Disclaimer: See Part 1
"What do you mean you can't do anything about this? Isn't that why I pay you, to clean up after me?" Even though the voice sounded controlled it was very easy to hear the underlying anger. It was a tone of voice many acquaintances feared. Especially since history had taught all of them that the subjects of his anger never fared well. "Don't call me back until this is fixed."
After slamming down the phone, the man got up off his chair and started pacing the room. It was impossible for him to sit still when his stress levels were increasing. As a self-made man who had never been afraid of getting his hands dirty, it was very hard for him to depend on others. But he had no choice. He was too visible and in his position too vulnerable to risk negative publicity. In spite of all the power he had, he too had to answer to someone else and any messy work or wrong decision could easily backfire.
He looked at the clock on the wall for the fifth time in the last few minutes, wishing he could do something, anything, to change the last 12 hours. The cell phone on his desk gave a quiet buzz and he quickly grabbed it, looking at the display before answering it.
"Hi sweetie, how was school today?" While listening to the answer his eyes traveled to the clock again. Only one more minute had passed.
As soon as Casey and Betty had started their slow journey through the snow, Sigrid tilted her head to listen intently. Any moment one of the snowmobilers could come flying around the corner. She was very aware of the sound of his engine and knew she didn't have much time. Knowing that the road conditions were more favorable for a snowmobile than a car, she ran over to the abandoned Subaru and climbed inside. The keys were still in the ignition and with a flick of her wrist the engine roared to life. Without a second thought Sigrid slowly drove the car further down the road to where it narrowed. She steered to left until the car was completely across a road. She removed the keys from the ignition, hopped out of the car and ran back to where she had climbed the snow bank. The sound of an approaching snowmobile became louder and she knew she only had seconds left. She hurled herself over the icy barricade and started sliding down the hill. The Subaru would make sure that the person on the snowmobile would not be able to follow the cars. But that didn't mean they couldn't come after her and Sigrid knew she had to be fast. Having spent a lot of time in the area, she knew her friends would not be able to pick up a cell phone signal until they would reach the main road. A quick calculation showed her that in the best case scenario help would still be about 40 minutes away. So it was just her and Eva against three, possibly more adversaries. The odds were not in their favor, but Eva was smart and had a lot of experience, and Sigrid was familiar with the woods. All they would need was a little luck.
From her position behind a granite boulder Eva was very aware of the fact that she could hear two different people coming from different directions. It was just a matter of time before they would see each other and she was very curious how that would play out. She didn't have to wait long.
"What the hell?" A voice sounded from her left. "What are you doing kid? Hunting season is over."
"I could ask you the same thing," another voice, lighter and younger said in response.
"Shut your damn mouth, kid."
"Stop cursing. Don't you know that cursing is bad?"
"Cursing is bad?" Eva could hear the sound of boots in the snow and she estimated the owner of voice was almost in front of her hiding place. "Wait a minute, I know you. Aren't you the nephew of Jerry Brothers? The religious nut?"
"I'm Donny, and Jeremy is my uncle. He has warned me about you."
"I'm sure he has." The man laughed. "Damn, what are the odds of running into you right here in the middle of nowhere? So I'm asking you again, what the hell are you doing here?"
"Stop cursing." Anger was creeping into Donny's voice and Eva could tell he was getting upset. By the sound of his voice though he had not moved closer and Eva knew that if her pursuer would take another few steps, she would be able to get behind him, and not run the risk of getting caught between the two men.
"I'm on a mission," Donny's voice sounded.
"Really? And what kind of mission would that be?"
"Nothing you would be interested in."
"Why don't you try me?" The sound of a shotgun being reloaded was very loud in the cold morning air. Eva took a deep breath and momentarily relaxed her fingers around her gun, before settling them back in place again. Things were escalating rapidly.
"You can't hurt me," Donny said.
"Why is that?"
"Because I am doing the work of God, and nobody can stop me."
"Like I said; religious nut." The voice was full of contempt and unconsciously Eva held her breath, waiting for Donny's response, which she hoped would be void of violence.
"The Lord goes ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them and he will subdue them before you. Lord God, help me destroy those who sin against you." Donny's voice was soft, he sounded very calm but void of any emotion.
It was the lack of emotion that worried Eva the most. Somehow she just knew things had escalated beyond repair and the next step would be violence. She carefully shifted to the left, still keeping the granite between herself and two men on the trail. Donny's answer shed light on some of the questions the investigation had yielded. He must have been the one that had broken into Sigrid's house and had left a religious symbol. It wouldn't surprise her if he had also set the house on fire. But she also knew he was just a pawn in a bigger game where powerful people pulled strings. It was crucial to find out who they were and from where they operated. The safe house they had discovered the previous day most likely was only the top of the iceberg. There were probably many houses like that throughout the country. Eva's mind flashed back to the moment they had found children in the basement, shackled to the wall and it made her physically sick to think many more children were undergoing the same fate, but had not been rescued yet.
"Kid, you're crazy and I suggest you drop that gun." The voice sounded him relaxed, almost casual, but Eva knew that if the man was a hardened criminal, and she suspected that he was, gunfire could erupt at any moment.
"God help me destroy those who sin against you." Donny had barely finished speaking when a burst of gunfire exploded just a few feet away from her hiding place. Instinctively, Eva ducked and made herself as small as she could. Just in case. The shooting only lasted for a brief moment and the sound of something heavy falling in the snow told her one of the two men had gone down. The question was who?
"God destroys those who sin against him," Donny's voice sounded. He still seemed eerily calm and Eva knew from experience that those who are psychotic or delusional often are the hardest to apprehend, because they are driven by something that makes them lose touch with reality and are immune to logic, empathy, and compassion. There is only one thing on their mind; reaching their goal, no matter how delusional it is.
Eva slowly and carefully straightened up and took a step to the left. By doing so she was still taking a gamble, because she had no visual on Donny, but judging where the voices had been when the body had hit the ground she suspected Donny was still somewhere on her right. There was a small opening between the granite boulder and a couple of trees, and Eva carefully moved her body forward. Donny was quiet and she could not hear any movement at all, so she figured he was still there, where he had been before, somewhere to her right.
All her senses on high alert, Eva took a deep breath, ready to step around the boulder onto the trail. All of a sudden her body tensed and she could feel herself go rigid.
"Going anywhere?" Donny's voice sounded right behind her and inwardly Eva cursed.
"Hello Donny." Very slowly she turned around until she was facing a young man whose clean-shaven appearance made him look like he could not be older than sixteen.
"Hello," he said and there was a hint of surprise in his voice. "I'm surprised to find you here."
Eva tried very hard to focus on his face and not look at the gun he was pointing at her. It wasn't easy, because she knew that with the same gun he had just shot somebody, probably even killed. She moistened her suddenly dry lips and forced down a wave of panic. "Why's that?" She did her best to sound casual, like it was normal for her to run into an armed murder suspect in the middle of the woods.
"You're supposed to be with the pastor, Sigrid," he said. He frowned and it was a look of puzzlement on his face. "Where is she?"
"I don't know." Eva was hopeful her friends have been able to call for help by now and all she could do was by herself some time.
"Actually, I'm not. Sigrid was with me before, but she went up the road little while ago."
Donny narrowed his eyes and a look of anger crossed his face. "Why would she do that? She's been with you for days now."
"We have friends who needed help, Sigrid was trying to find some."
"What friends? That police guy? I shot him."
A wave of anger surged through Eva. She clenched her hand around the butt of her gun so tight, it was painful. But the last thing she wanted was for Donny to think he had gotten to her, so she took a deep breath and forced herself to be calm. Her gun was in her right hand, brushing up against a tree every time she moved. She wondered if Donny had seen it, if not, she might still have a chance.
"He could be dead by now," Donny said. His voice was still devoid of any emotion and Eva wondered if he had been taking drugs as well. "Sigrid will be too late to help him. And praying over him won't work, God won't listen to her."
"Why is that?" While her eyes never left his, Eva's focus was on her right hand inching it away from the tree, trying to get into position so she could actually use it.
"She's a sinner, and so are you. She has no right pretending to be a pastor."
"She's not pretending. I know for a fact she went to seminary, and she graduated."
A flash of rage cross Donny's face and he slapped her with the hand that was holding his gun.
Immediately, Eva felt a steady trickle of blood rolling down her face. The skin across her left cheek bone was split and she already could feel the area around her eye swell. The whole side of her face was throbbing and she knew the bruising would be ugly, that is, if she would live long enough for her face to bruise.
"She's a sinner. You are sinner. And both of you will die." Donny carefully enunciated the words, making sure Eva heard them clearly.
"Talking about dying, do you mind if I check up on the guy you just shot? He might need help."
"He's dead, I made sure of that. And you will be next."
The look of determination on Donny's face sent shivers down Eva's spine. She knew she had run out of time. Slowly and cautiously she moved her right arm, never losing eye contact with Donny. All she would get was one shot, and it would have to be a good one.
Sigrid knew that she had to make her descent as quiet as possible. For all she knew their pursuer had caught up with Eva and she did not want to make a volatile situation even more explosive. Her cautiousness slowed her down, which significantly increased her adrenaline levels. But if she gave away her own position she could make things worse for Eva, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.
When she was about halfway down the hill she suddenly stood still and tilted her head, listening intently. After a few seconds of concentration she was certain she heard voices, coming from the direction where she had left Eva. She could not make out the words, but judging by the pitch of the voices there were at least two men talking. Sigrid's first reaction was the desire to run down the hill as fast as she could, but she also knew that would be the most foolish thing to do. It would put her and Eva immediately in harm's way. It was then that her ten-month training at Quantico automatically kicked in. The tracks in the snow clearly showed her ascent up the hill, but Sigrid ignored those. Instead, she veered to the left still making her way down the hill. If her calculations were right, she would hit the trail to Eva's left, behind the area where she could hear the voices.
Sigrid could feel her heart hammering inside her chest and her mouth had gone dry. She knew one of the voices she heard belong to Donny, but the other one was a stranger. If he had been their pursuer, she knew he would not hesitate to use his gun. After all, he had already shot at them before. Donny had shot Charles and she knew he had to be considered armed and dangerous. That put Eva in a very precarious situation. Just as she thought she could see the outline of the huge granite boulder Eva was hiding behind, and unexpected, a loud bang made her stop dead in her tracks. For a brief moment Sigrid could not breathe. She covered her mouth with a gloved hand to prevent herself from shouting Eva's name and pressed her forehead against the rough bark of a tree. "Eva,” she whispered, feeling her entire body shake. It took her a few seconds to regain her composure and forced herself to continue her descent. Without compromising caution, Sigrid made her way down as fast as she could, trying very hard not to think about what could have happened to Eva. She kept a careful eye on the boulder using it as a point of reference to make sure she would not stray from it too far. After a brief silence her ears picked up the sound of a voice again, it was Donny's. When a lighter one answered, Sigrid felt such a surge of relief she had to lean against the tree for support, afraid her legs would not be able to hold her up. Eva was still alive and by the sound of it having a conversation with Donny, the innocent looking young man who had just shot Charles. Sigrid gritted her teeth and continued down knowing that if she would make it in time the odds would turn in Eva's favor.
"May I ask you a question?" Eva looked straight into Donny's brown eyes. Inwardly she cringed, he was just a kid and the thought that, right now she might have to shoot him in order to survive, made her feel cold inside.
"Come on, Donny, you're the one with all the power here, before you shoot me you can do me the courtesy of answering one question, don't you think?"
"How do you know my name?"
For the first time Eva noticed a hint of insecurity in his voice and she was determined to use that in her advantage. She'd do anything to stall and buy more time. "I read about you." She had decided not to volunteer any information, but made him work for it.
"Where? What did you read?"
"It was a police report, actually." Eva still had her eyes trained on Donny's face. She knew she had his undivided attention and used the situation to bring her gun slowly and carefully into position. All she needed was just a little bit more time. From the way he was holding his gun, Eva knew Donny was left-handed. That meant she would only have to lift up her gun just a little, in order to shoot him in the arm. If she would manage to do that, he would most likely drop his weapon. It was a shoddy plan, but at least it was something.
"What did it say? And you better answer, because I'm not going to ask you again."
"It was a report about your uncle, Jeremy. You might not be surprised to hear that he's involved in some pretty shady business."
"You lie. He has turned around his life and is serving God now. What you talk about is in the past. Uncle Jerry is a God-fearing man."
"Sorry to be the one to tell you this, Donny, but your uncle has been involved in some questionable actions, recent ones."
"Well, there are some strong indications he is involved in child trafficking."
"You lie." Donny raised his voice and Eva knew she had him off balance. She would have to tread lightly. "Uncle Jerry loves children."
"I think he might love money more," Eva said in a slow and deliberate voice, knowing full well her words could send he young men over the edge.
"I am a warrior for God, and I pledged to help him crush his enemies. You're one of them and I'm going to enjoy killing you."
As soon as Donny had showed up behind her, Eva had half turned. Right now the granite boulder was to her left and the tree was to her right. The opening between the two was narrow, but if she would manage to jump through it, she would be out of Donny's line of vision for a few seconds. And that would be long enough to position herself and get in a clear shot. If she was lucky.
"What makes me an enemy of God? Investigating child trafficking? Putting criminals behind bars? I don't know about you Donny, but it sounds to me like I'm one of the good guys." Eva deliberately pushed Donny's buttons now in the hope to bring him of balance a little more. If she could rattle his cage, she might be able to throw him off long enough to take that jump behind the boulder.
"You're a sinner. You and the pastor both. I've seen how you look at her, disgusting. She's gay and God hates gays. So he hates you and he wants me to kill you. I am doing His will, I'm helping him to rid the earth from sinners like you." Donny's words sounded like a mantra, something he was used to repeating over and over again. Eva knew that reasoning with him would be impossible. It seemed like she had bought all the time she could. She could tell by the expression in his eyes; his look was one of clear determination, laced with hate.
"You don't want to do this, Donny. Just think about it for a moment, you kill me and end up in jail, how will that help your cause? Maybe we can work something out, you hand me your gun and we'll talk." The expression on Donny's face told Eva she was not getting through to him and she decided on a different tactic. "Besides, what would you parents say about all this?"
The change in Donny was instant; the calm expression on his face was replaced by a mixture of rage, frustration, and pain. "Leave my parents out of this." The words were hissed through clenched teeth. "My mother was a whore and my so-called dad was a drunk who liked using me for a punching bag. They were ungodly, filth in the eyes of God and I hope they burn in hell."
Eva's brain was working overtime, trying to make connections with the information Donny had just given her. From the report she had read she knew that Donny had moved in with his uncle after his parents died. The boy had been thirteen at the time. The mobile home thefamily had lived in had gone up in flames, trapping the couple inside. The investigation into the fire was inconclusive. There had been a pan on the stove that had caught fire, but it had been impossible to see whether that had been the cause. The look on Donny's face steered Eva's thoughts in a totally different direction. "You killed your parents." It wasn't a question.
"They deserved to die," Donny spat. "They refused to let God into their lives. I did give them a choice, but they didn't listen. So, it was their decision."
"Are you going to give me a choice?" Eva already knew the answer, but she almost had her gun in position and needed a few more seconds. She could feel the adrenaline rush through her body. It heightened all her senses, and she was aware of the serenity of the snow-covered woods, the whining sound of a snowmobile engine in the far distance, and a typical smell of snow and trees. Donny was mumbling something incoherent and for a moment he was clearly distracted. Eva knew her time had come; it was now or never. Before she could change her mind, or even think about what she was going to do, she let herself fall back against the boulder and immediately turned to her right, sliding between the granite and the tree. She was aware of Donny's curse and the sound of the gun being fired as she stumbled to regain her footing on the other side of her hiding place. From the corner of her eye she could see a body lying on the trail and since all her attention was on Donny, she hoped the person he had shot would be incapacitated and not able to fire a shotgun at her.
Donny was fast. Before she had completely regained her balance he was standing in front of her, shaking his head and laughing. "Do you really think you can get away from God?"
Eva saw him raise his gun and her finger tightened on the trigger. She knew she was fighting for survival and no one would blame her if Donny would die. Images of her family and Sigrid flashed through her mind when she took aim. The loud crack of a shot filled the air and with a strange sense of detachment, Eva saw the surprise on Donny's face when his shot gun landed in the snow. The blood that poured out of this world was in stark contrast with the winter camouflage outfit he was wearing; warm red in a sea of grays and whites. A splash of color in a violent winter landscape. It was such an unexpected sight, that Eva was struggling to comprehend the situation. And it took the sound of a familiar voice to pull back into reality.
"Eva, are you all right?"
Still a little dazed, Eva noticed that Sigrid had taken away Donny's weapon, while keeping our own gun trained on him. He was leaning against the boulder, his right arm supporting his injured one. His eyes were closed and it was clear he was in a lot of pain.
"Eva!" Sigrid's voice sounded more urgent now. Without taking her eyes off Donny, she made her way to Eva. "Honey, talk to me. Are you hurt?"
"I thought you said you were a lousy shot," was the first thing Eva managed to say.
"I guess I got lucky." Sigrid's free hand grabbed Eva's arm and she carefully turned her toward her. "What happened?" With gentle fingers she touched her tender skin of her cheek.
"Believe it or not, he pistol whipped me."
"It looks painful. Why don't you grab a handful of snow to press against it? It will help with the swelling." Sigrid gestured toward Donny and send Eva a reassuring smile. "Let me cuff him, before he gets the insane idea to escape."
Still a little dazed, Eva stared as Sigrid expertly slapped him a pair of cuffs on Donny. He let out a groan of pain when she pulled his hands in front of him, before she attached the metal to his wrists. "I'm sorry if this hurts you, but I know you understand I can't risk you running away."
"You'll be sorry about this, bitch. God will strike you down with fire and sulfur."
"I know it is what you believe, Donny, but my philosophy is different from yours. I don't pretend to speak for God, but I do know that hurting people just because they're different is wrong." Sigrid's response was delivered calmly and with a certain amount of friendliness, which wasn't easy to do. Had she arrived a few seconds later, Eva could have been shot. It had very obviously been Donny's plan. Knowing that he would not go anywhere, at least not without any help, Sigrid holstered gun and hurried back to Eva. "Let me see," she said gently pushing aside Eva's hand. With careful fingers she probed the area around the cut. "That's going to be sore for a while and I'm afraid you will have a nasty bruise. The cut will need some glue, or at least some steri strips." Sigrid grabbed Eva's snow filled hand and gently pushed it back against her cheek. "Here, keep it cold, it will help with the swelling."
"Thanks, Agent." Eva smiled. "My brain is still trying to catch up with what my eyes are seeing. Mind you, I'm not complaining, but how did you get back so fast?"
"It's a long story and I will tell you later. I just need to know one thing, did Donny do this?" Sigrid asked, gesturing to the still body on the trail.
"Unless there is a third person around here somewhere waiving around a gun," Eva said. "I was behind the boulder when it happened, but I'm pretty sure it was Donny who fired the shot." She looked at Sigrid was kneeling beside the body. "He's dead, isn't he?"
"Very. He took a bullet between the eyes." Sigrid slowly stood up and shook her head. "My guess is he was dead even before his body hit the ground." She looked at Eva. "Do you have any idea who he is? Do you think he's the one that shot at us?"
"Most likely. I won't know for sure until I trace back his tracks. If they lead us back to the cabin, then it was him." Eva grabbed a fresh hand full of snow, pressed it between two hands and held the cold patty against her cheek him. "I guess that is one of the perks of being a cop in New England , plenty of snow to keep the bruising down," she joked. The expression on her face turned serious again when her eyes fell on Donny. "How is Chuck?"
"He took a bullet to the shoulder, it looked like a clean entry and exit wound. He's hurting, but should be okay. He was lucky." Sigrid walked to where Eva was standing and wrapped an arm around her waist, giving her a quick hug. Probably not a very professional thing to do in the middle of a crime scene, but she needed the physical contact. Just the idea that she could have lost Eva was extremely frightening.
Eva rested her forehead against Sigrid's, closing her eyes for just a second. To be able to feel her so close, felt like the best medicine. "And how are you? Are you still in one piece?"
"Pretty much. I'll probably find some cuts and bruises when I hop in the shower tonight, but nothing dramatic." Sigrid looked up and smiled. "Not like you. Does that mean I to get fuss over you now?"
"That all depends on the kind of fuss. I'm sure I will let you change cold packs though."
"Well, Inspector Clemente, you sure know how to promise a girl a good time."
Eva laughed, but then immediately grimaced. "Ouch, don't make me laugh, that hurts."
"I'm sorry," Sigrid said, but her eyes were twinkling. "Why don't you keep an eye on Donny, while I check for an ID on this man?"
"Are you sure? I can do it if you'd rather."
"No, it's okay, as an EMT I have seen far worse than this. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. Just keep an eye on Donny. Reinforcements should be here soon."
"I can't believe this! I really can't. Where the hell did they get all this stuff? Don't they know that Sigrid is the victim here? I mean, they want to arrest her? Well, I'll tell you if that's how it is they need to arrest me as well. After all, I was in the church when the body was found." Grace's eyes were burning with fury when she looked at the police officer who was standing in front of her. "Tell me, young man, who put you up to this?"
"It's an order from the capitol ma'am," he said clearly feeling very uncomfortable.
"On what grounds?" Betty wanted to know.
"I'm not privy to that information ma'am, so I can't answer that question. All I know is that there is an arrest warrant out for Sigrid Myers."
"So Sigrid risks her life to rescue those poor children from the basement, she gets them to safety, would've been able to come with us away from some maniac waving a gun, but instead she ran back into the woods to help Inspector Clemente catch the guy who shot one of your own, Charles Benoit." Meg threw her hands up in the air. "Tell me, where is the logic in that?"
"If this is all a misunderstanding, I'm sure it will be cleared up as soon as Ms. Myers is in our custody."
"In your dreams, son," Grace said. The expression on her face was one of pure determination. "I have known Pastor Myers for years and she is the kindest, most gentle person I know. She would never, ever hurt somebody willingly. And I stand by what I said before; I was in that church the day they found the body. If Sigrid is a suspect in his murder then I should be too."
"As I should be," Betty said.
"And I," Meg added. "So what are you waiting for? Put us in jail."
"Yes, by all means, throw us into the slammer," Grace said. "Just remember, we do get to make one phone call and I can promise you it will be a good one. After all, I am way older you are and have connections you can only dream of."
"That's right," Betty said. "And since there are three of us that will make three very interesting phone calls, I can't wait. I've always wanted to be on ‘Good morning, America '."
"And don't forget girls, that young lady that was with Inspector Benoit is Casey Planters. She's an investigative reporter and if anyone can get to the bottom of this, it will be her." Grace shot the young police officer look of triumph. “She's on our side, and I'm sure her connections are even better than ours."
"Ladies, please, all I want right now is to take your statements. If your friend is innocent we'll know soon enough. Remember, in this country one is innocent until proven guilty."
"He's not only young, but idealistic as well," Grace said with a laugh.
"At least he's cute," Meg added.
Betty chuckled but when she noticed the young police officer was blushing and was getting increasingly nervous, she took pity on him. "Listen, Officer Bradford, I apologize for giving you such a hard time. We know you're just doing your job, but it's our friend who's in trouble and she doesn't deserve that. Especially not after all the things she's been through." She looked up to him from the hard, wooden bench they had offered her as a seat. "The last thing I want is to make your life harder. My friends and I know you have a job to do, and we appreciate that, we truly do. But I hope you understand our frustration, because from the moment we set foot into this building, we've been separated from those poor little children. I know they are here somewhere, and I'm happy they're safe, but do you have any idea how scared they are? Especially those two little ones. They don't even speak our language. But we've been with them since yesterday afternoon and they know us. Is it too much to ask to let us into the same room they are in? Not just for our sake, but theirs. Especially theirs."
"Can you imagine what they have gone through, Officer Bradford? They've been taken from their families, shipped to a different part of the world, to be sold like slaves." Grace said with tears in her eyes. "In their young lives they've already experienced so much fear and hurt, they'll most likely carry around the scars of that for the rest of their lives."
"If we can just sit with them, and give them a little bit of comfort, I'd be very grateful," Meg said in a soft voice. "Please."Officer Bradford slowly nodded and got up from his chair. He looked across the small room to where one of his fellow officers was sitting at a desk, waiting for a phone call from Concord . A silent conversation took place and when Officer Bradford turned back, the expression on his face was a mixture of determination and resignation. "Follow me," he said. "I'll take you to them."
Continued in Part 16
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