Monthly Archives: February 2016

Oathkeeper Chapter 10

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 10

 

Three Calumet County police cruisers roared over the wooden bridge crossing Michigan Ditch, turned onto a gravel road, and accelerated, kicking up a storm of dust and rocks. Their sirens echoed in the draw, scattering the mule deer and crows. Halfway up the road, they nearly ran down a mountain biker who managed to avoid a catastrophe by lunging off the berm and crashing into a patch of dried thistle. The CCSD procession climbed up and over a swell, then swerved wildly to avoid the mailman’s delivery Jeep. They continued on, tearing down the final leg and coming to a sliding, screeching halt in Monte Turcot’s gravel driveway. The sirens fell silent. Five deputies and Sheriff Ellison exited their cruisers and drew their pistols, shielding themselves behind their doors. The dust cloud they had churned up dissipated into the trees to the east. Monte’s trailer was still and silent.

“Should we get on the PA and order him to come out?” asked Kennesaw.

Shaking his head, the sheriff raised a hand and signaled to two of the other deputies. With their weapons at the ready, the men quickly darted out of cover and circled around to the back of the trailer.

“Are we waiting for the feds?” Kennesaw continued. “They’ll be here any minute.”

“No,” Ellison answered. “I’ll tell you what I want; you take my cruiser back down the road to the bridge and block it off.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want those hothead feds screaming up here all locked and loaded. Who knows what they might do.”

“Got it, Boss.” Kennesaw stepped into the sheriff’s cruiser through the passenger door and slid over to the driver’s seat. Ellison moved aside and watched as the vehicle backed out of the long driveway towards the road.

“You’re in the open, Sheriff!” shouted one of the other deputies. “You want us to come up?”

“No,” Ellison replied. “Stay right there. I’m going to see if he’s home.”

Cautiously, the sheriff approached the trailer door, his pistol drawn and held at his side. Above, the sun shone bright in the icy blue sky. The air was cold, crystallizing each exhalation, and the breeze carried the smell of burning pine. The grass was flaxen, littered with pine cones. The ravens cawed and gurgled in the trees. One swooped down and perched on the edge of the rain gutter over the front door of Turcot’s trailer, clicking as Ellison approached before it flew off over the trees.

“Monte!” Ellison called out as he reached the door and put his back to the siding. “You in there?”

Nothing.

Drawing his pistol up to his chest, the sheriff knocked on the door with his free hand. “Monte!”

Nothing.

Ellison looked back at the two deputies. They had their guns aimed at him, or more accurately, aimed at the door. He hoped that they would not unload their magazines at the first loud noise. Bracing himself, he knocked again.

“Monte! You in there?”

Still nothing.

Ellison heard the distant roar of vehicles coming up the gravel road. They would run into Kennesaw’s roadblock at any instant. Hold them off, Ken, he prayed.

“Monte! We need to talk. You home?” he shouted one last time, then paused to listen. The sound of the approaching vehicles had stopped. Ellison shot another look at the two deputies as his breath poured out in short puffs of fog. He glanced down at his watch.

“I’m here,” a raggedy voice answered from inside.

The sheriff was both relieved and terrified. “Come answer the door. I need to talk to you.”

“It doesn’t look like you came here just to talk!” Monte shouted back.

“What do you think I came here for, then?”

It was a weak trap, intended to cause suspects to slip up and admit their guilt. The vast majority of crimes are solved by confessions of one sort or another, but Turcot was no fool.

“I’ve no idea, Sheriff,” Monte snapped. “Shouldn’t I be asking you?”

Ellison realized that he had not only insulted his suspect, but had damaged the trust between them as well. He decided that it was time to come clean.

“I’m here to arrest you.”

“What for?”

“Somebody shot an agent. The DEA thinks it’s you. Were you down at Perks this morning?”

“My lawyer said never talk to police.”

“But we’ve already talked before, Monte.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” snapped Monte, “but if it’s a DEA agent who got shot, then I won’t be shedding any tears.”

“And they won’t be shedding any tears for you, Monte. They’re coming, and they’ve got revenge on their mind.”

“Then they’re coming to the wrong house, again.”

“Monte, you need to come with me. You need to come right now. You may be in danger.”

“I’m calling my lawyer.”

“There’s no time for that. I’ll call him for you on the way. I’ve got Deputy Kennesaw holding the feds off, but there’s no telling how long we’ve got.”

There was no response.               Ellison cursed to himself as he pondered his next move. He heard shouts and cursing from further up the road, and hoped that he hadn’t sent Kennesaw into harm’s way.

“Okay,” he continued. “Look, Monte, I don’t know who did what. I’m not judge and jury. All I know is that an agent got shot at Perks, and I heard they were coming to get you. They’re convinced you did it. These guys are real hard-asses, Monte. I cannot guarantee your safety with them. I don’t trust them. Worst case scenario, it wouldn’t take much for them to surround this place and burn it down with you inside. They could say that you fired at them from your trailer or something.”

No reply.

“Monte, do you want me to come inside?”

No reply.

“Monte? You aren’t doing anything stupid in there, are you? We’ve got the back covered. There’s no way out of here except with me. But if you try to run for it, those deputies out back, they’ll probably start shooting. You won’t get far.”

Nothing.

“Monte, I’ll make sure you’re safe. You have my word. I swear. Just come out now before the feds get here. We’ll keep you at the station where we can protect you. We’ll bring your lawyer down.”

No response.

“Monte, I’m coming in.” Ellison tried the doorknob, and was surprised to find it unlocked. “I’m opening your door. Don’t shoot me.” He pushed the door open about a foot and peered in, allowing his eyes to adjust to the interior darkness. As he listened for sounds from within, the sheriff opened it the rest of the way and waited, then raised his gun and stepped inside.

The living room was empty. Ellison moved towards the far wall that separated it from the kitchen, noticing a hole from the bullet that had taken the life of Mrs. Turcot. He peered around the corner of the wall and saw an empty chair, an olive green refrigerator, and a dinette table. Monte Turcot himself sat silently at the far end, his hands flat on the surface of the table.

“Monte?” Ellison addressed him carefully.

Monte looked up, but did not answer.

“Are you armed, Monte?”

“No, sir.”

“Are there any firearms in this house, in this room in particular?”

“No, sir.”

“Where’s that Kel-Tec I saw you shooting the other day?”

“I got rid of it.”

“If we looked around here…if we looked real hard…would we find it?”

“I told you,” answered Monte. “I got rid of it.”

“Okay, that’s fine. Can I have you stand up for me nice and slow?”

Monte stood up.

“Can you do me a favor and put your hands on your head?”

Monte complied.

“Okay, I’m going to frisk you. It’s not that I don’t trust you, Monte, it’s just something I’ve got to do. It gives me peace of mind.”

“That’s fine.”

Ellison removed Monte’s cell phone and wallet from his pockets and set them on the table. He patted the suspect down, but found nothing else.

“Okay. I’m going to put these cuffs on you,” he explained, “and we’re going to walk outside and put you into a cruiser. Then I’m going to sit next to you in the back. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“One more thing.”

“What?”

“You’re under arrest for the murder of DEA Agent Kevin Sniggs,” declared the sheriff as he fastened the cuffs around Monte’s wrists. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements. Do you understand each of these rights?”

“Yes.”

Ellison led Monte out of the trailer. Once they were outside, the sheriff escorted him out to the nearest cruiser, helped him into the back seat, and slid in beside him.

“What are you doing back there, Sheriff?” asked one of the deputies as he sat down in the driver’s seat.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure my suspect is safely transported,” answered Ellison. “Let’s go.”

The two sheriff’s department cruisers backed down the drive, turned around, and drove out onto the gravel road towards Kennesaw’s road block.

“You’ll be all right,” Ellison said reassuringly, but Monte just stared out the window.

Up ahead, about an eighth of a mile down the road, stood a wall of nine black Tahoes. More than a dozen agents stood along the roadway, all outfitted in body armor and dark glasses. The men carried an assortment of M&P 4s and Glock 22s, and appeared to have prepared for a raid on some immense compound full of armed drug dealers, rather than a single trailer and a single man.

“What should we do, Sheriff?” asked the deputy as he slowed the cruiser.

“Call Kennesaw,” replied Ellison. “Tell him to make way for us. We’re not stopping.”

“Sheriff?”

“Just do it!”

Reaching for his radio, the deputy relayed the order. Kennesaw’s lone white cruiser heeded the command and moved to the side, but the agents promptly filed into the road, forming a human blockade.

“Put your flashers on,” Ellison ordered.

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you have the dash cam on?”

“It’s on. What if they don’t move?”

“They’ll move.”

“Sheriff?”

“That’s my order. Do it.”

“All right. Whatever you say.”

“Step on it!” shouted Ellison. “Go! Go!”

The sirens screamed as the white cruiser accelerated towards the agents, kicking up stones and dust. The agents held their ground and raised their weapons. The deputy jammed on the horn.

“If you stop, we’re dead!” Ellison shouted.

At the last instant, the agents scattered like pigeons. The cruiser shot between them, barreling down the road as the remains of the roadblock grew smaller and smaller behind it.

“Get us to the station,” the sheriff ordered. “Keep them sirens going, and don’t slow down for anything.”

Oathkeeper

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Indivisible Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

 

For seven straight days, Marzan and Rollins remained at their Shariastan firebase. It was an unusual respite which they spent playing first person shooter video games and watching baseball. They learned that the Washington Nationals baseball team had gone bankrupt. Thankfully, congress came to the rescue, funding the multimillion dollar payroll with federal taxpayer money while a new ownership search committee was organized. Congress justified the nationalization of the Nationals on the grounds that the continued existence of the team “saved jobs”. The hundred or so minimum wage concessionaire jobs were indeed “saved”—at a taxpayer cost of over a million dollars each.

Sunday morning, they were ordered to fall in at the mess hall. Another platoon passed Marzan and Rollins as they approached the cafeteria doors. Jimmy noticed bewildered looks on their faces as they shuffled by in silence. None of them were willing to respond when questioned.

When Marzan and Rollins and the others in their platoon had taken their seats, and after the prior platoon’s footfalls could no longer be heard in the hallway, Captain Rick appeared. The cafeteria doors were closed and locked.

“Gentlemen, we have a new mission,” he announced. But he said it in a peculiar way as if it pained him to say it. This peculiarity dampened any exuberance that might have been percolating in the moods of the twenty eight men in the room who had heard rumors that they might possibly be going home. Rick’s announcement dampened everyone’s mood except for Jimmy Rollins who let out an ecstatic shout. But he abruptly recoiled under Captain Rick’s intense, disapproving glare.

Something was definitely off in the Captain’s tone, but little could be gleaned from the eight minute briefing he gave other than instructions on what to pack, what to leave, and when they were leaving, which was to be within hours. They weren’t told where they were going. Pakistan? Africa?  Everyone had a theory. Rollins suggested South America to Marzan, as things had been flaring up there, recently. “There’s plenty of ‘little brown people’ to shoot at over there, too,” he whispered.

At the conclusion of the briefing, the cafeteria doors were unlocked and flung open and the platoon spilled out into the hallway, silently passing the next curious unit on its way in.  They were given two hours to pack their things into pods. They finished with military efficiency and climbed into their Humvees. Jimmy gleaned that they were headed for the airport by the road they took out of the firebase Green Zone. There was no Elvis playing on this trip.

En route, Rollins and Marzan’s Humvee got into an accident with an unfortunate civilian motorcyclist.  Another motorist had cut him off and he veered directly into and under their wheels as they tried to swerve out of the way. The entire convoy came to a nerve-racking and dangerous halt along the major Shariastan thoroughfare. The road to the airport was not a safe place to be stalled as there were many upper-storey windows from which opportunistic snipers could take pot shots. It is very difficult to pick out the origin of sniper fire in an urban canyon.

Regardless of all that, someone had to go investigate the situation and give aid to, or at least identify, the victim. Rollins volunteered—he always volunteered when gore was involved. Getting out of the scorching, stinking, musty Humvee was a refreshing change of pace, anyway. Marzan guessed that Rollins was hoping the blood and gore might erase a week of dullness. To Marzan’s chagrin, Rollins volunteered him to go along.

“I don’t want to be standing around out there for long,” Jimmy said as he hopped out onto the street. “They probably think we ran him down on purpose.”

“Don’t be a pussy,” said Rollins.

“Look, they’re already closing in.”

Rollins approached the victim first. He was most definitely dead as indicated by the mangling of his torso and the black pool radiating out from him on the asphalt. Rollins hovered over the corpse to take a closer look.

“Holy shit, Jimmy! This dude is seriously fucked up,” he observed, as he knelt down beside the mangled remains and picked through his bloody pockets for ID. “Come check this out.”

Jimmy kept his distance, scanning the open windows for RPGs and muzzle flash. The crowd of bystanders drew in around them. “God damn, that was fast,” Jimmy thought as they gathered. He glanced quickly at the corpse. It didn’t even seem to be human. It resembled road kill.

Marzan was initially pleased by his immediate sensation of disconnectedness at the sight of the body. To see a twisted and mangled man, shredded by the torqueing forces of a Humvee’s 300-pound wheels, blood and brains splattered up onto the fenders, and not feel any recoil at the gruesomeness was a testament to his military hardening. He had become numb to gore. But he discovered that he was not yet fully numb to remorse. Jimmy’s eyes moved to scanning the open windows in the surrounding buildings in an effort to block it out, but the dead man’s humanity had already infected his mind. This man probably had a family. He had a mother. Maybe he had a wife, a brother, even children. Perhaps these children were playing in front of their house, waiting for their daddy, oblivious to the horrible news that would soon rip their lives apart.

Jimmy drove the thoughts out of his mind. He had been conditioned by the Army and he knew how to deaden destructive thoughts like these. The indigenous people were just things, not beings, things that often were, or gave aid and comfort to the enemy.

Whenever a flicker of pity sparked in Jimmy’s mind, he remembered his dead brothers-in-arms. He remembered Private Fossen from Savannah, whose head exploded out the back when he was picked off by a sniper. And there was Roberts from Jacksonville, who was cooked alive in his Humvee after the concussion of an IED explosion warped the truck’s iron doors shut, sealing him inside an oven. Jimmy could still hear his faint screams, muffled by the armor and the roar of the fire. Then there was Michaels from Austin who bled out so fast that the transfusion of milky synthetic blood oozed out of his fist-sized chest wound before the medics gave up on CPR. Michaels had mystical, azure eyes. In his death, they appealed to God. Those pale blue gemstones, set within his pearly, exsanguinated face; Michaels had the gaze of an angel.  He stared forever in Jimmy’s memory.

And that was how soldiers were conditioned. Before long, Jimmy Marzan felt no more pity for the mangled civilian.

“Check this out. Mmm!” mocked Rollins as he removed his knife from his belt and pretended to scoop out a portion of brain matter as if the crushed skull were a breakfast melon.

Marzan wasn’t amused.

The platoon soon handed the scene off to the local police and went on their way.  Within three hours, they were buckled into the leather seats of a commercial jetliner.  They sipped lemon-lime soda in their sweaty fatigues and read about the latest popular vacation destinations in the magazines tucked in the seat pockets in front of them. Their rifles were stowed in the overhead bins, and they were reminded by flight attendants—with fluttering, fake eyelashes, and pancake makeup, and long, polished fingernails—to “take care when opening the overhead compartments as contents may have shifted during flight.”

Liberty Air, also recently nationalized when teetering at the precipice of insolvency, had managed something of a resurgence under her new, American-taxpayer ownership; an infinite bankroll can do that for a company. Liberty, unlike the other airlines that had recently disappeared, had facilities in all the right congressional districts, districts with all the right congressmen whose campaigns were funded by all the right donors—all the right union donors. Thus Liberty was saved and the other airlines, most in better financial condition, were left to die.

So what about Liberty’s creditors? You know, the ones that poured in billions trying to keep their investment aloft? “To hell with those greedy bastards,” was the congressional attitude.  Those “greedy bastards,” the owners, who were in reality just middle-class Americans with retirement accounts, got tossed out the hatch without a parachute. Liberty Air sailed on with her new union co-owners, her monetary debts forgiven by Congress. Soon after the restructuring, Liberty magically secured the very lucrative deal of ferrying U.S. soldiers around the globe-spanning empire.

So, there Jimmy sat on that Airbus, next to Michael Rollins who was asleep most of the time with drool trickling down his chin. They made a short stop in Frankfurt, then they were airborne again. They flew over Scotland. It apparently isn’t going to be South America after all. Rollins will be so disappointed, thought Jimmy. But where are we headed, then?

No one knew anything for a fact.  Or if they knew, they weren’t talking. Not even that beady-eyed PFC Black was talking.  And that smug little weasel knew everything, thought Jimmy.

They seemed to be flying west but it was hard to tell as they climbed above a blanket of clouds. Maybe Mexico? That made sense. It was just a matter of time before they needed a little nation building courtesy of the U.S. army.

Jimmy fell asleep reading a story about how the country’s economy could be saved by “green jobs.” Congress planned to pass a law requiring every window in the country be replaced with a newly-developed, energy-efficient, hi-tech glass. What a boon to the window glaziers!

When Jimmy awoke, he first glanced over at Rollins who was still asleep and drooling. Then he took a look out the portal window where he saw that the clouds had cleared away. Their plane was descending. Off on the horizon stood the Statue of Liberty.

Indivisible

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Oathkeeper Chapter 9

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 9

 

Kevin surveyed the old neighborhood.  Hip-roofed houses stood packed tightly together in rows, all fronted by crabgrass lawns. It had not changed much since his childhood, back when his favorite pastimes had been setting off Black Cat firecrackers and jumping dirt bikes over plywood ramps. The trees were fuller and taller, and the sidewalk was more crumbled and cracked than before, but beneath those changes, it was still the same place.

Kevin rolled down the window and listened for the whooshing of cars on nearby I-90. When he was a child, he would often lie awake at night, imagining it was the sound of the sea. The whine of a jet landing at O’Hare sounded in the distance, and Kevin couldn’t help but be reminded of how it made him think of his mother. Maybe she was on that plane. Maybe she had finally come home. He’d often thought that as a boy as he lay in bed in his room, listening to the planes take off and land.

But his mother never came home, and Kevin’s father never spoke about her leaving, nor did he encourage any hopes that she’d return. The elder Sniggs had chosen to fill the void of his wife’s absence with increasing quantities of J&B, and used her escape as a club to beat his son into obedience.

“You know why she left, don’t you?” he would ask. “You really think she’ll come back for you, acting the way you do? You’re lucky I haven’t left, too. Start showing some respect and maybe I won’t take off like your mother.”

Kevin wandered through a thousand memories – his mutt Curly, touch football in the street where field goals were kicked over a neighbor’s van, the time he threw a shovel through the neighbor’s front window and barely evaded juvenile detention, his neighbor Old Man Jools…

Jools was a gregarious alcoholic, a veteran of Korea, a retired cop, and Kevin’s best childhood friend. He paid young Kevin exorbitantly to mow his tiny yard, and had an old .38 police revolver that he would bring out on special occasions and national holidays like Super Bowl Sunday. It was the coolest thing Kevin had ever seen in his ten years of existence.

“Don’t tell your dad,” Jools would say as Kevin spun the empty chamber, cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger. Click. Kevin would escape to Jools’s back patio whenever his dad became insufferable. They’d sit under the corrugated plastic awning and drink Cokes – Jools’s with whiskey – and feed the squirrels while complaining about the Bears. Jools would reminisce about “gooks” and “spooks” during his days as a soldier and a cop, respectively. The adult Kevin knew that most of it was nonsense, but he’d gobbled up every tale with wide eyes as a child. Jools’s back porch was his sanctuary. But then it all ended late one night. He recalled the ambulance, the silent flashing red lights, and the paramedics carrying Jools away, never to return. And just like that, Kevin was alone again.

The old neighborhood was a cornucopia of colorful characters. For instance, Little Ritchie, a psychotic kid with one ear who tormented old Polish women by spewing horrible racial slurs at them. Ritchie was widely regarded as the spawn of Satan, but forgiven by virtue of his deformity. The last time Kevin had heard about him, Ritchie was disabled and living on Social Security. Then there were the brothers Castellano – Bubba and his younger brother Minibubba – two appropriately nicknamed cherubs, twins separated by seven years who were transplants from Queens. They shared their video games, BB guns, and Playboy magazines with Kevin and the other local kids. Bubba became a golf coach, while Minibubba drove heavy machinery, lost his hair, and covered himself in ink. There was also Dillon, the local outlaw who owned a three-legged dog and was on a sex offender registry, and Cannibal Mike, who guarded his perfectly manicured lawn with a sharpened spade. No errant Nerf football was ever retrieved if it landed within his property line.

Sniggs recalled that when he was about twelve, he got into a fight with a neighbor kid named Tony Boyles. Tony was two years older than him, and enjoyed bullying the younger, weaker kids. The specific cause of the fight was long forgotten by Kevin, but he could remember the scene as clearly now as he could back then. There he stood, toe-to-toe with the tall, red-afroed, pimply-faced, half Irish and half Mexican, Anthony Octavio Boyles. The neighbor kids gathered around to watch. Half of them hated the Boyles family because they were half Mexican, the other half hated them because they were half Irish, and everyone hated them because they were renters who let their house and yard go to hell, had a dog that barked at all hours, and drove a shitty-looking car. No one thought little Kevin stood a chance in the fight, which he didn’t. Boyles pummeled him four times in the shoulder and chest and Kevin sulked off to his front door. To his surprise, he found his father barring the way, standing behind the locked screen door with a whiskey in one hand and a Marlboro in the other.

“You ain’t coming in until you go back down there and kick McWetback’s ass.”

Unsure as to what the hell he was going to do in regards to lodging for that evening, Kevin went back down to fight. He lost, but not decisively, as no blood was drawn and no pleas for mercy were extracted. It was a moral victory for young Kevin. Three months later, the Boyles family moved away, and the Polish-German neighborhood was pleased with that.

Done reminiscing, Kevin got out of his car and walked to the door. Halfway up the walk, he thought about turning back, driving into town, and catching up with the Castellano brothers or some other old friends. But he had driven almost 1,100 miles nearly straight through, stopping only in Des Moines to sleep for four hours in a truck stop parking lot. He reached out and knocked on the screen door, assuming that his father was still asleep.

“Who’s there?” shouted a voice inside.

“It’s me, Dad.”

Footsteps thumped from within the house, approaching behind the door. The deadbolt lock slid loose, the knob turned, and the familiar Coke-bottle glasses of Kevin’s father’s appeared.

“What’ya doing here?” the elder Sniggs asked.

“I had some time off. I thought I’d surprise you.”

“You should’ve called first.”

“Then it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

What Kevin had wanted to say instead was, “Fuck you, then,” and be on his way, but as he considered that, his father opened the door and retreated back into his harvest gold and Formica kitchen.

“So what’s new, Dad?”

“Damn hemorrhoids are killing me. Do you want some breakfast?”

“Not now, thanks.”

“Sit.”

They both took seats at the chrome dinette. The elder Sniggs had the Tribune out. He enjoyed tormenting himself with the communist editorials.

“How’s the job?”

“I’m taking time off,” Kevin answered.

“Goddamn Bears are worthless. Quarterback’s a pussy. Ought to fire every one of them coaches, and the owner too.”

“You can’t fire an owner, Dad.”

“Fire his ass.”

“You getting out of the house, Dad?”

“Yeah. Why? Grocery store. Hardware store…”

“Liquor store?”

“Did you get fired or something? If you think you’re moving back in here…”

“I’m on leave.”

“What’dya do?”

“Come on, Dad.”

“Got to be a reason you came out here.”

“I wanted to see you.”

“Bullshit,” the elder Sniggs answered. “Tell the truth.”

“Come on.”

“Kevin…”

“Okay,” Kevin relented. “There was an accident.”

“What kind of accident?”

“Someone got shot.”

“You shot someone?”

“It was an accident.”

“How do you accidently shoot someone?” his father asked, looking perplexed.

“He was going for a gun. I reacted.”

“Is he dead?”

The memory of the moment burned Kevin like a splash of acid. He needed to explain it so that his father could understand, but perhaps he also needed to reflect on it more so that he himself could understand, as well.

“We were raiding this meth distributor,” he answered. “We went in through the front door. Things happened really fast. As soon as I busted in, there was this guy in front of me. He looked like he was lunging for a gun.”

“How was he lunging?”

“Forward, towards the floor.” Kevin demonstrated. “Like this.”

“Why would he keep a gun on the floor?”

“He didn’t. He had one in his hand.”

“You said he was lunging for a gun, but he already had it in his hand? Did he have two guns?”

“Come on, Dad.”

“Well, what happened? Did he have a gun, or was he lunging for one?”

“I thought he had one.”

“But it wasn’t a gun?”

“You can’t tell these things. It all happens in a flash. There was smoke. There was commotion. It looked like a gun.”

“What was it?”

“I don’t remember. A cell phone, a remote control, something like that.”

“So you shot a man for lunging for a cell phone?”

“I shot him because he had a gun.”

“You just said he didn’t have a gun.”

“He did, as far as I could tell at that moment. It was justified.”

“But he’s not dead?”

“No. He lived.”

“Somebody else died, though?” As unstable as he was, Kevin’s father still possessed a natural and acutely tuned lies and omissions detector. Alcoholics, always the smartest people in the room, are perceptive like that.

“That’s right. Someone else got shot.”

“Who? An agent?”

“Thank God, no,” Kevin answered.

“Who, then?”

“A woman.”

“Oh, thank God for that,” replied the elder Sniggs, his voice oozing sarcasm. “Thank God it wasn’t an agent.”

“It was an accident,” Kevin explained, trying his best to perform damage control on the conversation. “The bullet went through a wall and caught her just right. It was just one of those things, like a lightning strike. It was fate.”

“So let me get this straight. You shot down at a guy lunging for a cell phone and your magic bullet went through him and ricocheted off something – probably his cell phone – and then went through a wall and shot some woman who, thank God, wasn’t an agent?”

“No. My rifle misfired.”

“What does ‘misfired’ mean?”

“It went off before I got it zeroed on the suspect. It was a malfunction.”

“So it went off by itself?”

“It was misaimed.”

“It was misaimed or misfired?”

“It was a malfunction. It misfired.”

“I don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about, boy.” Kevin’s father shuffled over to the cupboard and grabbed the J&B. “Was it misaimed, or was it a malfunction, or did you just make two goddamn mistakes and shoot two people?”

“It’s not even seven o’clock, Dad.”

“Who are you, your mother?” The elder Sniggs poured himself half a glass neat, capped the bottle, returned to his seat, and took a gulp. “Did this woman die?”

Kevin didn’t reply, but the look on his face revealed the answer.

“Oh, shit.” His father leaned back, shaking his head. “So are you going to jail, now?”

“No, Dad. It was a ruled a collateral incident. I’ve been cleared. I go back to work in two weeks. It happens in wars, you know.”

“War? What war? With who?”

“The War on Drugs, Dad.” It was no use. Kevin had come home seeking comfort and support, but it was not forthcoming. It was never forthcoming from his father. He had concluded, at that moment, that the old man was completely incapable of empathy.

Kevin’s father went silent for a spell, taking occasional gulps from his tumbler. “You go to church this week?”

This presented an opportune moment for Kevin to turn the dagger and stick it back into his father’s pea-sized heart. “I don’t believe in any of that bullshit anymore.”

The elder Sniggs didn’t respond. He finished his drink, then stared disappointingly into his empty glass.

“It was an accident, Dad,” rationalized Kevin. “I’m learning to deal with it.”

“It sounds like you’re dealing with it just fine. I just don’t hear you taking any responsibility.”

“There’s nothing to take responsibility for!” Kevin shouted, feeling his blood pressure explode. “Like I said, my gun was misaimed!”

“You should go to church and ask Jesus Christ for forgiveness.”

“I don’t need forgiveness.”

“We all need forgiveness, Kevin.”

“And what about you, Dad? Do you need forgiveness?”

The Elder took his glass over to the sink, then went into the family room to finish reading the communist editorials in the Tribune. Kevin sat across the table from him in silence for over an hour, then calmly pushed his chair back, got up, and left without saying a word.

Kevin would never speak to his father, again.

Oathkeeper

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Indivisible Chapter 5

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Chapter 5

 

Mae was rescued from the Chinese megalopolis by a driver from the U.S. embassy.  She spent two days at the U.S. compound trying to stay out of the way of the manic document shredding and frenzied packing. The morning of the third day, she was hustled onto a helicopter, fall-of-Saigon-style, and choppered to the airport with a number of other diplomats.  They loaded everything onto a 747 which whisked them away into the Pacific night.

The jumbo jet made one stop at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage where they sat on the tarmac for four hours. A Greyhound bus pulled alongside the plane and another two dozen Treasury officials and diplomats, who had flown in from other Asian capitals, boarded the 747. Several dozen pallets of shrink-wrapped documents were offloaded by forklifts, stacked onto pallets, and reloaded into a semi-trailer bearing a logo for corn chips.  The tractor-trailer drove off the tarmac.  It had no final destination. The driver’s orders were to drive to random locations so that if anyone was asked, under oath, if they had ordered the destruction of, or knew the location of the documents, they could answer “no” without perjuring themselves.

By nine a.m., the 747 was wheels up, again.  Five hours later, they landed at Denver International under a cloudless blue sky. The diplomats and officials deplaned onto the tarmac. A fleet of black, tinted SUVs pulled up. One security agent, dressed in a black suit, grabbed Mae’s elbow and walked her over and into one vehicle. T was waiting inside.

“Mae! We’re so glad you made it back in one piece!”

“Thank you. It’s good to be back on U.S. soil.”

“I imagine you’re exhausted.”

Mae sighed, wearily.  “Why did you send me there? It was a complete waste of time.”

T stammered for a moment as their SUV pulled away. “We thought that…well, that perhaps your relationship with Tsang would engender their cooperation.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that before you sent me? They weren’t having any of it.”

“Um… let’s just say we wanted you to be—how should I say this—as authentic as possible. Do you follow?”

“It was terrible, T. Please don’t ever do that to me again. They sent out these two punks…”

T chuckled.

“I fail to find any humor in it. They were rude and insulting. A couple of low ranking clowns. I couldn’t believe it when they said Tsang sent them. He’s totally lost my trust.”

“Don’t be too hard on him.  Tsang has his bosses, too.”

“Then they dumped me out in the middle of some Shanghai ghetto. I was absolutely terrified, T. I could have been assaulted or something.”

“Let’s not get carried away, Mae.  I apologize for everything that’s happened to you. We had no idea they would behave that rudely. The Chinese have been behaving very undiplomatic, recently. All the channels are shutting down since we scaled back the embassy. You should have seen how difficult it was to get our documents out of there.”

“Why’d they even bother to meet me?”

“Tsang sounded amenable so we expected a good-faith negotiation. But in the final assessment, I think all his bosses really wanted to do was to insult us.  You know, give us the finger. I’m so sorry it all came down on you.”

Mae believed T was sincere.  “So what happens now?”

T pondered Mae’s question as their SUV roared across the sea of concrete and into a shaded parking garage at the farthest edge of the tarmac.  Their lane descended underground, away from the bright blue sky and into the shadows of a catacomb. T didn’t answer her until the SUV stopped at a checkpoint.

“Things are very shaky right now, Mae. We are truly on the razor’s edge.”

“It sounded to me like they want to stick it to us.”

“Probably. But the problem for us really isn’t China, so much. We know what they’ve been up to with their recent liquidations. The real issue is Japan. They’ll be out of cash in a matter of weeks and we don’t know if they’ll monetize their debt or start selling off assets to make their interest payments. If they start selling, they’ll start with U.S. Treasuries because they know China is getting out. China knows we’ll try to buy them up so they’ll try to unload theirs at the same time. They’ll want to get something for them before it’s too late. We’ll have to take steps to ensure the whole market doesn’t get whored up too fast.”

“What’s ‘too fast’?”

“We’re hoping for…well…we’ve been calling for an orderly crash. We have to manage things, slow things down so the banks can get out. If the banks get caught hanging in too long then it could be a scary correction. We’re talking the mother of all bank runs, 1929 times ten. Money markets’ll break the buck. Mutual funds will dissolve. Pensions, government payrolls, AR factoring, inventories, everything is at risk if the panic spreads. The Fed will have to take over the entire financial sector and guarantee everything—monetize everything. It’ll be a titanic mess.”

“When would this start happening? Are we talking about months?”

T shook his head. Mae knew that to mean weeks or days.

“It’ll be a selloff of unprecedented magnitude.”

The checkpoint guard raised the arm and their SUV passed out of the last of the ambient natural light and fully into the depths of the underground complex.

“The Fed can slow it down with the Plunge Protection Team working through their Wall Street partners. They can buy up whatever the Japanese and Chinese sell with digital cash, but the huge volumes will trigger manual overrides and a ‘get out while you can’ mentality. With living, breathing, animal spirits at the controls, it all becomes an unpredictable confidence game.”

“So are the insiders moving into cash?”

“I’m afraid no. They know that once it goes, it’ll take the dollar down with it.”

“How far down?”

“We’re looking at a fifty to sixty percent devaluation over maybe two weeks or so. If the Fed can’t contain it, it’ll be a full scale currency collapse.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Our job is to make sure it looks more like Argentina and less like the Zimbabwe.”

Mae shook her head in disbelief. “What about the stock market?”

“When the Treasuries go, corporate paper will follow. Rates will explode. We expect the selloff to trigger circuit breakers and limit downs. The containment plan is fluid, but if it happens three straight days, then we’ll shut the whole thing down—call it a ‘Market Holiday’. Banks will be closed, accounts will be frozen, capital controls implemented while we sort things out.”

“What are all the sheeple going to do, T?”

“Sheeple?” T chuckled. “I guess you didn’t get the memo. The new codeword for the public is ‘The Herd’. As you can imagine, they’re going be pretty pissed off when their 401ks disappear and their debit cards stop working. The Joint Chiefs expect riots, but we can leverage that by coming to the rescue; never let a crisis go to waste. The Cabinet’s got ideas. First, blame the Chinese. The Herd always falls for a scapegoat. Then, nationalize the retirement accounts and guarantee returns. They call that the Ghialarducci Plan. They’ll take all the 401k accounts and reinvest them into Treasuries. That’ll soften the blow a little and buy some time for a return to normalcy.”

“And…?”

“It’s going to be scary, Mae. Did I say that already? How should I describe idea number three? Hmmm. Let’s just call it ‘law and order maintenance.’”

“Martial Law?”

“The President just initiated ‘Operation Pre-emptive Order’. He’s recalling and reassigning troops from III Corps. Fourth Infantry actually arrives tomorrow so that confirms that he’s taking the hard line. He’s not going to let a civil war happen on his watch. Can you imagine a legacy like that?”

“I don’t suppose I’ll be allowed to get my money out?”

“I’m afraid not, Mae. That would create an audit trail. It’s too risky to let government insiders sell right now. We can’t risk any questions about integrity. But don’t worry, you’ll be made whole, inflation-adjusted of course”

The black SUV parked. The driver whispered something into his collar. The door locks clicked open. The chamber was poorly lit, cast in an orange glow. Mae sensed a faint electrical buzzing emanating from all directions. The SUV’s cooling exhaust ticked and pinged. An over-sized steel door, painted bright, blood red, stood before them.

Buzz.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

A mechanical noise, like an engagement of industrial gears, rolled and rumbled beneath them.  Mae was unsettled by it.

Buzz.

Tick.

The gears rolled beneath them.

The red door stood before Mae, framed by the windshield of the SUV, partly obstructed by the silhouette of the driver’s motionless head.

“So what now?” Mae asked T whose silence was adding to her growing sense of dread.

“The President wants us to stay away from Washington for now,” he answered. “So we’ve set up operations here. Have you been down here? This is a terrific facility. It’s like a Hilton. There’s a gym, even tennis courts, fine dining. You could move all the essential functions of Washington here. It’s quite safe, totally impenetrable, even nuke proof.”

“It’s a bunker?”

“There’s not a lot for you to do right now but we’ve made arrangements for you to stay.”

“In Denver?”

“Here, in this complex, right through that red door.”

This was the first Mae didn’t feel comfortable with T. The thought of holing up in a security complex in the bowels of an airport in a flyover state did not appeal to her. She had an urge to dart out of the SUV and sprint up the ramp to the surface, into the fresh air, under the powder blue sky. She would, of course, never indulge such a compulsion.

“Would you mind if I stayed downtown, perhaps the Brown Palace?”

T seemed disappointed. “Not downtown, Mae. It might not be safe. We can make arrangements at a hotel nearby for a few days, I suppose. Then you’ll either need to come in here or make your own arrangements. We cannot guarantee your safety if you stay outside the airport complex.”

“What do you mean by ‘guarantee my safety’?”

“We haven’t ruled out TMD.”

“TMD?”

“Total Melt Down.”

“What do you mean?”

“The president is quite confident we can maintain law and order but there is still a risk.”

“How much risk?”

“NSA simulations estimate a one in six chance.”

“Of what?”

“Of complete economic and institutional collapse: banking, government, police, fire, hospitals, transportation.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I only said a one in six chance. Like I said, the president is committed to take any action necessary to maintain law and order. Don’t forget, his legacy is at stake.”

“So you suggest I stay here?”

“I personally wouldn’t play Russian Roulette, so yes, at least until things settle down a bit.”

Mae gazed again at the red door. The silhouette of the driver’s head leaned forward as he whispered something inaudible into his collar.

Buzz.

Tick.

The grinding gear noise rolled beneath them again.

Mae felt that the shadows had somehow crept in around their SUV. The lights had been gradually dimming. Her queasiness grew.

“I don’t want to stay here in this crypt, T. Can you have aq driver take me to one of those nearby hotels for now? I think I might have a safe place to go from there but I have to make a call.”

Indivisible

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Indivisible Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

 

Undersheriff Bob Garrity decided that he liked Neil Diamond which was a divergence from his usual 80s hair-metal playlist. He also decided that he had grown fat since his divorce. He switched on his interior light and examined his flabby, rose-colored face in the rear view mirror while careening down County Road 73 at thirty five miles per hour over the speed limit. His chubby cheeks were beginning to squeeze in on the flanks of his push broom mustache and his beady eyes appeared to be receding further into his skull. He decided he had to do something about his weight.

No wonder she left you, he muttered to himself as his eyes moved from the mirror back onto the road—

He slammed on the brakes.

His cruiser screeched and fishtailed to a halt in the middle of the road just short of a pair of red, flashing taillights.It was a moonless night, a pitch black, country night, illuminated only by the range of the headlamps. Garrity turned down the insanely loud whimsical keyboard riff of Diamond’s “We’re Coming to America” and radioed in. He couldn’t see any motion in the car ahead. He flipped on his flashers and siren…still nothing. He aimed the intense beam of his searchlight into the back of the car revealing the backs of two heads.

“Morons,” he muttered, while taking mental notes of the details.

Their SUV was new and clean, a Luxury Edition. Its tags were current. The taillights were in working order. It had a “Coexist” sticker affixed to the rear bumper.

Commies! Garrity thought.

Garrity believed he could discern the caste of most civilians by a quick glance at their automobiles. Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? The most dangerous ones to be wary of were the meth-heads with their matted hair and chronic twitchiness. They drove rusty sedans that often rode low due to blown out shocks. Another brand of self-manifested self-destruction were the “wiggers,” as Garrity referred to them. They were short, skinny, and usually adorned with sparsely grown porno mustaches. Rap music thumped from their spinner-wheeled econo-boxes. It was best to unsnap ones holster when approaching these idiots.

To Garrity, these two flavors were the most dangerous subspecies of white trash. They all seemingly evolved from the same genetic spawn with their greasy hair, flexed ligaments accentuated with a grease-stained muscle-shirt, short stature embellished by low-sagging pants like the male prostitutes wear in prison. If they only knew! he thought.

There were other breeds of troublemaker for the undersheriff to worry about as well: “welfare queens” with their dinged up, blue smoke-puffing minivans; drunken cowboys in their diesel pickup trucks; bitchy CEO wives in their German SUVs; punky rich kids in their souped-up rice-burners—they were always on drugs—and don’t forget the tree-huggers in their faggoty hybrids—smug and passive aggressive.

Most strains of mutant had hair-trigger tempers, disrespect for authority, and a foul mouth stuffed full of something to prove. Thankfully, the occupants of the car ahead were none of these; the bumper sticker indicated something else. A clean, luxury edition SUV with a “Coexist” bumper sticker indicated an upper-middle-class, metrosexual white male that Garrity could intimidate with a mere snarl.

“They probably hit an elk,” Garrity muttered to himself as he approached the driver’s side. The window slid down. “Hello,” Garrity called out as he approached. There was no answer. “I said HELLO!” He stopped at the rear wheel well of the SUV and took out his flashlight. “Hey buddy, you’re endangering me out here! What’s your problem? Answer me!”

“Sorry officer,” came a timid male voice from inside.

Garrity continued toward the driver’s side and shined his flashlight directly into the man’s eyes to blind him—Garrity learned that technique at the academy. He scanned the interior taking mental notation. Male driver, milquetoast. Shouldn’t be any trouble unless he mouths off. Female passenger, crying, probably man’s wife. Stereo playing that whiney-ass Dave Matthews…communist affiliation confirmed. Small brat in back seat, sleeping. No signs of drugs. No one looks like they’re hiding anything. No odors of pot or alcohol, no wait…sniff…what’s that? Red wine? Aha! They’ve been drinking.

“Do you mind telling me why you’re parked in the middle of the highway? You coulda gotten me killed,” Garrity asked, switching the flashlight beam into the woman’s eyes to blind her, too.

“We hit something,” the man explained.

“What did you hit?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you planning on taking a look?” asked Garrity.

“It just happened. I wasn’t sure what I should do. What if it was just injured? I was going to call the police but you showed up before I could dial. I don’t know if it’s dangerous.”

“Oh, for crying out loud.” Garrity’s head swiveled toward the front of the SUV and scanned the road ahead illuminated by the headlamps. He couldn’t see anything from his vantage. “I want you to stay in your car and keep your hands on the wheel,” he ordered the driver. And get her calmed down while I go take a look.”

“I don’t need any calming down,” she said.

Garrity gave her another blast of blinding flashlight into her eyes while he radioed in. Then he walked to the front of the SUV. It was pitch black except for the arc of the lights and the red and blue flashers of his cruiser reflecting off the tree trunks. The road was empty. He swept the darkness with his flashlight as he moved towards the shoulder. Miller moths fluttered and danced in the beams of light.

His beam swept over a large stone or trunk or—no, it was something else. How exciting! he thought. His adrenal glands surged into action. An otherwise dull evening might end on an interesting uptick. He stepped closer. The flashlight’s beam locked on while headlights appeared not far down the road. What is it? he asked himself. It was tan and long, facing into the trees. Could it be a—yes, yes it’s a mountain lion! Oh, what a find. How awesome would this look over my fireplace?”

Garrity heard the woman grumbling about something back in the car. She had the potential to be a problem. He knelt down over the animal. It didn’t appear to be breathing but there wasn’t any blood. He unsnapped his holster just in case and leaned in closer, extending his hand. He stroked the fur. It was coarse like straw. The cat didn’t move or make a sound.

The car coming down the road approached and Garrity thought it best to walk back to the passenger’s side of the SUV. He blinded the driver and the woman again with his flashlight along the way.

“Roll the god damn window down, will ya?” Garrity barked at the woman. She complied.  “What is she bitching about?” he asked the driver.

The driver tried to hold her hand but she yanked it away.

“Does she have a problem?”

“She’s just upset that we hit something.”

“That’s not why I’m—” she explained but was cut off.

“What did we hit?” interrupted the driver. “Is it dead?”

“It’s dead,” Garrity answered, with a smirk forming under his mustache.

“So what happens now?” the woman asked.

“Can you calm her down, please?”

“I’m perfectly calm. And you can address me, personally.”

“So what was it?” asked the driver.

“It’s a cougar.”

“Oh, that’s terrible,” said the driver.

“It is,” Garrity answered, as he put his flashlight under his arm and took out his ticket book.

“Are you writing me a ticket?” asked the driver.

“License and registration, please,” Garrity replied, as the approaching car whizzed past them in the other lane.

“Are you seriously writing him a ticket?” asked the woman.

Garrity scowled, then took the flashlight out of his armpit and blinded her with the beam again. He had a low tolerance for citizens questioning his authority.

“Please stop shining that light in my eyes,” she said.

“I said license and registration!” Garrity growled. “Have you been drinking?”

“No, not at all. Not tonight, officer.”

The driver reached into his visor, took out his papers and handed them to Garrity who took them back to his cruiser. Once inside, Garrity keyed in the info and radioed dispatch. Another set of headlights appeared, far off up the road. The driver’s papers were in order with no outstanding warrants. Garrity filled out a citation, making notes as to the woman’s unccoperative demeanor. Then he waited an additional thirteen minutes just because he could. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to put the driver through the roadside test. It was such a pain in the ass. Two more cars zipped past. To pass the time, he fumbled with his iPod finally settling on “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake.

He glanced up, startled to find that the driver was getting out of his SUV. Garrity jumped out of the cruiser to subdue him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he shouted at the driver.

“Are you really going to write me a ticket?” the man asked.

“That’s right. Now get your ass back in your car. You are endangering me!”

“I want to know why you’re writing me a ticket.”

“I’m the one with the badge and the gun. I ask the questions and I give the orders. I said get your ass back in your car or I’ll tack on a DUI,” Garrity hollered as he reached for his holster. “I’ve had about enough of you two.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I just want—”

“Get your ass back in your car or I will take you down. Do you understand?”

“For what? For asking you a question?”

The woman in the car started to shout. The toddler who was asleep woke up and started to scream. Another set of headlights appeared from up the road.

“This is your last warning,” Garrity commanded as he reached down along his belt to his holster.

The woman shouted, “No, no!”

“I asked a question. That’s all. I just want to know why you are writing me a ticket. It’s just a question. Just answer that and I’ll get back in my car.”

“You will do as I say or I will put you down. Get your ass back in your car!” Garrity could not believe the defiant attitude of this prole. Even the meth-heads, as argumentative as they typically were, had more sense than this idiot. Garrity pondered at what moment he should he draw.

“Come back to the car!” the woman shouted. “You’re going to get run over!”

The headlights from down the road drew closer. The whoosh of its tires on the road grew louder.

“You have no right to give me a ticket for hitting that thing,” the driver argued. “There was nothing I could do. It ran out in front of—”

Garrity drew and charged forward, following the beam of his flashlight into the man’s face. He fired, dropping the man to the ground in a heap, screaming and writhing in pain from the shock of the taser. The woman shouted obscenities in response. The toddler screamed. The approaching car decelerated with a screech. Garrity pounced onto the man, driving his knee into his back, deftly cuffing him—they taught him that technique at the police academy, too.

“Why are you doing this?” shouted the man.

“Stop resisting. You’re under arrest!” Garrity declared.

“I’m not resisting.”

“You—are—under—arrest!”

“For what?”

“For resisting arrest.”

“You’re arresting me for resisting arrest? What the fuck?  That doesn’t make sense.”

“Shut up or I’ll taser you again and tack on obstruction.”

The approaching car came to a stop which added to Garrity’s agitation. There were too many variables for him to control, now. He was highly stressed. He yanked the driver up and shoved him into the back of his cruiser.

“Anything we can help with, officer?” asked the driver of the other car.

“It’s ‘sheriff’, not ‘officer’.  Do I look like a god damn city cop to you? Move along.”

Garrity went back to the SUV to subdue the woman who had since exited her vehicle and was now standing on the shoulder of the road cursing him. Garrity drew his taser but the sight of it had no effect on her. She continued insulting him and giving him dehumanizing stares. She looked as if she wanted to rip his eyeballs out with her fingernails—deadly weapons as far as he was concerned. The toddler in the back seat cried. Garrity took aim at her but thought for a moment about the witnesses in the car in the opposite lane which had not yet moved on. He holstered his taser and charged the woman, tackling her down onto the rocky shoulder.

The other car slowly pulled away.

As Garrity knelt on the woman, frisked her, and radioed for backup, the cougar, which was only stunned, gathered herself up and limped back into woods.

Indivisible

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Oathkeeper Chapter 8

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 8

 

Cold winds poured down off the mountains and swirled in the valley, heralding the end of Indian summer. Billowing cumulonimbus clouds boiled upwards into the stratosphere, dwarfing the fourteen-thousand-foot peaks to the west. The aspen on the northern slopes had lost the last of their leaves and the cottonwoods and willows that clustered in the arroyos and flood plains had turned yellow. The elk had made their way down off the high meadows, and the mule deer were more common, grazing along the shoulders of the highway, sizing up their prospects of safe crossing.

Sheriff Ellison drove his patrols with a heavy heart. Nguyet had made her decision. She was leaving for Atlanta, and he would soon be alone. He wished his term was over so that he could jettison his responsibilities and join her and his new granddaughter. The visit with Acevedo had cured him of any lingering political aspirations. Despite the DEA’s wishes, he never did give a press conference on the accidental shooting.

What would be the point? he thought. Acevedo was right in one sense. The sheriff would have been held responsible for the shooting, regardless of how he framed it for the public.

Ellison conceded that he would not be able to reign in the feds. He knew that the populace had most likely also realized this by now, and this painted him in a pastel hue of weakness. He noticed that people in general had become less social and cordial towards him since the botched raid. “Good morning, Sheriff. How are things?” was replaced with a cursory “Howdy” or a perfunctory nod, followed by averted eyes. This, along with his wife’s looming departure, filled him with a feeling of isolation. The DEA raids would continue, despite his protest. Nguyet had begged him to resign, but he just couldn’t. Not at such a chaotic time in his career.

Ellison’s hope was that the county might turn against the DEA occupation. Monte Turcot was a hero, after all, and the shooting of him and his wife was a lightning rod. He hoped that the citizens were beginning to question the value of the DEA’s mission, but without effective leadership and organization, they would be helpless to foment any real resistance.

Ellison knew Acevedo was disappointed that he did not do the requested damage control on the DEA’s behalf. He learned of this through a phone call with the governor’s office, whom the DEA had contacted to voice their displeasure. They had called him demanding an explanation.

“There’s nothing for my department to communicate,” Ellison had explained over the phone. “We were not involved in that operation… We have asked DA Chalmers to launch a grand jury investigation… We expect their decision any day… I’ve ordered Special Agent Acevedo to suspend operations… No, he has not complied… I respectfully disagree with your assessment… I will take the governor’s position under advisement…”

The DEA continued according to their plan. It didn’t matter to them what the sheriff or a constituency of “rancheros and hippy flameouts” thought of their operation. Their mission was ordained by the president. Provincial resistance was futile. Those who stood athwart them would be ignored or swept aside. Acevedo and his agents conducted three more raids after the Turcot shooting, adding to their tally of minor victories in the War on Drugs at a taxpayer cost of over $100,000 per arrest. Thankfully, no one else was shot.

One afternoon, while on patrol, Ellison received a text on his cell phone. He glanced at it quickly, then turned off the road to change direction. An email from DA Chalmers came moments later.

“Re: Turcot Shooting,” it read. “GJ has decided not to pursue.”

Ellison stepped on the gas. He turned west onto County Road 306 and north just after the golf course, taking Gun Club Road for two miles and over Michigan Ditch where it ended at the intersection of a dirt road running east and west. Ellison turned west, his cruiser’s tires throwing up rocks and a plume of dust as he accelerated up the road that led into the hills and evergreen forest.  Ten minutes from when he had received the email, he was pulling into Monte Turcot’s driveway. He shut off his cruiser, looked at his watch, took a deep breath, then got out and walked up to the door. As he raised his hand to knock, the recognizable pop of gunfire echoed through the trees. Instinctively, Ellison reached down towards his holster. Another shot rang out, then another, and another, in deliberate succession. The sounds were coming from behind Turcot’s trailer, where it abutted the woods.

Cautiously, the sheriff made his way around the trailer, ready to draw if necessary. As he stepped out from behind it, the source of the shooting finally came into view. It was Monte Turcot himself, now bearded and thin, firing rounds into a tree trunk with a small pistol. His back was turned to the sheriff, and a half empty bottle of Jim Beam sat clasped in his other hand.

“Don’t shoot me, Monte. I’m right behind you,” Ellison called.

Monte staggered a few steps back and lowered his gun.

“Listen, I came out here to talk to you.”

Without even acknowledging the sheriff’s presence, Monte took a swig from the bottle, his pistol now dangling in his hand like a toy gun at his side. Ellison kept his hand close to his holster and made a quick glance about, looking for cover in the event that Monte had in fact lost his marbles and was mulling over the idea of suicide by cop.

“Can we talk?” asked Ellison.

Monte stared into the woods, wobbling, his back still turned to the sheriff. After another swig, he lowered his bottle, holding it so loosely that Ellison wondered if it might slip out and crash on the rocks at his feet.

“Monte?”

Monte didn’t move.

“Okay, Monte,” Ellison explained slowly. “I’m going to go back to my car and check my messages and call in. That’ll take me about five minutes or so. Then I’ll be on my way. If you want, you can come over and talk. Or call me later. Does that sound okay with you?”

Monte didn’t respond, swaying in the autumn air.  A gust of wind blew pine cones off the trees, which landed with a thunk on his trailer’s metal roof. Ellison backed away behind the trailer and walked back to his cruiser. Inside, he radioed a quick status report to dispatch and then checked his messages. Nguyet was wondering when he would be home for dinner. His son had emailed pictures of his granddaughter. A reporter from the Gazette wanted to talk about his reelection campaign. Someone had sent a note about a roadkill carcass on the highway north of town.

Something moved in the corner of his eye. Ellison glanced up and was startled to find the ragged Monte Turcot framed in his windshield. He looked pale, his hair was matted, and his filthy sweatshirt was stained with blood. Ellison looked at his hands. Monte was no longer wielding the pistol, but he still clung to the bottle. From the looks of it, he’d had a few more drinks since the sheriff had arrived.

Relieved but still cautious, Ellison rolled down the passenger window. “Get in, Monte.”

Monte stared back, his blank expression evoking that of a zombie’s. Ellison clipped his cell phone into its mount on the dash, then reached over and opened the passenger door. Monte slowly shuffled towards it and got in.

“How are you holding up, Monte?” Ellison asked.

“Still here,” he answered in a raspy tone.

“This is a terrible thing you’re going through. I wish there was something I could do to help.”

“Thanks,” murmured Monte.

“What’s that blood from, on your shirt there?”

“Tore my hands up chopping wood.”

“Did you cut yourself?”

“No.” Monte set his bottle down on the floorboard and presented the palms of his hands to the sheriff. They were covered in blisters, some of which had burst. The tender layer of skin beneath had torn open.

“You should take care of that,” Ellison warned him. “It could get infected.”

“Yeah…you’re probably right.”

“Looks like you did a lot of chopping.”

“Four cords,” Monte stated quietly.

“How long did that take you?”

“I split it all yesterday.”

“That ought to be plenty to get you through winter in that trailer of yours.”

Monte stared out the passenger window. The mountains appeared through a break in the ponderosa that lined his drive, their peaks sheathed in the purest of white.

“It certainly is beautiful out here this time of year,” the sheriff observed.

“I think I might just walk myself up into those mountains and never come back down,” Monte answered in a quiet, resigned sigh. “You ever think about doing something like that, Sheriff?”

“I think about that a lot, Monte. Maybe not exactly like you describe it, but there are a lot of days – too many days – when I think about dropping everything and going away, going away for a while.”

“I ain’t talking about for a while. I’m talking about for good.”

“You wouldn’t be planning on bringing that gun along with you, would you?” asked Ellison.

“You know, I don’t really plan anything, anymore.” Monte looked down at his ravaged hands. “The future changes day by day. Sometimes I think about going back to active duty again, volunteering for all the action. I thought for sure that was going to be my future yesterday. But then today, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Today, I think I’ve seen enough killing for one lifetime. I don’t want any part of that no more. Right now, I wish I’d never joined in the first place.” He shrugged. “But then again, who knows? Tomorrow, I’ll probably wish I never came home.”

“It’s got to be tough, dealing with everything you’ve been through,” Ellison answered. “It’s too much for one man.”

“Yeah.” Monte nodded slowly. “I’m ashamed of the things that I thought about doing yesterday.”

“What sort of things?”

“What’s it matter?”

“I’m worried about you, Monte.”

“What do you know about anything, Sheriff?”

“You’re right. I don’t know much about what you’re going through. I just worry.”

“Don’t.”

“Monte,” Ellison said, wary of the direction he was about to take the conversation, “I came out here to check up on you. It doesn’t look like you’re doing well. I don’t think you’re out of line or anything, all things considered. I just think you’re out here all alone, and that it’s not good for you. Is there any way I could talk you into staying with some family for a while? You’ve got a sister, don’t you? Maybe she could come out and stay with you, or you could go visit her.”

“She lives in Connecticut. She’s got four kids.”

“What about your parents?”

“They’re old, worn down, worn out. I’d be a burden on them. I don’t want to deal with them right now, anyway.”

“Monte…I wouldn’t feel right about just leaving you out here without knowing you’re going to get some help. Everyone needs help, sometimes. There isn’t any shame in that.”

Monte turned from the window and looked at Ellison. “So what happened with the grand jury? That’s really why you came out here, isn’t it? To tell me about that?”

Ellison felt relieved that Monte had broached the subject first. He hadn’t been able to figure out a way to get there gracefully by himself.

“They concluded that, under applicable law, no criminal charges will be filed against the DEA agent that shot you and your wife. I’m sorry.” He watched as Monte’s eyes dimmed in helpless frustration. “For the record, that’s the DA’s language, not mine. I think it’s wrong.”

“I can’t say that I’m surprised,” Monte replied. He picked his bottle off the floorboards and opened the door. “I think I’m going to go back inside and lay down for a while.”

“Okay, Monte. I’ll stay out here for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”

“Don’t worry, Sheriff. I’ll be all right,” answered Monte. “I just need to get some rest. These hands are hurting real bad, and I’m pretty drunk.” He stumbled out of the cruiser and staggered slowly back into his trailer, letting the door slam shut behind him.

Sheriff Ellison waited outside with his window down, listening for a gunshot for over an hour.

Oathkeeper

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Indivisible Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

 

Vaughn’s eyes opened in complete darkness. He scanned up and down, left and right into the void trying to orient himself, but it took a moment to complete the climb back into full consciousness. He finally managed to raise his head up from his pillow and find his clock on the nightstand. The red digital numbers were, at first glance, incoherent, hieroglyphic nonsense until his lucidity returned. The time read 3:01.

He reached out next to him feeling the warm curve of Jessica’s flannel-covered hip under the covers. He slid his hand up her side, feeling that she was facing the other way, curled up in a fetal position as she always did when she slept. His lower leg brushed her toes; they were always freezing cold.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered to her.

No reply. She was out. No need to wake her up, he thought. He was probably just roused by a dream.

He lay for a few moments staring up blindly into the blackness. He wished that they had a dog—a German shepherd, perhaps—one of those majestic, vicious, and vigilant breeds that would sound alerts at intruders and scare them off, or even better, lock its jaws onto their throats.

Vaughn and Jessica Clayton had moved that past spring into an old house in the foothills west of Denver. It was a tri-level on a hillside on a ten acre parcel peppered with ponderosa pine and aspen. A seasonal stream was advertised and its trickling waters did not disappoint after the late season snows melted off. One of their first mornings in their new home they awoke to find a herd of fifty elk mewing in their yard.

The size of the property appealed to Jess and Vaughn who were recovering suburbanites. They were quickly spoiled by the tranquility and in no time they developed a loathing for the cinderblock strip malls and six-foot privacy fences that hemmed in their prior existence.

The lot also had views. What could possibly be said about the views that would do them justice? The panorama, culminating in the snow-capped Mount Evans to the west beat the hell out of staring at a brown, phallus-shaped water tower across the street.

But acclimating to rural life was, in many ways, more difficult than Vaughn had expected. The nights, especially after midnight, were utterly and completely quiet unless the coyotes were yelping. A late-night mountain lion screech was a most unnerving sound, unlike anything he had ever heard or expected. But in the absence of those disturbances, the night was a deafening, hypnotic silence that magnified the sense of isolation and intensified all the insignificant and meaningless noises made by a creaking, forty-year-old, plywood house. The wind blowing the bird feeder against the window was the audible equivalent of a car crash in one’s driveway. The snapping of a mousetrap sounded like a shotgun blast. The gentle buzz of the refrigerator, inaudible in the daytime, was akin to some roaring machine of heavy industry.

These sounds were meek noises to desensitized, urban dream weavers. The shrieking cop sirens and barking dogs and base-bumping car stereos of the city night drowned out the tinier noises. But out here, on the edge of the wilderness—at least a relative wilderness, anyway—those little noises were thunderous sounds.

Vaughn reassured himself that the noise that had awoken him, if it was indeed real and not dreamt, must have been nothing. It was just the old, plywood house shrinking as it cooled in the crisp spring night. Nothing at all, he said to himself. Just go back to sleep. He adjusted his pillow, positioning his cheek on the cool spot and closed his eyes. He still wished he had a German shepherd, though.

When Vaughn was a kid, a neighbor boy had a big, vicious, shepherd mix. It barked menacingly at everything, especially anything small and weak and human. The ten-year-old Vaughn, a small and weak child at the time, had to pass that beast on his way to the school bus stop each morning. Chinook, which was the dog’s unfittingly effervescent name, would always be standing sentry at his three-foot chain-link fence between houses, waiting for little towhead Vaughn to pass by. It would glare from behind that meager barrier, one which he could hop with minimal effort, drooling, his dead brown eyes locked onto Vaughn.

The legend of Chinook wove its way through the network of imaginative, neighborhood youths. It was known among these kids, to be a fact and not myth, that Chinook had broken loose one evening from his confines, climbed into an open, second story window, and made off with a neighbor’s infant child. All childhood legend of course, but a story that resonated with ten-year-olds, especially when one was walking home from a friend’s house in the darkness. Many a kid in Vaughn’s neighborhood cast anxious glances over their shoulders on such nocturnal journeys.

“Never look behind you cuz you might just see what’s gaining.” Vaughn chuckled as he recalled that grammar school advice, given by a chubby neighbor kid who was the chief propagator of the Chinook myth and also one who liked to scare the shit out of the neighbor kids with his Ouija board and black light.

Back to sleep, Vaughn thought. But I’ll probably dream of demonic dogs now.

Vaughn dozed off.

But a sliding noise stirred him again.

Then he heard what sounded like a voice.

Vaughn sprung up. It was definitely a voice. It was a male voice, hushed, whispering, but indeed a male voice. It was not Jessica. She was asleep.

Did I dream it? he asked himself. Maybe. He found his clock in the darkness again. It was 3:07. He sat up in bed, his eyes darting around through the black ink of night. He thought about what he should do. Should I go check it out? I’ll have to get up and that’ll wake Jess.

He imagined himself as that ten-year-old, frightened of dogs. Just listen, he ordered himself. Be still. He put his hand on Jessica again and leaned toward her ear. He brushed away her soft hair and whispered. She didn’t respond, but her breathing, which generated a faint whistle when she exhaled, became quiet. He knew she was awake.

“Jess…”

“What?” she finally asked in a faint voice.

“Shhh,” Vaughn whispered. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Listen…”

They both held still for a minute or so listening to the darkness. A strong breeze combed through the pines outside their window. After a minute, Vaughn decided that it was just the wind. But his eyes scanned the blackness once more just to be sure. Jess was already whistling faintly again, apparently unconcerned. Vaughn gently brushed her hair with his hand and started to lie back.

Crack.

This time Vaughn knew for certain the sound of a footfall on their wood floor. There was absolutely something inside the house. A feeling of terror splashed onto him as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on him. He leaned over toward Jessica’s ear again.

“I’m going to check on Brooke.”

“Okay,” she mumbled, barely awake.

Vaughn quietly sat up on the edge of the bed and tried to clear his head asking himself if he was, in fact, awake. Am I dreaming? He checked the clock again. It was 3:08. “Should I do this?” he whispered faintly. “Be careful”. He fumbled for his glasses on the nightstand being careful not to tip his water glass over. Why was it so difficult to find them in the dark? He groped about until his hand bumped into the lenses. He grabbed them and put them on. He sighed, asking himself again if he was in fact awake.

Creak.

Vaughn’s heart began to pound. He was definitely awake, now. He reached into the nightstand, and feeling around, he located a small key that he had taped there several weeks before. He removed it. He leaned forward and reached down, feeling along the inside of the bedrail.

“Where is it?” he whispered while groping. “There!” He felt cool steel of the old shotgun.  He slid his hand back along the barrel until he felt the wood of the stock. Carefully, he pulled it off the hooks that held it in place on the rail. He had hooked the gun onto the inside of the bed rail with shelf brackets brackets.

Vaughn sat there on the edge of the bed holding the old gun and the key. I’m sure it’s just house noises, he thought. His heart rate slowed as he listened. Nevertheless, he proceeded. He felt for the lock which looped through the loading and ejection ports. He could not chamber a shell unless it was removed. He pushed the key into the lock considering once more if he should really do it?

Be careful…

It was quiet except for the velvety drone of the wind in the evergreens outside. He turned the key. Keep it pointed down. Keep the safety on. Don’t fire unless you know what you’re shooting at. Don’t even aim it unless you know, he thought. The cable broke loose and dropped onto the floor. He took a deep breath and stood up with the gun. Am I being foolish? he asked himself. Put it away. This is dangerous.

Squeal.

Vaughn made his way through the darkness to the door of the bedroom. He quietly cracked it open and looked down the hall, waiting for his eyes to adjust so he could see more detail. The outline of the hallway doors emerged. The glow of a neighbor’s porch light, several hundred yards away, beamed though the patio door. Nothing was moving. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary.

Vaughn slipped into the hallway sliding quietly along the wall, shotgun pointed down. He came to Brooke’s door. It was partly open which was the way he had left it when he put the toddler down. He gently pushed the door open and went in, using the glow of her nightlight to make his way towards her crib. He listened. There was no sound. He carefully kept the gun pointed away and crept closer to her crib. Still nothing. Closer. He looked into the bed…

There was just enough light to make out the outline of her tiny body. Brooke was on her stomach, knees tucked under, butt sticking straight up in the air, toy monkey to one side. Vaughn could now hear her faint, whistling snore, similar to her mother’s. He carefully retreated from the room.

He moved through the hall and down the stairs, guided by the faint blue din emanating from the refrigerator’s indicator light. He could make out the shape of the island and the faucet. There was no movement and no sound. He scanned the adjacent dining room and living room. Nothing. No sound.

Then a noise made the hair on his arms stand on end. It was only the refrigerator coming on. He sighed in relief. Everything seemed in order. The living room was dark but quiet. He listened again. No sound other than the purr of the compressor. He started to relax.

Vaughn stepped into the living room and turned toward the office…

…and his heart hammered one enormous beat, the pulse of it he could feel up into his temples. There, in front of him was the silhouette of a man, a man with a small flashlight, silently digging around in his desk. Vaughn wanted to call out but he pulled back ferociously on the reigns of his terror. Could it be a dream, a lucid dream? he thought. No, it’s real. He is there. I am awake.

Vaughn ducked quietly back into the hall, against the wall. He could feel sweat trickling down behind his ears. What do I do? He asked himself. He expected paralyzing terror to render him catatonic and helpless but, to his surprise, he didn’t freeze up. He was not shutting down with fear, just flushing with adrenaline. He thought of his wife, asleep. He thought of his daughter in her crib. His fight-instinct surged in torrents of epinephrine through his arteries and into his muscles. It felt like he could jump twelve feet and knock a man over with a war cry. Waves of tingling pinpricks washed up and down his ribs and legs. Kill him!Kill him dead!Shoot him!He’s in your house. This is your house. He might murder your wife or you or take your daughter. Kill him!

Careful, he warned himself. Easy. Breathe. What if you miss? What if he has a gun? He’s cornered. He’ll attack. You have to get him with one shot. Get a better angle.

The adrenaline was pumping so hard he could feel pulsations in his neck. He pushed the safety in on the gun. Was it on or off? It must be off, he thought. Yes, it’s off. Easy, now. Get ready to load the shell. Push that little thing in with your thumb. One smooth motion…up, down. Quietly, now.

Vaughn took another peek around the wall again at the intruder. He couldn’t see the sweeping arc of his flashlight anymore. Where is he? he asked himself. He must have heard me. He’s got some balls coming in here like this. He looked again through the living room Maybe he took off. No. He’s trapped in there. I would have heard him. He’s got to be in the office.

Then the intruder poked his head up from behind Vaughn’s desk.

Oh shit! Now! Do it now! Vaughn thought. But what if he shoots back? Oh God. Just do it! Blast him! Pump that shell in and blow his fucking brains out. Reload and keep shooting until you’re out.

Vaughn crept forward carefully, gun aimed into the office at the intruder, hand ready to pump the forestock. He noticed a trickle down his leg. Pissed myself, he thought. He crept towards the office, gun aimed through the doorway, aimed towards the intruder’s chest.

Shoot now! Shoot! he thought. What if I miss? You have no choice. This is your house. This is your duty. Protect your family! But I can call the cops! No. They’ll never make it in time.

He tip-toed forward. The intruder was going through Vaughn’s desk drawers quickly and silently, flashlight held in his mouth. Closer, Vaughn crept, and closer still, his right thumb on the release, left palm squeezing the forestock, sights aligned, and still closer. Now ready…

He reached the door of the office. How could he not notice me, now? How can he not hear me? He poked the barrel of the gun into the office. His body followed. The intruder was still oblivious.

Shit. What now? Vaughn thought. Shoot him! Do it!

Vaughn watched him for a moment, wanting desperately to call out. The intruder’s head was down as he fumbled around for something under the desk. Vaughn guessed that he wanted to get into the safe. But then the intruder looked up, directly into Vaughn’s eyes…

“FREEZE!” Vaughn shouted, reflexively. There was so much adrenaline coursing through him that his order came out as a high-pitched shriek. “Don’t move!” In one fluid motion he slid the forestock back and forward, loading the shell. Shick shack. The intruder’s eyes darted about looking for an escape but he was trapped. He threw his hands into the air.

“No shoot! No shoot! No shoot!”

“Get your hands up,” Vaughn shouted nervously despite the intruder’s hands already being up. He stretched them even higher. “Move back!” Vaughn shouted. “Back against the wall!”

“Okay! Okay! No shoot me. No shoot. Okay?”

Vaughn screamed for Jessica. There was no answer. He waited two seconds and screamed again. “Jess!” Then one second more. “Jess!”

“No shoot me, okay? I no move.”

“Jess!”

“Is okay. No shoot. I do what you say.”

“Get down on the ground!” Vaughn screeched. Then the more commanding quality of his voice returned. “No, just keep your hands up. Jess! God damn it!”

Jess finally appeared, almost running into Vaughn and nearly causing him to set off the shotgun.

“What the hell is your—?” shouted Jess as she switched on the light which illuminated reality in a brilliant supernova. The intruder came into full view. He was dressed in black sweats and a gray hoodie. He was small, Latino, and tattooed on his face and neck.

“What the hell?” Jess screamed. “Oh my god. What is going on?”

“Call the 911,” Vaughn ordered.

“No shoot me. Is cool,” begged the intruder.

“I said turn around. Shut up! Turn around or I’ll blow you away!”

“Okay, okay,” he said as he turned around. “Jus hear me. We no have to call cop.”

“Shut up,” Vaughn replied. “Keep your hands up. If you lower them I’ll shoot you dead. Jess, did you call 911?” Jessica was still standing next to him, frozen. “Jess!” Vaughn shouted into her ear. “Call the police! Now!”

Jessica Clayton, the mother, was consumed with other ideas, other instinctual ideas.

“Shoot the bastard!” she ordered.

“No shoot me!” begged the intruder. “Tell lady is okay. No shoot me!”

“Shoot him!” She shouted. “Shoot him, Vaughn. Kill him or I’ll kill him myself. I’ll go get a knife. You break into my house. You come here to take my daughter? Shoot him, Vaughn.”

Brooke started crying down the hall.

The intruder looked back over his shoulder. “No shoot me. I make it right. I give you money. No cop. I give you money.”

Jess turned for the hallway. “Brooke better be all right or I’ll come back here and stab your eyeballs out.”

“Brooke’s okay,” Vaughn assured her. “I checked on her, already. Just call the police. Please.” Jess ran to the kitchen.  He heard her fumble around in the kitchen junk drawer. “What are you looking for?”

“The phone’s dead.  I’m looking for the charger.”

“You let me go and I give you money. Please,” begged the intruder.

“Shut up,” said Vaughn.

“I can’t find the charger,” shouted Jess.

Brooke screamed louder and louder.

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