.t h e p f c y.

. E.

A man dressed in black raised the binoculars to his eyes, looking through the windshield of his car, an old gray Toyota. He peered through, craning his neck to watch as a woman came out of the outlet store in the mall, following her carefully with his eyes. The woman, a tall brunette wearing a leather jacket and jeans, slipped into her car and slowly began to drive away.

Only a few seconds later, the man with the binoculars cranked his own vehicle and began to follow.

Alison Temple sighed in frustration at the New York traffic, wanting badly to honk her horn just like all the others cars impatiently stuck in the traffic jam. She resisted, knowing how annoying the edgy beeping could get. Sometimes it took an hour to get home. Not a night went by when she didn't run into some sort of accident or big ordeal, and any large 'happening' was bound to stop traffic. She blamed it on those stupid people who thought they needed to stop and stare at the incident. Didn't they realize how rude that was? Weren't more than a few people more than slightly eager to get home and go to bed? She was obviously the only one that was tired after working the whole day.

Glancing in her rearview mirror, she saw the familiar gray Toyota pickup. Its tiny, gleaming roof stuck out like a sore thumb amidst sleek cars and the occasional minivan.

Hadn't she seen that car behind her far too many times for comfort?

Jerrod Hanson stopped the fork halfway to his mouth as he stared at the TV screen. The evening edition of the news was always gruesome and nearly every night sported a disgusting display of criminal cases. He was used to hearing about rapes, but this one caught his eye.

It wasn't just one case; it was multiple and had been going on for weeks, supposedly. They even had a name for him, the "Rose Rapist", because of his habit of leaving a red rose near every victim as a sign that he'd been the perpetrator. He had a ninja-like appearance because of his apparel: all black clothing, even a mask over his face, and this made his presence in New York all the scarier. Apparently they'd been trying to catch him for months, and he was beginning to step up his crimes in the past few days. Once every couple of nights, they said.

Suzy Little, the news anchor for NBC's evening broadcast, went on to say that the Rose Rapist had several specific habits they've been able to match with every single rape he'd committed. All of his victims seemed to work at malls or outlet shops downtown that closed late at night, and they all lived in the outskirt suburban neighborhoods.

For a few seconds, Jerrod had dismissed it as a usual story and was about to flip to something more uplifting when they showed a picture of this guy, the Rose Rapist.

Oddly, he looked very similar to his good friend's father, Keith Powell.

He shrugged the thought off and began flipping through the channels.

Having decided on a movie instead of grave newscasts, he sank back onto his couch and kept his eyes on the television.

He heard the rumble of a car puttering down the quiet streets of the neighborhood, and through the front windows he saw headlights turn into the next driveway over. That would be Alison Temple, getting home late as always from her job at the outlet mall. He always worried about her coming home at eleven every night, not only because she was gorgeous but because of the awful stories he had heard on the news about women coming home from work late.

Maybe watching NBC wasn't good for his health, after all. It made his imagination run wild.

Nevertheless, a few minutes later, when he heard thumping from the direction of Alison's house, he jumped to his feet and decided to go check it out. Besides, he always wanted a reason to go and talk to her.

As he stepped out of the house, he heard a mighty crash from next door. Frowning, Jerrod jogged over the grass and onto the pavement in front of Alison's.

Peering around the corner, his eyes widened. Her door was hanging open, the motion-sensor porch lights were on and glaring, and more crashing sounded from inside. His heart pounding, he followed the sidewalk up to the door and onto the porch.

"Allie?" he called her name, a frown still darkening his eyes. "Alison, are you in there?" He knew she was, because he'd seen her walk in but hadn't heard her leave. But what was going on?

"Jerrod!" Her voice sounded far away and held a note of desperation; he knew it was coming from the inside.

He sprinted into the house, shouting her name, his veins pumping adrenaline with each heartbeat. Something was not right.

A muffled response came from the hallway to his left.

All around him things lay in disarray, he noted as he jogged past the overturned couch, lamp, and shattered glass. Signs of a struggle.

Another shout, but it became muffled again.

He followed the noise into a bedroom, and nearly gasped at what he saw.

A man was bent over Alison's form, knife to her throat. In her mouth he'd stuffed a piece of cloth. A gag.

Without thinking, Jerrod took a dive and knocked the black-clad man over, grabbing the knife to keep it from jabbing Alison. In his lunge, it pierced his upper arm, and he looked at it in nearly numb silence, expecting any moment to feel the sting. In the corner of her eyes, he saw she was sitting up, sobs wracking her body as she tried to claw the gag out of her mouth.

Pain shot through his arm, and Jerrod cried out as he saw blood gashing from the knife wound. It was as if it had taken a few seconds for his brain to register what had happen.

He could feel his nerves on fire, and panic flooded through his system. Only a split second before the man came at him again, he saw a large clay pottery vase sitting on a decorative dais in the corner.

He dodged the man quickly, but the knife caught the very edge of his hip, slicing into flesh yet again. Trying to block out the pain and Alison's screams, he relentlessly dragged himself over to the corner.

Suddenly Jerrod felt as if he was watching the scene from the outside, his mind spinning with adrenaline and fear. Finally he was able to grab the vase, and the severed muscles in his right forearm screamed in pain with a voice all their own.

He whirled around, pottery vase in his arms.

Agony flooded through his midsection, and he dropped the vase and grabbed the hilt of the knife in an attempt to dislodge it. Unable to summon the strength, he collapsed against the wall.

Although his vision was clouding, he saw Alison grab the large piece of pottery from where he'd let it fall.

The next thing he knew, it was being shattered against the back of the man's head, and Jerrod watched in a haze as his eyes rolled disturbingly into the back of his head.

He dropped to the ground.

Jerrod used the last of his strength to pull the dark mask off the man's face, and his heart nearly stopped at what he saw.

The 'Rose Rapist', the very man he'd seen reported on television.

Not only that, but it was undoubtedly Keith Powell.

"You killed our father," Shawn Powell nearly shrieked, grief and anger written unmistakably over his face.

Jerrod felt that this was neither the time nor the place to mention that he hadn't been the one to kill the man, it had been Alison and in self-defense.

It was in the way he spoke, the way he pinched the bridge of his nose, the way his mouth formed a tight line whenever he wasn't speaking. Braiden wasn't in a forgiving mood, not now and not ever.

His brother, Braiden, didn't look too incredibly merciful at the moment, either.

In fact, they both were glaring very murderously at him now.

"Your father was a rapist!" Jerrod said, his head lolling to the side on the hospital bed, not relenting. No matter what his friends thought about his deed, he knew he could not have done anything else. "The man was wanted for the rapes and murders of twelve women! Alison Temple would have been his thirteenth!"

"That man is not our father," Shawn Powell ground his teeth, his jaw clenched tight with stubbornness. "Keith Powell would never do anything like that."

The nurse, having heard tidbits of the heated exchange coming from inside, stepped into the hospital room with a stern expression on her face. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave, or I'll be forced. You're causing a disturbance, and you're definitely not helping Mr. Hanson's wounds to heal. Come back when you're in an encouraging mood."

Jerrod sent an appreciative glance in the kind woman's direction, but he didn't miss the Powell brothers' glares as they stalked out of the room. They weren't done with him yet, and he knew it.

Five Years Later…

"This is our chance," Shawn Powell gestured to a huge three-ring binder sitting on the table. It had a blank cover with no labeling, but he knew exactly what it contained. Every word was his own, and he'd been working on it for years. "I have connections that have already agreed to pull through for me. There are things that could go wrong and ways it might not turn out, but Braiden… if it does work out, think of the wrongs that will be set right. This is our chance for justice, for revenge."

Braiden frowned and waited for his brother to continue. He had to admit the words justice and revenge appealed to him.

"He plans on running for presidency, you know. He has since he was young. And one of his coworkers said he's mentioned it before; it's not a dream that he plans to let down," Shawn said, and then, flashing a grin, he said, "And I have ways to get him into the Oval Office… and then out again."

The other big man looked as if he was confused, but he tugged the stack of papers over to him and began flipping through the typed sheets. "What have you in mind?"

"Something called blackmail."

Ten Years Later…

Shawn Powell sat in front of his desk, his hand propping up his forehead as he looked down at the letter he was writing.

This was it. The plan was finally coming into existence, at least from the president's point of view. Oh, they had been plotting it for years and years, but now President Hanson was going to realize that his Oval Office fantasy wasn't all that he'd anticipated.

Dear Mr. President,

I was walking about my town one day, and I found myself strolling by the town's Methodist church. A group of little children was sitting with their Sunday school teacher out on the lawn, and while I was walking I heard them start singing a song. Perhaps you recognize it, it goes like this: "He's got the whole world in His hands." Of course, since I happen to know you're a Christian, I also know that you believe this song is talking about God and His hands.

And this song got me to thinking that I might very well know how He feels. I happen to be in a very similar situation, you see. In the same way God supposedly holds the entire earth in His hands, I hold this entire country in my hands.

Because you are new to the presidency, I am going to be merciful, unlike you. No, you were never gracious. But me, I am giving you quite some time to figure out a solution for this; but I have to assure you, there is only one.

In fourteen days, if you haven't acknowledged this letter in the way I suggest, you will begin to see the toll my plan has on your country. I will give you no more information other than that.

I'll be kind and let you start negotiations. You set the ransom amount, and I will tell you if it is satisfactory.

Being a somewhat kind and sympathetic person, I'll also give you even another freebee—I assure you there will be no more. If you respond to my letter within seven days—in the way that I instruct, of course—I will delay my plan until we have agreed on a price. If I find that you have taken advantage of my nice side and are making weak attempts at trying to find a satisfactory price, my plan will begin immediately.

Here is how you will respond to my letter: on the evening edition of the national news, approximately fifteen minutes into the show, the audio will appear to have problems, and in turn the screen will go blank for a few seconds. During these few seconds, your voice will be heard speaking a single amount: the amount of money you will pay me. And I will reply with a letter much like this one.

If you have any questions, speak them in those few seconds.

People will think your voice is simply another station interfering with their program, and I trust that any questions asked will be answered accordingly.

I hope, for the good of your nation, you will consider this letter. For, as I said, in fourteen days you will begin to see that you've made a very grave mistake.


Meanwhile, Braiden was following the plan as they'd discussed, and had been for the past ten years. This was going to work, now that Hanson had achieved his goal to become president. Shawn found it increasingly difficult to quench the excitement brewing in his stomach.