Behind Lori Baer
I pushed, shoved, and shouldered my way into the crowd. I was oblivious to them. I had a mind for one thing. I jumped up to catch sight of Beth and the lime green man. But it was futile. They were lost in the crowd.
I felt my arm tugged, lightly, and swung around, ready to shrug free.
“Take it easy, Gabe.” It was Gary. He had the Sheriff’s and Libertyville officers in tow. Then I became aware of the sirens screeching and the bath of red and blue fireball strobe. The crowd shifted direction.
“Take it easy,” Gary urged, shaking me, and, by way of comfort. “We’re deploying at every exit and along the perimeter. We’ve called in NICORP tactical team. They’ll be here shortly. We’re going in to clear the park. Don’t worry, Gabe, we’ll get him.” He shook again. “And we’ll get Beth. She’ll be fine. Take my word for it.”
I smiled lamely, reflecting hope I didn’t feel.
Finished with his consoling, Gary joined the others and they hustled away from Tommy and me. We were reduced to just two more spectators, who busily jostled us contending for a position nearer to the action.
The scene depressed me. To these people here for Halloween festivities, the sum total of the situation wasn’t a precious life at risk, the irreplaceable life of my wife, in jeopardy; it was action, fun, entertainment, another event to spice up otherwise dull lives.
I began to move against the mass, vaguely thinking I might assault their notion of good times with my painful reality. Tommy restrained me, saving me from my instincts.
I regarded him imploringly. “I don’t know about you, but I just can’t stand by with Beth in there with him.”
“You’re not getting through them. Follow me”
We navigated the circumference of the crowd and past the squads. It was easy going until we reached the end of the parking lot. At that point, we were off pavement and on grass. The grass gave way to weeds that thickened the farther we moved away from the lot.
We trekked east in the race between the park and Interstate 95, then veered northeast. Slogging through the weeds and bramble, it seemed we’d been at it for an hour, when the superstructure of the American Eagle roller coaster loomed above us, ghostly white and eerily luminescent in the black night.
“This is where we want to be,” Tommy said.
I grabbed the chain link fence and gave it a couple of hard tugs. I looked up and saw that it was higher than us by at least a person. Worse, razor wire ran along the top.
“How,” I said, rattling the fence with my left hand and pointing skyward with my right, “do you propose we get by this?”
“Keep going,” he said, as if he really had a plan.
We stumbled through the tall grass and stubby scrubs until, shortly, he drew his hand across my path like a gate.
He pointed at a breech in the chain link.
“How’d you know it was there?”
“Gabe, I’m surprised you were successful in advertising with such a limited knowledge of human nature. I, on the other hand, am an expert. I knew that youngsters would make their own way into the park. Or a lazy custodian would find an easy way in and out without having to travel the full circle to the maintenance entrance.”
I stared at him. I didn’t notice a twinkle in his eye. His speech was regular, without the hems and haws you expect from somebody making up a story on the fly.
“Scouts’ honor,” he said, holding up two fingers in the face of my skepticism. “Now, let’s get inside.” He indicated that I should go first.
There wasn’t much space, but at least the bottom links were finished and smooth.
I snaked under it. The exercise didn’t do much for my wardrobe. Tommy followed, and amazed me again with his agility. We had little trouble seeing. Lights from the park cast the area in a dim, dirty glare suitable for the kind of skulking in which we were engaged.
“This is a big place,” Tommy said. “Let’s split up. We’ll have a better chance of locating them.”
“Great, but what if we find them? Then what?” I asked.
“Look for the closest cop. Don’t think you can take him. Just get help.”
“Go,” he said, patting my shoulder.
I headed east through the tangle of posts and beams supporting the roller coaster. I was out of this white thicket in moments and in the park.
The scene was bizarre, what with most dressed in costumes. Superheroes, video game, and cartoon characters predominated. It was a great time for anybody who wanted to be somebody else. Actually, I could have used the help of a superhero or two.
Among them were park security personnel identifiable by their orange T-shirts emblazoned with a description of their function. They tried to herd the crowd toward the exit, but weren’t having much success. The commotion created ideal camouflage for the lime green man, and made my task all the harder. After all, he stood a better chance of escaping in the midst of confusion. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to be left behind in the park though. If that happened, the police, who no doubt would sweep it inch by inch, would discover me. I’d want to get out with the crowd. When I did, I could steal a car and make my getaway.
Okay, that made sense to me. But I had a hostage. What would I do with her? Controlling her in the car was simple. But on foot, in the middle of a crowd, with security guards and the police stirring things up, moving with her would be difficult. And if she resisted, her struggling would arouse attention.
My best bet would be to dispose of her. The idea chilled me. Dispose rang impersonal, ominous, and cruel. How do you dispose of a person? But what would another killing mean when I’ve already killed once, twice, maybe even more?
This conclusion made me frantic to do something. The something I decided on was to find a high point and scan the crowd. Sure, I couldn’t identify him, but I could spot Beth in the cast of a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza.
Reviving to action, I noticed the crowd moving west. I assumed security and the police had gained control and were urging people out of the park. Before I could step to the side, I was swept up in the tide of Supermen, Spidermen, Kombat, and assorted other fictional characters.
I tried pushing out. Each effort won me a string of expletives and shoves. At the rate I was going, by the time I’d reached the sidelines, I’d be bored to near death with repetitive expletives and bruised worst than a gridiron runner.
I struggled until I saw a red cap bobbing in the tide ahead of me. I inched through the revelers until I could see him clearly. He was short and wore a soiled utility jacket. The back of his neck was heavily creased.
He could have been the lime green man, but where was Beth? Wouldn’t he have her with him?
Unless she … that offensive idea cropped up.
I thrust forward, plowing masqueraders out of my way. A step behind him, I reached out, clamped his shoulder and spun him around. He was like a live severed electrical wire in a storm sizzling and bucking. He stared at me as if he knew me. He cracked a smile. It was ugly and mean and harbored a secret.
Spiderman appeared at that moment, wedging between us, breaking the weak hold I had on his shoulder. I pushed the superhero away. The lime green man slid his way forward, quickly putting two people between us.
I shouldered the crowd, eyes glued on him. He kept to the center in a fortress of masqueraders. He seemed to move effortlessly as I struggled. I became possessed by the irrational notion the crowd was conspiring with him.
Suddenly, all movement stopped. The crowd behind me pressed me into its brethren in front. I struggled and searched for the cause of the stoppage. It was directly in front: the tunnel under the park’s Old West-style railway. We, the surging mob, were funneling from a broad walkway into the tunnel’s bottleneck. This was a mess that was quickly souring the festive mood.
The beast was testy, near anger, and it was no time to push it.
But that’s exactly what the lime green man did. He shoved those in front of them. From the way he worked his body it looked as if he was kicking too. The affected expressed their dissatisfaction by sending the lime green man sailing in my direction.
When he reached me, I saw he wasn’t much. He was about as wide as a telephone pole and about as prickly as I discovered when I put a bear hug on him. He squirmed, kicked, and punched. And it hurt like hell. But I wasn’t letting go.
I hustled him across the crowd, off to the side. Clear of the mob, I ran him into the side of a refreshment stand. I found his thud, his grunt, his unsteadiness satisfying.
I spun him around so his back was to me. I kicked his legs apart and spread them, just as I had seen a thousand times in the movies. I planted my right leg between his, preventing him from sending my family jewels into violent revolt.
“Where is she?” I hissed.
“What the fuck are you talkin’ about, asshole?” His voice was big, brassy, completely unexpected. It nearly scared me off him. “You don’t let go, I’ll turn around and kick your ass out a the park.”
He was wiry and hard. His arms were ribbed and sinewy like mooring cables. He was tensed, ready to explode. But I was no pipsqueak or weakling. I was hard myself. Most important, I had as much at stake. I let him know it by grabbing his hair and bouncing his head off the stand wall. “If you don’t tell me now,” I shouted, “you’re not leaving this park in one piece.”
He snickered and projected defiant spit against the booth. He twisted his head under my hair grip, presenting me with an unpleasant view of his teeth, yellow posts, like old and aged concrete highway barriers that leaned this way and that.
“You’re not doing nothing, Mr. Angellini,” he sneered.
I didn’t dare loosen by grip. It would have been like releasing the pin on a grenade. He was ready to explode and disappear. Instead, I brought my right foot, the one planted between his legs, up sharply. He pushed forward into the wall hard. “That was nothing,” I shouted.
“Guess?” he said, twisting again, tossing me a smile that struck me more like a grimace.
“You haven’t hurt her?” As it slipped out, I wished I’d made it a demand instead of a question.
“She’s fine, for now. I’ll tell you this much. She’s here, in this place. You and the cops might find her. But you have to ask yourself, will you find her in time?”
“In time for what?” I screamed, nearly puncturing his arms with my fingertips.
He glared at my hands. I loosened my hold.
“Can’t say,” he said, glancing back, smiling again. “That would give it away.”
“Who the hell are you anyway? Why are you doing this?”
“Doesn’t matter who I am, Mr. Angellini. What matters is I know where Mrs. Angellini is. If you want her back in one piece, here’s what you’ll do: Let me go.”
“You’re nuts. You murdered Chuck Gatewood—“
“The fornicating pig deserved it,” he said, spitting off to the side for emphasis. “He was like all the others. Rutting pigs. Slaughter was too good for them. They’re rotting in hell right now, and even that’s too good for them.”
Dread enveloped me. He killed Chuck, probably Jerdan, maybe others if I was to believe him. He would lose nothing by doing the same to Beth.
He bucked against me. I tightened my hold.
“I tell you where she is. You let me go.”
“How do I know it’ll be the truth?”
“You don’t,” he chuffed. “But what can you do? You’ll never find her on your own.”
I pushed hard.
“Don’t fuck with me,” he warned.
I eased off a bit.
“You don’t have much time left,” he puffed, nodding to the edge of the crowd. Two cops traced the edge of the stalled mob, peering in, talking into their radios. He was right. When they saw us, they’d be over in a shot.
I stared at the gray, twisted head, the sneer, the bared animal teeth in profile. How could I believe a lowlife like this, someone who killed all ready, and had nothing to lose by killing again? But how could I not take the chance. Beth was my wife. I loved her. I would do anything to ensure her safety. And I could always sufferer a change of heart after I heard what he had to say.
“It’s a deal. But you’d better be truthful.”
“It’s like getting it from a man of the cloth. She’s at the Batman ride,” he said, pointing to the back of the park.
“Where at the ride?”
“Let loose a little, to show good faith.”
I did, but kept myself planted in case he tried to bolt.
“She’s in the motor compartment, trussed up nicely under the gears. You’ll want to get to her before they start up that ride.” He was snickering.
I tensed and almost cracked his collarbone. “Bad, bad, bad,” he said, as if correcting a child, “I know.”
I felt like less than a kid. I felt like an idiot for placing any faith in a killer.
“You know where she is,” he badgered, “now you thinking about reneging on your deal. I made you for an asshole the second I saw you.”
What a fool. He thought he could insult me into freeing him. Of course, as I mulled his, I lost a bit of the edge. Not much, but enough.
The next thing I knew I was sprawled on the ground with the lime green man staring into my face from six miles high.
“Smart guy, huh, Mr. Angellini.” He kicked me in the ribs before I realized what happened. I doubled up and secretly felt for broken bones. There were none luckily.
“My advice to you is get your nose out of this right now. Or the next time you and your wife won’t be fortunate.”
I clutched tightly, waiting for another kick. But he wasn’t up for it, or didn’t have time. All I heard were his footfalls as he ran off.
I was on my knees contemplating whether to pass out or swing into action rescuing Beth from Batman when the two officers who’d spooked us loomed over me.
“You okay, buddy?”
I was busy clenching my eyes shut against the pain. The voice was somewhat familiar, however, and I looked up into the face of Frank Zantello. I’d never regarded it the warmest of faces, but at that moment I couldn’t have wished for another, except for Beth’s.
“Jeez, Mr. Angellini, what happened? Are you hurt?”
I discovered I’d lost more than my footing in the scrape with the lime green man. My breath had left me as well, which was evident when I tried to talk. I moved my mouth but nothing came out.
Zantello knelt and helped me sit up. He rubbed my back until I was able to tell him to stop, that I was feeling fine and could talk.
“I found the killer,” I blurted. “I had him. He knocked me down and got away. He went that way.” I gestured west into the crowd.
“What’d he look like?” Zantello asked. As he talked to me, he relayed our conversation into the radio mic attached near the collar of his jacket.
“Beth wasn’t with him,” I finished, staggering to my feet. “He told me he’d left her at the Batman ride.”
Zantello gave a curious look that left no doubt about what he was thinking. “We’ll go,” he said, indicating his Sheriff’s Deputy partner. “Why don’t you take that bench over there and catch up with us when you feel better.”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Don’t worry about me. I can take it, whatever it might be.”
They regarded each other warily. It seemed they held their expressions for a lifetime before Zantello said, “Fine, but we have to move fast.”
During normal times, it’s difficult to get near the Batman ride. Apparently there are many people who enjoy hanging upside down and spinning a high speed until they are completely disoriented. But on that special night we charged up to the operator’s control area without seeing a single person.
“Did he say where he put her?” demanded Zantello.
“In the motor area, wherever that is,” I answered, searching for anything that looked to be an engine.
We scrambled over the ride, then under it until we found the compartment. There, as billed, was Beth.
She was nearly naked, wearing only her bra and panties. The lime green man had gagged her with her blouse and tied her with her panty hose. Her slacks, shoes jacket lay near her in a rumpled pile.
I transformed into an emotional tornado. I wanted to tear out, find the lime green man, and beat him. I was consumed with worry about Beth’s physical and psychological condition. I was embarrassed for her as she was bound nearly nude in front of strangers. And I wanted to do everything at once for her, and could not do the simplest thing, which was instantly release her from her bonds.
Zantello produced a knife and cut Beth free with practiced efficiency, suggesting he did more than prowl the streets of High Hills in a squad.
There were tears in her eyes as I wrapped my arms around her. When I removed the gag, she coughed violently.