It was the most traffic Gypsy Road had endured since it was first paved in 1973. For as far as anyone could see, television news vans with antennas raised high and hundreds of onlookers crowded the parking lot of the Myrtle County detention facility. Alone behind a podium, situated underneath the towering twin oak trees which inspired the small town’s name, stood Sheriff Jessie McGee. He was about to begin his press conference regarding the murders of the young boy and the emergency medical technicians. He was more nervous about the presence of Becky Lowery and Katie Liberman than fielding questions from the small army of reporters. When he spotted them pulling into the parking lot, McGee pulled the chubby deputy aside to give him specific instructions.
“Reed,” he said sternly. “Don’t let those two anywhere near the podium. If they begin to make a scene, get them out of here.”
“Yes sir!” the young deputy shot back in agreement.
McGee gave a nod of acknowledgment to the girls as they took their place in the crowd and began his speech.
“My fellow citizens of Twin Oaks and Myrtle County, I stand before you all today to bring you up to speed on the unfortunate events that have taken place in our community over the past couple of days. As you all know, I am Sheriff Jessie McGee, and if you don’t mind, please hold all questions until the end of my statement.”
Instantly, Jim Savage from the Channel 13 News team out of Dallas pulled his hand back as though it had been shot. The Sheriff took notice.
“Within the past forty-eight hours, four gruesome murders have taken place in our town. They were grotesque, barbaric acts all committed by the same individual. I’m referring to lifelong Twin Oaks resident, Mr. Toby Liberman.
As the crowd gasped in unison, Becky and Katie stared one another down in confusion. There were four murders? A mere twelve hours before, it was only three! What took place deep in the night to add one more to the total?
“A young boy on his way home from soccer practice and two of Myrtle County’s finest emergency medical technicians were slaughtered beyond recognition by this maniac. He was apprehended and in custody when he pulled off an elaborate escape. I’m sorry.”
The crowd gasped again as Katie looked at Becky in simultaneous horror. If her father was no longer in custody, then where was he? Katie tugged at the bottom of Becky’s shirt, but Becky shushed her instantly. She was very anxious to hear any kind of update on Johnny. She’d been bitterly disappointed when she didn’t see him the minute she pulled her car into the parking lot. It was unusual for Johnny not to call and check in, even if it meant he was using up his only phone call offered by the jail.
The Sheriff continued. “Last night, Mr. Liberman escaped the Myrtle County Jail by use of some type of explosive from an unknown source. There was a large hole blown into the side of the jail wall and Mr. Liberman disappeared. I assure you that all available manpower has been deployed to search for our suspect since the moment the security breach occurred. We will not rest until our suspect is in custody.”
The reporter, who’d been biting his lip almost to the point of drawing blood, couldn’t take it any longer.
“Sheriff McGee, you said that…” Jim Savage interjected.
McGee looked down from his podium in disgust.
“Dammit, Savage, I told you to hold all of your questions!”
The interruption only made the man speak louder.
“You said there were four murders that have taken place in the past two days. Will you release the identity of the fourth victim?”
The Sheriff knew this question would come eventually. He paused to take a momentary breath. In his heart, he’d been longing for someone to make the inquiry. He’d been dying to reveal the answer to that question to two specific members of the crowd. Clearing his throat and squinting his eyes against the rising sun, he glared directly at Becky Lowery.
“The fourth murder victim was the suspect’s close friend and brother-in-law, Johnny Haynes.”
Everything Becky could hear faded to whispers and echoes. She was so taken aback by the last sentence spoken that she was no longer aware of her surroundings. It wasn’t until she felt Katie’s face, wet with tears, against hers and the strong hands of two deputies as they lifted her to her feet when Becky realized she’d completely lost consciousness and fallen hard against the concrete. She cried aloud for her lost love. The people near her stepped back. As they caught her just before she fell to the ground a second time, the deputies looked anxiously at McGee, hoping for direction.
“Take her home, boys. The girl, too. I think they’ve had about as much as they can handle,” he nodded with sadistic satisfaction.
Becky’s and Katie’s cries of sorrow could be heard from behind the thick glass windows of the patrol car which whisked them away as the Sheriff continued his presentation of personal joy. Jim Savage, unable to control his journalistic instincts, shouted another question to the Sheriff.
“Sheriff McGee, is it not standard protocol to notify the deceased’s next of kin before making a murder victim’s identity public?” Again, the crowd hung on the Sheriff’s every word.
“Dammit, Savage! I told you to keep your mouth shut until the end of my statement, and don’t question my police work. Stick to looking pretty for the camera. Speak out of turn again and I’ll have you removed from the premises!” the enraged Sheriff spat at him.
Jim Savage looked cross as he exhaled in frustration. He remained quiet for the moment.
“I’m sorry for the outburst folks. I had every intention of bringing this news to the family members personally, but there’s not a lot of time to waste here. Mr. Haynes and I were combing the woods late last night when we were jumped from behind by the fugitive. After a brief struggle, I was overpowered by Mr. Liberman and my gun was taken. Toby Liberman then used the gun on Mr. Haynes. Mr. Liberman disappeared before I could return fire with my backup weapon. I searched the immediate area, and when I returned, Mr. Haynes body had been dragged away. It was at that point I ordered all my deputies to fall back to the Sheriff’s Office to regroup. After that incident, I knew I couldn’t afford to take any more chances. I can only imagine that Mr. Haynes life was taken to secure the fugitive’s location and to further delay his capture. Mr. Haynes body was eventually located but Mr. Liberman’s whereabouts are currently unknown.”
Looking down at the reporters, McGee knew he could no longer keep their questions at bay.
“Yes, Mr. Savage?” the Sheriff said sarcastically. “Go ahead and ask your questions before you piss yourself from anticipation.”
“Sheriff McGee,” the reporter spoke quickly. “How did a man in your custody manage to smuggle explosives into your secure facility?”
McGee hated this man with a passion. Even though there was little news to report out of the Twin Oaks area to interest anyone in Dallas, he’d dealt with Jim Savage on one occasion too many. He was too smart-assed and liberal for McGee’s liking, but he’d turned out to be a necessary evil. Each exaggerated report published about Jessie McGee only served to produce more compliance amongst the citizens who refused to side with him. Most of the locals avoided Mr. Savage’s publication just for the simple fact they didn’t care much for the mean man who said disturbing things about the one sworn to protect them. The burning eyes of the crowd glared in Savage’s direction.
“Mr. Savage, I can assure you that the prisoner was searched from top to bottom, inside and out, before he was locked away in the holding cell. I brought him in myself. Now, if you want to question that, I can only assume you are calling me a liar.”
The crowd began to speak among themselves in heightened anger, making the young reporter feel as though he was the accused. McGee continued, “My only guess is that the wall was blown open from the outside and the prisoner had some type of assistance. However, this reasoning is not my top priority at the moment. I’m trying to capture a homicidal maniac so my people can sleep soundly.”
It was a good answer, but McGee knew there were more questions to follow. He would be ready for those, too.
Another man, unknown to McGee, pointed his audio recorder in the direction of the podium and shouted, “Sheriff McGee, I’m from an affiliate in Tyler. Did Mr. Liberman have any type of criminal record before these incidents that would lead you to believe he was capable of such atrocities?”
“First of all, sir, I appreciate you having a much more professional demeanor than your colleague,” McGee quipped as he shot a contemptuous glance at Jim Savage. “No. Mr. Liberman had never done anything other than some occasional quick twenty-fours in the drunk tank until now. I’m not prepared to speculate as to what would cause him to go off like that. Perhaps marital problems or difficulties at work caused this. He was reported to be experiencing both. Either way, what’s done is done, and his gentle past will not be a deciding factor in how I choose to deal with him when he is located.”
“How do you plan on dealing with him?” Savage shouted quickly before any other reporter could get a word in.
The Sheriff breathed in deeply and the inhale could be heard through the podium’s PA system. This answer required little thought. Looking at the crowd of citizens and press members who stood below his raised platform, he placed his hands firmly on either side of the podium. With the sun now directly behind, causing him to appear as a featureless shadow in the blinded eyes of the onlookers, he finally spoke.
“My order to the deputies, Mr. Savage, is to shoot on sight. This man has murdered. He has killed a child. He has killed those dedicated to helping us when we are in need. He has killed a man that I thought meant more to him than life itself. I watched him do it. He is beyond dangerous, and there is no cure for that. No prison sentence could fix what is wrong with Toby Liberman. If he is captured, there is a slight possibility things could go wrong in the trial and he could walk. Do you want this man living next door to you? Do you want to have to look over your shoulder every time you walk down the street or go to your car late at night? Is this the kind of life you want for your young children?”
The crowd’s loud, unanimous words of agreement and encouragement punctuated every question. Everything was going according to McGee’s plan.
“I don’t!” the ecstatic Sheriff continued. “I don’t want to live my life that way. He has a gun on him, my gun, and I want it back. There will be no capture of the fugitive Toby Liberman. The only acceptable fate for this man is death! Is that a good enough answer for you, Mr. Savage?”
In a fit of rage, the Sheriff swiped the podium on its side with a swift stroke of his powerful hand; the microphone toppled to the ground with a static screech and lost power. He no longer needed it. Standing tall on the edge of the raised stage, he issued the final challenge to both Toby and the crowd.
“As of right now,” his voice boomed forward over the fixated crowd, now behaving as though they were mindless drones craving the next outburst. “You are all my deputies! I want every woman locked up at home with her children behind strong doors, and I want every able man old enough to shoot a gun to stand beside us as we rid our town of this trash. He thinks he can run from me. He thinks that he can hide from me. He is damn wrong! Mr. Liberman is not to be spoken to or negotiated with. He is to be shot on sight! Anyone caught helping this fugitive will be dealt with in the same manner. If we all work together as the family we’ve grown to be, we can resolve this problem before the sun sets on these twin oak trees standing proudly behind me. These two trees have stood the test of time since the birth of this community and they represent strength and longevity. Now, let us be strong and resilient like our namesake, and be an example to others of what a true, small town family will do to protect its own. We are a unique sort of family, aren’t we? We are the citizens of Twin Oaks, Texas!”
The Sheriff’s words were well-received by the crowd, and they barked out a hearty agreement in unison. As hats were thrown high into the air, the Sheriff turned proudly, facing the wooded outskirts of Myrtle County, and issued his final statement. A hush came over the crowd once more as they took notice of the Sheriff’s grandiose gestures that indicated he was about to speak again.
“Toby Liberman!” he yelled loudly into the trees. “I know you’re out there! Your ass is mine! We’re coming for you and we’re coming for you NOW!”
Quickly pulling his backup revolver from its holster, he fired a deafening shot into the air causing babies to cry and car alarms to go off in the parking lot. “The next time I pull that trigger, it will be aimed at your head!”
It was all the inspiration the simple people of Twin Oaks needed to rally behind him. There would be no mistakes this time.
Jim Savage stood in stunned disbelief. He’d rushed from Dallas to cover a press conference about a shocking triple homicide. He’d just witnessed an elected law enforcement official turn that press conference into a murderous pep rally.
Jessica Liberman sat silently in the darkness. Her hands were now unbound from the headboard of the bed and folded neatly in her lap as she watched over the two sleeping girls who lay only inches from her. Over the previous days, she’d lost nearly all that remained sacred to her. Katie was the only one left. Looking in the mirror, she still saw a stranger. A mere shadow of her former self. She was still trying to process everything Becky and Katie recounted upon their return from the press conference. Johnny was dead and, more than likely, her husband with him. Jessie McGee wasn’t known for leaving too many loose ends.
McGee told her so many stories over the past few weeks, stories to make most people’s skin crawl, but she never imagined there was any truth to them. In her mind, these were stories he made up to sound much more powerful than he was. As long as he’d kept bringing the dope, she really didn’t care. She would gasp in feigned surprise as he bragged. How wrong she’d been. Jessie McGee was a monster and there was no way of stopping him. If only she knew where Toby was hiding.
He’d gotten help from somewhere. There was no possible way Toby was this crafty on his own. How do you blast through a thick concrete wall in a heavily guarded correctional facility and then just disappear? Was there some kind of ability he possessed, possibly learned from his military days from way back when, that Jessica never knew about? He’d always been a little reluctant to speak about his Army days, and Johnny was the same. What the hell did they do to those two? What kind of nightmares did they endure?
She didn’t expect Becky to stay around much longer. Her friend stated as much on occasion. Johnny was the only thing to keep her from packing up and leaving Twin Oaks to stay with her parents in Florida. With Johnny gone, Twin Oaks held nothing for Becky apart from painful memories. If things turned bad with Toby, Jessica wasn’t staying either. She would have to grab Katie, pack the car with anything which would fit, and just go. There was no way of knowing what the Sheriff would do to them when he found out she wasn’t interested anymore. There was no one left to protect them. Dying as a fugitive would be much better than living as a slave.
For Katie’s sake, they’d have to leave. She imagined Katie being ostracized by her friends at school. It was already easy to determine none of them knew what to think about any of this. The phone hadn’t chirped even once. Their parents had probably given them all the lecture about the “freaky” Liberman family and how they needed to stay away from that smart-mouthed Katie kid, or they might end up dead or on drugs. It just wasn’t fair to Katie. None of this was her fault.
The shock of McGee’s news and the subsequent rallying of his troops overwhelmed Becky and Katie. Not long after returning to the Haynes residence and briefing Jessica, they’d each fallen into a coma-like slumber. They slept as the rest of the town watched the news reports filmed earlier in the day. Jim Savage’s report came streaming in over and over on all the Northeast Texas channels with tales of murder and horror in the small town of Twin Oaks. The news cameras captured the moment Becky fell to the ground in disbelief and zoomed in tight on Katie as the deputies ran over to assist. Then, the reporter would rant about the dangerous man on the loose as the photo from Toby’s work badge stared back at the viewers from their screens. Upon seeing this image, Jessica reasoned that Toby was most likely unemployed. She was certain this was the least of her husband’s troubles.
Even though the meth hadn’t completely left her system, she wasn’t interested in scoring more. Many recovering addicts told her meth was one of the most difficult substances to overcome. They told her she’d go for months, even years thinking about it every single day. To Jessica, this wouldn’t be a problem. Thinking of the drug also meant thinking of Jessie McGee. Thinking of him just made the entire surreal scenario play out tirelessly in her exhausted mind. When it did, her thoughts drifted to a future quiet dinner in a remote location. She’d have a gun tucked away in her purse, ready to be drawn the moment he let his guard down. Since the second she’d heard of her brother’s death, it was one of numerous revenge scenes dreamt up for her erstwhile lover. These fantasies were not viable options, though. If she did find the strength to avenge her brother, McGee and his henchmen would be after her next. The townspeople who blindly supported McGee would be after her, too. It was bad enough they were all searching every nook and cranny of town for Toby.
She’d thought for a second about leaving the house to search for her husband, but a quick order from Katie not to do so kept her home. Her young daughter was fearful some people might try to follow Jessica, thinking she’d known where he was all along. Worst case scenario, Katie thought, would’ve been some crazed vigilantes taking her hostage and using her as bait to lure him out. The number of people searching for Toby intent on killing him notwithstanding, he was the only possible link to a happy ending in the unfolding story of Jessica Liberman’s crazy life. If Toby was clever enough to escape his cell, then surely he would be capable of taking out the Sheriff. That was the key. McGee. Remove him, and life would return to a somewhat normal state, and everyone still living would have a fighting chance to prove their innocence. Even though Jessica never thought she would be able to say it and mean it, Toby was their only hope. Katie, on the other hand, believed in her father from the very beginning, and that faith had never wavered.
Before crying herself to sleep, Katie said her father would soon come home and make things right. These were the only hopeful words spoken in the Haynes home for the past seventy-two hours. She’d also said her Uncle Johnny sacrificed himself so that her Dad could return. Now, the young girl had no proof of that last assertion. These were more than likely the frantic ramblings of a thirteen-year-old who’d been through a painful amount of personal trauma. She’d endured more emotional agony in one day than most people face in an entire lifetime. Still, she had loved her Uncle Johnny. She loved her father. She’d always believed in them both, and she desperately needed to believe in something on that horrible night. The ticking clock echoed in the quiet room as both Jessica and Katie silently clung to their faith in Toby Liberman.
The possibility he would burst through the door at any second, scoop them up, and carry them all to safety was a little farfetched, but it’s what Jessica wanted more than anything. The fact he was a fugitive was sort of a turn on. The murder part was complete and total bullshit, but still kind of turned her on, too. Sex should’ve been the furthest thing from her troubled mind, but the mere thought of what he could do to her was a welcome distraction amongst the very unwelcomed realities of the situation. She loved him and couldn’t wait for the chance to show it to him again. Thoughts of her brother’s demise would invaded her mind every few moments, as if regulated by some invisible timer. A few silent tears escaped her eyes. She needed the distraction.
There’d been times when she could’ve sworn she heard some rustling downstairs, the slide of a half-jammed window or the creak of the hardwood floor, but she didn’t want to wake anyone by going to check it out. Her fear of opening the front door to Jessie McGee was more than enough to convince her to stay put and pretend no one was home in the residence once shared by Johnny Haynes and Becky Lowery. Her mind raced, searching for the things to say when the moment arrived, and she could no longer keep up the charade. Perhaps Toby had the right idea. Perhaps hiding was the best solution.
The television was currently the only source of light in the room. Reaching quietly for the remote control, she turned off not only the television, but also the image of her beloved husband. She also silenced Jessie McGee’s harsh words about Toby which were replaying in her tortured psyche all night. She could bear no more. Blinded by the darkness, her other senses came alive. She heard the trees which had grown too close to the house as they clawed at the vinyl siding like some sort of crazed monster awakened by the October winds.
The rustling leaves battled endlessly in a swirling war for supremacy on the front lawn. On occasion, she would catch tiny wafts of Johnny’s cologne released from years of collection inside the pillow. Reminders like this were the reason Becky would be leaving them soon. These scents and sounds that ruled the darkness would forever fuel desperate attempts to find ways to turn back the hands of time and seek out happier circumstances. Thinking about it tore to the very core of Jessica’s being, but she allowed herself to follow the thought. If and when the day came that she learned of her own husband’s death, she would more than likely do the same. The only difference in her relationship with Toby and Becky’s relationship with Johnny was the Libermans had settled down and tied the knot. When it comes down to true love and feelings for another person, what the hell does a notarized sheet of paper mean in the grand scheme of things? Becky mentioned Johnny teased her on several occasions about giving up the single life and marrying her. In Becky’s heart of hearts, she hadn’t believed their nuptials would ever come to pass. Unfortunately, she’d been correct in her assumption, but the cause was something unimaginable and far more sinister than her reasons for doubting Johnny’s intentions.
Somewhere out there in the cold, Autumn darkness, Toby Liberman was hiding for his life. To his knowledge, he had a wife deeply involved with his accuser. He was completely unaware of the heroic actions of his lifelong best friend and his tragic passing. He knew nothing of his future or the futures of those he cared for. He was living moment to moment. Jessica felt nothing but the utmost sorrow for him, wondering what he was up to, or if he was even thinking about her. Without a doubt, she knew his bond with Katie was untarnished. If she could afford to bet anything in her life, after all of this was said and done, it would be the thought of Katie that kept him going. The love he had for his baby girl would keep him defiant enough not to turn himself in and face the wrath of the Sheriff. The thought of Katie would prevent him from taking his own life just to put an end to it all. He knew the woods better than most in those parts, but there were a few hundred misguided townsfolk crazed with images of their families suffering the same fate as the Weldons who were going to be a tough bunch to avoid. It’s kind of hard to hide in the crowd when everyone knows who you are.
For certain, she knew he was still safe for the moment. She’d heard no sirens since darkness fell, and there were no news updates. If he’d been captured or killed, everyone would’ve known by now. The Sheriff would shout it from the rooftops. The fact he hadn’t been located was further confirmed by the lack of a visit from Jessie McGee. If he wasn’t devoting every waking moment to hunting Toby, he would’ve come by to check on her. He wouldn’t want to get caught a second time with his pants down, and if Toby was hell-bent on bloody revenge, he’d be likely to get it should McGee show his face at the Haynes home.
Occasionally, McGee’s megalomaniacal ravings, delusions of grandeur, and paranoia would give way to some actual pragmatic thinking. McGee would leave nothing to chance. That is why he’d empowered every man in town to find and kill Toby. He didn’t like to lose, and cheating was a legal option in his playbook. Jessica’s thoughts as she lay somewhere between consciousness and slumber turned to “if only.” If only people could see the Sheriff for the monster he truly was. If only they knew how their tax dollars were being spent. If only they knew what evildoings were happening right under their noses. If only, but the residents of Twin Oaks, blinded by fear and the Sherriff’s propaganda, had fallen for a well-concocted lie. There were a few who were motivated not by the desire to protect their families, but by the opportunity to fire a gun at another person without consequence.
Resolving yet again to sleep, she closed her eyes and opened herself up to whatever god may have been listening at that exact moment. She prayed for understanding and for her loved one’s safe return. She prayed her little girl would have a happy reunion with her father. She prayed Katie would not have to see him in a coffin or from the viewing room outside an execution chamber. She prayed for Becky, her sister in tragedy, that she would someday forgive Jessica for the heartache she’d inadvertently caused. Finally, she prayed for the slow, agonizing death of Jessie McGee. He orchestrated everything wrong in her life.
He led her away from her husband with false treasures. He’d ruthlessly murdered her brother and made her husband a target. She never was much of a church-going person, but knew in her heart there was someone out there who listened. Jessica watched it all go down on several occasions. People who prayed and wished for good things to take place in their lives were often showered with blessings, if they were faithful in what they wished. On the other hand, some people’s lives got worse. She always imagined it was because someone else was wishing misfortune on those who saw no evidence their prayers were being heard. Perhaps all of one’s prayers can’t be answered and the powers-that-be must take turns. She hoped her prayers were heard before those of anyone who might be praying for misfortune to fall upon her family.
She only had one enemy known to her, and he wasn’t much of a praying person. Even if he was, she knew Becky and Katie were praying too, and that meant three against one in the battle for attention of any all-knowing entity who presided over their fates. She hoped the majority would rule.
Her consciousness finally faded away into nothing and Jessica floated through her dreams on clouds of hope. Unbeknownst to her, someone was indeed watching over the most painful night of her life. It wasn’t a deity or all-knowing celestial being. It was a mortal man, hidden from view as he sat atop the tree branch closest to the upstairs bedroom window where he kept constant vigil over his loved ones. Toby was given specific orders to stay in the shadows to avoid capture. He’d chosen to ignore those orders for now. When his nightmare began, he was ambivalent about fighting the good fight. He needed reassurance there would be something worth fighting for. This night afforded him the luxury.
Winner – 2011 Reader’s Favorite Award
Toby Liberman is nearing the end of his rope. After a fateful confrontation with his wife’s lover, he is chased into the woods only to be discovered by an unidentifiable creature. He is attacked and rendered unconscious. Upon waking at the scene of a gruesome triple homicide, Toby is arrested as the sole suspect and thrown into a jail cell with a strange man that knows way too much about his predicament. The stranger reveals to Toby that he now possesses the curse of the werewolf. Using his new-found strength to flee his captors, Toby begins to discover that things are not what they seem in the sleepy town of Twin Oaks, TX. Now hunted by law enforcement, as well as the town’s gun toting civilians, Toby seeks vengeance against his false accusers and embarks upon a quest to clear his name once and for all.