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Pay Attention

 
h3=. Pay

Attention

By

K.L. Barnes

Please purchase only authorized electronic editions. Address correspondence to

[email protected]

Copyright 2014 K.L. Barnes

Shakespir Edition

 

Pay Attention is a work of fiction and, therefore, a product of the author’s imagination and creativity. Any resemblance of names, characters, places or events to actual people, places, or incidents is coincidental.

 

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. And look for other books by KL Barnes. Thank you for your support

 

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Cover Art:

Alchemy Series – Sol Invictus copyright © Rosario Rizzo / Dollar Photo Club

 

Look for these other novels by K.L. Barnes:

 

Pay Series

Pay the Piper

Pay Penance

 

Novella

Up Roan Creek

 

Moms Weekend Mysteries

The Dells

The Row (Coming February 2016)

Prologue

The sirens stopped in mid wail, leaving behind an eerie silence. Muted flashes of red and blue continued to flicker like strobe lights across the dozen or so vehicles strewn across the road. They were parked pell-mell in the brush where a group of search and rescue workers milled solemnly around the scene under a canopy of dark, billowing clouds.

Arnold Baker dug the toe of his work boot into the damp soil and shoved his hands into the pockets of his battered sheep skin coat. Raising an arm, he signaled to the tall, slightly bowed figure crawling from behind the wheel, watching and waiting patiently while the newcomer picked his way over the uneven ground.

“Arnie.” The coroner bobbed his head by way of greeting and the two fell into step as they walked together to the mutilated body.

“It looks like maybe we found that missin’ hiker we been lookin’ for,” Baker speculated.

“Any clue what happened to him?”

“Looks like he probably fell from the ridge up here.” The short, barrel-chested sheriff dipped his balding head toward the edge of the overhang that ended a few feet away. Baker peered up at the coroner from under bushy gray brows and added, “S and R had a time pullin’ him up from the bottom of the ravine. He was wedged in pretty tight down there and the critters’ve had a go at him, so you just might have a rough go figurin’ out exactly what killed him.”

“If I didn’t know you better Sheriff, I’d say that sounded like a challenge,” Sam Kaufman said light heartedly as he slapped the sheriff on the back. Sam was tall and gaunt, slightly stooped from a life of bending over to avoid knocking his head on every other door frame. The contrast in their appearance and difference in education made the two men an unlikely pair, but early on they had discovered a mutual love of books and the pleasures of fishing that led to a solid friendship. Kneeling down together over the body, they studied the decomposing form. Most of the skin and muscle of the extremities had been torn away, leaving the bones jutting and exposed. Ragged pieces of what appeared to be a faded flannel work shirt were stuck here and there to denim jeans and a tough leather hiking boot still clung to one foot. As with the rest of the body, the boot was almost completely covered with dirt and twigs.

“Well, it looks like the wildlife sure has had a hay day,” Sam said doubtfully, his brow furrowed as he concentrated on the pathetic form before him. “I suppose this poor guy could be your hiker, but I’d say from the looks of it that he’s been dead for more than a few days. Of course, I can’t really say anything for sure until after the autopsy.”

Sheriff Baker shrugged and nodded in a maybe-maybe not sort of agreement while he chewed down the end of the toothpick he’d been swilling between his teeth. Waited for his old friend to take in the details of the gruesome cadaver. It wasn’t long before his patience was rewarded with Kaufman’s shocked exclamation.

“Jesus H. Christ, Arnie! What in blue blazes happened to his head?”

“Well now, that’s a good question Sam, but I only know one kind a’ animal that skins the hair off its supper ‘fore he sits down to eat.”

*****

Chapter 1

As was typical, Glenn Makula ended up being the last one out of the office at the end of a really long day. More and more they were all becoming long days. Hell, it had been a really long week for that matter, and he planned to go home on this particular Friday evening to a good nights’ sleep.

Glenn could hear Lily’s voice in his head, reminding him that if he didn’t slow down, one of these first times he was going to crash and then he wouldn’t be any good to her or his patients. He smiled and told himself he would make it up to her this weekend with a tour of the valley’s vineyards and a whole day of wine tasting.

Checking to make sure that everything was turned off and the alarm was set before he twisted the key, he gave one last tug on the door. Ducking his head against the misting rain, he made his way down the stairs off the back porch of the old Victorian where he had set up his practice almost two years ago, and started toward the black Jaguar parked just a few feet away. A slight movement caught his attention and, just as he looked up, Joseph Binyon came lumbering around the corner of the house.

“What the hell is he doing here?” Glenn mumbled under his breath, talking to no one in particular. He had an instinctive dislike for the big ogre and he was always on edge whenever he was forced to meet the man’s cold gaze. He started to open the car door, hoping he could drive away and pretend he hadn’t noticed him, but by then Joseph was in the parking lot. He was obviously agitated, waving and babbling something about the kids needing him right away.

However annoyed or edgy Glenn might be with the father, he would never ignore the needs of the kids and he immediately forgot about trying to pretend he hadn’t noticed him there. It never occurred to Glenn that Joseph’s behavior was completely out of character, his first and only concern being for the kids. All he could hear was the sense of urgency in the other man’s tone and the almost panic stricken expression on his face.

“Where are they?” Glenn asked and then, without waiting for an answer, added in disgust, “I’ll follow you, but we might need an ambulance this time. I don’t care what your convictions are!”

Pressing the button to unlock the door, he yanked it open in a fit of temper and was leaning in to throw his medical bag in the backseat when a sudden, overwhelming jolt hit him hard between the shoulder blades. Gasping at the blow, he fell face first across the console. It was as if an electrical shock had robbed him of the ability to move his arms or legs and he struggled as someone folded him like a rag doll into the car. He was beginning to lose consciousness, but still tried to twist away and instead, came face to face with his attacker.

A much younger version of Joseph was leaning over him, shoving him roughly down on the floor.

“Carl, you little prick!” Glenn snarled the words and was horrified when all that came out was a drunken mumble. Drool rolled out of the side of his mouth and down his chin before he lost consciousness.

What little reality there was came to Glenn like snatches of scenes from a movie, flickering in and out of focus. Partially awake now, he felt himself being jostled around on the floor board of a car. His car. He recognized the feel of the engine slowing and accelerating each time it took another winding turn.

Body rocking with the motion of the vehicle, Glenn fought to regain his senses, but the effort only made him more disoriented until suddenly, he turned his head and vomited on the rough carpet chafing the side of his face. He blacked out for a few minutes and when he came to again, everything was even more unclear. Fragments of voices and wispy impressions flitted here and there through his mind, and then everything slowly faded to black.

 

*****

Chapter 2

*T*he wind screamed through the night and the rain slashed down, flooding everything in its hostile path. Odd but familiar items floated past as she grabbed for the arm of the sofa, struggling to maintain her balance. The cow patterned lamp shade from her bedroom, several beloved stuffed animals. Even the colorful dream catcher her uncle Chad had given her for her birthday.

Now she was in the bathroom. What a strange place to be in a dream, she thought. On her lap was a black leather case like the one her mom sometimes took with her to work. Working the two small silver locks, though she didn’t have any idea what the combination was, they suddenly popped open, like magic, and she was able to lift the top. She had never seen so much money!

[_ Looking up from the toilet lid where she was seated – and why was she sitting there?- she found herself being scrutinized by the shadowy image of – herself? _]

No, the girl who stood staring at her was different somehow. She was sad and afraid, the dark circles beneath her eyes betraying her secret despair.

Who are you? She asked, but the young girl just shook her head slowly as if to say, ‘you would not want to know.’

The girl looked back over her shoulder, beckoning, reaching her arm out to curl long fingers toward her several times.

She stared back at the girl, puzzled by the eerie encounter, but couldn’t bring herself to accept the invitation.

“He’ll kill you, you know,” the girl said quietly. “He’ll make me kill you.”

Claire Tidewell woke feeling confused and a little out of sorts. Then she recalled the dream. Sitting up in bed, her eyes frantically searched the room. It was exactly as she had left it last night. Clothes scattered across the floor, back pack dropped unceremoniously at the foot of the bed, and a packed suitcase standing by the door. Yup, her room was perfectly intact. But most importantly, there was no dim reflection of herself standing by her bed, ready to do her in.

Excitement quickly took over and she bounded out of bed, ready to hit the road. They were going north for the weekend and she couldn’t wait to see the family.

 

*****

 

Early Saturday morning, Maeve Tidewell was behind the wheel, headed to the northern part of the state to visit her family for the holiday weekend. Well, if you could really call Halloween a holiday. Madonna blared from the hi-def speakers of the two year old 240SX. The girls sang along, giddy with excitement, bouncing in the back seat where they had both been banned to after the predictable argument over who would get to sit in the front. Maeve figured they must not really mind, since the ongoing dispute inevitably ended with them being banished to the rear where they would have to sit together.

Maeve was used to handling disagreements. Her work with Environmental Impact Relief, a small non-profit concerned with protecting the planet’s natural resources, often required her to call on what few diplomatic skills she had to resolve conflicts between their efforts and the mining community.

Probably she had the kids to thank for the experience she’d gained while trying to resolve their arguments in a civilized manner. That and her pompous director, Walter, who was continually letting Maeve know that her performance was sub-par on some level. Never able to tell her what that level was precisely, he would play with some words, just wanting to make sure she knew how superior he was.

Thank God she had her kids, and her sense of humor, otherwise she’d tell him right where to stuff his superiority and she’d be looking for a job. As if raising two kids on her own wasn’t enough of a challenge on the minor salary she earned.

Those very kids were singing to the Beach Boys now, laughing and cracking jokes at each other and making faces at her in the rear view mirror. Maeve laughed out loud when Claire filled her mouth from her water bottle and gargled the words to Wipe Out in perfect tune with the music.

Maeve was still laughing when she picked up her cell phone from the seat next to her. “Ola,” she said, not bothering to check the caller ID.

“Hey my sister, where ya at?”

“About halfway there. What’s up?” Lory wasn’t only Maeve’s younger sister, she was also one of her best friends, and she was excited to see her again.

“Nothin’ much. Mom and I were just discussing the all-important lunch plans and we wondered where you wanted to eat when you get here.”

“Well, let’s see. Unless things have changed a lot up there in the last few months I guess we probably have about two choices.”

Lory gave a short laugh, said “Call us when you get close and we’ll meet you at the restaurant in the mall. See you in a few,” and hung up.

“Was that Grandma?” Torei, Maeve’s oldest daughter, asked from behind Maeve’s head.

“No, it was Aunt Lory. She wanted to know if I’d dumped you off on the side of the road yet.”

“Ha! Keep dreaming mom,” Torei chided back.

“Hey Mom, did I tell you about the dream I had last night?” Claire had just turned thirteen, and she was a complete joy, most of the time. Maeve’s younger daughter was constantly challenging her parenting skills with her never ending sarcasm and quick wit. Being a single mother wasn’t turning out to be all that bad. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t always perfect, but it was close. Besides, it was better than the alternative, which would mean having to deal with their boob head of a so-called father every day. Maeve counted her blessings that he had moved on to greener pastures.

And that wasn’t fair, she chided herself. She couldn’t blame Bob for being true to himself and following his dream – which was apparently to be the next Doc Severinsen – but it hurt knowing that he chose his music over her.

“Oh, what, did you dream you were a genius or something?” Torei shot the comment at her sister, always trying to match wits with Claire. But being the older of the two by sixteen months, she was much more serious and responsible, with a talent for writing and a nearly infallible memory that never ceased to amaze Maeve.

Maeve shook her head and wondered how they could be so different, and yet so much alike. They were the best of friends, even though they liked to throw verbal barbs at each other.

“No dork, I dreamed that our house was flooded by a monster storm and we had to move out for a while. And then there was this girl, who looked exactly like me?” She said this excitedly, as if waiting for everyone to urge her on, but didn’t wait for their response. “And I was sitting on the toilet with a briefcase full of money and she was going to kill me so she could have it!”

Torei snorted a laugh and pointed out, “How embarrassing. What if you died on the toilet with your pants down? And don’t call me a dork!”

“Whatever. I got away from her, I don’t know how so don’t ask, but the dream was really weird and real,” Claire finished, shaking her head as if she were mystified by the whole thing. “And I don’t know what happened to the briefcase full of money either.”

And so went the conversation for the next hour and a half until they reached the sage brush covered hills of the little mining town where Maeve and her newly formed family had lived after her mother remarried. She didn’t get to see her mother and sister as often as she would like, and the kids always had a good time when they visited. They adored their grandfather and he adored them, so she humored them all and made the tedious drive through the Colorado mountains as often as possible.

Maeve joined in on the silly chatter, but the light hearted feeling had faded. She couldn’t shake the strange tingling in her body that had started with Claire’s words. She tried to chock it up to the fact that she had never liked living in this remote wilderness, and still didn’t care for it even now. Or maybe it was the sharp wind buffeting the windshield and seeping through the doors that chilled her and had her reaching forward to turn up the heat in the car.

Maeve looked over the landscape as she got nearer to town and noted some new houses strung out like a jagged cattle line through the sparse hills. She had to hand it to the community, it just kept trying to grow no matter how little industry came and went in the passing years.

When she pulled up to the mall, the girls scrambled to get out of the car and jostled each other in an awkward race to see who could get inside the shopping center first.

“Wait up!” Maeve called out as she jogged along after them in the frigid wind, tucking her head down into the collar of her jacket to keep her neck warm. The mall had only one restaurant. It had started out years ago serving Mexican food, then changed to a burger and barbecue joint, and when that failed some new owners came in with a Chinese buffet that didn’t last long, and now it was back to Mexican again. Maeve laughed to herself, thinking it was funny that you could go to the same restaurant every month and get something different to eat just about every time.

“Grandma!” The girls called out in unison as they rushed in to get their hugs.

“Hey, share the love,” Lory complained as she stood up and grabbed Torei for a hug of her own. Maeve noticed right away that her sister had let her hair grow to her shoulders and wore the thick, strawberry blonde waves in a loose, casual style. Maeve coveted that hair. Lucky Torei had been blessed with the same gorgeous locks.

“Your hair looks awesome,” Maeve said, giving her mother and sister a heartfelt squeeze before stepping away from the table. “First stop for me is the bathroom,” Maeve said, tossing a wave over her shoulder as she sauntered back toward the kitchen. “Order me an iced tea, okay?”

On her way back to the table, Maeve had to side step a server coming through the hall. The woman carried a large tray laden with empty margarita glasses and a gooey sodden mess that might have been what was left of a mountain of Nachos. Yum. Maeve looked up to see a tall, heavily built man lumbering through the front of the restaurant to seat himself in a back corner. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting about him except the sheer mass of his body, and the air of malice that surrounded him as he purposefully pushed his way through the clutter of tables and serving trays. Maeve shuddered in an instinctive response and hurried back to her family.

“The plan is,” Lory informed them after they had all stuffed themselves on heartburn inducing cuisine, “to shop ‘til we drop this afternoon and then go to the haunted house tonight. You guys can bob for apples and pull taffy and then if you want to you can enter the costume contest.”

“Not after last year!” Claire said.“Remember that girl that was dressed like a mother pig? She sewed all those nipples on her costume and had little baby pigs hanging all over them. We didn’t stand a chance.”

Maeve smiled and looked up toward the back of the room where her gaze fell on the coldly staring eyes of the man she had noticed earlier. He was looking directly at her, or so it seemed, and suddenly he was somehow familiar. Before she could pull her gaze away, he stood and moved his considerable bulk past the other tables and out the door.

Maeve lowered her gaze to stare at her plate and tried to put the moment out of her mind. She told herself she was just, as usual, being over sensitive to other people’s attitudes and that she needed to stop taking things so personally. Pasting a smile back on her face, she mentally joined the group again just as their server came by with the check. Lory made a grab for it, but Maeve slipped it right out from under her hand and passed it off to the server with her credit card before Lory could even get the traditional argument started.

 

*****

 

Several hours later they were watching the other kids’ parade before the judges while Claire and Torei joked back and forth about the creativity, or lack thereof, of some of the costumes. They threw in the towel when a man and woman climbed onto the makeshift stage holding an enchanting infant dressed like a hot dog, complete with ketchup and mustard, his little face peering from between the padded bun.

Maeve had been enjoying the conversation and the atmosphere, but as the evening wore on she began to feel uneasy, as if hidden eyes were staring at her from the crush of people. She scanned the crowd in search of a familiar face, thinking that it was probably just the spooky haunted house atmosphere and the fact that it was Halloween, but she couldn’t ignore the unsettling feeling of being watched. Get a grip on yourself, she thought, but the feeling persisted.

Maeve slowly turned her head and studied every corner of the large open warehouse, trying to place the source of her discomfort. Her gaze landed on a tall, heavy set man dressed in a typical store bought horror mask that looked like something from the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Dressed in insulated coveralls that stretched tightly across his chest and wide expanse of stomach, his legs were like tree trunks, the hem of his pants ending a good inch above the tops of his ankle high work boots. His head was turned directly toward them and it seemed that his attention was focused intently on her and the girls. Instinct had her wrapping her arms around their shoulders, pulling them close.

Almost positive she was looking at the same man from the restaurant where they had eaten lunch, Maeve was about to ask her mother if she knew him. When she turned to look again, he was gone. She couldn’t see him anywhere in the old converted hay barn the town used as a community center.

“Maybe he was just trying to decide if he should ask you out.” Her mother wiggled her eyebrows and teased. It was kind of a running joke in her family, mainly due to the fact that she hadn’t been on a date in… well, forever.

The reality was that she had been painfully bashful as a kid and as unassuming as it was possible for a person to be. As a result, there had been very few dates and no boyfriend’s at all – until Bob came along.

Now she had two children from that failed union and for years her friends and family had been fixing her up with any available man they could find. As far as Maeve could tell, there wasn’t a whole lot of thought going in to those matchmaking attempts and she finally put her foot down. She let everyone know that she wasn’t interested in dating, that her hands were full with raising her two daughters, and that she was perfectly happy with her life just the way it was. She wasn’t about to settle – not in any part of her life – as everyone in her life apparently thought she should.

The sidebar going on in her head didn’t deter her thoughts from the man who she knew had been watching though. She pulled him back into her memory and noticed that the coverall’s didn’t conceal the fact that even though the man was quite heavy, he was still powerfully built. His stature gave her the sense that she was being threatened somehow. Her stomach felt a little queasy at the thought of spending any time alone with the overweight mass murderer.

Tired and distracted and more than a little depressed over the thought, she steered the girls to the car and out of the parking lot. Tomorrow they would head home and fall back into the routine of work and school.

 

*****

 

Joseph Binyon watched as Maeve joined her family ushering her children into the building. It had taken a very long time to find her, but now his search was over. He was afraid he’d given himself away at the restaurant earlier, but then decided it didn’t really matter. Not that she would recognize him anyway. It had been too many years ago.

The Halloween mask he was wearing gave him the perfect opportunity to observe her tonight. She had grown to be quite an attractive woman. She was average height he estimated, about five and a half feet tall, and she wasn’t bone thin like a lot of women these days. The baggy costume she wore hinted of well-rounded curves and she gave the impression of being strong and capable. Different shades of blonde glistened in her long hair as she turned her head to search for him. But the eyes! The eyes were what made her special.

Joseph watched Maeve from a far corner, satisfied to see her looking for him now.

She knows I’m here for her!

Now he knew. Now he understood the power that had been given to her. And he knew that it had been given to her for him to use. Satisfied that she had indeed nurtured her gift, at least to some extent, he knew she would be useful to him just as he hoped.

Joseph thought for a moment as his eyes traveled around the room, far from amused at the ridiculous behavior of the people crowding the large structure. He almost wished he could feel pity for the senselessness of their lives, though not one of them would be worthy of his attention. But he was an unemotional man, he reminded himself with a sigh, and after all, his patience had paid off and he would soon have what he needed to separate himself from the goings on of every day society. Joseph watched Maeve as he passed through the door and was satisfied to see her looking for him now. Then he walked out to the truck he had parked in the lot and drove south, away from the ugly little town. He had work to do and then he would settle in and wait for the woman to come to him.

 

*****

Chapter 3

The last time somebody disappeared in the valley he had shown up five years later in Mexico, drinking Margaritas and enjoying the simple life. The guy had been a teacher and well respected in the community, but the responsibilities of day to day life had finally got him down. So he ran his car into the river and left everyone thinking he drowned. You just never could tell what someone was going to do.

Detective Kyle Worth sat on an over-sized leather sofa and studied the round, sweet face of the middle aged woman perched on the edge of the chair across from him. Tears of worry and frustration were beginning to spill over onto her perfectly made up cheeks and she was on the verge of falling completely apart.

Lillian had become terribly concerned about her boyfriend after he failed to keep a date yesterday morning, and she had been unable to reach him since. His office staff, family and friends had all been contacted but no one claimed to have seen or heard from him since Friday evening.

As far as Worth could tell, the good Doctor Makula had stayed late for a critical patient, something he did more often than not, and usually solo. He routinely sent the rest of his staff home to their families long before he finished his last appointment.

“Glenn works so hard, and his practice means everything to him.” Lillian’s voice kept breaking as she tried to make him understand. She twisted the handkerchief in her hands until it was ready to fall apart.“We had Saturday plans for weeks, and he would never do this.”

“You didn’t argue, have words over anything?”

“We never argue, there just isn’t anything in our lives to fight about,” Lillian assured him in response to Kyle’s last question, bringing his attention back to the conversation. By all accounts Dr. Makula was a hardworking man who was devoted to his practice, and though most considered him slightly remote, even arrogant at times, not one of them thought he would leave town without letting his staff know if he had made plans to be gone.

The thing was, all of his clothes were still hanging right where they should be. His luggage was stacked in the closet and his underwear folded and placed very precisely in the oversized dresser drawers. There was absolutely nothing to indicate that he had left unexpectedly.

Worth was working diligently to cover all the bases and so far hadn’t come up with a thing. Forty-eight hours had passed since anyone had seen Glenn Makula, and things weren’t looking good. All he could do was offer assurances to the distraught woman and keep beating the bushes for signs of the doctor’s vehicle, and keep his fingers crossed that they didn’t find a body with it.

 

*****

Chapter 4

They left Sunday afternoon, but by the time Maeve’s mother had talked her into going out to lunch and then having to prod the girls repeatedly to get their things together and loaded in the car, it was much later in the day than Maeve had intended and they didn’t arrive home until well after dark. The girls slept most of the way, leaving Maeve’s mind free to wander over her plans for the week.

Reviewing what she could remember of her schedule, she made a mental note to take the girls shopping for new coats and gloves. They were growing so fast! She felt a pang of sadness that they weren’t small anymore. They had been beautiful babies and she missed their chubby little hands and cheeks and the way their tiny teeth made her think of perfect pearls when they smiled. They were both in braces now, and had lost that layer of baby fat a long time ago. Now they were growing tall and slender like their dad. That was another blessing Maeve counted every day; that they had gotten the skinny gene from their father.

The girls had a dentist’s appointment on Thursday and she added that to her mental calendar, mumbling to herself as she went down the list of things she needed to do.

She’d started talking to herself a lot lately and wondered if she should be concerned. Maybe she was starting to lose it a little and she’d be like her paranoid, demented grandmother before too long. Maybe the paranoia part was already starting to set in, considering she had been on edge the whole weekend. She tried to narrow the feeling down to something she could focus on, but visions of the strange man in the haunted house kept flitting in and out of her thoughts.

Adding to her confusion were details of the dream Claire had talked about. Now why would she be putting those two completely unrelated issues together? It didn’t make any sense and she tried unsuccessfully to put the whole thing out of her mind.

The girls were waking up just as Maeve pressed the button for the garage door opener and pulled the car in. Since tonight was actually Halloween, there was a smattering of teenage trick-or-treaters wandering the neighborhood and the couple who lived across the street sat out in the driveway passing out candy.

Maeve tooted her horn and waived, then opened the trunk to lift out the suitcases and drag them inside.

The girls crawled sluggishly out of the car and headed into the house to get ready for bed.

Claire let out a screech that had Maeve dropping the bags.

“Mom, somebody’s in the house!” she squealed.

“No there’s not,” a perplexed Torei said from the doorway, “but there’s water everywhere and it sounds like it’s still running.”

Maeve immediately shoved the girls back toward the car, grabbed her cell phone and walked quietly to the door.

It was bitter cold outside under a crystal clear sky, but there was no denying she could hear the inexplicable sound of falling rain coming from inside the house.

She felt fairly safe with all the activity going on right outside so she reached for the door and pushed it open. She stood and stared, struck dumb by the steady stream of water that poured from the ceilings and flooded everything in the house.

“Oh my God.” She started into the house but only got a few feet before she realized that the ceilings were gone. Pounds of sopping wet sheet rock and popcorn texture were strewn across most of the floor. The furniture was completely ruined there and in the bedrooms as well, where water continued to spray from the pipes that were now exposed in the ceiling.

“Uh oh,” the girls had come in behind her and were staring around in awe at the devastation caused by the gushing water.

“What’s going on Mom, what happened?” Torei asked, her deep cornflower blue eyes opened wide in astonishment.

“Oh hell! It looks like the refrigeration guys didn’t get over here to winterize the swamp cooler and the pipes froze and broke. I’ll call the landlord and see what he wants us to do.”

Maeve sat down on the step and took a couple of deep breaths. She wanted very much to cry, but she’d been through a lot worse in her life and tears seemed like a ridiculous waste of energy over a problem that could so easily be solved. Besides, she could always have a meltdown later. Instead she picked up the phone and started dialing.

“We’ll have to spend the next few days in a hotel, there’s no way can we stay here.” Maeve told the girls after she hung up. In an effort to calm herself as much as the kids she added brightly, “We’ll just pretend we’re on vacation until we get things straightened out.”

Two hours later a very tired and bedraggled mother and her two young daughters finished registering at a local hotel and carried their bags up to their room on the third floor.

It wasn’t until she was falling asleep that Maeve remembered the dream Claire had talked about from two nights before. Maeve wondered, as she had so many times in her life, if the dream had been a vision of the future, or if the future was the result of the dream.

 

*****

 

Monday morning dawned cloudy and cold, with the wind whipping the tree limbs and throwing the dead brown leaves violently through the air. Maeve watched the whirling debris through the hotel window, pacing the floor while she talked to Beth. The beautiful and energetic young woman had come to work for EIR almost two years ago after she decided that she wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. She was bright and efficient and could handle just about anything, and she was also Maeve’s dearest friend, so Maeve shared the events from the night before with as much humor as she could muster.

“Sheesh, Maeve, what a mess. If you wanted new furniture you should have just gone out and gotten it and passed on all the drama,” she joked. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything here and call you on your cell if anything needs your immediate attention. Do you think you’ll be in tomorrow?”

“It shouldn’t take me any more than a day to get everything situated, but we’ll probably be here at the hotel for the rest of the week. The contractors have to wait for everything to dry out before they can replace the ceilings and carpet, but we may be able to move back in next weekend. I’ll check in with you later and see how things are going.”

“Take your time.” Beth assured her that there wasn’t anything there that she couldn’t handle for the moment.

“Thanks, Beth, I owe you one.” Maeve hung up feeling confident that everything was under control, then called the school to have the girls excused from class. The two chatted happily at the lucky disaster that allowed them an extra day off from school and discussed in great detail the stories they would have to tell their friends tomorrow.

The hotel offered a large indoor swimming pool, viewed through a wall of glass that extended from the south side of the lobby approximately sixty feet to the north exit and was decorated with palm trees and tropical plants. The girls were on a mission to make the most of their free day and they’d been nagging her for the past hour to let them spend the day at the pool.

“Can’t we go swimming, Mom, please?” Torei pleaded. She lounged in her trademark position in the center of the unmade bed, propped on her elbows with her legs bent and her feet in the air.

“Doesn’t that hurt your back?” Maeve stood with her hands on her hips, wrinkling her nose and studying Torei’s posture as her legs swung back and forth like a ticking pendulum.“It can’t be good for you to lie on your stomach like that all the time.”

Claire had been begging to go swimming all morning and she sat forward eagerly as she saw one more opportunity to try and persuade her mother to give in.“Well, if we could go swimming, it would give her a chance to stretch her muscles and she won’t be lying on her stomach.” Claire offered the suggestion in her most mature and logical tone, her expression as serious as a trial court lawyer who knew she couldn’t win.

“Ha ha, not happening,” said Maeve with a scowl.“I have some things to do before we leave and then we have a lot of shopping to do, remember?“Why don’t you two take a shower and get dressed now. I’m going to call the insurance company and get the claim started while you get ready.”

Like the energetic children they were, they began tossing clothes out of their luggage, talking animatedly and bickering over which of them would get the bathroom first.

Maeve followed behind, scolding them for the minor disaster area they had managed to create and trying, as always, to restore order amidst the chaos.

 

*****

 

There were mothers dragging their tired and fussy children from store to store, men as well as women of all ages dressed in suits and ties grabbing hurried lunches before rushing back to the office, and groups of young women in two’s and three’s in search of just the right outfit for a night out on the town. Maeve didn’t like to judge, but she sure hoped they would choose something more flattering than the too tight bottoms and skimpy tops that showed off more than one oozing muffin top. She wondered for the umpteenth time when that look had come in to fashion. Maeve seemed to constantly be checking for her own pastry growth these days and she straightened her posture a little just to make sure nothing was hanging over the top of her jeans.

She had inherited her mother’s voluptuous curves and had finally come to accept that she would never be model thin, but that didn’t mean she should just stop trying.

After visiting several stores and ordering the new furniture and shopping for a few other absolute necessities, Maeve and the girls sat down at a table near the middle of the food court and enjoyed their lunch while they watched the people go by. Maeve decided the time was as good as any to broach the subject of Claire’s dream.

“Well, the house got flooded just like in your dream.” She began, mentally encouraging Claire to take over with her own thoughts about what that might mean.

“Yeah, I guess so,” was all she got in return as Claire dunked her fries in some secret sauce and stuffed them in her mouth.

“Maybe when we get home we’ll find a briefcase with a bunch of money in it.” Torei offered happily with her mouth full of pizza.

“That’s gross, Tor, don’t talk with your mouth full.” Claire scolded her and then returned to drowning her fries in the puddle of sauce.

“So, what do you think happened, miss manners?” Maeve said with more than a little sarcasm as she watched her daughter drip a mucky combination of ketchup and mayonnaise down the front of her shirt.

“Do you think maybe you had a vision of the future?”

“I don’t know, Mom, I don’t see how that could be since we don’t have a briefcase full of money.”

“Well I think,” Torei said “that Claire probably used the power of her mind to make her dream real.”

“You mean like magic? Is that possible, I mean to think about something and then it happens?”

Torei warmed to her subject then. “It happens all the time you know. Like when Kenny Franchs was throwing eggs at us, and you picked one up to throw it back at him and his pants fell down? You should have seen it, Mom, it was so funny.”

“Nobody made that happen!” Claire shot back with a grin. “His pants were just too big and when he bent over to duck, they kind of slipped down. Anyway, now everybody knows that Kenny wears tighty whities. I think they call it karma or something like that.”

“I don’t think so, I think people do things like that but maybe they just don’t know it. Maybe you could think up a briefcase full of money for us, but leave out the doppelganger so Mom won’t have to worry about you getting snuffed on the toilet.”

Everyone laughed out loud and Claire grimaced. “Ooow, I just snorted ketchup out my nose.”

“What in the world is a doppelganger?” Maeve might have heard the term somewhere before but she didn’t have any idea what it meant.

“A doppelganger is someone who looks exactly like you but they’re, like, your evil twin.” She explained this with a nod and a serious look in her eye. “Everybody has one but you really don’t want to meet them.”

“And where did you happen to come up with all this?”

“Internet. There’s all kinds of cool stuff on there, Mom.”

Maeve wasn’t sure how she felt about the information Torei was interested in, but she didn’t want to stifle her natural curiosity, so she kept her tone light.

“I don’t know if you’d call it magic, but some people believe that we all have the power to create our futures. They say that if you think about something enough you can actually make it happen.” Maeve informed them.

“What do you think, Claire?”

“I don’t know, maybe I’m a witch or something. Next time Torei gets on my nerves I’ll try sticking her lips together. I’ll let you know how that turns out.”

“Hey!” Torei blurted, smacking Claire on the arm.

“I think you would be better off using your powers only for good rather than evil.” Maeve preached jokingly.

“But just in case, it might be a good idea if you started thinking happy thoughts and maybe even drive away your little look alike, just to be on the safe side.”

People had the ability to do incredible things with their minds. Maeve felt that on an emotional level, but she just couldn’t get her mind around it intellectually. Even after all of these years, she had not learned anything about what it meant or how it was supposed to work. She couldn’t even count the number of times she had thought passionately about something that she wanted, or more often something she feared, and then suddenly there it was. There were many times that a vivid dream would come to her in the night, only to come back to her in reality the next day.

And how often had a name or face popped into her mind, followed very soon by a phone call or visit from that very person? It suddenly occurred to her that she hadn’t had a dream that she could recall in a very long time and she wondered why. And why hadn’t she noticed before now?

Maeve’s attention was drawn back to the table by Claire tugging on her sleeve. Maeve looked up to see her two young daughters staring open mouthed, pointing comically at a small group of teenagers strolling through the court area. In the current fashion of a lot of young people they were decked out in baggy torn jeans, black leather coats with skull and cross bones on the back, swastikas on the sleeves, numerous and varied facial piercings and pale skin with dark lipstick. The center boy sported a two foot tall Mohawk that swayed back and forth as he strutted alongside his friends.

Oh– my– God,” Torei laughed and covered her face.

“Stop pointing!” Maeve said as she grabbed Claire’s hand and pulled it down.

About that time the boy with the Mohawk turned his head and grinned at the two girls, as if he had heard the whole conversation and thought it very amusing. The girls smiled back and giggled.

He was a handsome kid of about sixteen with dark hair, a tanned complexion and that James Dean sort of attitude that girls usually fall for.

At least he’s not wearing makeup, but it’s too bad about the hair, thought Maeve, as she watched the group saunter away with the wide legged stride they had adopted to keep their pants from falling all the way down.

They finished their shopping, or at least as much of it as Maeve could handle for the day, and headed back to the hotel so the girls could take their long awaited swim. They changed into the new suits they’d gotten at the mall, while Maeve threw on a pair of soft knee length shorts and a tank top. Funny how she’d been planning to buy coats earlier in the week and now they were dressed like it was summer vacation. She wasn’t intending to swim, but she’d sit by the pool and keep an eye on the girls while she took care of some paperwork.

They stepped on the elevator and pushed the button for the main floor just as a tall, heavily built man wearing overalls and work boots came around the corner. He didn’t attempt to ride down with them, just stood with his hands in his pockets and watched as the doors slowly closed.

“That guy was kind of creepy,” whispered Claire.

“I know. I’ll bet he didn’t even have to wear a costume for Halloween,” Torei said.

Maeve was so shocked at seeing him there she was barely able to breathe. What was this man doing here? And what were the odds that she would see him here, when she had last seen him over a hundred and fifty miles away only two days ago? There was no mistaking the round jaw blending into the dense double chin that connected seamlessly with his huge neck. Now she was absolutely certain that the man from the restaurant and the man from the haunted house were one and the same, and that he was now staying in her hotel in a completely different town. This was almost too much of a coincidence to ignore and she decided to try being more aware of her surroundings from now on. As they left the elevator Maeve walked with the girls over to the glass walled pool area and opened the door.

“I’m going right over here and make a reservation for dinner, I’ll be right back.”

There were several families swimming and playing and though Maeve was still uneasy, she felt comfortable leaving the girls to walk no more than twenty feet away. They were both good swimmers and she would still be able to keep an eye on them from the counter. Her friends and family were always giving her a hard time about being over protective, but Maeve couldn’t stand the thought of what her life would be like if anything ever happened to one of the kids.

“Mom, Mom.” Maeve looked up less than a minute later, discomposed to find Torei a little pale and uneasy, shifting from one foot to the other in agitation.

“Where’s Claire?” Maeve demanded, berating herself whole-heartedly for letting the girls out of her sight for even a second.

“She’s over by the pool, but Mom, there’s a girl who looks exactly like her there too. I think it’s her doppelgänger.” Considering their conversation earlier in the day, Maeve could understand Torei’s anxiety over this other girl and she was not about to discount her distress, so she tried to calm her while she walked quickly over to where Claire was standing in front of the glass.

“Don’t you remember, she was trying to kill Claire in her dream?”

All of a sudden Maeve felt a thrill of fear pass through her chest and down through her belly like a physical blow.

She almost ran the last few steps then as the reality hit her, the realization that Claire had seen the future, or had she created the future? Could Claire somehow be in danger?

Maeve focused on her daughter who was standing facing her with her back to the glass wall surrounding the pool. As Claire stepped away from the wall, Maeve could see someone standing on the other side with her back to the glass.

From behind, the girl had the same waist length blond hair, the same long gangly limbs, and the same lazy posture as Claire. They had been standing back to back, almost like a mirror image. As Claire came toward Maeve, grinning and obviously unaware of the twin standing behind her, she poked her finger accusingly at Torei. Asked, “Where did you go?”

“I got scared,” said Torei.“Didn’t you see her? There’s a girl on the other side of the wall who looks exactly like you, so I went to get Mom before she could do anything to hurt you.”

Very slowly Claire turned her head and looked through the glass. At the same time, the young girl on the other side turned to look out. Pale gray-green eyes stared back from a long slender face with freckles scattered like cinnamon across her thin nose and high prominent cheek bones. Claire, but at the same time, not Claire.

Maeve felt a sharp jab of adrenaline that had her grabbing both girls by the arm and racing into the stairwell. They ran as hard as they could up three flights of stairs until they reached their floor. Maeve finally began to laugh at her ridiculous behavior, but the humor had an underlying edge of hysteria that she didn’t like. The girls were laughing too when she unlocked and threw open the door. She nudged the girls inside and slammed it forcefully behind them.

“I have to get a grip on myself here,” Maeve said breathlessly, more to herself than to the two now perched on the edge of the bed.

Claire caught her breath and, her mood suddenly sober, murmured quietly.“That was the girl in my dream Mom, why do you think she’s here?”

“Well, she must be here to steal your briefcase full of cash, don’t you think?” Torei tried to ease her mind with the joke.

“Don’t be stupid, I don’t have a brief case or any money, and you know it.” Claire snapped at her sister in irritation. Then she felt bad for biting her head off when she saw Torei’s face.

“I was just kidding, you know I was really scared that she was going to hurt you and I didn’t know what to do.” Torei sat hugging her legs close to her chest, her cheek resting on her knees.

“Okay, I really don’t think an eleven year old girl would be waiting out there to cause any harm. We all just over reacted and had a moment of panic.” Maeve said as calmly as she could.

She wished she were able to shake off the nervous feelings of only a few short minutes ago and believe that she had over reacted, but the truth was she couldn’t help fearing which part of the dream would come to pass next.

 

*****

 

Joseph watched her get on the elevator and recognized the uneasiness in her deep, ever changing grey blue eyes, wondering at the power she must possess. He waited, then pushed the down button and rode the elevator to the lobby and the pool area.

The young thin girl with long blonde hair walked toward him warily, carrying a towel and looking at her feet as she moved.

“They’re going out to dinner pretty soon,” she said, making sure to keep her eyes trained on the floor so she wouldn’t have to see the satisfaction on her father’s face.

“It won’t be long now, Faye, and everything will be as it should be,” replied the man, placing a possessive hand on her shoulder.

 

*****

Chapter 5

*S*he was a Dolphin, swimming rapidly through the muddy water in search of her shoes. Suddenly, the sparkling sandals were in her hand and she shot up out of the water, silver droplets glittering in the sun as they fell from her sleek body and flew through the air. Then hands were grabbing at her to pull her out of the water and she was laughing, they were all laughing joyously as they splashed back into the cool, bubbling spring.

 

It must be almost twenty years now since Maeve’s family said goodbye to the beautiful rock gardens that bordered the irrigation canal. She thought of the smile that formed that day, recalling the time she had fallen in to the gently flowing aqueduct. Her grandparents had put the fear of God in them and cautioned about getting too near the water.

Every year at least one person would drown in the icy spring runoff and so it was a constant worry that the channel would claim one of the children as its victim. Maeve and her sisters were always conscious of the danger but the ever flowing water held an attraction that couldn’t be denied.

They would walk down the bank and sit on the bridge, enjoying the floating sensation as they swung their legs out over the flow. One day Maeve was admiring her freshly polished nails through the open toes of her new sandals when all of a sudden one of them dropped with a plop down into the water. She squealed and jumped up, running down the ditch bank, determined to catch up and rescue the thing. Her sisters ran after her and they quickly passed the floating sandal, then stood waiting for it to pass. It was resting on the current, floating slowly closer and closer to the steep bank where it would be a simple matter of reaching out to grab it.

“Hold onto my hand,” Maeve ordered her older sister, who grabbed onto her and planted her feet firmly in the soft marshy bank. Maeve squatted and reached out, grabbing the sandal with her two middle fingers. Elated by her success, she started to stand with the prize in her hand and then whoosh, she found herself in over her head in the water.

I’m going to die, she thought frantically for about a half a second before her feet found the muddy bottom. She pushed up with every ounce of strength she could muster. Maeve shot like a cork clear out of the water and instantly felt two sets of hands grabbing at her. She nearly levitated back onto the road in her rush to get out of the water and heard her older sister laughing.

“You are going to be in so much trouble,” she goaded, and then they were all rolling around, completely overcome by a fit of relieved hilarity.

“What are you smiling about?” Her sister had asked from the seat next to her.

“Remember that time I fell in the canal,” Maeve had answered her with a giggle.

Sitting on the bed now, braiding Torei’s thick red hair and thinking about her first experience with the dreams that showed her glimpses of the future, Maeve smiled a knowing smile.

Torei had such beautiful hair, strawberry blonde some said, with dark auburn woven between the lighter colored strands. She was an exceptionally pretty child with alabaster skin that looked almost transparent at times.

“Earth to Mom, Earth to Mom,” Claire chanted, pulling Maeve’s thoughts back to the present.

“I was just thinking. Since I didn’t get around to making a reservation, where do you two want to go for dinner tonight?”

“Sushi!” They both shouted at exactly the same time. Maeve had introduced them to her favorite food a few years ago, not thinking for a minute that either one of the girls would really enjoy it. But she couldn’t have been more wrong and now every time they had a choice, there was no doubt they would vote for California rolls and salmon sashimi.

They decided to turn dinner into somewhat of an event and dressed in some of their new clothes. Maeve changed into a pair of black loose flowing gaucho slacks and paired them with a long ivory lace t-shirt top, while the girls dressed in almost identical low-waisted jeans embellished with beads, and sixties style blouses with bell shaped sleeves. Maeve often teased them that they might as well have been twins, as they always chose clothes that were alike, with only small differences in color or fit.

She remembered once when they were still so small, only four and five. They were with her at the office, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate with Bill, who at that time had been Maeve’s boss, when he asked them if they were twins.

Torei answered him in all seriousness.“We’re not twins, we’re just the same children.” Laughter brought tears to Bill’s eyes and he entertained himself for weeks with the memory that still brought a smile to Maeve’s face and lightened her heart.

As adorable and funny as the statement had been, it wasn’t all that far from the truth. Sometimes they seemed as if they were each one half of a whole, though at the same time they were true individuals. Claire broke into her reverie with her typical zeal.

“I’m starving, Mom, let’s go. I want to see if they still have that coconut drink with the little umbrella.” Claire and Torei always looked forward to the imaginative drinks and the restaurant’s exotic atmosphere as much as they did the food.

They reached the lobby and left through the front doors, passing by a couple of teenagers standing outside on the curb.

“Hi.” Claire greeted the boys cheerfully as they passed on their way to the parking lot.

“Hi back,” said a tall boy who looked extremely familiar. Maeve guessed that there probably weren’t too many boys running around with two foot tall Mohawks and recognized him as the same kid they had seen at the mall earlier that day.

“Well, isn’t this a coincidence. Like the hair,” she said with an approving smile.

Claire, never one to shy away from meeting new people, asked the question that was uppermost in her mind.“How do you get it to stay up like that?”

The young man laughed and ran his hand along the stiff brush of hair.“Elmer’s glue. It’s kind of a pain to wash out but it works really good. See you guys,” he said and walked away with a casual wave.

“He’s cute.” Claire whispered and nudged Torei in the shoulder as they made their way through the deepening shadows. Maeve could just make out in the near dark that Torei’s face had turned a nice pale shade of pink. They had never paid much attention to boys up until now and Maeve made a mental note to herself to keep a close eye on this new development.

It was getting dark earlier in the evening now as fall slowly turned to winter and Maeve wished her car had a security system so she could turn the lights on and unlock the door from twenty feet away. They appeared to be the only people in this part of the lot and Maeve’s uneasiness grew the further they moved away from the lights of the hotel.

They were almost to the car when she noticed the couple coming toward them from the street. She could make out a large man and what appeared to be a young girl walking toward them out of the gloomy twilight. Maeve began to feel anxious at their approach.

The day had remained cloudy and now it was starting to rain. The quarter moon was hidden behind the clouds and offered no light to define their features. As the two approached, Torei reached for Maeve’s hand and pointed.

“Look, Mom, it’s the girl from the pool.”

Before Maeve could stop her, Claire walked just slightly ahead and offered the girl a big smile.

“Hi,” she said.“I saw you down at the pool earlier. My sister thinks you look just like me, or I look just like you, anyway.”

The girl didn’t smile in return or offer any introduction. She just looked at Claire with a wan expression and said, “I know.”

The man, presumably the girl’s father, had been looking around the parking lot as if he were trying to find something. He looked down at her and she asked,.“Do we have to?”

He simply nodded once, and then raised his arm straight out in front of him parallel to the ground.

Sensing danger, Maeve grabbed the girls and made an attempt to shove them behind her, but it was too late. Something hit her hard in the chest that caused her body to jolt as if she were having some kind of seizure. Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement and realized that Torei was being pulled back and away from her. As she turned to yell for the girls to run, her knees buckled and she tried desperately to stop herself from falling. Before she made it halfway to the ground the man stepped forward to wrap his free arm around her shoulders and lift her unwillingly to the open passenger door of a vehicle parked a few feet away from her own. Maeve tried desperately to scream, barely managing a small wheezing breath of air before the edges of her vision began to close in and she was engulfed in darkness.

 

*****

Chapter 6

Benjamin Drake was about as tired as he had ever been. This ‘vacation’ was wearing him out and he figured it would do him good if he took a little time to relax and actually enjoy himself. The past few months had been hard on them all. When he’d first found out about Katherine’s affair it had torn him apart, his emotions swinging dramatically from anger to sorrow to guilt, and back to anger again.

He was willing to shoulder part of the responsibility. It must have been hard for her all those years while he was traveling, leaving her alone for weeks at a time to raise their son, Jason.

Ben’s job as a freelance photographer had taken him away to some of the most beautiful places in the world, and it had also taken him to some of the worst. But damnit, his choice of career had provided her with a good home and the financial security that she claimed to need so desperately. And he was damn good at it.

She apparently felt that love and money were no longer enough for her and she made the decision to end the marriage without even talking it over.

They separated and filed for divorce when Katherine moved in with the new boyfriend for a while. That is until she decided that the grass really wasn’t greener on the other side.

Now she was making an effort to reconcile and Ben was taking some time to sort his feelings out once again. Jason was angry with her and terribly hurt, to the point that Ben feared the consequences of their getting back together more than he did their divorce.

He didn’t want to think about any of it right now, so he changed into baggy swim trunks, shoved his feet into a pair of rubber flip flops, and headed down to the pool with a towel draped over his shoulders. He stepped off the elevator and spied his son standing out in front of the hotels main doors talking with a woman and two young girls. As they walked away Jason turned and came back into the lobby.

Ben cringed just like he always did at the sight of his only off-spring wearing that ridiculous Mohawk, and told himself for the hundredth, or maybe the thousandth time, that kids needed to be able to express themselves in their own way.

“Who was that?” Ben asked.

“Just some people I saw at the mall today. I guess they must be staying here too,” said Jason.

“I suppose that’s part of the charm of being in a small town,” Ben said.“Why don’t you go change and meet me down here at the pool?”

“It’s an indoor pool dad, that’s just lame.”

Jason evidently couldn’t appreciate the fact that it was too cold to swim outdoors in Colorado in November.

“Look Jase, we took this vacation so we could spend some real quality time together. And since you’re too young to go to the bar,” he tried to joke, “that pretty much leaves the pool for something to do tonight.”

“I thought maybe I could go hang out with the guys I met at the mall today.” He had his eyes trained on the floor and Ben could see his fingers fidgeting inside the pocket of his leather jacket.

“Oh yeah, what were they planning on doing for fun?”

“Just hanging out at this guy Mark’s house and playing some pool. He’s got a table in his basement and Kurt’s going over there too. They’re out in the parking lot waiting for me.”

“Jase, I don’t know anything about these guys or even where they live. I can’t just let you take off in a car without knowing where you’re at.” And then at the dejected look on his son’s face he said, “I’ll take you over there and talk to Mark’s parents. Then I’ll pick you up around ten if that’s okay with them.”

“Awesome! I’ll go let Mark know so we can follow him over.” And with that he turned and loped out the front doors, jumping off the curb with a whoop.

Ben shook his head, thinking, I’m such a sucker. But when he’d been sixteen he wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with the old man either.

 

*****

Chapter 7

Maeve came awake slowly, feeling as if maybe she had been out a little too late and had more than a little too much to drink. She knew her eyes were open but the darkness was so complete that for a moment she wondered if she were dreaming. Ever so slowly she began to feel a dull ache in her arms and chest and the pain of something hard pressing into her spine.

She sat up and swung her legs off the bed. Her feet thudded hard on a floor that felt like it was littered with dirt and maybe gravel, and who knew what else. She gasped and opened her mouth but it was like being caught in a dream. The fright closed up her throat so that she couldn’t make a sound. The silence surrounded her. She found her voice and called out to Claire and Torei but there was no answer and her voice fell close around her, sounding dull and muffled. She began to tremble, terrified for her children and desperate to know where they were.

She stood up and walked forward, her arms stretched out in front of her. She reached a wall after six shuffling steps and began to feel her way around the room in an attempt to find a door. After turning at four corners and finding no sign of a way out, confusion and then panic crept over her as she remembered the meeting in the parking lot and the man who had attacked her, and then she began to scream.

 

*****

 

Joseph could hear her down below, screaming and carrying on. He hadn’t expected her to have such a temper. She was furious! He was surprised at the un-lady like language and he wondered how long she would continue berating him before she got down to business and got herself out.

He recalled the one time he had met her when he was visiting his grandmother. She must have been twelve or thirteen at the time, he was older, getting ready to have his eighteenth birthday.

She had looked at him then with awareness and more than a little fear, as if she could see into his very soul. He knew she could feel his strange detachment from the world and worried that maybe she could read his mind. What she would find there would scare the life out of her and probably get him into a lot of trouble.

The kids in the neighborhood were playing some stupid hiding game they called kick the can and his grandmother had encouraged him to join in. Of course the younger kids had all told him the game would be more fun if he was it, then everyone ran off to hide in the dark, waiting for him to search them out.

They had all been rousted from their hiding places except for Maeve and he had searched everywhere for her, imagining he could smell her and fantasizing about finding her, alone and frightened in the dark.

Curfew was up and the parents were calling everyone in doors before Maeve stepped out of her hiding place to win the game.

It was odd, he thought at the time, that he had searched that spot in the bushes at least three times and yet somehow he had missed her. He thought mockingly that she must have made herself invisible to him, and then he began to believe that there was something very strange and special about the girl as he watched her closely over the next week. He had been young then, and naive to the ways of the universe.

Now he knew. Now he understood the power that had been given to her. And he knew that it had been given to her for him to use.

 

*****

 

“You sick son of a bitch! You stinking bastard! Give me my children! Let me out of here!” After several minutes of venting her anger and fear, some rational sense began to return and she realized that she couldn’t have gotten in here, wherever here was, without some sort of a door.

“Think,” Maeve said out loud. “I’ve got to think.” She walked around the room again, counting her steps this time. It seemed to be about eight feet square with no floor, only bare hard packed earth, no door in the walls. A cellar?

If it was in fact a cellar, then there would surely be a trap door in the ceiling, but there should be some sort of stairs leading out.

There was probably a ladder that could be dropped down from above when the cellar was being used. She squatted down and then jumped, swinging her arms over her head to see if she could touch the ceiling. The backs of her hands cracked painfully against hard rough wood, much closer than she had imagined. Damn that hurt! The ceiling must only be about a foot above her reach.

Scuffing her way across the small cell, shaking her hands to alleviate the pain, she bumped her feet into whatever it was she had been lying on. She reached down and touched a thin old fashioned mattress with metal buttons holding the batting together, then ran her hand along underneath to see what was holding it above the floor. It felt like the seating part of an old metal futon frame with the legs removed, which explained the uncomfortable bar that had been jabbing into her back.

Maeve stepped on top of the mattress, balancing on the bars that were spaced about eight inches apart, and reached up to the ceiling. She ran her hands across every inch that she could reach by stepping from bar to bar so she wouldn’t fall through, but the frame was narrow and she wasn’t able to cover much area before she was forced to move again.

She stepped down from the mattress in frustration and lifted one end of the futon frame, pulling it backward until she was stopped by the wall. She then pulled it to the left until the bed was sitting squarely in the corner. If she kept moving the bed along the wall, she reasoned, she would be able to explore each section of the ceiling without getting disoriented and possibly miss the opening she was searching for. Unfortunately, patience wasn’t one of her virtues. She stepped back up and quickly ran her hands over the wood again, swearing under her breath each time she felt the splinters spearing deep into her fingers. When she didn’t find anything, she stepped back off of the bed and measured the width of it by brushing her leg against the mattress and stepping it off toe to heel. She started then at the edge away from the wall and placed one foot in front of the other until she had measured what she guessed was about three and a half feet. Keeping one foot in place she stepped back toward the bed with the other and reached out, pulling the bed toward her until it reached her planted foot.

Making sure the bed was snug against the wall, she jumped back up and started on the ceiling again.

Suddenly, she heard a scuffling above her head and dropped her hands just as the trap door began to open about a foot to her left. A very dim light filtered down to her and she almost sobbed with relief at being able to establish light from dark again.

A small tray was being lowered on a rope with what appeared to be a candle stub glowing in the darkness. Without any thought Maeve jumped, spurred by reflex, and tried to grab the edge of the opening, but a small tennis shoe kicked her hands away and she fell heavily to the floor.

The voice of a young girl called softly “You shouldn’t have done that, you could have knocked your food over and then you wouldn’t have anything to eat.”

“Who are you?” Maeve cried. “Please tell me what’s going on.”

“My father will tell you soon” the girl said in that same small voice.

“Please tell me where my children are.” Maeve pleaded. “Please, I need to know if they’re okay.

“I’m not supposed to say.” Maeve barely heard the whisper, followed by silence for so long that Maeve thought maybe the child had gone, and then she heard the softly spoken words. “They’re okay.

The door dropped back over the opening and she was alone again.

 

*****

Chapter 8

*T*he house is always the same, she thinks as she drifts through the beautiful old Victorian with its gleaming wood floors and intricately carved mantels. She runs her hand along the banister, feeling the smooth warmth of the wood as she follows the sound of her name being softly spoken from above.

She opens the door at the top of the stairs and is drawn undeniably into the large master suite. The huge mirror is there, pulling her forward toward the left wall of the room. With halting steps she approaches and looks into the mirror to stare back at the pale young girl reflected there. It was her, but at the same time, not her. Ever so slowly she begins to change as she gazes at her reflection in the time worn glass. The edges of the mirror seem to fog over, blurring the image of the ruffled Victorian gown and buttoned up, low heeled boots she is now wearing.

As always, she begins to sense that she is fading into the glass, only to reappear amidst a small gathering of people on the other side. She never knows who they are or why she is among them, she only knows that in this room there is no sense of malice, only deep concern. She searches the faces of those standing, then moves on to the others seated in delicate brocade chairs arranged around an elaborate fireplace, looking finally into the soft gray-green eyes of the woman sitting nearest to her.

The woman seems strangely familiar as she beckons the young girl forward, her hands held before her in a pleading gesture, attempting to communicate with the intensity of her gaze. She is trying to tell her something, something important. If only she could understand.

The woman takes her hand and guides her through the formal dining room where she stops to peer through the huge floor to ceiling windows and gaze out at the lavender and white lilac bushes lining the drive. She turns then and passes through to the back of the house, entering the large country kitchen that overlooks the backyard.

There, the grass is bordered by tall rose hedges and in the center stands a decorative round gazebo. She longs to go out into the sunshine, but instead turns unwillingly to the doorway that beckons her downward into the darkness.

Suddenly she finds herself back on the stairs, not the beautiful wide curving staircase that leads to the second story, but the dark ones descending to the evil place. She hesitates, and then moves haltingly down the long narrow stairs with a sense of dread, not knowing where the feeling comes from but terrified all the same by what awaits her there. As always when she reaches the bottom stair, it moves toward her, silent and unseen, but undoubtedly malevolent in its intent.

The fear overwhelms her, robbing her of breath, and turns her scream into a silent plea.

 

Maeve woke feeling frightened and just as confused as she had every morning after the recurring dream, immersed in the memory of a time long ago. A time when her imaginative dreams first began to form into something more – something almost prophetic. It was amazing to her that she could recall it all so clearly. She had woken that morning in the same disoriented state she found herself in now, wondering why the same dream kept coming back to terrorize her night after night. The strange images felt real, like memories, but where they had come from she didn’t know.

“No, no, no!” Maeve’s moaning and whining and talking in her sleep had pissed Darla off again. Her sister rolled over and punched her pillow, then pulled it over her head to block out the frustrating noise.

“O.K. kids, it’s time to rise and shine,” Mom called from the kitchen.“We’ve got a lot to do today and everyone needs to get moving.”

It was time to get up and get ready for the day but she just groaned and rolled over.

The problem was, once Maeve was awake, she was all the way awake. Trying to go back to sleep just never did work for her. She reached her arms above her head and arched her back while she curled her toes, feeling the stretch in every part of her body and enjoying the invigorating sensation. Then she crawled out of bed and headed down the hall, hoping she’d beat everyone else to the only bathroom in the house.

Maeve and her two sisters, younger brother and their mother had been living with Maeve’s grandparents in an old farmhouse in the country since her parent’s divorce.

Finally, they were moving to a bigger place in town where they would have more space and, hallelujah, more than one bathroom.

Hurrying to get dressed, she bounced down the stairs, the smell of eggs and bacon pulling her toward the kitchen. Grandmas there directing the flow of traffic and swatting at her brother’s hand as he tried to sneak a pancake from the warming plate.

There seemed to be activity everywhere, and she was amazed that she’d been able to sleep through the racket. Her grandfather had organized a group of friends to haul boxes and furniture out to the street and they were all grumbling, amidst a lot of lighthearted banter, over the large accumulation of junk they had been conned into moving.

Maeve felt a sense of anticipation throughout the morning as she hurried to help with the packing and cleaning, but there was something else too. Something that kept telling her this move would change her life forever.

Once the first truck was loaded, they all piled into the family vehicles and formed a caravan, driving away down the long curving drive. Maeve turned to stare out the back window at the farm and the little house that had given them so much. She was sad to think that she would never see it again, and memories flooded her mind of the picnics and happy times they had shared.

She said goodbye to the beautiful rock gardens that bordered the irrigation canal and tried to ignore the sense of foreboding that hovered around the edges of her thoughts.

They entered the downtown historic district and pulled up in front of an aged old Victorian close to the corner of Twelfth and Main streets. Maeve crawled out of the car behind her older sister and walked up the stairs to the screened in porch that stretched across the entire front part of the house. She opened the door into the small foyer and stood there gaping at the large fireplace that dominated the front room. To the left was a cozy sitting room and to the right was another larger one that hosted a long staircase leading to the second story.

She stood in shocked disbelief, knowing she had been in this house before, many times, wandering in the surrealistic fabric of her dreams.

Fearful of what she would find there, she walked through the long formal dining room with ivory walls that appeared to stretch into the distance, passed the large sunlit windows and entered the big country kitchen. As in her dream, the kitchen was painted a sunny yellow and was over half filled with a walk in refrigerator and double ovens.

This would be what had sold grandma on the house, Maeve thought, since she could cook to her heart’s content and never run out of room. Maeve looked through the back screen door onto the yard surrounded by tall rosebush hedges, the small Sound of Music gazebo placed squarely in the center, and then turned right and stared in silent dread at the stairway leading to the basement.

If her grandfather hadn’t been there with her she might never have made it down the stairs. It was he who led all the kids down to show them what was planned for the new “play room.” Maeve’s legs were shaking as she trailed behind.“Maevy wavy wiggle tail, get a move on,” the big man called from the bottom of the stairs. Maeve was filled with anxiety at what she might find down there, otherwise she would have rolled her eyes and huffed at the childish rhyme.

Her grandfather used some form of the name with all the kids and they had grown fond of it, although they would never let him know. A surge of relief came over her as she reached the bottom of the stairs and looked over the well-lit basement. No evil beings, no monsters rushing from the corners to devour the children. Just an empty basement except for the Lincoln Log cabin that granddaddy had lovingly built for them.

The others rushed back upstairs to run through the house, exploring the three levels above the basement and bickering over which one of them would get the biggest room.

Maeve walked slowly, telling herself over and over again in her mind that she must still be asleep. But as she ran her hand along the banister and felt the polished wood surface sliding solidly beneath her touch, she knew that she couldn’t possibly be dreaming. Climbing the stately staircase to the second floor, she found the master bedroom complete with the full wall mirror. She stood staring at her reflection, expecting at any second to see herself in mutton sleeves and petticoats.

“Hey Maeve,” her sister called from across the hall. “Come and see this.”

She knew her sister was calling from the bedroom with the three short steps that led down into a sunken octagon. She had seen it many times before. She left the master bedroom feeling a mixture of relief and disappointment that she hadn’t transformed before her very own eyes, and crossed the hall to see what her sister was so excited about.

This was the room Darla wanted, for the obvious reason that she would be able to sneak out at night by way of the small rooftop deck conveniently located outside the window. Maeve wished she were as daring as her sister sometimes, but she was bashful by nature and more than that, she really hated getting into trouble.

“Do you believe people can be psychic?” Maeve asked Darla as they stood outside on the little deck.

Darla looked at her like she was an idiot.“You are such a big dork.” She shook her head and walked back inside. Maeve guessed she wouldn’t be sharing her psychic experience with this sister and chided herself for even considering it.

They explored the other two large bedrooms, one with the French doors leading onto the catwalk and the other with the little bay window overlooking the roof top, and then admired the bathroom, goggling over the huge claw footed bathtub and antique pedestal sink.

She passed the bathroom and peered into a room she had never seen before that housed a stairway leading to the upper floor and attic. The room had the feel of a nursery, with pretty pink and yellow flowered wall paper and white shag carpeting. She stepped over the threshold and felt it in an instant, the overwhelming malevolence that was here, dwelling silently in this room.

Icy tendrils of fear scurried down her neck and she bolted from the room and scrambled back down the stairs. Her breath was coming in short shallow bursts as she ran, and she turned to look behind her every few seconds.

She reached the main level of the house and turned right past the front room. There in the corner was a room that she always thought of as the study. It was a quiet, decidedly masculine room, where she felt very much at home. Cherry wood bookshelves lined the walls and a heavy carved door led through to a small bathroom. She stepped through the doorway and immediately felt as if she had been here before, every step and every movement bringing with it a strong sense of déjà vu.

Maeve reflected on the memory of that time in her life, though she couldn’t say why. There had been many times in her life when she had dreamt about or envisioned something that had later manifested itself in reality. She often wondered if the dreams and visions were precognitive, or if she was conjuring the reality with her dreams. There were times when it was continually on her mind and then other times she would go for long periods without ever thinking about it.

Now it was imperative that she figure some things out. She had to block out the fear that was threatening to paralyze her and find a way to save her children.

 

*****

Chapter 9

They’re okay, they’re okay, they’re okay.” But what if the girl had lied? Why would she lie if she wasn’t supposed to tell? Maeve had to believe that Claire and Torei were alive and being taken care of. They must be or she would know. She would feel it. She was certain of that.

She was more determined than ever now to get out of here and get to the kids. At least she knew now where the door was and how far she would need to reach if she were to raise it and climb through. As long as she stayed calm and used her head she knew she would have a chance. The candle was only a small stub, probably only intended to last long enough for her to eat her food. The food she could live without, but she drank the water from the plastic container and contemplated her options, skimpy as they were.

She stood up and lifted the mattress, dense and heavy for how thin it was, and folded it over. She stepped onto the frame, the metal bars pushing painfully into the arches of her feet, and used her weight to fold the mattress over again into thirds. She stood on top of it, teetering for a moment until she could catch her balance and then tried to push up on the heavy wooden plank. It moved a fraction of an inch and then stopped, refusing to budge any farther. It would make sense that there would be some sort of lock holding it in place.

Slipping off the wobbly platform, she surveyed the small area for something she could use to slip through the crack and jimmy the latch.

“I need something flat and strong.” She thought desperately, pleading silently and then out loud, picturing in her mind a small flat crow bar or piece of metal that would serve her purpose. She ran her hands all around the bed frame and pulled at the bars but they all seemed to be welded tightly. None of the pieces moved, no matter how she leveraged her body to loosen them. She picked up what was left of the candle, using the rapidly dwindling flame to light the corners and walls, looking for anything she might have missed in her short sightless search. “Something flat and strong, there has to be something here.” It was built as a cellar so there must have been shelves here at some point to store canned or dry goods. She held the candle as close to the ceiling as she could and walked once more along the walls. In the furthest corner from the bed, in a part of the ceiling she hadn’t had time to search before the girl had shown up, there was something protruding from the corner where the wall met the ceiling. It looked like some sort of metal support bar used to hold up shelving. Elated, she ran over to the bed frame and placed the edge directly beneath the trap door so that she would be able to find it again in the dark and then hurriedly dragged the mattress over to the corner where she had seen the bracket. The candle gave a last fluttering flicker, and then it died.

 

*****

 

Joseph walked into the kitchen and startled Faye out of her wits. Carl, as always, was right on his heels and he laughed cruelly at her discomfort whenever he was near her.

Carl and Joe were twins, but they couldn’t have been more different. Faye was pretty sure Carl resented his brother because he was, technically, the older of the two by a few minutes, and had received the honor of being named after their father. Joe hated that. And why wouldn’t he? Carl was just as crazy as their father, and Joe had told her he felt like his name might have him turning into a psycho too.

“Was she awake?” Joseph had given Faye the task of sending the food down to Maeve. He didn’t want her to see his face just yet, but he chose Faye mainly because he knew her face would be disconcerting to Maeve.

“What about the food, did she eat it?”

“I don’t know. I just closed the door when I finished lowering the basket down.” Faye wasn’t about to tell him anything about what had happened.

“Did she try to escape? She tried to get away didn’t she?” Carl had a manic gleam in his eye and Faye tried to skirt around him and out the door without acknowledging his question.

“You better not have said anything to her about those kids.” He was threatening her now, tracking her with his black eyes, and she began to tremble when he grabbed her arm to keep her in the room.

Joe walked in just then and he eyed Faye, giving her a warning look. Faye dropped her eyes and stood as quietly as possible, hoping Carl would forget about her now that Joe was there.

“Hey Joe, wasn’t that cool? I mean, everything went just the way Dad said it would. Right Pop, right?” Carl’s manic behavior was scaring Faye more than ever, and she just wanted to get to her room where she could hide out and maybe go unnoticed for a while.

“What exactly are we doing dad?” Joe was looking around the room, not meeting his father’s gaze.

“The woman down there is going to be working with Dr. Makula to find a cure for your disease.” Joseph wasn’t quite sure about Joe yet and he wasn’t ready to tell him everything.

“Yeah, well, Makula’s probably going to need a cure of his own pretty soon.” Carl cackled and slapped his knee as if he’d just told the funniest joke. Joseph shot Carl a look, but it was already too late.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Joe looked from Carl to his father and he could see that something was very wrong. “Where’s Dr. Makula? Did you do something to him?”

“Now Joe, don’t get yourself all worked up.” Joseph was getting really tired of placating the kid.

“He’s here too, isn’t he? Why didn’t you tell us? Where is he?”

“You’ll see him tomorrow. Now, you all get yourselves to bed and we’ll talk about it when everyone’s had a good night’s sleep.”

Joseph had no patience when it came to the kids and they could all see that he was getting ready to blow. Faye took off and went straight to her room, Joe following right behind her.

If they were holding Dr. Makula here it would have to be in the old fruit cellar. He wanted badly to go out and see if he was right, but Carl was following him to their room and he couldn’t afford to let on that he was upset over this new development. He would just have to wait for the right time and, when Carl went on watch duty and his father was sleeping, he would figure out how to set his friend free.

 

*****

Chapter 10

Maeve stood in the suffocating darkness and took a long steadying breath. She had to tell herself repeatedly that there was nothing lurking in the sudden darkness with her that hadn’t been there in the light.

She was unsure of herself in the dark and it took a few long seconds of feeling clumsy and uncoordinated before she was able to gather her strength and get on with it.

After a few tries she managed to fold the mattress and use the two walls of the corner to brace herself, using her full weight and the pressure of her feet to fold it in to thirds. The mattress was threatening to bounce free of her weight, but she remembered the brief wall climbing experience she’d had. She had given it up after a humiliating fall on the matt, but she drew on the memory and used her stomach muscles along with her hands on the wall to balance herself and keep her support in place.

She reached up into the corner and felt around for the brace that she knew was there. The mud brick wall was old and dry and crumbled under her fingers, giving her hope that she would be able to pull the metal piece from the wall. She found the rusted iron tucked up in the corner and when she grabbed it with both hands it moved slightly back and forth with a grating sound. She tugged and pulled and in a short minute it popped away from the wall, sending her tumbling to the floor.

She scraped her elbow on the way down and landed squarely on her tailbone, the sharp pain eliciting a squawk and then “shit!” even as she realized that she held in her hand exactly what she needed to get herself out of her makeshift prison.

“Well shit,” she said again. Her mother had always said shit was the best dirty word. “It pretty much covers everything.” She used to joke about it and Maeve figured she was pretty much right.

Maeve dragged the mattress over to the futon frame again and went through the same routine, folding the mattress in thirds and using the frame to get her balance and step on top. She pushed up on the ceiling, moving an inch at a time until she found the trap door again. When she felt the slight give, she pushed upward with her left arm and used her right to slide the metal bar into the gap. She pushed it first one way and then the other, and felt a snap as the bar pushed the lock apart and the door lifted higher. There was a very faint light coming from the room above and Maeve was fearful of the possibility that someone might be up there guarding her escape. She didn’t see that she had much choice though, as staying down here wasn’t going to get her kids back. She hadn’t been able to push the door hard enough to keep it open and she really wasn’t sure that she’d be able to pull herself up through the two foot opening in the ceiling, but she had to try.

Standing in thought for a few moments, she silently kicked herself for not seeing it before. As if she could actually see anything.

The memory of the trap door opening flickered through her mind and it registered that the door was within inches of one of the walls. She grabbed the futon frame, dragging it a half step until it bumped against the hard surface. She stood the frame up on end and, bracing it there, stepped onto the first bar and started climbing. The floor was hard packed dirt but gave way when she stepped on the ladder. The sharp edges of the feet embedded themselves firmly in the soil, which thankfully prevented the makeshift ladder from sliding out from under her.

The ladder was angled away from the trap door but she was close enough that she could push it up higher each time she stepped to the next bar. Her body was at an awkward angle with her head and one shoulder pushing up the door. She couldn’t go any higher and still be able to reach the edge, so she reached out with her other arm and hooked her elbow on the floor of the room above her. She took a deep breath and, with every ounce of strength she could muster, shoved off with her feet and ended up with her elbows supporting her lower body, which was hanging in the cellar, and the heavy trap door laying flat across her back. With a grunt she leveraged herself up a little farther so that she was resting on her rib cage, and then let go of the floor with one hand so she could push the door up and away from her body. She gave a great heave and the door went slamming over backward.

So much for a quiet get away.” Cringing, she swung her leg up over the ledge with another small grunt, and then she was out! She crawled on her hands and knees away from the hole and lifted her head to peer around what looked to be a fairly modern, well equipped kitchen.

Maeve literally felt her heart stop beating the second her eyes landed on the man seated at a table directly in front of her. And then it nearly exploded through her throat as she rose to a crouch and then straitened to full battle stance, ready to fend off the attack that was sure to come.

 

*****

 

He sat calmly, as if he didn’t have a care in the world, silently studying her for what seemed an eternity.

“Well, it took you some longer than I had hoped, but here you are.” He declared, spreading his hands out palms up, as if presenting her to the room at large.

“Where are my children?” Maeve growled, her hands clenched in tight fists, her muscles tensed and ready to spring at him.

“Calm down now,” he said patting the air with his large hands. “They are safe and well cared for. You needn’t be concerned.”

There were more than a few things on earth that could make Maeve go ballistic, but being told to calm down by anyone for any reason was very near the top of her list.

“Needn’t be concerned?” She spat back at him sarcastically. “I’m obviously being held here against my will and you’re just as obviously keeping my kids here, too. I can’t imagine why I would be the least bit uneasy, can you?”

“I will explain your purpose here when you are ready, but for right now I’ll just show you to your regular quarters where you can be with Torei and Claire for the time being.

The man wasn’t that much older than she was, maybe thirty four or five. His voice was low and gravelly with a trace of some mountain accent. He stood and she took in his overalls, work boots and stubble roughened face, realizing that he was the man she had seen no less than three times in the past few days.

How much time had passed since she had been stunned in the parking lot? It was dark outside but a faint light seemed to be coming from very far away. Was it dawn or nightfall? Maeve had no way of knowing.

“How long have I been here?” she asked, not really expecting an answer, and was surprised when he replied quite cordially. “About four hours. Seems it took a time for you to recover. I may have shocked you a little too hard, not intentionally you understand.”

He had an odd way of speaking, backwoods phrases punctuated with comments that sounded educated to her ear, like an old southern preacher, she thought, from some traveling caravan.

“Come, your girls will be waiting,” he said as he strode away.

It never occurred to her to run, not without the girls. Even if she did get away, God only knew what he would do to them before she could find help and get back to them. So she followed him out of the kitchen and into a small room used for storing yard equipment, muddy boots and a lifetime supply of canned goods. He pulled on a ring attached to his belt loop and slipped a key into a large padlock bolted to a wooden door that blended into the wall.

Opening the door, he stepped aside and motioned her forward. Maeve took a step toward the stairs and came close to losing her balance when he grabbed her arm and pulled it around behind her, snapping a handcuff on her wrist and twisting her body to join it with her other hand. Then he ushered her down a short set of stairs that ended in a comfortably furnished bedroom. There were no windows in the room as it was underground, but unlike the cellar she had just crawled out of, it was well lit with halogen lights set into the ceiling, the walls and floor finished with old wooden paneling and carpet.

Maeve was almost knocked from her feet as two figures ran at her like missiles fired from a battleship and lunged into her, grabbing her around her waist and arms and holding on for dear life.

“Mom,” Torei cried. “We were s-so scared and we didn’t know w-where you were!”

Claire had her head buried under Maeve’s arm, her shoulders hunched, her thin body shaking from the effort of holding back her sobs.

Maeve kissed Torei and rubbed her chin across Claire’s hair, nudging her head back so she could offer an encouraging smile. She looked down into the two frightened and tear streaked faces of the ones she loved so much and her heart constricted painfully. She wanted to sob and cry out herself, but she knew she needed to be strong for them.

Nearly overcome with anger at their captor for putting the kids through this torment, she turned to unleash her fury on him, only to find him at the top of the stairs, preparing to close the door firmly behind him.

Turning away, Maeve took a deep cleansing breath, and then checked the girls over for any injuries while trying to comfort them at the same time. She wanted so much to hold them close, but her arms were pinned securely behind her back and she had to satisfy herself with tucking them under her arms. They all moved over to the bed and sat down, Torei on one side of Maeve and Claire on the other, cuddled into her sides to assure each other that they were all alive and well.

“Okay, now tell me what’s been happening in here,” ordered Maeve in her most firm mom voice.

Torei replayed the details of their capture in the parking lot and the two boys who had held their mouths shut while they were shoved onto the floorboard of a truck. Her voice was shaking and her eyes were large and frightened as she looked up at her mother.

“And that’s really about all I remember until a few minutes ago.”

“I was asleep and then I heard Torei calling my name. She woke me up and I thought she was having a bad dream or something,” Claire said quietly.

“I woke up and couldn’t figure out where I was Mom, and then I woke Claire up and we couldn’t find you. We called for you but nobody answered.” Torei finished with tears running down her cheeks.

“I’m scared,” Claire whispered and she started to cry too, her thin shoulders shaking again as she brought her legs up to wrap her arms around her knees and hug them close.

Maeve was so filled with rage that her vision blurred and she could hear her heart pounding in her ears. If she could have gotten her hands on him at that moment, the man who had done this would surely die a very violent death.

But she couldn’t get a hold on him – couldn’t even move her arms for that matter – so she would just have to hold on to her anger, feed it and nurture it and wait for the right time. And then she would make him sorry he had ever seen her face.

“Don’t worry,” she assured the girls, even though she wasn’t sure of anything. “I don’t think he plans to hurt us, and I wouldn’t let him anyway. We have to stay calm and find a way out of here.”

“But where’s here?” Torei asked. It was one of the main questions on all of their minds.

“I don’t know,” said Maeve. “But I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”

“Mom?”

“What is it sweetie?”

“They’ll be looking for us, won’t they?” Torei was asking for reassurance and Maeve gave the answer she knew they were both waiting to hear.

“Yes, and they’ll find us, too.” She was nodding her head and hoping to God that someone would realize they were missing before very long. She calculated the time since they had been taken from the parking lot and she knew it would be several hours yet before anyone noticed they were gone.

But she would keep that knowledge to herself and work on a way to get the girls home safe.

She shouldn’t have been tired after being out for so long, but all of a sudden she felt her muscles let go, and she was almost unable to stay upright.

“What do you say we all lay down together and get some rest,” she suggested.

And so they curled up on the bed, Maeve on the outside to better protect the girls, and they talked quietly for a while as first one and then the other drifted off to sleep.

Just before Maeve’s eyes closed for the last time a thought came to her. The man who had brought them here was altogether unsurprised when she rose through the trap door.

He had said “well, it took you a time,” as if he’d expected her to escape and had been waiting for her all along. What did that mean, she wondered, trying to hold on to the thought as she finally slipped away.

 

*****

 

Joe heard Faye crying softly on the other side of the door and it was breaking his heart. He knocked gently, but she didn’t answer, and he wondered if she had even heard the tapping over the sound of her own sobbing. He opened the door a crack and peeked through the opening. He could see her curled in the corner with her head resting on her knees. Her whole body was shaking and he thought maybe she was about to hyperventilate, the way she was gasping and wheezing. He stepped through, closing the door softly behind him, then went swiftly to her side. He held her close and crooned reassurances in her ear, rocking her like a small child, rubbing his hand across her back.

“It’s okay now, it’s okay,” he soothed.

“No, no, nooo, it’s not okay,” she cried. “What’s going to happen to them now?”

“Dad says they’re only here to help Mak.” Joe and Faye had grown close to Dr. Makula over the months he had treated them, and had adopted the nickname at his invitation. “He says when they finish, they’ll be able to go home.”

“I don’t believe him!” Faye was agitated and her voice was getting louder with each word.

“Shush now,” Joe said, desperate for her to keep her voice down.

If their dad or Carl heard them in here he would lose the small amount of trust he had worked so hard to gain. And then who knew what they would do.

“I want you to pull yourself together, Faye. We did what we had to do, and now we have to figure out how we’re going to get out of this mess.”

Faye hiccupped a few more times and took a deep breath. She stood up, making a few slow circuits of the room before she sat down on the edge of the bed.

“We have to get to the phone, Joe. We have to call the police so they can come and get us all out of here.” Faye was looking her brother squarely in the eye and he had to look away.

“Faye, you know there’s no way Dad’s going to let us anywhere near that phone.” He had earned a certain amount of his father’s trust, but Joseph never took any chances.

He watched them both, keenly aware of their slightest move or mood. It was a challenge to constantly hide behind a mask of indifference, but it was the only way Joe knew of to survive.

Joe had been absolutely appalled when he found out that Dr. Makula was being held in the cellar, but he knew exactly what would happen if he let that emotion show. He just didn’t know what to do about any of this.

“I’m going to talk to them, to explain. Something – I don’t know.”

Joe knew that Faye couldn’t express what it was she was thinking, but he knew she just would not let the craziness continue.

Joseph had lied to Joe and Faye, his own children, to get their cooperation in the parking lot, and now that poor family was locked up in the basement. She knew that her father didn’t care about her or Joe, he never had. If it weren’t for the terms of their trust fund, she thought maybe they would have been dead a long time ago.

“Please Faye, please don’t do anything stupid. Give me some time, Faye. I’ll try to think of something.”

Joe had absolutely no idea what that something might be, but he knew he had better come up with it quick or none of them were going to come out of this alive.

 

*****

Chapter 11

Ben was floating somewhere, rocking back and forth between a world of dreams and the reality of the sun sifting through the heavy drapes. He kept reaching out as if expecting to grasp hold of something – he didn’t know what – but each time he reached out, the dream evaded him and he found his arms empty once more. He came fully awake around seven a.m. to the sound of Jason’s snores.

To his knowledge Jason was the only person on the planet who actually whistled and fluttered his lips when he breathed out. He sounded just like Fred Flintstone and the thought of it made Ben chuckle.

He had taken Jason to Mark’s house with the intention of dropping him off, but Mark’s parents had insisted they both stay for dinner. They were a friendly, outgoing family and Ben enjoyed the company as much as he did the meal. They grilled hamburgers out in the back yard and sat talking by the fire pit until well into the night.

Ben was feeling more than a little melancholy. He found himself sitting in the middle of a perfect domestic scene and he was envious of the easy relationship they all shared. The boys plotted to have Jason spend the night, but Ben put his foot down and bravely faced the three scowling teenagers, then drug Jason back to the hotel. The plan was to get an early start on the day and head up to the Grand Mesa where the scenery and views were purported to be spectacular.

He picked up the phone and ordered breakfast from room service, knowing full well that by the time Jason got up and around it would be pushing it to eat in the restaurant. The day would be half over and it would hardly be worth the time to ride up the mountain and back.

His plan worked and thirty minutes later Jason began stirring to the aroma of waffles and sausage that wafted through the room.

“Good morning sunshine,” Ben greeted his son cheerfully. Jason detested mornings and was usually grumpy as hell until at least noon.

“Whatever,” grumbled Jason as he crawled out of bed and headed into the bathroom.

Ben smiled to himself, thinking that he shouldn’t be getting this much enjoyment out of Jason’s irritation. But then, he decided, a man had to take his pleasures where he could get them.

When Jason came back out he headed straight for the small table and the tray laden with plates and breakfast food. He grabbed a waffle, slapped a couple of sausage links on top, squirted some syrup over the whole thing and proceeded to stand there eating it right out of his hand.

“I hope you washed those first,” Ben muttered, looking pointedly at the fingers that were currently dripping syrup onto the carpet.

“So, what are we doing today?” Ben knew that Jason was only asking so he could figure a way of talking his father into leaving him here at the hotel.

“We’re riding up to the Mesa today and do a little sightseeing,” Ben replied. “And don’t even ask,” he added as a sudden after thought, “you’re going with me. After all, it’s not every day you get to visit the largest flat topped mesa in the world you know.”

“What’s the big deal? It’s not like I’ve never seen a mountain before. Besides, I’m tired of being on the bike all the time.” He grumbled with his mouth half full of waffle and sausage.

“You didn’t seem tired of it last night when your new friends were telling you how cool it was.” Ben was trying unsuccessfully not to show his frustration. “And don’t talk with your mouth full, it’s rude.”

“You know, Dad, I don’t have to do everything you want to do. Why can’t I just do what I want for a change?” Jase said, without much conviction. Manipulation wasn’t really his strong suit, and Ben guessed that Mark and Kurt had probably offered some heavy handed encouragement for Jason’s behavior this morning. It still irritated him that he even had to have this discussion and he took the bait like any self respecting father would, jumping into the battle with both feet.

“As a matter of fact you do have to do what I want and you have to do it until you’re eighteen!” Ben couldn’t believe the words were actually coming out of his mouth. He took a deep breath and tried again.

“How many times do we have to do this, Jase?” Now Ben thought he could literally feel his blood pressure go up.

“I pulled you out of school to take this trip so we could spend some time together away from everything. You were all for it before we left and all you’ve done since is whine and complain about how bored you are!” His voice had been rising in volume and he had to take another breath before he ran out of patience and started into a full blown rant about his son’s ungrateful behavior.

“Okay, okay have it your way. You always do anyway!” Jason snapped at his father and stomped back to the bathroom, slamming the door soundly behind him.

“God I hate when I do that,” Ben murmured to the empty room, rubbing his hands over his face in frustration. He constantly had to remind himself that he didn’t want to be the kind of dad that forced his kids to do things his way, but damn it if Jason didn’t push his buttons every chance he got.

Showered and changed in to his usual baggy jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket, Jason crawled on the back of the bike and situated the saddle bags behind him. Ben started up the powerful engine of the Harley Night Train and kicked the bike into gear, taking off from the parking lot and moving smoothly onto the on ramp of Interstate Seventy, headed east to Denver.

He rode at just above the speed limit, keeping his eyes mostly on the road but taking a look every now and then at the sprawling valley where farms, orchards and vineyards now spread bare and brown across the rolling terrain, the Colorado river that ran squarely through the center, curving gently as it passed by on its way to the Gulf of California.

The Book Cliffs and majestic Mount Garfield passed by to the north, looking for all the world as if untamed waves should be lapping against the rocky cliffs. In his mind’s eye he could clearly picture a long Viking ship sailing through the mist and turbulent waters in search of a place to weigh anchor. He laughed out loud at his overactive imagination and drove on through the narrow winding canyon.

The highway followed along the path of the river with a steep drop off to the left that ended on the rocky bank. Thirty minutes later they came through the passage and into the open again. He was looking straight ahead at a view of the mesa where they were headed for the day. It really was quite impressive covered in low clouds as it was, the sharply sloped sides of the mountain ending in a wide flat surface that was barely discernible beneath the blanket of fog.

Ben turned smoothly off of the interstate at the sign announcing Powderhorn, the local ski area, and began the winding trek up the mountain face.

It was too late in the year to view the changing colors of the aspen leaves, but it was still beautiful with high cliffs rising to the east and deep valleys and streams falling away to the west. Jason had ridden in sullen silence since leaving the hotel, but as the sun broke through the remaining clouds and the brightness of the day cast a spotlight on the ever changing scenery, he began pointing out the different wildlife that could be spotted grazing along the road or bounding away into the tall stands of evergreen and spruce. The day was much warmer than Ben had expected and he breathed in the fresh mountain air, glorying in the freedom of riding in the open on such a spectacular day.

They passed through the small town of Mesa where the churches actually had steeples with real bells, and Ben could imagine the deep chorus that would ring from those high towers. Green roofed cabins and old log farmhouses dotted the landscape, the whole scene reminiscent of a bygone era when people lived solely by working the land. Counting on the help of their neighbors for their survival.

Continuing on through the small community, they could both feel the popping in their ears as the altitude drastically increased.

Ben slowed and made a westerly turn from Highway sixty five into the Mesa Lakes area. He had read somewhere that there were as many as one hundred mountain lakes to explore.

The “resort” sat right off of the road and was really nothing more than a cluster of tiny little one room bungalows built from cut logs painted a rusty red. They could see more of them peeking through the trees and Ben wondered how often the cabins were actually rented to capacity.

Views this high up were truly breathtaking, and he finally pulled the bike to a stop along the edge of a small body of water with a sign identifying it as Beaver Lake. He dug through the saddle bags and pulled out his camera, anxious as ever to start recording the natural beauty that surrounded him. Jason walked to the edge of the water and started skipping stones across the smooth flat surface, looking to Ben as if he might actually be enjoying himself.

Ben snapped photos of everything in sight, trying to capture a sense of the habitat that was home to so many different species of wildlife.

“Hey, Jase,” Ben called. “I’m going to walk down the trail a ways. Do you want to come with me?”

“Okay, hang on a minute,” Jason called back and then came running up the bank to stop at the big black motorcycle. He opened the saddle bags and stuffed the over large pockets of his jeans with two bottles of water and a handful of granola bars.

“The trail map says if we follow this around to the end we’ll run into Lost Lake.” Jason was speaking with the most enthusiasm Ben had heard from him in a long time.

“I wonder why they call it Lost Lake,” Ben mused as he started off on the trail. Checking his pack as he walked, making sure he had plenty of battery life and a spare in his pack for the new digital camera he had just recently started using, he thought how tough it had been to give up the ritual of switching out film all day long.

The two of them walked for nearly an hour, winding around the south west tip of Mesa Lake and on past South Mesa Lake, talking softly in the hushed atmosphere and taking pictures as they went. The area offered year round cabins for rent but due to the fact that it was no longer summer – the colorful fall leaves were long gone – and there wasn’t yet any snow on the ground, they saw few people hiking the trails or fishing in the abundant lakes. At nearly ten thousand feet in elevation Ben was starting to huff just a little in the thin air.

Lost Lake was nestled in a forest of Spruce trees and was almost invisible until they stepped out at the top of the trail.

They stood and stared in awe at the perfection that suddenly loomed before them. After a time, Ben started shooting frames of the panoramic view that spread out for miles in every direction. Framing a shot across the lake, he picked up signs of what looked like a cabin in the far distance and zoomed in for better detail. Sure enough, a well tended rustic cabin sat far back from the edge of the water with a deck that wrapped around the two sides that he could see from his position.

Ben was more than a little awed by the sight and his voice was soft as he asked, “How would you like to have your own place clear out here at the top of the world?”

“Let me see,” said Jason eagerly, holding his hand out for the camera as Ben passed it over to him. He pointed out the general area and waited for Jason to focus in on the little mountain paradise.

“Cool,” Jason said with a bright smile. “Maybe it’s one of the resort cabins and we could stay there for a few days.”

Something about the cabin was familiar but Ben couldn’t put his finger on it.

I think I’ve seen a picture of this place before,” Ben said. “Maybe it was on a brochure at the hotel or something.” He focused in on the perfect angle, making sure he highlighted the intricate stonework of the fireplace, and took the shot as he mentally chewed on the niggling sense that he had been here before.

They walked around the lake a bit longer and then headed back to where they had left the bike. It was still early enough in the day, so they turned south at the sixty five and headed on out toward Land’s End

 

*****

Chapter 12

The dream came again, this time more urgent, and more insistent than ever before. Maeve was back in the house, moving toward the mirror that covered the left wall. She stared at the face of so many years ago and watched as the button boots and Victorian dress of a young girl began to fade away. She felt herself fading as well, drifting into the glass to appear on the other side. They were there, grouped around the fireplace and she sought the warm eyes of the woman who would show her the answer. The woman reached her hands out in that pleading gesture and then turned her eyes toward a tall young man standing in the shadows. She knew this man but her memory of him was vague. What was this woman trying to tell her?

And then she was outside, standing near a mist-shrouded lake, the cry of an owl drawing her gaze into the woods behind her. A man walked silently from the trees with his hands outstretched, beckoning her toward him. She tried to go to him but she couldn’t move. She reached her arms out to him but he came no closer, just turned and looked at a tall boy who was standing near. The boy was handsome, like the man, with thick dark hair and chiseled features. She had seen him before but his hair had been different. Now it was pulled back into a sleek pony tail where before it had been standing on end in a two foot tall Mohawk. She was afraid for him but didn’t know why, and she began to shake from the fear and cold.

Maeve came awake with the realization that she was shivering with cold and her shoulders ached from being stretched behind her back. She hated being cold more than anything and she figured that if she ever did anything really bad in her life, her punishment would surely be death by freezing. She practiced a little trick she used often, breathing deeply while telling her body over and over that she was comfortable and warm. Eventually the shivering abated and she opened her eyes.

She hadn’t thought about the dream in years and wondered why it had come back to her now, of all times. Then she remembered the tall young man who stood hidden in the shadows. She couldn’t recall seeing him there before, but it had been many years and she didn’t trust her memory with the details from her childhood.

Claire was lying next to her, curled up in a ball and looking at Maeve from sleep filled eyes.

“Good morning.” Maeve said and snuggled close.

“Is it still morning?” Claire said as she pulled away and sat up.

“I had a weird dream,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “I don’t know why but I dreamed about the boy with the Mohawk we saw at the mall.”

Maeve was quiet for a brief second and then, “what did you dream about him?’ She asked the question carefully to keep her voice from giving her away.

“He was standing in some trees and you were telling me to go with him, but I didn’t want to leave you,” she said in a hushed voice. “And that was all.”

Torei had come awake at some point during their short conversation and reached around to give Claire a hug.

“It’s going to be okay Claire, maybe we’ll get to go home today.” She said reassuringly.

“We’re going to do everything we can to try and make that happen,” Maeve said, wrapping her body around the girls as best she could.

What were the chances that she and Claire had dreamed about the same thing at the same time?

Maybe it was just that they were both on the verge of waking and their minds remembered the odd sight of the kid with the Mohawk. Maybe Claire in her youth and Maeve in her old age had both developed a crush on the kid too, but she highly doubted it.

Maeve stood up from the bed, taking in her surroundings and wondered if there was a camera hidden in the room somewhere so that their captor could observe them. Maybe even hear them. She began searching the corners, under the furniture and anywhere she thought a device might be hidden. She didn’t find anything obvious and chided herself for reading too many stories about kidnapped heroines and psycho killers.

She gave herself a mental head slap. Well, this room wasn’t her imagination and neither was the man responsible for them being here. She was sure, too, that she wasn’t making up the sore muscles or the bruises on her feet and even though she couldn’t see her hands, she could feel her swollen fingers and the burning where the sharp splinters still pierced her skin.

Footsteps approached the door at the top of the stairs and Maeve moved her body to shield the girls, who were lying huddled together on the bed.

The door opened and the young girl who had dropped the food into the cellar was there at the top of the stairs.

“Lunch is ready,” she said and turned to walk away.

She looked so much like Claire that it was disconcerting at first, but her overlarge eyes were ringed with dark shadows and her stooped shoulders gave the impression that the girl was ill somehow.

Maeve considered leaving Torei and Claire in the room until she knew exactly what was going on but thought better of it in case they were given a chance to escape. She would never run away without the girls and she might lose her chance if she had to come back for them. So she took them by the hand and led them up the stairs behind her where she stood quietly for a moment, listening to the sounds of clattering silverware, and remembered that the kitchen must be to the left.

She started to step to the right but was brought up short at the sight of a boy standing just down the hall. He seemed to be about sixteen or seventeen and though tall and dark complected, he had the same bruised and bulging eyes, insubstantial frame, and the same tortured expression as the girl.

And next to him was a rifle perched against the wall, only inches from his hand. She considered him for a moment, and deciding she would never get past him, turned left and walked hesitantly into the room where she stood staring at the faces assembled there. Another teenage boy was seated at the large round table, and other than the fact that he was a healthy teenager, there was no mistaking the fact that he and the boy in the hall were twins. The girl was getting plates from a cupboard and the tall, lumbering man from the night before was cooking on a grill top range. He turned when she entered and pointed with a spatula to three empty chairs arranged around the table.

“What is this about?” Maeve asked defiantly, not about to let her guard down for one second.

“It’s lunch time. Well, past breakfast and early for lunch if you want the truth. We waited as long as we could and then figured you’d had enough rest for the time being.” The man replied as if it were a typical day in any kitchen anywhere in the world.

Maeve’s temper began to flare but she bit back her anger for the moment and tried to sound reasonable in the face of her fear.

“I think you misunderstand me,” she stated very clearly. “I would like to know why you have brought me here, along with my daughters, and kept us against our will.”

The man turned from the stove and looked at her earnestly. She was taken aback by the strangeness of his eyes. They were dark and disturbing with heavy eyebrows that rose up sharply on the ends, adding to the evil impression that made her think of the devil.

“I am Joseph, and these here are my boys, Carl and Joseph Jr.” Then he added with a solemn nod, “I think you’ve met my daughter, Faye.”

Joseph Jr. had followed them into the kitchen and she looked at each of the children in turn. The boys were around sixteen and looked very much like their father. Carl was tall and well muscled with blue black hair parted and slicked to the side. He had that same tilt to his brows and something shone in his eyes that caused the small hairs on the back of Maeve’s neck to stand on end.

Faye and Joseph Jr., on the other hand, were frail and had an unhealthy pallor, but gentleness shone from beneath the fear and pain that touched her completely. Concern momentarily overrode her fear and anger and her heart filled with compassion for these children who were obviously ill and in need of medical attention. She almost said as much, but instinctively knew that it would be a mistake.

“We must practice our manners and share a meal before we discuss important matters,” Joseph proclaimed in that odd manner of his as he again motioned them to the table. He waived the spatula like a kings’ scepter and Joseph Jr. reached over to free her hands.

Things seemed to be getting stranger all the time. Maybe she was losing her perspective, but Maeve found that she was starving and knew the girls must be as well, so she seated them and then herself, reasoning that they would need their strength for when the time came to leave.

Venison stew and fresh baked bread were set at the table and when everyone was seated, Joseph held out his hand for Carl to pass his plate. He filled each plate in the same manner and then proceeded to eat in silence.

It was a quiet, unnerving meal with very little conversation. The children ate with their heads down, all except for Carl, who looked boldly at Maeve and methodically scooped his food into his mouth, pointedly chewing each bite.

Maeve’s eyes widened when realization dawned. But just as she was about to speak, Torei turned away from the table, groaning, and then promptly threw up on the floor.

“Oh no!” Claire cried. “Torei are you okay?” she asked as she jumped out of her chair. “I think she needs to lie down.”

Joseph looked at Faye and she rose from the table as well.

“I’ll take her,” the girl offered as she came around the table. “You come too.” This she said to Claire who was on her feet and holding Torei by her shoulders.

“No!” Maeve ordered, jumping to her feet, but Joseph nodded to Faye and she started to move away, leading the girls out of the kitchen.

“They will be just fine. They won’t be harmed,” he assured her. “You have my promise on that.”

“There is someone I’d like you to meet.” He reached over and picked up a long rifle that had been resting against the wall and just like that he walked away, confident that she would follow.

Maeve followed Joseph down a long hall past the mud room and the basement where she and the girls had been kept, past three closed doors on the left side of the hall and then out a screen door to a set of steps.

They were standing outside a cabin surrounded by a tall forest of pines and thick low growing shrubs. He walked a short distance to an old adobe building that had probably been used for feed and tack at some time in the distant past.

Maeve’s shoes had been taken from her when she was unconscious in the cellar and now she hobbled gingerly over the uneven ground on bare feet, following Joseph who was obviously unconcerned that she might try to run away into the trees.

He unlocked the heavy wooden door and stepped inside, then motioned for her to follow him. He stopped in the center of the shed and lowered his bulk to one knee, then slipped a heavy curved piece of metal out of a steel loop that was mounted to a solid wood trap door. With an effort he pushed himself up again and lifted the plank, peering over the edge with a satisfied nod of his head.

Maeve immediately backed away, her first thought being that he intended to stick her in another hole and watch her fight her way out. He cupped his hand and pulled his fingers toward his wrist in a ‘come here’ motion. Maeve froze in place and slowly moved her head from side to side, letting him know that she had no intention of going without a fight.

“Don’t be foolish now” he said. “These accommodations are already being used by another guest.”

Maeve could hear shuffling down below now and concern, along with a morbid curiosity, had her moving to the edge of the opening. The smell of rot and feces almost had her moving away again, but she could see a dirt floor where the light filtered down, and then a man stepped into her vision and looked up with a startled gaze through round rimless glasses.

“Miss Tidewell,” Joseph introduced politely. “Meet Dr. Glenn Makula.”

Mr. Binyon,” the doctor nodded in recognition. “I implore you to let me out of here or make your intentions clear.”

“It should be very clear to you by this point, ‘Doctor.’” Joseph practically spat the word.

“Those children need care, Joseph. You have to let me out of here!”

Makula was nearly shouting in an effort to get through to the large formidable figure looming above him. He demanded again to be let out of the hole only to have Joseph drop the door soundly and snap the lock into place. He turned and walked deliberately back toward the cabin with Maeve following directly on his heels.

“Dr. Makula was reported missing Sunday, I saw it in the paper yesterday,” Maeve observed. “Someone will be looking for him by now don’t you think? Joseph, you have to let him out of there!”

“The good doctor is here to benefit from your presence,” he stated. “We will discuss details when we are more comfortable.”

It had grown cold again as the wind kicked up and the thin sweater she had thrown over her top last night didn’t offer much in the way of warmth. Was it really only last night? It seemed a lifetime ago since she’d felt safe and comfortable.

“You have to let us go, Joseph. The police are eventually going to figure out what you’ve done. Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison?” Joseph just laughed quietly at her as she stood hugging herself against the cold.

“I know who you are now, Joseph.” The flat statement took him off guard. Joseph’s large frame came to a stop at the bottom of the steps. He turned slowly to stare at her, his expressionless gaze boring into her own.

“I knew you had the gift when you were a girl. I seen it then. Come, there’ll be coffee waiting.” And he strode away into the house, leaving her to trail behind.

 

*****

 

Faye opened the door to the basement and stood aside, making room for the girls to pass. As Torei came even with her she reached out and gently squeezed Faye’s hand. She closed her eyes briefly and her brow furrowed in confusion when a strange sensation traveled from the tips of her suddenly cold fingers up the inside of her arm to the crook of her elbow. She let go of Faye’s hand quickly, but when her eyes opened again, they were filled with compassion and concern.

Faye’s face softened as if relieved of some small burden and she offered a tentative smile.

“What did you just do?” Faye asked, a look of confusion now showing in her questioning eyes.

“You’re sick,” Torei stated simply. “Come downstairs and talk for a while.”

Claire led the way down the stairs and Faye followed after Torei, closing the door gently behind her.

Joseph Jr. stepped from around the door, a look of acute interest in his distended eyes. Preoccupied with this new development, he turned and headed down the hall.

“I thought you were sick,” Faye accused as she followed Torei over to the sink where she calmly rinsed her mouth and splashed her face with the cool water. Claire stood glaring daggers at her from the bottom of the stairs.

“She has this talent for barfing on demand,” Claire said sarcastically and then moved closer, letting Faye know with a look that she wanted her to move away from her sister.

Torei grasped Faye’s hand when she made as if to leave. “Stay for a while, please. We both want to know what’s going on and why you brought us here.”

 

*****

 

Joseph and Maeve passed Joseph Jr. as they walked down the long hallway. He was entering a room that opened off the passage. He looked toward Joseph and appeared to be about to speak, but then he lowered his eyes submissively and stepped through the door.

Joseph offered her a cup of coffee from a fresh pot brewing on the stove. She sat at the table and wrapped her hands around the cup to warm her fingers and waited.

“You came to visit your grandmother when we were kids,” Maeve announced. “Your family was from Kansas and they brought onions from your farm there.”

“Have you guessed yet why you are here?” He asked as he nodded, confirming her memory of him.

“Why don’t you explain it to me?” Maeve responded with a question of her own.

Joseph took a long breath, then breathed out slowly. “As you may have seen, Joseph Jr. and Faye are sick, have been since they were babies. Had ‘em at doctors and all kind of people saying they were “specialists.” He had dropped the formal tone from his speech and continued.

“All they ever did was shove pills down them and keep having them come back for more and more tests. Makula was supposed to be a healer. Kept saying they needed more medicine and maybe even hospital care. But the kids, they don’t get any better. At best they just stay the same, but then other times they seem worse.” Joseph sipped from his cup and seemed to have come to the end of his speech.

“What could this possibly have to do with me?” Maeve tried desperately to reason with him. “I’m not a physician, or any kind of healer, Joseph. It can’t possibly do any good to keep us here.”

“I told you before, I saw your gift all those years ago.” His voice had taken on a mysterious tone. “And when the vision come to me I knew what needed doing.

“So I brought the good doctor here and waited for the time to be right to bring you along.”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about, please.” Maeve was pleading now. “I can’t help you unless I understand.”

“You can give him the power to heal. I want you to use the powers the gods have given you to manifest in him the power to heal those kids.”

Joseph acted as if it were an everyday occurrence and took for granted that his request would be honored. He didn’t seem to be asking out of concern for the children. His tone couldn’t have been more emotionless or uncaring.

Maeve stared at him, speechless, a ghostly sensation running up her arms. She tried to make sense of what he was saying, but none of it was logical or even sane. With all the patience she could muster Maeve asked for understanding.

“Joseph, if you thought I had some gift and the ability to do this thing, why didn’t you just come to me and ask?”

“Would you not have denied it?” He said, trying to justify his actions. “And made up some excuse for why you couldn’t help. This way, I know you’ll work hard to do as you’re asked, so you and your own children can go on home.” There was a sly look in his eyes and Maeve seriously doubted the truth of his words.

She could see then that Joseph was not a sane man, could see that demented gleam, however well concealed, in his eyes. That very gleam was what had turned her on to the memory of Joseph as a boy. Carl had that same glimmer of evil lurking in his psyche that she couldn’t help but recognize.

Joseph’s grandmother had lived next door to the old Victorian all those years ago and he had frightened her even then. She recalled the house on the corner with the attic that was home to over a hundred bats. All the neighborhood kids had been out on the street playing kick the can in the dark when the bats made their nightly pilgrimage to wherever it is bats go. Everyone scrambled and ducked for cover as they went sweeping by; everyone except for Joseph who was standing, balanced on the pedals of his bike in the middle of the tempest, with his arm raised in the air. They could all hear the sickening smack each time his hand found its mark and sent a bat flying away in another direction. One actually spun and hit the sidewalk, squeaking in anger or pain while it drug its wings along the ground in an effort to right itself and fly off again.

Maeve was incensed at the memory and she knew with a cold certainty that she had to do something if she ever wanted to leave this place alive.

She felt a great deal of compassion for young Joseph and Faye, but didn’t see how she could possibly do anything to help them. She would be forced to play along for the time being though, until she could devise a way for her and the girls to get away.

“I won’t be able to concentrate knowing my kids are being held hostage,” she reasoned. “You’ll have to send them home so I’ll know they’re safe, and then I can start working on our problem.” She tried to imply a sense that they were in this together and that she wanted to stay and help him.

“With them here, I’m assured that you’ll do your best to avoid any undesirable consequences.” The threat was so thinly veiled that Maeve understood fully the circumstance of her children’s continued safety.

“I would do my best to help you anyway,” she tried, but could see she hadn’t scored any points with her declaration.

“Okay, how about this? I won’t do anything you ask unless I know the girls are home safe.” Maeve’s voice was hard and uncompromising but she held her breath and waited for him to agree to her demands.

Joseph glared at her from across the table and her stomach turned over when he spoke again.

“They won’t return home at all, Miss Tidewell, if you don’t do exactly what I say.”

Okay, so that hadn’t turned out well at all. There was no doubt in her mind now that regardless of what she did, Joseph had no intention of releasing them. She had a vague idea now of what it was she was supposed to do but had not the first clue how to make it happen even if she were able. They stared at each other for a long time while she thought about what he said.

The best she could do was to bluff her way through but her mind was frozen, unable to think of a single thing that would convince him he was wrong about her. And even if she did, if he realized that he’d made a mistake, he might just decide to kill them all and hide their bodies deep in the woods. Oh God!

Her mind searched frantically for the right way to approach the situation and settled on an old movie she’d seen about witches and spells. She vaguely recalled some of the scenes and the atmosphere that had been created. An idea began to form that might buy them all some time, so she started in with a list of items that sounded like they might be necessary for manifestation.

“I’ll need some things to get started,” she said. “And I’ll also need a good deal of meditation time with the doctor.” She laid out her requirements and hoped that with Makula’s help, she’d be able to come up with a plan.

“And I can’t possibly do as you ask with my hands tied together.” She held her breath and hoped he would believe her.

He had secured her hands back together after the meal, this time locking them in front, and he nodded at the small amount of freedom this courtesy afforded her.

“That’s the best you can hope for,” Joseph said and escorted her back to her room in the basement, assuring her that she would meet with Dr. Makula the following day.

Claire sat on the edge of the bed, her body turned partially away, but when Maeve reached the bottom of the stairs she stood up to reveal Torei’s delicate form lying on the bed with her hand in Claire’s.

“Oh baby, I thought you’d be feeling better by now.” Maeve was worried as she searched the pale drawn face on the pillow. Torei had a tendency to toss up the contents of her stomach whenever she was nervous or over excited, usually in large groups of people or standing in crowded lines, but she usually recovered quickly.

“That was better than the time you lost it in line at Disney World.” Maeve offered a teasing smile in an effort to lighten Torei’s spirits. Neither one of the girls laughed or even smiled.

“She did something, Mom.” Claire was not the least bit concerned that Torei would be angry with her for confiding in their mother.

“I don’t know what it was but she was touching Faye, because she has something wrong with her you know, and she was making Faye feel better. But then she was really tired and she had to lie down and rest.”

“What do you mean, she did something? What did she do?” Maeve demanded an answer, concern causing a harshness to her tone that she had to soften with a touch on Claire’s arm.

“I don’t know.” Claire was completely bewildered. “But it seemed like Faye was feeling better and Torei was just getting more tired. Not sick or anything, just like she really needed to sleep.”

Oh God, thought Maeve. This can’t be right. “Are you trying to tell me that she was healing Faye?”

 

*****

Chapter 13

Beth hung up the phone one last time and stared at it in frustration. She’d been calling Maeve all day and hadn’t been able to reach her at all. Her cell had been ringing but now it was going straight to voice mail so she’d either turned it off or the battery was dead. She’d left three messages for her at home and tried the hotel at least a dozen times.

The grant proposal Maeve was working on was about to go sideways in a big way and she desperately needed to talk to Maeve. It just wasn’t like her not to return calls, and she never went a day without checking in at least two or three times. Maybe she was over at the house and there was a problem with the phone there. She thought for a minute and then set her voice mail to forward her calls, pushed her chair in and picked up her coat.

She went by the house and talked to the contractor who said he hadn’t seen Maeve at all that day. Then she drove across town and took the roundabout, turning in to the parking lot of the Grand View Hotel. She went to the reception desk and asked for Maeve’s room number.

“I’m terribly sorry.” The clerk was sincerely apologetic. “But the policy of the hotel doesn’t allow me to give out that information. Is there some other way I may be able to help you?”

“I’ve been trying to reach her all day, is there any way you could check her room, or ask if anyone has seen her in the hotel today?”

The receptionist hesitated, but seeing the look of concern on the young woman’s face, she agreed to send someone up to the room.

“Have a seat in the lobby, miss, and I’ll check with the staff. Would you care for a cup of coffee while you wait?” She offered kindly.

Fifteen minutes later, the receptionist walked bravely up to Beth and gave her the news that the Tidwell’s had not been seen around the hotel and were not responding to a knock on the door.

“I’ll be happy to leave an urgent message for her, and if you’d like, I can take your number and call you if she shows up here.”

Beth thanked her and left for home, hoping fervently that Maeve would get in touch soon. When eleven o’clock came and went and there was still no word, and after calling Maeve’s sisters and then her family up north, she picked up the phone and dialed 911.

 

*****

Chapter 14

*H*e stood in the woods next to the cabin looking out at the mist shrouded lake. She turned and saw him standing there, his arms outstretched, encouraging her to come toward him. She reached out for him and opened her mouth in a silent plea, then looked past him, surprise and fear showing on her face. Then she faded away into the hazy darkness.

He ran as fast as he could through the brush, trying to stay low but knowing he would be easily spotted through the naked scrub. He had to get there in time, the thought ran over and over in his mind. But where?

 

Ben shot strait up out of bed, his heart pounding so hard he felt like he’d just run a mad race for his life. All that fresh air must be messing with my brain, he thought, recalling the intensity of the dream and the strange reality that still clung like fine tendrils of smoke in the atmosphere. This was the second time he had dreamed of the woman with blonde hair and hazel eyes. And the cabin in the woods. Realization dawned and he recognized the setting as the one he and Jason had seen that morning. He must have seen it somewhere before to dream about it the way he had, but couldn’t for the life of him remember where.

It had turned out to be an enjoyable day, hiking and talking with his son like they were old friends. Riding out to Land’s End and looking out over the edge of the world had been an experience he wouldn’t soon forget, and the subsequent trip down the mountain afforded miraculous views of far distant mountain ranges. The sun cast shadows over the pale soft pink and gray ridges that melded tenderly into the muted purples and greens of the lower hills. He had gone through what once would have been about twenty rolls of film and though he knew they could be sold through any of his regular channels, he knew the real value was in the memories he had captured to later share with his son.

Ben took a quick shower and debated the value of shaving. He hadn’t bothered with the chore for at least the last ten days since he and Jason had left home in San Diego to spend two months on the road. His hair was a thick dark chestnut brown and was getting long enough to wave over the collar of his shirt. His beard had yet to show any signs of gray, which he guessed he could be grateful for at this stage of his life. He was thinking that maybe it gave him a little extra sex appeal when he heard movement coming from the other room.

Jason was up and pouring himself a cup of coffee when Ben came out of the bathroom.

“Hey Dad,” he greeted. “Where do we go today?”

Ben was surprised and pleased at the eager tone in his son’s voice, but he didn’t want to make a big deal of it for fear of bringing Jason’s attention to it and making him self- conscious.

“I thought we’d head up over the Colorado National Monument, what do you think?”

“Okay by me,” Jason approved and headed into the bathroom for a shower.

They came out of the elevator thirty minutes later to find a small official looking gathering clustered around the reception area. Two uniformed police officers were questioning the woman behind the front counter and a man Ben assumed must be a detective was showing a group of employees a small stack of photos. As he and Jason passed through the lobby the detective pulled himself away from the hotel staff and approached them.

“Excuse me, sir.” The detective called out to them, holding his hand in the air as if he were hailing a taxi. The guy had cop written all over him and Ben took Jason’s arm and stopped to talk with him, curious about all the commotion.

“I’m Detective Worth with the city police department.” He flashed his identification and then continued. “I’d like to ask you a few questions if you have a minute.”

“Go right ahead.”

“Have you been staying in the hotel, sir?” Worth asked congenially.

“Sure, we’ve been here for the last two nights,” Ben offered. “What can I do for you?”

Detective Worth handed over a studio shot of an attractive blonde woman of around thirty cuddled up to two young girls. One was an enchanting little red head, the other an adorable blonde wearing a mischievous grin.

“We’re questioning anyone in the hotel who might have seen this woman.” Jason looked over Bens shoulder and his eyes widened in recognition.

“Hey Dad, I know her! Those are the girls I saw at the mall the other day, and I talked to them – not last night – but the night before, out in front of the hotel.”

“I’d like to talk with you, son.” Worth was suddenly intense and then to Ben “If you don’t mind.”

“What’s going on, Detective?” Ben asked with concern.

The detective was on the short side and stocky with a bit of a paunch just showing from under his brown tweed sport coat. He wore pressed khaki slacks and suede rubber soled shoes in deference to the task of being on his feet all day. Ben studied the man closely and got the impression that he was serious about his work. Whether or not he had the skills to match remained to be seen.

“Could you tell me when you last saw this woman?” Worth asked Jason, placing the photo in Jason’s hand.

“I guess it was Monday night,” Jason said, wrinkling his brow in concentration. He pointed to the front entrance and said, “Right out there.” Detective Worth began walking toward the doors with Jason in tow, Ben following behind.

“Can you tell me exactly where you spoke to her and approximately what time that might have been?”

“I guess it must have been about six, six-thirty.” Jason estimated, “because I was talking to Mark right about then. She came out with the two girls and we talked for a second. Remember dad, you asked me who she was.”

“Okay, do you know if she left the parking lot alone or was she with someone? Did you happen to see her drive away?” Worth continued his interrogation.

“Well yeah, I guess. I came in to talk to my dad for a minute and when I went back out she was getting in a white truck with some guy and then they drove away. And that’s pretty much it.” Jason finished.

“Detective,” interjected Ben. “Is this woman missing? We’d like to help if we can.”

“It seems Ms. Tidewell and her two daughters were last seen Monday night when she was talking to a desk clerk about a dinner reservation. Or when she talked with you I guess now” explained Worth.

“Ms. Tidewell drives a white Nissan which we haven’t found in the parking lot, or anywhere else for that matter. If she got in a truck, I have to wonder if she came back later for her car.”

“What kind of Nissan?” Jason asked, completely involved in the conversation at this point.

“A 1995 240SX Coupe.” Worth handed Jason another photo of the mother and two girls standing in a driveway next to a white sports car.

“I saw the car, sweet ride,” Jason said. “That’s why we noticed it, me and Mark I mean.”

“But she wasn’t driving it,” he hurried to clarify. “A guy about my age was driving it and we were saying it must be really cool to drive around in a car like that.” Jason answered in a tone laced with admiration.

“Are you sure about this, Jason?” Worth’s expression held more than a trace of skepticism.

“Well, it was pretty dark and I’m not positive, but I‘m pretty sure, yeah,” he came back defiantly.

“It sounds like she probably just went off with a boyfriend or something.” Worth hypothesized but there was tension in his voice and he didn’t sound convinced.

Detective Worth took their personal information and asked about their plans for staying in town. Then he thanked them for their help and moved off to talk with the uniformed officers who were still working the lobby.

Ben almost stopped him, but what could he say? “Oh, by the way, I’ve dreamed about this woman and a cabin in the woods, maybe you should check it out?” Not likely. Worth would think he was some kind of crack pot and arrest him for interfering in an investigation or something.

“What say we rent a four wheel drive and go back up on the Mesa today?” Ben said absently before he’d even had a chance to think about what he was saying. “We can get some poles and check out the great fishing I keep hearing about.”

“Awesome!” Jason settled the matter, a renewed enthusiasm for the day shining in his eyes.

Detective Worth tried to put all of the pieces together and figure out how he could have ended up with not one, but four missing people in the matter of a few days. He had just spent the last hour with Maeve Tidwell’s family. Aside from being extremely emotional, and demanding the usual answers that he had no way of providing, they were good people and he was filled with regret at the thought that they might never see Maeve and her girls again. He was a little worried that her father, stepfather really, might take matters into his own hands. He was a tough, intense sort of man who seemed to live by his own code. Worth wouldn’t blame him if he started on some vigilante quest to find his girls, but it was his job to make sure everyone acted within the law.

It was time to start working on connections between Makula and Tidewell, but there was more than fifteen years difference in their ages and so far they appeared to run in completely different social circles. He would request a subpoena of the doctor’s patient records and see if he could find anything significant there, and in the mean time he had put out an APB on the white Nissan.

These people hadn’t fallen off the face of the earth. They had to be somewhere, and he had every intention of finding them before his missing persons cases turned into murder investigations.

 

*****

 

He came in the early hours of the morning and led Maeve to a set of stairs rising to a small enclosed loft. Joseph opened the door and ushered her in, then turned silently and closed the door behind him. Maeve jumped as she heard the lock slide into place. The room was filled with forty-eight candles; the number she had asked him for during their talk the day before. She had read somewhere in numerology that forty-eight was significant in that the two numbers totaled twelve which was divisible by three, and that somehow three represented nine which was a powerful number in the universe. At least she had thought it sounded good.

A circle of bamboo sticks was arranged on the floor with a star painted in the center. She had assured him that these items would be necessary for the ritual she needed to perform if she were to call up the powers of the universe and endow the doctor with the power to heal.

What the hell, she thought, it definitely couldn’t hurt.

A dark shape rose from the corner and walked hesitantly into the candlelight where Maeve could see him. Dr. Makula looked tired and nervous. His face was deathly pale but otherwise he seemed to be holding up okay.

“Well,” he said. “Here we are. Now what?” He was obviously as baffled by the situation as she was and she was dumbfounded as hell.

Maeve had given hours of thought to their predicament during the night and had come to some conclusions, right or wrong, that might lead them to a solution.

She had talked with the girls for a long time and told them what she thought was going on. She very firmly told Torei that whatever was happening with her, she didn’t want her touching Faye again. Torei had stubbornly insisted that she couldn’t just watch Faye get worse, and besides, it wasn’t hurting her, it just made her feel tired. Maeve was torn by the depth of compassion in her child. She was proud and afraid in equal parts and still didn’t know what to do.

“Doctor Makula, are you alright?” Maeve was terribly concerned about him, not knowing if he had even been given food or water. He was obviously exhausted and his clothing was filthy. He wasn’t wearing any shoes and his feet looked as bad as the rest of him.

“I’m as good as can be expected under the circumstances.” His reply was curt and didn’t encourage any further questioning.

Let’s start at the beginning,” she suggested. “What exactly is wrong with Joseph Jr. and Faye? I’m assuming you’ve been treating them for something specific.”

Glenn stood in thought, considering what he might say and still maintain his clients’ confidentiality. After a while he decided that, under the circumstances, he would damn well share any information he wanted so long as it kept him alive.

“I started seeing them about six months ago. They had been receiving the most up to date treatment for a rare blood disease,” Makula assured her and nodded as he explained, “that is only common in cases of familial inter-marriage.”

“Are you saying that those children’s parents were closely related?” Maeve was astonished at the idea of brothers and sisters or even cousins having children together. She would have thought that sort of thing was a thing of the past.

“That would be like animals inbreeding.” She hadn’t meant to speak out loud but the thought was distasteful to her and she considered it highly irresponsible for anyone not to factor in the possible dangers to their children.

“That’s rather a vulgar term, but yes, essentially families in certain remote parts of the country marry cousins or sometimes even sisters and brothers. The children often are born with some illness or abnormality.”

“So what happened?” she pried.

“I’m not exactly sure,” he shrugged and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “They moved out of town a few weeks ago and then one day Joseph showed up for an appointment without the children. He has always made me feel uneasy but this day he became agitated and accusatory, saying that if I truly were a healer, as I’d proclaimed, then his children would be healed and they wouldn’t need treatment any longer.

He doesn’t seem to understand that at this point in time, there is no cure for their illness, but their symptoms can be controlled through diet and supplements as well as regular injections of healthy red blood cells.”

“So he withdrew them from treatment, and the kid’s health regressed.” Maeve finished for him.

“That’s it,” said the small thin man whose skin still showed the fading tell tale signs of adolescent acne. Deep lines grooved his cheeks on either side of the goatee that was showing definite signs of gray and his eyes were magnified to an owlish gaze by his round glasses. He had obviously been wearing the same clothes for some time, dirt and sweat stains showing among the wrinkles in the khaki fabric of his slacks, and like Maeve, his feet were bare. Joseph had taken their shoes presumably as a deterrent to them running away.

“For some strange reason, Joseph wants us to think he believes that I have the power to somehow manifest the ability in you to heal. Why he thinks this is beyond me, but he’s holding my two daughters as insurance against our joint cooperation.” Maeve told him all of this as calmly as possible.

“So the candles, the bamboo, the drawings on the floor; they’re your shrine or whatever it is you’ll use to conjure up this ability for me.” It was a statement, not a question and was laced with disbelief.

“Look, I didn’t know what else to do, so I let him think I believed what he was telling me and I gave him a scenario I thought he would believe in order to buy some time. We have to appear to be working together on this until we can find a way out of here.”

“And exactly how do you propose to do that?” Makula demanded she give him an answer that she didn’t yet have. He was literally shaking with indignation at the injustices he’d suffered.

“Have you seen the rifle he keeps close at hand, not to mention the guns the boys carry around and the fact that our hands are tied and our feet shackled like animals?” He carried on. “I don’t know about your accommodations, but mine don’t even offer so much as a glimmer of light, let alone an open doorway to freedom!”

Maeve had remained silent, letting the doctor rid himself of at least some small measure of pent up frustration. She wasn’t sure she cared for this odd little man at all. His antagonism was nearly overpowering in the confined space.

“Are you a healer?” Maeve surprised them both with the question.

“A healer?” His tone was dripping with sarcasm. “I’ll have you know I completed many years of medical school as well as advanced training, have been published in several distinguished medical journals and have dedicated myself to my profession for over twenty years!”

“Yes, but are you a healer, Dr. Makula? Do you believe you have what it takes?” Maeve challenged without having any clue where the thought had come from.

Glenn stood and stared at her in disbelief, his pompous attitude not diminished in the least. He dropped his head, shaking it from side to side, then looked up and issued an exaggerated sigh.

He lowered himself to the floor then, putting his hands down to ease his body into a sitting position, the outline of his bony knees showing through the fabric of his slacks.

His legs probably weren’t as big around as her arm and she almost wasn’t able to stifle the giggle that bubbled up on her from out of nowhere.

Where did that come from? She thought and then mumbled, “Well, at least I still have a little of my sense of humor left.”

Maeve sat down cross legged in the center of the bamboo circle, and with candles flickering all around her, she began to say a silent prayer.

 

*****

Chapter 15

Claire woke with the odd feeling that she was being watched. She slowly opened her eyes and scanned the room, her gaze landing on the rocking chair in the corner where Faye was seated with her feet tucked under her.

“Good morning.” Claire almost didn’t hear Faye’s shy greeting and she was beginning to think that the girl couldn’t speak above a whisper. Suspicion registered in Claire’s mind and she sat up in front of Torei, ready to protect her sister from whatever threatened her.

“What are you doing here?” There was a sharp edge to her voice. Somewhere along the line her friendly outgoing demeanor had disappeared and in its place reared a forbidding presence she hadn’t been aware she possessed.

“I just wanted to check on Torei and see if she’s alright.” Faye seemed truly concerned and Claire softened slightly toward the girl.

“I’m feeling fine.” Torei said from behind Claire. “How are you this morning?” She asked, searching Faye’s face for any sign of how she might be feeling.

“It’s weird,” Faye said, “but I think I feel better this morning, stronger if you know what I mean.”

The girls had talked at some length the evening before and Faye had explained the symptoms of her disease. The constant weakness and exhaustion, the pain in her eyes and inability to do things that other kids her age took for granted.

Torei had seemed to understand, but Claire still didn’t trust this girl. After all, she had helped her father bring them here and she wasn’t about to forgive her for that just yet.

“What I don’t understand is why,” Faye mused. “What did you do that would make me better? I hope it didn’t hurt you when you touched me. I mean, it never hurt anyone before, but nobody else is like you.” She spoke in a rush to Torei with a trace of wonderment in her voice.

“It didn’t hurt me at all.” Torei assured her, flipping over on her stomach and swinging her feet back and forth. “It was kind of like – I could feel what you feel, I think, and then it was moving up my arm and into my body. Then I just thought about stopping it and it stopped part way up my arm and then I was really tired. And that’s all.” Torei finished with a shrug, not seeming all that surprised by the whole thing.

“Well, I don’t think you should do it anymore,” Claire stated adamantly. “Mom would be really upset if she thought Faye was doing something to hurt you.”

“But she’s not doing anything to me, okay?” Torei tried a nudge and a smile but Claire just crossed her arms and turned away.

“Besides, Mom would never be pissed at me for helping somebody. She would help too if she could you know.”

“Don’t say pissed. You know Mom hates that word!” Claire was just arguing for the sake of arguing now. They both used words that their mother didn’t like now and then.

Torei ignored her as she got up from the bed and walked over to Faye, then lowered herself to sit on her knees beside the chair.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “But it feels like something that maybe I’m supposed to do for you. If you want we’ll do it again now and see what happens.”

Claire felt her face go red and her stomach turn inside out at the thought of her sister doing something that could hurt her, but she didn’t know what she could do to stop her.

“Please, Faye,” she begged with tears starting in her eyes. “Don’t let her. What if she gets sick too?”

“I don’t know.” Faye looked from one sister to the other, torn by indecision. She had come to care about them a great deal in the short time they had been there and she was agonizing over the part she played in bringing them here. On the one hand, if she could regain some of her strength, she would have a better chance of helping them escape. On the other, she might be hurting Torei without realizing it and that would be just as bad as them being locked up down here.

“We’ll just try it this one time,” Torei cajoled. “And if it doesn’t work, or if I start feeling bad, we can stop.” She looked at Claire, willing her to understand.

“If I can do this for Faye maybe I can do it for Joseph too, and then we could all go home.” She tried to appeal to the logic of what she proposed, but the truth was, she really wanted to see if she could do it again.

“He likes to be called Joe,” Faye said with obvious affection. “He’s not like Carl and my dad, he’s gentle and smart and I think he has a crush on you,” Faye said to Torei with a teasing smile that turned in to a full grin when she saw Torei’s neck flush pink at the comment.

Claire sat thinking in silence for a while, then she seemed to reach a conclusion.

“Okay, but I’m not going to let you hurt her, Faye. No way. I’ll be right there holding on to Torei and if it seems like she’s not doing okay, I’ll make her stop.”

They all looked around at each other then and slowly moved into a circle, each holding on to the other.

 

*****

 

Maeve didn’t pray often but she figured it couldn’t hurt under the circumstances, so she closed her eyes and begged the Lord up above for deliverance from this hell and finished with a hearty “Amen”. She opened her eyes to find Makula staring at her with look of disdain for her behavior.

“Have you got a better idea?” She snapped and stood up looking around the room.

“Why don’t you just use your voodoo powers to conjure up a swat team?” Makula sneered at her and wiggled his fingers in the air while he rolled his eyes.

“That’s not a bad idea.” She said it more to herself than to him and started pacing the room with a distracted air.

“What are you going on about?” He demanded. “You don’t seem to be taking our situation seriously here. We’ll be very lucky if Binyon doesn’t come in here and kill us both!”

“Are you always this negative?” She couldn’t figure out how such an educated man, a physician no less, could possibly have such a fatalistic attitude. “If you can’t say anything positive then just be quiet for a minute and let me think.”

Makula was shocked into silence for a few long seconds before he started in again. She proceeded to ignore his blustery stammering as she circled the room.

Recalling the man who had occupied her dreams over the past couple of days, Maeve searched her thoughts for any hint of meaning in the vision.

“Dr. Makula,” she started with a hint of excitement creeping into her voice. “In all your years of medical training did you study anything about the power of the mind in overcoming illness?”

Makula looked at her as if she had two heads. After a few moments he conceded that he had in fact seen and read about cases of patients who were miraculously healed without any medical explanation.

“Would you mind explaining to me what this has to do with our situation?” He demanded, raising his arms and then dropping them to his sides in a defeated gesture.

“Have you ever had times when you really wanted something, or wanted to see someone and the next thing you know, there it is – or there they are?” She paused to let him consider for a moment.

“The power of the mind has always been a great mystery,” Maeve began. “And there are people who believe that we all have the ability to create our own destinies.”

She glanced at Makula and saw a glimmer of interest beginning to form in his eyes, so she went on before she lost her momentum, and her resolve.

“We know that everything in the universe is created by energy and that energy is formed into matter through the frequencies we send out with our thoughts. We all know that energy creates matter, so why wouldn’t this theory apply to creating our destiny?”

The skepticism was back when she looked over at the doctor again.

“Are you suggesting, Miss Tidewell, that we use the power of our minds to manifest an escape?” Makula was shaking his head in utter disbelief now. “That may well be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.”

“I’m not saying we don’t take any other action,” she was really getting irritated now. “But if we make a plan, which by the way should include trying to heal those children, and then we focus on the plan and intently visualize the outcome, we may just be able to get ourselves out of here.”

“While we’re at it why don’t we just visualize” he said making quotation marks in the air with his fingers, “that this whole thing is just a bad dream?”

“What else have you got to do today?” She asked matter-of-factly with her fists on her hips.

Maeve and Glenn both looked up in alarm as they heard a scraping at the door. Joseph stepped inside, his large frame dominating the small room.

“Come with me.” He stated flatly and abruptly turned to walk out of the room. Maeve looked over at Makula and, with a shrug, she turned her back on him and followed Joseph into the hall.

Maeve was startled by Carl, who was standing just outside the door holding a rifle across his chest. His eyes sparked when she passed him and the demented gleam caused goose bumps to rise on her arms. She looked away from him and walked down the stairs, eager to put as much distance as she could between them. She made a mental note to have a very serious talk with the girls and she would do everything in her power to keep Carl away from them.

Joseph led Maeve and Dr. Makula into the living room area where a large rustic stone fireplace was built into the wall, complete with a stuffed elks head mounted over the mantle. Faye was waiting there with her brother, Joseph Jr., who looked as if his condition had worsened since she had last seen him only yesterday. Faye, by contrast, seemed to have some fresh color in her cheeks and her posture appeared more relaxed than it had before.

“Faye and Joe should be examined regularly to monitor their progress.” Joseph was speaking to the doctor with an air of authority.

Makula looked at him nervously and then hesitantly approached Joe, holding his hands to either side of the boys face and pulling his lower lids down to check for distention and discoloration.

“I’ll need my equipment.” Makula sounded as if he were afraid of Joseph’s reaction. “I can’t really examine them properly without it.”

“You’ll be able to tell if they are improving or not. That’s all we really want to know isn’t it?” Joseph’s tone clearly brooked no argument.

Makula just nodded again warily and raised Joe’s wrist to measure his pulse. Makula could tell that Joe was weak and in pain and Maeve was surprised to see that his sense of compassion overrode his fear for the moment.

“And how are you feeling today my friend?” He gave Joe a small smile of encouragement.

“Not so hot,” Joe said and returned the smile. “My eyes really hurt today and I can’t seem to focus out of my right one.”

“We’ll see what we can do about that,” the doctor said, patting Joe on the shoulder and moving over to take a look at Faye.

“Hi, Dr. Makula,” she greeted him happily.

“Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me it seems you are doing much better young lady,” he said with mock suspicion, as if she were playing some trick on him.

“I feel good today, Mak,” she beamed. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she added warmly.

Makula was astonished at the difference in this little girl. Only a few weeks ago he had been ready to hospitalize her and was terribly worried about her chances for recovery.

“What has brought about this change do you suppose?” He asked the question in all seriousness but she just shrugged her shoulders and grinned from ear to ear.

Glenn stepped away to talk briefly with Joseph, offering some suggestions for relieving Joe’s discomfort and telling him there wasn’t much he could do for him there in the cabin.

Joseph glared at the doctor and pointed out that so far Maeve’s power seemed to be having the desired effect on Faye, and he strongly suggested they start focusing their attention on healing his son.

The insinuation was plain and Maeve could see beads of sweat begin to form on the good doctor’s forehead.

Carl led them back upstairs where he relit the candles and checked to make sure their handcuffs were still secure. He drew close to Maeve under the pretense of checking hers and whispered next to her ear.

“My pop thinks you’re somethin’ special, but I know better. He’ll let me have my way pretty soon when he figures out you’re just like everybody else. Oh yeah,” he leered and gave a short sadistic laugh at the look of revulsion she gave him. “You can bleed just like me and the rest of the world. You can’t do any of the things he thinks you can.” He threatened her quietly, then moved away and closed the door. Maeve heard the lock slip soundly into place behind him.

Maeve took a few deep breaths to calm her nerves and then turned to Dr. Makula who was standing in the corner tugging on his lower lip, his thoughts seemingly a million miles away.

“I don’t understand,” he muttered. “There is absolutely no medical reason for her recovery. I can only think it’s a temporary reprieve and there’s no way of knowing how long it will last.”

“Well, right now it’s working in our favor,” insisted Maeve. “We may as well put these candles to good use and start working on our plan to get out of here.”

“What? Oh yes, I guess we might as well,” Makula said, still deep in thought.

“Do you have a first name?” Maeve asked suddenly.

Makula looked slightly confused at the question and said, “Yes, it’s Glenn. Glenn Makula.”

 

*****

Chapter 16

Ben laid his credit card on the counter and waited impatiently while the agent printed out the rental agreement.

“I could have been halfway there by now,” he grumbled as the scrawny kid sauntered over to the printer and brought back a stack of paper. He signed for the car and picked up the keys, then hurried Jason out to the four wheel drive Jeep that he had requested for the week.

Pulling onto the interstate he could see the Mesa looming ahead in the distance, the lower slopes bathed in sunlight that gradually faded to shadows near the high, flat summit. They drove along the now familiar route and talked about the missing woman and her children and how it was a strange coincidence that Jason had run into them twice in one day.

Ben tried, without much success, to convince himself that he had only dreamed about her and the cabin because he had seen her talking to Jason. He reasoned that his subconscious mind had remembered a photo from somewhere and had put the two together in his imagination. But he knew that he was lying to himself. He had only seen the woman from behind for a brief second and there was no way he could have recognized her picture.

“What would you say if I told you I had a dream about her?” The question came out of the blue and surprised Ben as much as it did Jason.

“Who?” Jason looked at him dumbly, not immediately making the connection in the conversation.

“The missing woman,” Ben explained. “What was her name?”

“I don’t think the guy said. If he did I don’t remember.”

“Well, I had a dream about her being up at the cabin we saw yesterday.” Ben was beginning to feel foolish now that he had opened his big mouth.

“Gees, dad, I guess I’d say you need a date!” Jason teased his dad unmercifully every chance he got about finding a new girlfriend but Ben just ignored him. “Is that why we’re going back up there, to see if you can find them?” He asked incredulously.

“No, not really,” Ben lied evenly. “I just got to thinking we might go up there and see about renting the place for a few days. We could hang out and relax, maybe see how good we can get at this fishing thing.”

Jason didn’t really believe him. His dad wasn’t the greatest liar in the world after all, but Jason thought it wasn’t a bad idea to check into it anyway so he went along with the charade and said it sounded like a good time.

They drove the rest of the way in silence, each lost in their own thoughts about what they might find when they reached the lake.

Pulling up forty-five minutes later, Ben parked at the trail head where they had left the bike yesterday. Ben had loaded up a back pack with some food and water along with his camera and plenty of film.

“I’m not sure if there’s a road in so we’ll hike from here like we did yesterday.” Ben was anxious to see the cabin again, but for some reason, he didn’t want to draw too much attention.

They enjoyed the walk and traveled at a leisurely pace. Ben snapped pictures as Jason pointed out landmarks and wildlife along the trail.

“What do you think happened to her, Dad?” Jason asked after a while.

“It’s impossible to say, Jase. You said you saw her getting in a truck so maybe it’s like the detective said, maybe she just went off with a boyfriend for a few days and she’ll turn up safe and sound, wondering what all the excitement is about.”

“I hope so,” Jase said. But he sounded doubtful. “She seemed really nice, you know. Most people aren’t very friendly when they see a kid with a Mohawk, but she was different.”

Ben turned and gave Jason a good long look, wondering at the level of self confidence in his voice. He hadn’t thought about it for a while, but the notion struck him that his son was a good looking kid. He was reminded of himself at that age, sans the Mohawk, which Jason wasn’t wearing today. He had brushed his hair back and had it secured with a rubber band, making him look clean cut and mature.

All of a sudden Ben was reminded of Jason as a child. He had followed Ben everywhere, asking questions and getting under foot. But Ben had never minded the interruptions from the curious little bundle of energy.

He had tried to teach him the value of life and give him the freedom to make his own choices, and now he could see that he had somehow managed to raise a caring young man who would have the courage to do the right thing.

“What?” Jason asked when he noticed Ben staring at him with a strange expression on his face.

“Nothing,” Ben replied. “Except I think I’m really glad we took this trip so we could be together.” He turned and headed on down the trail before the lump in his throat got any bigger. And before he could say anything else that might make Jason’s ears turn red.

Jason stood silent, lost in thought, and then he ran to catch up with Ben. “Wait!”

Ben turned around and Jason hollered at him as he ran.

“The girls weren’t with her, Dad, when she got in the truck. I mean, they walked out to the parking lot together but when I saw the guy helping her into the truck the kids weren’t there.”

“What do you mean, helping her? You didn’t say that before.” Ben was looking intently at his son’s perplexed expression. Jason thought about it for a minute but now he just wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know. It’s just that I didn’t think about it before and now it just seems kind of weird.” Jason also reasoned that if the girls weren’t with their mother when they left the parking lot, they had to be with someone who would know where she went.

Ben decided to give that some thought as they walked the better part of a mile to Lost Lake.

They came out of the woods on the rise above the lake and could see smoke curling above the trees across the water.

“It looks like somebody’s there. Look, they have a fire going.” Ben observed as they rounded a curve in the trail that brought the cabin into view.

It took them another twenty minutes to circle the lake and reach the cabin. Ben was pretty sure he and Jason looked like any father and son leisurely hiking through the woods and hoped they gave the impression that they had just stumbled onto the cabin for the first time.

His nerves were tingling and he had the strange sense that something wasn’t right as they walked up the stairs and stepped onto the deck. Ben was having second thoughts about knocking when the door slowly opened and a boy of about Jason’s age peered at them through the screen door.

Jason was standing behind Ben and he gasped quietly, then turned aside and wandered away to stand at the porch rail and look out over the water.

“Hi.” Ben tried a greeting and a friendly smile.

The boy peered back at him through eyes dark with malice. Ben nearly took a step back at the power behind the poisonous gaze.

He cleared his throat and tried again.

“Are your folks at home?” He put his smile firmly back in place.

Ben heard footsteps approaching on the other side of the door and the boy moved out of the way to make room for a man who all but overwhelmed the opening with his large frame. Ben was getting tired of the phony smile routine, but he gave it another try, hoping for a more positive kind of response. The man was obviously the boy’s father. He had the same hateful eyes and unwavering stare. Like that of a heinous demon searching for innocent souls to devour.

Joseph Binyon nodded his head once, acknowledging Ben’s presence, and then told him firmly, and not the least bit politely, that the cabin was privately owned and not for rent.

He soundly closed the door without another word, while Ben and Jason stared at each other in bewilderment.

 

*****

 

Joseph moved to the window to see what his visitors would do next.

To all appearances they were just a couple of hikers, probably naturalists out photographing the scenery and the abundant wildlife.

What a waste, he thought to himself. He would much rather hunt or trap anything with four legs. It was something he’d discovered about himself when he was young.

He thought back to that first time. The whole family was visiting some friends who owned a turkey farm in Colorado and it happened to be the day that the turkeys all went to meet their maker. Joseph had watched in fascination as one after the other of them was held down on the block, and then the whack of the axe coming down to sever their ugly necks. The blood spurted sometimes three or four feet while the large birds frantically continued to flap their wings and struggle as if they would run off, bouncing headless, across the open field.

He supposed he should be disturbed at the workings of his mind, but he never really gave it too much thought, and simply accepted it as part of his unique existence.

“I got a feeling about those two, Dad.” Joseph was surprised to find Carl was still standing behind him.

“It looks like they’re just moving on. Keep an eye on them for a bit and see where they go,” Joseph ordered. “If they show up again, we may need to change our plans to accommodate them,” he finished with a grim expression that he could see excited Carl, his orders opening up all kinds of possibilities.

Joseph then turned back to the window and watched as the boy and his father walked steadily away from the cabin.

 

*****

 

“Dad,” Jason started, but Ben jumped in before he could finish.

“Don’t say anything at all, Jase.” Ben murmured the warning very quietly as he raised the camera to his eye and snapped off a shot.

He was mentally kicking himself for being so stupid. What the hell had he been thinking, taking Jason up there like that with no way to protect him?

He kept walking and hoped that Jason would take his silence for what it was, a hint to act casual and keep moving.

He continued to point the camera and used it to cover the fact that he was studying the area surrounding the cabin, hoping for any sign of the woman or her car. He knew it was unlikely, but every instinct he had was telling him that something here wasn’t all hunky dory.

They had walked nearly a hundred yards when Jason raised his arm and pointed into the distance as if he wanted Ben to take a picture.

“Look at that,” he said, his voice ringing loud and clear in the silence. And then under his breath he added, “Someone’s following us.”

Ben pointed the camera and responded with what he hoped would look like enthusiasm, dropping to one knee and using the camera to cover his face. Motioning Jason down beside him, Ben pointed into the distance as if confirming the direction and then as quietly as possible said, “Look, Jason, keep walking just like it’s any other day until you get to the Jeep. If for some reason I’m not right with you, take off and go find the nearest phone.”

“Dad.” Jason tried to argue but Ben wouldn’t hear any of it.

“Look on the bright side, you’ll get to drive without an adult in the car,” he said with a smirk.

Ben stood up, gazed up at the sun as if to check the time, and then patted Jason on the shoulder before starting off in a determined stride toward the trail head where they had parked. Every now and then Ben could hear rustling nearby and his senses told him they were still being followed. But short of turning around and going on the attack there wasn’t much he could do about it so they kept up the pretense and he stayed alert to any change in the atmosphere.

Ben was sweating by the time they reached the vehicle and it wasn’t due to the warmth of the day. He was so relieved to get Jason out of there and back on the road that he nearly collapsed into the seat and he had a little difficulty getting his shaking legs to cooperate. He turned the Jeep back toward the main road and then hit the gas, speeding down the winding mountain road as fast as he could go.

It wasn’t that he was afraid of getting hurt. It was more that he had felt the breath of the devil on his cheek and knowing he had put Jason in danger. There was also a terrible fear building in him that he wouldn’t be able to get help up there in time.

Oh yes, he was sure the woman was there, and most likely, she wasn’t there voluntarily.

“Dad,” Jason’s voice jolted him back to the here and now. “I know that kid. He was driving the 240, the one Mark and I saw at the hotel.” Jason was clearly agitated and Ben tried to keep his voice calm.

“Are you sure about that, Jason, how do you know it was him?”

“It was dark but he drove right by me. I’m sure it was the same guy. And did you see the truck?”

“Yeah I did, it was white.”

“I saw a guy helping her into a white truck, remember? I think that might be the same one.” This was the second time today that Jason had phrased it that way and Ben was starting to think that it might be important.

“What do you mean when you say ‘helping her,’ Jason? Describe it to me just the way you saw it.”

“Well, you know, like she was having trouble getting in the truck and he had to boost her up. Like that.”

Try as he might, Ben couldn’t reconcile his scant memory of the seemingly healthy young woman with the idea that she wouldn’t be able to get into the vehicle on her own. And maybe it was none of his business, but he just couldn’t imagine the attractive young woman he’d seen in the pictures going anywhere with the strange man he’d just spoken to.

Ben had also seen the rifle the kid was trying to hide behind the door. It was the rifle that had prompted him to walk away and get his son out of there.

“I know she’s there, Dad,” Jason urged. “We can’t just not do anything!”

There was a small town coming up in another mile and Ben planned to stop there. There was no cell reception up here, but hopefully he would be able to borrow a phone to call detective Worth and explain the situation, then get Jason back to the hotel where he would be safe.

Ben drove into the little mountain community and pulled over at a roadside restaurant with a giant wagon wheel out in front. The dirt and gravel parking lot was empty except for a few dusty trucks parked in the back. He jumped out and ran inside, scanning the front entry for a pay phone.

A tall, buxom woman came from around the hostess counter and gave him a toothy smile while she patted her blonde bouffant with one hand and smoothed her old fashioned pink uniform with the other.

“What can ah do for ya handsome?” she asked with a lift of her thinly tweezed brows. Ben ignored the flirtation and the exaggerated drawl.

“I need a phone, ma’am, it’s important.”

“Well come on over here,” she invited as she reached behind the counter to pull out an old rotary phone.

I must be somewhere in the twilight zone, thought Ben as he reached for his wallet and pulled out the card detective Worth had given him that morning.

The receptionist in the detectives division informed him that Worth was out and she wasn’t sure what time he’d be back. He told her the situation was urgent and he really needed to speak with someone about the missing woman’s case.

“I’ll track someone down right away,” she said with a sense of urgency that assured him she was taking his call seriously. “Give me your number and stay by the phone. I’ll have them call you back.”

Ben looked at the hostess, who had not made the slightest attempt to hide the fact that she was listening in to his side of the conversation, and asked her for the number of the restaurant. She pulled a pen from behind her ear and scratched out a number on an order pad she kept in her pocket.

Ben read the number off and then hung up the phone, handing it back over the counter. He thanked the hostess for the use of the phone and headed back outside before she had a chance to start asking questions. Gossip traveled fast in a small town and Ben didn’t want to have to explain his call in case the big man at the cabin was local and got word of his suspicions.

Ben sat behind the wheel of the Jeep drumming his fingers and thinking.

“Well?” Jason asked. “Are they coming or what?”

“I had to leave a message with someone in the office. The detective is supposed to call me back here as soon as she finds him.” He was torn between hanging around and heading back to town, thinking that by the time they found Worth, he could already be there and Jason could be back at the hotel.

There really wasn’t much to think about. Jason always had to be his first priority and it wasn’t like he could go back over to the cabin and accuse its occupants of nefarious acts, so he put the Jeep in gear and took off.

“Where are we going?” Jason was afraid he already knew the answer.

“You’re going back to the hotel and I’m going to meet with the detective we talked to this morning.”

“Wait, why am I going back to the hotel? We can’t just leave without knowing they’re okay!”

“What do you want to do Jason, go up there and demand to know if those two are holding a woman and her children captive? First they’d tell us to come on in and then they’d shoot us and bury us in the woods. Besides, we don’t know that there’s anything going on. They’re probably just a normal father and son, like you and me, who don’t have anything to do with any kidnapping.”

Jason sat stone faced, staring out the window with his chin in his hand. He was pissed. Ben had known he would be but he didn’t really need to worry about that right now.

“Look, I’m going to explain the situation to Worth and he’ll get a group of police to come up and check it out.”

Jason didn’t respond at all and Ben gave up the argument, turning his attention to the winding road.

 

*****

Chapter 17

Torei clapped her hands and rubbed them briskly together, then held them solemnly to her face as if in prayer.

“What are you doing?” Claire asked.

“I’m not sure, but I saw it on the karate kid. I thought it might help.”

“You are such a big dork.”

Faye giggled and gave Claire a look that said ‘you got that right.’

“Fine, I might be a dork but I don’t see you two doing anything special here.”

The girls all jumped and turned toward the stairs as they heard the door closing quietly. Joe stood just inside the entry looking sternly at Faye.

“Hi, Joe,” she greeted with an attempt at an innocent smile.

“Dad doesn’t know I’m down here,” he began. “And I don’t think you should be here either, Faye.” He turned and gave Torei a searching look.

“We’re just talking.”

“I know what you’re doing. You’re using her to make you well and I don’t like it,” he stated flatly.

They all stared at each other silently, not knowing what to say. Torei finally stood up and walked over to Joe, taking him by the hand and leading him over to sit on the edge of the bed. She looked into his swollen eyes and saw the sadness there, and she felt the exhaustion and pain that was coursing through his fragile body. Her heart went out to him and she knew that he was only trying to help, to do the right thing for her. She was touched and for a moment she just sat looking at him. “How did you know?” She finally asked.

“I just do. Faye spends a lot of time down here and when I see her again she’s always better. I could tell you were different when we brought you here, that you were both different,” he finished, turning his serious gaze to look at Claire.

“Why don’t you let me help you, too?” Torei offered in sympathy.

“It’s not right. Please, Faye, don’t do this to her anymore.”

“She’s not doing anything to me Joe, and if I can make her feel better, anyone feel better, then I think that I should.”

“If dad found out it would be really bad. I don’t think he really believes your mom can give Dr. Makula the power to make us better. But if he knew that you could do it, I don’t know what he would do.”

“Wouldn’t he be glad? He would just let Torei heal you and then we could go home.” Claire had finally accepted that Torei had the incredible power to make Faye feel better and had decided that her sister was right, she had to help.

“You don’t understand. You’re good. My dad and Carl, they aren’t. If he lets you go he’s going to be in a lot of trouble for kidnapping you in the first place. Dad doesn’t care one way or the other if we get better, it’s just that my mother left us some money in a trust and we have to be taken care of for him to keep getting the money.”

“That’s right,” it was Faye’s turn to explain.“There’s always been something wrong with Carl. He’s like Dad. He’s mean and he hurts people if he can. Dad made us help him bring you here and now I’m afraid he’s not going to let you leave.” She had tears in her eyes and was clearly sincere in her concern for the two sisters who had become so important to her.

“I’ve been trying to think of a way to get you out of here,” Joe said. “But one of them is on guard all the time, and even if we let you go they’d just catch you and bring you back.”

“Or worse,” Faye said ominously.

“No one’s going to hurt us.” Claire sounded completely confident, as if she already knew exactly how things would turn out.

 

*****

 

“Glenn, so far, Joseph thinks that we’re manifesting the power to heal Faye, so that’s good.”

“Maeve, none of this is making any sense to me. How does he think this is happening? By magic?”

“For some reason Joseph thinks I have the power to manifest reality. I decided to play along and asked for the candles and the bamboo to make him believe I was performing a ritual. Now, maybe Faye believes that we’re going to succeed and so she has convinced herself that her condition is improving. It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is we’ve got to find a way to get out of here. Something is telling me that we’re not really here for the sole purpose of healing the kids. I think it’s some sort of game and I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen if we lose.”

“We can’t escape without taking Faye and Joe with us,” Glenn said and Maeve noticed again the genuine compassion that the man showed toward his young patients. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed that we’re almost never all together at the same time. It’s as if he knows that none of us would try to escape and leave the others behind. Maybe we should try it the next time they take us all in for lunch.”

“It’s going to be pretty hard if we’re in handcuffs and the three of them have guns,” Maeve pointed out. “It’s close quarters and someone might end up getting shot.”

“Now who’s being negative?” Glenn looked rather pleased with himself for the timely comment, which irritated Maeve, but she did recognize the truth in what he said.

“What if we could get them to move us, say to someplace where we could all spread out? There are only two of them, and with the kids, there are six of us. Will Faye and Joe help us?” Maeve didn’t have any idea what the two were like or which side they would be on if it came down to it.

“Faye and Joe are two of the sweetest kids you could ever want to meet. And make no mistake, they are afraid of their father. Carl even more so. If they have the chance, they’ll do everything they can to get away from him.”

Maeve had been thinking about what Glenn said and an idea began to form, very faint and indistinct at first but then a vision began to clarify in her mind of open space and freedom.

“We need to perform a ritual,” she said as if in a dream.

“Would you please stop doing that?” Makula complained, but his voice had lost the sharp edge she had come to expect.

“You said we need space to spread out, and Joseph thinks there’s something magical about all of this,” she pointed out as she swept her arm around the room. “So we tell him we need a special place to hold the final ritual of healing.”

“We tell him it has to be a place of significance and it has to be outside.” Glenn added the detail, picking up on her idea and expanding on the lie they would tell Joseph.

Maeve sat down in the center of the bamboo circle and began creating a mental image. It would work, she thought, if they could pull it off and distract Joseph and Carl long enough to get their guns. A memory kept coming to her of a lake and trees, and then a young man stepped out of the woods and she realized it wasn’t a memory at all.

Glenn sat down next to her in the circle, bringing her back to reality, urging her to help him lay out the specifics of their plan.

“Someone was here.” Maeve stated with an edge of excitement in her voice.

“What?”

“Just now. I think someone was just here looking for us.”

“How can you know that?” Glenn asked, the question came out on a short bark of a laugh that clearly told Maeve he thought she had gone off the deep end.

“I didn’t hear anything, not that we would up here. You must have been dreaming for a minute.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think so. We have to get out of this cabin where we have a chance of finding help.” She ended the discussion with a note of finality, keeping the knowledge close that she didn’t believe they would be alone when they made their desperate bid for freedom.

They schemed and planned, eventually settling on the details that they hoped would lead to their escape.

“I’ll explain to the girls tonight and maybe somehow we can get a message to Faye and Joe. If we can’t then we’ll just have to trust that when the time comes, they’ll do the right thing.” Maeve hoped.

“I know they will, I have a lot of faith in them and they deserve a better life than the one they have.”

Glenn’s passionate response was exactly what Maeve needed to hear and it gave her faith that things would all work out.

“There’s one more thing we need to do,” she said as she reached for his hand. And then Maeve proceeded to teach Glenn Makula what little she knew about the workings of the universe.

 

*****

 

It was evening when Carl entered the enclosed loft and observed the woman and the doctor sitting inside the circle. He guessed they were meditating, but he didn’t mind interrupting them since he didn’t believe in all that crap anyway.

“Time to go back to your quarters,” he said roughly as he grabbed Maeve by the arm and lifted her to her feet.

Carl marched her out the door, locking Glenn in alone for the short time it would take to move Maeve to the basement.

Glenn stood quietly in the center of the circle. He felt strangely calm and wondered at the gift this young woman had offered him. Life had been so busy for him over the last thirty years that he hadn’t given much thought to the man he had become. Maybe he was at this point in his life because of his growing disregard for the spiritual aspects of his existence. He didn’t really think he believed in manifestation, not the way Maeve had described it. But he did know there was a force out there somewhere that was directing his path, or was he directing it?

He was surprised to discover that he was smiling. He was questioning the workings of the universe for the first time in years, uncovering feelings and thoughts that had been buried long ago. What if she was right? What if they could combine the energy from their thoughts and create their future?

A vision of Lillian sprung to mind and his spirits were lifted by her smiling face and gentle eyes. “Why have I never married her after all this time?” He wondered aloud and made the decision then and there to remedy the situation as soon as he made it back home.

Just then Carl stepped back into the room, jerking his head in a commanding gesture for Glenn to follow him.

Glenn decided he didn’t have anything better to do, so tonight, while he was alone in the dark, he would continue to visualize carrying out the plan and just for good measure, he would pray.

 

*****

 

“Tell your father I need to talk with him please,” Maeve ordered as politely as she could.

“Sure,” Carl leered at her slyly, “as soon as I’m finished talking to you.” Carl made it perfectly clear that he had no interest in talking by rubbing his crotch against her hip and running his tongue along her shoulder.

She was unbelievably repulsed by his touch, and shocked at the depth of her hatred for this boy.

A vision of him lying dead and broken on the ground flashed into her mind and she felt a thrill at the thought of pulverizing the little shit into lifelessness. Just as quickly as the image had come it was gone and she was disgusted with herself for her violent fantasy.

Carl seemed to sense something that frightened him just a little and he took a step back just as the sound of footsteps approached from down the hall.

“In due time, son,” said Joseph as he reached them and then, “Go take Dr. Makula back to the cellar.”

Carl gave her a look that made her stomach turn over before he turned and headed back to the loft. She pushed her discomfort to the back of her mind and took the opportunity to set her plan in motion.

“Joseph, I need to talk with you about the healing ritual. I’ve been meditating most of the afternoon and I’ve realized something that I hadn’t considered before.”

Joseph turned and stared at her with his lifeless eyes, causing a small shiver to travel down her back.

I’d better make this good, Maeve thought, plunging on into the speech she had concocted.

“If I’m not mistaken, there will be a full moon soon, and I believe we, all of us, may be able to use the power of that moon to complete the manifestation. We will need to form a circle under the open sky and channel our combined energies to bring your desires to reality.”

Oh brother, had she really just sounded like some mystical soothsayer preparing for a séance? For a brief moment she was afraid she had overplayed her role and blown their only chance at getting out of this deplorable situation. Joseph just stood and stared at her as if he could intuit her very thoughts, and then he nodded in agreement and asked, “Are you in need of a specific location?”

“It must be a place of some significance, with a clearing if possible but surrounded by tall trees. Torches will have to take the place of candles and the bamboo circle duplicated. Is all of this possible?”

Joseph didn’t know how she could have foreseen the place of her destiny, but he didn’t question her powers any more than he questioned his own omnipotence. He would take her to meet the thousands of souls who awaited her arrival.

“Be prepared to travel by Friday evening at sunset,” was all he said. Then he led her back to the basement and her children.

 

*****

Chapter 18

Maeve was feeling like she and Glenn had really started to accomplish something. What it was she wasn’t sure, but she did know they were both determined to get the kids out of there in one piece. The interminable stress of worrying about the girls and the effort she had made to concentrate on putting the pieces together had taken its toll. When she walked down the stairs and saw the smiling faces of her two beautiful daughters she nearly broke down and cried.

“Somebody was here today,” Claire said trying to subdue the hopeful tone in her voice. “They were looking for us.”

“Did you see who it was?” Maeve asked gently.

“No, and I didn’t hear them either, it was more like just a feeling, you know. But I know they were here and they’ll be back.” She said this with such certainty that Maeve no longer had any lingering doubts about her earlier intuition.

She was having a good deal of difficulty accepting all the strange behavior that she and the girls were displaying. Maybe it was the stress of the situation and it was all just coincidence combined with wishful thinking, but she wasn’t about to discount anything that might help to end this nightmare.

“I have to talk to you,” she said earnestly, pulling them both over to the bed and patting the mattress in invitation.

“We have something we need to tell you, too, Mom.” Claire was serious but Maeve could see the light of excitement in her eyes.

“I’ll let you tell me in a minute but we may not have much time to talk about this and it’s important. Dr. Makula and I have come up with a plan to get away from here and I’m going to need you to be ready when the time comes.” The girls both nodded in agreement and Maeve continued. “I’ve told Joseph that we need to perform a ritual under the full moon. I think it’s going to be Friday night so we’ll have time to get everything in place. If we can just get outside I know we can separate Joseph and Carl and that will give us a chance to get away. I want you to remember that whatever else happens you stay together and you run. Do you understand?” The girls both nodded but Maeve wasn’t convinced that they would do as she asked.

“Now, we’re hoping that there’s some way to take Faye and Joe with us, but I don’t know if they’ll go or if they’ll be on our side, or even if we can get a message to them.”

“That’s what we need to tell you, Mom.” Torei jumped in at what she perceived as just the right time.

“Faye’s been coming down here to talk with us during the day.” Claire looked pointedly at Torei and Maeve thought she knew what they were trying not to say.

“And today Joe was here too. They’re afraid of their dad and especially Carl. We were talking about a way they could help us escape.” Torei blurted in a single breath.

“Joseph says he just wants them to get better but that’s a lie. He only wants the money they get from a trust,” and then Claire added, “I don’t know what that is, but it’s how they live.”

“A trust is usually money that comes from an inheritance.” Maeve explained, “Like if someone dies.” And there’s your briefcase full of money, she thought but she didn’t say it out loud.

“Well, their mom died and they have this money, but Joseph has to take care of them in order to keep getting it.”

Anyway,” Torei emphasized, attempting to put the conversation back on track. “We can talk to Joe and Faye tomorrow and let them know what they need to do. They’ll be ready to go as long as they know what’s going on.”

“Do you trust them?” Maeve looked directly into Claire’s eyes, knowing that her little one was an amazing judge of character.

“We both do,” Claire assured her. “And Jason will be there too.”

“Who’s Jason?” Maeve asked, dumbfounded that there might be yet another victim involved in this unthinkable situation.

“He’s the boy with the Mohawk.” Claire responded as if it were obvious and she couldn’t understand why Maeve didn’t already know. “I keep seeing him in my dreams and I know he’ll be there with Faye and Joe. No way will they let us down.” Claire gave her mother a reassuring pat as she spoke.

“Especially since Torei has been using some special energy to help Faye, right?”

Torei stared sheepishly at her hands and looked around the room as if it were the most interesting place she’d ever seen. Claire just sat calmly and returned her mother’s stare.

“Maybe you can explain to me how it works,” Maeve said, reaching her cuffed hands over Torei’s head so she could pull her close.

Torei could be extremely bashful at times, so Maeve tried not to make her feel uncomfortable with a too focused gaze.

Claire was watching her closely too and that wasn’t helping at all. Torei looked at the ceiling and then let her eyes roam the room while she took several deep breaths.

“Okay, so the thing is, I don’t really think Faye is being healed.”

What? Torei, she gets better every time she comes down here to be with you. I swear, sometimes you are so dense!” Claire cut her off indignantly.

“I may be dense, but at least I’m not a big know it all!”

“Okay, okay, okay, now stop. The last thing we need right now is an argument.”

“Sorry.” Claire said and actually sounded like she meant it.

“So if you’re not healing her, why is she getting better?” Maeve encouraged Torei to explain.

“What I mean is, I don’t think it’s anything permanent. It’s more like,” Torei paused for a while as she tried to figure out how to explain.

“Like a transfer of energy.” She finally said and nodded as if to confirm for her own self that she had gotten it right. She raised her head and found Claire and her mother staring at her with a look of confusion mixed with anticipation. Maybe she hadn’t made it very clear after all and so she tried again.

“It’s like, I can pull some bad energy out of Faye’s body and replace it with some good energy. That makes her feel better, at least for a while.”

Maeve thought she understood now, but she didn’t necessarily like the sound of it.

“So what happens to the bad energy? Honey, you could be hurting yourself by doing this.”

“No, I don’t think so. If I just rest for a little while, it seems to go away. And it’s getting easier every time, too.”

Maeve was concerned that Torei might be absorbing some of this ‘bad’ energy, but she didn’t want to say it out loud and possibly plant a negative seed in her mind. She would just have to give it some thought and see if she could think of a way for Torei to get rid of whatever it was she was pulling away from Faye.

 

*****

 

Joseph met Carl as he was returning from the cellar and motioned him through one of the doors leading off the hall.

“The woman has requested a place to perform her sorcery on the night of the full moon. Go tomorrow night out to Land’s End and make sure everything can be ready,” he instructed.

“You can’t really believe all of this bull shit.” The belligerence in Carl’s tone was undisguised.

“Don’t question my judgment in this thing,” Joseph ordered, the threat unmistakable in his eyes. “She knows about the place where the spirits dwell.”

Carl forced himself to ignore his fathers’ stupidity. “You know they’ll try to escape don’t you?”

“I do know it, but where are they going to go on foot out in the middle of nowhere? Besides, Maeve and the good doctor won’t go anywhere without those two little girls. She thinks we’ll all be together there while she heals Joe and Faye, but the kids are all staying behind.”

“She doesn’t need the doctor to cure them.” It wasn’t a question but a statement of fact as far as Carl was concerned. “And don’t so-called rituals work better when you offer a sacrifice?” Carl’s eyes were burning now with an expectant light at this new idea.

“A sacrifice can be arranged,” Joseph finally agreed. “But I’ll take care of it. You’ll be staying here with those kids.”

Carl was suddenly angry and he stormed around the room, his fury at his father barely contained.

“Calm down and consider,” snapped Joseph, “the future possibilities. The woman has powers that can only make us stronger. She will pass her gift on to us, then you will not care who had the pleasure of sending the doctor to hell.”

When Carl turned back to Joseph he was wearing a chilling smile.

“We have no use for the little girls,” he said shrewdly.

Joseph studied his son for a few minutes before coming to a decision.

“You can’t have them both,” Joseph bargained. “Without one of them she won’t have any reason to continue to cooperate.”

Carl’s eyes turned inward and Joseph could see him wondering what it would be like, that soft tender skin giving way. Carl had killed many animals but had never actually felt, by his own hand, the life draining from a human being. His excitement grew until it was a palpable presence in the room.

Joseph knew it would do no good to finish discussing the details right now, not when Carl was in this state. He imagined it was much like the feeling he always experienced when he knew what he craved was at hand.

He even frightens me at times, thought Joseph, as Carl walked out of the room. He wondered if the time would soon come when his son would have to be put down like a rabid animal.

 

*****

Chapter 19

Ben walked into the detective’s office and sat down in a chair designated for visitors. Worth looked up and motioned Ben over to his desk where he sat with a phone tucked between his ear and shoulder. He finished up his call and tossed the handset back on the base, then turned his full attention to the young man who sat waiting patiently to speak.

“Mr. Drake, what can I do for you?” He asked in a bored tone that irritated the hell out of Ben. He took a deep breath, needing a second to gain some perspective, and then began his bid for an investigation at Lost Lake.

“I think the missing woman may be up at Mesa Lakes.”

Worth leaned forward in his chair and asked sharply, “Have you spoken with her or someone who’s seen her?”

“No, but my son and I were up at Lost Lake this morning and we met a man up there that was acting suspiciously.”

“How so?” Worth leaned back in his chair with a deflated air.

“Well, I knocked on the door to see about renting the cabin and, let’s just say that he was less than friendly. As a matter of fact, he more or less closed the door in my face.”

“So you walked up to this guy’s house, uninvited, and he didn’t ask you in for coffee.” Ben was irritated all over again at the sarcasm in Worth’s tone.

“Look, Detective, I’m not trying to waste your time here. The guy had a rifle behind the door, which I understand is to be expected in a mountain town.” He placated the detective with his hand up in a forestalling motion.

“But he also followed us off the property, hiding in the trees so we wouldn’t see him.”

“I’m sorry, Drake, but none of this is leading up to a search for a missing woman. Did you see her car up there or any sign that she might be in the vicinity? And even if she is up there, what’s to say she isn’t there of her own free will?”

“If she just went up there to take a few days off then everything is nice and simple. You just go knock on the door and if she’s there, voila, your case is solved.”

“And if she’s not we possibly just offended some high roller from the city and opened ourselves up for all kinds of law suits, including your trespassing.” Worth countered the argument with his finger aimed at Ben’s nose.

“Look, I didn’t see her car, but there is a white truck parked out by the garage. And I hesitate to say it, but Jason swears this guy’s son is the one who was driving the missing Nissan that night in the parking lot.” That was really all Ben had and it sounded weak even to his ears.

“What would be the harm in going up there to check?” Ben asked, feeling desperate and trying to find a way to convince Worth of the possibility of finding his missing persons. Short of making a complete fool of himself and claiming that he had seen the woman in a dream standing in front of the cabin he really didn’t know what else he could say.

Worth sat staring at him for a long time while Ben’s stomach twisted. He mentally encouraged the powers that be to turn on a light in the detectives’ brain.

Without a word the detective picked up the phone, dialed, and asked for Sergeant Lance. “Hey Larry, how’s it going?” He said affably and then after a short pause, “Listen, I got a tip on the possible whereabouts of the Tidewell woman and her kids. “Yeah, can you shoot a couple of guys up to Lost Lake and check it out?”

There was another pause while Worth listened and Ben started to feel a sense of relief come over him.

“I know it’s late but if there’s a chance she’s in some trouble up there I think we need to check it out now.”

More silence followed after which he looked up at Ben and asked him for the exact location of the cabin. He repeated the directions into the phone and then thanked Sergeant Lance, telling him they’d get together for a beer on the weekend.

“The Sheriff’s department has a small satellite office up in Mesa. They only have an acting sheriff and a couple of deputies, but we’re going to call and have them go out there tonight. With any luck we’ll hear back from them in a couple of hours.

“I’m staying at the hotel over by the airport you know. Can you call me when you get word?” Ben wasn’t sure why he asked, but it was important to him that he be kept in the loop.

“I really do appreciate your coming down here and your interest in this case, Ben.” Worth’s tone had softened considerably and he went on to explain. “But I hope you understand that until we find her, details of the Tidewell investigation are still confidential.” Worth’s’ diplomatic response surprised Ben for some reason. He hadn’t considered that this was none of his business, or that he wouldn’t play an active role in the outcome.

Ben felt somehow displaced, as if he suddenly had nowhere to go and nothing to focus his attention on. His vacation had been derailed and he couldn’t seem to figure out what it was he needed to do next.

He finally stood up, his hand reaching out to shake the hand of the serious man seated across from him.

“I understand. Good luck, Detective,” he said before he turned and walked away.

Detective Worth watched Ben Drake walk out of the office and wondered if this would really be the last he saw of the rugged, intense man. He was a pretty good judge of character and it occurred to him that Ben wasn’t the type to walk away from something as important as a missing woman if he thought he could make a difference. This was the second disappearance in the last five days, and he had no leads on either case. He had covered all the bases but could find no connection between the two. It wasn’t likely they had a serial killer on their hands since there were no similarities whatsoever, with the exception that in both cases, they had vanished without a trace. He ran his hands across his head as if pushing back an imaginary lock of hair from his brow, trying again to make any possible connection between the Tidewell case and the local doctor who had gone missing last week. He spent the next two hours catching up on his paperwork and going through the files again and again. He waited for the phone to ring. Maybe the guys up in Mesa had found something after all and that’s why it was taking them so long to get back to him

Worth pulled the list of patients from Makula’s file and perused the names. So far, there wasn’t anything particularly interesting coming in on the background checks, but maybe something would jump out at him if he gave it enough time. After a while he decided to call it a night and picked up his coat along with the Tidewell file, then headed out the door and home for the day.

 

*****

Chapter 20

Maeve lay on her back listening to the sound of the girls breathing next to her in the big bed. It brought back memories of the early days when they lived in a one bedroom mobile home and slept together every night. They had been so small then and completely dependent on her for every aspect of their care. She reached over now as she had then and checked to make sure they were both breathing. She knew it was silly, but it comforted her none the less to know that some things just didn’t change. Even though they didn’t need her all of the time any more, the way she loved the girls was one of those things that stayed the same. Maeve felt something growing stronger inside of her as she lay there watching them sleep. She felt it deep inside, the sure knowledge that they would soon be safe and free to put this horrible experience behind them.

Her mind began to drift and her imagination took over to create a vision of Joseph standing in a clearing surrounded by trees. Fall limbs bared by the cold mountain air created the illusion of long arms and fleshless fingers reaching up to the sky. A bright orange moon loomed low on the horizon and dark clouds drifted across the fiery globe, casting the clearing in deep shadow.

Something about the setting wasn’t right and Maeve tried to comprehend why she was having so much trouble blocking the negative images. Glenn was laying spread eagled on a crumbling stone wall, his hands and legs secured to stakes buried in the hard packed earth. Joseph was standing over Glenn’s prone body holding a knife close to his sternum. No, Maeve thought, this is all wrong. ‘This is my imagination and I’ll see what I want to see’, she told herself sternly.

She’d always been afraid to dwell on negative thoughts, more than half believing that thinking about them would really make them happen. The images swayed in and out as if made of mist blown by a gentle wind. It took all of her stubborn will to hold onto the pictures in her mind, slowly reshaping and directing them to create the outcome she so desperately desired.

The gentle wind became a fierce gale. Thunder and lightning filled the sky, while in her mind’s eye she saw Glenn rolling away from Joseph and kicking his feet out from under him, his captor hitting the ground hard and knocking the air out of him. And then she surprised herself by running at Joseph in a fury she could never have believed possible, tearing at his skin with her nails and hitting him with every ounce of strength she had. She actually heard a satisfying crunching sound and felt the cartilage give way as his nose shattered under the force of one blow.

Battered and beaten, Joseph turned to run into the woods, and with a small satisfied smile, Maeve drifted away into an exhausted sleep.

 

*****

Chapter 21

Carl saw the sheriff’s vehicle coming from a quarter mile up the road. “Pop,” he said seriously, “they’re coming.”

Joseph walked purposefully over to the window and moved the curtain very slightly. He calmly watched as the cruiser crawled slowly over the rough pitted road, the driver carefully moving the car around the deep ruts and potholes.

“Have you secured the cellar and the basement like I told you?” Joseph asked in a frigid tone that let Carl know any mistake would cost him dearly.

Carl decided he was through being afraid of the old man and brushed off the question with a combative look of his own. “You think it was those two guys that were up here this morning?”

“Don’t know, doesn’t matter. As long as they don’t find anythin’ interesting they’ll just turn around and go back where they came from.” Joseph said casually as if he could make it so just by saying it.

“And if they don’t?” Carl’s voice had taken on an eager tone, as if he were excited at the prospect of a confrontation.

“Don’t go provoking these officers,” Joseph warned. “We mustn’t forget what we came here for.” Carl made a rude snorting sound and turned to make a wandering circuit around the living area.

Joseph had stepped back from the window and now waited for the knock on the door. He wasn’t overly concerned about Carl. The boy had less self control than he himself had practiced at sixteen, but he was smarter and much more calculating. He was also a coward and Joseph knew he wouldn’t take too big a risk if he thought the odds of his getting caught were very high. Even so, they made a good team and if he could just teach the boy patience, there was no limit to the pleasure they could experience and the power they would gain.

Smiling didn’t come naturally to Joseph, but he formed his mouth into what he perceived to be a friendly grin and opened the door.

“Evening officers,” he greeted almost painfully. “What can I do for you?”

“Good evening, sir, I’m Deputy Clark and this is Deputy Jameson. We’re with the sheriff’s department.” The tall blonde cop motioned to his partner, a short heavy set kid who was much too young to be sporting such a pronounced receding hairline. “How are you doing this evening?” He went on to ask the next question without waiting for a response. “Is Ralph around, I’d like to talk with him for a minute if I could.”

Joseph didn’t bat an eye when he told the officer that Ralph had moved to Phoenix for the winter. “I’m Joseph Binyon. We worked out a trade so he could go down there and my son and I could spend a winter up here in the mountains.” The lie came easily as he studied the two officers.

“We’re in the area asking folks if they’ve seen this woman.” Officer Clark, who was obviously the senior partner of this Mutt and Jeff duo, motioned with a hand and Jameson passed over a photo of Maeve Tidewell.

This is probably the most excitement these dick heads have ever seen, thought Joseph as he pretended to study the picture in his hand. He shook his head and told the officers with a completely straight face “No sir, we don’t get much company up here you know, especially this time of year. What makes you think she’d be around here?”

“We received a call. Someone thought they spotted her over around South Mesa Lake in the last few days.” Clark spoke casually and smiled back at the devilish countenance of the man standing before him.

“Well I sure wish we could help you. Has she gone missing or something?”

“Would you mind if we had a look around?” Clark asked without answering the question.

Joseph responded without hesitation. “Go right ahead officer, if you need any help just holler.” He nodded obligingly toward the rear of the property.

“We’d actually like to take a look inside. Uh, we’re supposed to search all of the cabins in the area.” Clark thought he did a pretty good job of sounding apologetic.

So far Jameson hadn’t said a word and now he peered around Joseph’s shoulder into the house, his pale face and large round eyes reminding him strongly of one of those stupid mimes he’d seen on the street in Denver.

Joseph opened the door wide and stepped aside, allowing the two deputies to enter the large front room.

“This is my son, Carl,” Joseph said as Jameson eyed the boy standing against the wall. “Help yourselves.” he offered and headed to the kitchen where a fresh pot of coffee was waiting on the stove.

“Care for a cup?” Joseph asked as he lifted the pot and turned to see the two visitors standing behind him.

They both declined politely and as they could see there was no one hiding in the spacious room they proceeded to search the rest of the house.

They passed the mud room first where boots, coats and several articles of fall clothing hung on wall pegs and seeing nothing of interest, continued down the hall, opening doors along the way.

The second door down the hall opened on to a steep staircase and Jameson was breathing hard by the time he reached the landing. There was nothing to see here but an empty room. Jameson took a minute to study the space and catch his breath before he headed back down again.

They passed through the back door and walked out to the shed. There was no electricity running to the outbuilding so Clark pulled a flashlight from his belt and shone it into the corners and rafters of the old storage building.

A heavy cistern pump sat rusting in the center of the floor and all around lay an accumulation of odds and ends that had been discarded or forgotten over the years. Although it was dim and gloomy, the officers could still plainly see that there was no sign of habitation here and they reluctantly turned away.

I may be a small town cop, Clark thought, but I know when something doesn’t feel right. Unfortunately there wasn’t much he could do about it since they had looked everything over and found no sign of the woman, or anyone else for that matter.

They walked back to the car and Clark waved at Joseph as he drove away feeling uneasy, a tenseness growing in his neck and shoulders that he didn’t want to ignore. He would take Jameson back to the station and call the detective down in the valley with his report.

As he drove he thought about the peculiar father and son with their unnatural looking eyes and unnerving manner.

“That was weird.” The comment came out of the blue from Jameson, whom Clark had practically forgotten, he was so entirely engrossed in his thoughts. Jameson hardly ever spoke and Clark couldn’t figure out how he’d managed to pass the police entrance exam, let alone achieved the physical prerequisite for employment with the force.

“What?” Clark asked in his usual blunt manner.

He was a big man with well-defined muscles that he perfected with daily work outs at the gym and looked like a middle aged Robert Redford on steroids. He intimidated the hell out of Jameson so the rookie seldom said much during their riding tours.

“The whole thing.” Jameson retorted shrugging his shoulders and holding his hands palms up. “That guy didn’t seem to have any problem letting us look over the property, but I got the impression that he was nervous somehow, watching us all the time and trying to act like he wasn’t. He was tense, like he was waiting for us to find something and he had to be ready.”

Okay, so maybe the kid had some operating gray matter after all, Clark mused. Let’s see if what’s on his mind looks anything like what’s on my mind. “Ready for what?” He said. “Spell it out for me, okay.”

“Well. he sort of followed without really following and the kid was right there wherever he wasn’t. The dad I mean.” Jameson was having difficulty putting his perceptions into words but Clark encouraged him to go on.

“Keep going, I want to hear what you’re thinking. It’s important.”

“Things seemed a little too perfect, almost like a stage set, you know? Everything was in the right place but something was missing.” Jameson’s voice had grown stronger and more confident as he continued talking about his observations in an effort to put his finger on exactly what was bothering him. “Who did the small clothes belong too?” He sounded distracted and then zeroed in on it suddenly. “There were a small kid’s clothes hanging in the mudroom. So where was the kid?”

Jameson had pretty much been summing up Clark’s thoughts in his own mind and they came to the realization at the same time.

“Good question, but I’m not sure what it has to do with our missing person.” Clark thought about the possibility of going back with a warrant, but they really hadn’t seen anything that would justify calling for one.

“And we can’t exactly walk up to the door again and ask.” Jameson added, perplexed by the nagging feeling that they had overlooked something they shouldn’t have.

They pulled up in front of the station and Jameson headed home while Clark went in to make his call.

He couldn’t discount the fact that Jameson had confirmed what his intuition was telling him. He hung up the phone and sat thinking for some time. Then he decided it couldn’t hurt to keep a close eye on the area, just in case, and he headed out to his dusty truck to take a casual drive under the waxing moon.

 

*****

Chapter 22

They’re sending someone up to the cabin to have a look around,” Ben announced as he walked into the room and dropped his coat on the bed nearest the door.

Jason had jumped up to face him with an expectant look as Ben had entered and now he paced around in a circle, restless and unsatisfied with the slow moving search.

“Can we eat?” Jason surprised Ben with his sudden request. He had gone down to the pool while his father was meeting with the police in an effort to work off some of his frustration and had worked up an appetite instead.

“Sure, what’s on the menu?” Ben said, trying to sound upbeat and cover the fact that he was on edge as well.

“There’s a Mexican restaurant down the street. I’m hungry for lots of cheese and salsa.” Jason made the suggestion with his own attempt at cheerfulness.

Ben picked up his coat and stood aside for Jason to go out ahead of him, then grabbed him around the neck as he passed and hugged his head close. Jason gave him a hint of a grin and then they were out the door and on their way.

The food was great and the cold beer Ben had ordered was perfect for washing down the warm salty chips and spicy Pico de Gallo. They talked about the man up at the cabin and the boy who had followed them, rehashing the day’s activities and trying to accept the fact that they were now out of it. Either the police would find the missing woman and her children or they wouldn’t.

There just wasn’t anything left for the father and son to do and the conversation eventually turned to their plans for the next few days. But it was obvious to both of them that neither one of them was really interested and they were unable to move their thoughts away from the fate of a woman they didn’t even know.

They paid the bill and went back to the hotel, deciding to turn in early and make a plan in the morning.

Ben lay there for a long time trying to shut off his brain, along with the voices that urged him to keep looking. He could hear Jason in the bed next to him, tossing and turning, apparently having as much trouble with sleep as he was. Eventually the rustling stopped and the slow even breathing told him Jason had dropped off at last.

Ben lay there wondering what it was that kept driving him to pursue this useless cogitation. Chasing the thoughts around in his mind he finally returned to the dream that had now twice invaded his sleeping reverie.

 

*****

 

Ben hovered in the trees looking at the woman standing near the mist shrouded lake. She turned to him and he reached out, but as she extended her arms toward him she suddenly turned her head to peer past him, surprise and fear showing on her pale face. He turned and saw his son there, puzzled by his appearance although he didn’t know why. Why would she be afraid of him? And then he was running through the low growing scrub, the brittle branches catching at his clothing and tearing at his skin. His heart was pounding and he was so afraid that he wouldn’t make it in time. In time for what? He thought as he slowed his pace and crouched down to peer unseen at the spectacle before him. In the clearing stood a ring of torches, the flames blowing in the increasing wind. A man was on the ground, seemingly tied there and unable to move. There was a large figure standing above him, intoning what sounded like a prayer for power and the endowment of absolute divinity. He held a long blade that reflected the wavering light from the torches as he waved it back and forth over the prone figure. Suddenly, a carnal scream rose from the shadows and a wavering figure emerged, charging the man like a demon from out of the dark.

We’re here, the voice kept saying in his mind. He was no longer hiding among the naked limbs of woodland bramble. He didn’t seem to be anywhere at all. He was floating in a sea of nothingness and the voice kept saying over and over again “we’re here; please tell them that we’re here.”

 

*****

 

Maeve stood by the lake, her arms outstretched to the man who waited in the trees. Once again her gaze was drawn to the boy standing behind him and she felt a flash of fear.

And then she was in the clearing. Glenn was lying on the ground with Joseph looming above him. She ran from the shadows and launched herself at the depraved monster who threatened to destroy everything she held dear, ripping at his face and shattering his nose.

Now it was peaceful, her mind was calm and she could see the stranger in her mind’s eye. She wondered who he was and hoped that some day she would meet the handsome, dark haired man who was always there in her dreams. ‘I wonder if he dreams of me, too? She thought, then wondered if he would hear her in his dreams. She smiled to herself and then concentrated on his face, telling him over and over that they were here. It was silly, she knew, to think that she could talk to him this way, but it was her dream, and she guessed she could do whatever she wanted.

 

*****

 

Ben had dark circles under his eyes and he felt like an insomniac who hadn’t slept in a week. He sat at the small table drinking strong black coffee and thought about the dream that he couldn’t seem to bar from his nocturnal psyche.

Ben had always considered himself to be open minded and, though not a religious man, he accepted that there were some things in the universe that one just should not question. He wasn’t sure this was one of them. Jason was probably right. He hadn’t had a date in a long time. He couldn’t bring himself to think about it when he and Katherine had first started having problems, and then she wanted to talk about getting back together and it didn’t seem right to start dating then. That was probably it. He saw a woman he thought was attractive and, coupled with the knowledge that she had mysteriously disappeared, his imagination had conjured up an exciting scenario to relieve the tedium and loneliness of single life.

But his gut was telling him something entirely different. Why couldn’t he just let this go? According to this morning’s paper, the police were running down leads and doing everything they could to find Maeve Tidewell and her two children. They were confident they would soon find answers to the questions surrounding their disappearance.

Ben closed his eyes and tried to calm his troubled mind but the scene at the cabin kept replaying through his memory like a movie on a continuous reel. Hazy visions from his nightly dreams intertwined with pictures from.

Pictures. He hadn’t printed the pictures from the two days they had spent in the area and now he jumped up, grabbed his camera bag and ran out the door. It was early but the grocery store down the street had a one hour photo stop and he was sure he could at least drop them off and with luck, would have them back in a few hours. Feeling better for having taken at least some action, he went back to the room and ordered breakfast.

Jason had gotten up while Ben was gone and he came out of the bathroom looking surly.

“Where did you go?” He was obviously unable to overcome his grumpy morning mood.

“I got to thinking that we hadn’t looked at any of the pictures we took.” Ben’s answer sounded so very casual. “So I dropped the file off to have them printed.”

Jason looked sideways at him but didn’t say anything. He picked up a piece of toast and methodically covered it with jelly. He seemed to be giving something a great deal of thought but he held his tongue and worked his way through three pieces of toast, about a pound of bacon, and a mound of scrambled eggs with cheese.

While Jason ate, Ben talked to him about going up to the Colorado National Monument for the day to see the monoliths and take in the birds’ eye view of the town below.

Jason finished his breakfast then took a shower, and Ben noticed with pleasure again that he hadn’t been forcing his hair to stand on end for a few days now. Maybe it had gotten to be too much trouble or something, but whatever the reason, Ben was happy to see it back in its’ glossy pony tail.

“Let’s go pick up those pictures,” Ben suggested and they left the room once more.

Jason had been extremely quiet all morning and Ben wasn’t exactly sure how to get him out of this uncharacteristic silence.

Once they had picked up the photos, which cost Ben a small fortune, they went down to the town’s scenic main street and sat down for coffee at a local bagel shop. “Is something on your mind, Jase?” Ben finally had to ask, deciding that his son’s brooding had gone on long enough.

Jason shrugged his shoulders and stirred his drink. It no longer looked anything like the coffee he’d ordered.

He’d turned it into a creamy, smooth, sweet mixture with an overdose of caramel flavoring and table cream.

“I just wish there was something we could do.” Jason admitted, finally succumbing to Bens probing stare.

“I have this feeling,” Jason tried to explain, “that she’s up there trying to get away but there’s nobody to help her.”

Ben felt a pinch in the area of his heart as he watched the sorrow and regret on his son’s face. His feelings were very much the same, but right now there wasn’t anything he could do other than look for a clue in the pictures he carried with him.

He pulled the newly developed photos out of the bag and started laying them out a few at a time, studying them carefully for anything out of the ordinary. He knew that oftentimes digital technology would capture objects or actions that the naked eye had missed, and he hoped there might be something here that he could take to the police.

Many of the shots he put aside, knowing they were perfect for publishing, and would send them in when they returned home. Three cups of coffee and nearly an hour later, they still sat and perused frame after frame of beautiful mountain landscapes.

When Ben laid out the first shots from Lost Lake they both sat up a little straighter and leaned over the table for a better angle. Jason picked up the second shot in the stack with a puzzled expression and moved over to the window, holding up the glossy card to the light where he squinted his eyes as if the picture were out of focus.

Ben looked up and watched as, without a word, Jason sat back down at the table and pointed to the upper left corner of the picture. Ben looked long and hard at the barely discernible speck of white that peeked through the dense trees above and far to the left of the cabin that was in the center of the photo.

He looked up and his eyes met Jason’s over the table with barely concealed excitement. “Is that what I think it is?” Jason asked hesitantly.

“I don’t know, but if we have this shot enlarged maybe we’ll be able to make out some detail.”

An hour later they picked up a single envelope from the one hour photo and sat in the Jeep looking over what appeared to be the rear end of a white Nissan. It was barely visible through the needles and branches of pine but it was there, and it was something they could offer the police as evidence.

Ben drove back over to the police station and walked into the detective’s area. The room was empty except for a receptionist who was seated at the first desk inside the door. When Ben asked for Detective Worth she explained apologetically that he was expected to be in the field most of the day, but that she would get him on the radio and let him know about Ben’s visit.

Ben showed her the photograph and asked her to please forward it to the detective as soon as possible.

She agreed to take care of it and thanked them for the information, smiling at Ben and telling him to be sure to call her personally if anything more should come up.

Ben didn’t know that the evidence failed to make it to Worth’s desk. No sooner had he walked out of the police station than the receptionist received an emergency call. Her son had fallen at school and suffered a blow to the head which had landed him in the emergency room. She subsequently ran out of the building without giving Ben’s visit another thought.

Ben couldn’t just sit around and wait for Worth to get his message, so he made the decision to drive back up to Mesa Lakes.

Ben knew Jason was going to be really pissed at him but he couldn’t possibly include him in his plans. It might be dangerous and he didn’t want to have to go through the same self flagellation that he had yesterday.

“Jason, do you think Mark’s folks would let you hang out there for a couple of days?” He asked without really even trying to hide his intentions.

“What for, where are you going?” Jason asked but thought he already knew the answer.

“I’m going up and rent a cabin on the Mesa. I’ll hang out there for a few days and see if I can find out anything.”

“You can’t go up there without me,” railed Jason. “We’re supposed to be on vacation together, remember? And what if something happens? You might need me to help.”

“Jason, don’t argue. It’s not going to do any good. If something were to happen up there and you got hurt, your mother would never forgive me.”

“Well what if Mark’s parents won’t let me stay?”

But they did. Mark’s mother ran a daycare and preschool from home where she was able to spend the day with their four year old daughter, and she was delighted at the prospect of having Jason there.

“I can always use extra help with the kids,” she teased with a wink at Ben. She knew how teenage boys loathed the idea of playing baby sitter. Ben had called them from the hotel while Jason packed a bag, huffing and complaining the whole time and generally being a pain in the ass.

Ben had the childish urge to cross his fingers behind his back as he lied through his teeth and explained that he had been called to do a job. Jason really didn’t want to go, he lied, and since they would be leaving soon he wanted to spend more time with Mark. He knew it was an inconvenience but would they mind? She explained that Mark was at school but would be home by two-thirty, and if Jason wanted, she would make arrangements and he would be welcome to attend classes with Mark tomorrow. They lived in a new neighborhood not far from the airport and it took only a few minutes for Ben to drop Jason off at Mark’s parents, thank them profusely for their hospitality, and give them the number of the lodge where he would be staying. He had called and reserved a one room unit at the cluster of cabins on Mesa Lake, then made arrangements to pick up a trailer so he could haul the bike up.

It was almost one o’clock by the time Ben finished with his shopping at the army surplus store. As he eased onto the interstate he was feeling impatient, not to mention a little foolish about his decision to stake out what was probably an innocent family enjoying their peace and quiet. But Ben’s instincts had always been good and he set aside any doubts about what he was about to do.

The Jeep seemed to be standing still on the long stretch of highway. The contour of the mountain looming far in the distance gave Ben the sense that he could drive for hours and never reach the lofty plateau. Ben stood hard on the accelerator until he realized his speed was at nearly a hundred miles an hour. He slowed down to eighty in hopes of avoiding a ticket. He could not afford the time it would cost him while he sat and waited for a trooper to process his paper work.

He tried to control the restlessness and anxiety that was tormenting his mind and instead focused on outlining a strategy that, with any luck, might keep him from getting his head shot off.

 

*****

 

Maeve and Glenn were working single mindedly on their own strategy when Carl entered the room to take them for their daily examination of Faye and Joe. A familiar routine had developed over the past few days. After being served breakfast each morning in their separate rooms, they were then escorted to the loft where they were expected to produce a miraculous change in the health of the Binyon children.

Then they would all gather in the kitchen to share a midday meal, feigning a domestic companionship that was bizarre and incongruous under the circumstances of their forced captivity.

Glenn went first to Faye who, by all accounts, was much healthier and more relaxed than she had been even a few short days ago. He was puzzled, but he put his questions aside to focus his attention on Joe. The boy didn’t seem to be any worse than he had been yesterday, but neither was he in any better condition. Glenn looked directly into Joe’s eyes, attempting to convey his fondness for the gentle young soul and asked softly, “How are you feeling today?”

“About the same,” Joe replied, giving his doctor and friend a small smile in return. Glenn thought for a long moment and then sat down next to Joe. His eyes turned toward the ceiling as if looking for the answer to an unspoken question.

“Let me ask you something,” he began, unsure of exactly how he wanted to approach his objective. “Do you believe it’s possible to get better?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Joe said, his brows coming together in an expression of doubt and confusion.

“What I mean is, Faye seems to be getting better every day, yet your condition continues to stay the same. She believes she has the ability to get better. So she does. It’s the only explanation I have, Joe, and I’d like to think that together you and I can be strong enough to make you better, too.” Glenn didn’t know if he was making any sense and he wasn’t even sure he believed what he was saying. But he had come to admire and care very much for this young man and he realized that there was nothing he wouldn’t do to save him.

“I wish I’d had a son like you,” he blurted, tears of regret and concern burning his eyes as he wondered where this fountain of emotion had sprung from.

Joe reached over and grasped Glenn’s hand, squeezing it like a small child offering comfort to a troubled parent.

“Well ain’t that special,” Carl scoffed loudly, turning everyone’s attention back to his presence and the rifle that seemed to be continually pressed across his chest.

“Lunch should be ready about now.” Faye made the announcement in an attempt to break the tension. She calmly turned and led them all into the kitchen where the daily fare of soup and sandwiches was laid out, ready to be served by Joseph in his usual manner.

Twenty minutes later Maeve and Glenn were escorted to the loft where they immediately returned to the task at hand.

“It’s going to be a little difficult since we don’t have any idea where we are or where they’re going to be taking us.” Maeve thought out loud, trying to establish a starting point from which to build an action plan.

“I’ve been trying to get a look around when they move me out to the cellar,” Glenn revealed very quietly, “and it seems to me that we may be up on the Mesa.”

“What makes you think so?” Maeve probed, wanting to know what logic had led Glenn to believe they might be so close to home.

“We’re pretty high up, I can tell by the temperature, and we’re surrounded by pines and spruce. The cabin sits about forty yards back from the bank of a lake and there isn’t any sign of traffic or other houses around.” His observations seemed to justify his assumption and he added, “I wasn’t completely unconscious when they brought me here and it seemed like we only traveled for maybe an hour or so.”

“Okay, so we’re being held at a remote cabin by a lake somewhere on Grand Mesa. There are a million lakes up here but a lot of it is national forest, so we have to be on private land.”

Glenn picked up her train of thought and continued “If we were near the town of Mesa, or even anywhere close to the ski area, there would be other cabins around and they wouldn’t be so cavalier about moving me back and forth to the cellar. I’m going to say we’re somewhere between the rim road where Land’s End is and the back part of Mesa Lakes.”

“It’s going to be a long trip on foot in the dark when we manage to get away, but if you’re right we should head north and east if we want to find a main road.”

“That depends on where he takes us to perform our dramatic act of sorcery.” Glenn redirected, thinking bleakly that if they traveled in the wrong direction they might run for hours without ever finding any hope of rescue.

Maeve pursed her lips and blew out a big breath, making popping sounds like a motor that wasn’t running on all cylinders.

“I guess what we’ll have to do is stay together, no matter what, and do our best to find the nearest road out of here.” She finally concluded with an air of acceptance.

They used the bamboo circle and candles to set up the scene, making marks in the dusty floor to show where each of them would be standing, and then began choreographing the moves they would use to gain the upper hand.

“Maeve, we can’t do this!”

“What do you mean?” Maeve was baffled. Did he mean it was wrong of them to plan an escape, or did he mean they were incapable of doing what was necessary to get away?

“We’re not commandos, Maeve. I mean, when was the last time you overpowered a man three times your size, or cracked someone in the skull hard enough to knock them out?”

“I’ve never had to do any of those things, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it if I’m forced to. And I sure as hell won’t be able to if I’m not prepared when the time comes. Now, you can either help me or you can stay out of my way because one way or the other, I’m getting my kids out of here.”

Glenn stared at her for a long time and finally gave up trying to think of an argument.

They spent the remainder of the afternoon practicing. Like Broadway performers preparing for opening night they replayed the action over and over, making small changes as they encountered potential problems, then ran over the scenario repeatedly until they were as certain as they could be that they wouldn’t fail.

Maeve and Glenn sat down in the middle of the bamboo circle, exhausted after a few hours of lunging and jumping and swinging their arms in a parody of the struggle they expected to encounter. They talked about the fear they felt for the kids, for each other, and lastly for themselves. Neither of them wanted to admit that they might be overcome with doubt and hesitate at a crucial moment, dooming their escape and sentencing them all to a horrible fate.

Glenn lowered his head to his knees and wrapped his arms around his legs in a posture of despair.

Maeve was wrapping her arms around his shoulders to hold him close and offer comfort when his shoulders began to shake and his head rolled from side to side.

She pulled back in astonishment when she realized he was laughing. His shoulders were shaking harder now and what had started out as a soundless chuckle evolved quickly into an infectious laugh that brought tears to his eyes and had Maeve joining in, giggling uncontrollably over the ridiculous sight they must have made in their zeal to prepare for the big show.

“If our situation weren’t so serious I’d say we were a couple of over wrought drama queens,” he stammered between breaths. His face was flushed and more relaxed than Maeve had ever seen him.

“We’re really sick,” Maeve observed. “Who on earth would be laughing at a time like this?”

“And we smell bad too.” Glenn added the obvious, pointing out the fact that neither one of them had showered in several days now. He suddenly reached over and clutched Maeve’s hand, then bounced it against his leg while he considered his next words.

“Maeve,” he started and then seemed to reconsider. Maeve sat patiently and waited for him to organize his thoughts.

“Maeve,” he tried again. “I don’t know why things come about the way they do, but you know they say all things happen for a reason.” Maeve nodded her understanding and squeezed his hand. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though we’re in a deplorable position here, I wouldn’t change it if it meant our paths would never cross. You’ve given me a gift, Maeve. I can see myself now for who I am, but I can see too the man I have the ability to be. I just want to say thank you and that no matter what, when the time comes, I won’t let you down.” He turned sheepish, surprising her for the second time by shedding the ego that had been strongly present since their first meeting.

“I know it sounds corny.” He shrugged and nudged her shoulder. “But not any cornier than your idea about creating our reality.” The teasing tone had returned and he let go of her hand.

Maeve started to laugh again and jumped to her feet, reaching down to pull him up with her.

“We’re going to do this.” There was such conviction in her tone that Glenn just had to believe her. “You just wait and see.”

 

*****

Chapter 23

Ben arrived at the cabin and spent some time unloading the Jeep. He removed the bike from the trailer and parked it by the side window where he could see it from the single window.

He hadn’t really paid much attention before and he had to laugh at himself and his surprise when he opened the door. When he’d booked the one room cabin he hadn’t considered that it really would be only one room. There was a set of bunk beds on the back wall and just enough room for a tiny refrigerator that sat next to the sink and counter where a single burner hot plate perched precariously. Thank God the place at least had an indoor bathroom. He tossed his things in the middle of the floor and rummaged through the stack.

Grabbing a pair of high resolution binoculars, a hunting knife and short-barreled pistol, Ben shoved them through slots in a webbed belt that he strapped around his waist.

He was wearing camouflage cargo pants and green thermal long sleeved shirt, and now he added a heavy down camouflage coat to protect him from the rapidly dropping temperature on the mountain. He dropped two bottles of water into the deep pockets of the jacket and then left the cabin, locking the door securely behind him. He didn’t bother with the camera since he wasn’t going to try hiding behind the nature photographer persona. If the inhabitants of the cabin in question saw him hanging around there again it would be a clear signal that he was watching them. He also figured that even if they didn’t recognize him, there was no way they were going to allow a glimpse of their captives to any witnesses who might be traipsing around.

He kept to the tall trees. Using their thick trunks and low growing branches for cover, Ben moved swiftly toward Lost Lake, not bothering to keep the noise down at that distance. He planned to wait until dark to check out the area where the car had shown up in the photo. He hoped that Detective Worth would get a team up here pronto, but he wasn’t counting on the wheels of justice working at top speed so he proceeded as if he were on his own for the time being.

The sun was getting low when he reached the trees bordering the cabin, but he still had enough daylight to make a circuit or two, expecting to see some activity around the property.

Ben moved slowly among the trees keeping the doors and windows in his line of vision, but an hour passed without so much as a flicker of movement at the cozy looking outpost.

It was dusk now and it wouldn’t be long until it was full dark, so Ben circled once more behind the cabin, with the intention of heading into the woods in search of the car.

Just as he came even with the old adobe shed he heard the slamming of a screen door. He dropped to the ground and kept himself out of sight behind a fallen tree, watching the rear of the house and the two men who stepped from the rear deck.

A smallish man walked with his head down, slightly in front of the boy who had answered the door yesterday. His steps were slow and he seemed to be limping, placing each foot carefully before he took each step. Neither spoke during the short trip to the shed but something seemed a little bit off to Ben. He held his breath while he waited for them to go back to the house.

A long time passed while Ben lay on the hard ground, the darkness moving in to lay over everything like a heavy blanket. At last he heard the door of the shed open and then close again, followed by a shuffling of footsteps that ended back at the cabin. Ben couldn’t see very well in the utter blackness, but he would have sworn he saw one shape, Could only hear one set of footsteps returning from the shed. He waited a while longer, then slithered on his belly, working his way to where he was hidden from view of the house by coming around behind the shed. He very quietly crawled around the corner, searching the walls overhead for a window or another door that wasn’t directly facing the main house.

Ben turned around and crawled to the back, turning again to come up the other side. The white pickup truck was parked next to the old adobe building. This wall framed what had once been a large window high up near the roof. What little glass remained was filthy with years of dirt and grime. If he climbed into the truck bed he would be able to crawl in through the window, but the camouflage clothing that had served to conceal his presence in the woods wouldn’t keep him from being outlined against the lighter white paint of the vehicle.

Deciding it wouldn’t be much of a risk since the kid was already there and gone, he crawled over the tailgate and crouched down using the tool chest behind the cab for cover. Ben had expected to see some sort of light coming through the window but the darkness was unbroken, not even a flashlight beam could be seen flickering around inside.

Had both men gone back to the house? Or was the second man standing there in the dark? That didn’t make any kind of sense and he waited for an interminable time, listening for the sounds of breathing or the scrape of a shoe, anything that would tell him the location of the second man.

Nothing. There was no sound at all coming from inside so Ben stood up, pressed his body against the outside wall, and threw his leg over the sill, then lowered himself by his arms and dropped quietly to the floor on the inside. He made a futile effort to search the interior but his vision was useless in the veil of darkness. He finally gave up, finding nothing of any interest, and pulled himself back up to the window, repeating the process of quietly lowering himself out the other side. His feet had barely touched back down in the truck when he heard the screen door slam again and those same shuffling footsteps approaching in the dark.

Ben knew he would be spotted if he tried to make a break for it, so he did the next thing that came to mind. He laid out flat behind the tool box and burrowed into the shadows. The drivers’ side door opened and the truck bounced once as someone hopped onto the seat, then the door closed again as the engine turned over and the truck began to move.

 

*****

 

Glenn was in the cellar breathing through his mouth in an attempt to avoid inhaling the acrid smell of urine and feces that burned his nostrils.

He hadn’t told Maeve about the conditions he was forced to live in down here. The fact that he had no heat, bed or bathroom facilities wouldn’t make a difference to their plans. Glenn could hear Carl moving the heavy cistern pump they used to conceal the presence of the cellar, and then after a while there was nothing but silence.

If he were to stay down here much longer Glenn knew he would eventually lose his mind. As a matter of fact, that was probably exactly what Joseph was counting on. The only thing that kept him alive was the knowledge that Maeve and the kids needed him, and that tonight would be the last time he ever saw this detestable hole in the ground.

Hadn’t Carl said as much tonight with his taunting remarks? “Just think, Doc, this time tomorrow you’ll be visiting with the spirits. You just might like it so much you decide not to come back.” A depraved light was clearly shining in his eyes and Glenn blanched visibly at the deadly insinuation.

It had only been ten minutes or so since he heard Carl leave, but now he could hear him again, walking ever so quietly around the dusty floor above him. Maybe he’s come back to kill me tonight, Glenn thought. He had no weapon to defend himself, but he wasn’t going to give up without a fight. He quietly moved to a corner where the light from above wouldn’t immediately betray his position and he waited.

After a few minutes the shuffling above his head ceased and everything was quiet again. But while he had been waiting, Glenn had an idea that might add an edge to tomorrow night’s contingency.

 

*****

Chapter 24

Carl went back to the house after covering Makula’s only possible egress and checked with Joseph for instructions before he went scouting. Joseph paced slowly while pulling on his lower lip, his brow wrinkled together thoughtfully. His mood was pensive and he said solemnly, “I have been considering tomorrow night’s ritual.”

Carl felt his hands trembling, partially due to the anger directed toward his father for robbing him of his part in the sacrifice and partly because of the excitement he felt at the thought of choosing his first young victim.

They had always performed the rite together, combining their eagerness and bloodlust to instill utter terror in the hearts of their prey. This time would be different and he wondered if the feeling of power would be diminished somehow. Or would it possibly be more fulfilling?

The anticipation was building to a point that Carl could hardly contain himself, but he practiced the exercises his father had taught him, breathing in and out deeply and telling himself to be patient.

“The woman knows exactly where the power is greatest, that is why she asked for the divination to take place in the open.” He seemed to be worried about something as he continued to pace the room.

“She must know something that we don’t,” he thought aloud, apparently deciding to accept the challenge, whatever it might be. He would just have to prepare and keep his eyes open if he wanted to be the victor in her little game of enchantment.

The thrill he felt at facing a true adversary was an unexpected surprise to him and he focused his full attention on the feeling of pleasure, not even realizing that Carl had left the room.

 

*****

 

Dennis was puzzled and more than a little concerned over his inability to track down Ralph Ralston. He owned the cabin where the two strangers were staying and Clark had never heard of him leaving for the winter, or any other time in all the years that he had lived in the remote cabin.

Clark assigned the dispatcher the duty of locating the long time resident, but so far hadn’t gotten any word from her regarding his location. He kept reviewing the scene at the Ralston cabin, but couldn’t find a single detail that would point to suspicion. He knew that something there just felt wrong. Ralph had always kept that enclosed loft full of old photos and dusty furniture, but it was empty now, so maybe he had gone off for a while and moved all that junk out to make room for the renters. Nothing was a secret in the tight knit little community. Ralph had always been somewhat of a loner, and his cantankerous behavior kept most people at arm’s length, but it just didn’t add up that he would be able to make this kind of a move without someone knowing about it.

He’d done a little asking around but even Marge didn’t know what he was talking about. She was the hostess and head waitress at the local diner and she didn’t miss much when it came to gossip. It wasn’t all that curious that she hadn’t seen him in over a week. Sometimes she didn’t see him for a month at a time and it wasn’t really much cause for concern.

“He stopped in here a while back and said he might be gone a couple of days. Said he was heading down the mountain to make some arrangements for winter. Maybe he meant he was making plans to leave for a while but I wouldn’t really know about that.”

“Now if you want to talk about that hunk that was in here the other day,” she crooned, hoping that she might spark a jealous interest from the good looking deputy. “I can tell you that he was real wound up about some goings on up at Lost Lake.”

Clark thanked her but said he already knew about the concerned citizen and then made a quick get away before Marge could really sink her teeth into the story, or in to him.

He had even gone so far as to talk to Baker about a search warrant. The town’s answer to a sheriff had argued against it based on the complete lack of evidence and determined that another invasion of the man’s privacy would be unwarranted.

Clark reviewed his conversation with Jameson again and decided once more that both of them couldn’t be wrong.

Turning the SUV around, Dennis drove back out to the lake area, then took a back road where he could pull over and observe the cabin from the cover of thick evergreens bordering the overgrown trail. He hadn’t been situated more than five minutes when he spotted the kid leaving the cabin.

He pulled the white 4×4 out from behind the shed and surprised Clark by turning onto the little used road only a few hundred yards from where he was parked. Dennis held his breath and waited for the pickup to pass by, hoping he was far enough back in the trees that he wouldn’t be spotted. Fortunately the boy was focused on navigating the rough terrain and passed by the deputy without taking his eyes off the road.

Clark waited thirty seconds before he eased back onto the road. Carl’s taillights were still clearly visible in the distance.

The moon was nearly full and it cast enough light for Clark to see without his headlights, so he kept as much distance as possible between himself and the slow moving pickup. His quarry kept moving and after passing several turns that would have taken him back to the main road, Clark came to the conclusion that they had to be on their way out to Land’s End.

He also surmised that the kid was about to do a little out of season hunting, which would give authorities the perfect excuse to get a better look at the property.

The area around the Ranger Observatory was wide open and offered almost no cover, so Clark pulled over and left the cruiser behind a stand of trees. He moved quietly on foot until he reached the edge of the woods and peered through a set of binoculars at the unusual movements of the young man.

 

*****

 

Carl stopped the truck and stepped out, then walked around to the passenger side. He leaned inside and picked up the heavy sledge hammer and iron spikes that he had left on the floor board earlier in the day.

He wasn’t worried about some tourist discovering the so called sacrificial setup, nobody came out here when the weather was cold and anyway, they’d probably just think it was some ancient Indian artifact left over from the days of the Meeker Massacre. Some people were just that stupid.

He carried the heavy tools over to a low stone wall that had been there for a hundred years or more and dropped them on the ground, looking up at the blanket of stars and the bright silver moon that hung like a globe in the expansive sky.

A few months ago, Joseph had begun acting very strangely. All of a sudden it was like he had become part of a religious cult or something. Carl couldn’t care less about his father’s weird belief in the spirits or the position of the planets and their effect on human behavior. He only cared about the power he felt growing inside him each time he watched some pathetic, terrified loser begging for his life under the flashing blade of his father’s knife.

He ran his hand reverently over the top of the wall, imagining the feel of blood on the stones and hearing the cries of pain and anguish as flesh was parted from bone.

Tomorrow would be special for him. It was to be the first time he would use his own knife to separate the shining mass of hair from the most delicate brow. He laughed out loud as he pounded the heavy spikes into the ground on either side of the wall and then spread the dried herbs across the sacred altar.

 

*****

 

Ben had been watching quietly from the bed of the pickup where he was stowed away, and he felt every hair on his body stand on end at the sound of the eerie laughter ringing across the open plateau. He ducked back behind the tool chest as Carl turned away from the wall, putting an end to the strange scene. Crunching footsteps approached and Ben settled in for the bouncing ride back to the cabin in the woods.

Clark was disappointed when Carl failed to produce a weapon of any kind, but he continued to watch the boy’s disturbing behavior from the cover of darkness.

He had focused his attention on the antics of the youth and never saw the head of the man who watched along with him.

Clark never took his eyes off of the curious young man as he drove back down the road toward Lost Lake. There wasn’t much sense in following him any longer tonight, and besides, he wanted to check out the wall and see if he could figure out what this was all about.

He walked across the open plain and bent down to study the rusted metal stakes that were pounded solidly into the ground.

He tugged and pulled but was unable to budge the first spike. The kid obviously wanted to make sure there was no way they would come loose easily. The second one was set into softer soil and after pushing it back and forth and twisting it around in a circle a few times he was able to yank it free. They looked basically like old railroad ties that had rings crudely welded to the top and seemed like something you would use to tie down a large tent with.

Clark jabbed the makeshift post back in the hole and picked up a handful of dried leaves and twigs that were spread out on top of the wall. Crumbling the dry leaves between his fingers he raised it to his nostrils and recognized the pungent aroma of sage along with lavender and maybe fresh cucumber. Probably borage he decided, and wondered what the significance might be. The mixture of herbs had obviously been left as some sort of offering, but for what? An alarming thought began to take shape in the back of Clark’s mind as he surveyed the scene. He suddenly felt the urge to run back to his vehicle where he wouldn’t be so exposed, and where he could use his radio to call in for backup.

He wanted surveillance around the area for the remainder of the night, just in case the kid and his father came back to worship under the stars. The way things were shaping up, if the Binyon’s were in fact holding the Tidewells, this set up didn’t bode well for them. It didn’t bode well for them at all.

Maeve was always relieved to get back to the girls where she could see that they were healthy and unharmed. Tonight was no different but she was feeling increasingly anxious about their safety during tomorrow night’s escape.

There were so many things to consider. The biggest part was keeping them out of the line of fire, and making sure they didn’t get lost in the vast mountain range. And what if she and Glenn didn’t make it and the kids had to fend for themselves out there in the cold and the dark?

She was terribly concerned about Glenn, too. None of them had bathed since they’d been brought here and they were all starting to smell pretty bad, but Glenn had been here longer and by the looks of his feet he was being treated less kindly than Maeve and the girls. They had started to swell and sores were forming on the bare soles, adding to Maeve’s doubt that he would be able to travel any distance on foot.

She had to stop thinking about all of the things that could go wrong and start focusing her energy on making sure they all got out of this alive.

The girls were talking quietly on the bed when Maeve entered the room and they fell silent as she came down the stairs.

“What’s wrong?” Claire asked, her voice full of concern over the tense expression on her mother’s face.

“Nothing’s wrong, honey,” she soothed as she sat down between the girls and hugged them close.

“Glenn and I have been working all day on getting us out of here and I really think it’s going to be okay. I’m just a little scared and worried, that’s all.” She tried to explain through the tightness in her chest.

“We talked to Faye and Joe, Mom, and they will be right there to help us when it’s time,” advised Torei.

“Joe says his dad trusts him, sort of, and that’s why he has a gun like Carl,” added Claire and then she said with complete conviction. “And he says he’ll shoot Carl before he lets him hurt any of us anymore.”

“I’m worried about Joe, though,” Torei said, her voice full of worry for the tender hearted boy.

“He’s not getting any better, no matter how hard I try, and I’m not sure how much longer he can hold on.”

“We’ll get him help as soon as we can.” Maeve was more determined now than ever to put an end to their imprisonment.

“The thing is, he won’t let go of what’s making him sick.” Torei tried to offer some enlightenment on the subject of Joseph’s continuing illness.

“He won’t do it because he thinks it will be bad for you,” Claire said, and Torei just nodded in agreement.

Maeve spent the next hour going over the plan of attack with the girls, trusting that they would relay the information to Joe and Faye tomorrow. The time was almost here and they only had one day left to make sure everyone knew exactly what to do.

Then they talked of other things. Glenn’s decision to get married when they got back home, the cheerleading tryouts that were coming up, and sweet memories of growing up surrounded by love and commitment to family.

The girls eventually fell asleep, but Maeve lay awake for a long time going over the possibilities in her mind and hoping that she would be able to send one final message tonight in her dreams.

 

*****

Chapter 25

Mark, I need to talk to you,” Jason said quietly as the two walked into the bedroom. He closed the door quietly behind him to make sure they had their privacy and walked over to the window where he stared out at the brightly gleaming moon.

“What’s up?” Mark said, the wariness in his glance belying the laid back tone. Jason knew Mark had been trying to get a read on his mood all afternoon, mainly because Mark was doing a really lousy job of hiding his curiosity.

“I need to get up on the Mesa and I need you to help me.” Jason announced solemnly as Mark sat there with a look of bemusement on his face.

“What do you want me to do about it, take you up there tonight and get grounded for the rest of my life?”

“No, but if you take me in the morning you can be back by the time your third class starts and your folks won’t ever know the difference.”

“And what am I supposed to tell them when I come home from school without you tomorrow?”

“Just tell them that my dad got back from his assignment and he showed up at school to get me. You can say we had an emergency and left to go back to California and nobody will ever have to find out. Please, Mark, it’s really important and I wouldn’t ask if there was anybody else.”

The look in Jason’s eyes was so compelling that Mark found he couldn’t turn away from his new friend, no matter what the consequences.

“Okay, we’ll leave in the morning when it’s time to go to school and we’ll take my bike so you’ll have some wheels. Now, tell me what’s going on,” Mark demanded.

Jason was grateful that Mark was going to help him either way, but he didn’t want to leave him completely out of the loop in case there was trouble later on.

“You’re going to think this is crazy, but you know that woman who’s missing, the one with the two little girls?” Jason reminded his friend, who just nodded and waited for him to finish.

“Well, my dad thinks she’s at a cabin up by one of the lakes, and so do I. But the police haven’t found her, I guess, or we would have heard about it. My dad’s up there now and I think he’s staking out the place.”

“So you want to go up there and back him up. Is that it?” Mark interrupted in total disbelief. “This isn’t some TV show where you go around ‘staking people out and backing them up’ you know, that just sounds ridiculous!” Mark admonished his friend with a fling of his hands to show how disgusted he was with the whole idea.

“I told you you’d think it was crazy, but it’s really happening and I don’t want my dad up there alone if something goes wrong.” Jason was obviously worried. He must have gotten through to Mark with the seriousness of his tone that he would find a way to do what he wanted, even if he didn’t have Mark’s help.

“Well, it’s your ass if you and your old man get caught sneaking around on somebody’s property. Aw, what the hell. I really hate my morning Biology class anyway.” His face lit up with a grin at the thought of skipping school to do something this exciting.

Jason hadn’t realized how tense he’d been about asking Mark for help, and now he was so relieved that he flopped back onto the bed and took several deep breaths to steady himself. He knew that even if there wasn’t really any danger involved, his dad was going to kill him for showing up on that mountain. Jason crossed his fingers, thinking that with just a little luck, his dad would never even need to know he was there.

 

*****

 

Ben was drenched in a cold sweat, his heart pounding so hard he could feel his whole body vibrate from the percussion. The dream had come to him so often and with such clarity that he wasn’t sure any more what was real and what was fantasy. The moon had been full this time in his dream, a detail he hadn’t ever noticed before. Wasn’t there going to be a full moon tonight? Ben was sure that this new element was significant.

Combined with the bizarre behavior of the teenager last night, there was no longer any doubt in his mind. He was convinced now that something would be happening out at Land’s End, and it would be happening tonight.

Ben was becoming more and more concerned about Jason turning up in the dream. He assured himself that his son was safe with Mark and his family and that nothing could happen to him there. He had made sure that Jason was out of it, but just in case, he would call today and make sure he was still where he was supposed to be.

The first thing Ben intended to do was to go to the authorities here, and he would do whatever it took to get their attention. And if that didn’t work he would go there alone to stop those two psychos from hurting someone. If they hadn’t already.

Crawling out of bed, he looked out at the pink tinged sky, the sun just beginning to rise over the tops of the highest trees. He started a pot of strong, black coffee and showered while he waited for the pot to boil. It was going to be a long day, made even longer by the fact that he was exhausted after last night’s extended joy ride.

Not wanting to take any chances on getting caught, he had waited for a long time after the boy went back inside the cabin. Then he had carefully made his way back through the trees to his own cabin and fallen heavily into bed sometime after midnight.

After taking some time to work out a strategy, Ben drove the Jeep back to the small town of Mesa and parked in front of the municipal building where the local law enforcement offices were located.

A white 4×4 SUV with a red and blue light bar on the top pulled in to the space next to him. The driver was a tall blonde deputy who would have looked more at home pumping iron on the beach, but his gaze was alert and intense as he eyed Ben walking toward the front door.

“Is there something I can help you with?” The uniformed man asked from the sidewalk.

Ben responded to the deep baritone voice that rang with a note of authority by turning around and walking back toward the man.

“I hope so, Officer. I’m here to talk with someone who might be looking into the whereabouts of Maeve Tidewell.”

Dennis Clark looked steadily at Ben for a moment and then motioned for him to follow. They entered together through the front door and passed another uniformed deputy who was manning the desk, then sat down in a small office to the left of the main lobby.

“You must be Ben Drake,” Clark stated. He offered no introduction and leaned casually back in his chair, waiting for Ben to confirm his identity.

Ben acknowledged the assumption by way of a sharp nod, thinking that two could play the same game.

A small smile finally broke through the rigid façade and Clark leaned forward to rest his elbows on the edge of the grey metal desk.

“Detective Worth filled me in on your suspicions, which I did follow up on by the way, and he also told me to keep an eye out in case you decided to do a little detecting on your own.”

Ben could see that Clark was not about to give anything away regarding the findings of his investigation, or his own concerns, which the guy would have to have if he was any kind of cop at all. Regardless, Ben was not just going to go away without some sort of assurance he was being taken seriously.

“What did you find out, if you don’t mind my asking?” Ben asked the question respectfully, keeping his tone polite.

“We found a man and his son who are, by all appearances, spending the winter in a rented cabin. A search of the premises failed to turn up any evidence of Miss Tidewell or her two children,” he replied succinctly.

Ben wasn’t buying the official sounding response and he could tell that the deputy didn’t really intend for him to.

“Look deputy – Clark,” he made a big production of leaning over to read from the name plate that rested on the corner of the cluttered desk. “I know that you have a job to do and I’m not trying to cause you any trouble. But I was up there at the cabin last night and I saw some things that I think you should know about.”

Clark studied Ben for another full minute before he nodded for him to continue.

“There’s an out building behind the house and I watched the boy go in with another man. The thing is, I’m almost certain he came out alone.” If anything would get him into trouble the next part would, but there was something solid and sensible about Dennis Clark that gave Ben the feeling he could be trusted.

“I went inside the shed and there was no one else there. So my question is, what happened to the other man?”

Ben was hoping that Clark would come to the same conclusion he had, that there must be a hidden cellar beneath the old shed where a nut case might keep a kidnap victim.

“We didn’t see any sign of a basement or cellar at the Ralston place yesterday, but I know there’s at least one. Ralph was always putting up canned sauces and fruit for winter. He told me more than once that he was glad for the abundant storage. I didn’t see anything while I was there though.”

Ben was aware of the exact moment that Clark realized his oversight. He was probably giving himself a quick mental kick for not doing so sooner. Ben decided it couldn’t get any worse if he told him the rest.

“The kid left late last night and went out to Land’s End.” Clark’s gaze came back to him with a look of surprise. “He did some things out there that seemed really off to me. Maybe things that have a direct correlation to this case.”

Dennis Clark looked at Ben as if he were reading his mind. “So you just happened to be at the Ralston cabin last night and then you just happened to be out at Land’s End to witness the strange behavior of a sixteen year old kid.”

“You were there last night.” Ben made it a statement rather than a question. Clark was probably wondering why he hadn’t spotted Ben from where he must have been hiding in the woods. Funny, Ben hadn’t spotted Clark either.

Ben sat, arms crossed over his chest, and waited, knowing Clark expected him to defend his actions with an explanation or an apology.

“If it makes you feel any better, we had a patrol out there watching the site last night. The kid never went back and neither did his father.” He could see that Ben was putting two and two together so he hurried to explain. “We’ve been keeping an eye on them for the last twenty four hours and there’s been almost no activity, except of course for the trip out to the rim.”

Ben was coming to feel a certain level of respect for the hard-nosed deputy, and he felt positive now that his instincts had been accurate.

“I think it will be tonight.” And then at the look of confusion that crossed Clark’s face, he hurried on. “I mean something out at Land’s End. Tonight is a full moon and I think this whole thing is just weird enough that we shouldn’t ignore the possibility.”

Ben didn’t want the deputy to think he was completely off his rocker, so he didn’t add that he had seen that moon very clearly in his dreams last night.

“You need help.” The statement was out of Ben’s mouth before he could stop it. Then he decided he didn’t have anything to lose and went on. “It’s my understanding that this is a very small department. Just an acting Sheriff, you, and one other deputy. There’s no way you can handle this without more men.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to stand down from this.” It wasn’t a request but a politely phrased order. “I absolutely cannot have a civilian involved in any kind of law enforcement operation.” Clark held his hands up to fend off the argument that was coming at him from across the desk. “We have other resources, Ben. It’s not as if we’re up here alone. If need be, we’ll call in patrols from the valley. But I will assure you that we’re going to do everything we can to find out what, if anything, is going on over there.”

Ben looked Clark squarely in the eye and tried one last shot. “I just hope you find out before it’s too late.” And then he turned and walked quickly out of the office.

“Ben,” Clark stopped him as he reached the door. “Where are you staying up here? I’ll need to know.”

Ben thought for a minute before he answered. “I guess there won’t be any need for me to stay at all.”

 

*****

 

“Hey Dennis, who was that?” Jameson came around the corner with a fresh cup of coffee in one hand and a donut in the other.

Jameson had lightened up a lot since their visit to the Ralston cabin and his self-confidence seemed to have grown. The deputy was clean shaven and his uniform looked crisp and new. He never looked like he had a rough night and he could be counted on for a chipper greeting no matter how early in the morning his day started. Clark tried to over look the annoying quality considering that he was starting to actually like the guy part of the time, and motioned him to sit down.

“Benjamin Drake, the guy who called in to Detective Worth about those two over at Ralston’s cabin.” Clark explained, and then filled him in on the conversation and asked for his take on things.

“First of all, he’s not the only one who has a bad feeling about those two. I think we should push for a warrant and pick that place apart.” Jameson urged him whole heartedly.

“You know we have no evidence or grounds so there’s no way we could push that through. Have we been able to get in touch with Ralph yet?”

“No, and it shouldn’t be this hard to find him either.” Jameson insisted through a mouth full of cream filled.

“So what’s second?” Clark asked but Jameson just looked at him blankly and tried to swallow the rest of his donut.

“You said first of all, so what’s second?” Dennis reminded him.

“Oh, well I guess there isn’t a second thing. But we should definitely keep an eye out for activity over there and make sure we have a unit out at Land’s End tonight. Just in case, you know.”

“It would be almost impossible to watch the place from every angle out there without being spotted. Any number of things could be happening, but since we don’t have enough guys at one time to cover the woods behind the place and the front too, who knows what we might miss.” Clark was mostly thinking out loud in an attempt to spark some sort of idea about how to proceed. Ben was right, he had to call in reinforcements from the valley, but he would have to have some justification for it.

“I’ll talk to the boss right now and see what I can put together,” he said and then stood up from his chair, signaling Jameson that it was time to get to work.

“Oh, by the way, did you hear about that hiker who was lost in the woods?”

“What about him?” Clark assumed they were talking about the body that had been recovered.

“He showed up down the valley last night. Turns out he wasn’t lost at all, he was just trying out his survival skills and stayed up here longer than he planned.”

“What?” Clark snapped and Jameson just shrugged as he turned and walked away.

If the body from the ravine wasn’t the lost hiker then who the hell was he? And where the hell was Ralph Ralston?

 

*****

Chapter 26

Mark and Jason backed out of the driveway, then pulled over to the curb out of sight of the front window where Mark’s mother might see them loading the bike into the back of his old beat up Subaru Brat. It was just before seven in the morning and, with luck, they would be at the entrance to Mesa Lakes by eight o’clock.

The plan was for Mark to drop Jason off with the bike and he would ride back in to Lost Lake on the hiking trail he and his dad had used the last time they were there together. Mark had spent most of the morning trying to talk Jason out of going at all, and now he spent most of the drive trying to talk him out of going alone.

“Your dad isn’t even going to know you’re there, so how can he be counting on you to back him up?” Mark asked the question for the third or fourth time. “You might need somebody to run for help if you get into trouble or something. Did you ever think of that?” He had decided that taking part in a covert operation would be a whole lot more exciting than going to class and he was doing his best to convince Jason to include him in the action.

“I need you back in town,” Jason reiterated. “So you can call for reinforcements if you don’t hear from me by dark.”

“Yeah I know, you already said so. But I still think I should stay with you.” Mark was insistent, but Jason stood his ground.

“Then just turn around and we’ll go back because I’m not staying here if you stay too.”

Jason was not about to let Mark get in trouble, or worse. If something bad was going to happen up on that mountain he didn’t want his friend hurt.

Mark finally gave up and pressed the gas pedal to the floor, pushing the Brat up to its top speed of fifty-eight miles an hour.

It was after eight o’clock by the time they pulled up to the sign announcing the turn off to Mesa Lake. Jason was at the end of his patience after having to follow a slow moving semi all the way up the narrow winding road and he nearly leapt from the little pickup before it came to a stop on the gravel shoulder.

“Hurry and get back before somebody notices you’re not at school,” he called to Mark as he lifted the bike from the short pickup bed and took off down the trail.

“And thanks!” he yelled as Mark peeled off and headed back to town.

Jason rode as fast as he could, bouncing over the rough uneven ground, going airborne more than once and landing hard enough to jar his teeth.

He was speeding past the rental cabins when something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He looked back and realized his dad’s motorcycle was parked next to one of the small rental units that were nestled back between the thick clusters of tall narrow evergreens. Jason panicked for a second before he realized the Jeep was gone, momentarily thinking that his dad would see him and send him right back to the valley.

Slowing his pace as he neared the top of the trail that looked out over the hidden lake, Jason jumped off the bike, pushing it into a thicket of grayish green sage brush and brown bramble. He looked back as he walked away, satisfied that the bike wouldn’t be spotted easily by anyone who might be passing, then moved into the deep shadows of the trees bordering the road.

Jason crept deeper into the woods and worked his way around to the back of the property, then situated himself behind a low wall of fallen trees where he could watch and listen. The scene looked so peaceful it was almost hard to imagine anything bad happening here. Almost. The illusion of calm serenity could not disguise the sinister aura that hung over the place like a silently floating blanket of fog. Jason figured he just had a case of the heebie jeebies and he tried to shake the chilling sensation, but the feeling refused to be dispelled and stayed with him throughout the morning.

 

*****

Chapter 27

Joseph’s pacing was driving Carl nuts. For the second day in a row he was spending the better part of his time wandering back and forth between the living room and the kitchen, throwing off a palpable energy that set Carl’s nerves on edge. He’d had enough.

Even a knock down drag out fight would be better than this tension that was eating through his back bone.

“What’s on your mind, Pop?” He asked directly, practically begging for the confrontation he knew was coming.

Joseph turned to look at him and Carl felt for the first time the full force of disgust and anger his father harbored for him. He actually took a step back, overwhelmed by the power in the older man’s gaze.

“You view this situation as an amusing distraction,” he accused. “One that we created simply for your perverse enjoyment. You refuse to consider the tremendous strength we will gain by using this woman’s gift, and only seek to cause pain for the sake of entertainment!”

Carl couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His father was the most twisted human being he had ever encountered, and had trained his son well in the art of pain and suffering. Only recently had he begun to behave as if he needed justification for his actions, and started searching for it in the realm of spirituality. His father wasn’t just a psycho anymore. He was a psycho with a purpose.

“Since when has it ever mattered to you,” Carl blurted. “Why does there have to be some great meaning in what we do? Don’t forget that I’ve seen the look on your face when you carve up some unlucky bastard!”

Joseph moved so quickly that Carl didn’t even see it coming. The blow took him in the side of the head and he found himself crumpled on the floor. His ears were ringing and blood was running from the corner of his eye where it felt like a sledge hammer had popped it loose from the socket.

Joseph looked like a giant to Carl as he stood over him, his arms raised in the air as if calling to the god’s for an answer to his prayers.

“You will never understand the power that is created when you take the life of another human being. The pleasure is there for you but you are too stupid to accept the gift that a tortured soul represents and use it to expand your pitiful mind!” He literally roared before he stomped away down the hall, slamming the door as he left the cabin.

Carl didn’t know where Joseph was going and he didn’t care. He could tell that he had more than a minor injury and he rose slowly to his feet to make his way into the bathroom in search of a mirror and first aid kit. One look at himself and he almost passed out, wishing he hadn’t found the mirror. His left brow was crushed and his eye appeared to be punctured by the bone that once supported it, which explained the excruciating pain and disorientation. His heart slowly filled with a sense of rage as he looked at his reflection in the cheap glass cabinet.

Carl would take his revenge, he decided. Tonight there would be hell to pay and not even his family would be spared from the horror that he planned.

 

*****

 

Joseph stormed from the house and moved quickly down to the water where he would be able to calm his mind and await the hour of reckoning.

He wasn’t sorry that he had lost his temper with Carl. The time had come to get rid of him, that was clear, and he intended to do so later on tonight. But not until after he performed the sacrifice that would bring him all the power that Maeve Tidewell possessed. He would wait until Carl was finished with his fun, when he would come out to the wall at Land’s End to join in the sacrificial rite.

Joseph reached down and unhooked the line that trailed away from the sloping bank and very slowly pulled it toward him. He watched reverently as one prize after the other emerged, gleaming, from the frigid water where they were so carefully preserved.

Holding the line above his head, he prayed to the gods, while water poured over him like a flood of tears.

 

*****

 

Ben could hear yelling coming from inside the cabin but he couldn’t make out the words. He could only tell by the volume and tone of voice that someone was very angry. Something crashed inside the house and was followed by the slam of the front door as the big man stomped loudly out onto the deck. Ben watched from the edge of the woods where he had been hiding for the past few hours. His butt had turned numb and he was just shifting positions to get the blood flowing again when he heard the commotion and stopped in mid motion, fearing that any movement would draw the man’s unwanted attention.

Maybe four inches over six feet, the man was heavy, but not all of it was fat as Ben had originally thought when he saw him the first time. He would have to take that into consideration if he ended up in a head to head with the guy.

The man’s movements were deliberate and filled with tension as he marched across the grass to the edge of the lake. Reaching into the icy water, he tugged on a line, pulling something across the surface to the edge that looked like a string of small animal pelts. He held the line above his head and let the water drip down over his hair and face, opening his mouth to let the fine rivulets run down his throat.

He shook the pelts and roared at the sky, demanding favor from the spirits who had long ago departed from this earth.

“I’ll be go to hell.” Ben whispered to himself, thinking that he had stepped in a pile of shit so deep he might not be able to pull out of it.

But there was no turning back. He had only seen one sheriff’s car drive near the lake today and he feared that when the time came, he would be the only one there to stop the monster from doing his worst. He settled back down in the woods and waited for darkness to fall.

*****

 

Maeve had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the day. She didn’t want to open up to Glenn and was grateful that he seemed to understand. But Glenn could tell that something was on her mind. She could tell by his own silence, sensing his support while she brooded over her fears.

The dream had come to her again in the night but with a difference so chilling she tried to block it from her mind.

She had come awake with a feeling of intense fear, with fragments of the dream clinging to her every thought.

The dream had started like it always did, but at some point it changed and Maeve had found herself floating in a lake of blood.

So much blood! She shook her head to rid her mind of the memory and tried to bring herself back to the present.

“I’d kill for a glass of wine right now,” Maeve said as she sat down cross legged on the floor next to Glenn.

“It would normally be a little early in the day for me,” he responded lightly. “But under the circumstances, a whole bottle would probably suit me just fine.”

The two of them had just come back from their daily visit with the Binyon children, whose health seemed unchanged from the day before. Glenn was still puzzled over the miraculous difference in Faye. Maeve had chosen to keep the relationship between Torei and Faye to herself. She was afraid that his deeply ingrained scientific training would get in the way and interfere with the progress they had made with regard to his positive attitude. They couldn’t afford to raise any doubts right now when the hour of their escape was so close at hand.

“Let me take a look at your feet,” she said on a more serious note. “They look like they might be getting infected.”

“I’ve been paying close attention to them and I don’t think I’m in any danger yet. I’m the doctor, remember? I’ve been using a little of the drinking water they give me to keep them as clean as I can.”

She let it go for the time being but she would make sure that they somehow wrapped his feet tonight before he traveled very far in the cold.

They had spent the morning rehashing the plan and reviewing the children’s positions so they could decide how best to protect them. Then they acted out their parts until they reached a point where they could no longer think about what they were facing.

Maeve had reassured Glenn that Faye and Joe were well-informed and that they wouldn’t be left behind, and now they were as prepared as they would ever be. All that was left to do now was wait.

Neither of them had any idea how long they were there talking and resting in preparation for the night, but they knew it was far too early for Carl to be taking them back to their separate quarters. When the door opened it was Joseph who entered the room and motioned for Maeve to follow him. Leaving Makula in the room, he locked the door behind him, then headed down to the basement where Maeve would spend the evening with the girls.

“I hated to cut your time short,” he said by way of explanation. “But I thought you would like to spend some time with your girls before you leave to perform the rite of healing.”

“Of course,” she said guardedly. “I can see you understand the importance of preparation and their presence during the ritual.” She had a sinking feeling that Joseph understood too much, and he gave her no reassurance as he pushed her through the portal to join her waiting children.

 

*****

 

“Joe, you have to be strong for tonight.” Torei tried one last time, her typically happy tone was beginning to show signs of the impatience she was feeling toward this stubborn boy.

“Don’t worry about me,” he said for the hundredth time. “Besides, it doesn’t work with me anyway so it’s just a waste of time.”

Now he was really making her mad, his pretense of being a dense bonehead wasn’t fooling her for a second.

“It only doesn’t work because you won’t let me have it.” She explained for the last time.

“If he wants to be too weak to help us tonight then I’m certainly not going to feel bad about leaving him behind,” Claire declared. “We’ll just change the plan so that we can handle it without him, and if he can keep up, that’s fine too.”

Claire couldn’t understand why it was so easy for her to manipulate boys when Torei didn’t have the first clue, but she wasn’t going to waste a true gift like that when there was so much at stake.

“Let’s get started,” Faye chimed in to back Claire up. “I’m not hanging around here after tonight, and no matter what, I won’t let them down.” She looked Joe strait in the eye and walked over to the opposite side of the room to huddle with Claire.

Joe felt like he was slowly being torn into two pieces with only hazy threads holding him together in the middle. One part of him wanted to shelter Torei at all costs. She seemed so fragile, her delicate features veiling a strong and intelligent young mind that brought forth every protective instinct he possessed. His other half wanted to be strong and heroic for Claire and Faye too, knowing that the responsibility for their success was placed squarely on his shoulders.

It seemed like Torei was able to heal Faye without hurting herself, so maybe if he could just trust her to stop if it got too hard he could let her help him just a little. That way he could help all of them when it was most important. That was the hazy part in the middle, the part that was trying to make the best decision for everyone.

“Okay, but just this one time,” he said, surprising everyone with his sudden declaration. “And if it starts to hurt you or make you tired at all you have to promise me you’ll stop.” He stated his terms firmly with his wagging finger just inches from Torei’s nose.

Torei beamed at him as she reached forward and gently wrapped his hand in hers, then she pulled him forward to sit with her on the bed.

 

*****

 

The sun was setting and the moon would soon be coming over the horizon to offer a gentler light to the creatures of the night.

John Bledsoe knew he was taking the curves a little fast but he had driven this rig down the mountain so many times he was confident he could do it in his sleep. There was a tight turn coming up and he down shifted to slow just a little as he approached the first bend. The flash came out of nowhere and he took one hand from the wheel to block the blinding beam of light from the setting sun just as the oncoming van crossed the line and headed straight at him.

Bledsoe jerked hard to the right to avoid a collision and butted up against a solid wall of rock that whipped the tanker back onto the road. The impact ripped the wheel from his grasp and sent the eighteen wheeler spinning out of control. He was across the road and flying through the air before he even had time to react, and then he screamed as the ground rushed up to meet him.

 

*****

Chapter 28

Information from the requested background investigation on Joseph Binyon had been trickling in throughout the day. It seemed that the Binyon family relied solely on money from a trust fund set up by Binyon’s deceased wife for the benefit of the kids. According to the report, Joseph apparently had not one, but three children. The man had been moving them around the country and had settled in the valley earlier in the year, apparently in order for his two younger children to receive specialized medical care from a local doctor who had extensive experience in the treatment of their particular illness.

Coincidentally, that prominent physician was currently missing with no hint as to his whereabouts. The thing was, Dennis Clark was one of those cops who didn’t believe in coincidence.

The deputy had his SUV concealed beneath the thick copse of trees where he’d hidden the night before, and two other units were positioned around the perimeter of the old ranger station.

Dennis had finally received authorization for the operation earlier in the afternoon after the connection to Makula came through. He had been granted every one of the department’s available resources to take down the criminals, if in fact that’s what they were.

Jameson was stationed at the cabin to keep an eye out and advise the team of any movement, radioing in every half hour with an update on the whereabouts of Joseph and Carl Binyon. So far there was nothing to report, but Clark wouldn’t call it a bust until well after the full moon had crawled completely across the great expanse of sky.

There was no more awesome place on earth than this high plateau where a man could look out across the sweeping panorama and see the Gunnison River winding its way through the deeply carved valley all the way from Utah to central Colorado. Clark sat in awe of the unimaginable kaleidoscope of colors cast by the sun as it set low in the distance, and wondered at the remarkable gift of nature that surrounded him.

His mind wandered to the people who had inhabited this land centuries ago, He could almost feel the presence of the spirits who surely remained. He had never thought much about its history until now, but he suddenly recalled the Ute name for the place. Prisoners had been brought here to the Home of the Departed Spirits after the Meeker Massacre in 1879 and it wasn’t hard to imagine that many of them died trying to regain their freedom. The thought sent a chill along Clark’s spine and he shivered just a little.

He jumped in his seat and bumped the bridge of his nose on the visor when his radio crackled to life.

“Ouch, damnit!” He growled, pinching his nose with one hand while grabbed up the mike with the other.

“Go ahead,” he said through gritted teeth, thanking the stars above that no one had been around to witness his ridiculous behavior.

“Clark, we’ve got a situation and all units need to high tail it down to the accident site.” Gail was a volunteer dispatcher for the department and for reasons known only to her, didn’t seem able to communicate using official codes and protocol.

“They’ll have to take care of it from down in the valley, Gail.”

“They can’t, Dennis. We got a little boulder down on the seventy and it’s holding everybody up for at least another hour.” The canyon wall had a tendency to slide every now and then, but this seemed like the wrong time of year for that to happen. Everything just seemed to be working against him.

“Okay, I’ll send Gary and Paul down there right now.” Clark acknowledged the call and was ready to get Gary on the radio when Gail came back.

“Dennis, you all have to go. They got a real bad wreck down there, a tanker and two cars down over the side. One of ‘em’s a van with seven people and they need all the help they can get.”

There was a short pause and then “Over.” Well, at least she was making an effort.

“Okay, give me the location.”

“You know that real nasty curve just below the DeBeque cutoff? Right after you pass mile marker fifty-two. You can’t miss it, Dennis.” Shit, thought Dennis, this was going to be ugly.

The west side of the road at that particular curve offered nothing but a sheer drop off straight into the river. Clark raised Gary and sent both units barreling away with sirens blaring.

The radio squawked again and this time he heard the gravel voice of Sherriff Baker shouting through the speaker on the dash.

“Clark, get your butt down to that scene!” Baker issued the order without any preamble.

“Sir, what about the operation at Land’s End?” He abruptly reminded his boss of the situation.

“Is there anything happening out there?”

“Not yet, sir, but –“

“No butts’ Clark, those people down there need assistance and they need it stat. Clean it up quick and you can get back to Land’s End when you’re finished.” Clark could tell by the tone of his voice that Barker was getting worked up but he made one last effort to salvage the plan.

“Sheriff, Jameson is staked out at the Ralston place and I’d like to request permission to maintain surveillance sir. He can notify us immediately if there’s any suspicious movement and maybe we can still get back up here in time.”

Dennis thought how ironic it was that he was so desperate to stay on this when just this morning he was questioning the lack of evidence that any crime was being committed.

“Alright, let him know. But you make sure you’re on the road by the time I end this call.” And then he was gone and Clark had the pedal mashed to the floor as he sped off to follow his orders.

 

*****

 

After consuming two bags of trail mix, a snickers, a bag of M&M’s and three Mountain Dew’s, Jameson was fidgety and tired of sitting there watching the landscape go dormant. Nothing was happening and it seemed to him that nothing was going to if somebody didn’t make a move soon. What could it hurt if he went down there and knocked on the door with some excuse about a routine patrol? They still hadn’t been able to track down Ralph, and he was pretty sure that the people in the cabin had something to do with that.

Deputy Jameson started the engine and put the car in gear, driving slowly down the road while keeping an eye out for any sign of the suspects in question.

The wind had started to blow earlier in the evening and the swaying branches created eerie shadows cast by the light of the brightly glowing moon.

Jameson stepped out of his vehicle and walked steadily up the steps of the front deck, then knocked on the door and waited through the sounds of footsteps as they approached from the other side.

Joseph Binyon opened the door and offered that same grimace that Jameson supposed was meant to be a smile.

“Well hello, Deputy,” he greeted in surprise. “What brings you back here this time of night?”

Jameson returned the smile and started on the story he’d settled on while debating the wisdom of what he wanted to do.

“We had a little problem in town and it’s real important that we get in touch with Ralph Ralston,” he lied. “The trouble is, we can’t seem to locate him. We thought that since you’re renting from him and all, we’d just stop by and get his contact information from you.”

Joseph stepped back and opened the door wide, inviting Jameson to step inside.

“Come on in and I’ll get it for you,” he said and then added, “it’s just in the kitchen if you want to follow me.”

Jameson was reluctant to enter the house where he might find himself hemmed in if, in fact, these two had something going on that could cause them some trouble. Jameson was intelligent enough, but he’d never been all that quick on his feet. He searched his thoughts for a moment but couldn’t think of a plausible excuse to stay on the front porch, so he followed Joseph through the living room and into the kitchen, panning his eyes around for any sign that he might be walking into a bad situation.

Joseph walked straight to the counter and opened a drawer, shuffling around in a pile of loose papers and the usual accumulation of odds and ends that every household seems to collect.

“I keep saying I’m going to clean this out one day,” he said with a self deprecating laugh.

Jameson gave him an understanding smile that turned to shocked disbelief, and then to alarm, as Joseph turned from the drawer with a small pistol in his hand.

“Hold on now,” he said, holding his hands out in a protective gesture. “I don’t want any trouble here. You have a permit for that thing?” He tried another smile and nodded toward the gun that was pointed directly at his chest.

“It’s not going to matter to you whether I do or I don’t,” Joseph said quietly and Jameson felt his bowels clench at the thought that he was going to die right here. A movement caught Joseph’s attention and he glanced away suddenly. Jameson reacted in a split second, flinging his hand out to deflect the barrel of the gun, only to stop in mid motion, his own attention captured by the second gun that was pressing into the back of his skull. He remembered the kid then and cursed himself for what a fool he had been.

“Carl, No!” Joseph screamed, but Jameson knew, somehow, that it was already too late.

 

*****

 

Maeve sat with the girls on the bed, trying not to show how afraid she was about Joseph’s words to her just now. What was she going to do if he forced her to leave the kids behind? Maybe Joe would be chosen to stay and guard them. He would have the perfect opportunity to get the girls all safely away while she and Glenn were dealing with Joseph and Carl.

She had to prepare them for every possibility, but she didn’t want to frighten them any more than they already were. They had been so strong and brave and it just didn’t seem fair to ask any more of them than what they had already given.

“We’re not going with you tonight are we?” Claire asked, but Maeve could tell she already knew the answer.

“I don’t know,” Maeve hedged. “But Joseph said something to me just now that makes me think you’ll be staying here. How did you know?”

“In my dream I always see Torei and Faye, Joe and Carl and Jason too, but you’re never there. In my dream I mean.” Her voice was trembling and tears were beginning to run down her cheeks.

Claire was hunched over, her shoulders beginning to shake, the sobs racking her thin body as she tried to put her fears into words.

“I thought it was just a dream, you know? But I had it again last night and I think it’s a real dream, like before. Why is all this happening, Mama? I don’t understand.”

Maeve’s heart was being squeezed by a mammoth fist and it was hard for her to breathe. She couldn’t bear to see her little girl hurting like this. All of the anger that she had pushed aside came rushing back with tremendous force.

What good were these fucking dreams and visions anyway if she couldn’t understand them or use them to make a difference? They didn’t change her circumstances and it was useless to think that she was being provided with knowledge that would help in any way. She told herself that she had just been surviving by creating some ridiculous fantasy. Just continuing to torture herself mentally over her naïve beliefs.

The muffled but unmistakable sound of a gunshot made them all jump and Maeve reacted by shoving both of the girls behind her in an effort to shelter them with her body.

Maeve could feel her pulse racing, breath coming in short gasps as she counted the seconds waiting for the door to open at the top of the stairs. Her anxiety grew as the time passed and her mind created a hundred different scenarios that would explain the sudden, terrifying silence.

What if Joe or Faye had been hurt? Had Glenn tried to escape? Or had Joseph decided to kill them all before he was discovered? Oh God, how were they going to get through this? Maeve lost all of her resolve as the trauma of the past few days overwhelmed her, robbing her of the ability to move or think or feel anything but terror and grief.

Mama. She hadn’t heard that in such a very long time. The memory of her daughter’s shattered voice calling to her like a small child jarred her away from the overwhelming despair. The anger began to well up again, filling her with the strength she would need to end this thing.

Maeve would use Claire’s dream as well as her own and she would take every advantage she was given to put an end to this nightmare.

She and Glenn had only planned to escape and run with the children as fast and as far as they could, but there was no doubt now that if they hoped to live through the night, Joseph and Carl would have to die.

 

*****

Chapter 29

Joseph was angrier than he had ever been in his life. He stood in the kitchen staring down at the body of the young deputy while blood and something gelatinous clung to his clothes and ran from his hair down over his face. What a little fuck up Carl had turned out to be.

The vision he’d once had for himself and his son was long gone. His feelings for the boy had been the closest thing he’d ever felt to love, or so he guessed. Now that feeling was being replaced by loathing and a touch of fear. Joseph would have killed him right then and there if it hadn’t been for the ceremony that he had so carefully planned. Besides, he wasn’t going to clean up this mess. He would make Carl do it while Joe kept an eye on the Tidewell kids.

It was already late and Joseph would need to move fast now to get Maeve and the doctor in place at the ancient wall.

“You will never gain divine understanding,” he said coldly, “by killing without thought or care for the spirit that dwells within.”

Carl had bandaged the damaged eye and wrapped a bandana around his head, then swallowed a hand full of aspirin to dull the terrible pain. Now he stood facing his father, the gun hot in his hand as he stared at the fascinating array of blood, bone and brain matter that had splayed grotesquely across the room.

“I’m tired of hearing about your power and your spirits and all your other bullshit!” Carl cried out in anger and frustration. “It isn’t like it used to be, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be at all.” His voice was quivering now and there was such a look of devastation on his face that Joseph almost felt sorry for him. He could vaguely remember the young eager boy who had followed him everywhere, and who had been interested rather than repulsed by the prospect of witnessing violent death.

Oh yes, he had once had the highest hopes for he and his son. Maybe it wasn’t too late after all. He would show the boy some mercy and he would use this weakness of fear and grief to try one more time to demonstrate exactly how he perceived the workings of the universe.

“Okay, okay now. We’ll talk about it later but right now I need you to help me get him out to the cellar,” Joseph said, nodding his head toward the lifeless man lying at his feet.

He patted Carl awkwardly on the shoulder in encouragement, then bent down to lift Jameson’s body by the shoulders while Carl grabbed the legs behind the knees and hefted them up.

Jesus, this guy was heavy. Carl was struggling to keep a grip on the weighty legs and figured if he’d had to move him alone he would have had a rough go of it. At least the struggle to move the corpse was occupying enough of his mind that he didn’t have to dwell on the tears that had threatened to overwhelm him. He didn’t know where all of that had come from, but the emotions were foreign to him and the whole thing made him uncomfortable. Maybe he would think about it all later, after he had his fun with the girls downstairs. He would stay in his father’s good graces and only take one of them as he had been told, but which one would he choose?

 

*****

 

“Holy shit!” Ben gasped. There was no doubt that the sound had been a gun shot. The question was, who was doing the shooting? And who was getting shot?

It was colder than a whore’s heart in the dark woods. The wind was kicking up and clouds rolled in to partially obscure the moon that had risen high above the trees.

Ben had been sitting in the same spot all day and was considering changing positions when the sheriff’s car pulled up in front of the cabin. Ben didn’t think he would be spotted, but didn’t want to take a chance that the lone deputy might catch a glimpse of him and give him away. He could see the hefty young officer talking politely with the goon at the door. The conversation seemed friendly enough and when they all moved into the house, Ben decided to take himself out of harm’s way. He crept carefully through the dark to the back of the property and out of sight of the cruiser.

He was just settling in near a stand of fallen trees when the shot was fired and he hit the ground, covering his head in hopes that the next shot would pass him by as well.

Ben realized almost immediately that the blast had been contained inside the house. The silence that surrounded him was thick and heavy after the echoing boom and he stayed put, careful not to make the slightest sound.

A full minute ticked by, and then another as he waited for some kind of activity. This didn’t look good, and he was trying to decide if he should try for the car where he could call for help on the radio when the back door opened.

Light spilled through the open doorway and Ben could clearly see the big man carrying a very dead looking sheriff’s deputy. The kid followed holding up the poor bastard’s legs, grunting with the effort of keeping a grip on the resistant limbs.

Ben didn’t need to think for one more second. He had begun to move before he even realized what he was doing. He was up and running quietly, headed through the trees on the shortest route to the deputy’s car.

The two murderers were occupied for at least a few more minutes and Ben didn’t even try to hide once they were out of sight in the shed. He ran full tilt across the open yard and skidded to a stop, throwing the passenger’s side door open and flinging himself across the seat, then pulling the door quietly shut behind him all in one fluid motion.

Grabbing the radio, he held down the speaker button. “May day, May day” he said as quietly as he could. “Officer down!” He rasped urgently into the microphone, desperately trying to recall what he knew about emergency radio procedure.

He lifted his finger off the button and a crackling female voice came blasting over the air. “Who’s this, what’s your position?” And then without waiting for a response, “Pete, is that you?”

The sound of other voices drifted through the quiet night and Ben knew he was out of time.

Peeking over the dash, he could see the big man and his son talking, their backs turned to him for the moment. He dropped the mike and slithered back out of the car, crawling away on his belly into the trees. Seconds later the son walked over and drove the sheriff’s car into the woods.

 

*****

 

Jason was hiding less than ten feet away from Ben at the other end of the same stand of fallen trees. He couldn’t see the front of the cabin from his position behind the house and had not been aware of the unfortunate visitor.

The gunshot scared the bejeezus out of him and he sat there, frozen, unable to decide if he should try to move in for a closer look or run like hell.

Jason caught a movement to his left and searched the dark recesses for a view of the intruder. He hoped to hell it wasn’t a bear or maybe even a mountain lion creeping up in hopes of catching a late dinner.

The two men coming out of the cabin grabbed his attention and he turned back to see them carrying something to the shed.

Was that a body? Jesus Christ, he’d almost cried out at the gory sight. He was thinking that they had found his father and that it was his body they hauled across the yard. But no, this man was a lot heavier and shorter than his dad. He wished his father were here with him now.

Jason watched the two killers struggle across the patchy grass and it occurred to him that if they were both out here, then there was no one inside the house.

Not even thinking about what he was doing, the next thing he knew, he found himself running across the broken ground heading for the back door. He slid inside and let the screen door close softly behind him, searching the hallway for signs that there was anyone else in the house.

The sounds of muffled sobs came to him from a door on the right and he listened quietly. He couldn’t be certain but it sounded like a young girl, and she sounded like she was alone.

Jason heard the sound of footsteps coming back on to the porch and quickly opened the door and stepped inside the room. Faye Binyon looked up, startled by the intrusion.

Jason put his finger to his lips signaling her to be quiet and she nodded slowly, never taking her eyes from his face.

 

*****

 

Glenn was concentrating very hard. He had a picture in his mind of how he wanted things to turn out tonight and he put every ounce of his mental energy into holding on to that vision.

He had met a lot of brave people in his forty-eight years, people with life threatening illnesses who faced the world with a smile on their face and who fought every day to make it one more week, or month, or even just one more day. Maeve Tidewell was such a person.

Before he met her he had never given much thought to how he would face this kind of challenge. Well now he was staring a colossal one right in the eye and he intended to fight. It wasn’t just his life that was at stake, and even though he still had yet to meet Claire and Torei, he knew that he would do everything in his power to get them home safe.

Glenn heard the scraping of footsteps and then the unmistakable sounds of Carl sliding the cistern pump away from the trap door. They had hollowed out the pump to make it easy to move and then used the heavy looking shell to hide the fact that there was a cellar beneath the shed.

It must be time. Glenn had prepared an extra surprise for Joseph and he was anxious to get out in the open where he could maneuver and get the upper hand. He stood in total darkness, waiting for the door to open and the ladder to fall. The hatch finally lifted and Glenn looked up into the light, ready to catch the ladder as it was dropped down for him.

But no ladder was lowered for him to climb out. As Glenn looked up into the light he saw the body fall over the edge of the opening and was barely able to move out of the way before it landed heavily on the floor where he had been standing.

Horrified at the grisly sight, he nearly came unglued. His breath was coming in shallow gasps, his vision blurring from the rush of fearful tears.

“I’ll be back for you shortly,” Joseph called before he dropped the door and Glenn was once again surrounded by darkness.

But this time he wasn’t alone. Joseph’s words had jarred him out of the nightmare and he suddenly felt an overwhelming need to preserve life if it were at all possible. He knelt down and tried to find a pulse but he already knew there was no hope for this man.

Who was he? It was possible Glenn would never know. The thought seemed to trigger a response that nothing else in this heinous experience had. He finally let the tears flow, crying out of fear and sadness, love and outrage as he stood over the body of a once living, breathing human being.

As the minutes passed and the anguish faded, Glenn felt a heat growing around and inside him that invaded his mind and his heart, filling his soul with a burning hatred for the man who had done this.

Yes, he would look this challenge full in the face and he would fight for his life. He not only intended to fight, he intended to win.

 

*****

 

Maeve closed her eyes and tried not to panic when she heard the door opening at the top of the stairs. She could not possibly leave her girls if that was what Joseph had in mind, but they had assured her there was help for them here. They would be safe and she shouldn’t worry.

Claire was positive that everything would unfold just as her dream had shown her. Neither one of the girls seemed to fear for their own safety at all.

The tears and anxiety were for her since they couldn’t see her part in the unfolding drama and she tried again to reassure them that she and Glenn would be just fine.

Joseph came heavily down the stairs and greeted the three of them politely, as he always did. “We need to be leaving now,” he said, “if we are to complete our journey before the moon reaches its highest point.”

Maeve stood aside and made as if to usher the girls up the stairs, but just as she had feared, Joseph held his beefy hand out to forestall their leaving.

“I’m afraid Torei and Claire won’t be going with you to the clearing tonight,” he said.

“Then I’m afraid I won’t be going either.” Maeve said firmly, having made the decision to stay with her kids and protect them no matter what else happened.

Joseph clasped his hands behind his back and dipped is head, chuckling slightly at the stubborn response. “Miss Tidewell, this is not a matter of choice. The site of the ritual is not a place for children and I have decided that you and the doctor are the only ones besides myself who need attend.”

Oh God, he was leaving Carl with the girls! The thought terrified Maeve like nothing else could. She had to do something.

Joseph could see her mind working, trying to find a way to stay with the girls. Next she would tell him that they were the source of her power and she doubted her ability to manifest without them nearby. It didn’t matter to him, he was the only one who would be creating any reality tonight. He ran out of patience as he watched her struggling to find an argument that would sway his decision.

“Come with me now,” he said roughly and he reached out to grab Maeve by the arm.

Maeve jerked her arm away from his grasp and swung her closed fists as hard as she could at Joseph’s head. The hard metal of the handcuffs connected solidly with his jaw, causing pain to erupt in the bones of her wrist as they were smashed against the unforgiving steel.

Joseph reacted with a back handed blow to Maeve’s head that knocked her to the floor and the last thing she heard was the distant cry of two small voices as she faded away into unconsciousness.

 

*****

Chapter 30

The bound man struggled as Carl dragged him out of the shed and, not that it mattered now, but Ben’s suspicions were confirmed that there must be a cellar in the old outbuilding where the man had been hidden. He watched from his place in the trees as the prisoner stopped, and then ran forward toward Joseph who was carrying a lifeless form from the house in the dark.

“What have you done?” The man cried as he moved awkwardly across the yard.

“She is simply taking a brief nap,” Joseph assured him and laid the woman gently into the front seat of the truck. “You can check for yourself on the way.”

The small man jumped inside the pickup and Carl closed the door securely after him, then turned and walked back to the house as Joseph drove away into the night.

Ben couldn’t wait any longer. He had to follow the hostages and take his chances that if the kids were in the house they would be safe from the man who held them there. The best he could hope for was that the dispatcher would send someone to check on the call but by then it might be too late. He took a deep breath and ran like a bat out of hell through the woods back to the cottage where he had left the jeep. He was losing precious time by back tracking, but once he was on the road he would make it up again. He knew exactly where they were headed.

 

*****

 

“Dennis, are you there?” It was Gail again on the radio. Clark could just barely hear the static and squawk that signaled a call. There was so much noise going on around him and he had been so intent on helping to move the injured people out of the river that he almost missed it.

“Go ahead, Gail,” he said.

“Is Pete there with you?” The question was so unexpected that Clark had to think for a minute before he recognized the wary tone in the dispatchers’ voice.

“No, he stayed up at the Ralston place to keep an eye on things. He was supposed to check in though.”

“Well, when was the last time you talked to him?”

“Probably two hours ago now but I’ve been pretty busy here, it’s a real mess. No fatalities so far, and I hope to keep it that way. Are you telling me he hasn’t checked in with you?”

Clark was getting a sick feeling in his belly and it got worse when the dispatcher came back on. “I sort of got a call a bit ago and I’ve been trying to reach you.”

“Gail, get to the point.” He snapped at the radio clutched in his hand.

“It didn’t sound like Pete, and he didn’t use radio code, but it was a May Day, and then what sounded like officer down. I tried to find out who it was but nobody answered me. I haven’t been able to get him on the radio and I thought he maybe ended up down there with you.” Dennis started running up the steep bank and launched himself into the SUV. “Do you think somebody better go check on him?”

Dennis didn’t answer until after he had started the engine and flipped on the siren, then as he was peeling out to head back up the mountain he remembered.

“Ten four, I’m en route.”

 

*****

 

It was late and the moon had been up for a while now. Mark had tried to be patient but Jason should have called him by now and he was really starting to get worried.

He didn’t like lying to his parents and it had been bothering him all day that he was keeping something this important from them.

He pondered his options for another few minutes and then gave in to his nagging conscience.

Mark found his mom in the kitchen finishing the dishes and she turned to him with a knowing look. Mark had never been good at deceiving her and she knew if she just waited, he would spill the beans about whatever was bothering him.

“I think we need to call the police.” He had waited long enough, and now it was time to tell the truth.

 

*****

 

Faye walked to the closet and opened the door for Jason to step inside. It was her turn to give him the quiet sign and she added a wink as she closed the door, leaving him in the dark to hide and wait one more time.

Jason heard a knock on the bedroom door, followed by the sound of someone entering.

“Stay in your room tonight and don’t come out.” A faceless voice ordered.

“Don’t worry,” the girl said. “I don’t want to be anywhere near you or Joe or your freaky ceremony.”

“Just consider yourself lucky that Dad thinks you’re valuable to him. Dad wants me to clean up the mess in the kitchen first, but screw him. I’ll do what I want and if you don’t want to be in the middle of it you’ll stay in here and keep your mouth shut!” The angry voice threatened the girl, and then Jason could hear the sound of footsteps followed by the door being closed again.

Jason held his breath, fearful that the boy had only been pretending to leave and was even now sneaking over to open the closet and find him there.

But when the door opened again it was the girl who reached in to take his hand and pull him into the room.

“You must be Jason,” she said by way of a greeting.

Okay, now that was weird. How did this girl know his name and how had he been so sure she would help him in the first place? She looked almost like the girl he’d seen at the mall, but there were differences and she didn’t have that same vibrant energy as the girl he’d met before.

“Claire told me about you. We’ve got to go and help them before Carl does something terrible.”

“Who’s Claire? And who are you? What’s going on here?” Jason asked, not sure he wanted to know, but not sure either that he wanted to leave the room until he had a better idea of what he was facing.

“My father kidnapped Claire and Torei so their mom would do what he wanted. You came here looking for them didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

“They killed that man.” Faye had been whispering and now her voice became softer still. Her lip began to tremble and the tears were back in her eyes, but she took a deep breath and tried to regain control of her emotions.

“Who killed him?” Jason asked the question but he was sure he already knew the answer.

“My father and my brother, Carl. We thought we were all going to have some sort of ceremony and we had a plan to get away but my dad took Maeve and Doctor Makula and left Carl here. We have to get Torei and Claire out of here before he does something to hurt them.” She was frantic now. The reality of the situation had set in and she knew there wasn’t any time left until Carl went down to get the girls.

Faye went quickly to the door and peeked out; looking both directions down the hall to make sure no one was coming. “Stay here,” she ordered and then she was pulling the door closed behind her.

She came back a few minutes later and motioned for Jason to follow her, hurrying through the house to a room off of the kitchen where Jason could see an open doorway and a staircase leading to the basement.

Faye was in front of him at the top of the stairs when a horrified scream shattered the silence.

 

*****

 

Carl stood over his fallen brother with a look of extreme satisfaction.

He wished he could kill him and get it over with but the money would stop coming without the two sickos, and then his father would be angry with him all over again. The pain in his head had returned with a vengeance and he knew that after this was done he was going to need to get to a hospital where they could put his eye back together.

Carl had come down here to take the girls up to the lake when Joe showed up waving the gun in his face. It had been ridiculously easy to overpower him. He had grown so weak over the months that there was hardly anything left of him. Torei was spitting mad. She screamed so loud when Joe fell that he thought his head might explode.

And now Faye was there too at the top of the stairs, sobbing for her brother to stop and think about what he was doing.

Grabbing Torei around the neck as she threw herself at him, he then pointed the gun at Faye and motioned her down the stairs. He had regained control of the situation now, and when Faye reached the bottom of the stairs, he tied the three girls together with a length of rope so none of them could go running off once they were outside.

Carl shoved them roughly up the stairs ahead of him, confident that now he would be able to take his time and decide which scalp would look best on his belt.

His dad had this weird spiritual thing about taking scalps before he killed, but Carl just liked the way it felt when the skin peeled away from the bone. He had never actually gotten to do it to a person himself and he was really turned on at the thought of doing it for the first time.

The log hit him just as he reached the top step. It knocked him out cold and he sagged to his knees, then rolled down the stairs and landed in a heap at the bottom. Joe watched him fall. Then laid his head back down again, knowing for certain that the girls would be okay now.

“Get on the phone and call the police,” Jason ordered as soon as Faye was untied.

“Jason, you came. I knew you would.” Claire was looking up at him as if he were the bravest man in the world. His heart did a little leap to think that he had actually saved this little blonde angel. He gave her a big smile and started working on the tightly bound ropes but they were giving him a great deal of trouble so he herded the girls into the kitchen where he could find a knife to cut them loose.

“You must be Claire.” He said as he followed behind. “How in the world did you know my name, and how did you know I’d be showing up?”

“It’s a really long story, so I’ll tell you when we get my mom back.” Her sense of urgency reminded everyone that the nightmare wasn’t over yet.

“Let Faye cut us loose. You go down and help Joe.”

Torei’s voice was full of authority and she had clearly not forgotten the other boy who had done his best to save them tonight.

Faye reached for a knife as Torei spoke. Ready to take over so Jason could go help her brother, she started to work sawing at the heavy rope.

Jason was just turning to do Torei’s bidding when an enraged Carl came stumbling into the room. He looked like a demented demon with blood running from his eye, and the ear that had been torn away when Jason hit him flapped loosely against the side of his head.

Jason lunged at Carl, throwing himself in front of the girls to block the shotgun blast, knowing full well it was the last thing he would ever do.

He never saw Joe coming up behind Carl to swing the butt of his own rifle solidly into the back of his brothers’ head.

 

*****

Chapter 31

Joseph took his time setting up the scene. Everything had to be perfect in order for the departed ones to consider him worthy of their blessings. They would bestow upon him the gift of life’s tremendous energy only if he honored them with careful preparation.

Placing forty-eight torches in concentric circles around the altar, he lighted them ceremoniously as he chanted softly.

Maeve was still unconscious from the blow he had delivered and he wondered if he should have used a gentler hand with her. He wanted her to be awake and aware as he accepted the gift of life so that she would finally understand.

She would wake soon, but in the meantime he would perform the ritual and prepare the man to join the other spirits who lingered here.

 

*****

 

“Dennis, come in please.” Gail was back on the radio and Clark grabbed it up, hoping against hope that Pete had finally checked in.

“I’m here Gail, tell me something good.”

“I wish I could but things just seem to be gettin’ worse and worse.” Clark could hear the tremor in her voice and the adrenaline shot through him as he thought about the worst thing that could have happened.

“Take a deep breath and tell me what’s going on.”

“We got a call from some kids up at Ralston’s place. They said there was a dead um, a dead -officer there and the guy who killed him is there with them.” Gail was struggling to keep it together and Clark tried not to lose his patience while he offered her encouragement.

“You’re doing real good, Gail, you’re okay. Now what are we doing about the situation right now?”

“The sheriff is on his way there now, but Dennis, those kids said too that the father took Maeve Tidewell off somewhere and they think he’s going to kill her.”

Another shot of adrenaline fired through his veins and Clark hit the gas, pushing the SUV as hard as he could up the winding road to Land’s End.

 

*****

 

They were all huddled around Joe, talking excitedly and telling him how lucky they all were and going on and on about how brave and strong he had been.

Carl watched from half open eyes, feigning unconsciousness while he considered his next move. They had taken his rifle and he was outnumbered five to one. He wouldn’t underestimate the girls again. The slight, sensitive redhead had turned out to be quite a little scrapper and the two of them together had caused him a bit of undue trouble down in the basement. His sicko sister had surprised him with a new found strength of her own and he ached to punish her, along with Joe, for turning traitor on him and the man who had raised them.

But he would have to wait and take his revenge when he was sure that he could succeed. It was more important right now that he get away and warn his father.

Carl eased back away from the doorway and edged himself around the corner into the living room, slithering like a snake out of sight.

 

*****

 

Jason heard the soft snick of the front door opening and then felt the chill night air blowing in through the entry way. He turned and stared at the spot where Carl had fallen only minutes before. “Shit, shit, shit!” He yelled and then bolted for the living room and out the door.

Carl was a faint blur in the distance, running for all he was worth up the old cow trail. Jason knew he would never catch him in the dark, and he was filled with dread at the thought of him getting away.

Jason remembered the bike he had hidden that morning and ran in the opposite direction up to the top of the lake trail. He would be able to travel a lot faster on wheels. He could only hope that Carl’s injuries would slow him down and make him careless.

Jason grabbed up the bike and pulled it out of the covering shrubs, then swung his leg over the seat and started pedaling.

Claire was running down the road toward him, screaming to make herself heard over the deafening wind. “Land’s End!” She yelled at him and then pointed up the trail. “Joe says he’s going to Land’s End!”

Jason rode over the rutted trail, pumping his legs as fast as he could. Every minute that passed felt like an eternity, and after several miles his legs began to ache. He was breathing hard and fighting to keep the battering wind from blowing him off the road, at the same time keeping his eye out for any sign of Carl.

He spotted the flames through the trees not far off and he rode faster, bolstered by a sudden surge of energy that pushed him forward.

 

*****

 

Ben pulled on to the side of the road nearly a mile from the observatory at Land’s End and jogged as far as he could without being seen. He crept the rest of the way through the trees, their silver white bark glowing eerily in the moonlight. He eased his way up to the edge of the woods where his heart stopped cold at the scene being played out before him.

It was like something from a nightmare. His nightmare.

There must have been close to fifty torches burning. They had been set in a series of ever widening circles and the wind that howled like a thousand ghosts from the past whipped the flames into a frenzied dance. Clouds were moving rapidly across the sky and the light from the brightly shining moon was covered and then revealed in an endless chaotic display of darkness and light.

In the center of the macabre scene the man who had been held in the shed was lying sprawled across the top of the short stone wall, his hands and feet anchored to the ground by the stakes that Carl had pounded there the night before.

The bear of a man from the cabin was standing over him chanting in a song like cadence. In his hands he held what looked like the string of pelts Ben had seen him with earlier.

Ben couldn’t see the woman at first, and he prayed she was still alive. No – there she was lying on the ground off to the side, apparently forgotten for the moment. He watched with relief as she began to stir, then turned his attention back to the monster, his breath catching in his throat as he realized the pelts in his hand had been replaced by a knife.

The blade flashed as it reflected the violently wavering torch light. Joseph Binyon threw back his head and lifted his voice in a haunting cry.

As Ben watched, the woman came out of nowhere, flinging herself at the monster with unbridled fury, and Ben knew it was time to act.

He started out of the trees like a runner off the block, but he feared he was too late as the blade lowered out of sight.

 

*****

 

Glenn fought to keep from being tied down to the wall but Joseph had overpowered him with very little effort and now he lay helpless, struggling desperately against the chains that held him.

He couldn’t see her, but he knew Maeve was lying unconscious on the ground a few feet away and he didn’t know what to do.

Glenn felt a fear like he had never known begin to creep in to surround him. It would hold him hostage and squeeze the life from him until there was nothing left but a faint quivering beat of his heart.

But only if he let it. He absolutely would not die. And he sure as hell wasn’t going to let Maeve die either.

Glenn struggled to pull himself free and to his astonishment, felt one of the stakes give way. He pulled again. Yes, it was definitely loose and if he just pulled a little harder he could gain the freedom he needed.

 

*****

 

Maeve groaned and sat up, trying to clear her head and focus on the foggy images surrounding her.

Terror gripped her and for a moment she sat frozen, unable to move or breathe as she watched Joseph standing over Glenn’s prone figure.

Maeve jumped up and ran at Joseph as if possessed by a demon. An unholy scream issued from the depths of her soul and she attacked, grabbing him by the hair and tearing at his face with her fists and her nails. There was a satisfying crunch as the cartilage in his nose gave way, and she was filled with a lust for blood that she would never have thought possible. But the need wasn’t for just any blood, it was for Joseph’s.

 

*****

 

Glenn knew he had to get loose and help Maeve, his only thought to defend the young woman who had placed herself squarely between him and the grim reaper.

Giving one final heave, his arm swung across his body, suddenly free of the weight that had bound him to the Earth. He reeled in the chain and grasped the heavy stake dangling from its end.

Joseph’s face was bleeding profusely, the moist darkness of his blood glistening in the light of the flames. Joseph was so angry that he literally picked Maeve up by the neck and shook her like a dog with a rat.

“How dare you!” Joseph roared, incensed that a mere woman, even one with her extraordinary powers, would dare to attack him like a wild animal not once, but twice, in the same night.

“Dad, look out!” The warning came from Joseph’s left, and he jerked his head around to see Carl running toward him out of the dark.

But Carl wasn’t alone. There was someone racing toward him and Joseph stared, fascinated, as the warrior with the long dark hair screamed and attacked his son.

Sensing the other presence at the same time, Joseph swung his body around to face the new threat, astounded at the sight of the apparition rushing at him through the flames.

 

*****

 

Ben hit Joseph with everything he had, barreling into him with his shoulder, heedless, just as Maeve had been, of the knife Joseph still held in his hand.

Joseph was as solid as the trunks of the trees that grew around him and it seemed to Ben that the blow barely registered. Joseph simply took a step back and lifted his arm to slash at the being who would challenge his right to this sacrifice.

 

*****

 

Maeve heard Carl cry out, and she looked up from the ground where she had fallen to see Jason hurtling head long into battle. Her air was momentarily cut off, her throat closing around a scream that never came. She was so afraid for him!

Ben was coming at Joseph and Maeve pushed herself to her knees just as the two collided. Joseph stumbled back and, as he raised the knife to strike, Maeve reacted, throwing her body at the only part of him she could reach. She hit him in the back of the legs and Joseph fell backward over her, landing hard on the ground.

Glenn knew he had only one chance. Swallowing the bitterness of the bile rising in his throat, he buried the stake deep into the back of Joseph’s neck.

 

*****

 

None of them had even noticed the lights of the SUV that came charging out of the night like an avenging dragon. Clark skidded to a stop and ran forward, aiming his revolver at the two struggling teenagers.

“Stop! Don’t make another move.” He was screaming and moving his weapon back and forth between the two boys and the group of people gathered at the wall.

Distracted by the shout, Carl took advantage of the opportunity to throw a punch at Jason that knocked the wind out of him and landed him on the ground. And then Carl was off and running, skidding down the steep slope to put as much distance as possible between himself and the devil on the rim above.

Clark fired into the night and heard the crashing of brush as the boy fell. He couldn’t be sure he had hit his target but a search would have to wait until he was sure the rest of the situation was under control.

 

*****

 

How could this have happened? Joseph was lying on the ground staring into the tempest that raged above him. The clouds raced across the sky to devour the glowing disk that hung motionless, powerless to defend itself against the horrendous onslaught.

He, too, lay motionless, unable to feel his limbs or to defend himself against the coming of death. He guessed he should be thankful that there was no pain, at the very least he should be grieving and afraid, but he was devoid of emotion as he waited patiently to join the other spirits that called to him from the dark.

The events of the past few days floated like mist through his consciousness, and he tried to focus on the one elusive thing that had changed the course of his destiny.

There had been a time in his life when he would have laughed, as his own son would laugh now, at the sight of the small man’s pathetic struggles. But he had learned to appreciate the will of every man to fight and to live no matter the odds.

He had been standing over the sacrifice, intoning the power of the departed souls with the offer of the flesh laid out before him. The scalp he would keep, on the silk rope with the others as he always did, to remind him of the glory that was his for the taking.

The woman had come out of the shadows and attacked him with her fists as she called forth the dark-haired demon standing over him now, waiting to take him away from this existence.

Joseph could feel his life draining away as he heard her voice calling. She had defeated him and now he expected to see her gloating over her victory.

The face that peered down into his was angry and full of hatred for him but at the same time he could feel the compassion that was an inherent part of her nature. He accepted the gift gratefully before he died and did not fear the end.

It was far from over. He would die here having failed to accomplish his dream. But not Carl. Carl would live.

 

*****

 

“Glenn, Glenn are you okay?” Maeve grabbed frantically at his shoulders and looked down into his smiling face.

“Maeve, thank God he didn’t kill you.” Glenn’s voice was weak with relief. He grasped her hand and, holding it close to his chest, he chuckled. “I kept thinking, if you died, who would stand up with me at my wedding?”

Maeve gave a small laugh too, but tears were running down her cheeks and she was unable to speak for the lump that was forming in her throat. Avoiding the emotion she felt, she turned her attention to the uniformed man who was jogging toward them with Jason in tow.

“I have to get back to the cabin.” She was sobbing now with the realization that she didn’t know what had become of Torei and Claire.

“The girls are fine now, come on, they’re just fine.” Clark was trying to ally her fears, but he could see that she wasn’t going to accept his simple platitudes.

“I was on the radio before I got here and the sheriff is up there with them now. He says there are four kids up there and the girls are all unharmed.”

“What about Joe? What about the boy who was with them?” Glenn was still trying to extricate himself from the rest of his bindings but he stopped at the deputy’s words.

“His condition isn’t so good. We have a helicopter coming in to take him to the hospital but they’ve had their hands full tonight and it’s going to be a little while.”

“Get these things off of me, now!” The old arrogance was back but Maeve could see the concern and fear in his eyes.

“Just pull the stakes up and get me on that chopper!” They all responded at once to the demand and Maeve shook her head, smiling to herself.

 

*****

Chapter 32

Maeve jumped from the jeep while it was still rolling and raced up the path, not paying any attention to the rocks and thorns that tore at her feet. Torei and Claire came bounding down the steps and into her arms where she held them close, quietly giving thanks for the miracle that she had been given.

The storm had blown itself out and the moon shone brightly like a giant orange globe hanging low on the horizon.

Glenn hobbled past them, moving as quickly as he could into the house where he could take over caring for Joe.

Torei pulled herself reluctantly from her mother’s embrace and turned back to look at the girl who stood nervously at the front door.

Maeve walked slowly to meet her, holding her hand out in silent invitation, and the girl stepped forward to accept what she had never known. The loving warmth of a mother’s touch.

 

*****

 

Ben stood with Jason near the shed, watching as the paramedics lifted Pete Jameson’s body through the hole in the floor. He wanted to protect his son from the horrific sight but Jason had insisted on being there, using the argument that he had watched the man being carried there and he wanted to be there when they brought him out.

It seemed to Ben that Jason had grown to be a man in the blink of an eye. The events of the past few days had shown him just how strong and capable his son was and he felt an overwhelming sense of pride in the brave young man standing at his side. He reached out and hooked his arm around Jason’s neck, pulling his head close in an affectionate hug.

“You did good, son, you did really good.” His words brought a flush to Jason’s face and he dipped his head in a self conscious manner.

“But that doesn’t mean you’re not in huge trouble.”

Jason lifted his head in surprise. He couldn’t believe that after everything that had happened, after everything he had done tonight, his dad was going to bring up the fact that he had disobeyed him.

“Dad!”

“We’ll talk about it later.” Ben smiled and Jason grabbed him around the neck, pulling his head in close for another hug.

“I’d like to talk with the two of you some more, if that’d be okay.” Deputy Clark was walking in their direction and his expression was strained.

“We’re happy to tell you everything we know.” Ben could sense the grief and frustration in the officer’s posture and he felt sorry for the man.

“According to the girl, the boy who got away, a Carl Binyon, is apparently the one who shot and killed Deputy Jameson.” He was struggling with the fact that if it hadn’t been for his orders, Jameson would most likely be standing here alive.

“Is there anything you can tell me about him or where he might have gone?”

“We don’t know anything about him or the other man. Only what we’ve seen over the past couple of days.”

“He’s crazy, that’s all I know. He was hurt pretty bad and he just kept fighting. I think he’ll do anything to keep from getting caught.” Jason was finally showing some fear now that all the action was over and Ben began to feel protective all over again.

“Are you saying there hasn’t been any sign of him since he took off at Land’s End?” Ben couldn’t believe that a badly injured boy had just disappeared without leaving a trail of some kind.

“We found traces of blood, and an ear of all things, if you can believe that. We’re notifying all of the hospitals within a two hundred mile radius, but we found the Sheriff’s car along with the Nissan and Makula’s Cadillac down in a shallow ravine so we’re pretty sure he’s on foot. From what you told us I don’t think he can go too far with the injuries he sustained. And if I did get lucky and hit him with that shot he would have to be losing a lot of blood and getting weaker by the minute.”

“Let’s just hope you catch up to him soon. I think we’ll all sleep a lot better once he’s in custody.”

“Well, I guess that’s all I really had.” Clark was scuffing his toe in the dirt, looking back toward the shed where they could just see the sun beginning to rise above the trees.

Ben wanted to go now and be with the woman who had haunted his dreams for the past week, but Clark obviously had something else on his mind. Ben waited for him to get to the point.

“I want to thank you,” he began, still avoiding Ben’s gaze, “for not giving up. Things probably would have turned out a whole lot worse if you two hadn’t been here when you were.” And then he extended his arm and looked Ben in the eye, offering his gratitude and friendship with the shake of his hand.

“That string of pelts turned out to be human scalps. We’ll be trying to find out who the victims were. I have a pretty good idea about one of them anyway. It’s going to take a while to sort this all out. Why don’t you two head on back to town and get some sleep.” And then Dennis Clark walked away into the peaceful morning shadows cast beneath the quaking pines.

Fifteen minutes later, Ben, Jason and the Tidewells drove away from Lost Lake to make the trip back to the valley together.

 

*****

 

Carl watched from the shadows where he was laying hidden deep in the trees. He was hurting like a mother but he knew that if he showed up anywhere for treatment they’d turn him in and he would spend the rest of his life in prison. After all, you didn’t just kill a cop and then walk away without consequences. He debated the possibility of turning himself in. He might be able to claim that it had been his father who actually killed the fat guy, but he was pretty sure that Joe had been hiding just out of sight and witnessed the whole thing. If his brother testified then he would be toast for sure and he had no intentions of ending up in the electric chair.

Especially not since his two sicko siblings would get away with the trust fund that their mother had set up for them. Part of that money was his, too and, without it, he had no way of supporting himself.

Carl’s temper flared again and he was filled with a seething hatred that almost caused him to lose it. He wanted to kill them all right then and there but he came to his senses just in time, remembering that he didn’t even have a gun any more.

He could be patient. He would make his way over to the other side of the mountains and get a job for the time being. Then when he was healed and able to regain his strength, he would make sure they all paid for the problems they had caused.

 

*****

Epilogue

Ben and Dennis stood by the French doors waiting for everyone to be seated so the ceremony could start. As far as they were concerned the sooner it began, the sooner it would be over and they could start celebrating in earnest.

The two of them had just left Glenn after stopping to give him a word of encouragement, though it was obvious that none was needed. Glenn was so happy and relaxed they figured he would just float through the whole thing.

“You’re sure about this?” Dennis was looking seriously at Ben, waiting for his friend to confirm once again his decision to reconcile with Katherine.

“I can’t just throw all those years away without giving it one more shot.”

“Have you told Maeve?” Dennis had recognized the bond between them almost immediately and he still couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that Ben would just walk away from that kind of connection.

“No, I’ll tell her tomorrow.”

Ben and Jason had spent most of the week with Maeve and the girls while they ran all over town helping Glenn and Lillian with the wedding arrangements.

They had talked at length about the dreams they shared and how strange it all was. Maeve told him about Claire and then about how Torei had helped Faye get through the worst of her illness. Ben told her about his troubles of the past few months and about the challenges that Jason had faced.

All three kids were joined at the hip and Jason was as protective as any older brother who loved his little sisters.

Maeve would understand his decision and he knew that no matter what, she would always be a dear friend to him. Never the less, he felt as if he were losing something vital to his existence every time he considered going back to a life that would take him so far away from her.

“Ben, did you hear me, I said when are you leaving?” Clark had obviously had to repeat the question and Ben realized his mind was wandering again.

Glenn and Maeve walked through the doors and moved over to stand in front of the Gazebo. Ben watched as they passed, admiring her trim figure in the formal tuxedo gown she wore.

Glenn had insisted on Maeve being his best man and, just to keep things completely untraditional, he had asked that all of the kids form a line down the aisle in place of the bridesmaids and groomsmen.

Joe was still weak but he said he was recovered enough and besides, he wouldn’t miss Mak’s wedding for the world.

Somehow, in the middle of all the wedding chaos, Glenn had managed to file the official paperwork that would allow Joe and Faye to remain in his custody indefinitely.

Jason, Joe, Torei, Faye, and Claire all looked very sophisticated in their tailored clothes and as Glenn met Lillian to usher her down the aisle, they stopped to kiss each child and thank them for their strength and purity of spirit.

 

*****

 

Maeve and Ben sat together watching Jason dance with Claire while Joe danced with Torei. Faye was clinging to Lillian and the two of them looked like they were having the time of their lives.

“Everything is perfect for them.” Maeve could feel the tears clogging her throat, and she wished she didn’t feel so lost. She knew she had to talk to Ben, but the words just wouldn’t come. If she spoke out loud, then that would make it real, and she didn’t think she could bear the thought of losing him.

“Come on, let’s go dance.” Ben held out a hand in invitation and Maeve pasted a smile on her face as she joined him on the dance floor. Ben held her close, resting his cheek on her head, breathing in the clean, fresh scent of her hair. Every detail of her face would be engraved in his mind for the rest of his life, he knew. He felt the warmth and energy that flowed from her like the never ending tides of the sea.

“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” The words just seemed to form without her permission and she regretted them as soon as she spoke. Ben would not lie to her, and now she would spend the rest of the evening trying to hold back the rears that threatened her even now.

“I was going to tell you in the morning.” How did she know? Ben knew how perceptive Maeve was, and it shouldn’t have surprised him that she would realize what was going on. Of course she would meet the issue head on and not let it grow into something that was too big to face.

“Jason must be happy to finally be going home.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that exactly.” As a matter of fact, Jason was really pissed off, and Ben had finally agreed to put his decision off until after the wedding. It was the only way they would get through this without the threat of Jason reverting to his childish ways and acting sullen through the entire ceremony.

“I don’t know how it happened so fast, but I feel closer to you than I’ve ever felt to anyone. I want you to know how much your friendship means to me, and that I’ll always be here if you need me.” That was really all Maeve could say under the circumstances. She wasn’t going to beg him to stay and besides, she respected the values that urged him to try and save his marriage.

Ben didn’t say a word, just wrapped his arms more tightly around her, kissing the top of her head as they swayed slowly around the dance floor.

 

*****

 

Maeve stood outside on her patio sipping a glass of her favorite Meritage that was bottled right here in the valley. It was the first truly quiet moment she’d had since the whole ordeal began, and now she was trying to put it all in perspective.

She would never know what drove Joseph to murder. She had seen his psychopathy developing when they were young, during the single visit he had paid to her family, but didn’t realize then what it meant, or what it would mean to her future. But it bothered her more that she didn’t know if he really believed the things he told her.

The girls seemed to have come through everything intact, but she was still insistent that they all see a counselor to help them with the fears that would inevitably linger.

She already missed Ben terribly, but she would just have to accept the fact that he was doing the right thing for himself and for Jason. They hadn’t shared any more dreams since the night Joseph Binyon was killed, and Maeve wondered if the connection she felt had just been wishful thinking on her part.

Maeve thought back again to the childhood dream that had first warned her about Joseph and the role he would play in her life. The dreams, the visions and insights, into her future had seemed so benign up until this point.

Why hadn’t she paid attention to her dreams? They had spoken to her time and again over the years. They kept talking to her, telling her what was in store, and she hadn’t listened, denying the possibility that things wouldn’t happen the way she willed them to.

Next time. Next time, she promised herself, she would pay closer attention.

 

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Get Ready for

 

Pay the Piper

 

Read a sneak preview of the next novel in the Pay Series by K.L. Barnes

 

Prologue

Come on man! You know me man, I’m good for it.”

“You’re not good for much of anything Stuck and that’s God’s honest truth.”

Stuckey braced against another shove to his shoulder and kept walking through the scrubby trees. Where he was going really wasn’t important because no matter where he ended up, it wouldn’t be good.

Stuckey stumbled and went down on his hands, hard. Fine gray dirt sifted up into his nose and mouth and made it hard to breathe. In hindsight he wished he hadn’t gotten loaded before this meeting but the stuff was right there – it was always there – and what was a guy supposed to do?

He grabbed the base of a small sapling and pulled himself up to his knees. Stuckey had barely gotten upright when the battering ram caught him in the kidneys. Pain, intense and crushing, stole his ability to suck in enough air to express the agony before he found himself back on his knees, sucking wind.

When the boy could finally get a breath, he turned his eyes upward to the blurry image of his boss standing a few feet away, one of his big ugly boots propped up on the stump of a long dead tree and looking awfully casual. That’s good, Stuckey thought, fighting to see through the haze of pain. Casual is good.

Squinting through tear filled eyes, Stuckey could see that Charlie looked relaxed and not at all pissed anymore. Maybe he’d gotten it out of his system with that sudden flash of brutality.

“I always take care of the girls boss, and make sure they’re ready to have a good time don’t I?”

Stuckey heard the whiney tenor of his own voice and scooted away on his knees until he felt a tree at his back. He knew that one thing Charlie could not stand was a whiner so he struggled to find a different tone.

“Hell boss, this was just a little party to get the girls going you know. It wouldn’t be the first time they needed a little priming – a little encouragement – you know?” He was stammering a little but thought he didn’t sound too bad, considering the circumstances.

Charlie had a real bad temper and Stuckey had watched him beat a guy to within an inch of his life once. He figured he was in for it good and sized up the other man. Charlie might not look pissed anymore, but Stuckey had known him long enough to know that the best he could hope for was a serious beating and a second chance. Charlie really didn’t like it when things didn’t go exactly his way.

“Well that’s just it,” Charlie said in a voice that was all gravel. “It’s the girls that may need ‘encouragement’ Stuck, but you sure as hell shouldn’t.”

“Your job is to take care of them, give ‘em a little product and get ‘em to the party, not get wasted and forget where you’re supposed to be!”

Good, that’s good. Stuckey recognized the change in Charlie’s mood. He was in lecture mode now, so maybe this was just a little coaching session to keep him in line. The thought gave him back some of his confidence. A little more of the fear ebbed away and he could finally get a full breath and gather his thoughts.

“Okay boss, okay,” Stuckey said, holding his hand palm out, as if to stave off any further aggression. “I admit it, I got a little carried away with the stuff tonight and I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. You’ll see, I’ll take real good care of the girls from now on.”

Charlie lifted his foot from the peeling bark with a cracking sound and took two steps closer to Stuckey, who was still kneeling on the ground, his face covered in dirt and snot.

The man was shorter than Stuckey, around five ten and stocky. He might have been a little fat but there was muscle there too, and lots of it. There wasn’t much hair on his head but what was left he wore in a long braid. What he didn’t grow on his head he grew on his face, which was mostly covered by a long half beard that didn’t do much to disguise his thick neck and bulky shoulders.

Contrary to his looks and his trade, Charlie perceived himself to be a charming man, and it looked like Stuckey was falling for that easy, reassuring way now. Likely the stupid shit thought he was going to come out of their meeting with little more than some bruises and go right back to his place as right hand man. But that wasn’t how it worked in the business. When a guy screwed up this bad, there was just no going back. It didn’t matter who he was.

Charlie squatted down, moved in and got close, right up next to Stuckey’s face. He reached out with a meaty fist and grabbed a handful of dirty blond hair, pulling Stuckey’s head back so hard he thought his neck might break. Stuckey twisted so he could hold himself against the tree and take some of the strain off, but he couldn’t pull away without looking weak or aggressive.

Weakness was another thing Charlie couldn’t stand, but appearing to be aggressive with the man would be an even bigger mistake.

“You were irresponsible Stuck,” Charlie said, “irresponsible and stupid the way you let those girls get messed up tonight. You didn’t protect my investment Stuckey. Didn’t even think about what you were costing me in lost time did you?”

Charlie yanked hard on the handful of hair, practically pulling Stuckey up off his knees. “Get up! Get up and get yourself together,” he commanded.

Stuckey reached his arms behind his back and braced himself on the tree that had been supporting him. He pushed himself up and half stood, half leaned against the rough bark and was thankful to find that his knees had almost stopped shaking. Pushing away, he stood upright to face his employer, adopting an expression that he hoped was the right combination of strength and servitude. He had to show he had a backbone if he wanted the boss to keep him on, but he also had to show how much he regretted his mistake if he wanted to stay in Charlie’s good graces. It was a tough balancing act but Stuckey had been with the boss for a long while now and, even though he still made some mistakes – like tonight – he was learning the ropes and had the idea that maybe someday he could be running his own show.

Stuckey was thinking so hard he almost didn’t notice when Charlie moved again, so it was a shock when that heavy black boot connected with his left knee, pushing bone and cartilage into a grossly unnatural position.

Unlike the shot Stuckey had taken to his kidneys, this one left him with breath to scream and he did, long and loud, as he slid to his butt at the base of the tree. New tears and mucus made their way down his face in a nasty mess that he didn’t even bother to wipe away.

“Jesus Charlie, Jesus! You broke my fucking leg!” Stuckey screamed. But before he could say anything else that black boot caught him in the side of the head and he went flying. Lying on his face in a pile of moldy leaves, he was trying desperately to push himself to the side so he could breathe, when another kick caught him in the ribs. He would have sworn he heard his ribs break, and maybe he did, but he definitely felt it when the brilliant flash of intense pain attacked every one of his senses.

Charlie studied the frail looking form writhing on the ground in front of him, tipping his head first left and then right, taking his time, judging the best place to aim his next kick. Charlie had found over the years that a well-placed kick was really the best way to get his point across and the heavy steel toed boots he was so fond of were perfect for this kind of work. They protected his toes and inflicted a lot of damage to their target at the same time.

Charlie prided himself for his patience almost as much as his charming personality. But his patience with this scrawny, numb – nutted kid had finally been exhausted when he’d shown up tonight, stoned off his ass with the girls stumbling along behind.

A man should be able to trust his people, especially when they were responsible for his most valuable assets – his drugs and his girls.

That thought tipped the big man over the edge and he flew into a rage. It no longer mattered to him where he hurt the kid. The time for patience was past and he lashed out, kicking savagely over and over again at the figure writhing on the ground. He didn’t know how long he’d been pounding away when he realized the kid had stopped crying and begging, or even trying to claw his way along the ground like the wounded animal he was.

Charlie stepped back to catch his breath and then squatted down to look into a face that was nearly unrecognizable. Dirt and leaves were matted into the blood, snot, and tears that covered every part of Marlon Stuckey. The kid wasn’t dead because he could see one narrow eye still open and watching. It was amazing to him how much emotion could be communicated through that one very small, very battered orb. Well, Charlie thought with a grim smile, they did say the eyes are the windows to the soul.

Stuckey knew he was hurt and he knew he was hurt bad. He could barely breathe and his body forced out a feeble cough, like an old dogs bark, that wracked his body with more pain. He peered through his one good eye and watched Charlie study him like he was some sort of strange animal he’d never seen. Part of him was more scared than anyone ever had a right to be, and part of him was mad, but mostly he was sad thinking about his mom and what she would do if he lived through this – or if he didn’t.

At eighteen Marlon had been running for Charlie for almost four years. His mother would kill him if she knew what kind of mess he’d gotten himself into. Funny, it didn’t look like his mom would get the chance.

Marlon Stuckey tried, and failed, to curl up and protect himself from the brutal pounding that, for the moment, seemed to have stopped. His body just simply wouldn’t respond. He realized then that he was no longer really feeling the pain, Not feeling anything at all really. It was just that his brain kept telling him the pain was there, and that the pain was leaching the life out of him.

He shrank away, if only in his mind, as Charlie reached out and once again grabbed a hank of hair, jerking his head back to study his work. Even in his befuddled state Stuckey caught the brief look of surprise on Charlie’s face when his head moved back in a most unnatural way – like a half full bag of potatoes that had gone bad.

“Well now would you look at that?” Charlie said.

“Looks like it’s broken alright,” he continued, as if they were having a conversation that sincerely pained him. He shook his head now with a look full of false compassion and regret. “Sorry Marlon, but I don’t have much use for a man with a broken neck you know. I guess I’m gonna have to let you go.”

 

*****

 

Candi was truly wasted. She’d started to come down a little off that last hit of the heroin they’d been sampling – just enough to sense that something wasn’t quite right with this drive up into the woods. When Charlie had pulled over and ordered Marlon to take a walk with him, he’d left the girls in the car with a serious admonishment to stay put. But that had been a while ago and Candi was getting nervous, being out here alone in the dark. The chatter from the other two wasn’t helping.

“This is weird,” she mumbled, and rolled her head back and forth toward Kitty and Chyna, who were sitting on either side of her in the cramped back seat. The girls didn’t act like they’d heard her and kept up their irritating banter, leaning around and talking over her.

“Shut up!” Candi shouted. The other two just looked at her, surprised into silence by the bitchy tone.

“What’s with you?” Chyna asked. “We’re just trying to have a little fun here. I mean Jesus, we gotta sit out here in the dark and wait for Charlie and Stuck. You want us to just sit here and stare at each other?”

Candi was losing her buzz alright, but she was still experiencing that weightless feeling in her head – the one that made her feel like her movements were one step behind her brain, causing a strobe like sensation each time she turned to look at one of the others on either side of her. The stuttering motion added to the eerie feeling she had and she wasn’t able to grab hold of the thoughts skittering through her mind.

Kitty laughed, low and throaty, leaning her head back against the leather headrest. Rolling her head side to side, she ran her hands down the front of her body in a slow, seductive wave that caught Chyna’s attention.

“Whatcha doin’ over there Miss Kitty?” The sultry voice belied the little Asian school girl image Chyna portrayed with her plaid skirt and coal black pig tails.

“Just having a little party in my own brain,” Kitty said, practically purring. “If you promise to play nice I might invite you to join me.”

“Oh, I’ll be nice,” Chyna sing-songed, turning and throwing a leg over Candi’s lap to get to Kitty. She tipped her head down to Candi as she straddled her and playfully nipped her top lip.

Candi jerked her head back and away, pushing Chyna off to her left in an effort to get her back in her seat. She wasn’t surprised by the girls’ sex play. After all, she’d engaged herself a time or two, but only when there was an audience of paying partiers just jonesing for a turn on.

“Jesus Candi, what the hell is your problem?” Chyna was good and pissed now, shoving her face so close Candi could see the streaks of red threaded through the whites of her eyes. Or maybe she was just imagining that since it was so dark out here she’d hardly been able to see the seat back in front of her.

“Back off Chyna,” Kitty said in a low voice. “Charlie’s back.”

When the driver’s side door popped open Chyna was back in her seat looking properly zoned out while she studied her manicure. The car dipped and rocked from the added weight and then the door swung closed and the engine roared.

Charlie turned to look over his shoulder and smiled kindly at the three girls still parked in the back seat. His little Angels. He knew it was a cliché but it always gave him a sense of satisfaction to know that they belonged to him, and that they would do anything he asked. Anything.

“Ladies,” he said with a charming nod. “Did you miss me?”

Weeelll” Kitty drawled in that little girl voice so completely out of sync with her seductive smile. “We were just keeping each other company back here but we’re happy you’re back.”

Candi didn’t mean to say it, to say anything, because she knew that was usually the best policy when dealing with Charlie.

But before she could stop herself, before she even knew she was speaking, she blurted, “Where’s Marlon?”

Charlie twisted his body now and turned his head a little farther, better to see all three of the girls behind him. His gaze was cool as he looked directly at each of the girls, one by one, in a way that said clearly he was not to be questioned.

“Stuckey decided to move on,” he said, turned himself back to the front, shifted gears, and peeled out onto the road.

“Ummm, are we just leaving him here?” Candi asked with a little half laugh.

Chyna grabbed Candi digging her nails into the palm of her hand. Candi snatched her hand back and glared, but caught the minuscule movement of Chyna’s head. The warning, along with the fearful look in her eye, had Candi pressing back in her seat and keeping her mouth shut.

Charlie didn’t bother to answer, or maybe he just hadn’t heard, but either way Candi was forced to ride back to town worrying about Marlon and wondering what the hell was going on.

 

*****

Chapter 1

Claire watched as the burly man with the beard kicked the boy over and over again. The boy didn’t fight back, couldn’t fight, and just lay on the ground in a puddle of misery. Candace was there too, crying and asking over and over again where Marlon went.

To think of the dream as disturbing would have been a gross understatement and Claire was grateful when she woke to find herself in her own room, her own bed. Safe and sound if not well rested.

She had finally – just – been able to find some sense of security. This past year and a half she had spent a lot of time, and a lot of searching, to find that security. Her mother and sister had been with her through the process, trying to find their own comfort while they recovered from what she thought of as the dark time. That dark time when they had been abducted and held by a crazy bastard and his even crazier bastard kid.

Part of that security came from knowing that some really good things had happened after. But before, there had been a dream. And none of them had paid any attention to it until it was too late. This time, with the dream still vivid in her mind, she felt the same sense of reality, and of fear, that she had that first time. But this time she would make sure she didn’t just brush it off as the result of an over active imagination and too much junk food before bed.

She tossed her legs over the side of the bed and stood, tugging up the flannel pajama pants that were constantly sliding down from her narrow waist. With a sense of urgency, she hurried from her room and headed downstairs, calling her mother’s name. She found her outside on the back patio, elbow deep in potting soil and surrounded by the herbs she was getting ready to plant in the new pots.

“Mom” she said, “there you are.”

“Morning honey,” her mother said, glancing up with a quick smile. “How’d you sleep?”

“I have to talk to you mom,” Claire said without preamble. “I think Candace is in trouble.”

Looking up from the brightly colored pots, mother studied daughter, searching her worried face. She knew that look. Stopping what she was doing, she cleared her mind, reaching for calm and something that would resemble wisdom. Maeve Tidewell intended to give her daughter every bit of her attention.

She stood and pulled off the pretty pink and green gardening gloves she’d picked up at the nursery last night and motioned toward the patio table. “Let’s sit over here and you can tell me about it. What do you mean Candace is in trouble?”

“I had a dream,” Claire said with her big blue, soulful eyes locked onto Maeve’s.

Maeve could see the nervousness, the insecurity in the way Claire watched her, the way her shoulders turned forward in a protective posture.

Maeve didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to know what Claire had seen, but she knew her daughter, and knew they would both be strong enough to deal with whatever it was. She wouldn’t turn away from it, she knew that too, and would meet whatever challenges she was faced with.

“Okay,” she said, reaching again for that calm. “Tell me. Tell me what happened in the dream.”

“There was a guy, well two guys but one was more a boy really. He was about Jason’s age, I guess, and the other man was hurting him.” Maeve could see the tears starting to form in Claire’s eyes and she took both hands in hers, holding them securely in her lap.

Claire took a deep breath, steadied herself and started again.

“He was kicking him Mom. He had these big black boots and he was kicking him – over and over again – and the boy was just lying on the ground. He wasn’t moving mom. I think maybe he was dead.”

And then the tears fell and Maeve pulled her daughter close, crooning to her that everything would be alright. Claire felt like because her mother said it, holding her and loving her, then maybe it really would be true.

She pulled away and sat up, sniffing and rubbing her nose across the back of her arm. “Yuck,” she said and went into the house for a wet paper towel. She carried it back to the table, wiping her face and arm along the way.

“It’s okay Mom. I’m okay,” she said and sat back down to finish telling her mother about the dream. Maybe together they could figure something out and help Candace, though she didn’t know exactly what she needed help with.

Maeve sat patiently waiting for Claire to continue, but her mind was worried and her heart was hurting for her little girl.

“The thing is Mom, Candace was there. She didn’t look the same, but it was her and she was crying and she kept saying “where’s Marlon, where’s Marlon?” Do you think maybe it’s not really Candace that’s in trouble and maybe it’s just about one of her friends?”

“I don’t know honey, but first we’ll talk about the details a little more and then I’ll go see Beth. I don’t want to frighten her but if this is about Candace we need to know. When you say she doesn’t look the same, what do you mean?”

“She had all this makeup mom, like bright pink eye shadow and blush, and lipstick, and she had real bleached blond hair in these long pigtails with big pink bows. There was really thick black eyeliner all around her eyes too. She was wearing this weird outfit – like with really short white shorts, a bikini top and fishnet stockings. And a surgical mask, like a bad Halloween costume or something.”

Well, Candace was a little bit of a free spirit but Maeve hadn’t ever seen her dressed like that. She was almost seventeen, only a year or so older than her own girls, and her best friend’s daughter. And if there was any chance that what Claire had seen in her dream was real, if Candace was in some kind of trouble, she would move mountains to make sure she got help.

“What else?” Maeve asked. “Did you see anything else? Maybe where they were or what the other man looked like?”

“I think they were in the woods but I don’t know for sure. There were trees and lots of dead branches and leaves. And the man had his back to me, to Candace, so I didn’t really see all of his face.” Claire sat quietly for a minute, thinking hard about everything she’d seen in the dream.

Maeve sat quietly with her, holding on to her hands again, offering support and just to let her daughter know she was there, listening. Such delicate, fine boned hands, Maeve thought, for such a strong girl.

“He was big, not tall but big, you know?” Claire said as she pulled her hands away and spread them apart at her shoulders to show Maeve that the man was broad, bulky. She snapped her fingers and pointed at Maeve. “He had a beard! A long beard but not on his whole face. It was like a – what’s it called? Oh, a goatee, yeah a goatee,” she said, snapping her fingers again and raising her voice in excitement.

“Do you think you’d recognize him if you saw him?” Maeve was half hoping that Claire would tell her no, she wouldn’t know the man if she passed him on the street.

If she couldn’t recognize him then she wouldn’t be in any danger. And maybe there wasn’t any danger, but Maeve was getting that feeling, the one that told her something was definitely wrong.

 


Pay Attention

A ravaged corpse is discovered in the mountains while a local medical specialist goes missing without a trace. A young woman and her children suddenly disappear and the only witness is a teenage boy who doesn’t realize yet what he’s seen. Ben Drake hopes to strengthen his relationship with his teenage son Jason during a road trip that takes them from their home in California to the Mountains of Colorado. Their plans are interrupted when they are unexpectedly drawn into a police investigation involving Maeve Tidewell and her two young daughters. Ben and Jason are compelled to keep searching for the missing family near a cabin they have discovered deep in the woods, and an almost psychic connection draws Ben toward a dangerous, and possibly deadly, confrontation. Meanwhile Maeve finds herself held captive, along with her daughters and the missing doctor, by a disturbed man from her past. They work together to devise a plan to overpower the gruesome killer before he decides the time is right for them to die. Somehow, fate brings them all together in a brave and desperate attempt to escape a bizarre kidnapper.

  • ISBN: 9781311155689
  • Author: Kristi Barnes
  • Published: 2015-12-27 00:35:14
  • Words: 73442
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