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Chap 10: Countdown Begins-

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

-Isaiah 41:10



The next morning Siah left for work as usual, but this time was different. Eric had just propped Nathan up for the day when she knelt next to him, leaned over, and hugged him. The boy was so stunned he completely froze.

No one had ever just, hugged him, before.

He didn’t know what to do.

When she was done with him, she did the same to Eric before taking Sharlie and nuzzling her like she always did.

The brothers just sat there on the floor, looking at the spot she had vacated long after she left. Last night Nathan had punched her, leaving her with a bloody split in on her temple. Then she hugs them both goodbye for the day.

It was Sharlie who finally broke them out of their stupor with demands for food.

The morning went as usual with Siah coming back at midday. But this time was different.

“Sweetie, I have something for you. It’s a medicated sleep patch.”

“A what?”

“It’s basically a medicated sticker. I want you to use this from now on, every night, an hour before you go to sleep. It’s an extremely light dose of a sleeping medication that will soak in through your skin and help regulate your sleep cycle. It’ll help prevent those night terrors from ever coming back.”

Eric and Nathan looked at each other. If it were anyone else giving this to them they wouldn’t accept it. They didn’t trust “Medicines” or drugs of any kind. But this was Doc, Siah, offering.

After they ate lunch and Siah had redressed Nathans wound, she went into the back room and came out with a leather pouch wrapped around something bulky.

“I also want you to start working with this.”

He unwrapped the bundle, surprised to find a set of tools inserted into pockets along the inside of the thick leather.

“What are these?”

“They’re carving tools, chisels and knives, a mallet. I want you to start doing some basic wood carving to keep the muscles in your shoulder from atrophying.”

“From what?”

“From going into atrophy; it’s what it’s called when your muscles freeze up and wither away from disuse. In better circumstances I’d prescribe physical therapy.” She patted the tools in his hand.

“But this will do. I want you to just do some light hand carving with these, just a little every day.”

“Eric,” She turned behind her like she knew Eric had been there all along. Weird, he hadn’t made a sound coming out of the bathroom.

“You’re going to have to collect some good wood for him to work with.”

“Okay.” He nodded.

“Uh, thanks.” Nathan mumbled. She did that same half smile she always did at him and ruffled his hair.

He didn’t shirk away as hard as he usually did. She left a few minutes later not having stayed much longer than she usually would.

When Eric left for the afternoon with Sharlie, Nathan made his daily call. It never took long; when he was done he usually either took a nap or just sat bored. He hated being bored. Boredom made his mind wander to places it shouldn’t go.

He opened the pouch Siah had given him and took out each tool, looking it over. When he got to the mallet thing, he noticed some odd staining on it.

Was that blood?

That night, Siah peeled off the backing and put the medicated sticker on his arm. Then, of course, she prayed over him. Siah never said anything when she prayed over them, just bowed her head and closed her eyes. She was so weird. She was also dead on her feet. He’d wait to bring up the stain on the hammer.

She read the book to Sharlie and was asleep the moment she put the book aside.

He was skeptical but that night, for the first time in years, he slept through the night without waking up. In the morning he had no memory of his dreams. He felt lighter, more rested than he could ever remember.

Siah looked at him from her mattress the next morning, her usual half smile cockier than usual. “Told ya.”

After she left, Eric flipped the page on his word a day calendar like he always did.

“Whoa.”

“What?”

“Check this out.” Eric brought the little calendar over for him to see.

Smirk: to smile in a smug or condescending way. To say or express something with a smirk.

“That’s the way Siah was smiling at you right now.”

“Huh. You know she smiles like that a lot then.”

“She smirks like that a lot you mean.”

“So do we.” Eric smirked.

“Yeah.” Nathan smirked back.

*

Despite that his source had just told him this would be his last call before hanging up, U.S. Marshal Charlie Dickens didn’t bother to hide his smile.

Everything this mysterious source said had proven true, so it stood to reason this last piece of information would as well.

He couldn’t believe how the pieces of the Holsun case were all falling into place. It was an act of God.

It was a little over a week ago that Anon had first called him at his home, setting off every alarm bell imaginable.

It was more than just that Anon had his home phone number; he had also known about him, personally, to the extent that he wondered if Anon was someone he knew, it was definitely someone who had been in his house at some point.

The display of personal knowledge had been a deliberate power play to make him listen to what he had to say about Holsun, and everything he had had to say had proven correct.

Anon had known some insane details, how Holsun had skimmed millions and framed his lieutenant for the theft, where Holsun had hidden the cash in the woods, even where he’d thrown the man’s body and where several others had been dumped and/or buried.

Anon had even given them the names of several of Holsun’s top distributers and the pimp he called whenever he wanted girls for the night as well as times and dates of when they met, right down to what they were wearing at several of the meets. They could add human trafficking to Holsun’s ever growing list of felonies.

Holsun was a much bigger operator than even they had realized.

The source didn’t seem to know they had an informant inside the Cartel Holsun worked for, or another source in Tinplate, both of whose information corroborated what he was telling them.

Charlie believed he could trust Anon, but it was killing him and everyone else in the office not to know who it was. What little they had been able to glean off his quick calls was sparse.

Whoever he was, he was smart. He was using an old land line that in another time would have been easy to trace, but this one was so jerry rigged through multiple other lines that it was impossible to trace with any level of accuracy, the closest they could gauge was that they were calling from somewhere in or around Tinplate itself.

Anon seemed to know this, Charlie could still remember in the first moments of his second call, the first one to his office, how smug the young man had sounded.

“Having trouble with your tech Marshal?”

All they could do was record the calls (which Anon had made clear he knew they were doing).

He had said he was not a member of Holsun’s crew, and they believed him. His information did not hold to that level of detail, in fact everything he’d told them could have been gleaned from good surveillance; or as his chief field agent Jim Thompson had put it, hard core stalking.

The voice analysis of the recording had held the most startling revelation though; when analysis of the recordings had finally come in from Denver, Charlie had been shocked by the findings: Anon was a teenage boy who was doing an admirable job of disguising his voice.

None of Holsun’s rivals had any boys working for them who could know this level of detail. Whoever this kid was, he was either very gutsy or very stupid. Just knowing this was a kid informing for them bothered Charlie more than he cared to admit.

He had actually brought in a psychiatrist to listen to all their conversations and glean what she could off them. What she stated in her report confirmed what he had suspected; these calls spoke to an extremely high level of intelligence, focus and planning rarely seen in a teenager.

His tone when describing Holsun’s murdering his lieutenant as well as where to find the other bodies and what had been done to them, spoke to a near psychopathic disregard for human life. The psychiatrist stated that Anon likely had a violent nature himself; while he recognized and controlled his own violent nature, he saw Holsun as a fool for not controlling his.

Between this Anon, their woman on the inside, their U.C. in the cartel, and their own overt investigation, the noose around Holsun’s neck was getting tighter. Come Tuesday, they would be bringing down the hammer on Holsun and everyone in his circle in the biggest mass arrest since The Ruin began. There would be nowhere for Holsun or any of his ilk to run.

Brent Holsun’s reign was about to end.

*

Sunday morning-

Siah got dressed and hugged them both before leaving again. It was really weird.

Eric left the apartment right after she did and tried to shake off the feeling of her hug. For what he was about to do, he could not allow any softness.

A light, freezing rain fell as he slipped the black ski mask and leather gloves on. He shivered in the cold. He’d put a windbreaker over his hoodies but it was barely dong the job. He needed to find a real coat that actually fit.

After all the work, all the planning, all the anxiety and adrenaline; breaking into Holsun’s house turned out to be easier than he’d thought- almost disappointing.

All he’d had to do to take out the security system was smash a rock into the roof over the generator and wait for the thing to get wet in some places it shouldn’t. He’d tied a string to the end of the rock and simply pulled it back out through the hole, after that all he’d had to do was lay back in a nearby tree and wait while the room sized generator had let out a pathetic death knell as it took its time dying.

While Holsun was busy cursing at the dead machine and his crew was frantically working to fix it, Eric ran to the other side of the compound, climbed the wall and threw some chunks of raw meat at the Rottweilers guarding the grounds to keep them busy.

It was an easy climb into the second story balcony of the huge house. As he’d suspected, he didn’t even need to pick the lock, the French doors opened easily.

Eric walked right in.

It always surprised him how people with enclosed grounds and security alarms didn’t lock their doors and windows. Not even Holsun, and he was paranoid.

He heard only one goon downstairs. Silent as a shadow, he went to Holsun’s office and shut the door behind him. He walked in and looked at the surroundings. Opulent; that was the only word for it, this place was opulent.

It was strange finally being here, in this room without Nathan. This had mostly been his plan and he wasn’t even here to enjoy it.

When they’d first been stalking Holsun, he and Nathan had been able to see through the window as he punched in the combination to his safe- and memorized the code. Idiot really should’ve been more careful about reflections in his mirror and lines of sight through his windows. But even mob bosses were creatures of habit. If the fool had simply thought to use the gaudy red drapes to shield the view of his safe from the trees over his fence, he wouldn’t be able to be robbed so easily. All it had taken was some high powered binoculars and a good memory.

Eric wasn’t surprised when he opened the thing to see cash and gold inside, the amount of jewelry was a surprise though. No man should have this much jewelry.

He unceremoniously dumped the safes contents into his backpack and relocked it. He wondered how long it would take before Holsun noticed he’d been robbed and their plan would kick into action. He would love to see that moment.

He returned to the balcony and left the same way he’d come. The whole thing had taken only minutes. Usually when he and Nathan robbed a house, they took their time trashing the place just for the fun of it. This time, he had left no trace, he had made no sound. No one had even realized he was in the building.

It occurred to him, he’d seen the word for this in his word a day calendar just this morning. Anti-climactic; that was the word for this whole op. It was anticlimactic.

*

Sunday Noon.

Brent Holsun hung up the phone and screamed.

This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening! Who could have known that level of detail to spread those rumors about him? Sure most of them were true, but how did they know? How could they know?

One of his guy’s must have done it. That was it. It was one of them. He couldn’t believe this, what he had once faked had now been done.

The caches, he had to get to the caches. He could pay them off with that. It would suffice. He would still look like a fool, but he would be a live fool.

He had just bought himself a few more days, but everything in the safe now had to be delivered by Thursday or Marco was going to kill him!

For the life of him, the only one he could think of who could’ve known or done any of this was Darren. The problem was he had already killed him. He’d never been superstitious but he was beginning to think Darren’s ghost was after him.

He stopped and tried to think. It really couldn’t have been any of his men; none of them had ever known the combination. He couldn’t let on he’d been robbed. If any of his guys knew of his sudden vulnerability, he had no doubt they would rat him out or try to kill him themselves. They wouldn’t succeed, but they would try. He pulled a fresh clip out of his drawer for his semi-automatic. If any of them so much as looked at him sideways today, they died.

Sunday night-

He waited until dark and took to the streets with none of his guys aware. Aside from a few dogs, he had no problems. Though he had to do it in silence, he was happy to take out his rage on the disgusting mutts.

He was trying to wipe blood spray off his coat when he arrived at his first stop; the cache in the wall of the old office building. It was right where he left it. He pulled it out from behind the wall of crumbling bricks and tamped down dread as he registered how light the duffel bag felt.

No! He frantically unzipped it. He froze for a moment when he saw the bag filled with moss and leaves. He tore through the contents, emptying it out completely. He kicked the wrenched thing aside like a hated enemy as he screamed.

Who had found it? Had someone been watching him? He began tearing out his own hair.

Who? How?

Before the night was out, he went to each and every one of his caches; all of them were exactly the same, empty and refilled with moss and leaves.

He had nothing left. It was all gone.

He sat on the cold cement floor. There was no way the theft of his safe and the now missing caches were a coincidence. It could only have happened when he and his guys had been outside with the blown out generator, that couldn’t have been for more than ten minutes. Whoever had done it had been a professional; few had the skill and expertise to pull this off.

Someone was going to a lot of trouble to ruin him, but who? If he could figure out who it was, then he could track them down and get his money back.

He only had three days to get together a minimum of five million dollars. He wouldn’t be able to raise that much cash in that time if he razed the whole county.

With no money to pay back the Ochoa’s, he was a marked man.

He only had one choice.

He had to leave town, right now.

*

Monday Noon-

Siah was late for lunch but when she came through the window hatch, she had a brilliant smile on her face that made what was left of the bruises seem to fade.

“Boys, you’re not going to believe this, but Holsun’s gone! He skipped town last night!”

Nathan had been playing with Sharlie next to the coffee table and Eric was filling a bowl with some stew with what smelled like grilled meat in it. Both boys stopped mid motion and looked at each other. Sharlie ran up and hugged her, giving her usual report of what she and the boys had done that morning.

“Anyone know how or why?” Eric interrupted.

Eric served out their lunch as she told what she’d heard.

“Everyone has a theory but no one really knows, all that’s certain is that he was seen driving out of his house early this morning. He didn’t even bother shutting his gates after him. One of the volunteers at the clinic, Thomas, lives close by and when he was on his way in, he heard someone groaning for help. There was a man on the ground, one of Holsun’s new men. He’d been shot in the house and managed to pull himself to the end of the driveway and call for help. He said there were others. Thomas called a few of the neighbors and they found two of Holsun’s guys shot dead in their beds and three others bleeding to death.

One of the men regained consciousness and told me Holsun had just come in through the door of the bunk room when they were all asleep, shot them in their beds and left.”

She stopped and took a breath as the boys digested everything she’d just told them.

She hadn’t really had time to let it sink in either. She’d called her contact right away. He’d been excited at what she’d told him and had asked, rather pointedly, if the three thugs would still be alive when he and his men arrived. She had assured him that none of the three men were going anywhere anytime soon. She understood there were bigger things at play than her.

“I can’t tell you what a relief it is that that monster is gone.”

She took several bites of her food as it occurred to her how quiet the boys were being about this. She hadn’t’ expected them to jump for joy or anything, but they looked proud and satisfied with themselves.

What was up with that?

“So, now that Holsun’s gone will you keep working at the clinic?” Eric asked.

“Yes, I’ll stay there until it closes.”

“Closes?”

“Yeah. It’s due to close by the end of the month. Dr. Mason and I have made arrangements for the patients who need long term care or are critically injured to get transported to a hospital in Boulder.”

Both boys looked from her, to each other and back again, downright smug. She’d deal with it later. She finished her bowl and put a hand on their shoulders.

“Hey, the inundation of patients at the clinic has ended so I might be able to get home early tonight. I’ll explain everything then.” She smiled.

She took their bowls to the sink. “Hey Nathan.” She called over her shoulder. “Yeah?”

“You feel like heading outside yet?”

There was silence for a moment.

“Yeah.”

She dried her hands and headed back into the living room, taking the key out of her pocket. Lord, don’t let me regret this.

She zeroed in on Nathan as she entered the room and held his gaze as she knelt in front of him.

“Nathan, you’re the one who needs this more than anyone, so I’m leaving it with you.” She held the key out to him.

“This is the only key I have to the side door. Do not lose it. I want you to start taking short walks to build your strength back up. Give your muscles a stretch but don’t push yourself too hard. Just try to go to and from the back porch area behind the building.”

He nodded solemnly as he took the key in hand. “Okay.” he said quietly. She was glad he understood the level of trust she was showing him.

She hugged each of them goodbye just like she had for the last few days. She could tell being hugged was still strange for them, but they weren’t pushing her away anymore.

*

The window flap had barely shut behind her when Eric looked at Nathan.

“That was- weird.”

Nathan looked at the key in his hand. “Yeah. She really trusts us.”

“And Holsun going on the run already; that was a lot sooner than we thought.”

Nathan nodded and leaned back against the cushions.

“Siah looked relieved, like she was kinda- happy.”

“I think she was- happy.”

They had seen a shine in her eye, a sense of relief that had never been there before. They were proud they were able to make it happen. It made them a little- happy- too.

*

Monday Afternoon –

Nathan was still shocked Siah had just up and handed him the key to the apartment. He was glad Siah had noticed how stir crazy he was. He’d been doing some whittling like she’d said and was regaining some use of his arm, but he wasn’t ready to use the hatch yet and he knew it. The last thing he wanted was to reopen the wound.

Eric was still out hunting when he decided he was ready to head outside. It wasn’t raining at the moment. For the first time in weeks, he put on his boots and the oversized jacket Eric had found for him. The boots barely fit anymore.

“Hey Sharlie, go get your coat, were going outside.” The little kid burst into a smile that filled her face before running to where Eric left her coat in the kitchen. Since he’d had her in her shoes every morning, she was in the habit of running wherever, just for the fun of it. Eric said she did the same thing when he took her outside. When she’d first started running, Siah had looked surprised but glad, even relieved.

While she was busy pulling her coat off the chair in the kitchen, he loaded his gun into his belt. Siah had said to be careful and he wasn’t taking any chances.

He put the key into the deadbolt lock and opened the door. Weird. Except for the first night they’d followed Siah here, he’d never seen it used. He took a step out into the walkway, a fresh breeze flowing into his face.

Man, that felt good.

“Nathan, you better not fall.” Sharlie ordered him in her squeaky little voice.

The look on her tiny face was completely serious.

He gave the kid a deadpan look.

“I promise I’ll do my best Sharlie.”

She looked unconvinced as he took slow, deliberate steps. He had to balance on the wall of the building a couple of times, Sharlie staying right next to him, arms up, ready to catch him if he fell. The thought of the skinny kid trying to catch him was a little funny. He would squash her. He made it around the corner and onto a wide back porch area, sitting on a wide stone step. He was winded, but didn’t feel that bad.

He felt, satisfied as he looked up at the multitoned gray sky. The plan had worked. Holsun was on the run. He was getting his strength back. Things were looking pretty good.

Sharlie plunked herself next to him and hugged his good arm, looking at him with big, worried eyes. “Are you okay?”

He felt kinda bad the little kid was so worried about him. He rubbed her head. She looked thrilled and snuggled into him.

“Yeah, yeah I’m okay.”

He was surprised to see Doc walking up just then, full smiling. Wow.

She was home way earlier than usual. She’d never come back before dark before.

She sat down next to him, still smiling. “Good to see you outside. How are you feeling?”

He was about to answer her when a trash can lid flew out of the alley to their right and banged its way down toward the woods, followed by more crashing sounds.

What the-?

Eric! It sounded like he was getting jumped.

“Nathan, Sharlie! Get inside! Go!” She drew a gun out of nowhere and held it in both hands as she ran to the alley.

Whoa, since when did she-?

“Go!” she ordered as she ran to the side of the building, gun drawn.

*

She heard the blows as she ran. Knowing Eric, he was giving as good as he got.

Slowing as she entered the alley, she saw Eric on his back gripping the arms of a man who was trying to plunge a knife into his face. Three other men were strewn around the alley in various stages of semi consciousness.

She shot into the air before turning the gun on the would-be killer.

“Back off him!” she roared.

Knife man looked up at her with a hateful glare and let out a slew of profanity.

She interrupted him when she fired over his head. He flinched. She knew he had to have felt the wind of it, if not a graze.

“That is my son, now get off him!” She roared. The knife wielder glared at her, hatred burning in his eyes as he slowly got off of Eric.

“This isn’t over witch! I know where you live.”

She didn’t blink as she rounded another chamber on the revolver and shot directly between his feet. The man jumped and screamed as she rounded another bullet into the chamber and pointed it directly at his chest this time.

“I’ll be ready.”

The knife wielder glared at her before he turned and ran out of the alley, the others stumbling and limping along in his wake.

Eric slowly, painfully rose only after the sound of their footsteps faded to silence.

He turned away from the hand she offered him and said nothing as he picked up his bow and arrows.

She held her gun lowered but ready, her head on a swivel as they silently walked back to the apartment. She had a feeling she had just blown the boys mind.

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Whether through a Diy project, an art piece,  a work of fiction or just something funny I want to share, my goal is to offer encouragement to all who visit this blog.