You made it! Here’s the final chapter.
“Oh dear God,” Ned breathed, “Ike ate the shit sheet.”
“That’s all you have to say after everything that happened,” whispered Ashley.
“Well, it’s not everyday that you get to watch your friend presumably poison himself with E. Coli.”
“I’d just be glad if you quit calling it a shit sheet.”
“Is poop paper better,” said Ned.
“Shut the fuck up, you two.” McNally shot them a look that could possibly wilt the freshest flower.
The scene had become absurd. Trent Shaw yelled while limping throughout the living room grinding fecal matter into the old carpet. Ike and Dick rolled throughout the matter, long ago having lost track of why they began the wrestling match in the first place. McNally stood, holding the pistol, waiting for the insanity to ebb.
It was at that moment that another figure darkened the door of the tiny farmhouse.
“Jimbo,” yelled McNally, “welcome to the asylum.”
Jim’s mouth dropped, eyes widened, and hands dropped. “What the hell’s going on?” he said.
“Just another day in paradise.”
After ten minutes, Ike and Dick tired of their wrestling match. Both sat leaning against the couch, brushing dog crap off their clothing. Neither experienced much success. Ashley watched in horror as they smeared fecal matter deeper into their clothing.
McNally viewed the scene with disgust before he turned his gaze at Dick. “So,” he said, “who do you work for?”
Dick didn’t answer.
“Suppose we need to make it worth his while,” said Jim.
“Dunno,” said McNally, “It probably depends on the costs of failing this assignment.”
Dick cringed as the men studied him. Finally McNally turned to Ashley. “That paper. The one dipped in wax. The one Ike ate. We’ve got to get it. Suppose you can you help Ike upchuck it?”
Ashley’s stomach churned. Ike piped in, “Dude. I’m a professional. I can upchuck on my own, thank you very much.”
“Well hop to it,” said, McNalley, “get out of your belly before you smudge the ink.” He added, “Do it in the kitchen sink. I don’t want that thing floating in toilet water.”
Ike hopped to his feet and trotted to the kitchen. Ashley listened to him gag.
“I truly didn’t believe my life could become weirder. But here we are,” she mumbled. Nausea washed over her.
Ned grasped her hand. “You gonna be OK?”
“I have no idea.”
Ned and Ashley watched the surreal events with detached horror. Dick sat on the floor looking sullen, McNally and Jim hovered over him barking questions, Ike stood with his head hanging over the sink while attempting to regurgitate paper, Trent Shaw limped around the room shouting obscenities. Ned silently held Ashley’s hand, feeling like her only anchor to sanity.
Finally, Ike entered the room triumphantly waving the waxy paper. “I got it,” he yelled, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.
“Good for you,” said McNally, “now hand it over.”
“Hey,” Ike complained, “I worked hard for this.”
“Fine. Just give it to me. You can’t handle it.”
Ike reluctantly placed the paper in McNally’s outstretched palm. “Double cross me and you’re dead.”
“Yeah. I know.”
Ned’s eyes focused on Dick. “What the fuck, Dick?” he said, “I thought you were a friend.”
“I’m more of a friend to you than these assholes.”
“I’m not so sure…”
“I guess you’ll find out when they end me, won’t you?” Dick’s eyes burrowed into Ned’s face defiantly.
“Why do you figure they’ll end you,” said Jim.
“What else are they gonna do to me?” said Dick, “We all know what happens to failed freedom fighters.”
“I can think of a few things,” squeaked Shaw.
“Forget the small talk,” said McNally, “who you workin’ for?”
“When you find out, you’ll be sorry.”
“I’m already sorry,” chirped Ike.
Just then, a single pop pierced the air. Dick slumped, eyes glazed. A red splotch bloomed on his forehead. Ashley felt Ned pull her to the floor. The sounds of Trent Shaw’s shrieks filled the air.
“Holy shit,” Ned breathed, “what the fuck just happened?”
“Dunno,” said Ashley, “but I think I just broke my incision.”
“I hear Haiti is warm this time of year.”
“Not if you’re in Antarctica.”
Long pause. “I hear it did not go well.”
“Did he leak any information?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“What’s our next move?”
“Call this number tomorrow. 5:00. I’ll update then.”
Ned and Ashley stepped into her home. Neither spoke, both too overwhelmed to communicate. Ashley marched straight to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of pain killers. Ned stood by the door pondering the evening’s events. He watched Ashley down her pills and lean against the counter. He breathed deep.
Stepping towards her, he paused, eyes drawn to the small table by the door. The letter still sat there, the one from her oncologist. He picked it up and carried it into the kitchen. He wrapped his arms around Ashley’s shoulders.
“You know I’m completely in love with you.”
She burrowed deeper into his chest. “After all the weird things that happened… heck, after everything that’s happened since I moved here, there’s one thing I’m sure of: I’m glad I met you.”
His fingers traced her spine, drawing a line between her shoulder blades, brushing her neck. He held her firm, yet gentle, and traced kisses along her cheekbone. When their lips touched, she knew she could be his forever.
They stood together, the gentle warmth of their love enveloping their physical bodies. She could’ve stood like that forever, but it was him who broke the embrace.
“How’s the incision.”
“It’s fine,” she said, “just a little raw from twisting around.” She added, “I’ll be fine.”
He hugged her and buried his nose in her hair. They stood in silence, enjoying the embrace a little longer. Then Ned spoke. “You haven’t opened this.” He showed her the letter.
“I don’t want to know. Healing’s hard enough. I don’t want to know any lab results right now.”
Ned looked thoughtful a few moments. Then he said, “But I want to know. Do you mind?” He stepped away and held the envelope in front of him.
A long moment of silence weighed heavy on them. She finally said. “I suppose.”
He broke the seal, pulled out the enclosed letter. He lifted it and read. His eyes looked thoughtful. Finally, he spoke aloud.
“It says ‘No Evidence of Disease. NED.” His eyes sparkled. Relief washed over Ashley’s face. “I like that,” he said, “We’re both Ned.”
“For now,” she added.
“For now,” he said, smiling.
He tossed the letter aside and swept her in his arms. He kissed her soundly. They relished the moment, silently savoring the pure joy of incredible news.
Unfortunately, they didn’t fully comprehend their role in the reorganization of a worldwide terrorist network or how the resulting conflict would would leave a plethora of dead bodies in its wake — some of them close friends.
Nor did they realize they were on the brink of a treacherous betrayal by someone they counted as a friend.
However, today they were oblivious to the gathering storm clouds that would test their fledging love to its utter limits. Because at this moment, in this one embrace, they relished a brief, tranquil moment in the eye of the hurricane.
***** The End of Book 1 of this Trilogy*****
Author Note: If you enjoyed Reclaimed Haven: Murder on First, find out how Ashley and Ned fare in Reclaimed Haven: Murder on Second. Hint: Things get messy. You can get all the juicy details here:
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