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A family vacation interrupted
When You Least Expect It... by BethShelby
 Category:  Mystery and Crime Fiction
  Posted: November 1, 2012      Views: 260

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BETHSHELBY 
BethShelby is retired from the printing and commercial art field. She is married and has four children and three grandchildren. She and her husband presently live in Tennessee.

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It was the only vacation rental available. We were desperate because we'd failed to book early, and it was the last time this summer we'd be together as a family. Brent's unit was scheduled to fly out next month. With the dangers involved in an assignment in the Middle East, fear for my son's safety was preying heavily on my mind. I desperately wanted this last outing to be special for all of us. When I called the number listed on Craig's List, a man, who said his name was Cash Slocum, informed me his place was already rented. But then, he mentioned the guy who'd rented it was only using one room for storage, and he wasn't even going to be there.

"How about letting us rent the other rooms? We don't need a really big cabin," I pleaded. "We'll pay double the price you're asking, and we will leave the room the other party is using untouched."

"Humm... The guy who rented it said he would be securing the door. His stuff would be safe, and the other rooms aren't being used. Even without that room the cabin would still sleep six. This place is pretty far off the beaten track. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Absolutely. I've called everyone who has anything for rent. There is nothing else available."

I could almost sense the cash register gears spinning in his brain. My offer was too good to pass up. The person, who had rented the place for the summer, had told Slocum he needed the room to store some things while he was out of town. Mr. Slocum figured, since we'd only be there a couple of weeks, his double booking wouldn't be discovered. He gave us the address of where to pick up a key and directions, and our vacation was on.

Slocum hadn't been exaggerating when he said the cabin was off the beaten path. We drove up a washed out pig trail of a mountain road for fifteen miles before finally arriving at the cabin. We'd not passed another sign of civilization for at least eight miles before reaching our destination. Still, we were thrilled with the view, and the cabin was adequate for our needs. I thought it was an ideal spot for some quality time together.

My twelve-year-old twins, Michael and Mindy, brought enough games to keep themselves occupied, but they were disappointed because we could only get three channels on the TV. Still, the electronic games worked. We all brought reading material, but my husband, Jeff, and I mainly wanted to spend the time with Brent.

We were more than curious about the locked room once we realized what lengths someone had gone to in order to make sure it stayed locked. A new dead bolt had been installed, but above that, a padlock had also been attached.

"Wow! Someone must really have something to hide to go to all this trouble," my husband exclaimed.

"Yep, but it none of our affair," I said. "As long as there are no ticking bombs or dead bodies, we'll mind our own business. It isn't as if we could get in there anyway without a chain saw,"

"There is an outside window on that room but it's been well covered so you can't see in. I guess it's a mystery we're not meant to solve," Brent said.

I'm sure that would have been the end of it if my younger son hadn't managed to break the glass window with the slingshot he brought along. He'd insisted we might need it for protection in case a bear came snooping around.

"Michael," I yelled, "I told you to leave that thing at home. Now look what you've done! How are we supposed to explain a broken window? We can't even get into the room to replace it. Mr. Slocum will have a conniption. I gave him my word, we'd stay clear of that room."

"Oh, calm down, Sue," my husband said, "It was an accident. Don't go getting your panties in a wad. Remember we're on vacation. We'll measure the glass and Brent and I will drive into town tomorrow and get a replacement. If we have to get into the room to put the glass in, we'll do so from the window. No one will ever know we've been in there."

The next day as promised, Jeff purchased the new glass along with other products needed to do the job. Brent was the tallest and most agile so he used the small ladder we found under the end of deck. He broke out enough of the remaining glass so that he could unlock the window from the inside. He also had to pull out a stick which was bracing the upper part of the window to keep it from being raised. Once these obstacles were removed and the window was up, the rest of us stood around watching as he wiggled through the opening into the room.

"Hey, Brent, what's in there?" Jeff called. "Did you find the treasure someone's trying to be so secretive about?"

"It's just a bunch of boxes and sacks of something, I think. Let me get this loose glass off the floor and I'll take a closer look."

We waited in anticipation as he gathered the shards of glass and put them into a trashcan we had given him for that purpose. After passing the can out to his father, he turned his attention to the contents of the room.

"HOLY SHIT," he exclaimed. "Do you know what this is? There is enough explosives in here to blow up Manhattan."

"Brent! Are you sure?" Jeff was on the ladder peering into the room. It wasn't long before the findings were confirmed. There were also devices for setting off explosions, and a large box containing AK-47s.

"Leave everything like it is, and come on out of there. This is serious," Jeff told Brent. "We need to get away from here and fast. We've got to report this to the authorities. Whoever put this stuff here means business. We could be in danger. Slocum said the guy was out of town. That may, or may not, be the case. If he comes back and finds us here, I think we'll be all be in serious trouble."

We set a record getting our bags packed and into the SUV. Seeing our reaction, the twins were subdued. Michael didn't complain that our vacation was being cut short, and Mindy was clearly frightened. I could see her lips trembling as she gathered her belongings. Jeff had trouble getting a signal on the cell, but as soon as he found a spot where he could get out, he put in a 911 call and spoke to the local police chief explaining the situation. The Chief assured him he would relay the information to the FBI, and that he would come personally, along with some other officers to check it out.

Halfway down the mountain, we passed a green pickup with two sinister looking characters. The driver glared suspiciously at us. Jeff picked up speed as much as the rough roads would allow without causing our vehicle to careen out of control. Once back on the main highway, we all breathed easier.

"Gang, I think we got out of there, not a minute too soon," Jeff said. "Those guys were definitely heading for the cabin. There are no other cabins past the point where we met them. Michael, you probably saved our life with that slingshot. If you had not broken the window, we would have never known."

The next day's headlines, along with national television coverage, reported a shoot-out with local law enforcement officers. According to the reports, a homegrown terrorist with connections to al-Qaeda was killed and another was wounded and taken into custody. One of the five officers who had gone up the mountain to check out our story was also wounded. The explosives and guns were confiscated. An investigation is still underway. We were called back in to tell our story. Cash Slocum was also called in for questioning, but he claimed no knowledge of what was being stored there.

We spent the rest of the vacation at home, thankful to have escaped in time. For some unexplained reason, my fear concerning my son's safety on deployment has eased. I realize now, terrorism isn't just something on the other side of the world. It can happen right here at home when you're just minding your own business. Yet, I can't help but feel something bigger than ourselves allowed that window to be broken in time to alert us. Brent will return safely home. I just know he will. I feel at peace.


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