The retort of the gun shot and the sudden pain in his right temple were instantaneous. Stunned, he rubbed his fingers against the source of pain as he fell to his knees. His eyes widened in shock at the sight of the crimson substance dripping from his fingers.
"I ... I've been shot?" he muttered to himself. "Who ... Why?" His vision became blurred and he fell forward face down onto a clump of grass.
Sam tensed and looked about, his countenance cold. He glanced at Agnes and gave her and Catherine a knowing nod as Tiffany and Marjorie came running to join them near the grave site. He avoided their eyes; those of Tiffany asking if Hunter was dead and Marjorie's imploring stare.
Something was wrong, Sam thought to himself and Marjorie knew it too. She like he, was listening for the second shot, a second shot that should have been heard within seconds of the first. The second shot was supposed to have been an alarm to bring all the parties together in one spot. Something had definitely gone wrong.
"Where are they?" Marjorie finally managed to ask aloud. "Where is Jack and Steve? Where is David?"
There was a sudden rustling from the underbrush behind them. David emerged and stumbled in their direction. There was a confused worried look on his face. The butt of a pistol was clearly visible stuffed into the front of his slacks.
He looked first at Sam and then Marjorie and shook his head. "Someone jumped me ... hit me from behind ..." he mumbled. "That shot ... it wasn't me. I never got to fire the gun at all!"
Catherine jumped between them and demanded, "A gun? Why did you have a gun?" She looked back and forth into the faces of David and Sam. "...And just who were going to shoot, anyway? Jack? Steven?" she asked nearly hysterical.
"No one, Catherine," Sam shouted. "This gun is loaded with blanks!" he exclaimed grabbing the pistol from David's waist.
Catherine grew calm for a moment. "Then who's out there? Who fired the shot we heard? Where are my brothers?"
Agnes stared at the cold steel gun in Sam's hand. It was an all too familiar image. Once before, so long ago, Sam had been standing up there at the quarry with that same gun in his hand. It had been loaded with blanks even then.
Having no way to have known that the baby was safely tucked away in Sam's car, George Cooper had driven up to the old quarry in search of his six-year-old son. Agnes had been there before him, having tossed the infant's cap and shoes into the water beneath the old tree.Agnes turned her eyes away from the gun in Sam's hand. Even though they had been separated, Sam and Agnes had worked as a team to to keep the reputations of the both the Cooper and Nolan families as clean as possible.
She had known that her actions were well beyond the realm of the law, but she had decided once and for all that George Cooper had to be taught a lesson. Sure, she and her estranged husband Sam had been guilty of kidnapping. All they had intended to do was to bring to an end his abuse of both Catherine and Marjorie by confronting him and threatening to report him.
At that point in time, their dirty little secrets of whom had fathered whom had not been important. The abuse had to stop! George, ever the stubborn domineering brute that he was, had denied her charges. He had then grown physical and had struck her knocking her to the ground.
It was while George was flailing his fists against her that Sam had arrived on the scene. He had been wielding a gun. George had turned ghostly white when he looked up and saw that Sam was pointing the gun in his direction. Then there had been the loud crack of the gun. One moment George had been kneeling over her, and the next moment he was clutching his chest and gurgling sounds were sputtering from deep within his throat.
George had not died from a gunshot wound to the chest that night. George had succumbed to a massive heart attack instead. Sam had scared the life out of him. Fearing more harm than good to the two families if the truth had come out that night, she and Sam had hatched a plan.
While she was returning to her home, Sam had dragged George's body to the edge of quarry waters. Somehow he had hoisted the man's body by the rope swing and had left him hanging there from the tree limb, his feet dangling above his son's cap and shoe floating in the water.
Because of the overwhelming evidence and circumstances, the county coroner had determined that no autopsy was needed. So it had been recorded that a distraught father had committed suicide upon discovering his son had drowned in that quarry.
He cautiously knelt before the man who had been shot. The man was still alive but his breathing was heavy and labored. He rolled the man onto his back and looked at his head wound. The man had been lucky, the bullet had only grazed the side of his head.
His eyes widened when he recognized the man. What was he doing up here? Why was he not in uniform? It was the same policeman who had pulled him over not forty-eight hours before. It was the same man who had warned him to watch his back. Who shot him and why?
He felt suddenly ill. Was it he and not the wounded man before him, who had been the shooter's target? He grew tense and looked up toward the crest of the hill. The shooter might be still hiding somewhere up there. He swallowed hard at the thought that he could be in someone's gun sights at that very moment.
It was obvious to him that he couldn't remain where he was. He was out in the open nowhere near any cover. He began to reluctantly crawl in the direction of the tree line to his right.
He heard a twig snap nearby. It might have been behind him. Before he had a chance to react he was grabbed from behind. A pair of powerful arms locked around his neck. Their stranglehold began to tighten. He was finding it difficult to breathe as the arms applied pressure on his windpipe.
Steve was beginning to lose consciousness ...
(To be continued... Echoes of Eddie- 26)