PublicBookshelf Book Club
Wayne Allen McClain
Weekly tips on great novels to read.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Christopher was in no real hurry to get back out onto the open sea. He walked up the beach to a busy seaside cafÃ©, sat in the shade at the bar that faced the beach, and watched the tourists stroll by. Though they were obviously on vacation, everyone seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Mothers literally dragged their children along; most of the husbands were carrying the beach towels, folded chairs, and coolers. It made Christopher tired just watching them.
He ordered a grilled cheese sandwich from a male waiter and sipped on a soda while he waited. For some reason, he felt more relaxed and confident than he had in a long time. It felt good knowing that, more than likely, he was going to win the money. There was no way on earth that Matthew Fox was going to find him in Myrtle Beach, especially once he got back out on the water. If everything worked out, his first step would be to go to Jenny and lay the money at her feet. He would tell her to do with it what she pleased. Pay off all of their debts, start another college fund for Kristy, or just stop working and worrying. His optimistic mood, he knew, was due to the phone call home. It always lifted his spirits just to hear Kristy's voice.
"Here you go," the waiter said. He placed a heavy white plate in front of Christopher, along with an order of French Fries.
"I didn't order fries," Christopher said.
"On the house."
Christopher lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "Thanks."
"No problem. You've been waiting a long time out here in this heat," the man said, and then he was off again.
Christopher ate as he watched the ocean. The waves were non-existent and the sea foam seemed to creep up onto the sand, lose its grip, and slowly fall back into the ocean. He could have fallen asleep watching the constant, dreamy motion.
He was ready to topple over onto his plate in a state of near sleep when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"Don't look at me if you can help it," a strange male voice said in a half-whisper when Christopher started to turn his head. He glanced back to the beach.
"Good," the voice spoke again. "Very good."
"Who the hell are you?" Christopher demanded.
"My name is Spencer Grim, and I'm here to save your life."
Christopher, feeling suddenly stupid for taking orders from a rather rude stranger, turned and looked the man directly in the face. He looked vaguely familiarâ€¦ Suddenly it hit him. The "stranger" was at the mansion in Oregon.
"Sure you're not going to kill me?" He grinned, though it did not quite reach his eyes. "You found me."
"You don't understand."
"Okay, so I'm still a little fuzzy on all the particulars. Help me out."
"The man who is coming after you is named Matthew Fox"
"Right. And you're not him?"
"I'm his assistant, but, believe me, he already knows where you are. If I can find you, he can find you. In fact, he might even be watching us right this very instant. Everyone else is dead, and I just can't sit by any longer. It was too late for the others."
Christopher's expression turned from amazement to horror in a matter of seconds. "Who's dead?"
"All of the other participants in the game."
"He killed them?"
"Yes. You're the only one left. He found them one by one, hunted them down, and killed them."
"How do I know that you aren't still working for him and that he sent you down here to set me up?"
The older man shrugged. "You're simply going to have to trust me."
Christopher finished his soda in one long gulp and stood. "So, he was really serious about hunting to kill? All the others are really dead?"
Spencer nodded. "Matthew does what he wants. He lets himself drift into the zone, and then suddenly he's untouchableâ€¦or at least he thinks he is. He needs professional help. The way he sees it, you people took him up on an offer. In his mind, the rules were properly explained and easy to understand."
"But no one took him seriously!" Christopher shot back.
"I understand how you feel, but that doesn't change anything. That's how Matthew sees things. And, besides, you did cash the ten thousand dollar check."
The shocked amazement returned to Christopher's face and, a moment later, he paled to a sickly pallor. Thoughts of his wife and daughter ran through his mind in a frenzy. "You don't think he'd go after my family, do you? Please, tell me he wouldn't do that. Tell me that's not his style."
"That's not his style. You are the one who agreed to the terms. You are the one who has to run for your life. They have nothing to do with this, Christopher. It's all on you."
Christopher wiped at his mouth with the back of a hand and blinked up at the sun. "Lord, how did I get myself into this?" He turned back to Spencer. "I didn't ask for this, and I certainly don't want to die over it. It was just a damned game!"
"A game that is very real to Matthew Fox. But, if we're lucky, " he added with a wry smile, "maybe I can help keep you alive until we can bring him out into the open."
"How did you find me?"
"Trust me, you don't want to know."
"Okayâ€¦" Christopher replied slowly. His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why are you doing this? What's in it for you?"
"To tell you the truth, I helped him put the game together-the crossword puzzle, anyway. I was with him at the start of all this, but I had no idea that he actually planned to kill anybody, and I can't let him continue."
"You still haven't told me how you found me."
"I'm in the information technology field. I do that sort of thing for Matthew all the time. He's into high tech companies and investments. I work for him. Or, at least, I used to work for him. My job was to know everything about everybody. Information, no matter how small or unimportant, was at my disposal. Take you, for example. We knew everything about you right down to your choice in underwear. You like boxers, you try to eat more fiber, you enjoy a good beer when you're alone, and it breaks your heart that you can't be with your daughter every night to tuck her in."
Christopher's eyes widened. "You're good."
"I'm paid to be good, but I'm not the only one who knows about Matthew's killing spree. A reporter has gotten wind of the game. She talked with Bonnie Groom down in Florida. Bonnie pulled out on that first day, as you probably remember."
"That's right," Christopher said. "She did. He didn't try to kill her?"
"No. She never cashed the check."
Damn! Why did I?"So, who's this reporter?"
"I really don't know who she is. I can't find her listing with any major newspaper or television network. She's probably the equivalent of an ambulance chaser. I tried to scare her off."
"You did. How?"
He shrugged again. "I told her the truth. Her goal is to bring Matthew out in the open, to make a story out of it, and move on. But that won't happen. If she keeps pushing, she won't live to see her story in print."
"Think she got the message?"
"Reporters never get the message. It's in their blood to meddle into other people's business. The problem is that, if she knows, others will soon. She's trying to keep her discreet for some reason. I can't quite figure out why."
Christopher moved to lean on the bamboo railing and look out at the ocean again in an effort to recapture the serenity he enjoyed before Spencer Grim entered his world and turned it topsy-turvy. Unfortunately, the moment had passed, and he did not know if it would ever come again in his lifetime.
"Where are you staying?" Spencer's voice came from behind him.
"You know everything," Christopher muttered as he jiggled the ice in the glass he held in his hand. "You tell me."
"Your uncle's boat, right?"
Christopher turned. "How do you know all this stuff?"
"Your concern should be that Matthew also knows this stuff."
"Okay. Yes. A boat. Actually, it belongs to my wife's uncle. She's moored down at the marina."
"Why'd you moor it?"
"I wanted to call my daughter," Christopher said as he rested his elbows on the railing again, then moved his gaze from Spencer, to the ice in his glass, and back to the ocean. "I got a little lonely out there, I guess."
"You know, if Matthew was monitoring your wife's phone line, he definitely knows where you are."
Christopher's head came up again. "He can do that? Tap phone lines, I mean?"
"A person can do pretty much anything they want if they have the money to buy the right equipment."
The younger man's chest heaved in a defeated sigh. "I guess I have no choice but to trust you." He straightened to his full height again. "So, what do we do now?"
"Your best line of defense is to stay in one spot. Don't move around a lot. Find a place where you can see everything around you, set up shop, and stand guard. We have twelve more days before the thirty day limit is up."
"You think he's still sticking to that rule."
"I'd say so. It's business to him. If the hunt goes over the thirty day limit, what kind of challenge would that be?"
"I guess you're right."
"I don't think he'll strike in broad daylight where there's a chance he could be seen, though. Assassins strike without care for time and place, but not him."
"What about the boat. We could drift offshore and wait him out."
"That what you were doing?"
"I was trying to, yes."
Christopher had to smile at the question. "It looks like I might have cut my own throat by coming in to call home, if that answers your question."
"I guess after a day or so, there isn't much else to do."
"Hey, I was out there a week." He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "But that shouldn't matter. I just need to wait him out. And, according to you, my life depends on it."
Christopher's jaw stiffened with a sudden determination. "I'll go back out there and wait for as long as it takes. He's not going to beat me."
"I think it's a good idea," Spencer told him. "Like I said, you need to plant yourself somewhere where you can see everything around you, and what better place than the ocean." He put on his dark glasses back on. "Only this time, you stay out on the boat and I'll be your contact on shore. I know what Matthew looks like."
The two men merged into the crowd of tourists on the beach in front of the cafÃ©. Running children and grumpy, sunburned parents safely surrounded them.
"What will you do exactly?" Christopher asked. "Just hang out here on the beach and wait for him to show up?"
"There's a little more involved than that."
"What will you do if you spot him? How will I know?"
"You got a radio on the boat?"
"What do you mean?"
"There's a radio, but I don't think it works," Christopher said.
"Have you tried it?"
"I did once, but nothing happened. All static. But I really don't know much about marine radios."
"Maybe I can help."
Spencer stepped from the wooden pier and onto the bow of the sailboat a few minutes later. ""Looks like a boat," he commented wryly. "Cabin unlocked?"
Christopher nodded from where he still stood on the pier. "It's all unlocked. I don't have anything to steal. Hell, the stuff I have I don't even want."
Spencer slipped off the open padlock and yanked on the wooden door to the cabin. He stepped down into the musty space below and glanced around. The radio was mounted on the wall to the right of the doorframe.
"I got it," Spencer yelled. "Come here and look at this."
Christopher stepped down off the pier and onto the boat. He ducked his head to traverse the low doorway and entered the cabin.
"This is the one you tried to use?"
"You had it on the wrong channel," Spencer remarked as he turned on the radio and twisted the knob until a clear channel became available. "I'll get a hand held radio and we can talk, boat to beach."
"So you can tell me when he gets here," Christopher said with a wry half-smile.
"I don't think it'll be that easy. I hope it is, but I doubt it." Spencer left the cabin and glanced around cautiously. "You have enough supplies?"
"Got everything I need." Christopher gestured toward the cooler and the canned food on the shelves. "I stocked up when I got down here."
Spencer sat down on the seat behind the wheel and tapped his hands nervously on his knees. The sleeves of his Hawaiian print shirt flapped in the breeze.
"Listen," Christopher said, "if this works out, I'll owe you my life. If not for you, I'd be a sitting duck out there on the water."
"I haven't saved anyone yet."