CHAPTER EIGHT

At the end of his first week in Woodburn, Philip ventured out on the patio. He breathed in the cold crisp fall air with a kind of elation he hadn't experienced since Berkowitz had walked into his bookstore.

       He glanced toward the fence. An attractive forty-something blond was peering at him.

       "Hi," she smiled.

       Hungry for conversation, Philip jogged down the patio steps and walked toward her.

       "I'm Shelly Wilcox, " she greeted him. "You must be my new neighbor, John Thompson. Town gossip says you're a writer."

       "That's right."

       "Your family isn't with you?"

       Philip shook his head. "I'm here alone." he answered, then clarified himself. "I have no family." The words stuck like a brick in his throat.

       "Yeah? What are you doing in Woodburn, Mr. Thompson?"

       "Call me John." The phony name sounded bizarre on his lips. "I'm from Los Angeles. My agent recommended Woodburn as a quiet town, conducive to writing."

       "Are you published?" Shelly edged close to the fence. "I'd like to read your books."

       "Not yet," Philip lied. "I'm working on an extensive work at the moment."

       Shelly tipped her head and smiled. Her blue eyes slid obliquely across his face. "You're exactly what I thought a writer would be, especially with

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that sexy beard. I've always wanted to meet a real writer, in fact, I've done some writing myself. I can't believe my luck that a writer would move next door to me. I'd like to have you for dinner some night."

       "Uh..." Philip took a step back. "Yeah sometime."

       "I'll remember that."

       Philip nodded with a vague sense of unease walked back into the house. Gathering his notebook and several pens, he drove to the local library and checked out several books about the American Revolution.

       Thus began his routine of writing through the day stopping only for lunch, a jog around several blocks, and back to his computer until hunger overtook him. He would scrounge through the kitchen and usually throw a frozen dinner in the microwave.

       Researching and writing became his escape from his horrendous memory of the trial, of losing Althea, and separation from Jenny.

       Fred Campbell arrived as scheduled on the last Friday of his first month.

       "We've got a safe phone at my private office from where you can phone O'Reilly and your daughter. I'll drive you there."

       O'Reilly answered on the first ring.

       "How's Jenny?" Philip asked without preamble.

       "Your daughter is at the bookstore early in the morning. Another girl dark-hair, arrives a little later than Jenny. A young muscular boy works afternoons."

       "The girl is Carole, Jenny's assistant. The boy is Sam, our stock boy." Remember what I told you. Don't become friendly with anyone. I notified your daughter that you would be calling the last Friday of the month. Presently, she's in her office at the bookstore and expecting your call."

       Philip hung up, took a deep breath and called to Agent Campbell in the next room. "I'm calling my daughter now."

       "Permission granted," Campbell shouted back.

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       At the sound of Jenny's voice tears sprang to Philip's eyes.

       "Dad," she was struggling to keep her voice airy. "It's good to hear from you. How are you?"

       "I'm doing okay, Jenny. Listen to me. Promise you'll leave the bookstore before dark, call a cab and have Sam or Carole wait until you're safely in the taxi."

       "Dad, don't worry about me. Just take care of yourself. I suppose you can't tell me where you are."

       "You know I can't. The good news is that I'm getting lots of writing done. But now my chief concern is for you."

       When he replaced the receiver, Philip opened the door to the adjoining room and nodded to the Security Inspector.

       "Done?" Campbell dropped him at the bungalow, Philip restlessly paced the floor. O'Reilly's assurance that his men were keeping an eye on Jenny did little to ease his anxiety. The anxious feeling constantly followed him. No doubt by now, Sammy Gavota suspected he'd embezzled some of their cash and wouldn't rest until they found him and the money. Since they couldn't find him, his big concern was that they'd go after Jenny.

       As homesick as he was, Philip found solace in the clean air and green aprons of the surrounding mountains. As his lonely days turned into lonely nights, he yielded to Shelly's invitation dinner.

       Shelly Wilcox, was a divorcee and an outrageous flirt. After dessert, she stepped close to Philip and whispered in a husky voice. "You're just my type. How do you feel about me?"

       "Uh, Shelly," he backed away. "You're a nice girl and a great cook. I enjoy your company. Leave it at that for now. OK?"

       She stood on her tiptoes and smoothed back his hair. "For now. OK."

       Night after night, he lay sleepless as memories of Althea, her dignity, her grace, and image of loveliness flooded through his mind.

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       The calendar, oblivious to his loneliness, continued to tick off the seasons. Summer mellowed into clear, crisp autumn. Thanksgiving brought an unexpected light snowfall. Memories of joyous holiday dinners deepened Philip's melancholy.

       Shelly, his only oasis in a dry, barren life, invited him to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Their conversation, as always, flinted off into hopeless, futile sparks.

       "Something is troubling you, John." Shelly placed a large slice of pumpkin pie before him. "Want to talk about it?"

       "Uh...I'm thinking about the next chapter of my book. It's a difficult one."

       "You need to forget that book for one night. Let's have a nightcap at Monahan's Bar and Grille. I told some of my friends about you. They'd like to meet you. What do you say?"

       "No thanks, Shelly. Dinner was delicious. But I've work to finish at home."

       He pushed back his chair. Maintaining the pretense of politeness, he smiled at Shelly, wishing himself miles away.

       "I can stay and help with dishes."

       Shelly shook her head with a grimace of exasperation. "Go home John but promise me something?"

       Philip waited.

       "Christmas is just around the corner. We're both alone with no family. Spend it with me? I'll cook a nice dinner and we'll bury our pain in a few drinks."

       Philip half-smiled. "Another meal like this one? Okay, you're on."

       Walking through her back yard to his home, Philip wondered about Shelly's loneliness. He didn't want to know. He had enough pain of his own. How could he possibly keep a promise of tomorrow to anyone? He'd have dinner with her to assuage his loneliness on Christmas Eve, but he couldn't go to public places and risk meeting new people. Shelly and the local librarians were his only acquaintances.

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       As the joyous spirits of the holiday pervaded the small town, Philip's memories of past Christmas's weighed heavily, crushing his spirit. Shelly called in the afternoon to inform him that dinner was at seven and to bring a good appetite.

       Granted the special privilege of calling Jenny on Christmas Eve, Philip kept the conversation light and cheerful. But the anguished tone had come into her voice again.

       "I can't bear that idea of your being alone during the holidays, Dad." Jenny said.

       "I'm fine. You go out with Bruce and have a good time, honey. Promise?"

       "I promise. Have you met anyone at all, someone you can have dinner with tonight?"

       "Yes, I have." He cleared his throat, eager to change the subject. "I sent a gift through O'Reilly for you."

       "And he's sending my present to you."

       "Merry Christmas, darling." Philip's voice turned husky.

       Campbell drove him back to the bungalow and handed him the gift Jenny had sent through O'Reilly.

       When he opened it, he choked back tears. She had framed a photo of the three of them taken the last Christmas they were together.

       After a delicious dinner on Christmas Eve, Philip sat with Shelly before her fireplace. She poured glasses of red wine and set the bottle on the table beside her.

       "What's wrong with you John? she asked. "Tomorrow is Christmas. Everyone celebrates holidays. Are you going to sit alone in that dreary house and type away on your computer? Or are you going out dancing with me?"

       When Philip didn't respond, Shelly leaned over and refilled his cocktail glass. He didn't resist. The sparkling drink helped him forget dredged up memories of Christmas's past, of colored bright lights and shops adorned with decorations lighting up elegant Michigan Boulevard. Even

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remembering the Salvation Army volunteers ringing their bells, their frozen faces red with the cold, elicited a surge of sadness.

       He set his wine glass down, closed his eyes and tuned out Shelly's incessant chatter. How Althea had loved decorating their pine-scented Christmas tree. With Jenny at their side, and the crackling fireplace permeating the room with the warmth of family love, Philip remembered the wave of warm gratitude for his satisfying life.

       On Christmas Eve, Althea had insisted they attend services at her Presbyterian church. Now memories of Althea singing carols in her clear soprano voice, her face aglow with adoration for the Babe in the manger flooded his mind. He'd admired his wife's naive faith in the belief that the Man of the Cross was the Savior of the World.

       How he had taken everything for granted! What a contrast those bright and shining years were to his empty darkened life.

       Philip slid further into the divan and held out his glass for Shelly to refill. And again. He justified what happened next to his saddened memories and excessive alcohol that loosened his tongue.

       Shelly snuggled beside him on her sofa and slurring his words between gulps of wine Philip divulged the reason he was living in the Woodburn.

       "How exciting," Shelly giggled. "Wow! Witnessing against the mob. Just like in the movies." She pressed closer. "No wonder you're such a mystery."

       The next morning, Philip awakened with a violent headache. He dragged himself out of bed, showered, shaved, took two aspirins and called O'Reilly.

       "It being Christmas and all, I was having a few drinks with my neighbor and blurted out the reason I'm here." Philip said. "I was drunk. That's my only excuse."

       "What's with you Lansing?" Agent O'Reilly shouted. "I warned you about becoming too friendly. You're looking for trouble?" He sighed deeply. "OK, I have another available safe house. It's an hour north of San Francisco in Sonoma Valley. I'll call Campbell and he'll give you

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instructions on your move, though I'm sure this isn't how he wants to spend his holidays. Merry Christmas!" He slammed the phone before Philip could mumble an apology.

       He wasn't sorry to leave. Shelly unnerved him with her robust affection and growing ardor. Hurriedly packaging, Philip waited for Campbell to come for him. Within the hour the Marshall arrived with a map to his new destination.

       "You must leave now," Campbell said. "Lucky for you your girlfriend next door isn't home. It's a long drive to Sonoma. Stay at a motel tonight. Wear your glasses. Call O'Reilly the minute you arrive. Understand?"

       Philip threw his belongings into the Toyota and anxious to get away from Campbell, he gunned the Toyota and sped toward his unknown future.

       He drove all night. As the sunlight percolated through the dense tangle of pine trees, Philip arrived in Sonoma and was delighted to find out that his new home was a rustic cabin nestled under low-hanging branches at the bottom of a steep rise. In Sonoma Valley near Glen Ellen, he could sense the vibes of Jack London, a writer he'd long admired.

       Philip settled into the cabin, vowing he'd never become friendly with another woman. After a week of isolation in the small cabin, he couldn't resist venturing into the city of Glen Ellen. Wandering in and out of wine tasting vineyards, Philip discovered a small bookstore. He craved, yes, he needed, the sight and smell of books. They touched something within him, surging his creativity to new heights.

       He found a quaint Italian restaurant near his cabin. Except for friendly nods to the waitresses, he dined alone, gazing out a wide window at green expanses leading down to a winding stream.

       He was making great strides on his novel and why not? From early morning until midnight, he wrote a fictional account of the American Revolutionary War. He found his own courage renewed as he wrote of the heroic forefathers and their risks to forge and shape a new country.

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       Against his better judgment Philip became friendly with Dave Oliver, the owner of the winery in the valley. Dave loved to talk endlessly relating tall tales of his stint in Vietnam.

       "Hey John," he said one night over a beer. "You should write my story."

       If Philip had a dollar for every time he'd heard those words, he would never have had to steal from Berkowitz.

       "I'm in the middle of the Revolutionary War now and one war's enough for me." Philip laughed and changed the subject. "Tell me about Jack London."

       They talked about the young writer at length. Dave enlarged on London's childhood. "His mother was a strange one. Distant. He turned to his sister for mothering, they say." Dave drained his beer mug and leaned back, absorbed in his own storytelling. "He had a good stepfather. Took his name of London. Never did know his real father. Lived a peculiar life. No wonder he took to drink."

       Dave was amazed that Philip never accepted the wine he offered. "You're in wine country, man, you're missing the best of the vine."

       But Philip had learned his lesson. He'd forgo the risk of drinking one drop.

       Later Philip applauded himself. His book was nearly complete. As far as he knew, no one recognized him. In his monthly conversations with Jenny, all seemed well. He was surrounded by the incredible beauty of nature. Life in the Sonoma Valley was quiet, peaceful.

       Until this morning. Until O'Reilly's telephone call.

       Philip sped away from Sonoma as if demons were chasing him. He watched the rolling green countryside skim by. Someday, he told himself, he'd bring Jenny to this beautiful Eden-like valley of rustic grace and abundant vineyards.

       But would he ever be free to live as Philip Lansing again? Even this book, which he fervently hoped would make the best seller list must be written under an assumed name.

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       By the time he reached Santa Rosa, his spirits were ablaze with excitement. Soon, he'd be with Jenny and set into motion the plan he'd been harboring since the day he'd opened a Swiss bank account.

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