Disclaimer: See Part 1
The sun peeked through a couple of thick clouds turning the freshly fallen snow in a layer of crystals so bright they could easily hurt someone's eyes. It was amazing how fast the temperature rose once the sun's rays touched the surface. Sigrid was vaguely aware of the increasing warmth on her back, even though she was more occupied with the soft skin her lips were caressing.
“Sigrid.” Eva slowly pulled away and almost lost her balance. Only a pair of strong hands on her shoulders kept her from taking a nose dive into the snow.
“Yes, Eva?” Sigrid could not hide the amusement in her voice and she smiled when she pressed her lips against a rapidly beating pulse point.
“I really, really would want to continue this, but we should concentrate on getting the children out of here as soon as possible.” Eva let out a slow breath, seeing it form a small cloud in the cold morning air.
“You're absolutely right.” Sigrid slid her hands off Eva's shoulders and slowly backed away. “I'm sorry about that.”
“Don't be. I am not.” Eva smiled and dropped a kiss on the tip of Sigrid's nose. “We can continue this later. We will continue this later,” she added with a smile. “After we solve this mess.”
“It's a relief to know you're not going to arrest me.” Sigrid's voice held a hint of humor, but also something else.
“Are you worried about the arrest warrant?”
“A little.” Sigrid raked her fingers through her hair. “I know your opinion about it, but what about Charles'?”
Eva laughed and pulled Sigrid into a quick hug. “He is extremely ticked off about the whole thing, so, don't worry. He is on your side.”
“That's good to know.” Sigrid breathed in deeply. “Who else in your department knows I'm with you?”
“The captain,” Eva said, looking at the snow-covered trees.
“You're not looking at me. Why is that?” Sigrid's hands grabbed Eva's and gave them a squeeze. “There's something you haven't told me yet, isn't there?”
“Chuck thinks the captain is involved, with the bad guys, that is.”
“Some things just don't add up right,” Eva said. She finally looked Sigrid straight in the eyes and registered the shock and concern her answer had caused. At that moment her Blackberry started buzzing and with a scowl she pulled the phone out of her pocket. “It's Chuck,” she said when she looked at the display. “Hey, what's up?”
Sigrid looked at Eva's face and saw her scowl being replaced by a look of worry. Her gaze traveled to the road and unconsciously Sigrid followed it. There was nothing to see but trees, heavy with snow, its branches bent down by the extra weight. The road was hardly visible and Sigrid knew it would take a car with four wheel drive to be able to plough through it. “So, what are you going to do about it?” she heard Eva's voice and there was no denying the tension in it. “That's risky, Chuck, we're on a dead end road with six civilians, three of them kids.” Sigrid noticed Eva's free hand went underneath her jacket to where she kept her side-arm. The gesture made her heart to a double-take and instinctively she knew their troubles would be getting worse soon.
“Alright, we'll see you in a few.”
“What's going on?” Sigrid asked, aware of the tension that had suddenly settled in the pit of her stomach. “Eva?”
“Someone is following Chuck and Casey.”
“As far as Chuck can tell it's only one person.” Eva's gaze settled on Sigrid. “Old car, Subaru, big cross dangling on the rearview mirror, vanity plate that reads:'4Jesus'. Does that sound familiar to you?”
For a moment Sigrid felt as if the world went completely still. The white of the snow that surrounded them became more intense, as did the winter blue sky. She became aware of the quickening of her pulse and when she let out a deep sigh that formed a small white cloud in the cold air she realized she had been holding her breath.
“It means something to you.” Eva's voice reflected confidence.
“It does.” Sigrid cleared her throat because her voice had sounded funny to her own ears. “Jeremy Brothers has a cousin who drives a car like that. He's in his late twenties and has some developmental issues. He has a job at the local hardware store and seems to be very conscientious.”
“Is he religious?”
Sigrid nodded. “Extremely. I've talked to him on several occasions, but ever since he found out I'm gay he's been ignoring me.”
“Did he have a crush on you?”
“I don't know, Eva.” Sigrid shook her head and rubbed a cold cheek. “He's very withdrawn and shy and never seems comfortable talking to anyone, except when he citing scriptures.” Sigrid paused a moment and her gaze traveled to Eva's. “He has always struck me as an innocent. If he's involved in any of this it's because someone has set him up to it. Frankly, I don't think Donny has the mental capacity to do so.”
“Is that his name, Donny?”
“Yes, Donald Brothers, Jeremy's cousin.”
“Here's Jeremy again,” Eva said. There was a grim expression on her face as she gazed at the snow-covered landscape. “I'd like to have a chat with that man.”
“Get in line.” Sigrid tilted back her head and breathed in deeply. The air was clean, but cold and for a few moments she enjoyed the silence of the woods, knowing deep down inside that the peace and quiet would be disturbed very soon. “We need to get the kids out of here,” she finally said.
“And our sleuths.”
Sigrid let out a laugh. “Yes, sleuths is the right term. I can't believe they drove up here for their own investigation. I know they made things more complicated for us, but you'll have to give them credit for initiative.”
Eva smiled. “And curiosity.”
“Oh yeah, lots of curiosity.” Sigrid grinned and lazily stretched, feeling the muscles in her back pull. Even though she had enjoyed the sleeping arrangements, the couch had not exactly been comfortable.
“There are eight of us here and we have one car. I'm sure the seven of you can manage to squeeze in; the two little ones are tiny. They need to see a doctor and be in a safe place as soon as possible.”
“The seven of us?” Sigrid echoed. “I don't think so, Eva Clemente. What are you going to do?”
“With Chuck on his way, I don't have to hike out of here, so I'll wait for him and hopefully take care of that Donny character. That is, if he follows Chuck all the way out here.”
Sigrid was about to answer when a rumbling noise caught her attention. She tilted her head in the direction it came from and listened intently. The sound was very feint but clear in the still morning air. By the expression on her face she could tell Eva had picked up on the sound as well. It took them a few moments to identify what they were hearing and locate the direction of the slowly increasing volume of the rumble.
“Snowmobiles.” Sigrid grabbed Eva's arm and pulled her toward the door of the cabin.
Eva cursed under her breath. “They must know we're here.”
“If your captain is involved he must have sent Donny after Chuck and told his other buddies where to find us. If they are heading this way we'll be trapped, Eva.”
“That weasel!” She pulled out her phone and looked at it with disgust. “He must have tracked the signal. Damn! I should have used the pre-paid one.”
“You wouldn't have been able to receive those emails,” Sigrid said in a reasonable voice. “Besides, Douglas Whitfield is no fool and he could have been tracking Chuck's phone calls as well. We know he's after me, so he must know about my family's cabin. He just connected the dots.” She patted Eva's arm and pulled her inside the cabin. “We need to get out of here.”
“We should almost be there,” Charles said, pointing at a landmark besides the road. “I'm glad at least this part of the road has been ploughed.” He half-turned in his seat to look out of the back window. “Still there.”
“He's not even trying to hide the fact he's following us,” Casey said. “Maybe we should just pull over and see what happens.”
“No, you're a civilian and I can't get you involved in a possible shoot-out.”
“Did you bring an extra piece?”
“A piece?” Charles chuckled and turned back in his seat. “You've been watching too many TV shows.”
“Did you?” Casey insisted.
“Maybe. Do you have any experience with handguns?”
Casey glanced in her rearview mirror and nodded. “My Dad insisted I'd learn.” She smiled. “He probably thought every investigative reporter would end up in situations only Lois Lane could put herself into.”
Charles was about to reply to her statement when his phone beeped. He quickly pressed a button and saw he had a text message. “Eva's texting me,” he said, opening the message.
“Is she okay?” Casey asked when Charles cursed.
“There are some snowmobiles around and it sounds they're heading their way.”
“If we keep going we'll be trapped between them and the guy behind us,” Casey said, not able to hide the sudden tension in her voice.
“But if we don't Eva and Sigrid are probably outnumbered trying to protect three old ladies and three kids. There's no way they can all get out of there now.”
“What does she want you to do?”
“Keep going, we're almost there.”
“Is that what she said?”
“No, that's what I'm saying.”
“Maybe this is a good moment to get those guns out and get one ready for me to use.”
When Eva and Sigrid entered the cabin they were met with a wink from Grace, a whistle from Betty, and a knowing smile from Meg. Under normal circumstances Eva would have laughed at the reception, but her mind was occupied with more serious things.
“Meg, Betty and Grace, I need you to get into my car with the kids and get out of here. Don't stop until you reach the road, take Route 3 south and get on Interstate 93 as soon as you have a chance. When you get to North Woodstock go West on 112 and stop at the police station there. Ask for Barry Jefferson and tell him Eva sent you. Do not talk to anyone else but Barry.” Eva looked at the worried faces in front of her and hoped she looked calmer than she felt. “Are the instructions clear?”
“Yes,” Betty answered, her gaze travelling between Grace and Meg. “Right girls?”
“I could stay and help, with whatever's going on,” Grace suggested. “I have a gun and I do know how to use it, you know.”
“We know, Twitch,” Sigrid said with a small smile. “And that's exactly why you need to go with the others, just in case they need that kind of protection.”
“Just make sure you don't shoot any of us, you old fool,” Meg said. “What's going on, anyway? Why do we need to run out of here all of a sudden?”
Eva walked to the door and opened it, listening intently. “We can hear some snowmobiles and we believe they might be on their way here. You and the children need to go.” She looked over her shoulder and registered the shocked faces. “Now,” she said softly.
Sigrid had opened a closet and pulled out some fleece blankets, carefully wrapping Anjuli and Danh in a warm cocoon. Both children looked at her with serious eyes and Eva could tell she was trying to be as calm as possible, talking to them in a very soft voice.
“Morgan.” Eva motioned the teenager to come closer and when the girl stood in front of her she put a hand on one of the small shoulders. “Our friends here are getting you out of here to a small town a little South from here. We'll join you there are soon as we can. Barry Jefferson is a good friend of mine and you can trust him. He'll make sure you, Anjuli and Danh will get something to eat and some different clothes. He'll also get a doctor to look at you.” Eva paused when she saw the flicker of fear in Morgan's eyes. “You can trust him, Morgan. He will not let anything happen to you. I promise.”
“You and Sigrid will come as soon as possible?” Morgan's voice was husky and barely more than a whisper.
“I can't go back there, Eva, I'll die if they get me.”
“They won't, Morgan. I will not let that happen.”
Morgan looked up and glanced over her shoulder before settling her gaze back on Eva again. “Your friends are nice, but they're old. Are you sure they can help?”
“Positive.” Eva smiled and gave Morgan's shoulder an encouraging squeeze. “I know they're not that young anymore, but they are courageous and very feisty. Come on, you can help me get the snow off the car.”
“I don't have a very good feeling about this, Sigrid.”
Sigrid looked up from her kneeling position in front of the two small children and sent Betty a small smile. “It will be fine. As soon you as you're in the car and head out of here, you'll be putting distance between them and you. Eva and I will keep them busy and distracted.”
“I'm not worried about us, I'm worried about you.” Betty sighed and ran fingers through her short, gray hair.
“We'll be fine, Betty.” Sigrid hoped her words conveyed more confidence than she felt.
“And how many situations like this have you been in, Agent Meyers?”
Sigrid smiled. “Not that many, I have to admit.” She stood and turned so she could face Betty. “When you and the children are on your way to North Woodstock, Eva and I only have to think about ourselves. I know this area really well and if things get sticky, we'll be able to quickly get out of here.”
“Just make sure you do.” Betty's sounded stern.
Silently, Sigrid enveloped her friend in a hug. “We will,” she said in a soft voice. “Get those kids out of here and to safety, Eva and I will be fine.”
Betty squeezed Sigrid closer before she let her go. Her eyes were moist and when she turned away Sigrid could hear her sniff.
The door opened and Eva stepped in, bring a blast of cold air with her. “Alright, the car is snow free, running and turned around. Time to get out of here.” She lifted Danh into her arms and immediately stepped out again, followed by Meg, Betty and Grace.
“Are you coming, sweetie?” Sigrid smiled at Anjuli who looked at her with eyes that seem too big for her face. “You're going for a ride. Come on.” She stretched out a hand, saying a quick prayer to whoever was listening, asking that Anjuli would trust her enough to grab her hand, so she could lead her out of the door. Having to grab the girl to carry her out would most likely inflict more traumas.
After a very brief hesitation Anjuli grabbed Sigrid's hand and walked beside her to the door. As soon as she saw the snow-covered world, she looked up and started a rapid dialogue in her own language.
Sigrid could not understand a word Anjuli was saying, but the small sparkle and look of wonder on her face did not need translation. “I know, isn't it beautiful?” She carefully lifted Anjuli in her arms to carry her to the car, setting her between Morgan and Meg, who made sure she was securely strapped in.
“Okay, Betty, go.” Eva closed the door and patted the roof of the car. Immediately the vehicle started moving, slightly fishtailing when it turned unto the narrow road, but the four-wheel drive made sure it kept going. As soon as they disappeared around the bend, Eva turned to Sigrid and grabbed her arm. “Come on, we need to make sure they can't follow them.”
“How are you going to accomplish that?”
“Put something under the snow, on the road that will stop the snowmobiles. When they see the fresh tracks they might believe we're all gone and not even stop here.”
“Good thinking.” Sigrid headed to the side of the cabin. “Help me move this log.” It took a few moments of digging through the snow, but the large log was where she remembered. It was part of a huge branch that had fallen off one of the surrounding trees during a summer storm. Her Dad had kept it, planning on, eventually, using it as firewood.
Together, Sigrid and Eva hauled the ice-covered log toward the road. It was about ten inches in diameter and five foot long, and would most likely be effective in preventing the snowmobiles from blasting by. As soon as they had positioned it across the road, they covered it with snow, hoping that whoever was on their way would not look too closely to what was in front of them.
“Looks good, let's go inside,” Eva said. “It sounds like they're very close. We need a plan.”
“You mean other than keeping them from chasing the kids?” Sigrid patted Eva's back and was rewarded with a wry smile.
“Yes, other than that. I don't know about you, but I feel this whole situation is like a snowball rolling downhill.” Eva pulled out her sidearm and quickly inspected it, while Sigrid did the same. “How fast can you get dressed?” she asked, pointing at a small pile of clothes she had brought in from the car.
“Not as fast as getting undressed,” Sigrid answered with a grin, pulling a pair of snow pants out of the pile.
“Remind me to test that statement later.” Eva smiled at Sigrid's chuckle and they quickly donned the bulky snow clothes, aware of the rapidly approaching snowmobiles.
Sigrid felt her heart rate increase and the palms of her hands were sweaty. The adrenaline that was rushing through her veins increased her core temperature and the heavy clothes she was wearing added more heat to it. “It's hot,” she said, breathing in deeply in the hope it would slow down her heart a little.
“For now. Let's hope we don't end up plowing through snow banks for the rest of the day.”
“Optimist.” Sigrid stepped closer to Eva and gave her a quick kiss. “If we have to make a run for it, do you trust me to know my way around here?”
Eva smiled. “I am actually counting on that.”
“Good.” Sigrid pointed to the bedrooms that were at the back of the cabin. “We can exit through the windows or through the side door in the kitchen. The side door leads to a track downhill and eventually ends at the lake. The windows lead to the back patio and the woods. Uphill.”
“Side door,” Eva said without hesitation.
Sigrid nodded. “Good choice.”
“Are you ready?” Eva stepped closer and touched Sigrid's face with her fingertips.
Sigrid's skin, still a little cool to the touch after having been outside rapidly warmed underneath the fingers that were lightly caressing her. “No, I'm not ready.” Her voice sounded husky and she quietly cleared her throat. “But I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be.”
“Try not to shoot your own foot,” Eva joked, referring to a remark Sigrid had made a few days earlier about her marksman qualities.
Sigrid let out a nervous chuckle. “I'll try not to. Hopefully it won't come to shooting, but if it does, I'll have your back,” she promised, feeling the nervousness fade. What was left was quiet determination to keep anyone from hurting her friends, the children, and Eva.
The obnoxious loud noise of snowmobiles struggling through snow became louder and Sigrid walked to the door, staring through its small window. Her eyes caught movement through the trees and she swallowed, aware of her dry mouth. The fingers of her right hand shifted, adjusting to the grip of her weapon. “They're here,” she said quietly.
“Is he still behind us?” Casey's gaze was fixed on the narrow road in front of her. A thick cover of snow made it almost impossible to see where the road ended, so she chose to stay in the middle. Even that course of action was no guarantee they would not end up in a deep snow bank or ditch.
“Yup, still there.” Charles said. “Just keep going steady, you're doing fine.”
“I can't help wondering whether this guy is waiting for me to get stuck, so he can pound on us, like a spider in a web.” Casey wiggled her fingers a little. They were gripping the steering wheel so tightly they had started to go numb. “By the way, what is the plan when we arrive at the cabin? Get out and run?”
“You'll stay just where you are, as a matter of fact you will duck and stay low, but I'll get out.” Charles put a small Beretta on the console between them. “It's loaded, just take the safety off and you'll be good to go.”
Casey took her eyes off the road to quickly glance at the dull steel weapon. “Okay, I can handle that.”
“Only use it if I am incapacitated. You've no idea how much paperwork it is to explain why a civilian was using my back-up weapon.” Charles smiled and patted Casey's shoulder. “You'll be fine, trust me. It's just one goon.”
“What about the snow mobiles?”
“There's still a chance those are just regular, innocent people, enjoying some freshly fallen snow.”
Casey let out a chuckle that sounded nervous to her own ears. “And you believe that?”
“One can only hope.”
“Here they come.” Eva peeked through the kitchen window that was facing the road, careful to stay out of sight. “There are four of them.”
Sigrid did not answer, but from the corner of her eye, Eva could see her nod. “Are you alright?”
Sigrid tore her gaze away from the road and sent Eva a small smile. “I'm fine, thanks. Just wish I was home, drinking coffee in front of the woodstove.”
“Amen to that.” Eva sighed and brought her attention back to the four bright orange snowmobiles that had arrived. Two of them steered into the cabin's short driveway. One of the riders gestured to the two behind him and without reducing much speed they flew past him, heading down the road. They were driving close together, too close, Eva realized and she winced when the front rider hit the log she and Sigrid had draped across the road. It had been a risk to put up a dangerous barrier like that, because she had not been one hundred percent certain whom the snowmobiles had been carrying. As soon as she had seen the possible leader gesture to continue down the road though, all doubt had vanished.
“Ouch, that must hurt,” she heard Sigrid mumble.
The rider who had run into the log had been thrown off the snowmobile and landed a considerable amount of feet further down the road. The second rider had, most likely in a reflex, steered his vehicle away from the first one and had gone straight into a snow bank before colliding with a tree.
Eva didn't know she had held her breath, until she slowly exhaled when she saw both riders move. They slowly got to their feet; one was holding his right arm, the other one limped. “Two less to go after the kids,” she said to herself, watching how the other two riders climbed off their snowmobiles. They turned off the engines and the sudden quiet made her ears buzz.
“What the hell was that?” she heard a voice yelling, the sound muffled by a helmet and layers of protection. The man who had spoken was tall, with broad shoulders and long legs. Eva wondered if he could have been the figure Betty had seen while driving up to Sigrid's house that day. His snowmobile resembled the one that had crossed the road just in front of Eva's car that day.
One of the fallen riders, the one who limped, slowly shook his head and sank down to the ground, apparently still dazed by the crash. The tall man stepped toward him and tapped the helmet, which was hastily removed.
“How bad are you hurt? Can you walk?” The voice sounded clear, echoing off the granite, scattered through the woods. “Damn, bitches,” the tall man spat, turning around and glaring at the cabin.
Eva went very still. It was as if the man could look through the walls and her heart quickened in pace. A quick glance aside showed her Sigrid's stance had changed as well; she could almost feel the tension rolling off her. It was interesting that the tall man had referred to them as ‘bitches', which confirmed her suspicions that someone in the department who knew where she was had leaked information. Worse than that, they knew Sigrid was with here as well.
A soft click to her right told her Sigrid had taken the safety off her gun and Eva immediately did the same. She did not want a shoot-out, but she needed to keep the riders from going after the children long enough for Betty to get onto the Interstate toward North Woodstock. Even if that meant drawing them away from their snowmobiles by having them chase her and Sigrid.
“Get in that cabin and if anyone comes near, shoot,” the tall man commanded. “Help them,” he ordered the fourth rider, who had knelt next to the one who seemed to have broken his arm. He walked back to his vehicle and pulled out a rifle, no doubt to shoot the lock out of the door.
Eva took a deep breath and gestured Sigrid: it was time to leave. They stepped backward, away from the windows, before quietly making their way to the side door in the kitchen. They would be invisible from the road, but by leaving the door ajar they hoped to catch the men's attention. It would be easy to follow their tracks in the snow, but the plan was to move downhill, follow the lake and then circle back to the road in the hope Betty had reached North Woodstock and help was on the way.
After Sigrid had stepped outside, Eva quietly followed her, making sure to leave the door open. As fast as the knee deep snow made possible they headed downhill, toward the lake. Eva made sure to step into Sigrid's footsteps, hoping it would confuse whoever would be following their trail. Their snow pants and down parka's would keep them warm and dry, so all they needed to focus on was to put a comfortable distance between themselves and their potential pursuers.
Continued in Part 14
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