I didn’t dare stand on the gas any harder. I needed to get there and get whoever it was found, but things had a nasty habit of jumping out of nowhere in the dark. It wouldn’t do either one of us any good if I hit and killed her.
“Son of a bitch.” I stomped on the brakes and skidded to a stop.
She was wandering down the eastbound lane just short of the Norcatur road. She didn’t react to the lights from my truck, or to me when I wrapped my coat around her naked form. Even in the relative dark, I could tell she’d be crying – she was more than a mess.
She was also drugged. I’d never seen anyone on Rohyphol, but it seemed like a logical guess. She’d bled from her knees before the wounds clotted over, her hands were torn up, and she was covered in grime – some of which I guessed I didn’t want to know what it really was.
“Come on, Sweetie.” She didn’t resist when I led her to the passenger side of my truck. Once I got her belted in, I ran to the driver’s side, jumped behind the wheel, and cranked up the heat before I miked the radio. “Dispatch, this is Maxwell. I have a young woman approximately sixteen years old. Probable rape victim, believed to be drugged. ETA Decatur County hospital fifteen minutes.”
It was then that I found the top speed of my truck was one-hundred and fourteen miles per hour, and deer evidently hear prayers when you really, really need them to stay out of the way.
“We’ll have the test results eventually, but we don’t have the capability to test for those types of drugs, Sheriff. Until now, we’ve never needed them.”
“Any result from the rape kit?” I asked.
“Black hair and semen. Plenty of DNA to get the job done, but again, we’ll have to send the samples to Hays.”
“Rush it where you can.”
“Of course, but realistically, it’s going to be a few days.”
“Is there any hope?”
I smiled warmly. “There’s always hope. Let me know if she comes around?”
The nurse nodded.
“Thank you, Lynn.”
I started my truck and headed toward the station to check the Register of Sex Offenders with KBI. It was the logical place to look for a pedophile with black short and curlies. It was impossible to know what to hope to find – if it was a teenager that had done this, it might not be quite so hard on the victim, because the age gap wouldn’t be quite so weird. If it was an adult, well…
There just wasn’t any good set of circumstances surrounding an under-aged girl found naked and drugged on the side of the highway. The only card I could play was to make sure there wasn’t a good outcome for the asshole that did it, either.
I picked up the radio. “Go ahead, Maren.”
“I’ve got a party in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, about three miles South of town.”
“I can handle a bunch of raucous kids.”
“Hang tight,” I said, pulling a quick U-turn. “I’m on my way.”
“Sheriff, I’ve got this.”
“Stand down, Maren. I’ll be there in five.”
It was worth backing Maren, but it shouldn’t have been a big deal. Busting the kids’ parties was a weekly thing. They sat on top of a hill where they could see for miles with a nearby crossroad. Regardless of which way we came, they had room to scatter, and they always did.
I had a feeling Maren had stopped when she didn’t answer, and I knew she’d gotten out when I popped over the hill and found her rig more or less sideways with the door open. She was struggling to get to her feet in the ditch on the east side of the road when I found her.
“You all right?” I hurried down to help her, but she pushed me away.
“They were out when I pulled up. Big guy smacked me around.”
“Maren, are you okay?”
“I got my ass kicked by a high school kid,” she snarled. “How do you think I am?”
“Have you seen him before?”
She rubbed the back of her head. “I barely saw him today. I think he jumped in a shitty brown mini-van after he put me down. Dark haired, football player looking dude.”
“I want you to go get yourself checked out.”
“I’m all right. He just rattled me.”
“I told you to wait.”
“I messed up, Sheriff. Don’t-“
“Maren, stop before you make this any worse.”
I watched her stomp away, dragging her pride behind her like an anchor.
Dark haired football player looking male. Honestly, he shouldn’t be that hard to find in Decatur County, Kansas.
I had three lists in front of me. Police work in this county wasn’t a television show, so the only cross-referencing took place with a pad, pen, and headache. The list of male athletes from the school’s website was the longest, followed by the list of brown minivans registered in the county. The third was the list of sexual offenders, which was the shortest, but not by much.
It actually didn’t take that long to see that the first round was going to be failure.
I was tired.
My eyes were burning.
Two women were in the hospital.
The school’s website had a pretty comprehensive list – high school sports were important in this part of the country. I pulled another five years worth of records from the high school and went back through the exercise. The sun was coming up by the time I’d finished and conceded failure again.
I stood, grabbed my hat, and walked out the door into the chilly morning air. The crispness helped to wake me up and burned my tired eyes worse. I’d have preferred to walk home. It was only a few blocks.
With Maren down, I had the duty, so I needed to keep a vehicle close in case I got a call.
Backing away from the station didn’t stop me from thinking about it. I was in arms reach of the doorknob for my apartment when I realized my mistake.
There weren’t a lot of dog-shit brown minivans on the road anymore, but they’d been all the rage about ten years ago. Just because they weren’t licensed didn’t mean they weren’t being driven. I’d gone back in the high school records.
I needed to go back in the DMV records.
The list was a manageable. Going back ten years, there had been five brown minivans registered in the county. One was totaled in an accident a couple of years ago, leaving four to hunt down. Farmers around here bordered on ‘hoarder’ – they were more than likely parked in a tree row along with out-dated farm machinery. A search warrant would take forever to get and would likely be a stretch – but it wasn’t a problem that binoculars shouldn’t solve.
Maybe it wasn’t strictly legal, but I didn’t strictly care today.
As I’d thought, the tree rows took two of them out of the equation – there was no way they’d gone anywhere in years. The Westover place had a van sitting in the farmyard near the shop, and I didn’t see the other on the Smythe farm at all. A van wasn’t enough for a search warrant, so I wrote down the makes in my notebook and tuned back to town.
I anticipated trouble getting information out of the school. Becky Larson didn’t ask for a warrant, and I didn’t offer one. At least so far, the Smythe’s only had a set of twin girls in the Junior class. There wasn’t any record of a Westover in the school system.
But there was a minivan.
They were homeschooled. The Westover place was in the Southeast corner of the county – more than a ways away from everything. The decision to homeschool might have been as easy as deciding to avoid having their kids on a school bus for three hours a day.
It’d still be touch and go for a warrant – maybe it was time for social media.
Trying to hunt someone down on social media was like trying to hunt down a field mouse in a tomcat’s picnic. If the kids were homeschooled, there was a decent chance they, themselves, weren’t out there posting all over the internet, but their friends…
I visualized the Westover place in my head, and then pulled back like a helicopter lifting off from a war zone. The Christopher place was Northwest, and the Keller ranch was Northeast. I went back to the high school directory Becky had provided me and looked for both family names. There weren’t any Christophers listed, but there were two Kellers. Jared was on the football team, and Stuart was in the band.
I wrote both names down on my notepad under ‘Westover’ then created a grid on the paper with the family names running horizontally and as many social media sites as I could think of running vertically. After a glance at my watch, I got up, grabbed my hat, and stepped out the door.
I’d been at it all night. I needed to get my head back in the game before I tried this hunt.
“You find him yet?” Maren shouted from her room as I walked up to the nurses’ station.
Nurse Jennie rolled her eyes with a definitive ‘I’ve tried already’ shrug.
I stepped into Maren’s doorway, and much more quietly asked, “Do you remember you’re in a hospital?”
Maren’s eye-roll mirrored the nurse’s. “Well?”
“Give me a break, would you? I’ve been at it for twenty-four hours now. I’ve got a plan, but I needed a shot of sugar and caffeine before I set to it.”
“Well, get it done already! I wanna go slap chrome on the bastard when Nurse Ratchet out there cuts loose of me.”
Well, Maren was feeling better…
People had the wrong idea about ‘Big Brother’. He wasn’t always watching – he really didn’t even care about most people. DHS, CIA, probably the nerds at NRO – they had fancy toys to watch people at an extraordinarily high level. It happened at great expense of time and manpower, and not on any one person’s whim.
A list of names, a search bar, and a pot of coffee almost always got the job done for all but the most important national-security issues. None of it was possible because of dark-web back access to the internet, it was just determination.
It was actually the fifteenth name on the football roster that got me started. The time definitely matched – he’d posted it about thirteen hours ago, which was right in line with all hell breaking loose.
I recognized two of the kids – the Keller boys. They were the kind of kids you couldn’t not know in a town like this.
The third kid was a hefty dark-haired kid that I couldn’t place. Even leafing through the high-school directory from Becky, I didn’t see him. However, they were standing in front of a mini-van. The flash on the camera had lit the boys’ faces well, but it washed out most evidence of color or make on the van. It looked like it could be gold, or maybe brown.
I grabbed my hat and took back off for the hospital. I hadn’t heard of Maren being released, and I needed to see if Jane Doe was recovering from whatever had happened to her last night. It was reasonable to be a little foggy at this point, but I just remembered that whoever had worked her over evidently had black hair.
Just like the kid in the picture I didn’t recognize.
“Can I come in?”
She looked very small in the hospital bed. “Okay.”
“My name is Sam. I’m the County Sheriff. I found you last night.”
“I remember you.”
I smiled. “That’s good. I hope you’re feeling better, too.”
She nodded. “Mostly.”
“Did you…mean for what happened to happen last night?”
“I’m not even sure what did happen. They told me…”
“I’d like to show you a picture. Would that be all right?”
“You’re sure? Do you want me to have someone else in here for you?”
“It’s okay.” She extended a tentative hand and took the sheet of paper from my hand, then carefully studied the image of the boys I’d taken from the internet.
She looked at it for a long time. Studied it. Then folded it in half, handed it back to me, and started to cry.
Dressed in a mussed uniform, Maren appeared in the doorway. Her eyes held a simple question that the paper answered. The flood of emotions it brought to her eyes was completely different than the girl in the hospital bed.
It was fury unlike anything I had ever seen before.
She managed a terrifying smile. “Let me take care of this, Sheriff. I’ll call you when it’s done.”
“You sure you’re up for this?”
“I’ll take care of it. Trust me, Sam.”
“I do.” I shrugged and stepped past her, closing the door behind myself.
I knew in the pit of my stomach, we had our guy – or, it sounded like guys.
Now we just had to figure out how to catch them.
“It’s not enough.”
“How can it not be enough! She’s identified the bastards that did this to her!” Maren snapped. “One of them kicked my ass!”
“Maren, do you want him to go down for assaulting you, or for what they did to Leanne?”
She glared at me with a look that could have cut solid titanium.
“Like it or not, at sixteen, it’s consensual, unless we can put the drugs in this Westover kid’s hands.”
“We can squeeze the Keller boys.”
“If we miss, they get to go on raping young girls. Or watching while it happens.”
“Maybe the rape kit…”
“There is more than one way that can go wrong, and even if it doesn’t, we have nothing to compare it to. It’s chicken and the egg stuff.”
“Would Stephanie help us?”
I laughed. “To nail some teenage rapists? Are you kidding me? She’d love it, but I don’t see how she’d fit in. She’s too old.”
“She doesn’t have to turn into a high school girl to attract a hormonal high-school boy, Sam. In fact, a few years would probably help.”
I tried to think back to when I was younger. Those memories were such an awkward time, never knowing what I was supposed to be thinking or doing. There wasn’t a lot to it back then – long hair, bare legs, boobs, bikinis…
“Maren, where’s the closest lake?”
“Norton Reservoir, just over the county line.”
“Let me make a few phone calls, but do you have a bikini?”
“I’m a one-piece kinda gal.”
I smiled. “Want to do some fishing?”
“Three assholes in a dog shit brown minivan.”
Maren stepped out the front door of her house wearing a high cut black one piece, with hair in a voluminous pony tail pulled through a hot pink baseball cap. A pair of designer sunglasses, flip-flops, and over-the shoulder bag completed the look.
And quite the look it was.
Her husband Jim was transfixed by the sight of her turning back to the house, obviously having forgotten something.
My girlfriend Stephanie’s little European import pulled into the yard just as the door slammed behind Maren. I couldn’t help but smile when she got out of the car. I did my best not to react when she appeared from behind the cover of the vehicles, made up almost identically to Maren, except with her compact form in a red string bikini which was far more string than bikini.
I started coughing.
“Perv,” she smiled.
“You’re going to sunburn your boobs in that.”
Her curly blonde hair glistened in the sunlight as she looked up with a coy smile. “I’ll throw a t-shirt on…for a while…”
“They ogle you, too?” Maren asked. She was wearing a pair of cut-offs and a tank top over her suit.
“Boys are so formulaic and predictable.”
“I hope so,” I said. “You both have something in those bags besides suntan oil?”
“Locked and loaded.”
“Taser is charged, and more than enough restraints to get the job done.”
“The plan?” I asked.
“Put the boys and the roofies together,” Maren said.
“While proof of intent to commit non-consensual sexual intercourse isn’t critical, it would be beneficial.”
“Don’t wreck my boat,” Jim laughed.
I looked them both over – they could easily pass as college girls. “I’ll be over the hill with Sheriff Johnson, just out of sight.”
They both nodded.
“Good fishing, ladies.”
Maren smiled as she watched Stephanie wiggle out of her denim shorts up on the bow of the boat. Part of it was because she was a pretty girl, but part of it was because now that the hook was being baited, the game was starting. Her own suit pulled, just at the edge of uncomfortably, but Jimmy said it made her ass look good, which was what she needed right now.
The boys were here, which was what they needed too. Although…a day on the lake just catching up the tan wouldn’t have been so bad.
Stephanie rather visibly started re-tying the knot on the left side of her bottoms.
“You’re too much, you know that, don’t you?” Maren laughed. She read the expression under the baseball hat and behind the oversized sunglasses as confusion. “I kinda even want to have sex with you now.”
Stephanie shrugged and made her way to Maren’s side, all hips and slink as she moved. She had to step on her tip-toes to pull Maren into a kiss, but…it wasn’t a short one once she caught on.
Stephanie smiled as she licked the saliva off of her lips. “The boys will love that.”
“Music?” Maren asked.
“Definitely. Skynard, AC/DC, or something like that. Make it loud,” Stephanie said.
Maren slapped her on the bottom, just below where the red fabric covered…what it covered.
“Now you’re learning,” Stephanie said as she made her way to the bow and draped herself across it like a French model.
Maren gave the girl an admiring look and hoped she didn’t weaken the bait by joining her.
As if reading her hesitation, Stephanie said, “A blond and a brunette out here like this together…are you kidding me? The little pervs will be here in an hour.”
Stephanie raised herself onto her hands and knees with a look that could have ignited the lake. “Hi boys!”
“How’s the party?” A handsome dark-haired young man wearing muted blue jams and sunglasses asked.
Maren recognized him instantly. Her shades and the cut of her swimsuit hid her well. “Not much of a party with just us out here.”
“We can fix that,” the younger Keller boy said. “Mind if we come alongside?”
“Only if you’ve got something better than soda in that cooler,” Maren said as she tugged at the already tantalizingly low cut of her suit. “It’s too hot out here.”
“Tell me about it,” the dark haired boy said. “Throw them the rope, Stuart.”
“You throw them the rope.”
“I‘ll throw them the rope,” Jared Keller snapped.
As they argued, Stephanie very deliberately turned her back on them and started taking her top off. “I’ve had too much sun!”
Her barely-clad backside pointed straight at the boys as she dug through her bag and retrieved a tank-top, which she shimmied into. Maren nodded at her, making it clear she’d spotted what she needed – a cooler with alcohol, giving them probable cause for a search. When Stephanie turned, she leveled a well-used Glock nine millimeter at the boy nearest the steering wheel of the boat.
“Please don’t try to run. I’d hate to have to shoot you on such a beautiful afternoon.” Stephanie said dismissively.
“You ain’t no cop,” dark hair said.
“That’s true, but I am, ” Maren’s smile was radiant as she stepped forward with three tie bindings she’d pulled from her own bag. Dark hair’s expression sank like a rock as Maren manipulated his hands behind his back. “Yeah…I remember you too.”
“It looks like the fishing was good.”
Maren nodded. “They were biting, Sheriff.”
“This is entrapment,” the dark haired Westover boy snarled.
“Shut up.” Stephanie popped him in the back of the head.
“And police brutality!”
She hit him again. “I’m not police.”
Maren looked supremely calm. “Stuart here sang like a bird. He and his brother borrowed Daddy’s boat. They’d meet Mr. Randy Westover here for a day on the water, who brought the beer and the Roofies. Getting a girl isn’t hard. Once she had a little beer and the drugs in her to make sure she couldn’t resist their manly charms, they’d take her back to Randy’s palace of love on wheels. Stuart here drove, Jared ran the video camera, and Randy…”
I nodded as I took hold of the Westover boy’s bound arms. Sheriff Johnson took the other two boys.
“The baggie’s in the cooler next to the brews. We’ve got their cell phones. We know where they uploaded the video,” Maren added. “It’s pretty open and shut.”
“Read ‘em their rights?” I asked.
“Already done,” Maren confirmed.
Maren and Stephanie stopped walking.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
“We’ve got to go clean up,” Maren said.
“It’s your collar.”
“We’re in Norton County. It’s Sheriff Johnson’s collar. I’ve got a boat in the water.”
Stephanie peeled her t-shirt off as they turned back toward the dock.
“What about the paperwork?” I called.
“We’ll be back a few hours after you’re done with it,” Maren called over her shoulder.
Stephanie raised her hand, which Maren met with a high-five.
I shook my head as I watched them, quite literally, walk off into the sunset.