The Hand of Mercy Online - Tobin Wells

Chapter 1

Cowards and the Innocent

November 2011

"I'm sorry.”

Mitch's cryptic text confused Laura. Now six hours after she had received it, and less than two hours until her family would arrive for Thanksgiving dinner, Laura replaced her confusion with irritation. The turkey was his responsibility. Undercooked was unacceptable; overdone would send him over the edge…and she knew how that would end.

As she reread his text, the phone rang. For a fleeting moment, her mind raced to the conclusion that the sheriff was calling to deliver tragic news. “Hello,” she answered.

“Hi honey, it’s Mom,” rang out Pam Taylor's syrupy sweet greeting. “So how’s it coming? You just about ready for the chaos?”

“Not quite,” responded Laura. “I’ve got the sweet potatoes and green bean casserole almost ready and I'm just about to start the mashed potatoes, but Mitch isn’t back yet and I’m not sure how to get this turkey ready. You know what he’ll be like if I don’t get it right.”

Pam knew about Mitch’s temper. She had witnessed countless minor irritants which had caused him to verbally lash out at Laura, but was unaware of the abuse her daughter had suffered at his hands.

“Not back yet, huh?” asked Pam.

“No,” answered Laura, “And what’s strange is he sent me a text just after 6 a.m. that said ‘I’m sorry’.” She paused. “Mom, he’s never said I’m sorry…ever.”

Hearing a bit of alarm in her daughter’ voice, Pam reassured her only child, “Oh I’m sure it was just him saying sorry ‘cause he knew he was going to be late. You know how long it can take to track a buck if its been gut shot.”

“Yeah," responded Laura uncertainly. "That’s what I was thinking. But I figure it must be a big one for Mitch to track it. And heaven help us if he did get a ten point or bigger. He’ll have bragging rights for the year,” she chuckled, imagining what Mitch would be like. “I can already hear him telling Jack and Don about every detail of his hunt."

“I'm sure he’ll be awful to live with," offered Pam, unaware of the truth in her statement. "So, hey, why don’t I come over and just help you finish it all up. My pies are done and they can cool at your house the same as mine.”

“That’d be great Mom,” Laura said, as she pulled the phone from her ear to see who was calling on the other line. “Hey Mom, someone’s calling in. So I’ll see you in a bit?”

“I'm coming right over,” answered Pam.

“Hello,” said Laura, as she clicked to the other caller.

“Laura?” asked her friend, Deputy Sheriff Bill Bannister.

“Yes. Who’s this?”

“It’s Bill.”

In an instant, she knew the call was a harbinger of death, but her mind refused this reality. As her world slowed, she answered meekly, “Hey Bill. Is everything ok?”

“I’m afraid not Laura. We just found Mitch over off Hurricane Creek. Somebody shot him. I'm real sorry to have to tell you this, but he’s gone."

Laura slumped to the floor. The numbing sensation that pervaded her body blocked the sound from her ears and the focus from her eyes. All she felt was the tile floor beneath her and the tingling at the tips of her fingers similar to the effects of paresthesia.

“Laura? Laura?” asked Bill.

Her moaning and quiet sobbing reassured the deputy that she was still on the line. Her next words were a whimper. “Was it another hunter?”

“I can’t say for sure, but it wasn’t no accident,” Bill said emphatically. “We got everybody down there right now; EMS, State Police, everybody. We’re working as fast as we can to figure out what actually happened. And I promise you Laura, we’ll find the som’ bitch who did this. I’m sending over Sarah Blake from our Grief Counseling department to be with you.”

As his words reached her ears, Sarah opened the front door.

*****

Porter Brown was gone from the crime scene three hours before Bannister had arrived. Mitch Frazier was Porter’s 184th avenging act and his 22nd kill. Experience had given him ample practice on how to leave little, if any evidence at the crime scene. He knew only the experts from the FBI’s lab, located a few hours to the north in Clarksburg, West Virginia, would have the expertise to determine where he fired the first shot, but Porter left nothing to chance. Unlike most who end another's life, Porter never fled from the ground which held his victims. Instead, he took great care to collect his shell casings, wipe down any