A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 22

Suck Stone A huge mass of conglomerate rock in...

The big rock behind which Hank crawled to safety. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James made it about half a mile into the woods before deciding he’d better stop and set up camp while he still had enough light. Along the way, he’d come across a few places where tall grass or weeds had been trampled, but that could just as easily have been the work of a deer or bear as that of Hank. So he ended up roaming – following his nose, as they say – but found nothing that pointed to Hank.

Didn’t really expect to find anything in such a short time anyway.

James, who had spent many a day and night in the woods around Foster’s Glen when he lived there, set up his campsite in much the same way as Hank had. Once the tent was up and the fires going, he sat in front of the big fire, not yet tired, flicking twigs into it. After a while the flames began to work their mesmerizing spell on him, and he decided to roll into his tent and go night-night.


James froze for a moment, then snapped to his feet with rifle in hand.

That was no coyote, or bear, or anything I’ve ever heard. But it wasn’t close by, either. He lowered his gun. Oh, God, I hope Hank’s alright, wherever he is.

* * *


Hank’s eyelids snapped open. A sound – distant, yet still too close – seemed to call his name. He knew what it was, and he knew what its owner could do.

Hank pulled his sleeping bag closer around him. Hurt as he was, it was a miracle that he’d been able to sit up at last, after many tries, get his backpack off, pull his sleeping bag out of it and shuffle-crawl the short distance to this flat spot where he now lie, tucked behind a large rock. But that was the only miracle he had in him at the time; it sapped him of what strength he had, so setting up his tent was out of the question, and as much as he desired warmth and safety – more so than at any other time in his life – he couldn’t find it in him to gather rocks and wood to build fires, or even a fire. No, as suicidal as it seemed to him, he felt like he had no choice but to take his chances with what he had, figuring that the lack of fire would at least help keep his location secret, and hoping that his position behind the rock would do the same. And he had, in fact, felt warm and safe in his sleeping bag – until the harsh, heart-cutting cry that jolted him awake. Now he felt the fear afresh, even though the noise sounded far away, and a chill ran across his body. To top it all off, his many hurts – which had been forgotten in sleep – now barked at him once again, and from so many places at the same time that he thought he was going to have a system overload and pass out.

Then again, that might be a good thing.

Hank pulled his sleeping bag closer around him, and tried to go back to sleep.

 * * *

“Well, it looks clear from here,” said Darrell as dusk washed over the town. “I don’t see any lights on.”

“And there’s nobody outside on this side of the building,” said Wade. “As long as the other side’s clear, we should be all set.”

“Alright, I’m gonna go have a look. If everything’s all clear, I’ll walk back around to this side of the building and wave to you – when that happens, come as quick as you can and meet me in the alley behind the building, but make sure nobody’s watching.”

“Okay,” said Wade and Sara, then Darrell left. From where they were parked  – in an alley between an old garage and a vacant brick building – Wade and Sara watched Darrell breeze across the hushed little side street they were adjacent to, then disappear up the narrow way between the Schaeffer Real Estate building and the doctor’s office this side of it. The doc also closed early on Saturdays.

It wasn’t even a minute before Darrell reappeared, waving to them as he headed to the back of the Schaeffer building. They slipped out of the truck and paused at the end of the alley; the coast was clear, so they scooted across the road and ducked in behind Schaeffer’s.

“Everything alright?” said Sara.

“Yeah. The street’s virtually empty. And I checked the front door, just in case, but it’s locked.”

“At least we have the lockpicks, right?”

“Umm, no. Remember? James left in a hurry? I didn’t have a chance to get them from him.”

“So how are we gonna get in?” said Wade.

“Well, I had hoped that a window or the back door would be unlocked, but no such luck, so we go to plan D.”

“Which is?” said Wade.



“Yup. I’m gonna help you up onto this low roof over the back door, then you’re gonna go from there up past the second story and onto the main roof, down through the escape hatch, then come down and open the back door for us.”

“Escape hatch?” said Sara.

“Yeah. All the old buildings in town have a wooden-panel escape hatch on the roof; they were all built that way as an extra means of escape in case of fire or whatnot, and they usually had a rope ladder with them that reached all the way to the ground.”

“Alright. Let’s get me up there,” said Wade.

“Be careful,” said Sara.

“And don’t forget to close the hatch once you’re through,” said Darrell.

Wade got up onto the first-floor window sill, hanging onto the façade above the window, then used Darrell’s outstretched hands as another step and sprung up onto the low roof. In a minute’s time he was up onto the main roof and down the hatch, and it wasn’t but a minute more until the back door popped open.

“You rang?” said Wade.

“Showoff,” said Darrell.

They hustled inside and closed the door.

“So what exactly are we looking for?” said Sara.

“Information on anything that’s currently for sale,” said Darrell, “or any inquiries that’ve been made about land in this area, stuff like that. I’m just not sure where we’ll find it.”

“Should I start with the file cabinets?”

“Sure. Wade, help her out with that. Use your pen lights if you need to, but keep them hid as much as possible – the blinds are down, but you never know.”

Darrell went to the desk and pawed through the drawers. He found a binder labeled “Current Listings, Public” on the spine; he set it on the desk and started flipping through it. Each page was a laminated mini-presentation of some house or piece of land, but nothing larger than about a hundred acres, many smaller than that. Then a thought came to him.

He looked again in the drawer where he’d found the binder.


He found another binder, way in the back, whose appearance was identical in every way except for the label: “Current Listings, Private/Corporate.” Inside were more laminated items, but these were of a different variety: houses – rich people’s wilderness getaways – that were no less than $200,000 (and that was just for the “camps”), and land … big land.

Meanwhile, Sara had come upon some files with the same labels – “Current Listings, Public” from A to Z, and then, at the back of the bottom cabinet drawer, “Current Listings, Private/Corporate.” She pulled them.

“Hey, Darrell, look at these. Private and corporate parcels for sale.”

“Oh yeah? I found the same thing in this binder; I guess I got the version with pictures.”

“What does it mean, ‘private and corporate’?”

“Stuff being sold by rich people, or companies, and they only sell it to other rich people or companies.”

“These were tucked way in the back.”

“This too. I think they keep it hush-hush so they don’t get hassled by small-timers.”

“In other words, this is serious business.”

“Yeah, maybe even millions or billions serious, depending on how big the real estate is and what they want to use it for.”

“So we’ve found our loot, then; something big enough to kill for.”

Darrell nodded. “Yeah. I think so. … But go ahead and have a seat and we’ll compare what we’ve got, see if we can narrow it down to some specific names.”

Wade and Sara joined Darrell at the desk and they started going through everything in front of them, one listing at a time. The first piece of land they looked at – 50,000 acres in Weston, south of Foster’s Glen – got them stirred up right away: There were several bidders – some companies and a few individuals – and they all seemed willing to put up ever-healthier sums of money in a fierce bidding war. As they checked other listings, however, they discovered that all of them had multiple bidders engaged in stiff competition.

“How do we tell which one’s the one?” said Wade.

“I’m hoping there’s something about it that distinguishes it from the others; I don’t want to have to investigate all of these. Besides, we ain’t got time for that; we’ve got to narrow it down.”

While Darrell sat in thought and Wade looked at the pictures in the binder, Sara went ahead to some of the files she hadn’t yet looked at. More of the same, as far as she could–

What’s this?

A listing for a 150,000-acre chunk of land north of Foster’s Glen contained the name Vernon Pillsbury in the bidding manifest. There were several other names near the top of the chronological list, but as she read down it – and thus moved forward in time – the list boiled down to two names – Pillsbury and Victor Hallum. What’s more, their back-and-forth battle had escalated with breakneck speed using dollar amounts that took Sara’s breath away – she knew that her uncle had money, but not that much money. Other than that, though, the listing looked pretty much like the rest of them, so–

She started to close the folder when a small piece of paper slipped out of the file and into her lap. She picked it up and read it:

Dear Mr. Schaeffer –

             In the midst of this intense battle between me and my opponent, I find it necessary to remind you how much I want this piece of land, and that I expect to claim it – regardless of whether I’m the highest bidder. Need I remind you of what happened last time?



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