Not everyone is a fan of Teague McMurtry. In fact, some people thoroughly detest him. One such is Major Victor Quartermain. Once a rival for Isobel’s hand, Teague maintains that the better man was the one who gave her up—himself. He and Quartermain hate one another, and not just because of Isobel. Victor has a secret that could not just ruin his career, it could get him killed. He will do anything it takes to protect himself.
Moonlight on the water didn’t make him feel romantic. He was too angry to feel anything else. I missed! At that close a range. Unforgivable! He sat on the deck of his boat, cradling his weapon. He broke it down to its component parts and dropped a piece overboard. The boat drifted a little and he dropped another piece. He continued the process until the last part hit the water and sank.
Turning the boat toward land, he muttered and grumbled to himself. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Goddammit, I hate that man!” He cut the motor, letting the boat drift in toward the dock. Jumping onto the deck, he tied it off.
A dark car sat nearby. He fished keys out of his jacket pocket, clicking the alarm button as he approached. The lights flashed as the door lock and alarm disengaged. Sliding behind the wheel, he took a deep breath. He held the steering wheel with both hands, a shuddering sigh breaking its way through his calm veneer.
What have I done? Dear God, what have I done?
Starting the car, he pulled out of the parking lot of the marina and headed home. The radio quietly played a haunting, blues tune. He turned it up, humming until it reached the chorus. “Not gonna let ’em catch the Midnight Rider.” Greg Allman’s crooning voice filled the car as he turned off into the Spruce Creek Fly-In in Port Orange.
Turning into his driveway, he pulled into the garage. He shut the car off as the garage door closed. Hands on the wheel, he closed his eyes, muttering what might have been a prayer. He wasn’t entirely sure anymore. It might have been invective hurled at his Maker, it didn’t matter. The damage was done and Isobel was in the hospital. That was his fault too.
“Dammit!” He pounded the steering wheel before getting out of the car.
Entering the house, he stopped before flicking on the light. Something didn’t feel right. Or maybe it was the smell. There was something wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Trying to shake it off, he headed to the kitchen to get a beer from the fridge. Something still wasn’t right. Determined not to let it get to him, he pulled the door open.
There on his wife’s best silver platter were photos of the dead man from the beach. Something was in the vegetable drawer other than tomatoes and carrots. Cautiously, hands trembling, he reached for it. Thinking better of it, he straightened up. He recognized the smell now—propane. Lots of it. It grew harder to breathe. Clamping a dish towel over his mouth, he ran from the house, dialing 9-1-1. When he hit the send button on his phone, he heard a loud pop behind him.
The hair on the back of his neck tingled and he ran faster, dashing through the front yard as his kitchen exploded. Miraculously unhurt, though somewhat singed, he watched his house go up like a book of matches. The fire department, when they arrived a few minutes later, could do nothing but prevent the houses next door from catching fire.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Quartermain sat on the bumper of the ambulance, cursing Teague under his breath, as the paramedic checked him for injuries.
“You’re fine, sir,” the young man told him. “A few bruises, a scrape or two, but otherwise fit.”
“Thank you,” he muttered, watching his house burn to the ground.
The fire chief and arson inspector came over, standing opposite him, arms folded. Both were massively built men who looked like they could crack his head open with a flick of their fingers. He straightened up, clutching the blanket around him.
“Mr. Quartermain?” the chief began.
“M-Major Quartermain. N-not M-Mister.” His damn stutter returned. He’d been rid of it for 30 years.
“Major,” the chief corrected himself. “Are you all right, sir?”
“My g-goddamn house is b-burning down. How do you th-think I am?”
“I meant are you injured?” The man tightened up, frowning.
“I’m fine. Sorry. My house—” He gestured toward the blaze.
“I’m very sorry for your loss, Major. We’ve found evidence of an explosive device. Can you think of anyone who would want to blow up your home?”
“No,” Victor Quartermain shuddered, shaking his head. “No, no, no. . .n-n-nnn. . . .” The shaking intensified.
The paramedic rushed over. The other two men got out of his way, letting him do his job.
“I have to ship him, sir,” the young man said after a quick exam. “I think he’s having a stroke. Or maybe he sustained a blow to the head. I can’t tell here.”
© 2014 Dellani Oakes