Morgan was getting restless. She had been sitting in Logan's apartment all morning waiting for word on his whereabouts. The vexed young woman had been struggling all morning with her consciousness, trying to overcome the depression that clouded her soul. Now, something physical seemed to be more needed to occupy her. Being a normally very active person, Morgan found herself constantly pacing. A few minutes in the living room, then a walk to the bedroom to touch the shirt and read the note over to herself again. Restlessly, the redhead made her way outside, smelling the cool October breeze, laced with the scent of light rain and autumn pine.
Morgan gripped the damp iron railing of the patio, trying to make peace with her dilemma. She staring blankly through the limbs of an ancient pine tree that towered above the balcony where she stood. "Maybe some higher power has decided to play a cruel joke. Just put me together with Logan then snatch him away mercilessly. Maybe God is punishing me." She hung her head dejectedly.
Total consternation filled the fiery lass' heart. "No, Logan and I will be together in life no matter what. I just have to allow all of my doubts and fears to come and go, having real faith that Logan will return," Morgan determined, staring up into the billowing sky. Another little voice in her head kept saying, "Yeah, right," in an almost audible sarcastic tone. "You know how all of your other relationships ended, with a broken heart. You might as well ditch this one right now before you find out something awful has happened and get stuck again."
"My God, I can't believe I'm sitting here thinking this shit!" she reprimanded herself.
"That's it, I'm just going to get my heart broken! It's just going to be ripped out and stomped on!" Morgan chided herself aloud as a small smile started on her face. "Go ahead and shoot me now, 'cause I'm already done for anyway. Just rip me open and dig the heart out of my chest." Her smile became a light chuckle while mocking the action of ripping her chest open to the world.
Wow, she couldn't believe how much better she felt! Yeah, she would become the master, no, creator of the fear, then it would be in her control. Morgan's whole demeanor felt lighter, almost breezy, if that's any way to describe a physical sensation. The brightening woman smiled, leaning against the railing of the second story balcony to take a deep breath of the cool, moist air. Retaking control made her begin to feel alive and confident again.
Morgan heard the telephone ring and stepped inside to answer it, "Hello," she calmly addressed the caller.
"Miss O'Malley, this is John Grissom at the firestation. I just wanted to let you know that there's still no word from Logan. We're still trying to locate him. We've just called fire headquarters to get some help from down there, so now the whole department has been notified of the situation. The police have been brought in, too, so we have lots of people doing an area wide search for him and his vehicle. It would help a lot if you could tell us the details of his truck. We know the make, model and color but we don't know his license plate number or anything. Do you happen to know any of that information?" the firefighter queried sullenly.
"No, I sure don't. Sorry, but I've never been one to notice details like that. If I can find that information I'll be sure and let you know. By the way, has anyone called his parents or anyone?" Morgan asked solemnly.
"No, you're the only one we've spoken to. I guess they really should be called though," he responded.
"I'll call them," she volunteered, "I've met them a couple of times and they're really wonderful people."
"Thanks, it'll probably be best coming from someone they know. We'll call you back in a couple of hours or sooner if we get any word. Let's see, it's about noon now. I'll call back at three if there's no more information before then."
"Great. I'll probably be leaving here soon to go to my place. I want to give you my home number and my pager number so you can reach me."
Morgan somehow had to find the courage to call Logan's parents. It wasn't going to be easy. How do you tell someone that their son is missing and you were the last person to see him? Should she tell them that they had been sleeping together? Her parents had almost gone nuts with that knowledge. Should she tell them she was madly in love with him? That she would like to be a part of their family when he got back? Should she. . . . The fumbling lass decided to go personally to their house and let the right words come when she got there.
Morgan recognized the muffled sound off her pager as it began to beep inside her purse. Her heart leapt. Jesus H. Christ, what now? Rushing across the living room to her purse, the distracted redhead pulled out the small black pager. A well recognized number appeared at the touch of a button. "My God, what do my parent's want now? Okay, might as well get it over with."
Dialing her parent's phone number, Morgan felt a twinge of disgust rising from her chest. I'm definitely not in the mood for a sermon right now! "Okay, Morgan, get this over as quickly as possible."
"Oh, hi, Dad? This is Morgan. Did you need something?"
The gruff voice of Patrick O'Malley responded instantly. "Hi, Sweetheart, I'm glad you called back so quickly. I called your apartment and you weren't there so I decided to page you. Your brother is coming in from the Seminary this evening and we wanted to invite you over to see him. We're just going to have a few people over from the church for dinner and thought it'd be wonderful if you'd stop by for a while. After all, it's been a month since we've seen you! Don't you love us anymore?"
Why did it have to be now? It always seems that when something goes wrong, all the shit hits the fan! Morgan couldn't think of a thing she'd less like to do. Except maybe, spend the evening not knowing where Logan was or how he was doing. Perhaps she could just slip in for a few minutes then slip right out unnoticed.
"Daddy, it's not really a good time. Logan. . . well, is missing. Everyone's trying to find him right now and I need to stay accessible."
"But Morgan, you know your brother doesn't come in but every three or four months. He's getting really close to graduating and will have a church of his own to take care of soon. And he probably won't be able to stay here in Houston. You should visit with him while you can. That boyfriend of yours can take care of himself. You know we really don't approve of you seeing him anyway. You shouldn't be mixing your denominational affiliations, it's just not right. You should know by now that it's a sin to pray to anyone other than Jesus Christ! All those people who pray to Blessed Virgins, statues and false Prophets will end up in a place we don't like to think about! You should come back here with us. There are some really nice young men in the singles group where we go to church. I'm sure we can arrange. . . ."
"Daddy," his ired daughter broke in, "we've been through this before. I love Logan and I plan to stay with him. Okay, I'll stop by for a few minutes and say hi to Jeff. But, if I hear from Logan. . . ."
Silence permeated the phone line. "Okay, honey. You know we're just trying to help. We just believe you should stay in the church, that's all."
"I know, daddy, but I don't believe the same way you do anymore. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but that's the way I feel. I'd better go now, I have to go see Logan's parents and let them know what's going on."
"Why? What's happened?" the girl's father asked seriously.
"I told you earlier, Logan's missing. Never mind, I'll see you tonight. Bye."
Morgan hung up the receiver with a low growl. Why did she have to subject herself to this? Wasn't she entitled to her own beliefs? Why did the writers of some ancient middle eastern country have to dictate her life? God is God, it doesn't matter what name you give. Arrrgggh, fire and retribution on you if you don't believe exactly as I do! Hey, hasn't that started most of the wars of mankind? Haven't more people died for that restrictive dogma than any other? The young woman stepped outside once again. "Breathe," she told herself. "Just breathe from the diaphragm and feel the feeling kicking you in the teeth! Then let it go out. . . ."
Using his push pole like a master, the wiry Cajun kidnapper picked his way through the murky swamp. The dense overhead canopy of ominous looking cypress trees continually held the light to a minimum. On this day, the dimness was even more exaggerated by the dark, heavy thunder clouds rolling in from the nearby Gulf of Mexico. One could almost swear that it was late twilight under the dense foliage.
The cypress trees spaced themselves about ten to twelve feet apart on average with a distance rarely over twenty feet between the huge trunks. Spanish moss hung so thickly from the heavy limbs that at times it reminded one of the stage curtain of some macabre theater or maybe the hanging tendrils of a huge insidious spider web. Occasionally, the boatman would have to change the use of his push pole to that of a curtain hook to move aside the columns of tendrilled growth, just to allow his passage.
The Cajun had chosen the river route when his captives were in the boat. It was somewhat longer but he didn't have the hassle of clearing a path for them to duck under. Now, this was his world. He reveled in the deepness of the dense swamp's atmosphere.
This man was definitely the king of these swamps. The confident Cajun had grown up there, knew every inch by sight, sound and feel. To him this was Heaven. The backwater man couldn't understand how anyone didn't just fall completely in love with this country. It was so alive! There were things that flew, things that swam, things that crawled and things that floated. Hell, there are probably things there that even he didn't know about. All under one continuous living roof.
This bayou king would sometimes tell people who didn't agree with him in his own Creole way, "Every man has his Heaven and every man has his Hell. They is never the exact same for two different peoples. Some peoples loves they cities or deserts or mountains. I'd give away a whole world of those things for one little acre of this swamp. It is Home!"
The ruddy man zig-zagged through the last couple of trees and spotted the green Explorer where he had left it. He was glad to have bought these four acres of land on the shore of this paradise. It was the perfect place to park his vehicles and boats. It was turning out to be one of his best investments. Not that investing was of dire importance to him.
He ran the small flat-bottomed boat ashore, climbed onto the dry land and pulled the skiff completely out of the water. Just for safe keeping, the cautious fellow threw a camouflaged net over the craft. He didn't need any mistakes at this point. So far everything was coming along just perfectly. The only loose end he had to tie up was what to do with the captured fireman.
Even that might have been a blessing. After all, the police were sure to be looking for the girls and the van the kidnapper had stolen by now. This Explorer, however, was a vehicle that he could use for a while. The owner was all tied up and locked away. There was no chance that the fellow could call the cops to report this vehicle missing! This truck was as good as his, at least for a while! He pulled out an unfamiliar wallet and dug through its contents, stopping at the gas cards and fire department issued I.D. card. "Yeah, I could use some of these things, too," the contented old fellow cackled to himself. Taking a couple more seconds, he thumbed through the money stashed in a separate pocket of the wallet. The raspy Cajun smiled crookedly, nodding his approval and stuffed the wallet into the front of his belt.
He made it out of the swamp just in time. As soon as he cranked up the truck the drizzle suddenly became a deluge. The rain fell so hard that the squinting Cajun could hardly see out of the windshield with the wipers on high speed.
Craning his neck and straining his eyes, the ruddy man slowly began his journey toward the sodden highway. With each slip of his tires, each mud hole that slowed his progress, he cursed the rain again in a mixture of Cajun French and English. Normally he could tolerate rain. Hell, a lot of the time he even enjoyed it. But right now there were more important things that demanded his attention. The attentive kidnapper wasn't too fond of anything getting in his way.
His greatest worry was getting stuck on the makeshift dirt road that came from the interstate. There were several miles of treacherously muddy back roads ahead. And would he be able to get back in? He'd worry about that when the time came. It took the better part of an hour for the persistent Cajun to finally make it to the highway. Twice he had gotten stuck and had to work his way out of the mire. The worst part was that the rain was now a constant downpour. He could hardly see out of the windshield and was sliding back and forth all over the road. To make matters worse, the constant drumming of the heavy raindrops on the roof was grating at his nerves.
As the impatient old guy sat on the shoulder of the interstate, he watched the passing automobiles slowly parade by with windshield wipers flapping at high speed and headlights shining on the puddled roadway. He cursed the oncoming traffic until, finally spotting an opening and slipping into the splashing traffic flow.
"Shit," he responded loudly to himself, looking down at his watch. "I'm supposed to be in Baton Rouge right now and it's at least another hour and a half away, drivin' in this rain. Hell, ole' DuBose gonna be pissed at me. He don't know no where we be keepin' these prisoners. He shouldn't be a givin' me all the dirty works to do if he didn't wants me to take care of it. Besides, with this rain, his airplane probably be late anyways." The driver chuckled to himself again and changed lanes, speeding up to pass the car in front of him.
Oblivious to the rain, the old fellow sped the truck up much faster than the surrounding traffic. Weaving in and out between the other vehicles, he was continuously having lights flashed at him for terrorizing the freeway. Occasionally a horn would sound, reflecting the disapproval of a disdainful motorist.
An hour later he peeked at his watch once more, smiling his approval at the time that was being made up. "Yeah, I'm not that far away now. I'll be there directly. Then we be countin' our money all the way to the bank." He began to laugh. "I think I needs some drivin' music for the rest of the trip. Let's see if we can find some good ole' Zydeco to get my feets a tappin'."
Fumbling with the face of the radio, the Cajun found the on-off button to a blare of hissing static. Quickly, he found the scan button and listened to several stations come on and off, searching for his favorite music. At last the sound of a familiar bayou tune blasted over the speakers.
"That's it," he shouted, "that's the one!" Suddenly the radio switched stations again and the reeling fellow went irate. "Shit, how the Hell do I gets my station back here? I wants to here that song." He desperately starting punching every button on the face of the gadget.
Then the unexpected. Hitting a low spot in the rain-soaked road, the truck began to hydroplane. The fumbling Cajun quickly took his foot off the accelerator, trying to regain control of the errant vehicle. The puddle, however, was a large one and the truck began slowly turning it's nose to the left. He tried to counteract the spin by quickly turning the wheels to the right it didn't do any good.
Just as the vehicle was at about a forty five degree angle to the left lane, the puddle ended. The tires suddenly caught traction and wildly spun the wide-eyed driver back to the right. All that he could do was watch the rainy scenery go by at a fast spin.
The driver of a nearby tanker truck saw the spinning Explorer quickly approaching in an out of control whirl. The truck driver tried desperately on the rain- slickened road to avoid the wayward vehicle, but his own truck began to jackknife, spilling over onto it's side. The Liquefied Petroleum Gas that he was transporting burst out of the ruptured trailer, splashing high into the sodden air.
The careening Explorer slammed into the side of the overturned, ruptured tanker, sparking the volatile liquid into a horrendous explosion, rivaling the very pits of hell. Fire filled the atmosphere. Several of the following automobiles were actually blown off of the roadway into the swollen ditches lining the sides of the interstate. Most of the motorists had seen the Explorer lose control and had applied brakes much earlier, avoiding the severest part of the accident. The force of the collision and resulting blast propelled the small truck through the broken trailer. It flipped end over end, rolling down the blazing highway like an errant fireball. Fifty yards later it came to rest on its top with a smoking trail of incineration between it and the inferno of the tanker.
Thick black smoke columned upward to filter into the low clouds and driving rain. Traffic flow was completely halted for miles in both directions. Some people even got out of their cars in the middle of the driving rainstorm to witness the immenseness of the spiraling inferno with an unobstructed view. Fortunately, for those corralled closest to the accident, there were no subsequent explosions. Otherwise, the loss of life would have been tremendous as other vehicles would surely have been ignited by another blast.
The rain continued so intensely that it cooled the flames and extinguished them before fire crews could make their way through the weather and stationary traffic. When the rescue team finally arrived, all that remained was a charred rubble of metal where a gasoline tanker had once been and the twisted and charred skeleton of the Explorer lying nearby on the remnants of its roof. The metal was still hot and it sizzled loudly in the gradually diminishing rain.
Rescue workers saw little need to check the occupants of the two totally incinerated trucks, knowing that there was no chance of survivors in either case. Instead they pried open the vehicles that were blown off of the road by the explosion and now lay mostly underwater in the overfilled ditches. The number of accidents, both serious and small, seemed endless in the continual rain. The scene was total pandemonium. Between the flood waters, the emergency crews and the overwhelming number of vehicles involved in accidents, the scene looked like a set of an overdone, over-budget movie.
Eventually, the crews pried open the two vehicles causing the accident. They found one badly incinerated body in each. Neither of the drivers could be identified by sight. The cab of the tanker was so consumed that none of its contents could be recognized at all. Nothing remained that could be obviously identified, vehicle nor driver.
The driver of the Explorer, likewise, was so incinerated by the blast that the contents of the charred vehicle was nothing but ash and melted slag. The investigating Louisiana Highway Patrolman kicked the rear license plate of the Explorer, knocking it off its charred perch.
"Think you can get enough numbers off of this thing to run a make?" he asked his fellow trooper.
"Yeah, the outline of four of the numbers is still there. That, along with the vehicle's description should give us the driver's name and stuff."
"Excuse me, officers," a voice addressed them, "I'm John Scott of CNN. We just arrived here at the scene by helicopter and are live now on the air. I understand from my Police scanner that you have several fatalities. Can you tell us more about what happened here and how many casualties there are?"
"Well, we haven't really had time to investigate the causes yet or notify the families of the victims, this all just happened about forty-five minutes ago, you know. We'll get back with you shortly when we have more information."
"Can you answer just one..." the newsman was cut off by the officer.
"I'm sorry, but we're too busy for questions right now. We've still got to get this road cleared so that traffic can get moving again." He turned and walked away from the camera. "I hear tell that traffic's stopped for nearly twelve miles in both directions now. It's going to be a long, wet afternoon," he complained to his partner as they walked away.
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