Ivanka Fear is a retired teacher and a writer from Ontario, Canada. She holds a B.A. and B.Ed., majoring in English and French literature, from Western University. Her poems and short stories appear in or are forthcoming in Spadina Literary Review, Montreal Writes, Spillwords, Commuterlit, Canadian Stories, Adelaide Literary, October Hill, Scarlet Leaf Review, Polar Borealis, Lighten Up, Bewildering Stories, The Sirens Call, Utopia Science Fiction, The Literary Hatchet, Wellington Street Review, Aphelion, Sad Girl Review, Tales From the Moonlit Path, and Muddy River Poetry Review. She is currently working on her second novel.
As Cheryl MacGregor sped south on the 400, she formulated a plan to retrieve her son from that monster. It had been five days since he had been taken, two days since her husband’s funeral.
Cheryl’s destination was the city of Hamilton, about a seven hour drive from the small town where she had lived for the last eleven years. That was where this nightmare had started. When Cheryl was a nineteen year old journalism student at MacMaster, she had met Darko. She fled Hamilton the night Darko’s body was found behind the Serbian bar his father owned. Her news that she was having Darko’s baby sparked a violent argument between father and son, ending with Darko being shot.
As she approached her destination, Cheryl ran through the events of the last week for the hundredth time. Her car had been in for a service at the local garage Monday. Rather than wait on it, Cheryl had switched cars with her husband, Jim. After work, Jim lost control of the Rav4 and hit a tree, dying at the scene. The same evening, her son, Brent, was abducted from the local ballpark by an older man. Cheryl strongly suspected her car had been tampered with and the accident had been meant for her. The funeral was on Thursday. Several friends and neighbours had come forward to talk to Cheryl about a stranger who had been seen around town and around her home the last few months. On Friday, Cheryl had packed a few belongings, checked the garage attic for the coloured diamonds she had stolen eleven years ago, and found them missing. Saturday morning, Cheryl left her home and set out to get her son back. She knew exactly who had taken him and why.
When she arrived at the bar where she had first met Darko all those years ago as Svjetlana, Cheryl parked her car in the lot and entered by the back entrance where she and Darko had spent much of their time together. Even though it was early in the evening, there were several patrons at the bar as well as at the tables and booths. It was dimly lit, with loud music blaring, and the sports channel on the television screens. There was a game in progress at one of the billiards tables. Not much has changed, Cheryl thought. A few heads turned as she made her way towards the bar.
“I’m looking for Stefan,” she said, taking a direct approach. The bartender she spoke to was about her age, not bad looking.
“And you are?” he asked, looking her up and down.
“Cheryl. My parents and Stefan were friends back in the day. I thought I’d look him up while I was in town,” she answered.
“He’s not here,” the bartender said.
“Where can I find him?” Cheryl countered. “Who’s in charge here?” It used to be Stefan’s son, Darko, who ran the bar on a daily basis. Cheryl doubted Stefan showed up here very often. He had plenty of other places to be. His business interests were varied.
The bartender nodded his head towards the right of the bar. In a booth in the corner, nursing a beer, with his laptop open, sat an attractive young man with dark wavy hair. For a moment, Cheryl’s throat closed up and she lost her ability to breath. He looked up at her, seeming to notice her eyes boring into him. When she saw his face more clearly, Cheryl let her breath out and felt her heartbeat begin to slow down. It wasn’t Darko. Well, it couldn’t be, could it? she thought. Darko’s dead. I killed him.
As Cheryl headed over to the booth, he closed his laptop and watched her approach, with interest and curiosity. He was younger than her by a few years, she suspected. Very good looking. Definitely the type she would fall for if she weren’t mourning her dead husband.
“Hi, I wonder if you could help me?” she asked him. “I’m looking for an old friend of my parents. Stefan Markovic? My mom and dad said he owned this bar years ago. Is he still around?”
He looked at her for a long time before answering. “No, he’s no longer here. I’m Dragan.” He stood up and held out his hand.
Cheryl extended her hand for a brief handshake, saying, “I’m Cheryl.” Dragan held on to her hand for several seconds longer than she thought necessary, all the while looking her directly in the eyes. “Do you know where I can find Stefan?”
“Sorry, no. Can I get you a drink?” he offered.
“No thanks. I need to get on my way. It’s been nice to meet you,” she said. Turning around, she was about to head back to the exit. Dragan pulled her back and asked her to have a seat.
“Just one drink,” he said. “And you can tell me how you know Stefan.”
Cheryl thanked him for the offer, but insisted she needed to leave. Once again, she started towards the exit. She made it as far as her car when she felt someone come up behind her. “How much is it worth to you?” a middle aged man asked.
“Is what worth?” Cheryl asked, frightened by this sudden encounter with a stranger in a parking lot.
“Stefan’s whereabouts,” he answered.
“One hundred,” Cheryl said. “Do you know where I can find him?”
The deal was made, the money paid, and Cheryl set her GPS for Toronto. When she arrived she checked online for Serbian owned bars and restaurants, made a list, and began her search.
By midnight, she had visited five establishments, with no success. No one had heard of Stefan Markovic, or more accurately, no one would admit to knowing of him. Odd, considering he headed up a major branch of the Serbian Mafia.
Cheryl found herself a room at the Day’s Inn and settled in for the night. She spent another hour online, looking for possible leads. The next day, Sunday, she continued her restaurant and bar hopping. She finally found someone willing to talk at The Adriatic nightclub. “I hear you’re looking for Stefan,” an accented voice behind her said as she sat down at the bar.
“Yes, do you know him?”
“Why are you looking for him?”
Cheryl explained that her parents knew Stefan. She also said she owed him a debt that she wanted to repay. “Dugujem mu,” she explained in her native Croatian, which she knew was very similar to their Serbian.
The older man with the accent told her Stefan was staying at The Hilton. Cheryl drove directly there and entered the hotel, went up to the tenth floor, and knocked on door 1023. She had her Glock out of her purse, ready. It was her son, Brent, who answered.
“Mom!” he cried. She dropped her gun back into her purse and opened her arms to hug him. As she did so, she saw Stefan enter the hallway from the living area. She recognized him from the two encounters she had with him eleven years ago. He hadn’t really changed his appearance much, just gotten a bit older. She thought he must be in his early to mid sixties.
Stefan had his gun pointed in their direction. Brent’s back was to him. “Step away from the boy,” he said in his accented English. “Now.”
Cheryl complied. “I just want my son,” she told him.
“I’ve been waiting for you. My people called to say you’d been asking around for me. That’s good. Saves me the trouble of driving back up north to finish you off,” Stefan said, his cold eyes locked on her face. “He looks nothing like you. He’s his father’s son.”
Stefan had spent the last ten years in prison for manslaughter in the death of his son. He had been found behind the bar where Darko and Svjetlana met, with his gun on the ground beside his dead son’s body. There was no question he had done it. Father and son had been seen by many witnesses, arguing about some girl who had gotten herself pregnant.
“Just let us go and we won’t bother you again,” Cheryl said.
Stefan laughed and said, “I don’t think so. I’ve waited ten years to meet my grandson. You’ve had him for all those years. It’s time he got to know his grandfather.”
Then he said they were going for a little drive. “I’ll take the gun,” he said, indicating the Glock in her purse. “Brent, we’re going together in the car. Your mom and I need to talk. Be a big boy and stop your crying.” Then to Cheryl he added with a sneer, “See what a baby you’ve made out of him. When I was his age, I was helping my dad run the business. It’s time he toughened up.”
The three of them left the hotel suite and exited the building through the back door where his black Escalade was parked in the lot. He whispered to Cheryl as they walked together, Brent in front of them, “Don’t make me shoot you in front of him.”
Once he had Brent into the back seat, Stefan ordered Cheryl to get into the front passenger seat. They drove for about half an hour. “What are going to do?” Cheryl asked, knowing it couldn’t be good for her. Although she didn’t think he would harm Brent, she wasn’t certain.
“Just going to a quiet spot to talk things out,” he said. “We need to come to an agreement about the boy.” Cheryl didn’t respond. As far as she was concerned, there was no agreement pending.
The Escalade entered the area of the Scarborough Bluffs. Cheryl saw the signs identifying the area. Although she had never been there, she could tell Stefan knew exactly where he was going. She thought this wasn’t likely the first time he had done this. When the car stopped, Stefan turned around and said to Brent, “You stay here till we come back.” Then he forced Cheryl out of the car at gunpoint, telling her to leave her purse behind.
They walked the short distance to the cliff’s edge, with Stefan ignoring the signs to stay back, hopping the fence meant to deter thrill seekers. It was well past midnight. There was little illumination, but enough moonlight and lights from the city, that they could see where they were heading. When they reached the edge, he said, “You killed my son. My only child. I’ve waited ten long years in a prison cell. It’s time for you to pay for what you did.” Then he motioned to the edge of the cliff and told Cheryl to jump.
Of course, she didn’t. She thought she would take her chances with the gun. He was an old man, after all, and perhaps she could overpower him. “You’ll have to shoot me,” she told him. Then she kicked him hard and tried unsuccessfully to wrestle the gun away from him.
At that moment, she heard Brent crying out, “Mom! Mom! Don’t hurt Mom!” Both she and Stefan were distracted by Brent running towards them, towards the edge of the cliff.
“No, stay back!” Cheryl screamed. She instinctively thrust out both her arms to stop him from running too far. In doing so, she struck Stefan across the chest, sending the gun flying to the ground. In the seconds that followed, Cheryl told Brent to stop, to stay still. “Don’t come any closer. It’s not safe. Stay back,” she said to her son. At the same time, she saw the gun Stefan was scrambling around looking for. She lunged quickly, grabbing it with both hands. She didn’t need to pull the trigger.
Stefan was on the ground, searching for the gun. He wasn’t watching her. Without hesitation, Cheryl kicked him again and again and again. Stefan tried to pull her legs out from under her, at which point she hit the ground. Using the gun butt, she struck him on the head, gave him a couple of good shoves with her feet, then rolled him over the cliff’s edge. It happened so fast she didn’t have time to think. She threw the gun after him as she heard him scream going over the edge.
Brent saw the whole thing. “Brent, stay there. Mommy’s coming,” Cheryl said as she got up and walked slowly towards her son. Then she explained to him what they were going to tell the police when they got there. She had him repeat it several times to make sure he had it right. As they walked back to the car, Cheryl said, “It’s okay, we’re going to be okay. He was a bad man. He killed your dad. He was going to kill me too. But it’s okay now.” When they got back to the car, she found her purse and dialed 911 on her cell phone.
Brent was in an obvious state of shock, according to the officers who responded. Cheryl told her story of what had happened. Brent nodded in agreement when asked if that was what happened. Later on when Cheryl and Brent were questioned, they repeated the same story. The local paper wrote it up just as though Cheryl herself had written the article.
Brent had been taken from a ballpark in his home town by Stefan Markovic six days ago. According to Cheryl, she knew no reason why her son would be singled out by Stefan. He had been seen lurking around town for months prior to the kidnapping. Cheryl used the information gathered from friends and neighbours to track down Brent’s kidnapper to Hamilton. As an investigative journalist, Cheryl was able to track down leads to find Stefan’s whereabouts. When she found him and tried to take back her son, he forced her at gunpoint to the cliffs where he expected to dump her body. There was a struggle for the gun, during which Brent had run out of the car towards them. Distracted by Brent’s presence, Stefan stepped back and slipped off the edge of the cliff.
The police found no evidence of foul play. Stefan’s body and gun were found at the bottom of the cliff. There were some marks on the body, consistent with a struggle.
Everything’s easier the second time around, Cheryl thought. The first time she had killed, it had been tough. She had loved Darko. It was her fear for the future life of crime her unborn child would live that led her to shoot him through the heart. This time, there was no love lost. The fear was very real and present. Her son had been taken away from her.
A mother does what she needs to do to protect her young, Cheryl thought. No matter what the cost. She had lost her innocence eleven years ago when she killed for the first time. Now she had found her son as she killed for the second time. She retained enough conscience to hope that there wouldn’t be a third time.