By the end of that week, Sheriff Baxster was forced to arrest Jack Holland. Judge Riley, overseeing the investigation, called for a special session with all the students involved in the crash. Chase made sure Judge Riley knew that Rain and Jessie appeared as hostile witnesses, but from everything they told the judge it was quite obvious Jack Holland had veered in front of the bus and caused the wreck. Although the Morris family, who had lost their son, still blamed Ben for being intoxicated, the court of law there in Crete dismissed all charges against the Lakota man. As a stipulation of the dismissal, Ben quit his job as a bus driver. Rumor was, he was going to move his base of operations and devote himself full-time to the rescue of large breed dogs. Before he left, he asked Chase to allow him to say a proper good-bye to his two sons.
Rain and Jessie approached Ben’s geodesic dome home, which sat on his ranch near the kennels of the dogs they worked with. Each triangular
piece making up the forty-feet in diameter dome was painted with colorful images of dogs and horses, dominated by the skull of a buffalo, hanging above the doorway. As the boys reached the steps, two children emerged from inside the dome. The first was a young Native boy of
ten, his long black hair finely braided and hanging down his slim back.
He said, “Welcome to my father’s home. I am Benjy Black Bull.”
Jessie shifted his cast about awkwardly so that he could shake the
boy’s hand. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Jessie Dalton and this is my brother—”
“We know who you are,” the 13-year-old raven-haired girl said. “I
am the Black Rose, daughter of the Irish Godfather of Havelock. He
tricked Ben into championing his cause. My father is a trickster worse
than the Coyote. His ancestors hail from the Emerald Isle, but Billy
Connors is the Devil dressed in white. He’s garnered a vow from Ben
to serve as my protector.”
Having no idea who this Billy Connors was, Rain said, “Our dad told us Ben wanted to meet with us before he left. So, here we are.”
Benjy smiled. “Despite biker protocol to never talk to cops, you sure
did help clear my dad of serious charges. For that, I thank you.”
Jessie said, “We just told Judge Riley the truth.”
Rose said, “Ben needs to ask you guys a favor. He’s leaving here at the end of the week to a new rescue ranch outside of Havelock. The
place has an appropriate name, Wounded Arrow, since Ben’s going
to be rescuing some of the most angry dogs on the planet. In the 1800’s
there was a Lakota camp there. One of the braves rode to steal horses
from the nearby Pawnee. When he returned to the Lakota camp, he fell
dead at his mother’s feet, riddled with many arrows. In memory of her
son, this mother insisted the camp be called, ‘Wounded with Many
Arrows.’ It is there that Ben shall rescue many dogs. What he wants
from you boys is to take care of the twenty dogs already housed here
for at least two more weeks until he can transport them to Havelock.”
“Sure,” Rain said. “We would be glad to.”
Rose and Benjy followed the boys inside the dome. Ben was seated across from them at a wood stove in the center of the floor. He pointed at a pile of thick buffalo hides, indicating that they should seat themselves before the stove. Sitting there on a small stool, Ben said, “What comes to your mind when I say ancient relics?”
Rain said, “King Arthur’s Excalibur—”
“The Spear of Longinus,” Rose said, interrupting Rain. “The Shroud of Turin. Longinus was the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus
with a spear called the Holy Lance when he hung on the cross. The
Shroud of Turin is the cloth Jesus’s body was wrapped in when he was
removed from the cross. It’s stored in the Vatican, with the images of
his face, body and hands on it created by his blood—”
“But,” Rain said, smirking at Rose, “You mean Indian relics, right?”
Nodding, Ben said, “One of the greatest meteor storms ever seen
took place over the United States on Nov. 13, 1833. The skies were
lit up by thousands of shooting stars every minute for four hours. It was
marked by several nations of Native Americans: the Cheyenne established
a peace treaty and the Lakota calendar was reset. Harriet Tubman and
Frederick Douglass noted it. The New York Post ran stories on it. Abe
Lincoln spoke of it years later. Founder of the Mormons, Joseph Smith,
believed the falling stars were a sign that Christ was coming back. In
other words, it was big medicine. The Night the Stars fell from the Sky
a band of Cheyenne marked a peace treaty on a white buffalo robe. Some
say the Treaty of 1833 marked on this robe was a turning point for the
Cheyenne. My people, the Lakota, joined them during Red Cloud’s
War. The Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache became allies of the Cheyenne
at the end of the Indian wars on the plains. When such fierce enemies
suddenly find peace it is also big medicine.
“To find such a robe after all of these years would be a significant
thing. When I went to the Hollands’ last week to get Molly and her pups
out of the hands of the Den, the Nomad was there at their fight barn.
Daws claims he’s an enforcer, who carries out contracts for the Memphis
mob. A Creole Indian who came to the Elder’s Den with the map placed
in a cigar tube. He gave it to Daws, saying a geis had been placed on
this treasure. He claims it is cursed. The Nomad told Daws he would
negate the curse if he retrieved it for him. Curses are known to be placed
on pirate treasure. Black Beard’s curse. William Kidd’s curse.”
Rain asked, “How could this white buffalo robe be cursed?”
Ben said, “It’s two other items that are cursed by wanagi, a spirit
among my people. The Lakota are of the Seven Council Fires, the tribes
of First Nations people. The term ‘Sioux’ is a racist term meaning ‘Snake’
and is derogatory towards the Nation, who live on reservations, Rosebud,
Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock. One of those cursed items
is a .50 caliber Sharps rifle used by Buffalo Billy Cody when he killed
4000 buffalo in a two-year period. The other is a Colt .45 pistol used
by Custer when he shot himself at the Little Big Horn. During the Battle
of the Rosebud, the Cheyenne and Lakota led by Crazy Horse, retreated,
leaving behind the wounded Chief Comes in Sight on the battlefield.
It was a 15-year-old Cheyenne girl, Buffalo Calf Road Woman who
rode out onto the battlefield, grabbed up her brother, carrying him to
safety. She also fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn. During that fight,
Custer was shot in the chest by White Bull and knocked off his horse.
He remounted and rode to get away when Buffalo Calf Road Woman
rose up out of the grass and struck the blow that knocked Custer off
his horse. Seconds later, fearing a gruesome death by torture, Custer
used his pistol to shoot himself in the temple. The girl’s war-club makes
the fourth ancient relic hidden in this treasure trove. If only I had that
map, I could return the buffalo robe and the war-club to Pine Ridge.”
Rain asked, “What would you do with the rifle and the pistol?”
“Destroy them,” Ben said. “Despite the fact that the last Colt pistol
recovered from the Little Big Horn sold for $275,000, and the Sharps
would bring in three times as much at auction, both need to be released
from the evil forces that inhabit them. Yes, Bill Cody was good friends
with Sitting Bull, but he also slaughtered 4,000 of our buffalo brothers.
The instrument of that senseless slaughter needs to be destroyed.”
“What about the robe?” Jessie asked. “How much would it be worth?”
Ben said, “Doesn’t matter. If I reclaim it, the buffalo robe would be returned to the Cheyenne.”
Rain said, “How much, Ben?”
Ben said, “Ten million for the robe. Another three for the war-club.”
“Why didn’t you hand this over to Ben?” Jessie asked in astonishment
as he sat there on the porch of the general store, looking wide-eyed
at the cigar tube he held in his hand.
Beef said, “Because your brother has himself a case of gold digger’s
fever and it’s gonna eat him up until he seeks out that treasure.”
Jessie held the tube up, saying, “But it’s not right to claim Native
artifacts. They are religious and sacred. It would be like trying to make
money on the crown of Christ or trying to get rich off of that Shroud
of Turin that Rose was talking to Ben about.”
Rain snorted, “Quarry Oaks is what is written on this section of the
map. Beef, you even said the quarry is outside of Lincoln. All we gotta
do is find out which tunnel the stuff is hidden in.”
Jessie removed the rolled up slip of paper from the tube, being careful
not to rip it as he spread it out on the floorboards beside him. “But look
at these arrows. They fade away and then stop halfway down this page.
You can even see where the last arrow is supposed to meet up with
another one, like maybe there’s another section. Let’s just turn this over
to Ben and help him recover those artifacts.”
“Gold fever,” Beef said,“won’t let him. He won’t be free of that fever
until he finds those relics. And when he retrieves those two cursed guns,
a demon will take over him and he’ll be royally screwed.”
Rain said, “Demons? Ghosts? Geis? Curse? Get real, Beef. How can an object be possessed by an evil spirit?”
Jessie shared a worried look with Beef. “I don’t know, but Ben was dead serious about this wanagi. I’d never want to release an evil force
into the world. And it sounded like he was way more than serious about
this Sharps rifle that was used to kill four-thousand bison. And this
pistol? If it was used in Custer’s suicide, don’t you think it might be
loaded with evil spirits?”
At the sound of Harleys rumbling along on the highway a block away
from the porch, Rain scrambled to his feet. Snatching the map out of
Jessie’s grasp, he replaced it in the cigar tube, then stuffed the tube into
the top of his left boot.
Four massive Harley Davidsons rolled off the highway and came
up the street leading to the General Store. Rain said, “Jessie? Run
home! Ferg, Truck, and Big Mo were there working on bikes an hour
ago. Better go get them!”
Jessie darted away up the alley, cradling his cast against his chest
as he ran. Rain and Beef tried to act casual as they seated themselves
on the bench situated against the front wall of the old store. They both
wanted to be at eye level, instead of forced to look up at Daws and his
three club members. The four bikers of the Elder’s Den pulled up in
front of the store and killed their engines. While the three motley bikers
glared at the two boys before them, Daws climbed off of his bike and
put the big stand down on it, before mounting the porch steps. The big
biker president then peered intently at Rain. “Because of you, my boy
may go to prison. For that, you are going to suffer. It’s gonna hit you
when you least expect it, too. Your little brother will hurt too. It’s so
sad to be an orphan in this world. Jack lost something the day of that
bus crash. Do you have what I’m looking for? If so, I might show mercy
when it comes to you boys and postpone the day of reckoning.”
Rain sat there, trembling as he faced the biker. “Don’t have a clue
what you’re talking about, Daws,” he said, pleased that his voice didn’t
crack halfway through his sentence.
Daws said, “On October 7, 1876, a buffalo hunter named J. Wright
Mooar killed a white buffalo in Texas. He kept the hide his entire life,
despite Teddy Roosevelt offering him $5000 for it. Big Medicine was
born on Montana’s Flathead Indian rez. The name Big Medicine was
chosen due to the sacred power attributed to white bison. Following
its death in 1959, its body is now displayed at the Montana Historical
Society. Miracle was born at a farm in Wisconsin. Medicine Wheel
was born on May 9 on Pine Ridge. Medicine Wheel escaped his pasture
and was shot by a tribal police officer. Spirit Mountain Ranch donated
a herd of white buffalo to the Sacred World Peace Church, and has bred
six generations of white buffalo. Their herd includes 17 white buffalo.
Chase drove the old Chevy Impala station wagon out of their small town of Sprague, population 110. The town’s business district consisted of five buildings, three situated on the main street, and the other two sitting on two adjacent corners. The hub of community activity took place at The Saloon, where the local farmers jawed about their crops and the war being fought in Viet Nam. Bob, owner of the tavern, had a black and white just beyond the bar, and the moment any news announcer came on its screen, patrons would hush up and listen to reports about the war taking place thousands of miles away.
Chase said, “George Kramer, Rusty Hicks, and Hob Nash all had sons drafted into that war. George and Rusty were proud fathers, too, bragging up their sons fighting for the US Marine Corp. Hob, however, does not condone a war that has nothing to do with America. He was not pleased that his son was being made to serve in the jungles of an Asian country. Thirty-thousand lives so far, and for what? How many more boys have to come home in body bags?”
Chase gunned the old wagon. The rolling farm fields passed by in a blur. With summer fast approaching, those fields were dotted with farmers planting seeds on their John Deer tractors. They passed by the place of the accident. The school bus had been hauled away and someone had hauled Jack Holland’s mangled Harley out of the ditch. Rain figured that the Den took it so that someone could repair the damaged beast. Five miles down the road they passed by the Bluestem, a favorite fishing spot for most locals. Rain and Jessie had camped out there many weekends during summer breaks. The lake made Rain think of his little brother and he said, “You should have seen Jessie, Dad. He hardly cried at all with that bone sticking out of his arm. It must have hurt him something awful, but Jessie sucked it up and didn’t lose it like most kids would have done. You would have been proud of him.”
Chase glanced over at Jessie. “I want you to be honest with me, boys. Baxster locked Ben up in jail for driving intoxicated—”
“No, Dad!” snapped Rain. “It was Jack Holland who caused that wreck when he swerved over in front of us! Ben lost control when he tried to avoid running him over! Jack attacked Ben with a knife. Before he disappeared in Miller’s field, he poured a bottle of whiskey all over Ben to make it smell like he’d been drinking. That’s the truth.”
Chase said, “Keep that truth to yourself. If Jack was to blame, Daws is gonna be gunning for anyone who can testify about what you just told me. Outlaws have enough trouble right now. Hell, one wrong word to the Guardians of Omaha, and the Elder’s Den will crush the Outlaws.”
He drove in silence for several moments, a troubled look on his face. “Things are tense right now, boys. I have to be careful how I tread. As president of the Outlaws I drew a line that has us crossways with the Den. We certainly don’t need to set off any sparks to ignite the mess.”
Rain stared at his dad. “So, what am I supposed to do? Keep quiet about Jack Holland while Ben takes the blame for the crash?”
Chase slowed for the light ahead marking the first intersection into the small town of Crete, population 1500. He said, “I know you and Jessie consider Ben your friend. In the past two summers, that Indian taught both of you boys a lot about dogs. But I’ve always thought Ben
a little off balance the way he talks to those dogs while breaking them.”
“He doesn’t break them,” Jessie said. “He repairs the wild in them, inviting them to reinvent themselves, using powerful medicine to still the whirlwind within them.”
“Oh, I get it,” Rain said. “Let the drunk Native take the blame, right? Because everyone will believe that story! That just ain’t right!”
Chase stopped in the parking lot of the Crete police department. Before the car engine died, Sheriff Baxster approached the station wagon, his beer gut causing him to waddle his way up to Chases’s side of the car. Baxster gruffly growled, “Maybe on account of your boys I can sort
this bus crash out, Chase.”
“My boys,” Chase said, “aren’t here to give you no report.”
“What the hell’s the problem?” Baxster asked. “Biker protocol got you going silent? Ben is facing some serious charges! Motor vehicle homicide. The Morris boy? The one who broke his leg? The bone in his leg pierced his artery and he bled to death!”
Rain felt dizzy. The same sick feeling that overcame him back on the bus when he’d seen Jessie’s bone sticking out of his arm stole up over him. He reeled to one side of the backseat. “Little Bobby Morris bled to death? And Ben is taking the blame for that, as well?”
Ignoring Rain, Baxster said, “All I needed was information from the kids, Chase. So far, I’ve got Black Bull being responsible for the crash due to his intoxication. If your boys might testify that Jack Holland was a victim of a drunk Indian, Judge Saunders can throw the book at Ben Monday morning in court!”
Chase snapped his fingers, causing Rain to lean back in his seat, removing himself from the range of his dad’s fists. Chase started up the station wagon and drove them out of Crete. Rain admired his little brother then, for only Jessie dared getting smacked when he snapped, “What the hell, Dad? Last summer you wanted us to work with Ben, and now you’re refusing to help clear him of any wrong doing? Why?”
Not one word was spoken by any of the three on the drive back to the small town of Sprague. The two brothers sighed in relief when Chase stopped the car in front of the driveway and gestured toward the wraparound porch of their two-story house. Rain climbed out of the car, opening the front door for Jessie. He helped him out, being careful not to bump his cast on the door as he exited the front seat. “Do your chores,” Chase said. “I’m heading to the pit to prepare it for church tonight.”
Rain said, “Dad, could we sit in on church? That way we’ll understand why we have to keep our mouths shut about the bus crash.”
Chase said, “Church is club business. See to your brother’s meds.”
Chase then drove the car into the driveway, past the Nelson house, and continued down into the wide, open field beyond. As Rain joined him on the porch, Jessie said, “That was ballsy, asking Dad about us attending church, my brother.”
When they entered the kitchen they found Molly and six of her pups sprawled on the floor next to Jack Holland, who sat there in a chair, aiming a .22 pistol down at Molly. Jessie bolted forward, but Rain stepped in front of him and blocked his path. He used one arm to keep Jessie
in place. Jack said, “Fix that attitude or I’ll shoot the dog. Understood?”
Jessie sobbed as he leaned into Rain for support. Jack said, “You boys need to keep your mouths shut about this damned wreck. So far, the blame for this crash has settled on that Indian. Since alcohol was involved and that Morris kid died, he’s gonna be nailed to the wall.”
Rain glared at the tall, skinny kid and said, “We haven’t told Baxster about your involvement. Our dad refused to let us.”
Jack said, “It’s not him I am worried about. It’s you two punks that could sink my ship. Let me give you boys a history lesson on Chase Nelson. At 16, he started the Outlaws here in Sprague. He built a solid crew of five members until they branched out with chapters in twenty small towns throughout Nebraska. Chase ruled his club members with an iron hand, too, dealing harshly with any who beat their old ladies. He also rode solo into Guardian territory up in Omaha to have a sit-down with the president of the Nebraska chapter. Chase asked him to leave Sprague and Crete out of his network. While marijuana was the cash cow of the day, Chase argued that coke, heroin, speed and acid posed a danger. The president of the Guardians wouldn’t agree to his terms. So, Chase had a sit-down with Billy Connors, owner of the Emerald Pub in Havelock. The leader of the Irish granted that the two small towns would be deemed a no-man’s land for the sale of these stronger drugs. Since the Vietnam war started, drugs have been making the mob very rich. Drugs spread like wildfire through the states. I am a major player in these sales. For me to stay in that position, both of you need to keep your mouths shut. Trouble started when Fat Ferg and Bear beat the hell out of a dealer who had the backing of the Elder’s Den. Daws called up to Omaha to speak with the Guardians. They told Daws one more interference with drug deals, they would send some maniac down here to clean house on the Outlaws. They call him the Nomad. To keep the peace between the Outlaws and the Den, you boys should know about the trouble your dad’s club could be facing if you talk.”
Rain glanced up over Jack’s shoulder, his eyes focusing on the back screen door. Jack glanced back, alarmed by the look in Rain’s eyes. It was at that moment that Rain snatched up the cast-iron frying pan from the nearby stove. He brought it around in a full swing, catching Jack in the side of his head with the heavy pan. Jack collapsed in an unconscious heap in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Leading Molly and her pups outside to the front yard, Rain took them over to the barn, placing them in her kennel. He then led Jessie to the field where the council fire burned bright against the night sky. The boys crept along the hedges there blocking them from the view of the crowd in the field. The two managed to remain unseen as they took cover behind a stockade fence. There, only twenty yards from the fire, they found peep holes in the rotten boards of the fence and settled onto their knees to watch and listen as the Outlaws attended church. Chase stood between the fire and the gathering of sixty club members seated in lawn chairs. Many were angry as Chase explained the very threat Jack had just shared with the boys. Unnerved by the fact that a cold-blooded psychopath might be stalking them, Fat Ferg and Bear got into an argument. As the shouting match continued, Chase spoke in cryptic tones that soon resulted in a complete and respectful silence. “There are rumors about this Nomad. Some say he’s a ghost, striking down unruly members of clubs across the country, with all the deadly skills of a Ninja. Others claim he bleeds his victims out, leaving them incapable of moving, while he slowly drains them of blood. The fact is, he is a hired assassin, who has killed over sixty bikers in his career. We don’t
need him here.”
He tossed his head like a startled deer as loud thunder came from the road leading into town. Hidden behind the fence, Jessie and Rain peered in alarm at Daws Holland and a dozen bikers coming up the road toward the Nelson. Chase and several Outlaws came from around the side of the house, not pleased to see members of their rival club rolling up in the street. Daws and his Den members parked their bikes and killed their engines. “I am looking for my son,” Daws told Chase. “He came to talk to you about that unfortunate bus wreck that took place.”
Chase had just opened his mouth to respond when suddenly from inside the house there came a loud thump. Chase and the rest of the Outlaws wheeled around to see Jack hobbling toward the front screen door, struggling to free himself from the rope that Rain had tied him up with. He gave one clumsy lurch forward, hurtled himself into the door, and he and the screen came exploding out onto the front porch. Daws leaped off his bike and passed through the crowd of Outlaws to reach his son sprawled on the porch.
“He broke into the house, Dad!” cried Jessie, stepping forward to approach the porch. “He had a gun! He was going to kill Molly!”
Chase growled, “Is this true, Jack? You threatened to kill their dog?”
Untangling his hands with the help of Daws, Jack staggered to his feet, saying, “It wasn’t like that.”
“You’re a liar!” Rain cried. “And you lied about Ben Black Bull being drunk! It was you who caused that damned crash!”
Daws and Jack stood frozen as the Outlaws closed a tight circle before them. In desperation, Daws said, “Chase? You best call off the dogs! This goes one step further, the end of the Outlaws will be soon to follow!”
The twelve Elder’s Den placed their kick stands down, preparing to back their president. Things were about to turn ugly. And later the Outlaws would pay the ultimate consequence. If it didn’t happen after this, it would somewhere down the line. Chase decided to shift the blame for what was going to happen in the near future on him. Only on him. “Stand down!” he thundered. “Let Daws and Jack walk off that porch!”
Daws sighed in relief. The big golden-haired biker president led his son off the porch and wove his way in between the enraged Outlaws. It was just as the Hollands passed in front of him that Chase reached out and latched onto the front of Jack’s blood-stained T-shirt. Chase struck so fast that Jack found himself landing hard on his back, blood running from his busted nose. Chase then let loose with a flurry of punches that sent Daws catapulting off his feet. He landed heavily, falling on his tail bone and then sprawling flat on his back. Jack grunted, “You’re
gonna pay for this, you cold-hearted bastard!”
To which Chase said, “Yes, I suppose I am.”
“No,” Rain said, lowering his gaze. He gestured toward the ambulance pulling away from the scene of the accident. “Jessie got a busted arm. There was a bone sticking out—”
“They’ll take him to the Crete clinic,” Chase said. “We’ll drive to Crete to give Jessie a ride home in the old wagon.”
The sound of more thunder filled the air. Chase looked off down the highway, where a large bike flew past the ambulance on its way back to Crete. “Not good,” he said.
Daws Holland rode his Harley up behind Baxster’s cruiser, placing Sheriff Baxster between him and Chase Nelson. Daws, father of Jack and president of the Elder’s Den, was a large man in his early thirties. He had long, blond hair and was built like a tank, with broad shoulders, thick chest, and muscular arms. Daws and Chase had once fought, and Rain had been there to watch. It had been brutal, each of them trading blows like well-swung hammers, battering away at each other. Rain cringed through the first ten minutes of their bloody brawl, determining he did not ever want to be at the receiving end of either of the two bikers. They went toe-to-toe, both of them giving as good as they got. In the end, Chase had dislocated Daws’s jaw, and yet after delivering such a brutal blow, Chase cradled his mangled hand against his chest.
The President of the Outlaws, let loose with a string of curses at the five bikers who had ridden there with Daws. He challenged anyone of them to stand in the gap for their fallen leader. Instead, they had picked up Daws from where he had fallen. The big biker, dazed and in pain, had climbed on his hog, trying his best to look pissed off. But Rain could clearly see that Daws barely managed to kick his bike over and wove his way out of Sprague unsteadily. It was Rain’s first lesson he learned
about brutal fist fights: Not all of them ended well for either fighter.
Daws killed his bike. He said, “Got a call from my son, Sheriff. He survived this wreck and managed to get to a farm house over this hill here to call in for help. Another ambulance is on its way here. Jack was even thoughtful enough to call Grady’s tow service. He’ll be along shortly to haul that bus out of Miller’s Pond, Sheriff. Jack claims the Indian was swerving all over like he’d been drinking.”
“Oh, hell, too!” burst from Rain’s lips.
“Rain?” came from Chase. “Shut your mouth. Got it?”
“But that just ain’t true,” Rain said.
Daws focused his attention on Ben leaning against the patrol car. “Should be ashamed of yourself, Chief. Not a lot of folks around here take to kindly to a drunken Indian putting their kids at such risk. I’d say you’ve got a lot to answer for. And you smell like a tavern.”
Rain was regretting the fact that he had so boldly defied Chase. He had no doubt that Chase would deal with him later. And so, he kept his mouth shut, while Baxster arrested Ben for driving while intoxicated. Rain had known Ben Black Bull ever since he’s started school in Crete back in first grade. He knew him as the first friendly Native he had ever met. Of course, he had never met an Indian before that, but Ben had such a way about him that he put him at ease with his soft spoken words. When the Lakota was not driving the bus for the Crete district, he worked as a dog handler at his rescue ranch west of the small town of Sprague. The past two summers, Rain and Jessie had seen the magic of Ben Black Bull, who had spent all of his life around dogs back on Pine Ridge where he was born. He had learned the secret of how to work with the most challenging dogs. Ben was a dog whisperer, and Rain and Jessie had been fascinated with his ability to correct and tame each dog who passed through the ranch. That the Lakota man took the time to share his secrets with the two brothers was considered an honor to them. To sit there and listen while Daws convinced Baxster that the bus crash had been due to the fact that Ben had been drinking, was causing Rain much distress. He groaned inwardly when Daws crossed the ditch and picked up the empty whiskey bottle.
Rain’s stomach churned as Daws held the bottle up for Baxster to see. Daws said, “Ben, you shouldn’t drink and drive. Now we gotta fish your bus out of Miller’s Pond all because you’ve been drinking in Whiskey River!”
Chase pulled up beside the Sprague general store and Rain leaped off of his dad’s bike and strode over to the dusty porch. While the thunder of the Harley slowly faded, Rain planted his butt on the rickety wooden bench situated there. He looked squarely at his dad. Chase slipped his kick stand down, dismounted his Harley, and walked over to the porch. Rain shook back his raven hair and stuck out his chin in a show of obstinance. “You gonna hit me for not backing down from Daws?”
Chase said, “I am gonna hit you for not shutting your mouth when I told you to.”
Reluctantly rising from the bench, Rain snapped, “Go for it, then!”
Chase let loose with a swift round house, his fist slamming into Rain’s startled face. Staggered by the blow, his boots slid out from under him and Rain landed hard on his butt. Slapping him upside his head, Chase doubled up his fist to deliver a solid punch to his face. “Chase,” a voice
came from beside the store. “Rain got the point. Back off.”
Chase froze, holding Rain up by his chin. “You’re a wise ass, Beef Tory! This is club business!”
Fifteen-year-old Beef flicked his long, blond bangs out of his eyes. “Yeah, but Rain doesn’t even belong to the Outlaws yet. Pummeling him, would not sit well with Pops, Chase.”
Chase flung Rain away, sending him stumbling, his palms creating furrows in the gravel-covered street. Rain pulled himself to his feet, staring at his dad in disbelief. Chase was president, and not one of the sixty members of the Outlaws ever defied him and he was clearly out of line and drawing a line in the sand for some odd reason. Rain knew there were reasons his dad kept his cool with Beef stepping into club business. One, Chase and Mike Tory had grown up together and their friendship meant something to them. And number two, Big Mike was a deputy of Gage county and he didn’t like domestic abuse one bit.
“You’re just pissed,” Beef said, “over the dog, ain’t you, Chase? Now that Daws threatened to make the phone call, he’s got all the clubs on edge. Outlaws. Elder’s Den. Gladiators. Screaming Eagles.”
Chase looked over to the female Pitbull waddling up beside Beef. She was a brute, with her stocky chest, thick muscular legs, and her Brindle markings covering her bulky head. Beef said, “Just giving Molly a break. Her puppies have been gnawing on her all day.”
Chase patted his leg and the dog sidled up to the Outlaw president. “Beef, you’re taking a chance by letting her be seen. Best way to keep her safe is to keep her hidden in the barn. Word gets to the Den that we’ve got Molly here in Sprague, her and her pups are dead.”
Chase Nelson was a bear of a man, standing six-foot-five and weighing285 pounds. Beef had to look up into his piercing blue eyes. He could feel the burn from his seething glare from where he stood five feet away. Chase said, “You two take Molly back to the barn. I’ll pick up the wagon
to pick up Jessie from the ER.”
Rain waited until Chase kicked over his bike before wiping blood from his bottom lip. He didn’t want to give his dad the satisfaction that he’d hurt him. He spit a stream of blood onto the dusty floorboards of the general store. He forced a grin at Beef with his split lip.
Later that night, Beef shared the porch of the general store with Rain and Jessie. Sheltered by the overhanging roof with its ancient shingles and lulled by the falling rain, Beef and Rain smoked cigarettes, watching the puddles swell in the streets on either side of the old store. A cast on his left arm, Jessie groggily leaned against Rain, then snuggled his head into his lap and fell asleep, the pain medication kicking in. Rain said, “The rug rat’s fallen asleep. If Dad seen this he would say, ‘How gay.’”
“Right,” Beef had said. “Chase is hard that way. Me? I’ve always been proud of the fact that you never pick on Jessie, unlike Chase who always picks on you.”
Rain said, “Dad once told me it was only to make me tough. Jessie ain’t built like that. He cries if Dad even looks at him wrong. Besides, I think Dad likes it when he sees me being cool to Jessie. Just probably not like this. If he’d see this, he would definitely make a fag comment.”
For long moments, the two of them sat there listening to the patter of the rain on the shingles above them. Rain looked over at his friend, his face illuminated by his cigarette as the cherry glowed bright red. Rain said, “He got hurt before he even got his first Harley. And it wasn’t
due to the fact that his first and second wives ran off. Teresa, my mom, took the Nelson name, and yet Jessie’s mother, Krystal Dalton, never made their marriage official. That’s why we are always explaining that we are brothers with different last names. Losing both wives hurt him,
but my dad’s carried another pain for a long, long time.”
Beef flicked away his cigarette butt so that it flitted through the air like a firefly. Rain said, “My dad’s little brother was gay. In an attempt to change him, Dad made Josh’s life a living hell. He even beat him up one night. Two nights later, Josh took their dad’s gun out into a field
behind their house and put a bullet in his head. Now you know what sorrow plagues Chase Nelson, and makes him the man he is today.”
Changing the subject, he withdrew the cigar tube from the top of his boot. “Check this out. Jack Holland lost it today when he caused our bus to crash.”
Beef took the metal tube, removing the cork topper sealing it at the top. He removed a badly yellowed page that had been rolled tightly to make it fit into the tube. “It’s a map. Looks like something valuable is buried at Quarry Oaks outside of Lincoln. Those words are badly
faded, but it looks like they say Indian artifacts. To a relic collector, ancient artifacts are worth millions. You say Jack dropped this? What in hell would he be doing searching for Indian relics?”
Rain rolled the map back up and slid it back into the cigar tube. “Don’t know, but finders keepers, losers weepers. As far as I am concerned.”
The chopped hog came roaring over the hill like a black streak of motorized lightning. The grungy-looking rider’s blond hair streamed over his shoulders as he clung to the ape-hangers of the big 1200. Even as fierce winds clawed at him, threatening to pluck him from his seat, he laughed hysterically, cutting in and out of both lanes, hooting like a mad owl. A short distance ahead of him coming in the opposite lane, a yellow school bus trundled along the highway running between the small towns of Crete and Sprague in lower Nebraska. All six kids riding
the bus that Friday afternoon stared in terror at the crazed Harley rider speeding toward them.
Thirteen-year-old Rain Nelson sprang up from his seat at the back of the bus, his black hair trailing to his shoulders. “Jack Holland!” he gasped, recognizing the oncoming biker. Beside Rain, his twelve-year-old brother attempted to stand up, as well, but Rain pushed him back into
their seat. He then slid in beside him and said, “Grab onto the seat in front of us, Jessie!”
Jessie looked at him, dark bangs hanging down into his eyes. Rain said, “We’ll be okay.” And then out on the roadway, Jack Holland swerved directly in front of the bus on his black iron horse. Ben Black Bull, the bus driver, cranked the wheel to the right to avoid running over the rider careening crazily toward them. Shooting past the bus, 17-year-old Jack Holland, skidded into a sideways slide before crashing into the ditch beside the road. Clawing at the wheel of the bus, Ben felt the back end fish-tailing as he braked hard to avoid the ditch on the left side of the road. The bus then came crashing down into Miller’s Pond in the pasture beyond the highway.
At the back of the bus, Rain did a face-plant on the seat in front of him. Dark clouds gathered at the edge of his mind. When his vision cleared, he saw his little brother writhing beside him in a great deal of pain. “Rain,” Jessie cried, “my arm’s broke! I heard it snap!”
Rain grimaced as he stared down at the white bone sticking out of Jessie’s left forearm. He reached for him to pull him out into the aisle, but a sick feeling swept up over him and he passed out. A few moments later, Rain found himself being carried by Ben Black Bull, who had removed Jessie and several other injured kids from the bus, seating them on a berm overlooking the pond. As Ben placed him beside Jessie, the little blue-eyed kid looked up at the blood flowing down Ben’s forehead and into the long strands of his raven hair. Rain removed his
shirt, leaving himself standing there in a black T-shirt, an orange Harley Davison emblem dominating the center of his chest. “Here, Ben,” he said, placing the shirt against his wound.
“Did you see who was on the bike, Rain?” Jessie asked.
“No,” Rain lied. “It all happened too fast.”
Jessie narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “But I heard you say something just before the guy nearly hit us. What did you say?”
“Nothing,” Rain said, looking up at Ben as he placed one last kid on the ground beside him. Rain glanced over to the drunken biker staggering up out of the ditch, blood trickling into his golden beard. Jack Holland squinted in pain. “Damn you!” he snarled. “Damn you, Chief! Should have let that dog die! You interfered in Den business!”
Jack placed his hands on his knees, then retched and threw up. He stumbled across the road and down into the ditch, his eyes locked on Ben. Jack lunged at him. The Lakota executed a palm strike that connected with Jack’s chest. The blow was so sudden, that the gangly kid was catapulted off of his feet and went flying backward into the ditch. Ben’s long braid of raven hair glistened in the afternoon sunlight as he cocked his head, hearing the sudden wail of a distant siren coming from the direction of Crete seven miles away. Still standing in the pasture, Rain looked off to the west, hoping it was the sheriff coming. He doubted very much whether the ambulance techs had any experience subduing the enraged son of the president of the Elder’s Den.
Jack pulled a knife from his boot top and clambered out of the ditch. Rain blinked in surprise as he watched Ben deflect each thrust with his raised arms and the backs of his hands. He moved gracefully, calculating where the knife was aimed, and managed to keep Jack at bay as he defended against his mad attack. Seeing that Ben was in trouble, Rain searched through the debris left scattered behind the bus as it had sailed off the road. Snatching up a Coleman thermos bottle, he focused on Jack’s face and let fly. The bottle struck Jack in the center of his forehead. The enraged kid staggered back, the knife falling from his grasp. The sirens wailed, the red light of the state trooper’s cruiser flashed half a mile down the highway. Jack reached inside his leather jacket and pulled out a pint-sized bottle of whiskey. Dousing Ben with the contents of the bottle, he laughed, “Explain that to the cops.”
With one last glance at the oncoming cruiser, he vanished into the rows of a cornfield. Rain spotted the silver cigar tube that landed at Jack’s feet as he’d pulled out the bottle. As Ben turned to check on the injured kids, Rain walked over and picked up the metal tube, sliding it into the top of his left boot.
Seated there, grimacing in pain, Jessie asked, “What was that?”
Rain shrugged and said, “Nothing.”
Sheriff Clyde Baxster brought his cruiser screeching to a halt on the highway beside the pasture. He killed his siren, yet left his rotating lights on to signal to oncoming traffic that they were approaching the scene of an accident. Clyde was a big man, whose beer-gut stretched his brown uniform shirt to the max. He sported a buzz cut and had a craggy face. Most folks in Sprague claimed Clyde was a bully with a badge. As he heaved his bulk out of his cruiser, Rain could see that Baxster was in his usual dark funk. He surveyed the mangled Harley in the ditch, glanced back toward the bus submerged in Miller’s Pond, then glared at Ben standing there badly shaken from the wild ride into the pond. “What in hell happened here, Bull?” Baxster snarled. “Have
you been drinking? You smell like a damned brewery!”
Ben said, “I will explain that after we get these kids up on the road.”
Sirens wailed, piercing the country air as the ambulance raced toward them. Ben kneeled beside Bobby Morris, being careful not to touch his broken leg. “We best not move this one,” he said. “Best wait for the techs to move him on a stretcher. This is a bad break.”
“Shut up, Bull!” snapped Baxster. He carried the injured boy up onto the highway, setting him on the trunk of his car. Rain helped Jessie to climb up and out of the ditch, being careful not to touch his broken arm. “What happened here? Baxster asked.
Gesturing at Jack Holland’s mangled hog laying crumpled in the ditch, Jessie said, “A maniac on that bike swerved in front of us.”
“Who,” Baxster asked, “was the maniac on this hog?”
Rain said, “Don’t know.”
Baxster nailed Rain with a stern look. Jessie grimaced and said, “We are telling it true, Sheriff. Ben had to swerve out of the path of that biker. He fish-tailed off the highway. It wasn’t Ben’s fault.”
“I’ll be the judge of that!” snapped Baxster, watching Ben lead two injured kids toward the road. “Any idea what club he belonged to? Did you see his colors?”
“Colors?” Rain said, trying to play dumb.
Baxster moved so fast that Rain had no chance to dodge his meaty hands as they closed tightly on his upper arms. The big cop swung the scrawny kid around and planted his slender frame against the side of his car. Rain shook back the long strands of his dark hair and glared back at the enraged Sheriff. “Whoa,” said Ben, “let’s turn this down a notch. We’ve got injured kids who need treatment, Sheriff.”
The ambulance skidded to a stop behind the patrol car. The driver switched off his siren and a paramedic climbed out of the vehicle. As he assessed the injuries, thunderous rumbling came from Sprague as a Harley came roaring toward the place of the accident. “Chase,” Baxster
said.“He’ll know who was riding this bike, won’t he, Rain?”
Rain ignored him as his little brother was led away by a tech to the ambulance parked on the road. Chase Nelson, father of Rain and Jessie, pulled his bike up behind the cruiser. At thirty, Chase was tall and lean, with long dark hair that fell past the collar of his black leather jacket.
He sported a neatly-trimmed beard and his blue eyes missed nothing as he inspected the mangled hog in the ditch.
“Do you know who that Harley belongs to?” the big Sheriff asked.
Chase said, “No, I don’t have a clue.” He shot Rain a piercing look.
“Do you, son?”
Katelyn Connors ran down the slender ribbon of deer trail snaking its way through the grove of cottonwoods. Moonlight pierced their overhead branches, while fireflies drifted through the silver haze in bright emerald flashes below. In the darkness, Kat continued to run, her dark hair trailing over her slender shoulders.
She was slender and athletic, a swimmer and a runner. As such, she could easily outdistance the two men who had abducted her. She had escaped from their car and ran off into the woods, catching them both off guard. For long moments as she ran, she thought she had lost them. But as she stopped to catch her breath, she could hear them coming through the undergrowth beyond the forest of trees where she thought to hide. That they meant to kill her she was certain. Twenty minutes ago, they had come through the door of her studio office. The big, bald black one had placed the muzzle of his pistol to her left temple, offering her a malicious grin.
The other man, a dark-haired white guy, had leered at her. “Open the safe,” he had said in a calm, even voice. “Fetch me the journal.”
At this, the big black man lowered his pistol, bringing it even with her nose. Towering over her, he glared down into her eyes and growled, “Book or bullet, what’s it gonna be?”
The white guy shoved aside a file cabinet, revealing the small wall safe behind it. The black man pushed her toward it. “Open it,” he told her, barely above a whisper. She did, so nervously, she had to start over twice before hitting the correct combination. It clicked loudly on the third try, and the white guy nudged her aside to open the door on the safe. He reached inside, rummaging around. He peered into the safe and cursed. “It ain’t there, Duce?” the black man asked.
Hardly believing his partner had used his name, Duce snapped, “No, Snook, it ain’t!”
He turned to Kat. “The journal?” Duce said. “I want the goddamned journal!” And though he slapped her, Kat denied knowing anything about the journal they were seeking. She continued to deny she knew about it even when they forced her out the door, across the sidewalk, and shoved her into their car. Duce drove, while Snook kept her snug in the front seat between them, his meaty hand wrapped around the back of her neck.
Both men insisted she was playing them.
She stayed consistently dumb, claiming she had no idea what they were after. They drove out into the country, east of Lincoln, into the hills of Nebraska. Duce appeared to know where they were heading. They passed an old missile silo, a lake glistening in the moonlight, and continued on between two tree-lined hills.
When he stopped the car, Kat could see the blue-white light of a yard lamp near a distant riverside cabin. Golden specks of more light came from the windows of the cabin beyond the lamp.
“Snook,” Duce said, tossing him the car keys, “get the rifle out of the trunk. He might be armed with more than a pistol.”
Snook clawed at his door handle with one massive hand. “What we gonna do with her, Duce? She can’t tell us where to find the journal if she be dead.”
Duce opened his own door and climbed out of the car. He walked over to the other side of the country road and proceeded to unzip his jeans. “She don’t talk to us, she’s gonna wish she was dead, dude.”
And that’s when Kat slid out of the seat on the passenger’s side of the car, leaped across the ditch alongside the road, and launched herself up and over the barbed wire fence at the top of a rise. She landed in a field of high corn stalks. She thrashed her way forward, determined to save herself from these two miscreants.
Crack! The sound of the gunshot caused her to gasp in sudden terror, and yet she continued to run, plowing her way through the corn stalks. Crack! The gun was fired a second time and she heard, “Stop, you crazy bastard! She can’t talk if you shoot her!”
Kat ran to the opposite end of the cornfield, only to find her way blocked by a thick grove of trees. Weaving in between their trunks, she discovered a another deer trail and continued on down it, hoping on the far side she would find the cabin she had seen from the road.
Behind her, she heard the thrashing sounds of the two men charging wildly through the corn stalks. In seconds, they would come to the trees. Seconds more, they would be on the deer trail.
She decided to veer off the trail and discovered a much wider track winding its way through the forest of trees, quite possibly a track made by a farmer’s truck. Winded, she staggered against a tree, using it for support. The moon overhead illuminated an opening in the woods before her. She bolted to the edge of the trees, and was comforted by the sight of a wide open pasture with a small herd of horses staring at her, curious and alarmed at the same time.
She was certain they had heard the gunfire. She was thinking that any second they might spook and bolt if she moved toward them at a run. So, she slowed to a walk, fearing to even look behind her to see if the two men had left the trees yet. Two of the horses nickered and wheeled away from her as she stretched out her hands, attempting to touch them. Three more parted before her, two moving off to her left, the other moving to her right. Six more stood frozen before her.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to cross your pasture to that cabin over there.” She almost added, “Walk me there? Keep me safe!”
But the horses sensed her fear, and they milled around nervously, closing behind her as she set her sights on the distant barn.
Only then did she look back.
Ronan Catlin awoke quite suddenly in his rocker beside the woodstove. He groggily grabbed at the book he had been reading before falling asleep. Despite his grab for it, the book slid off his lap and made a hollow sound on the hardwood floor of the den.
There on the rug beside the rocker, his grizzled pit bull growled, startled by the book dropping beside him. Already wide awake from hearing the first gunshot, the dog rose to his paws as the second shot came from outside the cabin walls.
Slightly alarmed by the distinct cracks of the gun, Ronan got up from his chair and crossed the room to peer outside the window. “Hush, Ranger,” he said. “I heard it too. Something’s up out there, boy?”
Still a bit sleepy from his late-night studying, Ronan drew back the shade on the den window, thinking to peer outside to see what was up. The light from his chair lamp illuminated the glass of the window. He cursed in alarm as he spotted himself in the reflection: A tall, lean, long-haired man appeared to be peering in at him.
“Sweet Jesus!” he said, letting go of the shade. Shaking his head at his own foolishness, he retraced his steps to his reading chair to turn off the lamp.
As he returned to the window, Ronan retrieved a hair-tie from his jeans pocket and pulling back the wild tangles of his dark hair, he tied his unruly strands into a ponytail. Only then, did he pull the window shade aside to peer outside. This time there was no reflection and he was able to see the moonlit yard, dotted here and there by a windmill, three solar panels, and three small outbuildings that had been there long before he purchased the cabin five years ago.
Instinct finally kicked in then, and Ronan hastily moved away from the window, knowing how stupid it was of him to make himself a target. Barefooted, he slipped over to the light switch on the nearby wall and turned off the overhead light in the room, pitching the den into darkness. Ranger stood there, alert and watching his every move.
Ronan brushed his fingertips across the anxious pit bull’s head as he returned to the window. This time when he looked outside he stood offline with the window, peering from right to left to make certain someone wasn’t out there drawing a bead on him with whatever gun they had fired a few minutes ago. “I know better than that, right, boy?” he whispered, chiding himself from being so sleep-dazed that he’d placed himself in such a vulnerable position. Even as he said this, he thought, What were you thinking, Dumb Ass? They could come for you anytime. You want to make yourself an easy target?
Ronan Catlin had made decisions in his past that might one day have severe consequences. It was why he lived in a secluded cabin in the heartland of Nebraska. He had hoped he’d left the troubles behind, but gunshots in the dark of night, had him wishing he’d changed course somewhere along the path that led him here to these hills above South Bend.
Deciding that going out there in the dark after hearing gunshots was a bad idea, Ronan instead poured himself a full cup of Kenya AA from the coffee maker next to the kitchen stove. Taking a jar of Orange Marmalade from the fridge, he scooped out a teaspoon and dropped the sweet-smelling glob into a small strainer. He then heated two teaspoons of Hazelnut coffee creamer in a small espresso cup, and he poured the combination of coffee and creamer, over the Marmalade in the strainer, allowing it to slowly drain down into his metal coffee pot. He repeated this process three times, taking on a Zen-like calm as he did so, pouring the mixture over the Marmalade, back and forth from metal cup to his coffee mug.
When he finished this familiar process, Ronan stood at the kitchen counter, sipping and savoring the strong coffee with a hint of orange in it. He had taken his third sip when the phone rang. He picked it up on the third ring. “Hello?” he said.
“Are you safe down there, Ronan?” said Colton Lone Wolf, whose cabin was situated at the foot of the bluff half a mile from Jessie ’s riverside home. The big Lakota also lived beside the river, where he often held sweats on the grounds of his cabin. He visited Ronan frequently. Tonight, his voice held an edge to it. “Three separate cars parked in three separate locations out along Bluff Road. If they were friendly folks, they wouldn’t be so coyote sneaky. They are here to do some mischief. Not hard to believe when four-hundred and fifty-mil-lion dollar deal is in the works. I believe Franklin Judson would be desperate enough to silence any threats to his kingdom.”
Wolf lowered the phone on his end. “Say, Mountain? Want to go out and check the woods for bad guys? Ronan has himself a situation that needs sorting out.”
Ronan grinned when he heard Wolf’s massive wolfhound bark in the background. “You stay in where it’s safe,” Wolf said. “I’ll check in with you later.”
Before he could return to the sink and finish his coffee, Ranger let out a low whine and went to the back of the den, sniffing anxiously at the opening there connecting the cabin with the back porch.
“Settle down, boy,” Ronan told the agitated dog. “Cricket’s still in there sleeping. Can’t let him in here. He’s not learned his house manners yet. He’s okay out there . . .”
As he turned on the light, illuminating the closed-in back porch, he froze. “What the hell?” he muttered, his gaze fixed on the open doorway of the dog-trap in the lower portion of the back door. “Damn!” he cursed. “Cricket’s done pulled a Houdini on us! Let’s go find him, Ranger!”
Kat spotted the huge hulking Snook stepping out into the pasture. Behind him, Duce was plodding along in the dark, the cherry of a cigarette glowing in his mouth, the glint of the rifle he carried showing in the moonlight.
“All I see are horses!” Snook hissed. “I don’t much like horses! Got kicked by one when I was a kid, and my Uncle Jayzee got bucked off one and broke his neck.”
Duce plucked the cigarette from between his lips, smoke drifting from his nostrils. “Just wave your arms,” he said. “They’ll move out of our way. She can’t have gone very far.”
Kat crouched down, hoping the herd of horses blocked her from the view of the two men. She peered off to the line of trees to her left that ran for nearly a half-mile to the west, and away from the open pasture. Her eyes went wide when she saw movement there beneath the trees. A dozen gray shapes were running off into the blackness. Coyotes! Kat thought. A pack of coyotes!
And then, the paws of the fleeing creatures hit the dry bracken there in the forested grove, and they made quite a racket tearing off into the night to escape the two men moving through the pasture.
“There she is!” Duce whispered.
“Let’s go!” Snook whispered back.
The two men spooked the horses as they ran for the tree line. Kat dove to the ground, knowing that the horses were scattering and that she would soon be in plain view to her two pursuers. But Duce and Snook were racing for the trees, neither one looking in her direction. She lay sprawled on her stomach, horses racing past her, their hooves barely missing her as she placed her hands over her head. As the last animal passed her, she sprang up and ran to keep up with the herd now running toward a wooden corral situated before a large wooden barn. The horses veered off from the open barn door and galloped off through a second wide meadow.
Kat skidded to a stop and nearly trampled over a small gray form at her feet. In amazement, she looked down at the little pit bull puppy pouncing up on her legs to greet her. “What the hell?” she whispered, then bent to return the pup’s friendly greeting. “Where’d you come from, little guy?”
Without any trace of fear or caution, the pit puppy headbutted her legs, then rolled over, exposing his belly in a show of submission. Kat reached down and ran her fingers over the pup’s soft belly. He whined softly and threw all four paws in the air.
Peering wildly around her to check on the men out here stalking her, Kat’s hand came in contact with the collar she discovered around the pit bull’s small neck. Her fingers traced a slender seam and flicked a zipper running along a three-inch section of the collar at the back of the pup’s neck.
Continuing to pet the puppy’s belly, she unzipped the zipper and two bone-shaped metal licenses spilled out onto the ground beside the pup.
Casting furtive looks all around her, expecting to see her two pursuers at any moment, Kat reached down into the coin pocket of her jeans, removing what appeared to be a flash drive. Looking from right to left, and then directly behind her, she inserted the drive into the license pouch, and using both hands, she zipped it closed.
Not at all liking the fact that she was no longer petting him, the pit bull rolled over and clambered up to all four paws, peering up at her expectantly. “Sorry, little guy,” she said. “But I am doing this for your own good. Sorry to spoil the party.”
Kat gently scooped the pup up into her arms, and carried him over to the barn. He squirmed a bit as she hauled him inside, placing him in the first pen she came to. Scooting him back with one hand, she used the other to swing the gate of the pen closed, latching it at the top. “Sorry,” she offered the pup, peering down at him through the slats of the wooden pen separating them. “So sorry, but you will be safer there, than out here.”
The pup whined as she turned to go. Kat winced as she sprinted outside of the barn. Soft curses came to her lips when she spotted the cherry of a cigarette moving through the blackness of the meadow where the horses had run off to. She then saw the two forms of the men who were after her in the distance.
Kat turned and fled in the opposite direction.
to be continued . . .