I can’t believe that it is one year later and I am embarking on my second novel. I decided this year to write by the seat of my pants instead of writing a detailed outline. We’ll see how it goes. I tried to write in April and July, but school got in the way. This month, I’m going to hold myself accountable by posting my progress every day. I am still editing the first novel I wrote last November and planning the other novel I wanted to write in April, but I wanted to write something completely different to get my creativity going again. I hope it will help me rekindle my passion for my original NaNoWriMo project. Can a person conduct a dissertation study, teach college English and write a novel in a month? We’re about to find out!
He had ditched the Jeep a couple of cities back. The Greyhound bus he rode in was almost empty. His pack sat in the seat next to him where the boy should be sitting. He still couldn’t believe the boy had betrayed him. The boy had screamed like he was some kind of monster. He didn’t have time to reason with him. He could’ve picked him up and carried him, but he knew the Sheriff wasn’t the only one in the woods. He couldn’t risk getting captured, and he couldn’t protect the boy if they started shooting at him, so he had left him there. He wondered where the boy was now. Probably in some shitty foster home. He’d been in a foster home once when his dad had gone to jail. He’d taken off as soon as he got the chance. It was better to be on your own than live like that. The people had actually locked their food up, so the kids in the house couldn’t eat very much. He clenched his fists. If his boy was in a house like that, he’d kill them. He forced himself to relax. He couldn’t worry about the boy now. His boy had made his choice. He’d have to live with the consequences. When things cooled down, he’d come back to Colorado. He’d find his boy again and that bitch of a Sheriff would pay.
After Drake’s sentencing, Madison met with the mayor and the investigator from CBI. She wanted to be done with this whole ordeal. She hoped that with a few days of quiet, the mayor would finally accept her letter of resignation. After giving an account of the events leading up to that night in the clearing, Madison offered her resignation. The CBI investigator agreed with her that it was the best way to end the affair quietly. Since the mayor had hired her, he was also facing some flak for his decision. He accepted her resignation and a signed statement taking full responsibility for her actions as well as for the deployment of Hal during the exchange.
After her meeting, she returned to her house. Drake was playing video games with the sitter that Rosie had recommended. After paying the sitter, Madison returned to packing up the house. She had only had her house on the market for a week before it sold, and now she and Elijah were moving back to Denver. Her former partner in the Homicide Unit had opened up a private security firm, and he had offered her a job despite her record as the Fruita Sheriff. She had filed paperwork to adopt Elijah, and Jack Hammond had transferred Elijah’s case to the CPS department in Denver. The child psychologist had been instrumental in Hammond deciding to let Elijah stay with her. She had endangered him in the debacle with his father, and she had almost lost him. In the end, Elijah had finally talked to the psychologist. Madison didn’t know what he had said, but whatever it was had convinced the psychologist to help Madison fight for him.
She sighed. She hoped that Elijah would speak to her again some day. For now, she spent as much time with him as she could. She hoped she would regain his trust eventually. She had been packing for a couple of hours when the doorbell rang. She was glad for the break. Going through Drake’s things and packing them separately was breaking her heart. She had decided that she would put all his things in storage until he finished his sentence. Even if he didn’t want to be with her any more, she didn’t want him to come out into the world with nothing. She had also arranged to have his commissary funded every month. She hoped he wasn’t too stubborn to use it.
Hal stood at the door with a pizza and a bag of drinks.
“Hal, what are you doing?”
“I figured you could use some dinner.”
“You figured right.”
“Come on in.”
Elijah’s eyes lit up when he saw the pizza. Pausing his video game, he ran into the kitchen. She heard the clatter of plates as he began to set the table. He was always doing things like that—helping her set the table and wash dishes.
“I guess he’s hungry.” Hal said.
Madison took the drinks from him and walked him into the kitchen. Elijah was waiting at the table. When Hal set the box in the middle of the table, Elijah helped himself to a couple of large pizzas. Madison gave Elijah a coke from the bag while Hal opened a couple of beers for them. They ate in silence for a few minutes. Then, Hal took a swig from his beer, and wiped the pizza sauce off his chin.
“When do you leave?”
“The closing’s next week, and then we’ll go.”
Hal said, “You were a good sheriff, Madison.”
“Thanks, Hal. I don’t think the rest of the town shares your opinion. I really screwed this up bad. I should have listened to you.”
“You did what you had to do—what anyone would do in this situation.”
“I guess.” Hal’s words meant a lot to her, but they didn’t make her feel any better. She would probably never work in law enforcement again, but Hal was right. She had done what she had to do.
“I don’t know if you heard. They appointed me the interim Sheriff until they can replace you.”
“I thought they might. They should just hire you.”
“I don’t think I would want the job. Too much paperwork. You know I like to be in the field.”
Madison nodded. That was one thing being the Sheriff. Along with the responsibility came mounds of paper work. She had to admit she hadn’t enjoyed that part of the job, either.
“I know, Hal, but you’re a natural leader. You would be the best man for the job.”
“I don’t know about that. I told Mayor Rodriguez that Randy was the best man for the job.”
“Randy would be good, too, but you would be better.”
“I’m actually considering another job offer.”
“You are? Where?”
“I’ve been talking to the Denver Major Crimes Unit.”
“Are you sure, Hal? I thought you preferred small towns.”
“I thought I did, too, but I think I can make more of a difference in a larger unit. Any way, I want the chance to try.”
She was surprised that Hal was also leaving the Sheriff’s office, but a little pleased as well. She was going to miss him, but, if he were in Denver, they would be able to get together every now and then.
“Besides, I have a close friend who’s moving to Denver.”
“Hal…” Madison didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t deny that she was attracted to Hal. He understood her in ways that Drake hadn’t, but she still loved Drake. She wasn’t ready to move on yet.
“Madison…” he said, mimicking her tone. “I have to get going. I have some paper work to catch up on. I’ll see you in Denver.”
Madison walked him to the door and gave him a quick hug.
“I’ll see you.”
She and Elijah washed up the dishes together. When they were finished, Elijah grabbed her hand between his own and pulled her into the living room. She had more packing to do. She didn’t really have time to play a video game, but one look at Elijah’s wistful face broke her resolve. She had all day tomorrow.
“What’s it going to be, Elijah, MarioKart or Super Smash Bros?”
Elijah jumped onto the couch and handed her Drake’s 3DS. Madison settled in next to him as he began to punch the buttons on his game. She felt her heart grow warm. She may have lost the love of her life, but Elijah was helping the hole in her heart heal.
Saturday morning, Madison and Elijah pulled into the front of the Mesa County Jail. Hal had picked up Drake from the hospital and had booked him. Drake had asked that Madison not be there for the booking. At least no reporters were camped out at the jail like they were at the Sheriff’s office. She knew it wouldn’t be long until they found out about Drake and what he had done. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to stay out of the line of sight for much longer. She’d been suspended pending an investigation for misconduct. She had been planning to resign quietly, but the mayor had other ideas. He hadn’t even accepted the statement she had prepared to go along with her resignation. The one good thing about all of this was that Hal was the interim Sheriff. He wasn’t overseeing the investigation of her case. The Mayor had brought in the CBI for that, but he was in charge of Drake’s case and was still leading the investigation into the serial killings. The couple that Drake had killed were the last murders. It seemed that Elijah was right. His father had left town. The State Patrol and her…the Fruita deputies…were patrolling the back roads, but had not spotted the Jeep or the killer. There was a national APB out for the Jeep, but no one had spotted it yet.
“Are you ready?” Madison asked Elijah.
Elijah gave her his customary nod. He hadn’t spoken since that night, but she had made an appointment for him to see the child psychologist Jack Hammond had recommended next week. She had planned on leaving him at home when she went to see Drake. She didn’t want him to spend any more time at the Sheriff’s office, but he had freaked out when she called Rosie to get a recommendation for a babysitter. Together they walked into the front door of the jail. She’d been here many times dropping off someone she had arrested, but she’d never had to visit someone here before.
After going through the security check, she and Elijah were finally directed to the visiting room. The visiting room was full of battered tables and folding chairs. Madison and Elijah chose a table as far away from the other prisoners and their visitors. Finally, Drake was led into the room. She wanted to rush over and hug him, but touching was not allowed in the jail. When he sat down, she held his hand. The bright orange jumpsuit highlighted the purplish bruise on his face. He looked a little better physically, but the sparkle he used to have in his blue eyes was gone. She didn’t ask him how he was. She could tell that he wasn’t doing well. They sat in silence for a little while, but their time was running out.
“Drake, I’m going to call a lawyer for you on Monday. I can’t get a hold of anyone over the weekend.”
“I don’t need a lawyer, Madison.”
“You do need one. What happened wasn’t your fault. You need a lawyer to work out the best plea deal.”
“I’m not taking a plea deal. I’m going to take full responsibility for what happened.”
“Drake, you might spend years in prison.”
“Then, that’s what I’ll do. What about you? You didn’t try to make a deal with the mayor did you? You were going to take full responsibility for your choices.”
“That’s different, Drake. I broke a lot of regulations.”
“I broke the law, Madison.”
“But you were coerced, Drake. Any prosecutor is going to see that. They’ll cut you a deal.”
“No, Madison. I’m going to face this just like you’re facing your consequences. There’s one other thing.”
“Whatever you need, Drake. You know that.”
“I don’t want you and Elijah to come here again.”
“I tried to find a sitter for Elijah, but…”
“No, Madison. I don’t want to see you here again, either. I want you to move on with your life. Do what you have to do to get passed this, and then I want you to leave here. Take Elijah with you.”
“Drake, no, I…”
Drake stood up. “If you come back, I won’t see you. I’m going to face this alone. You need to rebuild your career, and you can’t do that with a convict for a husband.”
Drake turned his back on her and knocked on the door to the visitor’s room. He didn’t even look back when he left the room. Madison sat, stunned by what Drake had said. Elijah put his fist over her hand.
“It’s all right, Elijah. He doesn’t mean it. We’ll let him think for a day or two and come back next week.”
Drake didn’t relent, though. She went back over the next week several times, but he wouldn’t see her. He also refused to see the lawyer she sent over. He couldn’t keep her from attending his preliminary hearing. Since he was pleading guilty, he had waived his right to a trial. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison with the opportunity for parole. If he followed the rules and didn’t get into trouble in prison, he could be out in as little as five years. Drake never once looked back at her during his sentencing, nor did he look at her when he was led away in shackles.
Thursday morning, Madison sat by Drake as he picked at his breakfast. Even though he had slept, he was still pale. The bruise on his face was a livid bluish purple against his pale skin. He refused to look at her or at Elijah. Both he and Elijah had retreated back into silence. She held back a sigh. Tomorrow would be a week since Andie was first killed. She could’t believe that only a week had passed. She felt like a different person. She knew she would have to answer for taking Elijah to exchange with the killer and for the killer escaping. She knew Hal would also want to take responsibility for what happened, but she wasn’t going to let him. She had her account of the events ready to go. She just had to convince Hal to go along with it.
The door opened, and Madison turned to see who it was. Hal was standing at the door. Drake sat up a little straighter.
“Hal,” Madison said. “This isn’t a good time. Drake isn’t..”
Drake spoke in a quiet voice.
“I invited him over.”
She turned back to Drake.
“When you went down to the cafeteria to get Elijah some breakfast. Madison, there’s something I need to tell you. I tried to tell you last night. If I don’t do this right now, I’ll lose my nerve.”
“Okay, Drake, but I don’t understand what Hal is doing here.”
“I need someone who is impartial to hear what I have to say.”
Hal had taken out his little notebook and a pen. Clicking the pen, he began to read Drake his Miranda rights.
“Hal, what are you doing? Drake is not a criminal.”
She noticed Elijah’s eyes darting from Hal to Drake. He looked scared. Drake noticed him, too.
“Elijah,” he said. “Would you do me a favor and go see how the deputy in the hall is doing? He’s probably lonely.”
Elijah frowned and began to shake his head. Drake caught his eye, and suddenly Elijah relented as if Drake and he had shared a silent message that only they could understand. Elijah walked to the door and went into the hallway. After making sure that the deputy would keep an eye on Elijah, Madison shut the door. Hal finished reading Drake his rights.
Keeping his eyes on Hal, Drake began to speak.
“You found that old couple, didn’t you?”
“I understand you wish to give a statement. You understand your rights?”
Drake nodded impatiently.
“I waive my rights.”
Madison began to get a horrible feeling.
“Drake, you’re a victim. You can’t be held responsible for…”
Drake cut her off.
“I am responsible, Madison. You need to hear me out.”
Drake began to talk about what had happened yesterday when he went to his meeting. As Madison and Hal had surmised, the meeting was a fake. The suspect had hit Drake in the back of the head and driven off with him in the back of his Pacifica. Drake never even saw him coming. When he’d come to, the man had been pulling up to the old couple’s cabin. Holding a knife on him, the man had forced Drake into the cabin. Madison didn’t want to hear what came next.
“You have to understand what happened. That monster gave me a knife. I knew I had to make a choice. If I wanted to live, I had to kill that couple, so I did it. I knew that what I was doing was wrong. I could have turned the knife on myself. If I had done that, then he wouldn’t have been able to bargain for Elijah. I could have turned on him. If he killed me, then, again, he wouldn’t have me as his bargaining chip. I could have tried to kill him, and get away. I have to be honest. It didn’t even occur to me to do any of those things. In my mind, it was the couple or me. I chose me. I wanted to live. I slit that woman’s throat while her husband watched, and then I killed him.”
Hal took a deep breath, and closed his notebook. He looked at Madison.
“You know what I have to do, Madison.”
She started to beg for Drake’s life. She would do anything to keep him safe, and she thought maybe she could convince Hal to keep this between them. Looking into Hal’s steel gray eyes, she realized that he had already crossed the line for her. Drake took her hand and squeezed it.
“I’m sorry, Madison. I wasn’t strong enough when I needed to be. You need to let me do this. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I let you cover this up.”
She kissed Drake’s hand. He wiped a tear that had escaped from her eye and was trickling down her cheek.
“You never cry. Don’t cry for me now.”
She nodded and swiped her eyes with her hands.
“What happens now, Hal?”
“I’ll come get him once he’s released from the hospital. I’ll book him. With a crime like this, I won’t be able to just send him home. Do you understand that, Drake? You’re going to have to sit in jail. Before you can post bail, there will have to be a hearing. You’re going to need a lawyer.”
“I want this all done by the book. I don’t want any cover-ups or plea deals.”
Hal raised his hand.
“We’re not going to cover this up, but you need to consider your options. Consider Madison.”
Drake nodded miserably. “I am considering her. That’s why I needed to get this out in the open.”
“Drake, you don’t need to worry about me. I can take care of myself.”
“You’re already in trouble over this. You don’t think I noticed that you brought Elijah to exchange for me?”
“I wasn’t going to exchange him. It was a trap, Drake.”
“I know that, Madison, but you and I both know that, if I weren’t involved, you never would have even contemplated doing something like that.”
Madison had to agree with Drake. She always ran things by the book. She followed the letter of the law to ensure that the cases she built would be air-tight when they went to court. She realized that she hadn’t been thinking clearly since this whole nightmare began. She shouldn’t have even volunteered to foster Elijah. That was a huge conflict of interest. She had been surprised when CPS had allowed him to stay with her.
Hal stood up.
“I’m going to head into the department and start the paperwork.”
“All right, Hal. Thanks for everything,” Madison said.
Drake laid his head back against his pillow.
“I need to be alone for a while, Madison. Maybe, you should take Elijah home and get some rest.”
Madison wanted to protest, but she could tell that Drake didn’t want her around right now. And he was right. Elijah was probably exhausted. She kissed him softly on the lips.
“I’ll be back in a little while.”
With his eyes closed, Drake nodded. When she left Drake’s room, she noticed that Kurt had just taken over for the morning shift. She didn’t stop to talk to him, but merely nodded and motioned for Elijah to follow her. She assumed that Hal had filled Kurt in on Drake’s new status. Kurt was no longer guarding a victim, but a self-confessed murderer. Kurt nodded back at Madison with courtesy, but his eyes were cold.
When she and Elijah emerged into the harsh morning light, she wondered if she should take the department’s SUV, but realized she was still the Sheriff. She would turn it in when she resigned, but she needed to get home. Elijah climbed into the passenger side while she went around to the driver’s side. Letting the engine idle, she turned to Elijah.
“Do you think he’s gone?”
Elijah nodded solemnly.
Elijah nodded again.
“He won’t come back for you?”
Elijah shook his head.
“Because you refused to go with him.”
Elijah nodded, again.
“Okay. Let’s go home.”
She drove slowly up their long tree-lined driveway. She hadn’t seen a battered Jeep anywhere along their route. She was reluctant to call for a unit to watch her house, but when she pulled up to her house, a deputy was already parked in front. As she pulled up to her garage door, Randy and Larry got out of their SUV and came over to her window.
“Good morning, Sheriff. We’re still looking for the suspect. Hal sent us over to keep an eye on things so you could get some rest.”
“When was the last time you and Larry got some rest, Randy?”
“Oh, we both got a few hours of sleep last night after we finished with the last crime scene. We’re fine.”
She started to pull forward but stopped.
“Call me Madison.”
He looked a little confused, but nodded. She pulled her SUV into the garage and shut the door. After securing her vehicle, she and Elijah went into the empty house.
Madison raced towards Elijah’s scream. She couldn’t believe that he could scream that loud. She prayed that she would be in time. She didn’t know what that man might do to Elijah. It didn’t matter that he was his father. From the state of Elijah’s hands, he had hurt Elijah before. Ducking branches and jumping over fallen logs, Madison had to stop from time to time to orient herself to Elijah’s screams. She finally called to him. “I’m coming, Elijah! I’m coming!”
Up above her, she heard a car door slam and an engine start. She hoped that the suspect had taken off. She could still hear Elijah screaming up ahead.At last, Elijah’s screams seemed to come from straight ahead, and she could tell she was going in the right direction. She pushed her aching legs and continued to run towards the screams. She burst out of the trees and found Elijah standing on the slope. He was alone. As soon as Elijah saw her, he quit screaming and rushed toward her. Grabbing her hand, he began to pull her back down the slope. Above them, Madison heard someone else scrambling through the trees. She heard Hal shout, “Stop, Sheriff’s Department.” And then a shot rang out.
Ignoring the shot, Elijah continued to pull her back down the slope toward the clearing. When they reached the edge of the trees, Elijah pulled away from her and streaked across the clearing to where Drake was laying in the beams of the headlights. A few moments later, she caught up to Elijah, and they both knelt by Drake. He was still alive, but he looked bad. Blood was seeping around the edges of her jacket that she had pressed against Drake’s wound.
“Elijah, help Drake hold that jacket down.”
Elijah nodded and pressed both his fists against the wound. Drake hissed in pain as Elijah put pressure on his wound, but that did not deter Elijah. Madison pulled Drake’s head onto her lap as she pulled her phone out of her pocket. Luckily, it still had a charge. She dialed 911 and relayed the coordinates to the dispatcher. She hoped they would come on time.
A shadow loomed up behind her and she turned instinctively to protect Drake and Elijah. Hal stood behind her. Carrying his rifle over his shoulder, he was breathing heavily. Cuts and scrapes covered his face. She probably looked the same after running through the dark trees.
“I’m sorry, Madison.” Hal said. “He got away. He had a Jeep sitting on top of the slope. There’s an old access road up there. I couldn’t get to him in time.”
“That’s all right, Hal. Just keep a look out in case he decides to come back.”
Hal nodded and brought his rifle down from his shoulder. Elijah continued to press on Drake’s wound while Madison held onto his head.
“Madison,” Drake whispered. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“Don’t talk, Drake. You need to save your strength. You’ve lost a lot of blood.”
Smoothing his hair from his forehead, she stared down into his blue eyes. His eyes were dark with fear and anxiety.
“No, you and Hal need to hear…”
A siren and flashing red and blue lights cut him off. Madison swore. She had cut off the only way into the clearing.
“Elijah, I need the keys.”
Elijah removed one hand from Drake’s makeshift dressing and dug the keys out of his pocket. He tossed the keys to Madison as she took off running towards her SUV. An EMT was getting out of the ambulance. She yelled at him and jumped into the SUV. Quickly, she pulled her SUV out of the way so the ambulance could pull nearer to Drake.
She met the EMT’s as they rushed to Drake’s side.
“He has a knife wound on his side. He may have a head injury.”
The EMT’s nodded and set their gear down by Drake. Elijah was reluctant to leave Drake, but Madison grabbed his wrist.
“C’mon, Elijah. You’ve done a good job. The EMT’s are going to take over.”
The EMT next to Elijah gave him a smile.
“Your dad is going to be okay, but let us take care of him now, okay?”
Elijah nodded and let Madison lead him to stand by Hal. She didn’t correct the EMT. She thought that Drake was probably more of a father to Elijah than his own father had been. She heard more sirens as several more SUV’s from her department pulled into the clearing.
“I’m going to go give them the description of the Jeep,” Hal said as he headed to the deputies. She watched him give the deputies directions. He was calm and exuded confidence. With a flash, she realized that he was more suited to be the Sheriff than she was. He handled everyone with a quiet respect and he earned respect in return. In a few minutes, two of the SUV’s raced away.
The EMT’s had stabilized Drake and were loading him into the ambulance when Hal came back to her side.
“I’m going to head out. I want to help catch the motherfucker.”
Before she could thank him or even offer him a ride to his vehicle, he melted into the trees. His dark clothes made the perfect camouflage, so she couldn’t even tell in which direction he had gone.
“We’re taking him to Colorado Canyon. Did you want to say anything to him?”
Before she could say anything, Elijah scrambled into the back of the ambulance with Drake. Drake smiled at him.
“I’m okay, Elijah.” Elijah clasped one of Drake’s hands between his two fists.
Madison looked at Drake.
“I’ll be right behind you. I guess Elijah is going to ride with you. Is that all right?” she asked the EMT’s.
“Well, normally we wouldn’t let a minor ride back here, but I don’t think we can get that little guy out of there without a fight. He’ll be fine.”
Madison followed the ambulance to the main road. With sirens and lights blazing, she tailed the ambulance to the hospital. Her deputies followed closely behind her. Pulling her SUV into the space allotted for the Sheriff’s department, she rushed through the doors of the Emergency Room. Elijah was waiting for her.
Grabbing his hand, she asked, “Where is he?”
Elijah pointed toward two double doors. Flashing her badge, she entered the double doors leading to the examination room. Nurses and doctors were swarming around Drake as they hooked him up to IV’s and checked the wound in his side.
“Sheriff Rhodes,” a doctor looked up at her. “We’ll be with you in a moment. She continued to hold Elijah’s fist in her hand. He didn’t seem to mind as he pushed closer to her side. The doctor finished examining Drake and came to speak to her.
“He’s going to need stitches, but it’s only a flesh wound. He has a head injury. We are going to do some X-rays. I think we should keep him overnight for observation. We’ll come get you when we’ve got him in his room.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
“We’ll come get him in a few minutes.”
The doctor and nurses left. Madison and Elijah went to stand by Drake. His eyes opened when he heard them. She wanted to cry and throw herself on him, but she knew she had to stay strong. Drake was obviously traumatized. Stroking his forehead, she bent over and gave him a soft kiss on his cheek.
“They’re going to put some stitches in and give you an X-ray.”
“Madison, I need to tell you something.”
“Rest, Drake. Whatever it is you can tell me in the morning.”
“No, I need to tell you…”
The doctor came in with a kit.
“We’re going to put those stitches in, and then we’ll take him to X-ray.”
Madison took Drake’s hand while they cleaned his wound and began to numb it. The doctor worked quickly and efficiently. Then an X-ray technician came to take Drake to X-ray.
“I’ll have the nurse show you to Drake’s room. You can wait in there until he’s finished.”
A nurse led Madison and Elijah to the second floor. Once she was in the room, she called the deputies who had followed her to the hospital. She wanted Drake’s room watched until they caught that madman. With her deputies stationed outside the door, she finally dropped into one of the chairs in Drake’s room. Elijah was slumped in the other chair. A nurse noticed him and brought him and Madison each blankets. Cuddled in the warm blanket, Elijah drifted off to sleep. Madison was too keyed up to sleep. Drake had kept trying to tell her something. She thought he wanted to tell her about the last couple they had found, but he didn’t need to do that. They had collected the evidence and secured the scene. They could wait for his account until tomorrow. He needed to rest.
After an eternity, Drake was finally wheeled into the room. The orderly helped him get into bed. Drake was sleepy from the pain killer they had given him. Carefully, she climbed into bed beside him. He laid his head against her chest, and she wrapped her arms around him until he finally fell asleep.
Elijah clung to his father as he ran through the trees. He wondered if Drake were okay. He couldn’t believe his father had done that. Madison had brought Elijah just as his father had wanted. Why did he have to kill him? He began to struggle. He didn’t want to go with this man any longer. He thought his father had a sense of honor. He didn’t steal unless he could help it, and he always kept his word. He could feel his father’s muscle strain as he tried to keep a hold of Elijah’s squirming body. Finally, he stopped.
“What’s the matter with you, boy? We have to keep moving.”
“No.” The word came out in a harsh whisper.
His father knelt down. Expecting a slap to the side of his head, Elijah flinched a little, but his father just grabbed him by the arms.
“She didn’t come alone, boy. There’s someone else here. Can you hear?”
Elijah cocked his head. He could hear someone running through the trees to the side of them. Elijah tried to step away from his father, but his father’s hands tightened around his arms.
“What are you doing, boy?”
“I’m not going with you.” The sound of the person in the forest was moving away from them. The person was going to miss them in the dark. Elijah realized that he could scream and whoever that was would be back on track, but Elijah wouldn’t betray his father.
“You have to, boy. I’m the only one who can take care of you.”
“No.” Elijah looked back at the clearing. He could see a faint light through the trees, but he couldn’t see Madison or Drake any more.
“You mean him. That pansy? He’s not strong enough, boy. You know what we are. He won’t know how to handle you when you get older. I can keep you safe. I can keep you from becoming what I am.”
“I’m not like you. I’ll never be like you.”
They could hear someone crashing through the woods. They were circling back around. They would be here in a few minutes.
“You need to go. Now.” Elijah raised his voice a little. He pulled back with all his strength and his father finally let him go. Flailing his arms, Elijah sat down hard in the damp pine needles.
“Go, Father. Go now!” Elijah stood and pointed into the trees. The crashing through the brush grew louder, and Elijah knew his father would never let himself be taken alive. He’d rather die than live in a cage. His father ran toward him. Elijah’s heart sank as he realized his father wasn’t going to give him up, but his father didn’t stop to grab him. He kept running past Elijah and up the heavily forested slope. He was quiet. A lot quiet than whoever was scrambling around in the trees below him. When he heard a door slam and an engine start, he knew his father had gotten away. And, then, he screamed.
He kept his hand wrapped tightly around Drake’s bicep. He didn’t need more than that to control Drake. He kept the gun he had stolen tucked in his waistband under his hoodie, but he would only use it if he had to. If guns started firing, his boy might get caught in the crossfire. He could see his boy standing next to that bitch of a Sheriff. He looked good. At least, they had been taking care of him. He had new clothes on. He couldn’t see the boy’s face. He was backlit by the headlights, so his face was in shadow. He hadn’t thought about the headlights. He didn’t know if he wanted to walk into a pool of light, but he had no choice. This was his only chance to get his boy back. If he pulled out now, the Sheriff wouldn’t bargain with him again.
He suspected that someone was up in the trees somewhere, but he couldn’t spot him. A few moments after he and Drake had settled into the trees around the clearing, he had heard a car engine. He’d only heard the sound for a moment before it was cut off. He didn’t know if the car had stopped near the area or if it had driven away. Again, there was nothing he could do about it, anyway. It didn’t matter if the Sheriff had broken her word. He had expected it, as a matter of fact. People like her broke their word all the time when dealing with people like him. With Drake, by his side, however, no one would be able to get a clean shot at him. Once he had the boy and was done with Drake, he was going to run like hell into the protection of the trees and back to the old Jeep. He had found a second way into the clearing. They would have to scramble up through the trees, but his boy was strong. He knew he could do it.
They had reached the edge of the clearing. He paused for a moment and scanned the trees surrounding the clearing one more time. He still couldn’t see or hear anyone else. Nothing but the breeze whispering through the pine needles. Before they stepped into the grass of the clearing, he whispered in Drake’s ear.
“Remember. You’re not going to play the hero. It’s too late for that.”
Drake nodded, but didn’t answer him. The man gave his arm a hard shake, and he could feel Drake wince in response. Satisfied that his hostage was still compliant. he led him towards the light.
When Madison saw the man and Drake step into the light, she almost took a step back. Drake was a tall man, but the man who held him hostage was even bigger. She had known he was big from the footage they had of him, but seeing him in person was different. His arms and chest were roped with muscle. The man had one huge hand dug into Drake’s bicep. The light from the headlights illuminated his face even though he had his hood up. His eyes were dark like Elijah’s, but they were cold and dead.
She finally tore her eyes away from the suspect to look at Drake. Drake was staring at her, his blue eyes bloodshot and glazed with fear. He was pale and sweating. His cheek was badly bruised, but she couldn’t see any other injuries. She began to breathe again. Just a few more minutes and she would have Drake safe and the monster would be in custody. Again, she refused to let herself look around for Hal, but returned her gaze back to the man.
“You’re late,” she said as she decided to take the offensive. She kept her voice cool and business-like.
“Sorry, Sheriff. I had to make sure you abided by your word. You didn’t bring anyone with you, did you?”
“No, I wouldn’t do that.”
The man granted. “Of course, you wouldn’t. Just an even exchange, right? Your man for my boy.”
Madison waited for a shot to ring out, but nothing came. Maybe, Hal couldn’t get a clear shot. Drake was standing right next to the killer. Hal wouldn’t risk hitting Drake.
“That was the agreement. Let Drake go.” The man looked at Elijah.
“Come on, boy. It’s time to go.”
Elijah shook his head.
“No? You’re telling me, no, after everything I’ve done for you?”
The man looked shocked, and then pure rage slithered across his face.
“You don’t say no to me, boy. You’re my son. You belong with me.”
Madison wasn’t shocked to hear that Elijah was the man’s son. It made sense. At first, she had thought that maybe Elijah and the man were just travelling together, but no one would risk themselves, like the man had, for a casual travelling companion. She refused to call the man’s obsession love, but he was loyal to his son. She braced herself. The man had risked a lot to be with his son again, and now his son was rejecting him. She had to be ready for anything the man did. She hoped Hal was ready as well.
The man moved so fast that Madison was stunned. She saw the flash of silver and then blood erupted from the side of Drake’s shirt. The man launched Drake at Madison. She took the brunt of his weight and they both toppled to the ground. The man lurched forward and grabbed Elijah. Still, Hal didn’t fire. She realized that the man was carrying Elijah, so Hal would not have a clear shot again. She pushed herself from under Drake and flipped him onto his back to see the damage. Her cell phone rang.
“Madison, I couldn’t get a clear shot.”
“I know, Hal. It’s Drake. He…”
“I’m going after them. I won’t let them get away.” And then the line went dead.
Madison realized that Hal was right. They had to keep that man from getting away. Taking her coat off, she pushed it onto Drake’s side.
“I’m sorry, Madison. I didn’t…”
“Don’t talk, Drake. I need you to hold this onto your side. I have to go after them.”
“No, Madison. You don’t know him. He’s…”
“I’m not alone, Drake. I have Hal. He’s already in pursuit. You have to hang on for me, all right?”
“Don’t worry about me. Just take care of Elijah.”
Madison nodded and ran towards the dark trees.
“I don’t see any way around it, Madison,” Hal said, “We’re going to have to bring Elijah into this.”
Hal mulled over the notes Madison had relayed to him when she spoke with the suspect. The instructions were clear. Madison was to bring Elijah to this clearing outside of Fruita. She was to walk with Elijah into the middle of the clearing and wait for the suspect. Hal had looked at the clearing in the map. It was up in the foothills. There were no houses or cabins in for several miles. Madison wondered if they could get Hal up onto the high ground. He was former military. He never talked about what he had done in the military, but she knew he was an expert marksman. He might have even been a sniper. “What if we can get you up onto the high ground above the clearing.”
“No, Hal. I don’t want him involved. There has to be away that we can take this guy out and save Drake.”
Hal nodded. “I was thinking the same thing. I could head up to the site, before the time and get into position before you get there. That will give me time to scout the area and find the best vantage point.”
“What if he’s watching and sees you coming?”
“I don’t think that will be likely. He’s cunning, but I don’t think he has a lot of surveillance equipment. He’s making things up as he goes along. He has a burner phone, but he’s been stealing cars from his victims. We have a helluva lot more resources that he does.”
“We have to take him alive, Hal.”
“We’ll try. If I can get a clear shot, I’ll wound him rather than kill him, but I can’t promise anything. Our priority is keeping you and Elijah safe and getting Drake back. If we’re going to do this, though, I need time to pack what I need and get into position. We’re running out of time.”
Madison knew she needed to make a decision. This wasn’t Hal’s call; it was hers alone. If things went wrong, she would be the one suffering the consequences. If things went the way they wanted them, there would still be consequences. She was acting outside her purview as Sheriff, and she knew it. She couldn’t pretend that she was acting as a responsible Sheriff. She should be on the phone with the State Patrol right now as well as CBI. She should be treating Drake’s kidnapping case like she would any other citizen’s. Law enforcement might negotiate with a hostage-taker, but they certainly wouldn’t exchange people to get their own back. That was what she was contemplating. She didn’t have any intention of actually giving Elijah back to that monster, but she was going to have to pretend that she would, and that meant that she was going to have to take Elijah with her. She was going to have to risk his safety, just as that man had.
The first thing she needed to do was talk to Elijah.
“Let’s do it, Hal. I need to talk to Elijah, though.”
“What if he doesn’t want to help with our plan?”
“Then we’ll have to come up with something else. Go get ready and I’ll see you up at the site.”
“You won’t see me, but trust that I’m there.”
Madison nodded as Hal left to get prepared. She decided that she would send Rosie home. She couldn’t risk any of her deputies being involved in this. If she could, she would do it without Hal, but she didn’t see any way around involving him. When they were finished, she would take responsibility for everything, and resign her position. She would suggest that Hal become the interim Sheriff. It would all work out for the best. She had to believe that.
When she stepped into her office, Rosie was reading a magazine, but Elijah was just sitting on the couch staring at his shoes.
“Hey, Rosie. It’s been a long day. I think you should go home. I’m going to call it a day as well.”
“Are you and Elijah going home? I don’t think that’s wise…given the situation.” Rosie glanced at Elijah. Madison could tell that she didn’t want to talk about the case or Drake’s disappearance around Elijah.
“No. I think Elijah and I will go to the LaQuinta. No one will no we are there.”
“All right, then. I’ll see you in the morning. I’m on duty at 7:00.”
“Okay, Rosie. Thanks for coming in on your day off.”
“No problem. See you later, Elijah.”
Elijah looked up at Rosie and nodded solemnly. After Rosie left, Madison shut the door to her office. She didn’t want anyone overhearing their conversation. Elijah sat up a little straighter as if he knew they were about to have a serious chat. She sat down on the chair across from Elijah, so she could see his face.
“We have to talk, Elijah.”
Elijah nodded, his eyes serious.
“You know that that man has Drake.”
“I think I have a way to get Drake back, but I need your help”
Elijah nodded more vigorously this time.
“That man called me. He wants me to trade you for Drake. If he gets you back, he’ll let Drake go.”
Elijah’s face was grim as if he knew what Madison was going to say. He seemed much older than 12 or 13 years old. Madison wondered how much horror the boy had seen. She knew he was going to see more tonight, but she hoped he could stand it long enough for them to get Drake back. When this was all over, she would make sure that Elijah got the help he needed.
“I’m not going to trade you, Elijah. It wouldn’t be right.”
Elijah looked startled, and then began nodding again. He pointed at the door as if to say he was ready to go.
“Hold on, Elijah. You need to hear me out. If you don’t want to help me, you don’t have to. That man wants to meet us outside of town at midnight. You and I will go to meet him, but Deputy Steward will be there first. He’s going to hide outside the clearing. When the man brings Drake out, he’s going to try and wing him, so we can get Drake back and keep you safe. We’ll arrest the man and you and Drake will both be safe.”
Elijah shook his head. “You don’t want to help?”
Elijah shook his head again. “What, you do want to help?”
“So you’ll help. I promise, Elijah. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Elijah shook his head again.
“Look, Elijah, I know that you’re scared, but…”
Elijah shook his head again. His face was turning red. He looked frustrated. He began to breathe heavily. Madison couldn’t tell if he were having a panic attack or something, but she realized that she couldn’t possibly have Elijah be a part of this plan. He’d already been through hell. She was no better than that monster. She was going to put Elijah through more trauma. She couldn’t do it. She’d have to go up there without Elijah, and figure out a way to get Drake away from that monster without staging an exchange. She’d just have to negotiate.
She looked at Elijah. He was trying to talk. His voice came out as a harsh whisper as if he didn’t use it very much.
“What did you say?”
“Won’t work. He won’t go for it. Too smart.”
She could tell that it cost him a great effort to speak. She hadn’t had time to get him to that child psychiatrist. Drake had been taken, and that was all she could focus on.
“He might be, but this is the only plan we have.”
“All right, Elijah. Let’s go.”
They had a little over an hour to get to the site. According to Hal, it was a little over 45 minutes outside of Fruita. She wanted to leave early to give her time to get to the site. She didn’t want to risk being late. Elijah followed her out to her SUV. The back halls were empty this time of night.
As Elijah buckled his seat belt, she entered the coordinates for the site into the GPS. She also had the directions Hal had written for a back-up. Before pulling out, she scanned them one more time to make sure she had them fixed in her mind. Slowly, she pulled out of the alley. As she turned onto the street in front of the Sheriff’s office, she noticed that the media vans were gone. The reporters had probably left for the night to regroup in the morning. Following the directions of the GPS, she headed into the back country around Fruita. The GPS took her east into the foothills surrounding Fruita. When she reached the road that led to the clearing, they still had twenty minutes left. She pulled over for a moment before turning onto the road.
“Elijah, I want you to stay right next to me. No matter what happens you don’t leave my side. If I tell you to get down, you get down. If I tell you to run back to the SUV, you run. You hear?”
She couldn’t see his face clearly in the dark, but she saw him nod. He’d gone silent again. Madison hoped that she wouldn’t traumatize him further. Before leaving the vehicle, she removed her gun from the shoulder holster and locked it in the glove compartment. That part had been clear. No weapons. She hoped that the killer didn’t have a weapon either, but she couldn’t count on that. Drake was a tall, strong man. The killer had to use something to keep him under control.
Slowly, she made her way down the rutted track that led to the clearing. She kept her headlights on as the man had instructed. She was glad she wasn’t trying to sneak in. The pine trees closed in so on either side of the track, and their branches sometimes scraped the side of the SUV. When she reached the clearing, the headlights swept across the land. The clearing was dotted with small trees among the long grass that covered it. She didn’t want to walk exposed in the beams of her headlights. She and Elijah would be at the man’s mercy. He would see them coming, but, then again, so would Hal. She knew that Hal was up in the trees surrounding the clearing somewhere. He had gone silent as soon as he left the station, but she trusted him. If he hadn’t been able to get into position, she would have heard from him. She decided to leave the headlights on. There was nothing in the killer’s directions about headlights, so she decided she was safe. She and Elijah unbuckled their seat belts.
She looked at Elijah, “Are you ready?”
Elijah nodded. It was hard to see his face in the dark, but when she patted his shoulder, she could feel him trembling. She felt like she should reassure him, but she didn’t know what to say. She desperately wanted to make sure he was safe.
“Remember what I told you, okay? Stay close to me. If I tell you to get down, get down. If I tell you to get back to the truck, you get back here. Here take the keys. I don’t want you getting locked out.”
She handed him the keys. He took them and shoved them into the pocket of his jeans. Slowly, they made their way to the edge of the clearing. Elijah stayed by her side. They both paused at the edge of the trees. Madison scanned the clearing, but she couldn’t see anything in the darkness that surrounded the beams of light from the SUV. She nodded at Elijah, and they both stepped into the clearing together. She and Elijah walked in the center of the headlights. While she knew the killer could see her clearly, she hoped that staring into the headlights behind them would make it harder for him to see what was around them.
When they reached the center of the clearing they stopped, Madison forced her eyes to remain on the clearing rather than scanning the treeline for Hal. She didn’t want to give Hal away. Elijah was squinting into the darkness as if he were trying to see into the shadows to find the killer. Madison could hear a soft breeze blowing through the trees. Then, she heard the snap of a branch as something or someone began to make their way out of the trees on the other side of the clearing.
Elijah was coming back from the bathroom when he heard voices coming from the conference room. Deputy Rosie hadn’t let him look in the conference room earlier. He stopped just outside of the door. A tall man with graying hair was yelling at the Sheriff. The Sheriff looked really pissed. When the man stormed out of the conference room, Elijah scuttled back to the Sheriff’s office before the deputy noticed he was missing or the Sheriff saw him listening at the door.
Six murders? There had been five murders? He knew about the first lady at the flower shop. He’d had to sit by her body. He’d sat by her until he couldn’t stand to look at her anymore. Then he had drawn the tarp over her body. It had been hard. The tarp was thick and heavy and he’d had to grab it tightly between his thumbs and the sides of his fingers. He told himself that he was doing it for her, to give her peace from prying eyes, but the truth was he couldn’t stand to look at her, and face what he had done. What was his father doing? Why hadn’t he left town? He always left town after he gave into his impulses, but this time he had stayed in town and continued to kill. He never killed this often. It had only been a few days. Had he killed a person a day? He should have known that his father would never let him go. Now, Elijah was responsible for those people his father had killed. He was always responsible. Even though his father did the actual act, Elijah didn’t do anything to stop him. Now, Drake was missing as well. He was probably dead, too. His father never kept anyone alive. He’d kidnapped Drake to punish Elijah. Elijah would have to live with the knowledge that he had gotten Drake killed. If he had done as his father told him in the beginning, those other people would be alive. He wouldn’t be sitting here playing a stupid video game. He wanted to throw the video game at the wall, but he didn’t want the deputy to know how he was feeling.
He pushed his fists into the pockets of the brand new hoodie Drake had picked out for him. He looked at his new shoes. They were expensive and they would last a long time. He had two other pairs back at the Sheriff’s house. He’d never owned more than one pair of shoes at a time in his life. He’d never needed more than he could wear or carry. If his father had extra money, they spent it on food or a place to stay. The first thing Drake did was buy stuff for Elijah to make him happy. He didn’t need three pairs of shoes or more than one hoodie, but Drake wanted to make sure he had everything he needed. He didn’t need the video game, but Drake thought having one would make him happy. No one had ever cared if he were happy, or not. Maybe, his mother had, but his memories of her were fuzzy. He remembered that she had died, but how she died was a mystery to him. When he tried to remember that part of his life, his brain seemed to shut down. He began to sweat and tremble, and he found himself shying away from really remembering her. His father always kept him safe, but he never cared if he were happy or not. Drake was the first person to care about how Elijah felt about things. He had to help him.
There had to be something he could do. Rosie was sitting in a chair near the Sheriff’s desk. She was reading a magazine, and wasn’t paying much attention to him. Maybe, he could slip out. He could figure out a way to get to his father. He could convince him to leave. If Drake were alive, he would convince him to let Drake go. Then, they would leave town together, and continue traveling like they always had. As he prepared himself to sneak out of the office, he realized that he had no idea where his father was. It wasn’t like he could call him. What could he do? Wander around town until his father happened to come by? Someone would see him and probably report him to the Sheriff long before that. He realized there was absolutely nothing he could do.