|Mystery and Crime Fiction posted July 20, 2014||Chapters:||...65 66 -67- 68...|
the rock fortress
A chapter in the book Along the Jericho Road
A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
"IF TO DISBELIEVE IS TO BE DISARMED, THEN THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE."
-- MALACHI MARTIN, EXORCIST
Agent Dresden Stredwick slid his finger along the surface of the map then stuck a pin into its surface. He addressed the man who stood at his side. “According to Jana, this is the location of her family's hunting cabin.”
“That's at the edge of the reservation which is both good and bad for us,” Sheriff Derek Oleson replied.
“It's sparsely populated. Which reduces concern for public safety. But it's also densely forested with limited access. Most of the secondary roads are little more than foot-paths.”
“This location is only accessible by foot?"
“Only been there once. If memory serves me, it's possible to get vehicles close to the house, but is that wise? We'll need at least two vehicles, not including the SWAT team, and we run the risk of spooking Pearce. Who knows what he'll do in a panicked state.”
“How far from the main road?”
“By my estimate, less than a mile.”
Agent Stredwick faced the remaining law enforcement personnel seated around the conference table. “The kidnapping of Danika Marten complicates this mission. We must proceed with extreme caution under the intense scrutiny of the press and do everything we can to prevent their interference.”
“You'd have better luck keeping flies off horse shit," Sheriff Oleson interjected.
Laughter eased the tension in the room.
A firm knock at the door brought the group to attention. Into the room strode three clean-shaved, muscular young men wearing black parkas with a golden SWAT logo. They oozed assurance as they circled around Agent Stredwick. He shook hands with each of them before making eye contact with the group.
“Everyone, let me introduce Agents Jarvis, Meteer and Racine. They've just arrived by helicopter from St. Paul and comprise our take-down team.” The three men nodded and stepped into the background.
Detective Skeets Epstein lifted his finger.
The FBI profiler nodded in his direction. “You have a question, Detective Epstein?”
“Do we have any idea of what Jana's intentions are in regards to her uncle? She's a team player, don't get me wrong. But her priority may be to save him no matter the cost to herself.”
Agent Stredwick signaled for the sheriff to answer the question.
“Jana knows bringing in Edward Pearce, preferably alive, is of tantamount importance, Skeets. She's also got Father Brian with her, so I would expect her to take his safety into consideration.”
Skeets persisted. “She's in the company of her cousin, right? He may have a different opinion on how this whole scenario should play out on his reservation.
Derek's cell phone vibrated. His pulse started to dance when he recognized the caller as Detective Burke. Did she forget a detail or has something gone wrong?
He caught Stredwick's eye and cocked his head in the direction of the hallway. Exiting the room, he moved to a quiet spot so as not to be overheard.
“Sheriff Oleson speaking.”
“Derek, thank God you answered. I can't give you all the details right now, but Edward Pearce is dead.”
“You take him down?”
“Ty attempted to arrest him. He received a shoulder wound before fatally shooting Pearce.”
“What about the hostages?”
“Derek, something unimaginable has happened.”
His gut twisted with foreboding. “Tell me.”
Rick... our Rick... he's the department mole. He got here ahead of us and he's on the run. He's taken Danika Marten for leverage is my guess.”
“Christ. Are you sure?“
Yes. He was last seen heading in a westerly direction. Ty, Jake and myself have put our heads together, and we think his destination is an abandoned iron mine at the edge of the reservation.”
“What about Tony?”
“He's alive... barely. An ambulance is on its way.”
“I'm glad for you and for us. Danika Marten presents enough of a challenge. Any idea what kind of shape she's in?
“Not good. Ty heard a woman screaming earlier. We also found blood on the floor where Pearce was keeping her.”
“He's your partner, Jana. Have you got any idea at all why Rick is doing this?”
“Derek, I...” He heard an escaped sob.
“Sorry, Jana. That was unfair. I'm as shocked as you are.”
“Father Brian knew, Derek. He knew before I did that Edward Pearce was dead, that my uncle was safe. We were almost to the cabin when he made me stop the car and let him out. I didn't want to, but he said he had a soul to save. Do you think he was talking about Rick?”
“Rick's Catholic. I don't know... maybe... but that complicates things further.” I wish you hadn't let him leave.
“I'm heading to the old mine, Derek. I wanted to let you know. There's no use giving me an order to stay put.”
“Jana, the Feds have sent their best shooters. The team will err on the side of caution in dealing with a fellow cop. Don't make this situation more difficult than it needs to be.”
“Rick is more than a partner, Derek. You know what I'm talking about. I can't abandon him to whatever fate has planned. He might listen to me.”
“And he might be having some sort of psychotic break. Whatever his reasons, this will not end well for Rick. You don't have to save him, Jana.”
He could hear the sadness in her ragged reply, “You may be right, but my heart tells me I have to try.”
Rick's head felt like a ripe melon ready to burst. With each step, the pain increased so that he saw the path through a haze of red. He smelled the beast's rank breath and felt its presence. A voice – its voice – told him when to turn and when to go straight. He followed in blind obedience despite a vague sense of anguish.
The woman moaned. Rick heard it as if from a spot in space, far above any human meaning. His focus was on reaching the mine.
Now that Pearce is dead, Buell won't have any reason to keep our deal. Danika Marten is my last bargaining chip.
As if responding to Rick's thoughts, Danika grasped the fabric of his shirt, clawing at the skin beneath. Rick staggered to the nearest tree. He threw Danika to the ground face down. When she tried to crawl away, he pressed a foot into the middle of her back.
“You leave me no choice,” Rick said as he brought a vial to her nose. He watched until she grew still. A sliver of sanity in his mind urged him to leave her there. To run as far and as fast as he could from that place. It's too late.
“Coward,” the beast's voice jeered from where it circled just beyond the edge of his vision. “Your hop-head sister is going to die. She's got it all planned. An overdose and adios, hermano.”
Rick grabbed the sides of his head and screamed, “Shut up! I know what my sister needs. Just stick to giving me directions, you bastard.”
He lifted Danika Marten's limp body and hoisted it over his shoulder. The pain in his head was so bad he had to squint to keep out the relentless sunlight in order to keep moving ahead. Finally, he reached the mine entrance. Flanked by trees, it could easily have been missed.
Good cover. Entrance is low, making my height an advantage. It's on a rise which should make it easy to see anyone trying to approach..
He squeezed his way into the mine's interior, being careful not to brush the sides and cause a landslide of fractured shale and granite. Once inside, he laid Danika Marten out on a flat area and checked her pulse. The confirmation she was alive brought a grim smile to his lips.
Rick pulled his phone from his belt. Won't get a signal in here even if I had someone I could call. A clear picture of Jana's beautiful eyes rose in his mind. But in a flash, he saw her in the arms of her FBI boyfriend and anger smashed into his gut, leaving him gasping for breath. Jana, he thought, if only you'd given me a chance.
By degrees, the fugitive pulled himself together. His flashlight illuminated the dangers of the pit's floor. Rick stepped around abandoned mining implements, even shirts covered with bat dung. But it was the cache in the corner that gave him a burst of hope. Tucked away in a corner were crates of Trojan dynamite.
With renewed vigor, Rick gathered the sticks of dynamite and proceeded to stuff them into every orifice of the pit's entrance. Snipers don't give a rat's ass about me, but they won't take a chance on losing their prize: Miss Danika Marten.
Rick looked down at her body and felt no remorse. You aren't worthy of a hair off my sister's head.
He located a clean spot to sit upon and rested his head against the stone at his back. I'm ready. Bring it on, Mr. FBI.”
Exhaustion, then sleep, claimed Rick, rendering him unaware of the black-clad figure clutching a worn, leather valise who slipped from where he hid in the mine's dark interior.
Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Skeets Epstein: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Danika Marten: Kidnapped television anchor.
Rick Morales: Homicide Detective and Jane Burke's partner.
Derek Oleson: Sheriff of Granite Mountain.
Dresden Stredwick, III: FBI profiler.
Ih'e: Sioux for stone
Thanks to AvMurray for the terrific accompanying artwork.
Artwork by avmurray at FanArtReview.com
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