“Dear God, they taught us in Sunday school that if we pray to you, you will deliver us from evil. These men are evil, God – I know that. I don’t want them to be here anymore. I miss my Mommy and Dad. We can’t do this without you. Please help us to be okay.”
With that, eight-year-old Chris Peel got up off his knees and tiptoed across his bedroom to look out the window. It was the same building, but it didn’t look like the same tractor shed he had played in for most all his life. In the dark with the strangers’ cars parked around it, it looked different and scary.
Even if it was where Dad was…
“You ready to get out of here, Atsky?”
The tall, thin man behind the wheel smiled. “I was ready three days ago. You’re the one who had to hang around for graduation.”
“Perks of the job?” Sam offered.
“Sheriff, if wearing a penguin suit and glad-handing a bunch of bureaucrats is part of the job, I’ll be happy to stay a deputy for the rest of my life.”
“It’s not so bad, Scott. It definitely beats the alternatives.”
Atsky responded by stepping on the gas just a little harder than he probably should have. It was forgivable – they were both ready to kick rocks at the Academy and get the hell out of Hutch.
There was work to be done.
“Can I see my mom and dad today?” Chris asked the quiet man that had stepped into his bedroom.
The man shook his head. Chris knew he might not have understood him anyway – most of the time the dark-skinned man grunted and pointed when he wanted something done. There hadn’t been a lot of words between them. Pointing out the window at his parents being lead to the machine shed that first day and then making a slashing motion across his throat had said everything that needed to be said to the little boy.
“Food?” Chris asked, making a motion with his hands like he was using a spoon to raise food to his lips.
The main pointed toward the bedroom door and nodded.
At least there’s that… Chris thought as he walked to the kitchen.
“Welcome back, Sheriff,” Maren greeted when Sam walked through the department’s front door.
He smiled warmly. “It’s nice to be here. Have I missed anything?”
She smiled in retrun. “It got really quiet right after you left.”
Sam hung his baseball cap on a coat tree near the front door.
“You know, you could hang that up in your office. It’s the big one with the windows that says ‘Sheriff’ on it.”
Sam thought for a second. “No. I don’t think it is. I’ll take a cubicle out here with you and Atsky. We’ll turn that into a meeting room or something.”
Maren looked confused, but vaguely pleased. “Okay then.”
Playing in the grass on a Kansas summer day wasn’t as easy as it sounded. The grass was dry and pokey, the heat was nearly unbearable, and everything Chris Peel did raised a cloud of dust. Having a mean stranger hiding somewhere and watching him didn’t make things any better. Neither did knowing that his parents would be hurt if he messed this up.
He heard the pickup coming over the hill before he could even see it. The wheels were turning fast enough the gravel sounded like a hum against them and kicked up a plum of dust that went all the way up into the Kansas sky. The red and blue lights weren’t bright, but Chris could still see them flashing against the parched blue sky.
For a second, Chris thought the Sheriff might be coming to save him.
“Sheriff, Mrs. Emmy says the tourniquet has the bleeding slowed down, but he’s getting pretty weak.” Maren called over the radio.
“How far out is EMS?”
“They’re just getting out of town. The fire guys are a little behind them. You’ll be first in.”
“I need some manpower. Call the Co-Op, Maren. I saw a spray rig leaving town this morning. See if they’re anywhere close.”
“Roger that, Sheriff. Good luck.”
Driving fast on gravel is all about being smooth. It really wasn’t all that different from ice – slamming on the brakes or jerking the wheel around a corner would end it all.
Sam knew he’d save John Emmy, if he didn’t get himself killed first.
“Remember, Chris. Stay close to me and don’t fool around,” Mom said. Chris could tell she was upset – it had to be the mean people at home that were watching Dad. He couldn’t help looking around a little bit, though, especially when they passed by the Sheriff’s new Ford pickup. He recognized it instantly after watching it fly down the road in front of their house yesterday.
“Mrs. Peel,” a tall man wearing a baseball cap said easily. Chris noticed the black holster strapped to his belt on the right side. “How’re things?”
“Sam? I didn’t recognize you. Last year you’re working for the Co-op, and now you’re Sheriff? That’s quite the promotion.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I did notice your husband’s crops looking a little tough. Is he doing all right?”
Chris saw Mom freeze. “He’s… He’s not been feeling well. He’s getting better though. I’ll have to tell him to work a little harder.”
“Never used to be a problem,” Sam said as he opened the pickup door and put a grocery bag on the seat. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I don’t think so. Maybe we’ll give the Co-op a call and have them catch the spraying up. You guys… I mean…they always treated us well.”
“That seems like a shame to leave equipment like yours sitting and pay someone else. I’d be happy to help out on the weekend.”
“I appreciate that, Sam… I mean, Sheriff, but I’m just not sure there’s anything you can do.”
Chris had been spanked before, but what the mean man did to him was worse. It wasn’t the belt that hurt as much as hearing Mom scream.
And knowing Dad had tried to stop them and gotten hurt even worse…
That hurt most of all…
He cried for a long time, because that’s what little boys do when they don’t understand what’s going on and the people they trust the most aren’t there to comfort them.
And then he prayed again, because that was the only thing he had left that he could do.
“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day.”
He knew those were the words, and for the first time, he knew exactly what they meant.
“Sam! What’s going on?”
“Business. Have you heard from Owen Peel?”
“Sure. We’re going out tomorrow to spray his crops. He fell ill, I guess.”
I took a deep breath. “I need in on that gig. Trust me to drive truck again?”
“Sure. What’s going on?”
“Nothing, I hope. I honestly don’t know, though. I just need to have a look around, and I need to not be the Sheriff.”
“Everybody in town knows who you are, Sam.”
“Still loading up at oh-dark thirty?” I asked.
“We’ll load the truck for you, Sam. Stay in bed and get a bit of sleep.”
“Never happen. I’ll see you in the morning, Boss.”
Little Chris woke when the lights flashed through his window. He thought it was one of the mean men, but then he listened. He could tell it was a truck – a big one. Staring out the window as it rumbled by, he knew that if something was going to get him and Mom and Dad out of this, it would look and sound like this.
He used to think the Police would come and save him, but… That hadn’t happened.
But he’d prayed again.
This had to be it. Help had to look exactly like this.
He watched as white and yellow lights and dust and wheels rolled across the yard, stopping not far from the big tractor shed.
Everything was about to be okay…
It’s hard to be sneaky driving a semi, so, I just kind of forgot about it when I pulled into the Peel’s yard. It was still dark, but I had the headlights on, and I was in a truck after all. I idled through the yard to the same spot I’d set up the year before and got ready for the sprayer to show up for a refill.
Before I jumped out of the cab, I made sure my Glock Seventeen was tucked away behind the seat but still within easy reach. I didn’t want today to come down to shooting, but…
That wasn’t entirely my choice, was it?
The place smelled. Not of morning dew and cow manure and dust, but… Manufactured, just… Nasty.
Chris Peel watched out the window, waited, and hoped. He couldn’t make out what his Dad was saying to the man in the truck. He could hardly see him, but he knew it was almost over.
“Good morning, Owen.”
“Sheriff, you need to leave, now.”
“You have me mistaken for someone else, Owen. My name’s Sam Maxwell. I was here last year, and actually just signed on for another season with the Co-op.”
“I don’t care who you think you are today. Get out of here.”
“Hey, you called us for help. I’ll hit the road if that’s what you want, but, we’re here. I just need to know how many fields you want sprayed, and where they’re at.”
Owen bit his lip.
“I’ll pack up and go.”
“There are seven,” Owen said finally. “Two little fields by the house, and five out by the machine shed.”
“Are the crops all right?”
“They’re doing okay,” Owen said. “The beans are having trouble growing in this… Weather.”
“I’m going to gather up another couple of rigs,” I said. “We’ve equipped with GPS to spray at night. We should be ready to come back this evening, if you think that’ll be better for you.”
“If you could do anything to have the beans in that patch over near the road, that’d help us to get done a little quicker.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“You’re sure you want us to wait to get started?”
Owen nodded. “I think it’s for the best. You’ll need help getting all of this work done.”
Chris screamed when the window broke. The bad man came to the bedroom door before all of the glass had fallen.
“Police!” The woman shouted. “Don’t move!”
The bad man raised his gun and the woman shot him. It was the loudest sound Chris had ever heard.
He screamed again.
The woman crawled inside the room and tried to comfort him while she shouted,
“Atsky? You clear? Atsky?”
There were more blasts from guns.
“Hide in the closet!” The woman told Chris.
He was too scared to move. “Go! Now!” She shouted. “You’ll be okay if you hide!”
Chris nodded through his tears and did what she told him.
The woman made her way to the bedroom door and peeked into the hall. “Police! Drop your weapon!”
Chris screamed again as another gun blast shattered the night.
It was darker than the inside of a moose’s behind.
That, along with the rain had let us get in without getting seen. The first three guys in the machine shed hadn’t expected a thing – I had them wire tied before they completely knew what was going on.
One had come in the door, and he was going to be a problem.
I was short one, and that was going to be an even bigger problem. Maren and Scott were only expecting two at the house. If there was another, that was a huge problem – there was nothing worse than an unexpected guy with a gun.
God that hurt…
Now, get up.
Get up, dammit.
I knew there was a better than even chance my vest had stopped the bullet, but I couldn’t have told from the pain that washed across me from my sternum. The corpse next to the door had been a good shot – the hit was center mass.
The hole between his eyes made it clear I was a little better one.
I ran out into the yard, completely unconcerned with the amount of noise I was making. The more, the better. If they focused on me – hell, if they shot me, that was fine.
I’d survived one. I could take another if it meant I went down instead of Maren or Atsky.
More gunfire broke the night, and my heart clinched.
Atsky wasn’t answering.
Maren knew he was dead. She also knew she’d join him if she didn’t pay attention to business. She’d gotten one, and figured Scott had gotten one too before he folded. That meant a straggler had gotten away from the Sherriff.
With their two and Sam’s four, there was one left. Maren wanted to go after him – after Scott – but she couldn’t leave the family unprotected.
There really wasn’t a lot of choice.
She was going to have to watch into the darkness and hope that Sam Maxwell arrived in time to save the day.
I saw him move in the shadows. He was easily a hundred yards off – it would have been a hell of a shot in the daylight.
I needed to bring him back to me. “Yo! Bitch!”
Logic said he was turning around.
“Yeah you, you junkie piece of trash! I’m right here!”
I started firing when he pulled his weapon. I was pretty sure I didn’t get him, but I lost him in the dark. I tried to overcome the agony from my ribs and run, but there just wasn’t much left.
A single shot rang out through the night.
The shadow that limped around the corner when I finally closed the distance was more familiar.
“Atsky? You all right?”
“Hit in the leg. These guys were pros.”
“Maren!” I called.
“Clear! Family is secure.”
I pulled out my phone and hit the emergency auto dial. “This is Sheriff Maxwell. I’ve got an injured officer at the Peel Farm on Muldoon Road. Several other GSWs. Roll anything on wheels, now.”
“Scott, go inside and see if Maren can tourniquet your wound. I left three of these assholes alive inside the shed. I need to make sure they didn’t get anywhere.”
He looked to be dazed. “Come on, Scott. Hang in there, man.”
“Shock,” he said before he shook his head. “Tourniquet my wound.”
“Roger that. You did good, kid.”
I waited to make sure Scott was headed inside before I turned for the machine shed. Maren would take care of him until help showed up, and the Ambo drivers wouldn’t spare the horses. As long as the three morons in the shed were still tied up, all was just about to be right with the world.
“I don’t understand. Who is Jonathan Carr to you, anyway?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Atsky has a hole in his leg and will never walk without a limp. There are four bodies in the morgue and three in the cell, and this dude says he’s coming to take them, our only witnesses to a hostage situation and a major meth production operation,” Maren was far from smiling. “I think I’m entitled to know the whole story.”
“My partner and I worked for Johnny at Homeland Security. We did some… Things.”
“Things?” Maren asked skeptically.
“A ‘couple’ drew less attention working abroad. Over time, Stephanie and I got close.”
“So, you and a girl used to kill people for this guy Carr?”
“He claimed the ops were on the level. When we got exposed, he burned us as rogues. He’s had us on a short leash ever since. He has plenty left to burn us with.”
“So how did that land you here?”
“I suffer from a seldom common but often fatal disease.”
“Cancer?” Maren looked suddenly worried.
“Scruples. I killed a guy.”
“Let’s say this guy wasn’t on Johnny’s list.”
“Which gave this Carr guy more to hold over you.”
“Or hang me with.”
“Do you deserve it?”
“Ask the guy running the meth operation.”
Her eyebrows raised in unspoken question.
“It was his son, Maren.”
“Sheriff Maxwell. What can I do for you?” I asked when I picked up the phone.
“You can come back to the city, so we can end this.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to kill me out here in the middle of nowhere? Oh, wait, you’ve already tried, haven’t you, Monsino?”
“Any good operator knows the home court advantage counts for a lot, Sam. Just like leverage. Leverage is everything “
I laughed. “Thrill me.”
“Sure,”Monsino said. “Bring her here.”
My blood turned cold before the scuffle started in the background.
“Are you all right?”
“You know what has to happen, Sam. You took his pawns, so he grabbed yours.”
“You’re far from a pawn, Steph.”
“Okay then, call her proof that I have you by the balls, Maxwell.”
“You’re oh for what? Seven? The goons you sent after me last year, four this time, and… Your son? Junior did call out for you before he died, George. For a badass cop killer, he was actually kind of a pussy.”
“I’m going to kill her the way you killed my boy.”
“It’ll never happen. She’ll die like more of a man than that fruitcake kid of yours did.”
“Maybe I will let you live, Maxwell. Maybe I’ll just take away everyone you care about.”
I laughed. “It’s a short list.”
“Perhaps it is, but you’ve admitted there is a list, Maxwell. In the meantime, imagine the worst possible thing that can happen to a woman, Sam. That’s what I’m going to do to the woman you love.”
I laughed. “If you do, I’ll do the same to you. Good night, Georgie.”