Sergeant James Kempt frowned. What the hell was McCormick doing? He stepped forward, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. He spoke quickly, harshly to the arresting officer.
"Do not remove those cuffs, Officer Brent!" Kempt looked at McCormick. "Sir, we have three dead officers of the premises. We cannot release him."
The cuffed man on the porch was ignoring everyone but McCormick. His eyes were locked on the detective. Suddenly McCormick brought his weapon up and aimed it at Officer Brent's head.
"I said release him!" McCormick shouted at Officer Brent.
Kempt quickly aimed his weapon at McCormick. "Sir! Do not do this!"
"I will shoot him!" McCormick warned with deadly sincerity.
Kempt looked at Officer Brent who was suddenly tense and frightened. Kempt's jaw clenched. He looked at McCormick as he spoke to Brent. "Release him."
Officer Brent's hands shook as he unlocked the cuffs and released their only suspect in the other officers' deaths. Shit! Kempt swore silently as the suspect picked up the shotgun. McCormick's weapon continued to hold on Brent as Kempt's weapon held on the detective.
"Sir!" Kempt shouted. "What the hell are you doing?"
McCormick didn't answer. His eyes and his weapon remained trained on Officer Brent who was standing very still, his hands slightly raised.
What in the hell was going on? Kempt watched tensely as the suspect went to the unconscious woman. The officer with the woman looked uncertain. The suspect raised the shotgun just enough to make his point. The officer looked at Kempt.
Kempt's jaw tightened as he nodded slowly. "Stand down."
The officer backed off slowly. The suspect picked up the woman and moved quickly to a law enforcement bronco parked in the drive. He carefully placed the woman in the passenger seat then hurried around and slid in behind the wheel. Someone must have left the keys in the ignition because the rig started right up.
Kempt gripped his weapons tightly, keeping it trained on McCormick as he watched the suspect rev the bronco's engine then back the rig around and speed down the drive.
"Sir!" Kempt yelled sharply.
McCormick didn't respond. Kempt started to signal to the other officers to go after the suspect when the detective stopped him cold.
"Go after him and I will blow this man's brains out!" McCormick said harshly.
Kempt immediately aborted his plan to pursue the suspect. He watched the bronco's taillights disappear down the driveway and listened as the rig hit the paved road and sped away. Kempt looked at McCormick. "What the fuck is going on?" He murmured.
McCormick blinked. His weapon wavered. He looked around at Kempt. His weapon was trained on him. "Sergeant Kempt." McCormick said cautiously. "What are you doing? Lower your weapon."
"I will, sir." Kempt said. "When you aim your weapon somewhere other than Officer Brent's head."
"What?" McCormick looked quickly towards the front porch. Officer Brent remained frightened and motionless, hands still slightly raised. McCormick quickly lowered his weapon. What in the hell? He glanced around. All the officers were staring at him. The suspect was nowhere in sight.
Kempt moved slowly in his direction, weapon slightly lowered but still ready. "Sir, if you'd just hand over your weapon...we'd all feel a lot more at ease."
"Sergeant Kempt." Confusion weighed down McCormick's voice. "What the hell is going on?"
"That's what we need to figure out, sir." Kempt said as he held out his hand. "But first...your weapon."
Uncertainty darkened McCormick's eyes. He frowned and touched his upper lip just below his left nostril. Blood smeared his fingertips.
The bronco's headlights stabbed into the darkness ahead as it raced down the two lane highway. Jonathon's face was tense and flexed as his foot slowly pressed down on the gas pedal and the bronco's speedometer steadily climbed.
He glanced anxiously at Clarice who was laying on the seat next to him, unconscious. Her bandage was soaked with blood. He'd almost lost her. He'd cut it too close, way too close. He should have just grabbed her on the highway and taken her then, even if he'd had to do it at gunpoint. It hadn't done him any good to try and get to her family. He was too late this time.
He looked at her again. It terrified him how close she came to dying. And it was his fault. He'd caused all this. If he'd just left well enough alone...
She would have suffered anyway. Her family would still be dead.
He knew it was true, but this nightmare that had suddenly become her life...this nightmare was his fault. And he was the only thing standing between her and the horror he'd unleashed.
"I will protect you, Clarice." He whispered tightly, his voice heavy with emotion. " I won't let him kill you." Jonathon trained his eyes on the road ahead, his face etched in fear. "I won't."
5...On The Run...
Clarice came to slowly and with great effort. The first thing she registered was the pain. It racked her body and settled more directly in her thigh. She tried to remember why she was in pain but her mind wouldn't work. Everything was out of focus. Where was she?
Movement next to her drew her attention. Her head swam and throbbed as she slowly turned and looked at the man sitting behind the steering wheel. The vehicle was dark and his face was barely visible as he went through his wallet.
She pushed herself up slowly in the seat, emitting a low cry as her whole body screamed at her not to move.
Her low cry drew the man's attention. He looked at her. Headlights suddenly cut through the darkness of the rig and illuminated the man's face as an SUV pulled in and parked next to them.
Jonathon Lancaster. The name snapped into her mind and she remembered. He was the man she'd met at the cemetery. And...
A flurry of disturbing images suddenly flashed through her head. She remembered the killer had come to the house and come after her. He...he had Aaron's face. Clarice shuddered and hugged herself tight. But how...
Could she have imagined it? Did he really look like her brother or had her tortured grief stricken mind just saw him that way? But why would she put Aaron's face on a killer? It didn't make sense.
"I want you to stay here." Jonathon's voice was strained as he closed his wallet and grabbed the door handle. "I need to get some things and I'll be right back."
Feeling weak and confused, Clarice watched him open the driver door. "Where..." But he was already out of the vehicle and closing the door. She watched him pass in front of the rig and disappear around the corner of a building. She stared at the spot where he'd disappeared then realized they were parked at the side of a mini-mart.
She looked around in a daze. Light from inside the mini-mart reached out into the main parking lot in front of the store but didn't touch where Clarice sat in the dark rig. There were two gas pumps out in front of the mini-mart. One car was parked next to a pump. The rest of the parking lot was deserted except for the SUV that had just pulled in moments ago.
Clarice's gaze moved over the interior of the rig. It was big and spacious, like a suburban or a bronco. Her eyes suddenly fell on a shotgun secured in a lock and fastened to the front of the dash. The low static of a radio filtered through the dark interior. She was in a police rig. How...
She remembered the cops at the house. Sergeant Tames...Clarice felt her stomach pinch and churn. Oh god, she was gonna puke. She squeezed her eyes shut and fought the urge to vomit. Tames was dead. Killed right in front of her. He'd said...the others were dead too.
Tears burned her eyes and slid down her cheeks. She trembled and hugged herself tighter. "God...what is happening?"
The driver of the SUV stood in front of Jonathon, paying for his items at the counter. Jonathon stared at the back of his head as he cradled a small armload of first aid supplies. He concentrated on the rear collar of the man's shirt. The man picked up his bag and walked out of the store. Jonathon watched him leave.
Jonathon turned and looked at the cashier. She was young, nineteen maybe, and moderately pretty with long straight dark hair and big dark doe eyes. Jonathon offered her a faint smile and set his items on the counter.
Clarice leaned against the passenger door, eyes heavy and tired. God, what kind of nightmare had she fallen into? It all felt so surreal. And yet the pain in her body insisted it was all too real.
And Jonathon Lancaster...who was he? When she'd looked into his eyes back at the house, she recognized him instantly. He was the man who had saved her and her family from the two intruders twenty years ago, and yet...he didn't look a day older now than he did then.
She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against the cool window. Was she losing her mind? No one had believed there was a third man in the house that night, and they certainly didn't believe her when she said he disappeared into thin air. Why would they believe a traumatized ten year old with such an outrageous story? How could they? Even she had begun to wonder if she hadn't imagined it all, even though there was no logical explanation as to how the intruders had ended up dead.
And if the man had been there...how could he be the same man, the same age, who had rescued her tonight? It wasn't possible. There had to be some other explanation.
She opened her eyes and raised her head slowly when someone came around the corner of the store. It was the man who had gotten out of the SUV. She started to look away when the man stopped at the edge of the curb walk that encircled the front of the store, and just stood there, unmoving.
Clarice sat up straighter and watched him. He didn't seem to be looking at anything, just standing immobile. She frowned. What was he doing?
As she watched, Jonathon came around the corner of the mini-mart and stopped next to the man. He held his bag of items in one arm and discreetly held out his other hand. The SUV driver dug into his pocket and tugged out his keys. He dropped them into Jonathon's palm.
Clarice's frown deepened. "What the hell?" She whispered.
Jonathon left the man standing there and approached the passenger side of the bronco, opening the door. "Come on." he said. "We're switching rigs."
Clarice hesitated as she glanced at the man still standing motionless on the curb. "He...he just gave you his keys?"
"We made a deal." Was all Jonathon offered. "Now come on. We've got to get moving."
He helped Clarice with his free hand as she slid carefully out of the bronco, wincing with every movement.
"But...how can you trade rigs?" She asked. "This is a cop car."
"Let me worry about the details." he said. He helped her around the SUV to the passenger door and up into the passenger seat. He handed her the bag from the store then shut the door. He returned to the bronco and grabbed his sawed off shotgun and a portable police radio, then returned and climbed in behind the wheel of the SUV.
Jonathon started the rig and backed out of the parking lot.
Clarice watched the man on the curb. He shifted from his motionless state, reached up and wiped his fingertips across his upper lip. He stared at his fingertips for a moment then walked to the bronco and climbed inside as if he'd owned the truck all his life. Clarice's brow pinched. Who would make a trade for a police car? Something wasn't adding up. Not even close.
Fear and uncertainty tightened Clarice's face as she looked at Jonathon. "I need to know..." She started then faltered as her throat tightened. " I need to know what is happening."
The SUV left the mini-mart parking lot and pulled out onto the highway, instantly picking up speed. Jonathon didn't respond. His foot pressed down on the gas pedal as the SUV surged forward at what was becoming a dangerous speed.
"Why did that man give you his keys?" Clarice pressed. Her body ached and throbbed, and her head felt fuzzy, making her want to close her eyes and sleep. But that wasn't an option at the moment. Maybe never again. "And why were we in a cop car? Did you..." She hesitated, not sure she wanted an answer to her next question. "Did you kill a cop?"
Jonathon cleared his throat and kept his eyes trained on the road ahead. "No." His voice was low, stressed.
"Why did that man trade rigs with you?" She asked again. "Why would he do that?"
The muscles in Jonathon's face flexed with tension. He didn't answer her as he stared straight ahead. The SUV's headlights cut through the night like a knife, revealing a stretch of the two lane road a little at a time.
Clarice stared at him uncertainly then looked down at the bag on the seat between them. "What's...in the bag?" She asked quietly.
"First aid supplies." He said distantly. "We need to properly bandage your wound."
Clarice look at her thigh. Fresh blood was seeping through the strip of sheet he had wrapped around her leg. Her eyes slid from her thigh to the seat where the sawed off shotgun rested close to Jonathon's leg.
"Where are we going?" She asked softly, her eyes resting on the weapon.
Jonathon hesitated. "I don't know." he said quietly. "Right now...we just need to put distance between us."
"You mean between us..." Clarice shuddered. "And him."
Jonathon's face tightened even more as he turned to look at Clarice. "Yes-"
Clarice had the shotgun in her hands, aiming it at Jonathon's head. She'd grabbed it before she even knew what she was doing.
"Clarice?" Jonathon said slowly, cautiously. "What're you doing?"
The shotgun trembled in Clarice's hands. Oh god, what was she doing? "Stop the car."
Jonathon returned his eyes to the road but didn't lift his foot from the gas pedal. "I can't do that." he whispered.
Clarice steadied the weapon. "I said stop the damn car!" She raged suddenly, all the stress and tension, grief and fear crashing down on her at once. "Do it!"
"Listen to me." Jonathon said slowly. "I know how terrifying all this is, but we have to keep moving."
Clarice refused to lower the weapon.
"I promise you, Clarice." He said. "I will answer all your questions when we stop-"
"You'll answer them now." She insisted tightly.
Jonathon glanced at her then back to the road. "Okay." He conceded. "As long as I can keep driving."
"O-okay." Clarice eased up on her grip on the shotgun but didn't put it down. She looked out the front windshield at the dark highway stretched out in front of them, thinking. Now that she had him in a position to give her answers, she wasn't sure where to start. The question she really wanted to ask...she didn't think she was quite ready to hear the answer.
"I buried my brother today." She whispered thickly. "How is it possible..." Tears stung her eyes, drowning her words momentarily. She looked from the highway to Jonathon. "Was he...even in the casket I buried? Did he..." Tears spilled down her face. "Did he kill our parents?" She fought the sobs that threatened to consume her. "I don't understand. Why would Aaron want to hurt his family? It doesn't make..."
The sobs overtook her and she cried openly as rage suddenly gripped her. "I don't understand!" Her hold on the weapon tightened again as fear and confusion and rage ignited her. "Tell me what the fuck is going on! Why would Aaron-"
"It wasn't Aaron!" Jonathon shot back sharply, then immediately dropped the sharp edge and spoke slowly, calmly. "The man who attacked you...he wasn't Aaron." Pain tightened his voice as he whispered. "You did bury your brother today."
Her face wet with tears, Clarice stared at him for a long moment. What was he saying? She saw the killer's face. It was Aaron's face. "You were there." Clarice spoke low. "At the funeral. Why?" He didn't answer. "And on the highway...why did you tell me to call..." Understanding crept into her eyes as she looked at him through the darkness, the dash lights casting a green glow across his face. "You knew." She whispered unsteadily. "You knew he was going after my family."
Clarice's face hardened as fresh tears filled her eyes. She shoved the barrel of the shotgun towards him, threateningly. "You knew!" She cried. "How did you know? How?"
Jonathon glanced uneasily at the weapon. "Clarice...easy..."
"Tell me who killed my family or I swear to God..."
"Clarice." He said carefully. "I can't tell you everything right now. It isn't that easy."
"Tell me or I will kill you." Clarice threatened coldly. Her body trembled beneath her fear and rage and she felt fully capable of making good her threat.
Jonathon gripped the steering wheel tightly and stared tensely ahead as Clarice held him at gunpoint. "Look." He said sternly. "If you're gonna shoot me, then do it. Quit stalling."
"What?" Clarice was caught off guard.
"Get the gun out of my face." He shot her a hard look. "Or pull the damn trigger."
Clarice faltered. "Maybe...maybe I will."
"Then do it."
Clarice held the gun steady for a moment longer then slowly lowered it and dropped it on the seat. "You're crazy." She whispered.
Jonathon released a slow breath and murmured, "No argument here."
Tank shoved open the heavy barroom door and swaggered outside with the busty chic in tow. He was a big man, well muscled. The women liked the muscles. Especially the white women. Nothing more exciting to a white woman than a big black man. Wasn't no white guy yet that could satisfy a woman quite the way a brother could.
The woman leaned against him as her feet staggered a bit. He grinned and squeezed her closer as her full chest threatened to burst out of the leather halter top. Her hand rubbed up his thick chest then lower to the waistband of his jeans where she played with the button teasingly.
He laughed and shoved her up against the wall of the bar, pressing his body snug against hers.
"Ooh." She laughed softly, her eyes heavy with the effects of alcohol. "Daddy likes it rough."
Tank growled and ravaged her neck with his mouth. She laughed loudly then went silent suddenly as she noticed a man lingering around the line of Harleys parked a few yards away.
Tank's mouth was moving around in front of her.
She patted his shoulder. "Tank."
"Don't talk." He groaned.
"Tank!" She smacked his shoulder.
Tank emitted a loud, annoyed groan and straightened up. "What?"
"Who is that?"
She flattened her palm on his face and turned his head. "Him."
Tank's eyes narrowed as he frowned hard. "Hey!" He yelled. "Don't be touchin' a brotha's bike."
The man by the bikes turned slowly and looked at Tank. The dude was messed up. His shirt was damp and ragged and torn, with what looked like blood all over it. "What the shit?" Tank muttered. He moved towards the man. "Get your ass away from the bikes, man."
The man ignored him and turned back to one of the bikes. He reached out to touch the shiny tank of the bike.
"Is that blood on his hands?" The woman asked.
"Hey asshole!" Tank shouted. "Keep your nasty ass hands off my bike."
The woman wavered on her feet and reached out to grab the wall of the bar to steady herself. "Kick his ass, Tank!"
"Shut up." Tank shot her an annoyed look. He started walking towards the other man. When he got close enough, he grabbed the man's shoulder. The man whipped around with inhuman speed and hit Tank in the face with enough force to crush bone and drive fragments into his brain. Tank dropped to his knees instantly, his eyes blank, dead. Blood gushed from his nose as he toppled over onto his back.
The woman screamed, stumbling back towards the barroom door. She was hysterical and in a panic as she fell down and half scooted, half crawled for the door, still screaming.
The man ignored her and searched Tank's pockets until he found the keys to the bike. He mounted the large bike and started it. It came to life with a smooth deep rumble.
The barroom door shoved open as a tide of bikers poured out at the sound of the woman screaming. The woman pointed a shaking hand towards the man on the bike, still screaming and crying hysterically. "He killed Tank!"
The bikers rushed towards Tank's killer but he was already moving, roaring away on the dead man's Harley.