Crown Infernal

Gale Force

Part 1: The Early Years.

Brigantine, NJ. October, 2000.

On the Thursday, Jason Garroway had been looking forward to the weekend. His pop would be home Friday and they'd spend the weekend together on Ondine, their tiny cruising sloop. It was a father-and-son thing.

Nelson Garroway's owner-driver trucking company took him away from home for days, sometimes weeks, at a time, and far more often than he liked. Naturally, when he was home, he tried to make it up to his son the way a good father does. With his sixteenth birthday less than a fortnight away, Jason was hoping to exploit this.

The following day that feeling of happy anticipation had evaporated, replaced by a dark sense of dread that seemed to come from nowhere. Jason couldn't explain it, this feeling that he was walking around inside a thick black cloud.

A vision of Pastor Simms - old Blood-and-Thunder - came to mind. Maybe it was divine punishment for his greed-fueled plans for his birthday? Maybe it was just superstitious conditioning about Friday the Thirteenth? Yet somehow, he knew that everything was about to change. To change totally. To change forever.

"Your father's late," his Mom said as the kitchen clock passed seven-thirty. "I think we may as well make a start on dinner. He can't be long now."

Two hours later, Nelson still had not returned, nor had he called, as he always did when he'd been delayed. There was no response from his cellphone either. At midnight, Jenni Garroway was strongly considering calling the cops, but figured that, as her husband was less than twenty-four hours overdue, they wouldn't be interested. Yet a lot can happen in twenty-four hours.

Neither of them slept well that night. At first light, Jenni started calling the local hospitals. Nothing. Probably a good sign. If he'd had an accident, it had to have been near home. Didn't it?

Later on, but not too early, she rang Miss Kerwin, Nelson's P.A., at home. Miss Kerwin was concerned by what Mrs. Garroway said but couldn't shed much light on her employer's whereabouts.

"He was on a regular scheduled trip to Cincinnati to drop off a container on Wednesday. So far as I know, the delivery was made ok. That client is a real pain. You know the type? Yelling down the 'phone if someone's so much as five minutes late?

There was a moment's silence, then Miss Kerwin continued. "Look, I know his secretary quite well. I swear that woman has the patience of a saint! Anyway, I'll call Natalie and ask if there was any change of plan, then I'll get back to you. Ok?"

"Thank you. Please do that. I'd really appreciate it."

Miss Kerwin called back twenty minutes later. Jason was practically hanging on his mother's arm as she took the call and she had to wave him away.

What did she say, Mom?" Jason demanded as she hung up.

"Well, not a lot really. Your father had just completed the paperwork when he got a call on his cell. Don't know who from but he wasn't happy about it. He said something had come up and left straightaway. That was three days ago."

So do we call the cops now?"

Jenni sighed. "I'm not sure. I really don't know what to do for the best."

"But he's missing, Mom!"

"Yes, but it's not like he's a missing child. The cops aren't so interested when it's an adult. They'll say, well he was last heard of on Wednesday which was less than a week ago. He was fine then. Then they'll ask questions like, is the business in financial difficulties? Does he have a - a mistress?"

Jason looked horrified. "Th - they wouldn't - they couldn't!"

"Yes. They could. And they would. It's standard practice. You know that from all those cop shows you watch."

Jason chewed at his lip. There was an element of truth in that. "But - but that's not real."

"No Darling, but they're still going to look for simple, rational, explanations first. I know the company's books are in order because they were audited last month and they were fine. Which just leaves... "

"No! Pop would never—"

Jenni looked away. "I'd like to think so, but - they say the wife is always the last to know."

Jason laid his hand on his mother's cheek and gently pulled her face back to look at him. Tears were standing in her eyes.

"Pop isn't like that. I'm sure of it," he said softly. "You remember, just after my thirteenth birthday, when we traded up the old catboat for Ondine?"

Jenni nodded.

"That was when he gave me 'The Talk.'" He grinned fleetingly at the memory, flushing. "We were out on the ocean, miles from anywhere with the full moon glinting on the water. Then he said, 'Don't be in too much of a hurry, son. Find yourself a loving and beautiful gal like my Jenni. It'll take a while, 'cos they're mighty thin on the ground.'"

His Mom gave broken laugh at his mimicry. Then her face crumpled into tears and she sobbed into his shoulder. He waited for her to recover, not knowing what else to do.

Finally she pulled away and looked up into his face, almost in wonder. "My... When did you get to be so tall?" He didn't know how to respond to that either.

"So we call the cops?" he asked, to get over the awkward moment.

"I don't know. If it's nothing to do with finances or mistresses, then what other sort of trouble has he gotten himself into? I really can't begin to imagine, but maybe calling the cops might make things worse? I think we just have to trust him."

On Sunday, they both went to church nevertheless. Even Jason, usually a most reluctant worshipper, went willingly. Despite his skepticism about all things unearthly, he was prepared to put in a prayer for his father, just in case some higher power(s) was/were listening. It was more in hope than expectation, and precious little hope at that.

On the plus side, if there could be said to be one, he could sit through Pastor Simms' threats of hellfire and eternal damnation for all who hadn't accepted Jeee-sus as his savior with perfect equanimity. No god equals no devil...

The next few days passed seemingly at the speed of an arthritic tortoise. Whoever had come up with the old saying about no news being good news clearly hadn't had a loved one go missing with no idea of where he was or why he'd gone or even if he was ok.

Jason couldn't concentrate on his studies, not that that drew any undue attention. He did enough to keep out of trouble, mostly, but had never been interested in the groves of Academe per se.

The only things which created a spark of interest were those related to his love of the sea, and might therefore come in useful. If it would help with navigation or boat design - or just tales of the sea - he was interested. Otherwise not.

On the Wednesday, something broke through. In the afternoon's English class, Mr. Sedgewick introduced the class to a poem called Sea Fever by the English Poet Laureate, John Masefield. He began reading:

"I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by— "

At which point, Jason stood up with sufficient force to knock his chair over, and ran out of the room. He didn't stop running until he reached home. Thankfully, Mom wasn't home.

He ran up to his room, yanked open the bottom drawer of the small chest that served as a nightstand, and pulled out his 'diary' from the empty space beneath. It wasn't a diary as such, just a notebook where, from time to time, he wrote down, not so much events in his life, as interesting thoughts, and sometimes, feelings.

Although he wasn't academically inclined, he liked words and what you could do with them. Nelson was a natural storyteller, full of yarns from his boyhood. He'd introduced Jason to books about the sea - fact and fiction. He'd also, rather surprisingly gotten his son to like poetry. Well, some poetry. The first poem he'd shared with Jason had been Sea Fever... That was when they'd just bought the catboat at the beginning of summer '94 when Jason was nine. They had had such happy times. Would happiness ever come again?

'Sedgewick started reading our poem in class today. I couldn't stand it. That poem means so much to me, specially now. It was like he'd violated our privacy, our whole world - taken a baseball bat into paradise and bashed it all to pieces. I walked out. I'm not sorry and I'm not gonna apologize!' He surrendered to misery for a while.

Jenni Garroway had taken four of her latest seascapes to Galleria Maritima, the souvenir shop-cum-art gallery on Bayshore Avenue. She stayed for a while in the coffee shop there, lingering over her latte to consider the future.

Her paintings sold well during the peak of the holiday season to those visitors who wanted more up-market souvenirs. Now, at the end of the season, it looked like she was going to need the money not for little luxuries but for necessities if Nelson didn't return soon. Sure there was money in the bank now, but how long would it last without replenishment?

If the worst came to the worst - and pray heaven it wouldn't! - then maybe she could return to teaching. If they didn't think she was too rusty, that was. She'd given up teaching when Jason came along. She'd wanted to be a proper mother, not a part-timer like her own had been, especially with Nelson being away so much.

Painting had fitted in well with being a mother. Nelson had fitted out the north facing bedroom as a studio for her, once it was discovered that they could have no more children.

Then there was the business to consider. At the moment, Nelson's brother, Austen, was taking up the slack and fulfilling existing contracts to keep the business afloat, but he couldn't keep it up indefinitely. What then? Employ another driver? She would never find a driver to equal Nelson's expertise. Or his dedication, not when the business didn't belong to him.

It was fortunate that the business was in their joint names. She wasn't a business-woman, and it had surprised her when, three years ago, Nelson announced that he was making her his silent partner in the business - 'just in case something happens to me.' Was this what he'd referred to? Was he expecting to have to slip off the grid and wanted to provide for Jason and herself? With hindsight, maybe.

One option was to sell the business as a going concern. Even the thought of doing such a thing made her feel unclean - mercenary. And supposing Nelson returned just as suddenly with the ink drying on the contract? Finding his wife selling the business he'd worked so hard to build up?

Then again, Nelson might never return. She sniffed dolefully. With no head for business herself, it might no longer be a going concern by the time she really had to sell.

And there was Jason's future to think of. Sure he had no interest in furthering his education, but that was now. Next year? There was no way of knowing the final career destination of an adolescent boy. She had to put her own feelings on hold and focus on him. Like a good mother should.

When she arrived home, she was a little surprised to find Jason's jacket already hanging in the closet.

"Jason?" she called up the stairs.

He hastily returned his diary to its hiding place then went to the top of the stairs. "Yeah Mom?"

"You're home early."

"Didn't feel like goofing around tonight." Not a lie. Not exactly the truth either, but he figured she had enough to worry about without him adding to it. It rang true though, so she let it pass.

"Well, just get on with your homework."

Yeah, Mom," he agreed, and disappeared back into his room.

Jenni sighed. That reaction was just not natural. But then, what was 'natural' right now?

03.00. Saturday 21st. October.

Jason was lying awake. Neither mother nor son had been sleeping well. Watching the red numbers click by on his radio alarm clock, he felt the dark brooding cloud again. This time, he felt the urge to do something.

Soon, it coalesced into an irresistible compulsion to call the cops. He tried to fight it off. What would he say? And who was going to take him seriously anyway?

Still the oppressive feeling kept building, along with the sense that if he didn't act now, it would be too late.

He gave in. Pulled on a sweatshirt and crept down into the hall feeling seventeen shades of stupid.

When the call was answered, he asked for the police. Once he was connected, he gave his name and address clearly then asked for a visit. It was very urgent.

"What's the problem, young man?"

"Something terrible is about to happen. To my Mom."

"Is your father there? Can I speak to him?"

"No, he isn't here. That's the problem. It's just me and my Mom. We have no one to protect us and we need help now." He was beginning to sound desperate.

"Calm down and tell me more."

Before he could say more, there was a tremendous bang as someone kicked the kitchen door in, and there was the sound of shattering glass.

"Did you hear that?! They're here now! Please, come quickly!" He hung up. Strangely, the sense of terror was fading as he went through into the kitchen. He'd done what he was supposed to do so all was - not quite well but almost. So?

"Jason, run!" his mother screamed.

Unable to sleep, she'd been making a warm, milky drink when the men burst in. There were four big guys wearing black balaclavas. Three were holding baseball bats in a menacing manner. The fourth was holding a knife to her throat when Jason arrived.

"Nah, don't run, Jason," growled one of the other three, grabbing his arm in a crushing grip. "Ok - Jason - tell us where ya Daddy is and we'll let you go. If ya don't tell us, we-ell, it won't be very good fer ya Ma there."

Jenni gasped in pain. Jason watched in horror as a trickle of blood ran down her neck from a small nick at the tip of the knife.

"We have no idea where he is," Jason protested. "No one's seen him since a week ago Wednesday, and don't think we haven't busted a gut trying to find him, 'cos we have. Oh. We haven't tried a psychic yet though. So back off, let my Mom go and get the hell out of here!"

"What?" demanded his captor, looking as if a mouse had just mouthed off to a particularly large and ferocious cat.

Jason looked right back at him. "Ok. Please back off, let my Mom go and get the hell out of here."

"Or what?"

"Or, let's see, I'll use my psychic powers to call the cops. Oh yeah, here they come," he concluded as blue and red lights flashed through the window, turning the kitchen into a dancing club.

"Shit!" exclaimed the leader, stepping away from Jenni. "Ok, we're goin' - for now - but we'll be back - and we'll keep coming back until we get what we came for."

"Which would be what, exactly?" Jason asked, but the men had slipped away into the night.

Jenni pulled her son into a hug as a couple of cops came through the space where the door had been. "You were wonderful, Darling," she murmured into his ear.

Officer Moran inspected the damage. He put in a call for C.S.I.s to fingerprint the place, then called an emergency carpenter to make the place secure until a repair could be effected.

Officer Adams took statements. These were necessarily short, as neither could describe the faces under the balaclavas, and none of the men had addressed another gang member by name. The one who'd grabbed Jason had a tattoo of a snake's head on the side of his hand, the jaws extending down finger and thumb.

"Oh that's good," Officer Adams said. "It'll give us something to go on."

"The leader said they'd keep coming back till they got what they want, whatever that is," Jason pointed out, looking worried. "It seems to have something to do with my father who's missing right now. We don't know why."

"The business is doing well," Jenni put in, "and the books were audited last month, so it's totally legit."

There were a few more uncomfortable questions, but nothing they couldn't handle.

"We'll send a regular patrol past the house on a random basis for a few weeks to discourage them from coming back any time soon," Officer Adams concluded, and then they were gone.

Jenni and Jason huddled in the kitchen and waited for the carpenter and the C.S.I.s. They sat in silence amid the wreckage for several long minutes.

"Pop's in trouble, isn't he? Big trouble."

"Looks that way," Jenni responded. She looked pale - washed out. "I'd say it was a case of mistaken identity if it hadn't been for the 'phone call in Cincinnati."

"That could just be a coincidence," Jason said, but that sounded lame even in his own ears. Neither of them believed it.

"What made you call the cops?" Jenni asked after a while.

"Dunno. Guess I heard the bad guys arrive outside."

"You didn't have time before they broke in."

"Well, they say time goes slower when - when things like this happen."

"No, that's not it. Has anybody been bothering you outside school?"


"Then what? Why?"

"I dunno. Just seemed like a good idea at the time."

"You think I should've called the cops and reported Nelson missing sooner, so you decided to call them yourself?" Jenni sounded accusing.

"No, Mom! I didn't go behind your back if that's what you're thinking. Besides, I'm hardly likely to ring them in the middle of the night."

Jenni hastily apologised. "At least now they'll take his disappearance seriously... I suppose there's no point in telling you to go back to bed?"

"What, and miss the C.S.I. guys?"

"Thought so," Jenni responded with a wry smile.

It was nearly half past four before the two Garroways returned to bed. Jason, still alert thanks to the adrenaline buzz, took out his diary.

There's something weird going on. Why did I suddenly feel so bad just before Pop disappeared? Why did I call the cops when I did. It was a really dumb thing to do, but if I hadn't , and if I hadn't called when I did, what then?

I don't believe in god and the devil and life after death and stuff. Supernatural things are just for the Winchesters, but that wasn't natural. If there really are such things, am I psychic? Does it mean Pop's dead?

Actually, looking back, when Pop asked me to guess what he'd just bought for us, I said a catboat straightaway. Guess I kind of spoilt the surprise for him.

One things for sure, I ain't telling anyone. I'll probably get locked up as a psycho! No, actually, I'd more likely get laughed out of class. So I'm definitely keeping this to myself.

Jason returned his diary to its hidey-hole and crawled into bed.

And slept.

On the following Monday morning, shortly after Jason had left for school, Jenni received a distraught 'phone call from Miss Kerwin. The office had been broken into over the weekend. It had been ransacked and the computers stolen. She'd already called the police.

"I'll be right over," Jenni replied.

She wanted to call Austen, but he would already be on the road, so she could hardly drag him away. It was very good of him to help out as it was.

She reached the office at the same time as the cops. When they learned who she was, one asked if she was the same lady who'd been broken into on the previous Saturday morning.

That's right officer. Is there any news?"

"Nothing concrete, ma'am. The fingerprints didn't match any known villains. Can you shed any light on why your husband disappeared and why you're coming under attack like this?"

"Absolutely none, officer. This is just a small business. We earn enough to get by - well, in reasonable comfort - but we're certainly not wealthy. This has all come straight out of the blue, and frankly, I'm getting scared - really scared - especially as I have a son. What's going to happen next?"

Meanwhile, Miss Kerwin was giving the other officer details of what had been stolen. This seemed to be just the two computers and peripherals. The old computer had been 'retired,' and was only kept in case the new one broke down. The current one which was about six months old. A couple of flash drives and an external hard disc were also missing. Nelson had the lap-top with him.

"What information is on the computers?"

"Well, nothing of any great value, unless they're thinking of setting up a haulage business in competition," Miss Kerwin said. "It's just client details, a routing programme to set the most cost-effective journeys, financial statements, which were printed off for the auditors. They're still here."

"What about the safe?"

Miss Kerwin laughed. "There isn't one, which might be why they've made such a mess looking for it. There isn't anything particularly valuable or sensitive kept in the office."

Grateful thanks to Tejas for assistance with the U.S. legal system.

Crown Infernal