By Beth ©
FBI (Ezra, Seven)
Please email me with comments or suggestions, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Do you have any idea who you’re accusing?!” Doug yelled, slamming his office door shut. He stood with his hands on his hips with his coat lying open. His chin seemed amplified in size, from anger or a weight problem was anyone’s guess. “Peterson is an outstanding member of this community!” He looked firmly at Ezra who stood next to the window looking out. “I’m not about to stand here and let you accuse an innocent man of a crime he didn’t commit!”
“How do you know he didn’t do it?” Chris challenged, defending more than just Ezra but his entire team.
“Because I’ve known Mic for over 12 years, he’s a damn good friend! And what ever happened to innocent until proven guilty?!” he snapped. “He’s got two beautiful daughters—both of whom are in school stateside—and who love their father very much. For fuck sake! Micky Peterson is as much of a serial killer as I am, or Dempsy, or Malone for that matter!”
“What about Cartel?” JD asked, slightly confused about Ezra’s realization.
“Missing,” Chris supplied.
“I think you’re all wrong!” Ford barked, pulling his chair out from beneath his desk. He took a seat, trying to maintain a certain amount of civility. “The people in this town are good, hardworking, individuals that do what they can in order to survive. Including Cartel!”
“Cartel’s not who we’re after,” Ezra interrupted, keeping his eyes on the fake marble linoleum tiles.
“Bullshit!” Ford snapped, loosing all sense of cool and ignoring Ezra’s statement. “Until there’s proof of that we’ll assume he’s our primary suspect—”
“You’re making a mistake,” Ezra argued, wincing as the pin at his temple increased.
“No I’m not!” Ford snapped, he looked up when Nathan entered the room.
“I sent a sample of the soup to the crime lab in Anchorage. I’m having them run a toxicology report—we should get a reply by tomorrow at the latest.” Nathan looked at the others and noticed their frustration. “Shouldn’t we confiscate the rest of the soup?”
“No,” Ezra said. “It would raise too many suspicions and I don’t want to scare anyone off. Let’s just wait for the lab results?”
“Why would he drug the soup?” JD asked.
“We don’t know that he did,” Ezra replied flatly.
“Then why did I just order a chopper pilot to fly a sample—”
“What kind of soup was it, and how often does Peterson make it?” Ezra interrupted.
“It’s a ham chowder—damn good too,”
“Ezra?” Chris questioned.
Standish took a deep breath and looked up, half his mind was telling him not to say anything and let the soup tell the story and his other half wanted to explain everything as he saw it. As a compromise, he decided to half ass it. “I want to talk with Peterson myself, as well as Dempsy.” He ignored Chris’ question all together.
“Oh God,” Doug gasped, covering his mouth his hand and leaning over the edge of his desk. “What about checking out some of the hunters that come up here—we have a few regulars that come every couple of months.” He stood up, keeping a hand on the edge of his desk, and his eyes on the floor. It was too much to think about.
“Who?” Buck snapped, frustrated with Ford and his behavior.
Ezra ran his hand over his face, having seen this before. Small town, good friends, and nobody wanted to get anyone into trouble. But all small towns had their secrets, those little things that were spoken in small groups and ignored in large ones. This would be the classic example of ‘I knew there was something strange about Bob’...it’s easy to see after the fact—but never before.
Sheriff Ford made a coughing noise and quickly excused himself from the room.
“What do you want to do?” Buck asked, sounding queasy.
“We’ll have to wait for the results from the crime lab to be sure,” Chris said, a brick forming in the pit of his stomach.
“If nothing shows up?” JD asked, tossing a piece of paper into the garbage can. Sometimes he hated his job.
“We’ll look elsewhere,” Chris replied calmly. He looked toward Ezra who’d been quiet. “What do you think?”
“Does it matter?” He said it before he had a chance to think about it and mentally he ran himself through the ringer. He didn’t like being victimized. “I want to talk to Peterson—at his home.”
Chris nodded and leaned on the edge of Ford’s desk, crossing his ankles and folding his arms over his chest. He turned his wrist up to look at his watch without moving his arm from its position. “It’s a quarter to ten now,” he looked outside, wishing it could tell him am or pm—it couldn’t. “Ford told me Peterson’s home around nine...”
“I’ll go with him,” Buck said, getting to his feet. He slipped into his coat. “We’ll meet you back at the lodge at, what...midnight?”
“Here,” Chris said, knowing they’d be doing more research for awhile. He looked at Nathan and Josiah. “Bring Dempsy in...and his daughter.” He looked at Vin and JD. “Go to the lodge and get any information out of Bev in regards to customers she gets on a regular basis. Only those that come up here every two months or less. Get names, phone numbers, anything you think will be useful.” He watched them leave and he looked toward Ezra. “Get what you can out of him...when you get back we’ll regroup.”
Ezra nodded and quickly exited the office with Buck on his heels.
Chris remained leaning against the desk, feeling as though the case were a wash.
“Special Agent Chris Larabee?” a young man asked, stepping into the room.
“Yes,” Chris replied, looking up. He wished on many levels the kid had all the answers.
“I’m Jim Rhimsfeild with the Statesmen...I’m here from Fairbanks and I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about Hanson’s serial killer?”
Fuck! Chris sighed, running his hand over his face.
“Guess we’re goin’ to get another storm,” Buck said, leaning toward the steering wheel while looking out onto the road. He chuckled, watching as the snow continued to fall, reminding him of the first time he saw Star Wars in the movie theatre. “It’s a good thing Hanson’s got full time snow plows.” He tried to keep up the amount of conversation as they headed out to Micky Peterson’s home. Buck sighed and leaned back in his seat, getting a better view of the road. “Who do you think we’re after, Ezra?” he sighed, wishing he held the answers, wishing he knew more than he did.
Ezra kept his mouth shut, not really hearing Buck’s words, but running the profile through his mind and feeling as though he understood for the first time the killer’s intentions. They didn’t have much time. He’d removed his gloves and rubbed his hands together in his lap. “Where’s the phone?”
“Phone ain’t goin’ to work up here, Ezra.” Buck sighed and shook his head. “You feelin’ all right?” he continued when he didn’t get an answer. “We’re goin’ to have to use the radio—like they did in the old days.” He looked over and noticed Ezra’s clenched jaw, the furrow of his brow, and how his hands shook—despite trying to still them. “You all right?”
“It’s here,” Ezra said, pointing toward the yard full of snowmen. A large one, holding the American flag, rested next to the driveway entrance as a welcome sign. The mail and newspaper boxes were covered in snow, Peterson had attempted to shovel a path, but the newest fall had done him in.
“Guess if you’ve got this much snow to work with, you’re going to build a few snowmen.” He pulled up into the driveway and noticed that the porch light was on.
The window drapes were pulled back, revealing the glare from the TV. It was a small home with a small covered porch. The white siding blended with the snow creating an ambiguous effect. If it wasn’t for the snowmen in the yard it would have been easy to miss. A snowmobile had been parked under a rickety awning; an extension cord ran from the engine to an outlet hidden behind a screen door. Trees surrounded the home, hidden in darkness.
“Ready?” Buck asked, shifting the truck into park and turning off the engine.
Ezra nodded and replaced his gloves onto his hands and slipped out of the truck. He looked toward the door and found Micky Peterson standing in his doorway waving, motioning for them to enter the home.
What hit Ezra’s senses first were the pictures, not of their content, but their quantity. He knew that Peterson had lost his wife to cancer, and apparently their love affair had been rather spectacular. Despite being single for the past few years, a woman’s touch remained apparent throughout the home. The colors in the paintings matched the carpet and drapes...even the paint on the walls (a subtle mauve). Peterson’s children held their own place in time, with a wall covered in pictures—some framed, others not—everything from their childhood with their mother to their college days with their boyfriends.
“You’ll have to excuse the place,” Peterson said, folding up the newspaper, “I wasn’t expecting company.” He nervously rubbed the front of his pants and looked around the room—searching for anything out of place.
“We should have called, but we really didn’t have time,” Ezra said casually, standing near the gas fireplace. He noticed, despite Peterson’s embarrassment, that the home was immaculate, even the magazines were stacked on the coffee table by date.
“Oh, no, that’s okay, I understand completely.” Peterson stuck his hand out and motioned for the sofa. “Please, have a seat—would you like some tea?”
“No, thank you,” Ezra said, unzipping his coat, but leaving it on. He continued standing, looking at the items in the room, finding everything of interest.
Buck took a seat on the sofa and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, waiting for the questions to start. He knew, because of his lack of understanding, that Ezra would know where to begin, what questions to ask, and how to ask them. Buck had only come along for the ride.
“I’m sorry,” Ezra said smoothly, “May I use your bathroom?”
“Oh, sure,” Micky said, more than happy to oblige. “Last door on your left down the hall.” He pointed briefly as though his finger would be useful and then quickly lowered his hand. “You, ah, you got a hole in your jacket.”
“Must have caught it on something,” Ezra replied, walking toward the bathroom.
It was the best place to discover who or what you were dealing with—or so his instructors had said. The bathroom: the perfect place for everyone’s dirty little secrets. Over the years, Ezra had discovered their words of wisdom to be true. He entered the bathroom and shut the door, waited a few seconds and then flushed the toilet—just to make it seem real. He turned on the faucet to hide any noise and then opened the medicine cabinet. He knew, by looking at the containments that this was probably the only bathroom in the home. Band-Aids, Aspirin, a few prescription drugs, including Viagra, and a pair of plastic retainers were all that littered the cupboard. He then opened the cupboard beneath the sink, finding toilet paper, and a box of Tampax; probably kept for his daughters, not exactly logical—considering they would probably bring their own on visits, but Ezra wasn’t after logic, just a murderer. On instinct, he grabbed the small blue box and opened it. He smiled, finding three unused tampons and a bottle of prescription sleeping pills made out to a Joyce Peterson, Micky’s late wife. The pharmacy wasn’t local and by the looks of things, it was probably a prescription ordered online, the refill date was recent—too recent.
Carefully, Ezra replaced it, just as he’d found it and quickly rinsed his hands and dried them before leaving. He could hear Buck and Micky talking as he slowly made his way back toward the family room.
There were several multiple framed images hanging from the walls in the hallway. Family pictures, probably taken by the late Mrs. Peterson, most contained images of Micky’s two daughters, a few pets, and a few of Micky standing next to the game he’d hunted on successful trips. His daughters were both beautiful, looking more like their mother than their father. They looked to have been the perfect American family, complete with the white picket fence.
A crocheted blanket of white and blue yarn rested over the back of the three-cushioned sofa Buck was seated on. Pillows, one reading ‘Married December 3rd, 1981’ rested, untouched against the arm. The coffee table was littered with mail and food magazines. Two rifles hung above the fireplace on display, the trophy of an elk head hung nearby, a baseball hat had been placed over one eye.
“Joyce and I were both born in Juneau,” Micky continued, smiling as Ezra reentered the room. “We were married a few years out of high school—she’d wanted to tour Europe before we tied the knot.” He reached for a cup of his tea and tentatively took a sip. “Losing her was the hardest thing I ever went through,” he said, looking toward a photograph he had positioned on the bookshelf against the far wall.
Ezra followed Peterson’s eyes, and caught a glimpse of a few knickknacks and cookbooks with bookends shaped like pears.
“You both sure you don’t want any tea—it’s fresh?” He was genuinely trying to be polite.
“No thanks,” Buck said.
“How long have your daughters been in college?” Ezra asked, standing near the far wall, absorbing everything in the room, crossing his arms over his chest.
“About two years,” Micky replied, getting to his feet and heading into the kitchen to pour himself more tea. “They both went together...they were always really close.”
“Do you see them often?”
“No,” came the reply from the kitchen. “I get emails from them all the time...don’t have a lot of time to talk on the phone.” He reentered the family room and retook his seat. “Running a small business takes up most of my time.”
Ezra watched his mannerisms. Peterson was comfortable in his home, but his nervousness in front of two federal agents was obvious—even to the most inexperienced eye.
“You hunt?” Ezra asked, looking toward the rifles and the trophies hanging from the walls.
“Yeah,” Peterson answered. “Joyce hated it—me being gone all the time, but she learned to live with it.” He shrugged and watched Ezra’s movements, where his eyes went.
“Why Hanson?” Ezra continued.
Peterson shrugged and took a long pull from his cup, not really as a need or a desire, but as a way to gather his thoughts. He took a sip and placed his cup on the coffee table, making sure to use a coaster. “We’d vacationed here after we were first married—stayed in the lodge.” He smiled. “We fell in love with the people and the community. Seemed like a nice place to start a business and to raise a family.” He leaned back on the loveseat and stretched his arm along the back, sitting like a man comfortable in his own skin, seemingly odd for a man so nervous.
Buck grabbed a hunter’s magazine and started leafing through it. Ezra watched Peterson’s eyes and the annoyance he found at the simple motion.
“What do you think about all the missing kids?” Ezra asked bluntly, looking for a reaction as well as an answer.
Peterson smiled like a hometown boy with nothing to lose, and he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “Seems to me if they’re coming up here for some fun they’d better be prepared for it.”
“It’s cold,” he chuckled, and shook his head. “Seen all kinds of people come through my place, most just stopping for the scenery or the hunting—very few stay.” He looked up and met Ezra’s eyes. “If you’re not careful,” he pointed toward the window with his thumb, “the wilderness here in Alaska is a big place to get lost in and we don’t have the resources for finding each and every lost soul.” He leaned back and replaced his arm on the sofa. “This case has run poor Doug into the ground, hell, it’s amazing he’s still sticking with it.”
“You don’t think he’s up to the challenge?”
Micky shook his head, feeling as though he was in his element. “Doug’s a good guy, but he’s got a big mouth—always has. After he became sheriff here, he went out and got to know everybody—and I mean everybody, even stopped in and talked to Tonya, only before Tonya moved in there was Beverly.”
“You didn’t find that necessary?”
“I didn’t find it pertinent, snooping through everyone’s garbage like that. He wanted to come up here and clean the town up—but he went about it the wrong way.”
“What do you mean?” Buck asked, looking toward Peterson, the magazine still lying open.
“Everybody has a part of their past they want to keep hid, and I mean everybody. Even Sheriff Ford, but he came up here digging up all that shit and pissed everyone off—hell, half the town is new because a lot of the old folks left.” He shook his head and scratched at his jaw, the sound of his stubble etching. “What he should have done was left things as they were, then maybe assholes like Pat Brick wouldn’t have shown up looking for work.”
“It bothers you that he’s here, Pat Brick?” Ezra asked.
“The last thing this town needs is a tree jumper coming in here with his tacked up arms.”
“Brick was incarcerated for armed robbery,” Ezra corrected, watching Micky’s face pale just slightly. It was enough to end a long running question in Ezra’s mind. It was a term used in prisons, not the real world for a serial rapist—for someone who couldn’t stop. His mind reeled around the new information, but he continued to look at Peterson, finding the man a contradiction in terms: a loving husband and father…a hunter, a polite businessman that was well-informed about prison life. He’d lived long enough to know how to pull the strings, how to play the game and hide a secret so evil nobody would ever find out. All he had to do was stay silent, stay in the shadows and watch…waiting like the Devil himself.
Peterson shrugged as though the mistake wasn’t a big deal and he reached for his cup of tea. “I’ve been trying to buy the property behind my cabin for a long time, but Brick bought it out from under me—so you can say that we’ve never been friendly.”
Buck knew: it was the expression on Ezra’s face…a look of finalization—of clarity. He stood and stuck out his hand. “It’s been good talking with you, Mr. Peterson. Sorry for keeping you so late and I hope to have another one of your sandwiches again tomorrow.” He tossed the magazine onto the coffee table and he walked toward the door, looking out the window at the snowmen the yard was littered with. He wanted to get Ezra back with the others, discuss what they’d learned and come to the conclusion whether or not Peterson was their prime suspect—he seemed to fit the profile, and it was Standish’s completion that had him convinced that they’d found the right man. Now they had to prove it.
“My pleasure,” Peterson said, getting to his feet and quickly replacing the magazine before walking both agents to the door. He’d calmed down, like someone would after being faced with two powerful men and having come to the realization that they really weren’t all that commanding. They were men, just like himself.
“Thank you for your time,” Ezra returned, carefully slipping his hand inside his jacket and freeing the restraint strap from his weapon so he could grab it quickly—if need be. The cold hit him in the face like a fist, and he pushed the collar of his jacket up and around his jaw. He couldn’t wait to get home, back to the city where lunatics walked the streets and dictated from their corner offices with skyline views. He missed the sound of sirens, the sight of racing cars, and Wall Street Journals.
“Stop at the store tomorrow and have some soup,” Micky called from the front door. He waved and quickly shut it, turning off the porch light at the same time.
Buck took a deep breath and looked back toward the home. He paused, and looked at Ezra who stood next to the front bumper of the truck, staring into space like a lost kid. “Why didn’t his criminal background come up when JD pulled the records?”
“Clerical error...and damn good luck.”
“What do you want to do?” he asked, waiting for an answer.
Ezra looked back toward the house.
“There ain’t a lot of places he can run to—not here.”
Ezra nodded, but kept his eyes on the house. He watched the domino effect of lights going off and the bedroom lights go on. He knew Peterson fit the profile, not exactly, but enough to know the man walking around inside the ranch style home was capable of murder, much less serial murder.
The athletes, all young and facing life with real opportunities, were dead. It was written in the eyes of the man that had killed them. It was in his smile, subtle and deceitful. It wasn’t the murders per-say that he enjoyed the most, it was what he did with them that fed his fantasy—his delusions of greatness. It’s where he gained his most power.
Ezra looked at the snowmen, knowing in the back of his mind that Peterson was probably watching them, or at least knowing they hadn’t left yet, but that wasn’t his main concern…it was getting away with what he’d done…proving himself as something that he wasn’t. Getting caught for his crimes wouldn’t cross his mind until the last minute, and even at the trial he would sit in his seat and stare at the jury as though he were innocent. It wasn’t, after all, his fault. He would blame everyone, but himself: his mother, father—or lack thereof, and even his wife. What he’d done would never be his fault.
Each snowman sat idly looking toward the road, some smaller than others, but all decorated with a touch of humanity. Most had been meticulously carved and created. As though they had their own personalities, they were decorated and styled with hats, scarves, glasses, and some even had gloves hanging from the ends of their wooden arms. Colored stones created eyes, noses, and lips made up for facial expressions, ranging from smiles to frowns…a few sported tears.
“Ezra?” Buck said, watching as Standish slowly made his way out into the middle of the yard. “What in the hell do you want to do?” He looked toward the house, hoping Peterson wasn’t hiding in the shadows wearing his murderous mask.
Ezra stood, looking as though he’d become lost and didn’t know where to turn. His expression blank, void of emotion, or cognitive thought. He looked at everything: the snowmen, the ground, the trees, the house, the snowmobile, and even the porch. Nothing went without being noticed or scrutinized. He pushed his hat off his head, grabbing it with his right hand and keeping it tightly fisted. He looked toward Buck, but didn’t see him. Questions continued to flood Ezra’s mind, never letting up—like an alcoholic’s obsession for his next drink. In the process of thinking like a monster, a part of himself disappeared. A man like Peterson thought about extending his fantasy, enjoying it through other’s eyes…adults and children both. That was the thrill, throwing his crimes for everyone to witness, partake in, and enjoy. Ezra stepped up to a snowman and looked him in the face, seeing the creation of someone so twisted. The form, though simple, was complex in its integrity and structure. It had been created with the kind of love shown a child, a sister, a mother, or a wife.
“Ezra?” Buck questioned, stepping away from the truck and toward the profiler. Buck watched in slow motion as Ezra reached into the body of the snowman, having dropped his hat on the ground near his feet. “What the hell?”
He didn’t know why, just that the desire—the need, to reach into the snowman had been too overwhelming to stop. He’d grabbed hold of something narrow, thin, and slightly curved. He knew what it was before he saw it. He looked toward Buck with the rib of a human being in his hand, looking like a man who’d found his demon and realized for the first time it had been himself all along.
Buck stood stunned, knowing what it was he was looking at, but surprised that Ezra had found it so easily: the bodies. Buck didn’t understand it, nor did he want to. He knew after leaving Peterson’s home that he was their prime suspect—and that was only because of his slip up with prison slang, implying that he’d been there, but not long enough to know where to speak it and where not to. The idea had been to let Chris know what they’d found, and see if by chance they could find a judge liberal enough to grant them a search warrant and then he hoped, as he thought Ezra did, that they’d find something. But that hadn’t been the case. Ezra knew, he knew the moment they stepped into Peterson’s home, after he opened his mouth—that’s why he’d made the trip to the bathroom, to find a conformation of sorts, and he had. Buck sighed, and ran a hand over his face. He should have known.
The sound of gunfire exploded at Buck’s left, causing him to nosedive into the snow and hid behind a fully developed snowman. He looked up and found Ezra, collapsed in the snow and scrapping the ground with the backs of his heels, struggling with his coat while trying to keep himself hid. Buck reached for his weapon and fired three shots toward the door of the house. He saw the glint of light flash off the barrel of the rifle and fired twice more. “PUT YOUR WEAPON DOWN!” he yelled, keeping his hands steady and his weapon pointed. He peaked around the belly of the snowman and tried to catch a glimpse of what was happening, but he couldn’t see anything. The light of the moon faded as cloud cover rolled through the dark sky. “Ezra,” Buck gasped, changing clips, “I can’t see anythin’.” He looked toward the building again. “Shit—I don’t know if I hit him or not,” he gasped, breathing hard and suddenly feeling very warm. Every cell seemed afire, and his heart raced, forcing blood through his veins at an increasing speed. “Ezra?”
Standish lay on his back, gasping as the burning sensation to his chest continued to intensify. He’d pulled at his jacket, successfully opening it up and exposing bright red blood highlighted by the single streetlight across the road. Ezra sighed and laid his head back in the snow, feeling the moisture of it beneath him. The cold felt good.
“Oh shit,” Buck sighed, carefully crawling toward Ezra’s side. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he gasped, pulling his gloves from his hands and carefully applying pressure to the bleeding wound. “Ezra—Ezra look at me.” He kept on his knees and patted Ezra’s cheek with cold fingers. “Look at me—that’s it, show me those pretty greens.” Buck nodded and quickly took several glances toward the house, expecting Micky Peterson to come at them with rifle in hand. “I’m goin’ to get you out of here,” he said urgently, carefully lifting the bloody shirt and exposing the ugly gaping wound. He knew it was bad. How bad was another question.
“Fuck, it burns,” Ezra gasped, feeling his stomach muscles clench and quiver uncontrollably. The pain was intense, the cold intrusive, but welcome. His arms and legs felt heavy, like lead. He craved a drink of water as his mouth dried.
“Ever been shot before?” Buck asked, knowing he hadn’t but needing to keep him awake and talking.
“No,” came the gasped reply.
Buck chuckled: “Me either.” He pressed Ezra’s shirt onto the wound, trying to stem the unsteady flow. Buck then pulled Ezra’s coat closed and zipped it. “I’m goin’ over to the truck and I’m goin’ to radio the sheriff’s office, let them know our position.” He shoved his gloves beneath Ezra’s head. “If Peterson doesn’t make a move, I’ll come back for you and we’ll take the truck into town.”
Ezra nodded, and closed his eyes.
Buck peaked around the belly of the snowman they hid behind and looked toward the house. There hadn’t been any movement. The moon reappeared, and quickly disappeared again. A light breeze picked up, and it started snowing again, light flakes scattered and drifted and were soon followed by more. Buck knew he shouldn’t be surprised, not in the least...this was after all the middle of winter in northern Alaska—he was just thankful his dick hadn’t froze. Carefully, he crouched over and slowly made his way toward the truck, hiding behind snowdrifts and snowmen.
His breaths seemed immobile as he moved, standing like a heavy fog beyond cold lips. Buck grabbed the handle to the passenger side door and noticed for the first time the amount of frost on the windows. He grabbed the CB and brought it to his mouth. He glanced toward Ezra who hadn’t moved and was in no position to. “This is—” before he could finish, three shots rang out from the house, causing Buck to fall back, snapping the CB cord. “Son-of-a-bitch!” he yelled, covering his head as snow billowed up around him. He reached for his weapon and returned fire.
Ezra struggled for his weapon, losing his understanding as to why, just the frantic need to get his gun. He could hear the commotion: the shots, Buck’s yells.
“Damn it!” Buck slapped the ground, causing snow to spring up and around his face. He couldn’t see, the blackness of night was using all its capabilities of shadow and darkness. He looked toward Ezra who’d moved slightly, only enough to push himself toward the far side of the yard.
Buck tossed the useless radio toward the truck and noticed the deflated tires. He dropped his head in the snow and looked around; using the minimal light from the streetlamp he crawled toward Ezra, using his elbows and knees. He pulled the sleeve of his jacket up and peaked at his watch, moving his wrist just enough to capture a small amount of light. He sighed, knowing Chris and the others wouldn’t be missing them for a while.
“Ezra?” Buck said, placing his hand on Ezra’s shoulder. “We’re stuck,” he said, looking toward the house, expecting gunfire to erupt once again. He wanted to try and reach Peterson’s snowmobile, but he wouldn’t take the chance, not if Peterson was waiting for him to make a move. It wasn’t worth ending up like those others—inside the bodies of snowmen.
Ezra chuckled and succumbed to a bout of coughing. “Shit,” he gasped, lacking an appropriate word.
“Sums it up,” Buck replied, carefully sitting up, hiding himself behind a snowman. “There’s a little shed about fifty feet behind us.” He turned his head in the shed’s direction, straining his neck. “Chris and the others will be out here lookin’ for us in no time—we just need to wait for them.”
Ezra nodded and patted his chest, still looking for his weapon. “How bad?” he asked, looking up toward Buck who seemed more interested in looking elsewhere.
Buck shrugged and glanced toward the house again. He couldn’t answer—not wanting to worry Ezra anymore than he already was. “I wish I knew if I hit him,” he sighed, not wanting to take the chance of moving, but knowing he’d have to—the temperature was dropping.
Chris hated journalists. He hated what they stood for and the lengths they went to get a story—any story—as long as it sold newspapers. Jim Rhimsfeild was no different. He stood there, taking notes like a musician with a brainstorm. He asked questions about everything—relevant or not. Standing at five foot seven—with lifts, brown hair that he kept trimmed and well maintained, and large brown eyes that had most interviewees telling all their secrets—at least women and a few men with alternate lifestyles. Chris, however, wasn’t buying it. He left his answers short and simple, and sometimes, given the question, he chose to ignore it all together.
“Who authorized FBI involvement?”
“Nobody,” Chris answered.
“So why are you here if there isn’t a serial killer? Aren’t disappearances—except for police personnel—the state police’s jurisdiction?”
“It is the FBI’s policy to assist any and all law enforcement agencies that ask for help.”
“Can I quote you on that?”
“Quote Hoover—he’s the one that said it,” Chris replied, keeping his cool, but wishing Rhimsfeild would suddenly feel the need for a bathroom break.
“You’re not denying Hanson has a serial killer and you’re not admitting to one,” he looked up from his notepad, “How do you think the neighboring papers will feel after learning about the local law enforcement and the FBI’s lack of evidence but continuing an investigation against one of their citizens?”
“Before you write your newspaper article, you might want to wait for the evidence to surface—or perhaps wait to see if there really is an active investigation in regards to a hypothetical serial killer. You don’t want to liable your newspaper’s reputation by giving false information. And you definitely don’t want ‘official’ problems with the FBI.” Chris grabbed his jacket when he saw Josiah and Nathan enter the sheriff’s department with Harvy Dempsy and his daughter. “Print what you want.” He pushed the door open and left. “Just don’t piss me off.”
Harvy Dempsy looked terrified, and for the first time in his life he knew he was in some kind of trouble. He wore faded blue jeans that made his legs look thin, despite wearing long underwear beneath. He had on a sweatshirt with the San Francisco 49ers logo. His glasses were pressed up against the bridge of his nose. His hair was greasy, and his skin thick and rough, like old leather.
He looked up when Chris and Josiah entered the small room used for questioning. It contained a small table, three chairs and a poster of Hawaii. “I don’t understand what’s going on?” he said, looking and sounding sincere.
Chris nodded in understanding and took a seat. Josiah did the same.
“My daughter’s got nothing to do with anything.” Harvy looked at Josiah and Chris squarely, like a man unable to hide anything.
“She’s here simply to back up your story—nothing more,” Josiah replied, offering some comfort—if he was innocent.
Harvy nodded and continued to ramble, “I’ve cushioned the books a bit—but nothing much—just enough to send Mindy back to school next year.”
“We’re not here in regards to your skimping.” Chris set his cup of coffee on the table. “We need to know more about your relationship with Jack Cartel?”
Harvy shrugged: “I’ve known him since he moved here after his father died. Good guy, a little on the quiet side.”
“You ever notice anything…abnormal, about him?” Josiah asked.
“He liked being on the computer all the time.” Harvy shrugged and looked in question at the two men sitting across from him. “I mean, Jack was always findin’ somethin’ online that he had to share with me and a few others in town…” he chuckled, “…once, he found this cure for acne that he was convinced would work—ended up with a face so red he looked native.”
“He was a good guy, nothing that would capture your attention as odd?” Chris pressed further.
“Hell, I have coffee with most of the business owners in town. We bullshit at Peterson’s early in the mornings.”
“Who all goes?” Chris asked, hoping for a break.
“Usually it’s Jack—but he’s gone to California for a while. Sheriff comes along, as well as David. Then there’s Coop and then Mic—and Craig.”
“By Mic, do you mean Micky Peterson?” Josiah questioned, clearing up the name, not wanting a good lawyer to presume that Mic was actually another person.
“Oh yeah, that’s what we all call him. He’s real busy, always doin’ somethin’. His wife started building snowmen right after they moved here, she wanted to start a community event that got the kids involved and made it fun for the rest of the town. It sort of became a big festival and Craig is Mic’s biggest competitor now. You have to understand what kind of a woman Joyce was. Her and Mic were inseparable, and because he had the restaurant Joyce needed something more. So, she went down to Palmer and saw the ice festival and fell in love with the idea so she started the snowman festival here—Mic kept it up after she passed away. It became a big competition between Craig and him—almost the town joke,” he continued to ramble freely, like a kid who blaming his older brother, the ‘he made me do it and this is why’.
“I’m not familiar with Craig,” Chris said, taking down notes while Harvy spoke, and bringing him back to basics—he didn’t need the town gossip.
“Craig Overton—he’s the principal at the school—good guy, likes to go to Juneau and jump into ice water—he joined that...polar bear club...strange group of people.” Harvy rubbed his palms on the thighs of his pants. “Why are you askin’ me all these questions?”
Chris stood and left the room, only to return with a manila file. He pulled out one of the photographs and dropped it in front of Dempsy.
Harvy pushed the image away as soon as he realized what they were. He covered his mouth and looked away, trying to keep his evening meal from making a crude appearance.
“Would Jack Cartel be capable of this?” Chris asked, retaking his seat.
Harvy choked and shook his head. He quickly swiped a finger beneath his eyes to brush away the excess tears. “Jack couldn’t even stand it when I’d test my blood—made him sick to his stomach. One time he even tossed his breakfast before he could get to the bathroom.” He shook his head. “Jack couldn’t do this.” He looked at Chris.
“Who could?” Chris asked, unwilling to lose eye contact.
Harvy looked away, feeling sick to his stomach. “Maybee…and I’m just sayin’ maybe…Mic.”
“Why?” Josiah asked.
Harvy shrugged. “He’s been a hunter since he was a kid, and after he moved here he learned how to hunt with an old Inuit who taught him how to care and treat the hunted—how to prepare it.”
“Stay here,” Chris said, reaching for the door. “Josiah, you come with me—find Vin, JD, and Nathan.” He marched into the lobby of the sheriff’s department. “We need to get out to Peterson’s place, and now.” He looked toward one of the dispatchers. “Start radioing vehicle four and let me know as soon as you get a response.”
Josiah reached out and grabbed Chris’ arm. “What’s going through your head?”
“We need to find Buck and Ezra—and in a hurry.”
The shed was small, but supplied shelter from the wind and the snow. Buck had found a secure area in a dark corner, hidden from any light. Shelves filled with tools and yard equipment hung and rested undisturbed through the winter months. A single window was all the shed had in means of vision to the outside world for anyone looking in or out, Buck took advantage of that.
Ezra lay covered with tarp and his head resting against Buck’s shoulder. He couldn’t stop shaking, and his mind constantly wandered and he felt for the first time out of control. “Don’t let me fall asleep,” he whispered, and then took a deep breath, wincing as the pain in his chest increased. He felt hot and cold at the same time...he felt like he was dying.
“Huh?” Buck sighed, not having heard. He placed his hand against Ezra’s jaw and looked at him, wishing his eyes were more adjusted for seeing in the dark. “You’re mumblin’ again.” He smiled tightly.
“Don’t let me fall asleep, Buck,” Ezra gasped, feeling the dryness of his throat, but refusing to give into coughing. He fought with his eyelids, trying to keep them up. For reasons he didn’t understand, he felt as though his body were disconnected.
“I’ve got ya—won’t let you fall asleep. Although, I can think of some pretty sweet ladies I wouldn’t mind dreamin’ about.” Buck adjusted his grip on Ezra, but kept a look on the window and the door. “I dated this one little lady from a place called Hoowyville—loved the name of the town. She was five foot one and had boobs the size of my head—damn she was pretty.” Buck placed his hand on Ezra’s forehead and felt the heat—not so much from the bullet wound if he had to guess, but the fact that his body had taken its last punch. “Dated her for almost three months—until her boyfriend got out of the joint—then I had to stop.”
“He bigger than you?” Ezra asked, trying to keep his mind on target.
“Hell no,” Buck replied, “Shit, he was shorter than Janet.”
Ezra chuckled and moved uncomfortably within Buck’s grasp. “Don’t…make me laugh…shit”
“I’m serious,” Buck sighed with a shake of his head, “He stood like three foot high and four feet around. He had a tattoo of a belly dancer on his back—hot damn,” he shook his head, “you should have seen it. The world’s ugliest tattoo covered in hair.”
Buck chuckled. He looked around, feeling the cold air seep into his skin. “Brando Stivey was his name, and he ended up gettin’ popped for insurance fraud.”
“How’d you manage to keep your job?” Ezra asked, pushing through his words.
“Chris,” Buck replied, suddenly fearing the worst. “He found out about it and kept it quiet. Wasn’t exactly my most shining moment.” He sighed and rested his head against the plywood wall. “He’ll be here…he’ll be here.”
Ezra squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw. “How’d you meet?” he gasped, pushing the tarp up with his hands and trying to make himself more comfortable. “Shit,” he sighed, clenching his jaw while breathing through clenched teeth. “I can’t…”
“Shit, hang on, Ezra,” Buck pleaded, pushing Ezra into an upright position. “Hang on, brother.”
“I’m not your brother,” he gasped, feeling as though his insides were caving in. “Fuck…this hurts.”
“Sure,” Buck said ignoring the later statement, carefully pulling Ezra back, “get all technical.” He kept his eyes on the window and toward the door, wishing for a flash of headlights. He glanced at his watch, thankful for the bright green light that supplied enough to read the hands by. “It’s one in the mornin’—Chris’ll show up any minute...”
Ezra nodded and let himself relax, feeling the loss of blood and the cold steal his strength. His eyelids grew heavy. He could hear Buck talking, but his words seemed distant. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, or if it mattered. He remembered vaguely the snowmen, and the immediate realization that they were after a killer.
“…probably have the whole cavalry show up,” Buck chuckled, noticing the increasing weight as Ezra succumbed to his wounds. “You’ve got to hang on there, Ezra…” he whispered. “Come on, Chris…hurry…”
Vin knew by Chris’ actions that they were in a hurry. JD had been ordered to stay at the police station and stay in constant contact with the crime lab in Seattle in hopes that the soup arrived early, giving them the evidence needed to supply a search warrant. Josiah had been ordered to continue the interviews. Sheriff Ford drove Chris in the first blazer, and Deputy Sumner rode with Vin and Nathan.
Despite the dispatcher’s attempts at reaching the borrowed sheriff’s vehicle, she hadn’t been able to reach Buck or Ezra. It was reason enough to pull the sheriff and his deputy out of bed and make the short trip out to Peterson’s home.
Chris ordered Doug to flip the lights to his truck off, not wanting to give way to any stupid actions on anyone’s part, particularly Peterson. The snow had tapered a bit, allowing visibility by the light of the moon that disappeared on occasion due to cloud cover.
Chris saw a brief reflection of light from the bumper of the missing truck, and immediately ordered Doug to stop the vehicle he was driving. Sumners did the same, pulling up behind him and parking. Chris pulled the collar of his jacket up and around his ears and looked toward the house in the distance, hidden behind the ambiance of snowmen and winter’s décor. The only light shining was that of the single street light that shown brightly on Peterson’s front yard, exposing and displaying his abundance of snowmen.
“How do you want to handle this?” Vin asked, stepping up beside Chris and looked toward the house.
Chris clenched his jaw and looked at Nathan and then Sheriff Ford. “Take it slow toward the house. All the lights are off—at least what I can see, but I don’t see any sign of Buck or Ezra,” he scratched his jaw and paused at his chin before looking toward Vin, “that worries me...” He looked toward Nathan. “Once you get to the house, go in fast and efficient, I don’t want to be pickin’ pellets out of my ass at two in the morning.”
Vin nodded and pulled his sidearm from his belt holster and nodded toward Sumners who quickly followed. They worked as a complete unit, moving toward the house with their senses on full alert. While Vin and Deputy Sumners headed toward the house, Chris found the snapped radio cord hanging from the open truck door. He followed the footprints in the snow toward the snowmen, finding several disfigured. He couldn’t tell by looking at them what had happened, and he wasn’t about to guess. He glanced toward the house and saw Vin carefully peeking around the corner and then flashed his light toward the open door. He pointed his weapon in a defensive stance, ready to take on what came for him.
Vin saw the booted feet of Peterson before the pool of blood he lay in. His rifle lay shattered and scattered against the dark blue carpet, obviously having been hit. Peterson’s face lay toward his living room, seemingly peaceful, and splattered with blood from the gunshot wound to his shoulder. Dressed only in blue jeans and a tee-shirt, the likelihood of death arrived from the cold rather than the gunshot wound itself.
Vin sighed and flipped on the porch light. He stood in the doorway, knowing not to enter the home until crime scene arrived, and he turned toward the yard. “Chris!” he yelled, causing Deputy Sumners to peek around the corner of the home in hopes of catching a glimpse of what had happened. “Peterson’s dead!”
Chris stood to his full height and lowered his weapon; Doug, and Nathan did the same. He looked around the yard in hopes of catching a glimpse of what had happened. “BUCK! EZRA!” he yelled.
Ford pointed toward the slight indentation of snow. “Look,” he said, taking a step forward. “Looks like someone was dragged.” It was a suggestion, not a conclusion.
“Vin!” Chris barked.
Vin pointed toward the door and said to David, “Don’t leave this spot!” He turned and sprinted toward the yard where Chris and Nathan stood.
“They’re out there,” Chris said, rubbing the end of his nose, wishing he could still feel it. He turned toward the truck and pulled out the lock box and removed the flairs, handing one to each person. “Look for them and when you find them, light one of these and wait.” His orders were taken seriously. “Go in pairs.”
Buck couldn’t hear anything but his teeth banging against each other uncontrollably. Despite having Ezra pulled up against his chest, the cold had started taking its toll and it was decisive that it wouldn’t be forgiving—not this night. He couldn’t feel his cheeks anymore and if he had to guess, he figured he’d look pretty damn good in about 4000 years after archeologists dug him and Ezra up after some strange thaw that would flood the world and send Kevin Costner to the status of Nostradamus.
It was nearing three in the morning and there wasn’t any sign of being discovered—that was either good or bad, depending on who was doing the finding. Ezra had been quiet for nearly two hours, unconscious, and unable to even complain. Buck couldn’t tell if he was still bleeding, but he guessed that he wasn’t. The cold was taking its toll, despite the cover of the shed. Alaskans were a different breed of cat—and Buck decided he wasn’t one of them.
He thought he could hear voices, but his inner self was telling him it was impossible. Lights flickered though the window, bouncing off the shelves and tools, creating a kaleidoscope of colors. It was rather entertaining, at least opposed to complete darkness and the frigid air.
The shed door was pushed open, creating a wall of snow behind it. A flashlight shown in, flashing at Buck and he raised his gloved hand to protect his sensitive eyes.
“Buck?” Chris said, rushing in through the door and dropping the flashlight on the floor. He reached out and checked Ezra’s pulse and looked up at Buck. “How’re you doin?”
Buck pressed his lips together, trying to form a word, but quickly gave up and shook his head. It was too damn cold to think—much less function.
Sheriff Ford stood in the doorway and ignited his flair. “I’ll go warm up the trucks and bring some blankets.” He turned and totted off before Chris could reply.
“Shit, Buck—what happened?” he said, pressed his hand against cold seemingly lifeless skin.
Buck just nodded—he’d explain when he thawed.
Hanson didn’t have a hospital. It had a clinic; opened from nine in the morning to five at night. It had one doctor, a nurse who doubled as an x-ray technician, one lab technician, and one receptionist. Emergencies, though they did happen, didn’t happen enough to cost the town of Hanson the luxury of emergency care—emergencies were sent to Fairbanks. Despite having an emergency number for Life-Flight, the weather dictated when the flights took place. During the bad snowstorm season, most residents knew to keep themselves out of harms way or suffer the consequences. It was the only thing they could do.
Ezra and Buck were both suffering the consequences.
Doctor Allen Terry had been forced to come to Hanson as a result of Alaska paying for his medical schooling—he hated it, and as a result, he acted it. Standing over six-foot-four, and weighing close to three hundred pounds, nobody argued with him. However, when he received the frantic call from Sheriff Ford, he immediately got out of bed and rushed to the clinic. A gunshot wound and possible frostbite. With his blood pressure tempting the scales of a heart attack, he prepared one room for each patient and then he contacted the nearest hospital in Fairbanks and made arrangements for a Life-Flight transport. He could handle the frostbite and hypothermia—but he knew his limitations to gunshot wounds—having only seen one while he was a third-year medical student. To his dismay, the Life-Flight transport had been canceled due to weather and wouldn’t be rescheduled until the storm passed—that could take days, if not weeks.
Allen called his nurse and had her come in with the anticipation of having to perform some kind of surgery—he hoped minor. He then called the lodge and asked if any doctors had come up for the hunting festival, and to his astonishment, one had. Doctor Gary Corlett, a neurosurgeon visiting for the first time from Phoenix, Arizona. Granted, a neurosurgeon wasn’t what Allen had hoped to find, but at least it was someone who knew how to handle a stethoscope...and a scalpel.
The clinic doors opened with two men carrying a third, and then suddenly two more entered with a limp third hanging between them. Allen ordered them into the rooms and collected himself before entering the room with the gunshot victim. He’d be on his own until Doctor Corlett arrived.
Nathan and Chris had laid Ezra on the narrow exam table and had pulled his coat open. Nathan was in the process of cutting away his shirt when Dr. Terry entered the room.
“We need to arrange a way to get him to the nearest emergency hospital,” Nathan said, never looking up, surprised by the amount of blood that had been soaked up by the material, and the heat radiating off Ezra’s body.
“Already tried,” Allen said, slipping his hands into a pair of latex gloves and then carefully examined the wound, “We can’t move him until this big storm passes and even then it could be tricky.” He reached up and grabbed several gauze pads and applied them to the injury. Despite the bleeding, it didn’t look too serious, but then gunshot wounds were known for being unpredictable.
Chris yanked the doctor’s shoulder back, causing him to pause. “This is a gunshot wound—not a fuckin’ sliver!”
“I know that agent!” Allen replied, offended. “They won’t risk four men for one of yours!”
Chris felt the blood in his head expand and cut off at his throat, causing a feeling of separation as the veins at his temples pulsated and throbbed. He kept his tongue.
All three men looked toward the door as another entered. “I’m Doctor Gary Corlett,” he said confidently, walking toward the patient, effectively moving Nathan out of the way. He was tall, thin, and carried himself as though he had a hunch in his back. He paid little attention to his own appearance, having spent most of his time in books. His eyebrows spiked upwards, and his nose was long and narrow. “How long has he been unconscious?” He ignored the gunshot wound and pushed Ezra’s eyelids back, checking each eye. He didn’t give anyone time to answer before he moved his hand to his patient’s neck and then he reached for the beige colored ear thermometer and efficiently placed it within Ezra’s ear. The look on Gary’s face is what caused the uncertainty in the room. He took a deep breath and spoke again, “If you have any ice packs, go get them.” He looked up and met Nathan’s eyes. “Now.”
“Doctor Corlett?” Allen asked.
“You have one patient suffering from hypothermia and exhaustion in the next room, and this one…” he sighed, more from disbelief than astonishment, “…has got a fever of 106.4, high pulse rate—too high a rate, even for a gunshot victim, for now he’s breathing shallow, but on his own—for now,” he wanted to go on, but his mind was questioning even his own logical conclusions. He grabbed Ezra’s arm and twisted it just enough to expose the faint veins at his elbow. It didn’t take him long to get an IV line secured to a forearm vein and taped securely into place. He then grabbed the scissors Nathan had been using and started cutting away at the rest of Ezra’s clothing, wishing all the while he had nurses to help him—a larger medical lab and better supplies. “You need to wait outside,” he said, looking up at Chris, “Go get a room ready.” He looked at Doctor Terry. “Do you have a ventilator?”
Allen nodded: “But we’ve never had to use it.”
“We need it now, and please escort him out of here and have your nurse join us. I want to run some blood—find out what’s causing this.” He shook his head. “It’s too damn early for this bad of an infection.” Corlett continued with his patient as Chris was removed from the room.
Buck sat on the edge of the narrow bed covered in blankets and drinking a hot cup of cocoa. The color in his cheeks had returned with a vengeance, but his eyes still seemed tired. Wool socks covered his feet and thermal underwear peaked out from beneath the blanket edges. He looked pathetic.
Vin sat in the uncomfortable chair the doctor usually sat on while talking with his patients. He found the wheels accommodating as he rolled from one end of the small exam room to the other. Chris sat on the brown fake leather covered chair. He stared idly at the ‘inspirational’ poster with the images of kittens and puppies playing together. He found it more annoying that inspirational, having found litter boxes disgusting and puppy training way too time consuming.
The door opened and everyone looked up in hopes of learning more, but sighed in disappointment when Nathan entered and took a seat next to Chris. “I got kicked out—they ordered me to wait with the rest of you.”
“How was he when you left?” Buck asked, pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders.
Nathan rubbed at the loose skin between his thumb and index finger. He didn’t want to say anything, feeling it was better to leave it in Corlett’s hands. “I’m a medical pathologist, Buck, it’s been…five—six years since I’ve practiced—”
“Cut the bullshit, Nathan,” Chris snapped, “you know more about the human body than anyone I’ve ever met.”
The others nodded in agreement.
Nathan sighed and ran his hand over his face. “He’s sick, and in a bad way.” He shook his head and concentrated on the puppy in the picture with the white patch around its left eye. He reached unconsciously for the tender spot on his arm beneath his elbow where Ezra had struck at him as he and the doctors started to intubate. “His fever peaked at 106.8…” he looked at the winces his friends offered in reply, “…Dr. Corlett feels as though a few sutures is all that’s needed to control the bleeding to his liver—nothing too serious, but the bullet wound combined with the fever, pulse rate, and abnormal blood counts…could be fatal.”
“Shit,” Vin sighed, stopping his chair halfway across the room and he planted both feet on the floor. “We can’t get him to a hospital?”
Nathan shook his head: “Trying to move him now could be lethal. He’s lucky, Dr. Corlett is probably the best neurosurgeon in the country—”
“Brain surgery?!” Buck snapped, nearly jumping off the edge of the bed.
“Yes, and no,” Nathan supplied quickly, “He just knows a lot about the brain and the complications something like this might have—he’s not going to operate—not here.”
Chris took a deep breath and rested his forehead on his hand.
Nathan cleared his throat, needing a change of subject—needing to think about something different: “As soon as we get back to Washington, I’m going to ask for a transfer—” He silently chastised himself: he should have paid more attention to Ezra’s headaches, his pulse rate...nosebleeds...and even his inability to sleep. He should have done something sooner.
“Why?” Vin asked, slightly surprised.
“This team is a damn good idea—a damn good one,” Nathan admitted, “but working our other jobs plus the responsibilities of this team—it’s too much. I have a wife and children at home, and frankly I’d like more time with them.” He stood up and quickly started pacing as his pulse rate increased with each moment of passing anger. “I want to see my kids grow up for myself, not the pictures my wife sends me. I want to hear them form sentences from their own mouths—not over the fuckin’ phone! I’m tired of killing myself at a job that doesn’t give a shit about me! Look at us—all of us. We’re all suffering because of our lack of ability to tell Travis and the rest of the FBI to fuck off!” He shook his head and then looked up. “Look at your hands, Chris,” he ordered, “You’ve been shaking for three days, and I don’t think you’ve had the time or the energy to notice it. How much weight have you lost, Vin—?”
“I haven’t been hungry—”
“In all the years I’ve known you, you’ve never stopped eating. You’re like a garbage disposal without the reset button.” He stopped and looked at his friends. “Working 100 to 120 hours a week is too damn much and I for one can’t do it anymore, and frankly, none of you can either! It’s only a matter of time before one of us goes down—if one hasn’t already!”
“Nathan,” Josiah tried to sound soothing.
“He was having symptoms, Josiah, headaches, the fever...fucking nosebleeds! I should have seen what was happening! I should have been paying more attention!”
“You couldn’t have known,” Josiah sighed.
“Okay,” Chris ended it. “I’ll go to Travis and let him know it’s all or nothing.” He stood and reached for the door. “I’ll go see if your clothes are dry, Buck.” He quickly left, needing to escape, needing time to think, time to figure out why he and his team—his friends, were falling apart. He pulled the pack of cigarettes from his pocket—a pack he’d stolen from Buck—Buck of all people, the man who had quit smoking before himself. Shit, he sighed, when had he started back up? What had caused him to? And why was he letting it bother him? Chris crushed the package within his grasp and threw it at the wall. He watched it land on the floor next to the secretary’s desk.
Nathan never swore, having said it was a reflection of a person’s upbringing—a reflection of who they were. It didn’t take a smart man to swear, it took a dumb one. And for him to raise his voice…? It meant he was angry, tired, but most of all…he felt helpless, and Nathan hated, above all else, feeling helpless.
Chris ran his hand over his face and looked toward the door, wishing he could go outside and forget everything that had happened. But he couldn’t.
The clinic’s staffroom had turned out to be the best place to wait. Buck lay on the floor with his feet crossed in a chair. Two blankets covered him and he snored lightly, just enough to let Chris and the others know he was sleeping. Vin sat at the table, playing checkers with Nathan. Neither man concentrated on the game, moving pieces from one square to the next without thought. Josiah had shown up and was now residing in a chair with his nose in a book entitled, Discovering America. Chris paced, waiting for news regarding Ezra and from JD who was still awaiting the lab results from Seattle.
Josiah stood, having closed his book and reached for the refrigerator. He wasn’t hungry, but that longing in his gut caused him to want to fill it—with anything. More out of restlessness than boredom, he grabbed a candy-bar and quickly went to work on it. He turned quickly when the door was pushed open and JD with Sheriff Ford entered, both looking haggard, tired, and stressed.
“What is it?” Chris asked, waking Buck who turned to sit up Indian style on the floor.
“I got the results back from Seattle. Fed-Ex managed to get it there early—”
“What are the results, JD?” Chris asked, having not moved from his seat.
Dunne swallowed and handed the sheets of paper over to Chris. “There wasn’t any sign of foreign contamination—no drugs at least…but the meat used in Peterson’s soup...was human…” he waited for the information to sink in before he asked, “How’s Ezra?” He’d spent the last forty minutes with his head hanging over a toilet, thanking God above that he hadn’t eaten any soup, and praying that the sandwiches he’d eaten were what he’d ordered.
“Doctors are still with him,” Nathan said, looking at his watch. After four hours his concern continued to grow and his doubt continued to build. His stomach turned at the news from Seattle, and he wanted to excuse himself from the room, but he felt if he did, the others would soon follow. He had to be strong—he had to look as though he wasn’t surprised, despite being shocked.
JD nodded, wishing he’d heard better news. “How’re you, Buck?”
Buck smiled and nodded, not offering an answer. Perhaps...just perhaps, Ezra had known?
JD accepted the reply. “As soon as the weather clears, a crime scene unit will be here to collect evidence and take care of Peterson’s home—they don’t want anyone else moving in it, not until they have a chance to look it over. They think Peterson may be responsible for some murders that happened in Juneau while he was living there.”
“You did good, JD,” Chris said, looking toward Nathan. “Maybe you should take Vin and take care of Peterson’s body, relieve Sumners of his position, and then lock up the house. We’ll seal up his shop as well.”
Sheriff Ford wiped his face with his hand and looked at the men around him. “What about the town? Almost everyone here’s eaten some of Peterson’s soup. What do I tell the town?” He’d been an unknowing participant in Peterson’s ploy...having eaten his soup on many occasions. All he wanted to do was go home and start over—pretend none of this had ever happened.
“For once in your life don’t tell anyone anything—not even your deputies. When the investigation closes it will be up the DA to decide what’s to be released and what’s not to. You just do what you’re told to and nothing more.” Chris tossed a napkin in the garbage and ran his fingers through his hair.
Sheriff Ford turned and left.
Nathan and Vin stood together and headed toward the door.
“Be careful,” Chris ordered, nodding once as he watched both men leave.