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Chapter 18: Aftermath

Updated: Mar 24

When Marshal Thompson and his men left they were kind enough to nail a large board over the empty doorway. Siah figured it was the least they could do after taking the rug Eric had found and cutting out even more chunks from the carpet. Apparently they needed all the splatter from Holsun’s head.

Shame, she had liked that rug.

When they left, Eric opened his mouth to speak but she quickly put a finger to his lips. She kept her tone neutral and her face fierce.

“Come on boys, let’s go for a walk.” She jerked her head to the side door. Neither boy argued.

Sharlie was drowsy and clingy as she put her coat on her and led them out the side door, having Nathan lock up behind them. Eric tried to speak and she shushed him again, jerking her head to the woods.

She wished she could Sign with the boys; being able to communicate without sound would be a big help right now.

She led them past Sharlie’s swing and took a seat on a tree root, finally blowing out the stress she’d been holding in.

“We need to talk.” She had them both sit in front of her. Sharlie had fallen asleep in her arms. Good.

“I know you two killed that man in the lake. Now I need to know, right now- why?”

Both boys looked at each other sideways.

“Have you two forgotten how we met? Out with it. Start at the beginning.”

Eric cleared his throat and told her everything; about the hidden camera, what they’d seen on it, how they had set up Holsun, about the phone calls Nathan had made, how they had found the pervert and identified him as being the same man who’d mugged her, and what they’d done with him...

She held Sharlie tighter as Eric told her everything. He couldn’t meet her in the eye as he finished. Siah didn’t know what to say.

Since they’d never mentioned it, she’d just assumed Sharlie had never told them about the attempted kidnapping. It had never occurred to her they would know about Holsun’s latest assault on her … and what they had done to that man…

This explained a lot. She didn’t realize how long she’d been staring in dazed silence until Nathan shocked her out of it.

“He was evil!” He stood and shouted. “He deserved it! Even Jesus said so!”

She couldn’t believe this, the one time she had read them the Bible and that was what they’d gotten out of it?

Siah let her tears flow as she handed Sharlie to Eric, stood and wrapped Nathan in the tightest hug she thought he could handle. The angry boy stiffened in her embrace.

“Sweetheart, I’m not sorry you killed him. Those men were more evil than you even know. I’m just sorry it came down to that. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you from having to do that. I am so sorry sweetheart.”

*

She held him for a while before pulling away and looking him in the eye, horrified.

“Boys, that crane thing you used on the pervert? Where is it?!”

Eric answered. “Off to the side of a house by the lake, close to the pier.” Her eyes widened.

“How close?”

“Maybe a ten minute walk. It’s farther from the pier than we are from the apartment now.”

“Did you leave it exposed or hidden?”

“Hidden.”

“How well? What did you do to hide it?”

“Just some brush and branches.” Siah went silent. She held a look of intense thought that was making him nervous. He slid his eyes to Eric. He was thinking the same thing. Even Sharlie was beginning to squirm in Eric’s arms. He was glad he hadn’t woken her up when he’d shouted.

“Boys, this is important, so I need you both to think very carefully- did the Marshals take any fingerprints while they were at the apartment right now? Think carefully.”

It occurred to him then what she was getting at. If they had found usable prints on the crane, they could connect them to the pervert’s death.

“No, they took a lot of photos and measured stuff, but they didn’t take any fingerprints.” Eric was right. He knew what fingerprint powder was and the cops had never brought out any.

“And I’m positive we never left any prints on the crane. It’s really heavy so we always had to use work gloves to haul it.”

“What about the inner workings, could you have possibly left any prints inside it? The gears and what not?”

“We always had to lubricate the thing with a rag; I can’t have left any good prints on it.”

“Okay.” she breathed a sigh of relief. “Why didn’t you two just put the thing away?”

“It had started to rain when I was-” he looked from him to Sharlie. She was awake now so he chose his words carefully.

“Done with it – and it’s pretty heavy. So I just left it close to the pond.”

“So it was raining even when you were putting it away?”

“It was raining even when I was done with it.” They both turned at his sudden speech.

Siah put a hand to her head and blew out a breath. “We might actually get away with this.”

We?

*

“That said, torturing that man was a stupid, reckless thing to do. Don’t ever do it again. ”

Eric’s back went rigid.

“Don’t give me that look. What if the Marshals had come here a day early? What if they’d found that thing before the elements got to it? What if they had arrested you for what you did to that man?” They both reared back at Siah’s anger. She’d never shouted at them before. With her soft, deep voice, he hadn’t thought she was capable. It was jarring.

She gripped them by the shoulders, him on his good shoulder.

“You have to consider the bigger picture!” She looked him straight in the eye, “Nathan, torturing someone hurts the one doing it as much as it hurts the one it’s being done to. Promise me, now, both of you, that you will not torture anyone to death ever again.”

Eric slid his gaze to him. They didn’t want to lie to Siah, but… really…?

“I’m not asking you to not kill again, or even not to force someone to talk by inflicting pain.”

“I’m asking you to not torture anyone for your own pleasure, ever again.”

He met Eric’s gaze. They were thinking the same thing. They both nodded. That they could promise.

*

Both boys nodded. She held Nathan’s hand as she sat back down and pointed with her chin to the ground next to her. Nathan sat and she put a hand on each boy’s knee while Sharlie snuggled back into Eric. The tiny girl in the huge boys’ lap made for an adorable picture.

“You’ve filled in a lot of blanks for me. Now let me fill in some blanks for you.”

So she told them the story from her side.

Eight months ago she had contacted the U.S. Marshals to beg them to investigate Holsun. He had already been on their radar, but they hadn’t known the extent of his involvement in the Ochoa Cartels U.S. network until she had come to them.

She was made an informant and they had given her a number to call whenever she heard any information about him or his movements. She heard a lot at the clinic and had had plenty to report. All the information she had given them had been part of what had led to a coordinated arrest operation that had spanned nine states with the goal of crippling the Ochoa Cartels stranglehold on the western half of the United States. The Marshals arriving in Tinplate today had been part of that operation.

Both boys gaped.

“When Sharlie was almost kidnapped, I’d been ready to call it quits and leave- but then you two came in.”

She gripped both of their hands as she continued.

Marshal Thompson had told her of an, “anonymous informant”, who among other things, had been giving them startlingly accurate information that led to a large stockpile of cash and loot Holsun had squirreled away from his cartel bosses. When the Ochoa’s found out, they had put a hit out on him.

She looked at Nathan in wonder. “So, you were the informant.”

She turned to Eric. “And you did the legwork.”

Both boys nodded seriously. She closed her eyes in thought. It occurred to her- she really should be afraid at the two young killers in front of her, but honestly, had it really been murder? The only case that was in question was the one they had tortured/drowned.

If that Monster had gotten away with Sharlie … the thoughts that had been percolating in her head and heart for weeks came down, in that moment, to a conscious decision. She slowly blew out a breath as she opened her eyes. She put a hand on the backs of each of their heads, making sure they were facing her.

“Never go behind my back like that again. Understand?” Her tone brooked no argument. Both boys nodded. “We don’t keep secrets from each other. Ever.”

She pulled both of them into a fierce hug. Tentatively, they both genuinely hugged her back. She felt herself tear up again. This was a huge moment for them, she hated to rush it, but it was getting too cold to stay out much longer and there were some things she couldn’t say indoors.

She pulled back from them.

“Boys, there’s something you need to know. We must NEVER speak of this inside the apt.”

Eric wiped shining eyes. “Why?”

“It may be bugged.”

Nathan reared his head back. “What?”

“I don’t know that that’s actually happened, but earlier Marshal Thompson told me they have a sitting judge travelling with them now. That means they can get near instant access to warrants. Holsun had been a high value target, so they may be suspicious. When we get back, check around.”

*

On the other side of town the remaining citizens of Tinplate cheered as Thompson and his team led several of Holsun’s old crew into the jail. The building had been neglected but was still serviceable. Marshal Thompson had expected public backlash from the numerous arrests, you never could tell, so the cheering crowd was a pleasant surprise.

He and his team would take their turns interrogating each man over the next few days before taking them to Boulder for incarceration until trial. The plan was to maintain a presence in Tinplate for another two to four weeks while they sifted through the mess that was left of the network Holsun had based out of Tinplate.

The information uncovered during those interrogations made him begin to wonder about Doctor Villalobos- and those boys.

*

Siah shivered. “It’s getting way too cold. Let’s head back.”

They walked back in silence. It was weird. It wasn’t like tense or anything. It was like they were just calm around each other; just like before…

He dared a question.

“Siah, why did you tell the Marshals you and me shot Holsun instead of me and Eric?”

He recognized the look she gave him. She was deciding what she would say.

“Do you remember the night I went hunting, how I told you how I’m perceived?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sure you noticed most of the Marshals on Thompson’s posse were men.”

They both nodded.

“Thompson’s team knows I’m the single mother of a small child. I may know you as you are Nathan, but to a stranger, you’re just a scrawny, scarred boy with a bullet hole in your chest. You’re immediately sympathetic. Eric is not. If he’d been the one the Marshals had seen holding that gun in the doorway, they might’ve shot on sight.”

She put a hand on his thick shoulder. “Eric, when I sent you into the backroom with an unfired gun and told you to go hold Sharlie, the one I was protecting, was you. The Marshals took their weapons off you as soon as they saw you holding Sharlie didn’t they?”

Eric nodded. “They did.”

“They may have arrested Eric, and not being anything to him legally, there wouldn’t have been much I could do. Honestly, I may be selling Marshal Thompson and his men short, but I’m not going to risk losing either of you.”

She wasn’t going to risk losing- them? They walked back to the apartment in silence.

“Now that I think about it, it’s a good thing Thompson isn’t a woman.”

“What do you mean?”

“Women are usually more suspicious of other women.”

Well that was weird.

Siah put a hand to her head. “We might actually get away with this.” She blew out a breath. “Law enforcement agencies can’t keep listening devices in place indefinitely and they can’t stay in Tinplate for long. If they did put a bug in the house, they’ll have to retrieve it before they leave.”

“Sharlie,” she made sure she had the little girl’s attention from her perch in Eric’s arms.

“We’re not going to talk about what happened today with the bad man at the apartment. We only talk about that outside. Understand?”

“Okay mama.” Sharlie reached out and Siah took her and just held her close, held her close and tight as she put a hand on first Eric and then his shoulder. He didn’t know how to describe her face just then. But, he thought, maybe she was proud of him. They walked home the rest of the way home in silence.

*

“So, what were you two planning to tell me about the front door?” Eric looked sideways at him as he put the key in the lock. “I had some extra plywood ready. I was just gonna tell you we replaced the old boards with some new ones.”

“And did you think Sharlie wouldn’t tell me anything?”

Nathan surprised himself by speaking up. “We were gonna say we’d played a game with her.”

She gave him a deadpan glare.

“Never do that again.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Siah seemed to want to say something, but then stopped.

She leaned over and hugged them both. He surprised himself when he hugged her back a little.

*

Strange, she had spent years praying for a man in her life, for children, a family of her own… She smirked to herself. She really should have been more specific.

Two things struck Siah when they stepped back into the apartment; the first was that there was no trace of fingerprint powder anywhere.

Thank you Lord.

The second was the floor. The Marshalls had taken the rug Eric had found along with several more chunks of the original carpet, leaving only a few pieces clinging pathetically to the edges of the room. Shame about that rug, it had been nice.

“Hey, Eric…” she set Sharlie down as she gestured to the floor in general. “On it.” He pulled out his knife and attacked the floor. Sweet boy, apparently, he’d been thinking the same thing. The foreign sound of the phone ringing caused all of them to jump.

She ran and answered it quickly.

“Hello?”

“Siah?”

“Mason! Hi,” all three kids had followed her into the kitchen. She waved them off.

“It’s great to hear from you! Are you in Boulder yet?”

“Siah, thank God. I heard about what happened over the radio, are you alright?”

“Yes Mason, I’m alright.” The radio?

“And the boys?”

“They’re alright. Uh, Mason, what exactly did you hear on the radio?”

“That Brent Holsun was shot and killed by a mother and son in Tinplate. I couldn’t think of anyone who fit that description besides you and the boys. Are you all alright?”

“Yes, we’re fine. Uh, Mason, you didn’t tell anyone else about knowing who we are did you?”

“No, of course not.” Siah breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“Thanks, the last thing we need is to be known for this kind of thing.”

His silence spoke volumes.

“What?”

“Are you so sure that would be a bad thing?

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Never one to mince words, Mason got right to the point.

“Siah, you are a unique woman with a unique skill set. The boys are the same. What would have happened to Tinplate, to everyone Holsun was hurting with his evil if you and the boys hadn’t been there, as a team, as a family?”

He was hitting a nerve.

“What are you getting at Mason?”

“I’m saying, are you sure this isn’t the answer to your own question? Are you sure this isn’t what you are supposed to be doing?”

“Mason, being ready for danger is one thing but going into it on purpose is something else entirely.”

“Are you sure danger isn’t good for them?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Siah, from what you’ve told me, the boys have never been safe. They’ve grown up in danger. Can you really picture them living normal lives, going to a normal high school- or even being normal yourself? After everything you’ve been through the last few years, do you really want to even try to be normal again?”

Now it was her turn to be silent. It was like he was giving voice to what God had been whispering to her. How did he always do that?

“Siah, I know you want to protect them, but the boys have more experience and skill than most men twice their age. They will follow your lead; I’m just asking you to consider what is genuinely best for them.”

Her own words came back to haunt her, … in civilization I’m just a tiny woman, either to be protected or taken advantage of, but out in the wild with a weapon in hand, I’m just another predator.

She took a deep breath. Breathe in and out...

“I hear what you’re saying Mason,” she said slowly, “but what other alternative lifestyle do you suggest?”

To her everlasting shock, he had a ready answer for her.

*

Nathan listened in on the conversation as he and Sharlie stuffed rags into the seams between the plywood boards the Marshalls had nailed over the front door. The last thing they needed were drafts making them sick, especially Sharlie.

That was how he found it, right along the very bottom of the frame was a tiny metal chip with a tiny wire sticking out of it. So Siah was right, the Marshals had bugged the apartment. If he’d been less worried about Sharlie’s health, he would’ve missed it.

He didn’t react immediately. Now that he thought about it, wasn’t this- odd? The Marshalls really could’ve hidden this better. Did they want this one to be found? For all he knew this was some kind of police procedure to make them feel safe to talk in only one room.

Taking one of the extra blankets Siah had brought from the clinic, he rolled it tightly and stuffed it all over the boarded-up door, smothering the tiny listening device completely. Could he possibly smother the thing enough to make it useless? He didn’t really want to break it; that would only peak the Marshals attention.

Siah had said not to talk about the shooting while in the house, but stuff happened.

Eric was still tearing out what was left of the carpet while Siah banked the fire. He touched her shoulder and jerked his head to the bathroom. She took the hint and followed him without a sound. He started to talk but she shushed him the same way she had shushed Eric earlier.

“It’s okay sweetie. It’s okay.” she said the words in a soothing tone as she turned on the water in the tub without looking at him.

“Come on sweetie; let’s just wash all that off.”

She invited him into a hug. Oh. Ok.

He stepped into her arms. Still getting used to her habit of hugging, he was startled when she whispered into his ear in a normal tone.

“What’s up?”

Oh. She wasn’t letting go of him, so he just whispered back to her like she had to him.

“You were right. There’s a bug in the door frame. It’s wedged to the plywood they put over the front door.”

He felt her nod against his shoulder.

“Makes sense. I’ll tell Eric. Go ahead and wash up for real. I’ll bring you some hot water. Check for bugs. Don’t let on if you find any, just whisper to me when you get out, same as we’re doing now.”

“Got it.”

He was actually starving but a hot bath would feel great.

*

Siah watched the water boil and contemplated what she was doing; She was protecting two boys who killed and assaulted without batting an eye, who had strategically ruined a man’s life to the extent of setting him up to get killed. Then there was what they had done to that pervert in the lake...

Even then could taking out that pervert rightly be called murder? From the first time she had met them, could any of the deaths the boys were responsible for truly be called murder when each time there had not been any real choice? Even with regard to the pervert, the man had presented a clear and present danger. If the boys had simply killed him when they’d found him in the alley, she would call it justifiable, protective even; she would not have batted an eye.

No, the only action she found truly wrong was not the murder itself, it was the torture

The water was boiling. She would deal with existential questions later. She’d already gotten after them about it. She would just have to see to it, over the long term, that they kept their word.

She dumped the hot water into the tub for Nathans bath and went to go finish up dinner. She knelt over the fireplace and checked the stew. It was almost warm enough to eat.

She looked at Eric who was focused on tearing out the last of the carpet and the tacky wooden things along the side with her grandfather’s old claw hammer.

He had had to move all of their bedding to another wall. It was a good thing the boys put her mattress up against the wall every morning. If it had been lying in its usual spot, it would have been covered in blood spatter.

Speaking of blood splatter, there was a lot to clean up. The rug may be gone but the goopy matted blood that had pooled under it where Holsun had fallen remained.

She and Eric sopped up the blood as well as they could, Sharlie, “helping”, by digging every spare rag out from under the kitchen sink. When all that was left was a stain in the wood floor. Siah busted out the bleach and together they scrubbed everything down.

She brushed her fingertips over the now bare hardwood floor. The floor looked clean, technically it was clean, but she knew better, with the right equipment anyone could find where the blood had been.

There may be blood, but it was clean. It was clean, sturdy and useful. It had held up to the bleach without further warping.

She abruptly rose, went to the kitchen cabinet under the sink and pulled out an old bottle of wood polish she’d found when she’d moved in here and never thought she’d use.

Quickly scanning the directions, she took the last of the clean rags and attacked the old hardwood floor. The wood polish did better than she could’ve hoped. The dull warped floorboards shone; the smell of the wood soap, a welcome balm to her nerves.

Eric scrubbed alongside her as she dumped the remnants of the bottle onto the floor, even going up to the half wooden walls.

Finished, she stood back and surveyed her work. She had never had time for such things as polishing wood since she’d moved in here, but now that she’d finally done it, this little apartment didn’t look nearly as shabby.

Despite what had been done to it, the wood floor now shone beautifully in the firelight. Nathan had come out of his bath and now both boys stood on either side of her. She put a hand on each of their shoulders. There was no doubt in her mind; she was making the right decision.

Dinner was a quiet affair, as was their essential oil treatment that night. They all felt the need for peace. Even Sharlie was more calm than usual and took turns snuggling each of them while making comments about how shiny the floor looked and how nice it smelled.

They all quietly got ready for bed, each one admiring the shiny wood floor under them. Siah fell into a peaceful sleep, closing her eyes on the warped old wood that shone beautifully.



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