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Null_Pointer Chapter 24

This is the serialization of my first mystery novel, Null_Pointer.  It will be released on this blog every work day until it is complete.  You may purchase the novel at Amazon, Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords or order it from any brick and mortar bookstore near you.  Thank you for reading it and I hope you enjoy this free look at the book.

You can find all the chapters of this book by searching for the Null_Pointer Novel tag.

Chapter 24

Dancia gathered her strength and carefully stood up, using the bed to steady herself. Her head swam around for a moment as she fought to remain conscious.
She kept pressure to her wound with her right hand as she unzipped the backpack and pulled out a belt and a T-shirt. She folded up the T-shirt and applied it directly to her wound. Then she loosened a thin black belt and strapped it around her waist. Pulling the belt tight sent another sharp pain through her body. She pulled out a second shirt and carefully put it on.
She could hear Taggert talking down stairs but she was unable to pick out what he was saying. He was damn windy. Reaching into the pack she pulled out the Colt pistol. I’ll have to see about shutting him up, permanently.
Dancia took a pillow and put it over the gun on the bed. Then she pulled the slide back and chambered a round. The Colt was not an easy weapon to handle. It was heavy, intended to be used in combat by strong male soldiers.
She edged her way out of the room using the doorway to help keep her upright. Her fingers gripped the heavy pistol. At the top of the stairs she could hear what Taggert was saying. He had just confessed to killing Joshua’s parents. Dancia swallowed hard. She took the first step down the carpeted stairs. Oh God, please don’t let me fall. All I have to do is get down far enough for a good shot at him. The fire made crackling sounds that helped mask her footsteps.
She decided to lie down on the stairs, partly to lower her profile and partly because she was finding it hard to keep from passing out. As she took the second step, a sharp pain radiated from her side. She lost her footing and fell.
Taggert heard the commotion and spun around. He brought his pistol up as Dancia’s body tumbled down the stairs and came to rest in a pile against a bookshelf. She didn’t move after falling. Her pistol was safely tucked under her back. Taggert took a quick look back at Joshua and saw the concern on his face but he was not moving.
Taggert edged towards the base of the stairs to see if the girl was conscious. He poked her with his boot, his back to Joshua. Joshua brought up the chef’s knife and threw it over handed as hard as he could at Taggert. Taggert saw movement in his peripheral vision and stepped back out of the way as the heavy knife sailed past him. It bounced pathetically off the paneled wall of the cabin.
What the hell else can I throw at this bastard? The counter was empty. He wanted to kill Tagger and didn’t much care how. Seeing nothing useful, he ducked down behind the island.
“Nice try kid. I didn’t think you would go for the knife.”
Joshua’s heart was pounding in his chest. He tried to hear Taggert’s foot steps to see which side of the island he would come around. But Taggert was not moving. He picked up the chef’s knife and examined it closely.
“This was your father’s favorite cooking knife was it not? I don’t think he would have approved of you tossing it around like that. Not good for the edge.”
Joshua swore to himself under his breath. “He would have approved of me OJ’ing your ass with it.”
Taggert laughed out loud. “Perhaps.”
Joshua opened the cabinet door to the island and looked inside for something to use to kill Taggert with. There was an old iron skillet that looked heavy enough to crush a skull, if he got close enough. But that probably would not happen. He took it out carefully anyway, thinking it may work well enough to catch a slug.
“You never asked me if I had tried to attack you on your computer, Joshua,” Taggert taunted.
Joshua tried to think back over the past few days to see if he had in fact been attacked and did not realize it. He found it incredibly difficult to think straight through his bitter hatred.
“When did you first start having nightmares about your parent’s death? A week after they died, I attacked you over your computer. I put feelings of guilt into your head about distracting your father. You didn’t cause him to loose control on that icy road, he would have lost control at some point and his brakes would not have saved him. But I made you think it was your fault. For the past six years, I tweaked my system and played hell with your psyche in the process. How does that make you feel?”
“What do you think, you bastard?”
Joshua tightened his grip on the old iron skillet’s handle. How could anyone be so maniacal? All this time I believed I was responsible for my parent’s death. All those damn sleepless nights and horrible dreams. It was all an implanted memory. Fuck him, he’s so dead.
“You might as well just stand up and take it like a man,” Taggert said. He moved slowly towards the kitchen, handgun at the ready.
Joshua could hear Taggert’s footsteps and knew that he was coming around the far side of the island. Joshua edged himself around the island to keep himself hidden. There really wasn’t much of a chance, but he was trying to buy himself some time. Maybe the police will finally show? Fat chance that will happen, Joshua thought. If they haven’t come by now they never will. They probably think Taggert is still in Boise.
“Come on kid, stand up and let’s get this over with. I can’t linger here much longer, got the State Police, FBI and half the county looking for me.”
“They will find you, Larry, and then what will you do?” Joshua asked.
Taggert stopped at the other side of the island. He took aim and fired a shot into the floor just shy of Joshua’s feet. Joshua pulled up his feet reflexively.
“They won’t find me. I’m too smart for that,” Taggert said.
Dancia regained consciousness and lifted her head up. She could see Taggert moving closer to Joshua, who was hiding behind the kitchen island. She felt the cold pistol underneath her and reached for it with her right hand. The pain in her side was intense and her head was throbbing. The T-shirt covering her wound was sopped with her blood. She appeared to have avoided injury when she fell, other than knocking her head against the bookshelf. She slipped the lever of the safety off and raised the pistol toward Taggert. She had a shot, but it was not good enough for a kill shot.
Taggert pointed the pistol toward the opposite end of the island and shot at Joshua’s head. Joshua was already cowering on the opposite side, anticipating the shot. Joshua turned around and saw her sitting up slowly and pointing the heavy pistol at Taggert. He was relieved that she was alive and holding the gun.
She rolled the pistol around in a nod to get him to move around to the other side of the island. He looked confused at first and then seemed to figure out what she was getting at.
Taggert made it easy on her, he moved forward slowly. His back was to Dancia and she sat up straighter to get a clear shot. The Marine in her wanted to get behind some cover but she had to settle for bracing her arm against the wooden banister.
“Got any last requests, kid?” Taggert asked as he brought the pistol up for a killing shot and took a step forward.
“Yeah, as a matter fact I do.”
Joshua slowly stood up with his hands raised above his head and stared into the eyes of his killer. Taggert aimed square at Joshua’s chest.
“When you see my parents, give them my love, asshole.”
Taggert looked confused. Joshua gave him a raw grin with his teeth clenched. Taggert’s puzzled face tightened and then his eyes grew wide.
Dancia aimed the pistol and fired. The shot rang out in the tiny cabin like a canon firing. Joshua stood his ground as the shot grazed Taggert’s side, spinning him around as the forty-five-caliber bullet ripped through him. Taggert brought the Beretta up and pointed it at Dancia. Before he could get a shot off, Joshua leaped over the island with the iron skillet and brought it down hard against Taggert’s head. Taggert fell to the ground facing Dancia.
Taggert’s skull was cracked on the initial impact but he continued in vain to try and aim the pistol at Dancia. Joshua sat astride Taggert’s back and brought the iron skillet down again and again as all of his pent up rage exploded in a violent bashing. When he finally stopped, there was nothing left of the back of Taggert’s head. He dropped the skillet and pushed off the dead man’s back.
Dancia dropped the Colt pistol and fell back against the bookcase. She almost passed out again from the pain, but the smell of cordite kept her conscious. The gun had jolted her pretty well when it fired. Joshua stood up, his knees wobbly. It was over. Taggert was dead.
Joshua ran over to Dancia and put his hand behind her head. She looked up at him and smiled. They kissed passionately, both thankful to be alive and together. When they parted she motioned to Taggert.
“You’re pretty good with a skillet, for a guy.”
“We’ve got to get you some help. Can you move?”
She shook her head. “I best not. The pain is killing me.”
Joshua looked back at the kitchen. He thought about the cell phone signal and the power being out. He walked over to Taggert and looked out the kitchen window. The streetlight at the circle down the road was on, meaning that the neighborhood actually had power. He could probably walk up the street and find someone home. His foot touched the butt of Taggert’s pistol. He bent down and pulled the pistol out from under the man’s torso, trying not to look at the gory mess of bone and flesh that used to be Taggert’s head.
Joshua put the Beretta on the kitchen island and then he noticed something sticking out of Taggert’s parka. A narrow black antenna. Joshua pulled out the hand held device. A portable cell phone jammer. He turned it off and then picked up his cell phone on the counter top. It had a full signal and he had half a dozen calls waiting on him.
He dialed the last number, one that he knew to be detective Plait. The phone rang only once before Plait answered it.
“This is Plait.”
“You can send in the cavalry now. We have Taggert here and he’s dead,” Joshua said.
“Kid, are you all right? I’ve got half the state heading for your cabin!”
Joshua stepped back toward Dancia. “I hope that includes an ambulance. Dancia’s been shot, she needs medical help.”
Plait barked orders into his radio at two different agencies. “Ok, we’re about a mile out of McCall. Stay put, help is on the way.”
“Perfect,” Joshua said.
“You say you have Taggert there?” Plait asked.
“Yes, but he’s dead. Just get here as fast as you can.” Joshua closed his phone and slammed it down hard. He was still pissed at Taggert for having shot Dancia.
“How did you get the phone to work?” Dancia asked.
“He was using a cell phone jamming device. The police are on the way. How are you doing?”
She managed a weak grin. “I’ll live.”
Joshua was thankful for that, more than she would ever know. He sat down behind her and held her gently in his arms. They could hear sirens in the distance, as Joshua rested his chin on Dancia’s shoulder.
The silver Porsche edged off the road near a pull out and came to a stop. There was still crusted snow on the ground but it had not snowed since the late November blizzard. The Payette River was running despite being frozen in some spots. Joshua got out of the car and went around opening the door for Dancia. She got out slowly, still recovering from her wound. He helped her walk with him over to the river’s edge.
She was wearing a dark winter coat and gloves, her black hair pulled back under a scarf. He was wearing his heavy overcoat and driving gloves. He pulled out a small porcelain jar and squatted at the river’s edge. It contained the cremated remains of Unix his family’s cat. He had lived a long and happy life and Joshua felt the need to release him at the same spot he had let go of his parents six years before.
He opened the jar and poured the gray ashes into the cold water of the river. As he watched the powder swirl around in the current he said a silent goodbye to the cat and to his mother and father. He no longer clung to his guilt. He was finally at peace with their passing. There was an inner calm that came with knowing that they were not killed in an accident caused by him. There was an even greater calm in knowing that their killer was now dead.
Joshua was free.

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