut. “Samantha, look!” he pointed out the back of the car window.
Being dragged from the car’s trunk was Mr. Peter Lin. His hands were tied with a cord behind his back, his coat torn, and his face bruised. Samantha knew he must have been exposed to Kenneth’s fist.
“Get out of the car,” Kenneth said, opening the door.
“If you let us go now, I’m sure you’ll be able to get far enough away before the police find you,” Zen said, climbing out of the backseat. “If you kill us, the police will never stop hunting for you. You don’t want that for your mother, do you?”
For his answer, Kenneth kicked Zen in his backside, causing him to fall face first onto the snowy ground. Hurrying to his side, Samantha helped her cousin up. He now had dirt mixed in with his blood, clinging to his bottom lip.
“I can see you have inherited that nasty Fairland trait of lecturing on things you know nothing about,” Kenneth said. “What your family and others have failed to understand is the far reaching power and influence the Sentinels have. Even if my mother and I are apprehended, we will never see the inside of a jail or courthouse. The Sentinels will cover for me, as they did twenty-six years ago and as they did again when I killed Detective Davies for his continuing to stick his nose into matters that he was advised to leave alone.”
So Detective Davies didn’t give up on the case, Samantha thought sadly, as everyone thought he had. She felt a hard shove to the back, as Kenneth indicated for her and Zen to get moving.
“So do not try and lecture me on what I should do.”
“Kenneth,” Ms. Emily said, directing Mr. Lin to stand between Samantha and Zen. “You walk in front of us. I will guard them from behind.”
As they followed Kenneth deeper into the woods, Samantha could sense the trees around her holding their collective breath. There wasn’t a breeze, a rustle of leaves, sounds of birds, or any form of nature moving within these woods. Everything was queerly still. In Samantha’s mind, there was no doubt she, Zen, and Mr. Lin were being led to their deaths, and the trees knew it.
Her unbound curls fell into her eyes, briefly shielding out the nightmare of where she was, and what was about to happen. Mr. Lin and Zen walked beside her. The only sound they made was their feet crunching in the snow. As they marched on, Samantha told herself if she were going to die, she had to know why. Why exactly, if as Kenneth said the Sentinels had covered everything up, the three of them were being marched to their deaths now?
“Ms. Emily, if no one suspects Kenneth of murder, why are you doing this now?” Samantha asked.
“Blame yourself Samantha for what is about to happen. You kept coming back, digging around for more, asking all sorts of questions about the Maskhim. I had to contact Kenneth,” Ms. Emily said, in a matter a fact manner. “We came to your house this morning to find out exactly what you knew. That’s when Kenneth spotted someone leaving your property that we were assured would never resurface again, Mr. Lin. That’s when we knew we had to handle this situation ourselves, again.”
A funny little smile crossed Ms. Emily’s face as she shared more information with Samantha. “This morning was kismet, with everything lining up perfectly for us. After Kenneth took care of Mr. Peter Lin, we started up to your house.” Pausing, a frown creased her brow when she added, “But our car started acting strange. The engine would shut off and the car would slowly roll back down your driveway. That was odd, but no matter, not to long after I spotted you and your cousin running out to us. Everything worked out perfectly. It was fate.”
Samantha put her head down, not daring to look at Zen’s battered face. She had gotten him into this mess. She just wouldn’t listen. Thinking this would be the last opportunity to tell him she was sorry, she leaned forward to get his attention. The sun momentarily blinded her as a ray reflected off something glittery bouncing at the center of Mr. Lin’s chest. Shading her eyes, Samantha saw hanging from a black leather cord a geode rock pendant that looked curiously like the one she wore! Puzzled, she searched Mr. Lin’s face for an answer.
“We are family,” Mr. Lin said, when he saw Samantha recognized his pendant.
Understanding dawned on her. This is what Mr. Lin was about to tell her and Zen earlier. Samantha nodded her head, indicating she understood. Tears filled her eyes for the missed opportunities. Her great-grandma Nanna and Grandma Ameara died not knowing this is what Peter Lin was coming to tell them, that he was part of their family. Instead, he will forever be blamed as the one who killed them, and Samantha had the feeling Peter Lin was being set up once again, this time for the murders of her and Zen. Glancing back at Mr. Lin, she found him oddly smiling at her. He then winked, before shouting one word.
Then, to her surprise, Mr. Lin swiftly whirled and head-butt the old librarian, knocking her to the ground, while she and Zen took off in different directions, leaving the shouting Ms. Emily swearing to her son.
“You idiot, I’m fine. Go after them.”
Samantha didn’t know which way to go. She just kept running, running deeper into the woods. As she ran, she began to hear voices, voices calling out to her, telling her, “This way, run this way. Run towards us.” It was the trees, giving her directions. She listened to them this time, very carefully.
“He is coming. I hear him. He is coming your way. Crouch down, next to me,” the whispery female voice of a maple tree, told her.
Doing as the maple said, Samantha knelt down, her knee sinking into a patch of snow. She threw her arms around the tall maple’s trunk. She closed her eyes and began to tremble.
“Who is it sister?” Samantha heard the tree next to them ask.
“It is him,” the tall maple answered. “The one who brought violence to our wood many springs ago.”
A shot was fired, a man groaned, and a woman screamed. The woods screamed, and birds flew out overhead. Samantha panicked, Zen, it must be Zen. He’s shot! She let go of the tree and started running again.
“No, stay put!” The maple tree cried out to her.
She couldn’t stay put. She had to help Zen. She started running in the direction she heard the gun fired. She glanced over her shoulder, checking for Ms. Emily or her son. Then she tripped over what she thought was a tree root, but found it was a leg, attached to a body that she fell flat on top of. She stopped breathing, fearful of seeing Zen’s dead body beneath her. Rolling over, dark brown eyes gazed blankly at her out of a soft doughy face. It was Kenneth Randall! Samantha heard herself screaming, but her voice felt detached from her. She scrambled to move away from Kenneth’s lifeless body. Still screaming she crawled on her knees, trying to stand up, but couldn’t. Hands grabbed her by her coat, pulling her up. It was Zen! As Zen pulled her along, she heard the sound of a gun being discharged. Time slowed, Samantha turned and saw a single bullet fired by Ms. Emily standing a several feet behind them. A body flew horizontally across Samantha and Zen’s path taking the bullet, full on. It was Peter Lin.
Samantha tried to reach for Mr. Lin, but Zen pushed her on in front of him, yelling, “Move, keep running.” Behind them, the angry, vicious cries of Ms. Emily chased after them. Taking aim, she let fly another bullet. It sailed over their heads.
Ahead of them, Samantha could see a bridge, but as they got closer, she saw only a few planks remained hanging down by a single rope over a cliff. Grabbing onto Zen, she swiftly changed direction so they wouldn’t fall into the hole. Nowhere else to go, they ran back and into Ms. Emily who ran straight at them, gun pointed. Samantha started to close her eyes, not wanting to face the inevitable, when a large dark shadow descended fast behind Ms. Emily. As it got closer, the wind picked up, caused by the flapping of the enormous wings attached to the body of a man with a hawks face. He swooped down towards them, lifting her and Zen off the ground. Below, she heard the cries of Ms. Emily, her voice trailing off as she fell over the side of the cliff. Seeing the large man-bird may have caused her to lose her footing.
Coming back down to earth, the man-bird tilted his head to one side, blinking his bright amber eyes at Samantha and Zen. His large pale wings disappeared into his black wool coat that swept out behind him.
“Addiwan,” Samantha whispered.
Right in front of them, the man-bird’s face morphed back into that of the tall thin man.
“Now that’s cool,” Zen said, before his knees buckled under him.
Addiwan caught him before he hit the ground. “He will be fine,” he said, as sirens blared in the distance. “Stay right here, they are coming for you.” Expanding his wings, he took flight.
Samantha didn’t have to wait long. Several police officers, followed closely by her dad came running towards them.
Zen was carried out on a stretcher, as was Mr. Lin who was badly injured from the gunshot wound, but still alive. The covered body of Kenneth Randall was also taken away, but helicopters remained. They were busy lowering men down over the cliff to recover Ms. Emily Randall’s body.