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Pepper Herman

Chapter Seven


Saturday, November 9th

            Glancing out the window, Molly noticed a cat surreptitiously stalking a bird who was busy feeding on the grass.  The cat was fascinating to watch.  It’s moves, so sneaky, went unnoticed by the bird.  As the cat edged closer to its prey, Molly got the uncomfortable feeling that it was going to succeed in its quest.  She bounded to the window, rapped loudly on the pane, and the bird flew away.  The cat, also startled by the sound, made a hasty retreat.

            And there it was.  That little episode had sparked an idea.  She would stalk him, secretly tracking the Sibs till she learned their routine.

            So why not begin right now?  It was a lovely Saturday morning in November.  Why wait?  It would give her something to divert herself from Diego’s death which she was taking very hard.  She pulled a navy blue blazer over her gray cashmere sweater and gray flannel pants, gathered up her car keys, entered the Subaru and took off for West Philly where the Utopia compound was housed -- a mere fifteen minutes from her home in Merion. 

            She parked across from the large Victorian complex and waited.  At twenty after eleven some men, possibly watchdogs of Haissem’s, entered a Lincoln Town Car and drove around the back of the compound.  Within minutes, the car emerged down the long driveway, as the wrought iron gates parted allowing access to the street.  As she was about to follow, the front door opened and a group of cult members -- presumably parents and their children -- entered an SUV.  So these were the people Jay called the Sibs, she thought   The driver settled himself into the driver’s seat, and followed the Lincoln Town Car, as the iron gates closed behind them.

            Molly gave them their lead, then followed the van to its destination -- Fairmount Park -- where everybody piled out for, what became, a Utopia picnic in the park.

            Positioning her car a block away, Molly grabbed a paperback, seated herself on a park bench at an angle where she could easily observe the Sibs from a distance.  She noticed that most of them had very short haircuts or were completely shorn.  She scanned the group for what might have been Haissem, but she didn’t want to be caught staring, and they were too far away for her to see anyone’s face clearly.

            She withdrew her glasses from her purse and began to read, while periodically glancing at the children, who were playing ball.  Presently, an errant ball, kicked by one of the Sibs, came racing through the grass, landing at Molly’s feet. As she arose and walked to the back of the bench to bend over and retrieve it, the first thing she noticed was a pair of black, shiny boots.  She lifted her head slowly to see this striking figure standing before her.  He wore faded jeans and a beige turtleneck shirt topped with a black leather jacket.  His light brown hair was pulled back into a long ponytail.  She was stunned by his imposing presence.   He wore black sunglasses and had a pale, almost white complexion.  Removing his sunglasses, she was startled by the intensity of his blue eyes as they peered into hers.  She felt her hatred becoming tinged with fascination.

            “Sorry,” he said, his face breaking into a warm smile.

            “That’s okay,” Molly answered, her heart pounding as she handed him the ball.

            “What are you reading?” he asked.

            “Oh, ‘Brave New World,’” she mumbled.

            “Huxley,” he replied, nodding.  “I remember that one.  Great premise.”

Suddenly, one of the Sibs, maybe seven years of age, came running up to get the ball. 

            “Father, can I have the ball now?” he asked.         

            “After you thank this nice lady for getting it for you,” Haissem replied.

            “Thank you miss,” the little boy said with shyness.

            Molly stared at him closely.  “You’re welcome, honey,” she said, patting his head. “What’s your name?”

            “Future,” he replied.

            “Well, you take good care of yourself now, Future, you hear?”

            “I will,” he shouted, as he ran back to the others.

            Molly looked back at Haissem. So you are the one who is responsible for my son’s death, you son-of-a-bitch, she thought.

            “I’ll let you get back to your reading,” he said with warmth.  “Enjoy the day.”

            And he was gone.      


Sunday, December 1st

            Rob and Cate watched as the New York to Philadelphia shuttle taxied to a stop in front of terminal B2 at Philadelphia’s International airport. They were standing at the doorway of the incoming passengers as Octavius Gumbs walked down the ramp, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.  He was tall and wiry and had a small beard.  His black hair was now streaked with gray.  He wore it rasta style with dreadlocks that hung to his shoulders.  He wasn’t exactly a person you could miss.  Amid smiles and stares of other passengers, he and Rob greeted each other with warm hugs and their special hand jive routine. 

            “Hey mon, you looking good, you know?”

            “Come say hi to my southern bride, man,” Rob said, placing his arm around Cate.

            “Oh now, she beautiful,” he said, planting a kiss on her cheek.  “I knew this guy would know how to pick a good lady.”

            “I’ve heard lots of stories about you, Octavius.  I’m glad you could come.  And thanks for offering to put Rob up with you over the Christmas holidays,” Cate smiled.

            “No problem.  This here is my buddy.  He saved my life,” he said, as he playfully parried with Rob.

            Lifting up Octavius’ duffel, Rob said, “Let’s go.  Cate’s got a roast beef dinner that I know you can’t refuse.”

            “Oooo!  Sounds good,” Octavius chuckled.  “Sounds real good.”

            Rob and Octavius sat up half the night drinking and catching up on lost time.

Rob learned that, since ‘Nam, Octavius had been a rum-runner, a waiter at several St. Sebastian resorts, and a ferry captain, ferrying vacationers to out-islands, until he’d saved up enough money to buy a used Boston Whaler, which he named ‘The Scrounger’. 

            On Monday morning, after Cate had left for the shelter, the Doomsdayers met at Molly’s house.  As far as Cate knew, Octavius was here to purchase some helicopter parts from Rob.

            “So this is the famous Scrounger,” Ed said, extending his hand.  “Hi Octavius.  I’m Ed and this is Molly.”

            Octavius was grinning as he looked at Molly.  “I know, I know.  She call me on the phone last night and we talk, right?”

            Smiling, Molly nodded.  “That’s me.”  She touched his shoulder.  “You have no idea how much I appreciate you helping me with my plan.  When Rob told me you were a demolition expert, it all came together.”  She paused.  “I mean, a way to avenge my son Jay’s death.”  Her face clouded over.

            “Rob and me, we talk last night.  I got the picture.  Don’t worry, big Momma, you’ll be fine,” he said, eyes twinkling.

            Ed was staring at Rob.  “Hey, buddy, you know something?  You look pretty good.”

            “Yeah? Well, I’m feeling pretty good ... for a dead man, that is,” said Rob, sarcasm edging his voice.  “But you guys do too.”

            “My headaches have been few and far between, thank God,” said Molly.  “Actually, I feel okay, considering everything.”

            “Me too,” Ed added, puzzled.  I figured my pain would get much worse, but it hasn’t.  Rossigian says he wants to do some tests after the holidays to see if it spread or maybe if it’s even in remission.  Who knows?”

            “Well, we’re not taking chemo.  And we take enough vitamins to choke a horse.  I guess we shouldn’t complain. Right?” said Rob.

            Turning to Octavius, Molly asked, So, what do you think, Octavius?  About getting Haissem, I mean.  I told you that I staked out his place enough to notice that he seems to go out on Saturdays somewhere between eleven in the morning and five in the afternoon.  Any ideas?”

            “I want to get to know that place ... what do they call it?”


            “Utopia,” Octavius repeated.  “I want to observe them.”

            “You mean ... like ... their schedule?  Their routine?” she asked.

            “Right, big Momma. Routine.  That’s it.”

            “Listen,” said Molly, “take my Subaru and use it as long as you need it.”

            He smiled at her as he said, “You okay, lady.  You okay.  And when I am cool with it, I want to spend time with you, and teach you how to work explosives.  Then we can start to jive. “

            “But I want it to be safe, Octavius.  I have no intention of blowing myself up like Diego did.  I feel I still have some time left, “ she said.

            “No problem,” he said, shaking his head.  “No problem.”

            “Damn,” Ed said.  It’s hard to believe he’s gone.  He was so much a part of us.  He never even said goodbye.”

            “He didn’t have to. He knew he had our support,” Molly replied in a sober tone.  “It was something he had to do.”

            There was a long silence.  A heaviness filled the room. When Ed spoke again, it was to Rob.  “And you’re next, over Christmas.”

            Rob nodded in acknowledgement. “Last night, after Cate went to bed, I told the Scrounger everything about the Doomsdayers.”  Octavius nodded in affirmation.  “When he gets back to St. Sebastian, he’s going to make some contacts and figure how we can pull this thing off.”

            Octavius picked up his beer can and took a swallow.  “But right now we got to get that bastard ... what’s his name?”  Octavius said, looking at Molly.

            “Haissem,”she said.

            “Haissem,” he replied, as a whispery laugh emanated from his throat.


  Friday, December 13th

            It was 3 a.m. on Friday morning when Octavius parked the Subaru around the corner from the imposing Victorian compound.  In the circular driveway sat two vehicles -- a Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle and a Lincoln Town Car with dark tinted windows.  Octavius had observed the family’s activity for ten days and learned that the SUV was used by the Sibs, while the Lincoln was reserved for Haissem.  It was usually driven by one of his guards while two others sat on either side of him in the back seat. Also, it seemed like Molly’s observations about Haissem’s hours were right.

            Noting a warning sign that the property was protected by a wired six-foot high wrought-iron fence, he climbed an extension ladder, which he positioned in front of the Subaru, and cut the power lines to the fence.  Quickly making his way to the driveway, he scaled the fence.  Like an animal stalking it’s prey, he crawled to the underside of the Lincoln and, within seconds, attached the explosive with a magnet.  The plasticene charge was designed so that Molly would be able to trigger it by a radio-controlled activator from the Subaru. 

Before anyone inside the compound would ever realize that the electricity was off, he reunited the wires and exited the same way he entered.  He returned to the car and, with headlights off, drifted the car slowly down the road before turning them on again.  No hassles.  Phase One ... completed.


            Twenty-four hours later, Molly and Octavius were sitting diagonally across from the Utopia compound.  The Subaru had been situated in such a way that they had a good vantage point, but could not be seen.  They were forced to wait with the heat turned off for almost three hours and both were shivering from the cold.  At 1:22 p.m., they finally got the break they were waiting for. 

            “Oh my God,” she uttered.  “There he is.”

            Two men flanked him as they walked toward the Lincoln, while the third guard took his place in the driver’s seat.  The sun gleamed on his black boots as he stepped into the back of the car.  He was impressive -- no question.  Molly understood the charisma of this man and the draw he must have had on the Sibs.  Pausing before joining them, the last guard surveyed the area, then, apparently satisfied, entered the car.  The gates parted as the car left the compound. Allowing them their lead, Octavius and Molly laid back till the car was practically out of sight.  Only then did he place the key into the ignition and follow the Lincoln with caution, as it advanced through traffic.

            With concern in her voice, Molly said, “We can’t harm any innocent people.”

            “Don’t worry, big Momma, we wait,” Octavius replied.

            “I’m nervous Octavius.  And I’m scared.  But that man’s responsible for my son’s death.”

            “I know, lady.  I know.”

            The Lincoln was passing the zoo.  The streets were congested with Saturday traffic.  They passed by Fairmount Park and a mini-mall.  Fifteen minutes elapsed.

They were approaching a residential neighborhood, which was, at the moment, deserted.  The timing looked good.

            “Okay, Momma,” Octavius said.  “This is it.  Just press that button, and I’ll keep on driving like nothing happened.”

            Molly’s hands shook as she began to place her finger on the detonator.  She froze in horror when, from out of nowhere, a teenage boy ran in front of them, chasing a football which had rolled into the street.  Honking the horn, Octavius swerved the car, just missing the boy who stuck his third finger up in an obscene gesture to the disappearing vehicle.

            “Oh shit.  I don’t know if I can do this,” Molly groaned.

            “You be fine.  Be cool now, Momma.  Be cool.”

            Octavius followed the car up Belmont Avenue where it eventually ended up at the  West Park Medical Office Building -- a unit of Mount Grace Hospital.  Haissem and two of his henchmen entered a side door of the hospital.  Octavius pulled the car into an apartment parking lot across the street  from the hospital and cut the ignition so as not to be noticed.  It was now 2 p.m. 

            Within twenty minutes, Haissem and his men returned, entered the vehicle and the driver took off down the road.  There were no cars around them as the Lincoln stopped for the red light.  This was it.  Octavius guided Molly’s hand to the detonator, where she placed her finger and pressed the button.  There was a deafening sound as the car instantly burst into flames.  At the same moment as the explosion, Octavius started up the Subaru and drove to the back exit of the parking lot which led to a back street, and casually drove away. 

            It was over.  Only one thing was left now to be done.

            “You okay, Momma?”

            “I’m in shock, Octavius, but I’ll be okay,” Molly said in a shaky voice.

            It took them approximately twenty minutes to return to the compound.

Molly gazed out of the car window to make sure that the street was deserted.

Picking up a small paper bag, she said, “I’ll be right back.”

            She ran to the wrought iron fence and, taking precautions not to touch it, tossed the contents out of the bag.  As she turned to go, the small cards fluttered to the ground, their printed words sanctioning the downfall of Haissem. 

“Compliments of the Doomsday Club.”


            By six o’clock the same evening, it was all over the news.  Coleman Kramer, the local announcer on Channel 6 was saying...

            “This afternoon at around 2 pm a car exploded in the residential area of West Park, one block from Mount Grace hospital.  Although there were no other injuries, Channel 6 has since learned that the occupants of the vehicle were members of the cult group, Utopia, housed in West Philadelphia.  Hanna Long is on the scene in West Philadelphia with more on the story.  Hanna?”

            The TV camera panned on the outside gate of the compound.

Curious on-lookers were crowding the area as Hanna Long spoke to the TV audience.

            “Cole, I’m standing in front of the private structure called Utopia, in West Philadelphia, which houses a group of followers who call themselves ‘Sibs.’  Pointing to the wrought iron fence, she said, “This fence is normally wired so that no one intrudes on their privacy, but not today.  Inside, the family is devastated by the news that their beloved leader,  Edmund Charles Woolverton,  better known to them as ‘Haissem’, and three of his guards, were killed in the explosion. 

            An interesting finding in this case were business cards that were strewn inside the gate of the compound with the words, ‘Compliments of the Doomsday Club’.  These cards have shown up in other area crimes in the past year, suggesting that, perhaps  a local group is somehow responsible for these disasters.

To date, it has the law enforcement officials baffled.  It’s a puzzle whose pieces just don’t seem to fit.  At least, not yet.  Back to you, Cole.”

            “Thanks, Hanna.  We’ll keep you updated with any further news on this story.  This is Coleman Kramer.  Back in a moment.”

Chapter 8


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