The man, looking disheveled in a rumpled blue shirt, grimaces as he tries to sit up in a dimly-lit room. The place stinks of stale cigarette smoke and whisky fumes. He slowly realizes as he comes to that he is still held captive in this godforsaken place. He gags as the stale odors hit his nostrils unapologetically, leaving him gasping for lack of pure, clean air. His hands and legs are still tied, like a trussed-up chicken. A balding man in his early forties walks up to him, saying in an almost high-pitched voice, “How’re ya doing, friend?” Trying to see through his already swollen eyes, Justin notices with a slight measure of relief that it was the “gentle” one. He was a lapdog more or less and playing second fiddle to the more sinister one. He wonders briefly where he is. As if correctly reading his mind, Giles shifts slightly in his chair, saying as he brandishes a shiny object (which Justin realizes to his dismay is a knife), “Look mister, my friend has gone in search of your wife and daughter, and will soon be here with them…so if you think you are going to play the hero, I won’t hesitate to use this.”

Closing his eyes, in frustration at his current state of helplessness in saving his wife and daughter rather than pain, Justin asks to use the bathroom. He desperately seeks for a chance to overpower this joker and save his family from the scoundrel in search of them. Giles replies dully, “No problem. Be back a sec.” He returns moments later with an old metal bucket which gives off a huge stink of urine and faintly of something else unmentionable that cause Justin’s stomach to spasm. But he only gives dry-heaves, which leaves him feeling almost faint. He wills himself to remain strong, at least for his family.

A cell phone rings suddenly, startling them both. The other man curses silently as he answers it. Justin watches him under hooded lids as he speaks and observes his expression change from surprise to fear as he hangs up. The man walks to a chair and sits down heavily, appearing to gather his thoughts which are all topsy-turvy. Luke had called to tell him that he had a feeling of being watched. He had also warned him to be careful, too. He always had a healthy respect for his friend’s feelings, which were rarely ever wrong. He was beginning to get tired of this business and was already thinking of retiring to his homeplace in the outskirts of Wyoming, where his aged and ailing father ran a small farm. He hears the bound man groan again, rudely interrupting his musings. “Hey, shut up!” he barks out nervously. “You want another tap on that skull?” Justin keeps silent. He is terribly thirsty. But he doubts if he could drink any water offered to him in this dump. As he tries to move his sore shoulders, he catches a glimpse of a gleaming object close to a sofa on his left. He couldn’t make out what it was initially, but as he stares at it, his heart gives a small leap. Is it what he thinks it is? He glances quickly at his captor and guard, who is fiddling with his phone and muttering silently to himself.

Justin debates whether to shift closer to investigate what he saw or stay put. He decides to stay put, but he feels time is running out for him, too. He needs to do something as soon as possible or risk losing his family. His eyes sting with tears as he thinks of Carla and Marla. He realizes that he missed them, not because of his capture; far from it. He missed the togetherness, the essence of family. He curses himself silently for being selfish and dense this whole time and desperately prays to be united with them. But the nightmare they’re facing presently seems to taunt and mock them. And just as these thoughts run through his mind, his captor announces that he has to take a leak. “Now, don’t think of any bright ideas, pal,” the man says, brandishing the gleaming knife again as he moves out of the room.

As soon as he realizes that he’s alone in the room, Justin throws caution to the wind, as he awkwardly shuffles closer to the gleaming object he had observed earlier. A lighter! Feverishly thanking God for this divine providence, he grabs the lighter with his hands which are both tied to the back, and scoots back to his initial position. His heart is thumping in both fear and excitement. Listening for any returning footsteps and hearing none, he flicks the switch, bracing for the searing pain of the flame produced as he tries to free himself of his bonds. In the next three minutes, his hands are free. Now for his feet. In his excitement and haste, he fails to notice the guard returning to the room. He feels a sharp pain on his forearm, then a faint trickle of wetness down his arm as he notices that he had been cut by the now angry guard. “I told you not to try anything. Now see what you made me do,” the guard says almost apologetically. Trying not to give in to the pain that is almost unbearable, Justin slumps against the sofa close to him, resting his good shoulder on it. He looks at his tied feet in frustration and rising despair. Now he would not be able to save his family. The guard stands above him holding the knife, looking ready to use it again. But Justin closes his eyes as the throbbing in his arm continues. The guard has also taken the lighter. “Oh, hell!” Justin curses silently.


It’s 10pm; almost three hours since Carla and Marla checked into the inn. Marla is sound asleep, but Carla could hardly sleep a wink. Her thoughts were still of Justin and his whereabouts. She has the strong feeling that the recent turn of events could somewhat be connected to the false claims to their property. Mr. Hollister so far has not contacted them since their last meeting at Justin’s condo. Then her thoughts automatically go to Lisa. She should be at home now. She suddenly has an urgent need to speak to her. Getting out of the bed in one fluid movement and taking care not to wake Marla, she moves to a corner of the dimly-lit room and dials Lisa’s number. But she couldn’t connect to her still. A feeling of unease about Lisa’s welfare intensifies within her.

Carla eventually dozes off at about 1am. She’s still in her jeans and shirt, but her daughter is wearing her unicorn-patterned pajamas. She wanted to provide a sense of normalcy where her daughter is concerned, as she has been through a lot these past few days.


Luke moves silently in the shadows as he approaches the inn. He resembles a squat, toad-like creature, moving on padded feet. He gives his deep side pockets a pat, satisfied to feel the firearm with the attached silencer in place. Everywhere looks deserted, which suits his purpose. But what he fails to see is a darker figure a few meters behind him, moving with a feline grace that would have made a cat green with envy. The last thing he notices, however, is the smell of an exotic perfume he recognizes, and which makes him swiftly reach for his firearm, but too late; he realizes that his attacker is swifter and more ruthless as he feels a tearing of his insides some milliseconds after hearing a faint “pop” sound. Taking care to avoid the falling figure, Brenda steps quickly aside. Now moving like a wisp of smoke in the shadows, she makes for the inn’s entrance, like the witch of some dark castle.


“Mu-m, Mu-uum!” Carla hears a voice that sounded like an echo in some kind of tunnel. Is she in a deserted underground subway with Marla or what? she wonders as her eyelids flicker, then open wide in alarm as she curses herself silently for falling asleep. She sits up in bed with a start, then glances automatically at her wristwatch to find it is 3am. Her daughter is wide awake and seems to be staring at her strangely, like she had grown a pair of horns. No, she’s not staring at her, but staring past her at…she feels an icy chill travelling down her spine as she slowly turns round to follow Marla’s stare. At first glance, the figure close to the door looked like an apparition of some sinister alien in a sci-fi movie. She gives a startled gasp and stretches her hand to turn on the lamp, but hears a voice that sounded like a whiplash from the dark figure. “Don’t do something foolish, Carla, or your daughter gets it.” Carla couldn’t believe her ears. “Brenda-a!” she cries out, unable to stop herself. The room is in semi-darkness. No wonder she didn’t recognize the figure in the first place. But what is she doing here?” Carla wonders, foolishly. Then it hits her. But of course, she’s behind it all, as Lisa had hinted.

“I know that your little mind is wondering at my presence in your room,” Brenda begins insolently with a dry chuckle. “But do not bother yourself about that. You’re going to do me a small favor. But first, switch on the lamp.” Carla does as she requested. “Don’t talk to my mother like that!” Marla loudly protests with a scowl. Giving an icy smile and leaning slightly forward, Brenda replies, “Hey! No lady puckers up her face like that!” Not to be outdone, Marla comes back with, “And no lady talks to my mother like that!” Heart thumping and mind filled with unanswered questions, Carla turns swiftly back to her daughter with a finger on her lip as a gesture for her to keep quiet. “Here, sign,” Brenda orders, as she hands a document to her. “You got two minutes!” Carla looks at the document she’s holding in disbelief. This was one of the papers contained in the missing file of the Schofield landed property that had caused her and Justin sleepless nights. This was one of the documents in the missing file Lisa had told her about. With a certain calmness she’s far from feeling, Carla says quietly, “I am not signing it.” Brenda gives a cold laugh. “I don’t think you meant that. Did you?” she asks. “I meant every word, Brenda,” Carla says, heart still thumping. So, it was this bitch that got her family running like frightened mice and scared shitless these past few days. “Then it’s a pity, because I’m not a very patient lady, which you’re well aware.” Saying this, a soft click is heard as Brenda turns off the safety. Carla and her daughter respond with simultaneous gasps as they look at the gun pointed at them. “What’s going on here?” Carla queries incredulously. “You’re not thinking of shooting us, are you?” Her thoughts going automatically to Justin, she asks, “What have you done with my husband?” Brenda gives a short laugh, saying unkindly, “Ooohhh, what do you care? I thought both of you were divorced, Carla.” Marla starts to cry. “Tell her to shut up,” Brenda snarls as she dangerously waves the .38 at them, her face stony now. “If you let off a shot, people are going to hear and the whole place will be swarming with cops in minutes,” Carla says, trying to get a grip on reality. Brenda shakes her head with a smile. “Not if I do this,” she says, grabbing a pillow from the bed, and ordering her once more to sign the document. Swallowing convulsively and looking at her daughter who is sitting on the bed looking scared, she says in a dull tone. “Alright, Brenda. I’m going to sign the document. Not because you forced me, but because of my family. I’m doing this for them…” Pausing, a crippling thought occurs to Carla as she looks at the document again. “Justin, Jus…” she says tightly, looking at Brenda the way a sheep might look at a well-fed wolf. There were two available spaces for signatures: Justin’s and hers! But Justin had already signed. Did Brenda kill him off after he had signed the document? “Oh, he’s alive,” Brenda says carelessly, correctly reading Carla’s expression. She gives a pointed nod at the document again. As Carla removes the pen attached to the document to sign, a loud crash is heard at the door and two police officers enter the room, pointing their weapons. Brenda reluctantly hands over her weapon as she’s cuffed by the officers. The document flutters unnoticed to the floor in the commotion.

Brenda, under interrogation, gives the address to where Justin is held and admits to being the person behind the ransacking of Carla and Justin’s home with a conspiracy to take it from them by fraudulent means. She also confesses to other atrocities she committed too, including Lisa’s murder. The unsavory publicity her arrest generated causes Philip McGee to shut down the realty for three weeks. Giles is finally arrested, but Luke eventually succumbs to his injuries while at the hospital. It was too late to save him.


Lying in Justin’s arms two nights later in his apartment and with Marla in the room next to theirs, Carla thinks briefly of the madness of the past 48 hours. Astonished at the timely arrival of the police at the inn, she had found out afterwards that it was Justin who had called the police after he managed to free himself and render his guard unconscious by a single blow to the head with the filthy metal bucket. Justin had learnt of their whereabouts after reading a text message on the unconscious guard’s phone sent to him by his friend, Luke.

Their home was being put in order and should be ready for them in two days. Justin has organized a weekend get-away for them and is not revealing where it is. A surprise, he calls it. It very much looks like they are on the path to full reconciliation. There is, however, a blight to their joyful mood: Lisa’s murder. She is not likely to be forgotten, as she would always have a place in their hearts. Snuggling closer to her husband, Carla realizes that they have been so lucky. Now it’s up to them to make the most use of the second chance being given to them.


The family of three, walking past two elderly women sitting on a bench at the park early in the afternoon, are laughing together at a private joke they shared. Their little daughter cries out, “Mum, Dad, race you to the ice cream stand!” And they all run together towards an ice cream van parked some meters away, with a few people ordering and sampling different flavors. The old ladies smile at them fondly, each of them preoccupied with their different memories. “These young-uns are so lucky,” one of the ladies say with a smile. “Life must be smiling so often on them.” The other lady sneezes softly, and her friend says automatically, “Bless you!” Replying with a “thank you,” the lady that sneezed continues with, “Believe not all that you see, my friend. Who knows what each person goes through in this life? Best to make do with the little it offers you.” Little does she know how unerringly correct her remark describes the life and experiences of the obviously happy family that had walked past them moments ago.


For all installments of “A Hair’s Breadth,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2