Bob sat across from Harold, leaning forward, his brow knitted in concern. The doctor sat back, his hands together in front of his face and his eyes studying Bob with distrust.
“Yes, it’s definitely John Ross, and the two teen-agers who murdered an elderly woman in Boone. They’re FAS.”
“Fetal alcohol syndrome.”
“You can tell by their looks.” Opening the brothers’ files, Harold pulled out their pictures and showed them to Bob. “They’re high grade mental defectives.”
“Does that explain the violent behavior?”
“Partly.” Harold put the pictures away and pulled out a report. “In my talks with them I found little understanding of right and wrong. Also, they are alcohol intolerant.”
“They have blackouts.”
“Does John Ross know they’re alcoholics?” Bob sat back in the chair. “And does he know about they killed the widow?”
“He knows about her murder. I don’t know if he’s aware of their alcohol intolerance.”
“If he doesn’t, and he lets them have beer, for instance, he might be setting them up for another violent incident.”
“Even if he does know, he might give them beer to make them do whatever it is he has on his mind.”
“But what if once they’re drunk they decide they want to do something different than what John wants them to do?”
“That’s the problem, for both us and John Ross.”
“In other words, he’s got a ticking time bomb with him which he can use to blow up someone else or it may blow up in his own face.”
John turned off the interstate highway onto an old state road, winding through the lower Appalachians on his way back to the North Carolina State Mental Hospital. Jill tried to relax, but still peered into John’s eyes, trying to how decipher this man who had some unholy mission against her grandfather. Randy was rolled up in his fetal ball, while Mike hung over the seat staring like a vulture.
“We need gas,” John said.
“Good.” Mike smiled. “I want more beer.”
“Do you want anything?” John looked at Jill.
“No.” She folded her arms and looked straight ahead. She wanted to go home but knew he was not going to give her that.
“Hey.” Mike punched Randy. “Want some beer?”
“Yeah.” Randy raised his head, rubbed his eyes and smiled.
“We always want some beer.” Mike laughed and nuzzled Jill’s hair which caused her to shiver in revulsion.
Harold escorted Bob to the cafeteria. They passed several patients who stopped to say hello to the doctor and gossip about other patients who were not following the regulations, or to complain about unnamed attendants who were being callous by forcing them to adhere to the rules. The doctor nodded with forbearance and told them to remember to tell him again about their grievances during their next session. In between interruptions, Harold tried to fill in Bob on what happened immediately before their escape, including the incident with the broken television.
“I don’t understand.” Bob frowned as he paid for his coffee. “Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know.”
As they sat with their coffee in the cafeteria, they continued to figure out what incited John. George came in for his break, buying coffee and a honey bun. Harold waved him over to their table.
“George, you were in the day room that day,” Harold said. “Do you know what could have made John Ross break the television?”
“It was the show on the TV,” he replied, munching his snack. “It was news, but I don’t know what channel.”
“What time was it?” Bob asked.
“It was five-thirty.” George slurped his coffee.
“Why are you so sure?” Bob leaned toward the attendant.
“I was on my way to clock out.”
“That’s the time my news show is on,” Bob said.
“But aren’t all news shows on at the same time?” Harold asked.
“We’re on for an hour and a half beginning thirty minutes before other stations. It’s a marketing ploy.”
“Do you remember what would have been on that day that would have upset John so much? It was about two months ago.”
“A former Nazi.”
Dusk was coming as John pulled into a small convenience store sheltered by tall pine trees. Mike and Randy jumped from the car and ran to go to the rest room while John with careful force took Jill’s arm and guided her inside. The clerk, a handsome young man, stood behind the counter, looked up and smiled.
“Hello.” John smiled as he tightened his grip on Jill’s arm.
“How can I help you?”
“I need gasoline. Ten dollars.” He looked at Jill and tried to appear affectionate. “Think that’s about right, dear?”
“Fine.” Fear and apprehension crossed her face.
“Okay.” The clerk punched the amount into his cash register and then he assessed Jill’s condition. “Are you all right, ma’am? You don’t look good.”
John squeezed her arm even harder.
“No. I’m all right.” Her eyes darted from the attendant to John and back again.
The young clerk cocked his head with curiosity and was about to say something when Mike and Randy bounded from the rest room.
“I want some ice cream,” Mike said as he went to a refrigerated chest.
Whatever the clerk was going to say to Jill must have slipped his mind as he smiled at Mike.
“Just slide up the top.”
“I can’t get it up.” Mike tugged at it.
“I said slide it up, not pull it up.” The clerk came around the counter and went to Mike. “I said slide it up, not lift.”
Randy was circling around the clerk’s back, beginning to unbuckle his belt and pull it from his jeans. Jill saw what was happening and began to cry out, but John twisted her arm. A bell on top of the door rang as another customer entered. The clerk looked up and smiled, just as he slid the ice cream chest top up. Frowning, Randy returned his belt to his waist.
“How’s it going tonight, Pete?” The customer was about the clerk’s age but was somewhat overweight.
“Just fine, Bill,” Pete said. “Got a date for the dance tomorrow night?” He looked at Mike. “There you go.” He returned to the counter.
“Naw,” Bill said. “I don’t think I’ll go.” He looked around at the others and then whispered, “Got some cigarette papers?”
Pete gave his friend a disapproving glare and then turned to a shelf behind the counter and took out a pack of cigarette papers.
“You still use that stuff?”
Bill handed him a couple of bills.
“That stuff’s going to kill you.”
“Oh, stop preaching at me. See you later.”
Pete handed him his change and smiled.
John watched Bill as he opened his car door, entered and drove off. Pete caught John’s eye and nodded.
“Pump’s all set. You can pump your gas.”
Randy pulled the knife from the front of his jeans and threw it, hitting Pete in the middle of his chest. His eyes wide with shock, Pete moaned, staggered toward the end of the counter and fell, his hand grabbing a display of Mr. Peanut snacks which came crashing to the floor. Running over to Pete’s body, Randy pulled the knife out, stuffed his pockets with little bags of peanuts from the floor and then hurried to the cash register where he grabbed as many bills as he could. Mike walked over, gnawing on an ice cream bar and picked up some peanut bags.
“Be sure to get all the money,” John said. “We’ll need it.”
“And beer,” Mike added. “Let’s get some more beer.”
With her free hand, Jill slapped John, pulled away and ran for the door.
“Get her!” he screamed at Mike and Randy who were preoccupied at the cold beer section.
“Stupid woman,” Randy said, and he ran for her, followed by Mike guzzling a can of beer.
Jill was out the door and scrambled into the woods behind the convenience store, stopping several yards into the thick brush to catch her breath and peeked around to see if Mike and Randy were far behind. Her mind raced trying to figure out how to escape them. She jumped when she heard voices muttering nearby.
“Which way did she go?” Mike’s voice was charged with energy.
“That way,” John barked.
“I don’t like her,” Randy muttered.
Jill crawled under a rhododendron bush as she heard them hurrying toward her. They paused, said something incoherent then stalked away. She stood and turned to scamper in another direction but stopped when she heard herself step on a branch and crack it.
“What was that?” John’s head turned.
“I don’t hear nothing,” Mike replied.
“She went there.” With determined steps, John started back the other way.
Fear welled in Jill’s head, and she could not think rationally. All she could do was run, not remembering from which way she had come. Out of the shadows Mike tackled her, slamming her down on the soft, moist pine needles. The smell of the ice cream, peanuts and beer on Mike’s breath made Jill gag and heave.
“That was foolish,” John said as he sauntered up.
“Boy, she feels nice and soft.” Mike rolled Jill over and planted his beefy body on top of hers.
“I say we slit her throat.” Randy arrived and bent down to put his knife to her neck. “We don’t need her no more.” He pressed the sharp edge into her skin, almost to the point of puncture. “She told us where that guy is.”
“No,” John said. “She’s our means to force him to take us to Pharaoh.”
Randy spat into Jill’s hair as he stood and put the knife back into his jeans.
As John began to walk away, Randy pulled back his foot and kicked Mike hard in the side, sending him reeling off Jill.
“Come,” John called over his shoulder, “we must go.” He looked at Randy. “Caleb, bring the woman.”
Jerking her up by the arm pit, Randy glared into Jill’s eyes and whispered, “I don’t like you.”
Harold and Bob sat in his office trying to piece together the puzzle of how John Ross escaped, why he was angry at Heinrich Schmidt and what he planned to accomplish. The building was quiet with the departure of the day staff.
“Where do you think they are?” Bob asked.
“I don’t know.”
“My report said Mr. Schmidt lived in Gatlinburg.”
“We can notify police there.” Harold picked up his phone, dialed nine one one but the line was dead. He sighed. “Well, there’s nothing else we can do tonight.”
“Was there anything in your sessions with John Ross to give you an indication he might do this?”
Again someone questioned his judgment. First there was his father, then George and now some young television reporter. Maybe Bob somehow recognized problems in the Rosses’ house. Maybe everyone was aware of his parents’ hysterical outbursts. Only Harold did not comprehend how they had affected their son. He held finger imagining the pang of the glass puncture, expecting to see a drop of blood there. He then stared into Bob’s eyes.
“Do you think I’m a bad doctor?”
“What?” Bob blinked.
“Sometimes I think I’m a bad doctor.”
“What could any other doctor at an overcrowded state mental hospital have done to prevent a patient from escaping?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t either.” Bob paused to smile. “Maybe more security around the building, but you can’t hire more guards, can you?”
“No, I can’t. It’s not in the hospital budget.” Harold sighed. “I think I need to go home.”
“That’s a good idea,” Bob said. “It’s been a long day. I just got married, and this is supposed to be our honeymoon. ”
Harold laughed as he opened the door, and they walked into the hall. One of the night attendants ran up.
“Doctor, all the phone lines are down.”
“Yes, I know. When I get home I’ll call the telephone company.”
“What do you think caused it, doctor?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He patted the attendant’s back. “It’ll be fixed in an hour or two.” The parking lot was empty and foggy, eerily lit by lampposts. Harold walked Bob to his car. “I’ll call Gatlinburg police when I get home to have the Schmidt residence put under surveillance.”
“I think not, Dr. Lippincott.” John stepped from the shadows holding Jill’s arm. Mike and Randy stood behind them, each sucking on a can of beer. “That’s why we cut the phone lines, so no one could contact police.”
Mike giggled and then belched.
“Oh no. Jill.” Bob focused on her face. He could tell she was afraid even though she was very good at hiding her emotions.
“John,” Harold said with fake bravado, “I’m glad to see you’ve returned. Let’s go inside.”
“I’m not back, doctor.” John smiled. “You know that.”
“What are you doing with my wife?” Bob asked.
“We went to Knoxville to find you,” John explained, dragging Jill further into the lamppost light. “To have you take us to Pharaoh.”
“Pharaoh?” Bob shook his head.
“Grandpa,” Jill interpreted.
“You are the granddaughter of Pharaoh?” John turned to her, his eyes lit with the power of new knowledge. “This is better than I thought.”
“You mean she’s like a princess or something?” Mike stepped closer to Jill and leered.
“Shut up.” Randy hit Mike hard on his shoulder.
“Ouch. Stop hitting me.”
“You must be hungry, Mike,” Harold said. “Why don’t you come in? We’ve got ice cream.”
“Oh, I’ve had lots of ice cream. And beer.”
Bob and Harold exchanged glances.
“Take us to Pharaoh,” John demanded.
“He lives too far away to get there tonight.” Bob looked down.
“You said he lives in Gatlinburg,” John countered.
“You lie.” Randy took a step toward Bob. “Just like all other bad people in the world. Lie.” He shot a hot glare at Harold. “You lie too.”
“I didn’t lie, Randy,” Harold said.
“I ain’t Randy no more. My name is…” He looked at John, his eyes blank.
“His name is Caleb.” He focused on Bob. “Take us to Pharaoh.”
“Not until you let go of my wife.”
“I’ll slit her throat.” Randy pulled out the knife and held it to Jill’s neck.
“I think we better do as they want,” Harold said.
They entered Jill’s car with John behind the wheel and Randy and Harold next to him in the front seat. Mike, Bob and Jill sat in the back. The brothers popped open two more beers and began drinking.
“I’m sorry I told them where you were.” Jill looked at Bob.
“That’s all right.” He stroked her cheek. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I wanna do that, but she won’t let me.” Mike leaned over, breathing beer and peanuts on them.