A Taste of Home – Chapter 18

chapter eighteen

The strings of pale light bulbs shone through the trees of the Myrtle County Fairgrounds like distant stars in an endless night sky, barely illuminating the blacktop pathways. The screams and laughter which usually accompanied the mayhem on the midway were more subdued than in years past. Many chose to forgo the annual ritual of the Myrtle County Fair, preferring to remain inside their fortified homes instead. They’d been led to believe there was still a murderer on the loose, despite the best efforts of local law enforcement to apprehend him.

The night sky was overcast, and the low-hanging clouds were illuminated by the multicolored glow of the carnival rides. There was an occasional flash of lightning in the distance, but it wasn’t enough to frighten off the fairgoers. After all, these were the bravest of the Myrtle County residents. If they were willing to risk being murdered by a crazed madman who remained at large, they weren’t about to go running home from the fair because it might rain.

The humid air held a medley of scents unique to a County Fair. The livestock smells mixed with those of cotton candy, kettle corn, and turkey legs. It would’ve made any average big-city slicker sick to his stomach. These were proud country folk, however, and this potpourri of scents was as much a part of their lives as the Friday Night Lights and church on Sunday morning. Another deviation from the fair festivities of years past was that about one in five of the fair patrons were packing, on the increasingly broad-ranging authority of Sheriff Jessie McGee. If Toby Liberman had the guts to show up at this party to force a confrontation, he wouldn’t be leaving on his own terms.

In a well-lit corner, somewhere between the Rotary Club’s Dunking Booth and the Mason’s Ring Toss attraction, Jim Savage of Channel 13 News readied for the evening’s assignment. He planned to interview Myrtle County residents, get candid reactions and opinions on the recent murders, and incorporate those into a story he was preparing for a more regional showing.

The events were unfolding in a small, forgotten Texas town, but Jim Savage recognized this as a story which needed to be shared with a wider audience. Most everyone in Dallas heard about the carnage in the small town to the east and they couldn’t get enough of it. Sure, there was murder committed every five seconds or so in the metropolis, but none so tantalizing as the gruesome tales of misfortune coming from the rural community just down the road. At least in the big city to the west, Jim Savage, Toby Liberman and Jessie McGee were household names almost overnight.

Getting the tell-tale wink from the burly man behind the camera, the reporter cleared his throat before beginning the broadcast. It was show time…

“Occasionally, if you listen closely beyond the buzzing beats of the big city, you’ll hear about places that will really make you stop and take notice. The small community of Twin Oaks, Texas, just a stone’s throw from Big D, is home to Ellen Air Force Base. Ellen A.F.B. employs thousands of civilians, many of them commuting from the metroplex every day. If it weren’t for that important landmark, most would miss this charming little village if they blinked on their way eastward. This, however, is no longer the case. With the events that have taken place here over the past week, Twin Oaks is officially on the map forever.”

“A little more than a week ago, the sleepy eyes of this town were awakened to the reality of murder and controversy. On one fateful morning, Robert Green, age twenty-eight, Cody Christian, age twenty-six, both First Responders from Twin Oaks; and Ryan Weldon, a young boy, age thirteen, were brutally murdered. Another of Twin Oaks’ own, Toby Liberman, is the man accused of these murders and remains at large. As of yet, no evidence of premeditation or provocation has been made public.”

“The Myrtle County Sheriff’s Department has named Toby Liberman, age forty, as the prime suspect. Liberman, a long-time employee of Ellen A.F.B., is believed to have gone on this horrendous killing spree after suffering a presumed breakdown brought on by domestic issues at home. This is according to the Myrtle County Sheriff’s Dept.”

“The boy, Weldon, had sustained an injury while walking home in a storm. The EMTs had been dispatched to help him.”

“Why Liberman allegedly decided to target a young boy and two public servants is still a matter of speculation pending what is sure to be a very extensive and exhaustive investigation.”

“What happened at the Myrtle County Jail is more a matter of record than speculation. How he managed to do it, with or without assistance, is beyond this town’s comprehension. Two feet of reinforced concrete was reduced to rubble, and Liberman escaped through the damaged wall of his cell. The wreckage done to the facility is plainly visible from the street. He had not yet been arraigned at the time of his escape, but it was doubtful that any bail would have been set, considering the heinous nature of the charges.”

“The Myrtle County Sheriff’s Department tells us they believe he fled into the wooded areas that surround the town. Law enforcement and dozens of local volunteers have been searching the woods night and day but have turned up no leads. As the search continues, the murder count rises.”

“The body of Johnny Haynes, another Ellen A.F.B. employee, age forty, was discovered two days after the first three murders were committed. Haynes and Liberman are reported to have been lifelong friends.”

“The body of Jessica Liberman, age thirty-eight, wife of the accused and sister of Johnny Haynes, was found shortly after, along with the body of Myrtle County Sheriff’s Deputy Allen Reed, upon the investigation of a fire at the Liberman’s home.”

“In addition to the murders, law enforcement officials are receiving missing persons reports daily, including one for thirteen-year-old Katie Liberman, daughter of the accused.”  

“Understandably, area residents are extremely concerned for their safety and the safety of their families. How can one man, you may ask yourself, create so much chaos in such a small amount of time and manage to elude local law enforcement?”

“Joining us now, hopefully with some promising updates, is Sheriff Jessie McGee.”

“Sheriff McGee, I know you have your hands full with the manhunt, and I want to thank you for taking time to talk to us.”

McGee had been watching from just beyond the reach of the news crew’s bright lights. He emerged from the shadows reluctantly and stepped into the camera’s view. He wore a scowl that would send most small children running for the safety of their parents.

Gulping slightly and clearing his throat again, Jim Savage stepped closer to the man on the spot and began his questioning. 

“Sheriff McGee, what measures are being taken to ensure the safety of the residents of Myrtle County?”

“Well, Jim,” he cut his eyes wide against the cameras. “I think that everyone here tonight and at home in our wonderful town knows that everything within our power is being done to ensure Toby Liberman’s little run for freedom will be short-lived.”

“Short-lived?” the newsman shot back before he could quell the sarcasm in his voice. “Sheriff, there isn’t a lot of ground to cover in this small town, and the suspect has managed to elude capture for over a week now. The body count continues to rise with each passing day. What’s it going to take for this suspect to be apprehended?”

Jessie McGee was no longer amused. “Jim, it would seem that Liberman was receiving assistance from others in our community, that is, up until last night. Unfortunately for them, they have become the latest victims of Toby Liberman’s murderous rampage.”

“He has no place to hide and no one left to help him. Furthermore, one of his latest victims was one of my deputies, a fine lawman.  We’re going to up the ante and show no mercy when we find him. I’ve asked my citizens to take up arms against this criminal and they have full immunity from prosecution if they want to take his head off for the safety of our community.”

“Sheriff,” Savage interrupted him. “Your statements raise a few questions. I’d like to point out, respectfully, that you do not have the authority to grant anyone immunity from prosecution. Do you not think it reckless and potentially catastrophic to encourage the citizens of Twin Oaks to pursue vigilante justice? Why would you not want the suspect taken alive? Everyone is entitled to due process, regardless of the severity of their alleged crimes.”

True to form, McGee’s short fuse ignited and the interview was over. The seasoned cameraman was unfazed and continued filming as McGee grabbed Savage by his shirt collar and violently pulled him close.

“Now listen here, you son of a bitch!” McGee growled in anger. “I didn’t agree to do this interview so you could take cheap shots at me. If you think you can do a better job…”

The news crew rushed to aid Savage, pushing onlookers out of the way. They tried valiantly to liberate him from McGee’s strong grip, but it was useless.

“Someone get this asshole off me!” Savage yelled frantically. “Get him off me!”

Realizing that their Sheriff was involved in a physical altercation, the deputies jumped in with fists flying and guns drawn.

“All right, all right!” McGee shouted, as he released Jim Savage by pushing him to the ground. Stepping away from the melee, the Sheriff barked, “Stand down, boys! We’ve given his viewers something to gab about at the water coolers tomorrow.”

Stunned, the bewildered newsman was helped to his feet and handed a towel by one of his assistants. Blood streamed from his gashed lip, a result of a well-placed right cross from the Sheriff.

Shaken and almost crazed with adrenaline, Jim Savage battled to maintain his professional demeanor. “Sheriff, you can expect a call from my attorney!” the reporter assured him.

“Well you tell him to call me, then!” McGee returned. “What’s his number? I’ll call him right now for you, and when he gets here, I’ll kick his ass, too!”

Shocked at McGee’s lack of concern or fear of legal repercussion, Jim Savage’s professional demeanor took a momentary back seat to his middle finger which he now boldly displayed in McGee’s direction. The Sheriff was not amused.

“I want you to get the hell out of my county now! Pack your crap and drive on!” McGee ordered.

Savage spoke quietly to his team and a crew of technicians who then quickly began to break down the makeshift set. He couldn’t wait to get back to Dallas and turn the footage over to his editors. It wasn’t the first time he’d been thrown around by the Myrtle County Sheriff. His loyal viewers pretty much expected it any time there was news to be covered in Twin Oaks. The megalomaniacal Sheriff had won another round, but Savage knew his luck would soon run out. He tried to wrap his mind around the concept of a small-town Sheriff, obviously suffering from delusions of grandeur and infallibility, but his thoughts were interrupted by his ringing cell phone. He reached into the pocket of his bloodstained shirt to retrieve it.

“This is Savage,” he answered. “Yeah, I bet it did look good from your end of things. On my end, it hurt like hell!”

Savage struggled to hear what was being said on the other end of the phone by the technician who decided to remain inside the news van. Sounding both frantic and excited, the technician’s words were jumbled and difficult to understand with all the noise from the fair in the background. Savage plugged his free ear with a finger, struggling to listen more closely.

 “No, I don’t think anyone can hear me,” Savage continued. “Hold on, let me get away from this crowd.”

Ducking away from the law enforcement officials who swarmed his crew, he knelt behind the closest tree and continued the conversation.

 “A note? From Liberman? Come on, are you serious? Under the windshield wiper? This guy is either dumb as a rock or he doesn’t care one way or another what happens to him! How do you know that it’s not some stupid local trying to prank the city boys?”

Jim Savage had hidden himself behind one of the towns many oak trees. Nobody could see the animated expressions on his face as he listened intently. Had anyone been watching, they’d have seen emotions ranging from cynical amusement to the desire for serious vengeance.

“Where the hell is Clark Cemetery?” Savage demanded. “Well get on the damn computer and find out!”

Realizing it was quite pointless to hide behind the tree to avoid being noticed and then yell at the top of his lungs, Savage composed himself. As he peeked from behind, he was extremely relieved he hadn’t attracted any unwanted attention.

The crowd of men who gathered during the altercation had not yet dispersed, but none of them seemed the least bit interested in Jim Savage or what he might be doing behind the old oak. If this paper treasure was indeed legitimate, it might possibly lead him to the biggest story he’d ever covered. An accused murderer who managed to elude law enforcement for over a week was willing to meet with him. The idea of visiting a cemetery at night was not something Savage ever thought he’d have to do, but scared of his own shadow or not, he was a newsman. Newsmen follow their leads. His mind began to race once more. The ratings alone would be enough to secure his future and guarantee his safety from any retaliation from Sheriff Jessie McGee.

As he ran toward the van, his cynicism kicked in. This would probably be a false lead and would likely end with some local teenagers throwing eggs at the news van from behind the cemetery’s headstones.

“Crank the van. We’re on our way!” he ordered the technician behind the steering wheel. He then rushed to the rest of the crew who were busy rolling cables and disassembling equipment. 

“Load up, guys. We’ll play with the cables later,” he said as he motioned impatiently for them to get in the van. “I don’t care if they get tangled or not. Just throw them in there! We have places to be!”

Glancing back at the Sheriff, who was still fuming, Savage bid him farewell, “Thanks for the interview, Sheriff. You and your men stay safe. Thanks for all that you do.” His words were formal and professional, but his true feelings were not lost on McGee.

Toby Liberman observed the fair from a peculiar vantage point.  He sat perched in the oak’s branches, high above the festival lights.  He watched, listened and summoned all his strength to battle the urge to laugh hysterically at the goings on below. Jim Savage’s no-nonsense interviewing style and Sheriff Jessie McGee’s angry, self-righteous responses had thrown off his balance more than once.

The sporadic lightning illuminated his perch from time to time, so he remained in human form. He didn’t want to cast a fearsome shadow should anyone happen to be looking in his direction during the fleeting nanoseconds when night became day. He didn’t wish misfortune on Jim Savage, but Toby couldn’t help but feel it was nice to see Sheriff McGee’s unbridled anger directed at someone other than members of the extended Liberman family.

He’d arrived at nightfall just before the lights of the midway were turned on. For several days, he imagined this moment over and over again. He waited only for the right opportunity to strike. Just fifteen feet below him stood the man responsible for the heartache that would persist even after his loved ones were avenged. He was nearing the end of his quest and finally craving the taste of human blood. Kurt Jimmerson told him this craving would come. There was only one human alive who would satisfy that hunger.

When the on-camera fight erupted, he was tempted to jump into the confusion to add a little more spice to the already heated situation. Just as that thought crossed his mind, a flash of lighting revealed numerous firearms being drawn. His better judgment prevailed, and he remained motionless. Soon, things would calm down, and Toby would have his way. After all, his ultimate objective was to stay alive and care for his daughter. He’d left her alone in a cold and empty crypt in Clark Cemetery with strict orders not to leave under any circumstances. He prayed her rebellious attitude was being overpowered by fright, and she’d listen to him for a change. 

Johnny agreed to stay behind and keep an eye on her, but there wasn’t much a ghost could do if things went bad. Katie could neither see nor hear her Uncle Johnny. Worse still, he had not yet discovered his power to manipulate physical objects. Unfortunately, her less than ideal accommodations were necessary.

The previous night, as Katie slept, Toby and Johnny had meticulously gone over every detail. They’d devised a plan for every foreseeable contingency. It wasn’t a terribly complex plan, but it did seem adequate: Jump down from the tree, get the attention of the fairgoers, the news crew, and the law enforcement officials, then coerce the Sheriff into saying too much while the cameras were rolling. After the truth was finally revealed, killing McGee would just be one of the perks. Toby couldn’t wait for that moment to arrive.

A key part of the plan was executed successfully without any effort from Toby. McGee just behaved deplorably while the camera was rolling. After the fight ended, Toby, aided by his new, preternatural hearing, was privy to every word of the conversation between Jim Savage and the technician in the news van who’d discovered his note. Success again. Jim Savage and his crew departed for Clark Cemetery. The van pulled up, the gear was loaded, and they kicked up the fresh mud from the parking lot on their way out of the fairgrounds. Toby and Johnny hadn’t anticipated just how quickly Jim Savage would lead his team to the cemetery.

This was a setback, but a minor one and Toby was determined not to let it derail the plans. The offer of an interview was too tempting for any journalist to pass up. Taking that into account, there was still time to do what needed to be done and meet Savage in time to put part two of the plan into motion. Now, everything was down to luck, and timing was paramount.

The midway was clearing out. The fairgoers determined not to let a little lightning spoil their fun had given in to more pragmatic thoughts. In the end, even those possessed with unbelievable idiocy came to the realization that lightning wouldn’t be much of a friend to someone sitting at the top of a metallic Ferris wheel. Even the carnival workers began to stow things away and head for the shelter of their trailers and tents.

The only patrons who remained in full force were the ones busy showing livestock underneath the heavily secured barns. These farmers were trying desperately to conceal the firearms they’d packed with them on the orders of the Sheriff. Watching them come and go while trying to hide their shotguns and rifles underneath their jackets had been quite humorous. 

A deafening clap of thunder was immediately followed by a hard rain. The air around Toby filled with the screams of young children who were being pelted by the cold shower. Fathers removed their jackets to shield them from the discomfort, but it was to no avail. The winds blowing in from the north picked up the precipitation and flung it in all directions, making sure no one in its path remained dry. Toby watched the stragglers running for cover from high above the puddles collecting in the holes of the blacktop pathways. As he wiped the rain from his face, confusion and a bit of frustration began to set in. The Sheriff, his deputies, and the gun-toting vigilantes opened their umbrellas and kept their places as everyone else made a mad dash to their vehicles. What the hell were they waiting for?

From his lofty perch, he scanned the entire perimeter of the fairgrounds but saw nothing unusual, only the mass exodus of cold, wet fairgoers headed for their homes. Then it occurred to him when he did see something unusual. There were no deputies posted at the exits to direct traffic as there’d been in years past.

They remained congregated underneath the trees as though they were expecting someone or something to arrive. Realizing he and Johnny hadn’t planned for this contingency, he carefully began moving down to the lower branches of the tree for a better vantage point. Using his enhanced hearing to its maximum benefit, he heard radio communication from all over the abandoned midway and livestock stalls. Again, he felt the menacing grip of uneasiness. Nothing felt right anymore. For a split second, he pondered transforming and fleeing via the treetops until he had more control of the situation. His determined heartbeat backed the negativity, and he began listening again.

“Copy that, dispatch,” came an unfamiliar voice from the radio. “I’m at Clark Cemetery now, but I don’t see any vehicles. I’m going to go out on foot for a closer look. Over.”

Toby’s heart sank to his feet. Somehow, the conversation between Jim Savage and his crew member was overheard, and there were deputies headed straight for Katie! He had to act immediately!

There was no way to warn her, and no one there to protect her from the army of trigger-happy deputies who were sure to find her hiding place. The most Johnny would be able to do would be to yell inaudible obscenities at them. With nothing on his mind but getting to his Katie, he had not transformed. It didn’t even occur to him. With adrenaline surging through his veins, the kind of adrenaline which gives people the strength to lift cars off their children, Toby leapt for the nearest tree branch to flee the fairgrounds and rescue his daughter. Landing hard on the strongest looking branch of the tree, he lost his footing thanks to the slippery, rain-soaked wood. His arms flailed about wildly for anything to grab onto.

As he fell, he realized his plan was coming to fruition, albeit somewhat differently than he’d hoped. He had no time to come up with an exit strategy before landing hard, flat on his back against the muddy ground. If the thick carpet of October leaves afforded him any buffer to his fall, he didn’t feel it. His entrance was announced with a very loud crash, and before he could even begin to try and catch his breath, he was surrounded by most of the Myrtle County Sheriff’s Department.

“You see, boys, good things do come to those who wait!” Jessie McGee boasted. “Welcome home, Toby Liberman. We’ve been waiting for you.”

As though it was masterfully rehearsed, the deputies dropped their umbrellas revealing tactical shotguns that all seemed to chamber rounds of ammunition in unison. Surrounded and struggling to breathe, there was nothing more he could do other than lie there and accept his fate. Quickly appearing behind each of the deputies were armed Twin Oaks citizens with their guns drawn and pointed at Toby. It seemed the legendary run of Toby Liberman, fugitive from justice, was now at an end, and his daughter was only moments away from being captured.  He had failed. Johnny and Jessica both died in vain, and he was certain he would be next. 

“Okay, guys,” McGee continued. “This is going to go down just as we discussed. No one shoots him but me.”

“Shoot me?” Toby exclaimed, still attempting to catch his breath from the hard impact. “What the hell happened to due process, courts, trials, justice and all of that other crap that usually goes along with getting arrested?”

The Sheriff laughed maniacally into the cold night air. His warm breath floated into the treetops above as a transparent fog.

“You see, Mr. Liberman, that’s where you’re wrong. You’re not under arrest. You’re free to get up and walk away from here any time you feel saucy.”

“But that’s when you and your guys will fill me full of holes for attempting to run from you. I get it. Clever.” Toby conceded, trying to ignore the pain that was creeping up his back from the landing.

Every deputy stood like a statue with his sights trained on Toby. None of them even dared to blink. Pacing back and forth in victorious celebration, McGee was the only one who showed any signs of life.

“For a week, you’ve preyed on the people of this town. Men, women, and children alike. Even your own wife and brother-in-law weren’t safe. You are a sick and twisted bastard, and it ends now. No judges. No trial. Just the same merciless death that you gave your victims.”

The fear that overrun Toby’s thoughts quickly turned to rage at the mere mention of his loved ones’ fates. Deep inside, he felt the familiar churning in his stomach which was usually followed by transformation. It was something nobody in his present company was prepared to see. Flashes of red blurred his vision, and he felt the tickle of hairs growing from the backs of his exposed hands. Trying desperately to quell the unwanted metamorphosis, he rolled to his knees in deep concentration. 

“What’s wrong, Mr. Liberman?” McGee taunted. “Are you on your knees to pray? God can’t help you now. I can guarantee that!”

A nervous chuckle spread around the circle of deputies and gun-toting civilians who’d decided to join them. With an unpleasant gurgle in his voice, Toby began to taunt back.

“Jessie, I don’t think you understand what you’re messing with,” he threatened. “In a couple of minutes, I’m not going to have any control over what happens to me or any of you. Anyone that doesn’t want to join the pile of decaying and burnt bodies at the Sheriff’s secret drug lab needs to leave now.”

McGee laughed again heartily as the crowd of men joined in.

“My drug lab?” he inquired sarcastically. “I’m not sure that I know exactly where that is, Mr. Liberman. Is it anywhere near the Mayor’s pot farm?”

Again, the laughter surrounded Toby, bringing him nearer still to the point of no return.

 “Laugh it up, McGee. Soon, everyone is going to know who you really are and what you’ve been up to, regardless of what you do to me. In the words of Kenobi, ‘If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.’”

“Oh, my God!” Jessie McGee swore. “I can’t believe this shit! The geeky idiot is surrounded by guns, and he’s quoting Star Wars! What the hell is wrong with you, Toby? At exactly what point did you lose your freaking mind?”

There was an awful silence that revealed the breathing pattern of every man surrounding him. Toby remembered exactly where the turning point was. There were certain things that, once etched into a man’s memory, could never be erased.

“I think it was about a week ago when I caught you having sex with my wife in my house,” Toby quipped defiantly.

“Well,” McGee began, searching the faces of his men for approval. “Then I guess I’m the one that should be pissed. You killed a good fuck when you burned down your house the other night!”

Those words spoken, Toby’s transformation was no longer a matter of free will. The fire burning in his soul spread to every fiber of his being. The bones in his legs and arms began to crack and transform but, unlike each time before, he felt no pain. This time, the pain was meant for those who surrounded him. Toby gave one last warning.

“Guys, and you really need to think about this, are you willing to die for Jessie McGee?  If not, I’d leave now!”

The uproarious laughter again made its way around the circle.

“You don’t have a leg to stand on, Toby Liberman, and no one here is going to believe your empty threats and accusations,” McGee explained. “This is where it all ends.”

“You said that I could try to run if I thought I could get away with it, right?” Toby interrupted.

Jessie McGee fought back a chuckle yet again.

“Sure, if you want to make it interesting.”

     “Good,” Toby growled angrily. “Just remember when it’s all said and done that you gave me permission.”

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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. 

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