More Precious Than Gold

by Mark and Karen Eidemiller

Chapter Fifteen

Combat psychology must be a fascinating science -- analyzing what goes through the mind of a soldier just before a battle. The surge of adrenalin, the abandonment of values for an animalistic survival reflex, the fear of death.

I didn't know about the others, but I was a little numb. My breathing was slow and shallow, and I could feel the even beat of my heart under the Paradox wetsuit.

On my left was Clark, with Dot to my right. Clark had changed into his wetsuit, and they both silently re-checked their equipment and superfirers. What was going on in their minds, I momentarily wondered? Were they reflecting on their lives, or just bracing themselves for the action ahead?

I knew my gear was ready, but was I? Even though our weapons were non-lethal, our opponent' weapons weren't, and death was a real possibility. But I held tight to the promise: 'For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.'

I was ready.

Gumball's voice sounded over our transceivers, "Ladies and gentlemen! The band is ready to play, and we're all in our places. Shall we dance?"

I smiled at Gumball's humor through this, and looked to our leader.

Clark took a deep breath and said, "Let's pray." And he led us in a simple prayer for God's blessing in the battle, that no lives would be lost, and that freedom would return to the Valley.

Then he took the remote control in his hand and flipped up the plastic cover over the red button.

"Activating charges -- now!"

All along the narrow lake, the water suddenly appeared to be boiling. Yet no one in the river felt an increase of heat. Many people moved quickly out of the river, while many others gathered closer to its edge, curious at the apparition. Then a mist started appearing over the surface of the water. It was a blue mist, thick as a fog, which spread out gently to cover the lake and shore. As it crept onto the land, those closest started getting sleepy. They yawned a couple of times, then simply sank to the ground and took a nap. The obscuring feature of the fog kept many people from suspecting anything, and only a handful on the fringe saw danger afoot and ran.

Those in houses, inquiring into the nature of the fog, fell prey to it. Within minutes, natives for a mile on either side of the lake were peacefully asleep.

Woodward's walkie-talkie came alive with the excited voice: "BOSS! We got something weird going on here ... at ... the river!"

She tried to get more details, but there was no reply.

Rushing to the window, Woodward watched the spread of the blue fog in the village, then turned the binoculars towards the now-vacant Island of Shame, muttering several profanities and reaching for her walkie-talkie.

"ALL UNITS, RED ALERT!" she yelled urgently. "WE ARE UNDER ATTACK! Repeat -- we are under attack! Do not breathe the blue mist: stay clear of it and secure gas masks immediately! All units, report!"

"Okay, Pilgrims," said Gumball through the facemask. He swung an arm in an arc over his head. "Let's move 'em out!"

Leaving the security of the house, Gumball, Amy, John Blue Corn, and the selected six entered the blue fog.

It was only after the fact that they realized they should've included some optics to penetrate the fog. However, Amy was confidant that her father's targeting system would suffice -- so sure that she volunteered to act as point.

"Okay," conceded Gumball. "But don't go far. I want to be able to spot you."

She had agreed, and now they quietly roamed eerie blue avenues, playing cat-and-mouse with any of Woodward's people left standing.

John Blue Corn, in alerting the people, had suggested that they stay off the streets and not to be troubled by the sudden fog. So there were few sleeping Mayans to stumble over in the low visibility.

Amy had been slowly panning her superfirer, like a blind person's cane, when it suddenly fired twice into the fog. In response, they heard the thud of a body and a swirling of the fog ahead of them. Upon closer investigation, they found one of Woodward's soldiers, armed but down for the count.

Amy looked at Gumball and smirked. The pilot tried ignoring the silent 'told ya so' by relieving the soldier -- a skinny redhead with a pockmarked face -- of her weapons, gas mask, and walkie-talkie.

Suddenly they heard the crack of a gun, and one of the natives clutched a red-stained arm while the two natives closest to him swung their superfirers and automatically fired, sending several mercy bullets following the heat signature to the source. A surprised grunt was their response.

"Makes sense. Always saw them in pairs," commented Gumball. "How is he?"

A native replied, "He will live. The bullet went through the arm. He wants to stay with us."

"Okay. But only if the bleeding doesn't get worse."

They nodded and applied a cloth as a field bandage. Then the brave natives stood and followed.

Moments passed, and Woodward observed the spread of the blanket of blue fog. A minute later her frown turned into a grin, as she observed the edges of the fog swiftly dissipating. There was a limit to this, she thought. They'll be concentrating on the palace. They'll be after Pat, the queen ... and me. I need a bargaining chip!

She left the room.

Our view was good, but what we were seeing wasn't.

The village was covered in a blue blanket. But it wasn't spreading up here where we were going to need it.

"This is not good," observed Clark; I could hear the concern in his voice. "The gas may not reach this far. We may have to alter our strategy."

I looked over at Dot while I asked Clark, "So it's up to us to stop them?"

"Yes," he replied.

"Dot ... the Equalizer."

Dot already had the duffle bag in front of her, in anticipation of the request. She opened it up and pulled out a weapon Monk had suggested to us back in Florida.

"Let's just say that we were ... inspired to bring this along," I commented while Dot prepped the weapon. "I didn't quite care for carrying it all this way, but now I praise God we did."

Designed to fire 40mm cartridges, the weapon we christened The Equalizer sported pistol grips fore and aft of the impressive 20-round cylindrical magazine. Dot slung the shoulder strap over her head, which would help stabilize the load and decrease the kick, and recited the stats: "Five rounds of high-explosive, just to get their attention, and fifteen of the long-term anaesthetic gas." She shifted the weapon into a firing-ready grip and grinned at us. "Okay, boys -- let's rock and roll!"

"Yes," agreed Clark. He had slung a musette bag across his back. "You've both gone over the floor plans of the palace. I'll move through the main hallway down the middle, then break off to the stairs and rescue Monja and Pat on the second floor."

I did a double-take. "Rescue Pat? Why, if I may ask?"

"Right now, her enemies are our enemies. She has no choice if she wants to escape them. That is to our advantage. I'll get Monja first and send her down to you two. Keep her safe." There was a special emphasis in his gold-flecked eyes.

"Count on it," said Dot for both of us.

We poised for the attack, oxygen masks on, waiting for the door to open. Seconds later, two of Woodward's soldiers came bursting through, gas masks covering their faces, tranquilizer pistols ready. However, they didn't have a chance as Clark and I fired simultaneously on them. One woman fell against the door, propping it open.

"Now that's what I call convenient," said Dot, raising the launcher. "Fire in the hole!"

The weapon bucked in her hands as the shells sailed straight through the open portal and burst open with a muffled blast. The effect was immediate as expected, as people ran from the unknown menace. Those who ran from the palace were taken out with mercy bullets, and the gas felled the cautious ones. Without another word, Clark lunged from our hiding place and sprinted low for the open door.

Stepping over the unconscious women surrounding the entrance and holding the door open, Clark quickly vanished inside the palace. He sent a short burst at a couple of women in the hallway, ducking a dart that imbedded itself in the wall near him. A moment of silence, waiting for someone else to appear, and he swiftly ran to the steps and ascended them three at a time.

It felt good to be back in action, he thought, the adrenalin coursing through him like nitro in a race car.

His footfalls alerted the woman at the top of the stairs, who hid behind a pedestal supporting a vase of flowers. She was shooting live ammunition, which stitched a neat trail along the wall behind him. Pausing a moment to swing the bag to the side and gauge his movements, he sprung forward, tucking his body into a forward roll ending flat on his stomach. The move took the woman by surprise, and Clark shot her with the mercy bullets. Pushed backwards, she crumpled into a heap against the wall.

He reached the door he estimated to be Monja's bedroom, and found it ajar. Pushing it open cautiously for fear of hidden traps, he found the room cleared, with so sign of Monja. Moving next door, he opened it and saw his cousin handcuffed to a chair.

The look on her face went from relief to disgust. "Come to finish me off?" she spat.

"Have you been in charge of your world for so long that you've forgotten what it's like to be rescued?" he replied, and moved around behind her, lowering his oxygen mask. Swinging the musette bag around front, he quickly found the set of lockpicks, and soon had her freed.

As Pat tossed the handcuffs aside and rubbed her wrists, Clark retrieved something from the bag and handed it to his cousin. "Here!" he said.

She held the item, her expression a mixture of surprise and confusion.

Meanwhile, Clark moved to the window, looking around the edge in order to avoid making himself a target, and saw Woodward and Monja heading in the direction of the twin-rotor helicopter. What Woodward held caused his heart to beat faster.

"What's this?" asked Pat, still looking at the object in her hand.

Clark turned back to her and answered, "Superfirer." As he did, he saw the faintest look of indecision on her face. Taking a step in her direction, he spoke with conviction. "Look, Pat. I love you. That will never change. I know I've made some horribly stupid mistakes that have hurt many people. Please know that I am truly sorry, and ... I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me." He paused. "My mistake was in returning to those caves in Maine unarmed and alone -- in my STUPID pride and vanity! Monk, Johnny, Renny, even Long Tom ... they have all forgiven me. Can you?"

Quickly moving to the door, he left Pat holding the weapon and the words he was finally able to communicate. His back to his cousin, he peered through a crack. When he turned to face her, Pat saw the familiar confident look on his face. Plus ... something else ... she couldn't recognize.

"Now," Clark said unexpectedly. "You can either shoot me and exact your revenge on me, or we can fight together -- again." His tone became defiant and forceful, and he jerked a thumb in the direction of the window. "Why don't we show these yahoos what two Savages can do when they've had enough!"

He paused.

She hesitated a moment, then two.

"So what's your decision ... are you with me, or against me?"

She was silent, shifting the weapon in her hand, looking down at the floor. When she finally looked up, her countenance was like flint. Her voice became as ice. "With you."

Clark looked her in the eye and grinned. "Then let's go kick some butt!"

"You HAVE changed," she observed with amusement that dispelled her hesitation. "I've never heard you use language like that before!"

"There's been a lot of changes in me," he replied absently, glancing again through the window.

She held up the weapon. "New superfirer, you said?"

As he moved to the door, he gave her the highlights: the range, type of ammunition, rate of fire, location of safeties, sighting system, etc. Then he reached into his musette back and retrieved an oxygen mask. He tossed it to Pat, then affixed his own to his face. "There's still traces of anaesthetic gas outside. Ready?"

She tightened the mask and took a couple of practice breaths, then nodded, "Lock and load, cousin!"

"Okay. On three." He paused. "One ... two ..."

"THREE!" they said simultaneously, throwing open the door and rushing into the hallway.

The corridor was empty save for Clark's earlier target. They paused at the top of the stairs, looked around quickly but cautiously, then descended.

Pat, with determination, cleared the door first. As Clark followed, he was greeted with a blur and a hammerblow kick to his midsection that caught him by surprise and actually lifted him off the ground and onto his back.

Rolling backwards, he landed on his feet and prepared to strike back. All he saw was the amazonian brunette named Clayton, swiftly closing the distance with a flying side kick. His arms swung up and deflected her attack. But she was good, and struck him with a fist to the head as she spun in mid-air. The connection was solid, and Clark was momentarily stunned.

His attacker quickly got to her feet and took a martial arts stance. Behind the gas mask, her eyes were narrow slits of cold determination. "Nothing personal, Savage," she said softly as she closed in for the kill. "Just doing my job."

Pat suddenly realized she was alone, and turned to see the fight between Clark and that Clayton woman.

She stopped and hesitated, briefly considering what action to take. Thanks for getting me outta there, Doc, she thought as she moved on, but you're on your own.

The rear door of the helicopter was lowering, and Woodward and Monja stood ready to board. They turned as one as Pat came into view. The Mayan queen's face, behind the gas mask, was frozen in terror. Woodward's automatic pistol shoved ungainly into her ribs probably had something to do with that.

"Stop and drop the gun NOW -- or I'll kill her!" threatened the black woman.

Pat slowed her pace, but didn't stop.

"If you do," she replied. "Then there will be nothing stopping me from ripping out your throat and showing it to you as you die, will there?" With a countenance of pure fury, she continued to move forward and demanded, "Now ... let ... her ... go."

Woodward wasn't about to let Monja go, but, instead, pressed the gun harder into her side. "No."

Pat hesitated only for an instant, hoping that there were truly mercy bullets in this new superfirer, then raised the gun at the pair and fired a burst that cut across them both. With matching looks of surprise, they jerked once, then their eyes closed and they sank to the ground in a heap.

Her superfirer extended before her, she spun around in a slow circle to make sure there were no counterattackers, then moved swiftly to examine the two women. She took the gun from Woodward's hand, and quickly verified that both women were unconscious but very much alive.

She stood there for several moments, the fatigue of the excitement catching up to her, the questions of the future looming before her.

"MIZ Woodward," she addressed the unconscious black woman through gritted teeth. "You've hurt me and you've hurt my company. Now it's payback time!"

She lowered the superfirer and lifted Woodward's own automatic, grinning at it.

Clark had been down, but not out. The blow from Clayton had slowed him, but he quickly got back into the swing of things.

Clark parried a roundhouse punch to the head, and countered with a straight arm fist to Clayton's face. She swept her arm up to block, then dropped into a low crouch and placed the heels of both hands into Clark's midsection. The big bronze man staggered back at the blow, but quickly recovered and circled his opponent.

A kick here, a punch there, a toss into the air, a recovery from a toss. Clark had a slight advantage in strength, but Clayton had the advantage in knowledge and youth. Bottom line, they were evenly matched, looking for the other to make a mistake.

Clark faltered first.

The tall brunette ducked into a crouch and swept her leg low, impacting Clark just behind the knee, and sending him to the ground. An instant later, she was straddling his chest, reaching for his oxygen mask. Clark was unable to stop her, and he struggled in the open air. Seconds passed, and the big man's chest heaved once, twice ... then slackened. His eyes, full of rage, flickered, then went closed as his body went limp.

All Clayton could hear was her own labored breathing as she straddled her conquest. After a moment, she shifted her position.

She felt a twitch under her thigh, and looked down in time to see Clark's eyes burst open. Faster than she believed possible, they had reversed positions, and he had her pinned to the ground with her arms at her sides. She thrashed like a bucking bronco under him, trying every trick in the book to escape, but he had learned from the earlier melee, and the weight advantage was his.

He removed her gas mask. She tried holding her breath in the same way Clark had, but never expected his sudden open-hand slap to her face. Gasping involuntarily, she sucked in enough anaesthetic gas to do the trick. As she started going under, she cursed Clark and gave him a dirty look. Then she went limp.

Clark had stuck her gas mask on his own face, relieved to be able to breathe once more. He continued to sit on her for several long seconds, not making the same mistake she did with him. Finally, when he was sure she was out, he stood up and retrieved his superfirer and oxygen mask.

For good measure, he put two mercy bullets into Clayton's body, then continued heading in the direction Pat had vanished.

He arrived in time to see his cousin standing with an automatic over Woodward. His eyes quickly assessed that both fallen women were still breathing -- he deduced that mercy bullets had caused their unconsciousness.

But there was a greater threat, and he addressed it in an even tone. "Don't do it, Pat. It's not worth it."

His cousin's voice seethed under the oxygen mask. "But what she did to me, to my company ..."

"Don't do it." Clark's voice was calm, low, commanding. Like she remembered in those days before everything fell apart. It gave her an odd feeling of security. Yet, on the other hand, the pistol she held was so very tempting. One quick shot -- a light tug on the trigger, and she could hardly miss at this distance -- and the threat to her company would trouble her no longer .

So ... easy.

Then he was there, at her side. His hand took the barrel of the weapon, and a gentle twist released it from her grip.

She looked up at her cousin, now so much different than she'd remembered. Then she looked down at Woodward, and -- unexpectedly -- kicked the unconscious woman in the ribs. As she looked back up into her cousin's rebuke, she defiantly snapped, "So sue me!"

As Clark knelt at Monja's side, Pat explained, "Woodward was using her as a shield. She had the gun on her. It was the only way I knew to save her. How long do these mercy bullets last?"

"Thirty minutes, depending on the individual. But I can bring her out now." He glanced over at Woodward as he stood. "Why don't you tie her up?"

"With pleasure," she replied with a mischievous grin that momentarily took Clark back half a century.

Returning to the battlefield he'd shared with Clayton, he found the brunette where he'd left her. She was a good fighter, he commented as he retrieved his musette bag and its scattered contents. Finding an electronic device, he waved it around and looked at the indicator. Nodding, he removed his oxygen mask and confirmed that the anaesthetic gas had dissipated.

Finding his transceiver where it had fallen out, he dusted it off and inserted it in his ear.

"Perry, Dot, Gumball, Amy! Status report!"

"Gumball here! The village is secure. We sustained only minor injuries."

"Perry here! We're fine, but Monja never came outta this end. Is everything okay?"

"Yes. Woodward tried to use Monja as a hostage, but Pat got them both with mercy bullets. Everything is secure on this end. Meet me at the helicopter."

"Will do."

"Clark out."

Dot and I rounded the corner of the palace. Clark was kneeling at the side of someone on the ground I assumed was Monja. Pat stood nearby, her arms crossed, standing over a well-trussed-up Woodward.

Upon seeing us, Pat reacted with a surprised exclamation of profanity. "You DID bring reinforcements!"

Clark didn't look up, but simply replied, "You didn't think I would? They are my friends."

As I handed Clark my medkit, Pat suddenly said, "Wait a minute! I know you." I turned to face her, and she continued. "You were the arrogant Bible-thumper with the derby hat and cane!" Her reference was to my appearance at the battle in Lincoln City, where I quoted from the story of David and Goliath in order to psych out her and her guards. "And in the hospital, with her." She was referring to when she showed up at Long Tom's hospital room soon before his death. I had been sitting with Dot.

I wasn't sure how to respond to her. Since Clark felt secure in having his back to her, I assumed peace was being worked out between them.

So I responded on the side of love.

I closed the distance between us, held out a hand, and introduced myself. "The name's Perry Liston, ma'am. That's my wife, Dot. It's an honor to meet you."

Her expression was confusion, and she looked down at my hand as if expecting it to come up and strike her. After a moment, however, she extended her own hand and we shook.

Meanwhile, Clark had taken out a small aerosol bottle, and sprayed it over Monja's face. She stirred almost instantly, and opened her eyes. She smiled at the sight of Clark's face.

"Doc ... ?" said Monja weakly.

"Yes, beloved. I'm here."

My head turned at his intimate reference to her. Was there more going on that any of us had been aware of?

As we looked upon the Mayan queen, she suddenly grimaced in pain and her face became pale. Then she began to shake violently as if in the midst of a seizure, and passed out.

Clark's trained eyes were sweeping over her, diagnosing her symptoms. "Let's get her upstairs," he ordered, scooping her up in his arms as easily as if she were a child.

"Amy!" he called through the transceiver. "I need you up here now! Monja's having some sort of seizure! Pulse is erratic, breathing shallow! We're heading up to her bedroom on the second floor of the palace! STAT!"

"On my way!" replied Amy.

We followed Clark as he headed for the entrance to the palace, past the very-unconscious Clayton. I took the lead to open the door to Monja's room and move aside for Clark. He eased her onto the bed and loosened her clothes. He didn't show any outward signs of anxiety, but I could sense it. Clark's feelings toward Monja were no secret -- although he sometimes wished it was -- and it was a vulnerable spot for someone who wasn't quite used to being vulnerable yet.

Needless to say, I began to intercede for them both.

And I could see that I was not alone, as I made eye contact with my wife. She and Pat stood off to one side, helpless to do anything but watch and pray.

But all Pat knew to do was watch, which wasn't enough. "Let's load her onto my Osprey," she commanded vainly. "We can have her in Miami in a couple of hours." We all just looked at her briefly, then returned to what we were doing.

Just then Amy came into the room. She was out of breath, and we could see the pain on her face. Later we would find out that she had ran all the way from where Clark contacted her, despite the protests of her own injuries. She immediately opened the med kit and moved to the other side of the bed. Clark removed a blood pressure cuff and gauge while Amy checked Monja's other vital signs.

Following about two minutes later were Gumball and John Blue Corn. Dot went over to them and drew them aside, summarizing things. The elder Mayan responded by sinking to his knees and praying in his native language.

Pat seemed to be bothered by the mixture of coughs and other sounds characteristic of the Mayan language. "Would you stop that?" she complained. "Or at least keep the volume down?"

She was suddenly jerked off balance by Dot, who had clamped a hand around her forearm, and pulled her into a far corner of the room. Her tone was low, but assertive. "Pat, can't you see what he's doing? He's praying, which is about the only thing any of us can do right now! Now hush!"

Pat's mouth hung open in surprise at the strong rebuke. Dot looked at her a moment to see if there was a response, but there was only silence. Dot went back to Gumball, while Pat stayed put.

Minutes passed. Clark and Amy diligently worked with what they had, to determine what was wrong with Monja, and how to fix it. Finally they had their answer, and it was not a good one.

"It's her heart," sighed Amy. "She's had an extraordinary strain on her heart. How old is she?"

Clark told her, adding the details about the silphium treatment. Pat walked over and added, "I gave her only one dosage of my silphium extract, but it was several times stronger than what I used at the start."

Clark and Amy's eyes met. "The strain on her system has been too much," said Amy, dreading the conclusions that were so familiar. "She may have had a previous heart problem, and this has aggravated it to the point of ... " She let the words fade off.

Clark understood nonetheless. We all did. "How long?" he asked, trying unsuccessfully to detatch himself emotionally from the moment.

We were also concerned about Amy's mental and emotional state. Finally she said, "I ... don't know ... not very long ... I'm ... sorry." She stood and took a step back from the bed. The look on her face was ashen, and she seemed to be on the edge of tears. "I-I'm sorry," she repeated, then she ran from the room.

Gumball was the first in pursuit. "I'll take care of it!" he quickly said, then was gone.

Amy hadn't gone far.

Gumball found her sitting on the ground next to a tree a short distance from the palace. Her head was bowed and she was sobbing openly.

The pilot approached, then seated himself next to her. He put a hand on her shoulder and said softly, "Amy?"

She responded by turning towards him and burying her face against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and said nothing.

"It's because of your father ... right?" he finally inquired, even though he knew the answer.

Her head nodded silently.

"You feel helpless?" he asked.

She nodded again.

"It's okay, little sister," he said softly. "Get it all out."

And she did.


Clark had not left the side of her bed. He took Monja's hand, looked into her eyes as she returned to consciousness and smiled. "I'm here, Monja."

She looked over at Pat and frowned. "She shot both of us."

"They were mercy bullets," explained Clark. "They wouldn't have harmed you."

"It was the easiest way of getting Woodward to release you," added Pat, drawing closer. "I'm sorry I frightened you."

She nodded. "It is all right, Pat. I understand."

Pat came to the side of the bed. Her shoulders were slumped, and she spoke hesitatingly, uncertainly. "And ... I'm sorry for using you like I did. I never wanted this to happen."

Monja smiled weakly. "I forgive you, Pat."

The Mayan queen paused. Her eyelids lowered a bit, and her breathing became shallower. I could see the look on Clark's face, and we all knew that her end would come soon for her. I moved over to Dot and she took my hand.

"Doc?" Monja asked. "Are you here ... to stay?"

It was obvious that Clark's heart was breaking, yet he kept his emotions at bay. "Yes, my beloved." He took her hand in both of his. "I'm here as long as you need me."

"God has given us a second chance. We will be together forever."

"Forever," echoed Clark.

She coughed, and her body shivered briefly. "You have not yet met my children, Doc. Mordecai is the oldest. He is such a good boy, and he will make a good king when I am gone. I am proud of him, as I am proud of all my children." Her face suddenly contorted in a grimace of pain, and Clark held her hand tighter.

She looked up into his eyes. "You are my love, my life." she said. "I am so glad that you are back."

Clark leaned down and they kissed. "You have not changed," she smiled, settling back on the pillow. "Your kiss still takes my breath away."

"I love you, Monja," professed Clark.

Knowing the inevitable made the words even more emotional. Dot couldn't take it anymore, as she wrapped her arms around me and started crying. I admit, I was very close to it myself.

"I love you, Doc." She smiled at him, then another spasm of pain twisted her face. She looked up at the ceiling and said something strange: "I must go home."

"But you are home," replied Clark softly. "This is your room."

"No. My home is there." Her eyes were still trained on the ceiling.

Suddenly, like a bright light, I saw the truth of her statement. Monja, like so many of her people, had become a Christian. She knew her home was in heaven, and she was now standing within view of the pearly gates.

Her body shook with one last wave of pain, then her eyes closed and she relaxed entirely. There was no more movement.

"She's home," I said, tears of joy busting free from my own eyes.

But Clark did not hear the words. He could not. Still holding her hand, he broke into tears, unashamedly mourning the loss of one so close to him. And for several minutes, we all mourned with him.

Finally, he placed her hands across her chest and stood.

But something changed when he looked at Pat. His eyes narrowed and his breathing became shallower. "YOU!" he suddenly yelled, his voice loud enough to rattle nearby glassware. "YOU DID THIS TO HER!"

Only a few minutes before, Pat had been crying with the rest of us in mourning. Now, tears still streaking her face, her expression was a mask of terror, as she realized there was nowhere to run to.

She was standing near a corner of the room, too far from the door, but not too far from the window. She glanced at the window, contemplating the odds of surviving a leap from this high. Then she looked at her cousin, and figured the odds of surviving his wrath to be far less.

Clark's arms, as well as his entire musculature, were as tense as steel bars wrapped in coils of cable, and the expression on his face said that he'd rip her to shreds before he'd realize what he did.

Pat didn't have a chance on her own.

And suddenly there I was, standing so close to Clark that I could feel hatred coming off of him like spiritual radiation.

I raised my arms and opened my mouth and said sharply, "No, Clark, NO! This is wrong! This is no way of handling this!"

The next moment I was aloft, looking down at the scene from the ceiling.

Almost effortlessly, he'd clamped two massive hands over my arm and leg, and lifted me over his head, mere inches below the ceiling. Clark was a man possessed, and I didn't really want to consider what he was going to use me for, as he continued moving towards Pat.

There was an odd lack of sound in the room. Perhaps it was my own perspective, suspended in mid-air as I was. But then I heard a voice, loud and piercing: "NO! IN JESUS' NAME, NO!"

It was Dot.

And we stopped -- completely, as if a giant hand had been placed in our path. Time froze, and all I knew was the rapid beating of my own heart.

Clark blinked, and the madness was washed away from him like dust caught in a sudden downpour.

His arms quivered, as if they were acknowledging the weight of my body above him.

His head tilted upward, and he looked at me with an expression of absolute ... fear.

I suspected that he was just realizing what he had almost done. Slowly and very carefully, he lowered me to the ground.

I was dizzy from being suspended at that angle and height, and it took a moment to clear my head. I could feel Clark's hands lightly on my shoulders, and we looked into each other's face. We locked into an embrace and we reassured and became reassured that the danger was over.

I heard Clark's labored breathing repeating, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. My God, what was I going to do?"

I just hugged my friend and repeated, "It's okay, Clark. It's okay."

Standing in the corner of the room, Pat Savage was acknowledging that Perry Liston had just saved her life.

She'd only known his name a few minutes. Before that, all he was to her was an arrogant preacher who was a friend to her cousin. She remembered him from Lincoln City ... and he was probably that other guy with Doc back in New York; she recalled that he also talked religion.

So this Perry Liston seemed to be a recurring pain in her side -- and yet he just put his own life on the line to save hers.

The whole thing went strange from that point on. The guy's wife -- the one who got in her face because she wanted some quiet up here -- screamed, and Doc just stopped in his tracks. And he wasn't angry anymore, like he snapped out of some magical spell. And now he's hugging Perry like they're long-lost brothers.

She looked around, and saw nothing between her and the door. Nobody stopped her as she left the room.

She had some thinking to do.

Go to Chapter Sixteen

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