Authors: Mike Cooley
Tags: #paranormal romance
I held her and used my energy to wipe away the pain. Then we cried together until the last of my energy flowed into her and consciousness fled.
Once the bleeding stopped and the rum had a chance to numb the pain, I looked out the front window of the cabin for signs of pursuit. Only Mel’s car was visible, and the surrounding area was clear of intruders. “What do you think, Suzi?” I closed my eyes and waited.
“Hmm. Yeah. Maybe so.” I looked at the scars on my forearms and resisted the urge to pull my knife out. My thoughts drifted back to Mel and low voice. And then they turned dark. I tried not to imagine what they were doing to her.
I grabbed the shirt I had bought at Safeway out of the duffle bag and pulled it on, then grabbed the flashlight. The shirt was gray and had a picture of Mt. Rainier on it, snow-capped and eternal. It wasn’t as warm or thick as the one Mel had dressed me in after the crash, but at least it wasn’t bloody or pierced by bullet holes.
I opened the door carefully and walked toward Mel’s Dodge. Seeing no one around, I slid to the ground and crawled underneath it. I flicked the switch on the flashlight and played it over the bottom of the engine and transmission. It took me a few minutes to spot it. It was tiny and laced into the wiring like a spider. I examined it carefully but left it intact. “You were right, Suzi. Thanks, babe.”
The sky was clear and the air was warming up as the sun rose. I was running out of time. I grabbed the duffle, stuffing everything I had into it, along with a few things from drawers in the cabin. Then I left the cabin, shut and locked the front door, and got into the car. I turned the key over, put the car in reverse, and hit the gas. The radio said it was nearly nine. I backed out of the driveway and headed toward Cle Elum. I dodged the glass and blood in the road when I reached the scene of the battle. The legs and fingertips were gone.
At Cle Elum, I stopped at the largest gas station I could find and bought every plastic gas container they had, a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew, wire, steel wool, a set of two-way radios, batteries, and some candy bars. I brought everything to the front counter and set the items down. “What’s the range of these two-ways?”
“About a mile, I guess.”
The cashier looked at me, then at all the gas containers, then back at me. “Mowin’ lawns?”
“Something like that. Thanks.” I handed him cash and shoved the change in my front pocket.
I went back out to the car, gassed it up, then filled all the gas containers and put them in the back seat and trunk. I took everything out of the glove compartment and stuffed it in the duffle bag.
Once I got back in the car and started heading toward the cabin, I started to feel better. The painful aches in my shoulder and side were returning, but I didn’t have time to worry about that. I passed the cabin driveway and kept going until I reached an empty field on the left hand side of the road that I had remembered from years ago. I drove off the road, into the middle of the field, and then parked the car. I turned the ignition off and tossed the keys in the passenger seat. Then I got out of the car.
To the west, there was a small ridge where I had hunted deer years ago. Beyond that was forest. To the east was the road, sixty yards away. There was no traffic. I looked all around the clearing and then got to work.
I uncapped all the gas tanks and taped them together in the back seat, then I started running the wires. I pried the back off of a walkie-talkie and wired it up to the gas tanks, using little pieces of steel wool on the inside. I ran wires to the car battery and then hooked them into the circuit of the two-way. I double-checked everything then capped the tanks tightly and turned the radio on, setting it to channel 946. Then I grabbed the duffle bag, shut the doors, and headed for the ridge.
It was four in the afternoon when they showed up. I was sitting on the ground leaning back against a tree eating a candy bar and sipping on some pop when I saw the familiar vehicles speed off the road and surround Mel’s Neon. I waited until the masked men got out of their silver vans and approached the car. They advanced slowly, with guns drawn. Once they were close enough to see in the windows, I flipped on my two-way and hit transmit. The blast was impressive. They didn’t have time to scream. Shrapnel rained down in the trees above me. The smell of burning fuel and skin drifted to me, carried by the smoke.
“Sorry about your car, Mel.”
I switched off the two-way radio, grabbed the duffle bag, and then headed down the ridge to the carnage below. My ears were still ringing. Mel’s car was completely destroyed, and the remains were burning. One of the silver vans had been blown on its side by the blast, and there were bodies everywhere. None of the six men were moving, and a couple of them were in multiple pieces, torn up by the shrapnel. I didn’t check to see if any of them were breathing. The air smelled of burning tires, gas, and charred flesh.
I opened the driver side door of the van that was still on its wheels and looked in. There was no one inside. The side of the van facing the explosion was crumpled and scarred, but the bulletproof windows were intact. I tossed the duffle bag into the front passenger seat and hopped in. The engine was still running. The center console had a large GPS display on it, and in the middle of the screen a red dot indicated the location of Mel’s car.
The radio crackled to life. “Gibson? What’s happening there?”
I turned it off, then put the van in drive and headed across the field and back up to the road. I turned right. The column of black smoke would be sure to attract a crowd before long. “I’m on my way, Melanie. Hold on.”
Once I passed Cle Elum, I turned onto I-90 and headed back the way we had come. I zoomed out on the GPS, looking for a town that was close to the dam. It looked like my best bet was a small town called Burbank, so I keyed the GPS and followed the line on the map. I buckled myself in, pulled the lock-blade out of my left front pocket, and then flicked it open. “I know, Suzi. I know. I’m just looking at it. Testing the edge. It helps me concentrate.” I ran my fingertip across the edge of the blade and resisted the urge to dig into my skin with the tip.
The GPS said it was a two and a half hour drive. I kept my eyes on the road and watched every car coming the other way, looking for silver. I thought about everything that had happened. They had known about Mel. Planted the tracking device. Why? Why not just capture her again? The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that it had something to do with me. And that was not good.
Mel had said they were afraid of something. That was why they were torturing people. Something huge. But what? Were they government? It seemed like they must be, if their HQ was under a dam. CIA? Deeper.
“What the fuck is going on, Suzi? I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” It was hard to hear her so far from her grave. I was itching to get back. I pressed down firmly on the gas. The weather was dry, with puffy white clouds overhead. To the sides, an arid landscape flew by. Silver cars startled me coming the other way, but the only vans were dirty reds and blacks.
The fuel gauge was getting low by the time I arrived at Burbank. It was a one-horse town. The clock read 7PM, and I figured I could combine dinner with a little research, so I pulled into a gas station near a bar. I gassed up, paying with cash. Then I drove around behind the bar and parked the van out of sight from the road.
I walked around to the front of the bar. It was a big red building with a sign that said
Beautiful Downtown Burbank Tavern
. I looked around at the town and figured they must be thinking of a different place. A sign at the entrance proclaimed that “only a rooster can get a better piece of chicken than you can get here.”
This is bound to go well.
I pushed open the glass door, and the chatter of voices surrounded me. The place was full of locals, and they all seemed to know each other. Faces turned to look at me with a hint of interest, then they looked away. The place smelled of stale, cheap beer, and the walls and ceiling were yellowed from years of tobacco smoke. A jukebox in the corner was playing rock music, and the floor was covered with pull-tabs, popcorn, and peanut shells.
I sat down on an empty barstool while eyes regarded me suspiciously. I ignored them. “Can I get an Oly and a menu?” I looked up at the bartender. He looked like he was in his fifties and had been working there for a hundred years. His face was unshaven, and he was wearing thick glasses that made his eyes look bigger than normal. He was dressed in overalls like a farmer, and his hands were dirty.
“Sure thing, bro. Name’s Ted.” He pointed at his name tag.
Ted drew the beer from a tap into a pint glass that looked chipped and slid it over. Then he looked around the bar for signs of anyone getting low. A brunette waitress was carrying drinks to a booth against the far wall. She was wearing tight blue jeans and a flannel shirt. Ted watched her ass with casual familiarity. “Know what you want?”
“How’s the meatloaf?”
“It’s good. The wife’s recipe. Got some spice to it.”
“Set me up with that and a couple more beers. Been a long trip.”
“I hear that.” Ted wrote my order down on a piece of paper and then walked to the far end of the bar. He clipped it to a wire over a large window that opened into the kitchen.
I drank the first beer quick and savored the next as I waited for the food to arrive. I surveyed the room, searching for anyone that looked like an operative, but there were none. Everyone looked like a farmer or blue-collar worker out for a beer. No suits, no ties, no masks.
A middle-aged blonde with a boozy smile came over and sat next to me at the bar. She opened some pull-tabs one by one, swearing under her breath each time she hit a losing ticket. “Fuck.”
“No winners, huh?” I looked over at her pile of cards.
“Not yet. But I’ll hit one soon.” She waved at Ted, and he brought her a bottle of Miller Lite. She stuck her right hand out in my direction. “Sally.”
“Nice to meet you, Silas. You’re new.”
“Kind of. I’ve been in Pasco for awhile, just never made it out here.”
Ted brought a steaming plate of food over. It had a large slab of meatloaf on it with potatoes, gravy, and corn. “Need anything else? There’s salt and pepper right there.” He pointed down the bar.
“Thanks. I’m good.” I sipped my beer and ate, realizing how hungry I was. I watched Sally open more pull-tabs until she hit a winner and whooped. She jumped up and ran to buy more tickets with her winnings. “Five hundred big ones!”
Sally sat back down next to me with a big smile on her face. “A round for everyone!”
Ted refilled everyone’s drinks at the bar and slid another Oly my way. I finished the one I was drinking and ate the last bite of food. “Tell your wife that she’s an excellent cook, Ted.”
Ted smiled big. “I’ll tell her.”
I lifted my free beer in Sally’s direction. “Thanks for the beer, Sally. I wonder if I can ask you something?”
Sally batted her lashes at me. Her blue eyes were a bit glazed under a mop of sandy brown hair. I wondered how long she had been here and guessed since noon. “Sure, Silas. Anything you want.”
“It’s about the dam.”
“The dam?” Sally’s expression changed to confusion.
“Ice Harbor…just down the road?”
“Oh yeah. What do you need to know?”
“Well, I just thought if there were anything strange going on there, you would probably know about it.”
Ted was looking at me, as were a couple of the other locals within earshot. Sally looked at Ted and then around the bar. Her gaze stopped on a large man sitting in a booth by himself.
“Well, there’s Danny.”
Sally pointed at the large man. He looked like he was two-fifty and 6’ 4”, easy, but his face looked childlike. He was drawing with crayons on the paper covering the table.
“He went up there fishing one time. About a year ago. He weren’t the same since. Took all the fight right out of him.”
“Is anyone going to mind if I talk to him for a bit? I don’t mean any harm. It’s just. It’s Mel. She’s missing.”
“She’s my. She’s a girl. Melanie.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” Sally rested a hand on my shoulder. “No, I think you can talk to Danny. That should be okay.” Sally looked up at Ted, who nodded. “Just don’t upset him.”
I nodded. “I’ll do my best. I just want to ask him a few questions. Thanks, Sally.” I reached over and gave her a hug. She responded with a lopsided grin, then lifted her bottle and drank some more.
I grabbed my beer and stood, then walked over and sat down across the table from Danny. “Do you mind if I sit here and talk to you for a minute?”
“That’s okay, mister. Just don’t hit me.” Danny pulled his arms and hands close to his chest and looked at me with alarm.
“I’m not going to hit you.”
“I’m Silas.” I extended my hand and then withdrew it when he made no motion to shake. “And you’re Danny.”
“I’m Danny.” He smiled. In front of him on the table he had sketched pictures of houses, trees, and animals.
“I think a friend of mine is up at the dam.” I searched Danny’s face. His eyes widened.
“The dam. You don’t want to go there.”
“Bad men. Made me afraid.”
“You? But you’re a big, strong man, Danny.”
“Something happened. I don’t remember much.”
“Something happened to you?”
“The bad men did something to you?”
“No men. Girls. Shiny. Black. Needle.” Danny grabbed his shoulder and winced in pain.
“Shiny black girls?”