When Zeb arrived back at Belleter University, he headed straight for the prayer chapel in the center of campus. It was a small building, like a very scaled-down cathedral, that was meant to be a place of reflection and communion with God. Zeb had often gone there to seek guidance when wrestling with hard decisions or situations. He’d spent a long time there in the days following his diagnosis.
This time, he needed he more help than he ever had. He walked up the flagstone path to the heavy wooden door and pulled on the wrought iron handle. Inside, warm light bathed the interior, highlighting the stained glass windows, stone floor and the dozen dark wooden pews. No services were ever held here, so there was no pulpit, just a large cross hanging on the front wall. Against the same wall, to the right of the cross, was a small piano-like instrument called a carillon. Instead of strings, the notes of the carillon were produced by twenty-four bells of varying size, arranged in two rows of twelve. This particular carillon was automatic, like a player piano, and set to play a melody for a few seconds on every hour. It was a much smaller version than the carillon that tolled the hour from the University Chapel bell tower.
He was relieved to see that the chapel was empty apart from him, and so he strode down the center aisle and knelt on the stone floor before the cross. He took the gun out from his waist band and laid it on the floor in front of himself, almost as if offering up to the Lord. He looked up at the cross for a long time, gathering his thoughts – and his courage – before speaking to his God. “I don’t know what to do,” he finally whispered. “I need you. I can’t let Zoe get hurt, but I can’t just let these guys get away with killing that man.” Tears pricked the back of his eyes. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, but how else am I going to stop them?”
He sniffed and looked down at the gun. It was an abhorrent object, completely alien to this place. A stirring of anger heated up inside him. “If I weren’t so…helpless. Useless, because of this stupid disease, I could save her. I could save her and put these guys away for good. But I am,” he said with a bitter laugh. “I am no hero. I can’t run, or drive or even get on a frickin’ elevator without worrying that I’m gonna collapse into a blubbering mess on the floor. How am I supposed to be of any use to my sister, when she needs me most? How am I supposed to get justice for Milian? Huh?” His voice, now raised, rang through the small stone structure. “What am I supposed to do?”
He picked up the gun and stood, brandishing it toward the cross. “You give me an alternative to this. You tell me how everything’s going to work out without it and its yours. I will throw it away and never look back. But you gotta give me something, Lord. You gotta give me some kind of miracle to get her back with.” He dropped his hands to his side and bowed his head, tears slipping free of his lashes to land on the stones beneath his feet. “I can’t do this. Who am I to do any of this?” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Please. I can’t do this without you.”
The carillon began to play A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. He looked over at it, sniffed back his tears, and nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Okay.”
The moment was interrupted by his cell phone ringing. He answered it. “Hello?”
Dos’ voice replied, “Time is up, Professor Martin. Do you have the card?”
“Yes. I have it. Meet me in the library courtyard. I’ll give you the card and you give me my sister.” He walked out of the chapel and toward the library.
“That is not quite how this works. Once I have the card, my partner will release your sister a few miles from someplace where she can get help, and my friend and I will leave this retched city of yours.”
Zeb stopped walking. “Wait – what?”
“Just bring the card to the courtyard.” With that, he hung up.
Zeb immediately tried calling Rob, to see if he and Harriett had been successful getting in touch with the authorities. His call went to voicemail, so he hung up and tried again, meanwhile making his way to the courtyard across campus. He tried five times before he reached the library, and every time the call went to voicemail. What did that mean? Had Rob been right? Had Uno or Dos gotten to him? He put his phone back in his pocket and kept walking, pushing those thoughts aside.
He saw movement from the courtyard and his heart began to beat faster. This was it. This was the reckoning, and he’d have to trust that God would get him and his sister through it alive. He took a deep breath and approached the courtyard. Dos saw him and drew his gun, but he kept it held down at his side.
Zeb held his hands up and approached cautiously. There was no one else around, that he could see, and the retaining walls around the courtyard offered a modicum of privacy. He wasn’t sure now whether that was a good thing or a very, very bad thing. He briefly wondered who would be the most likely person to discover his body the next morning if Dos left him there after he killed him…
“I have the card,” Zeb announced when he was just a few feet away from the Spaniard. “It’s in my pocket, I’m just going to get it, okay?” He eased his hands down to retrieve it.
“Slowly,” Dos warned, bringing the gun up to level at Zeb’s chest.
Zeb nodded and carefully handed over the memory card. Dos took it and gestured for Zeb to move over to one of the benches that were spaced around the courtyard. On it sat Zeb’s camera. He was shocked to see it after thinking he’d lost it forever. Of course, he knew it was highly unlikely the killer before him would be kind enough to return it. Dos popped the memory card into the camera’s port and turned it on. He scrolled through the images, at first only of the view from his great-aunt and -uncle’s roof, then he got to the incriminating photos.
He grunted, then removed the card and sat it on the bench, using the butt of the gun to grind into pieces. He picked up the remnants and broke them down further with his fingers. When he was done, he turned his full attention on Zeb. He leveled the gun at him once more. A thrill of fear jumped in Zeb’s gut, but Dos only took out his phone and made a call. “”I have it. Let her go.” He hung up and gave Zeb a frosty smile. “See? As promised.”
Letting out a deep breath, Zeb said, “Thank you. Do you think you could put that thing away now, then?” he asked, gesturing to the gun.
Dos considered him for a moment. “Do you know what I think, señor? I think you are the kind of man who believes in justice. The kind of man who wants everything to be tied up in a neat bow or you don’t consider it finished.” He raised the gun toward Zeb’s head. “I think you won’t rest until you see us behind bars, or dead.” He cocked his head to one side as Zeb felt the entirety of his world narrow down to a focused point: the barrel of that gun. “Am I right?”
He saw him say the words, but a dull rushing sound filled his ears and drowned all other sounds. Pressure built up behind his eardrums and the ground beneath his feet started to tilt. “On your knees, Mister Martin,” Dos commanded coldly.
He didn’t really have a choice but to sink to the ground, his breath coming in and out raggedly as panic filled his mind. But then he felt something at the small of his back and realized he must have put the gun there when he exited the chapel, even though he didn’t remember doing so. He gave into his dizziness and leaned to place one hand on the ground at his side. Dos’ eyes followed that movement and Zeb took advantage of the moment to draw the gun out of his waist band. “It looks like I have one of these, too.” he told the Spaniard.
Dos laughed. “What do you think you’re going to do with that, Professor? You can barely look up at me, with whatever it is these attacks are that you keep suffering from. Besides, if you kill me, your sister dies.”
Zeb latched onto a thread of hope. “Wrong. You already told Uno to let her go. And if you pick up that phone, I will put a bullet in you.”
Annoyance flickered across his features, then was replaced by irritated confusion. “Uno?”
Zeb shrugged, straightening a little as the dizziness ebbed away momentarily. “Whatever his name is. Put the gun and the phone on the ground.”
Dos glared at him, an expression full of murderous hatred. “This does not end tonight, señor. I will find you again. I know where you live and where you work. Do you think I won’t just kill you whenever I feel like it? And your sister?” He chuckled. “I mean, I already killed your friend from the paper, so two more bodies on the pile is of no consequence to me.”
The air left Zeb’s lungs in a gasp, as if he’d physically been punched. No, he thought, he’s lying, Rob is not dead. But he wasn’t answering his phone earlier… “What have you done?”
“I told you. I have every copy of every damning photograph you took. All the evidence that Nico Milian died in any other way than what the television says. That leaves me with only you, and only your sister. I will enjoy haunting your every waking moments, and hunting you down in the end.” Dos refused to lower his weapon. The two were locked in a standstill.
“No, this can’t be right,” Zeb muttered. Where was his miracle? Where was God’s justice? Then he remembered where he was. He pointed his gun and shot into the air.
Dos ducked instinctively and Zeb lurched away behind the nearest retaining wall. Campus police would be on their way. Their headquarters was in the Student Services building, which was the very next building across the courtyard. Zeb heard Dos cursing and ran as much as he could, staying low to the ground and moving from one retaining wall to the next back toward the library.
He let off one more shot, this time into the ground. A flashlight’s beam cut through the darkness as campus police officers issued out of the Student Services building. Zeb darted for the cover of some low bushes in front of the dormitory that stood near the library. He didn’t know where Dos was now, but he did know that, for now, at least, he had gotten away from him.
He circled around buildings, heading back toward his car before campus police could issue a campus lockdown order. He got back to it and shakily got in, tossing the gun onto the seat next to him. He started his car and drove away, praying he’d get out okay so he could go find Zoe.
His cell phone rang, startling him. He answered it, but the rushing sound in his ears made it difficult to understand what he was hearing. “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” he told the caller.
A woman’s voice, practically yelling, asked, “Is this Zeb Martin?”
“Mister Martin, I’m calling from Aurelia General Hospital. I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
He couldn’t breathe. “What happened?”
“There’s been an accident. We have a Robert Zesterson here, he listed you as his emergency contact on a card we found in his wallet.”
“Rob?” Not Zoe. “Is he -”
“He’s alive, Mister Martin, but I’m afraid he’s in very serious condition. It’s probably best if you come now. He’s just been taken in for emergency surgery.”
“I’m on my way,” he managed to say. He began to shake all over as the adrenaline rush started to subside. However, the dizziness seemed to have passed as well, leaving him with only the pressure and tinnitus, and the beginnings of a migraine heating up in his brain.
He didn’t care. Rob was alive after all. And soon Zoe would be calling him to come pick her up. Then they could all go to the police and put an end to this thing once and for all. Zeb felt like laughing and crying all at once.
He settled on pouring out a prayer of joy and thanks instead.