Calamity Falls

Calamity Falls

 

NaNoWriMo

November 2012

Completed November 30th

Final Word Count 50390

 

The bright early winter sun shone through a small crack in the deep burgundy curtains piercing the sound sleep that had fallen over Jacki Melborn just a few short hours ago. She squinted, rolled away from the window, and pulled her comforter up over her head.

It was early December in the small mountain town of Calamity Falls. Most of the fair weather tourist had packed up and headed home for the season, and all that was left was a handful of locals and the die hard ski fans. Most of whom Jacki had no desire to associate with. If it were up to her, she would stay in her warm little cabin home and hibernate like a grizzly. Unfortunately being the town sheriff it was pretty much impossible to avoid the tourist or the locals. Of which she was reminded as her phone began to ring.

She stayed snuggled under her covers for a few moments, hoping that this phone call wasn’t anything important and that her single deputy on duty this morning could handle whatever calamity had befallen her small little town so early in the morning. The phone grew silent as it clicked over to voice mail. She waited listening for the dreaded second call, which would signal that she needed to make her way into town as soon as possible. The room remained silent, except for Jacki’s sigh of relief.

It wasn’t that she didn’t love her job, or her this special little complicated town, but she had been out on a search and rescue mission until the wee hours of the morning. She needed to recover from a night tromping through three feet of snow in Dead Man’s Pass before she could properly do her job.

Dwayne her one and only faithful deputy could handle just about anything that came up for a few hours. He had lived and worked in this town for fifty years. The only reason he wasn’t sheriff was because he didn’t want the political responsibility.

Jacki had been a decorated State police officer before she was assigned to Calamity Falls just a few years prior. At first she was excited about all of the opportunities afforded by getting a chance to make a difference in a small town. She had heard all the stories and rumors about the famed Calamity Falls since she was a child, but she always thought they were more legend than fact. Until she was in the thick of it.

Calamity Falls did not receive it’s name by accident. In Jacki’s first few months as acting sheriff there were sixteen hikers that went missing, twenty four skiing accidents, and thirty six fatal car accidents all of indeterminate cause. Some called the little stretch of mountain road that ran through Calamity Falls a cursed stretch of road, and anyone who dared to drive up through Dead Man’s Pass was practically suicidal.

It was amazing that the town had survived at all with all of the annual fatalities. Jacki suspected that a lot of the tourism was brought here by such outlandish numbers, thrill seekers, conspiracy theorist, paranormal research and the grief stricken families when one of the aforementioned went missing. The air about the town was thick with sadness and depression. It was only slightly offset by the breath taking beauty of the surroundings. During the Spring and Summer you couldn’t find a more beautiful valley in all of the mountain ranges of the world.

As Jacki was just about to doze back into blissful dreams of Summer, the phone began to ring again.

“I better answer this one.” Jacki mumbled to herself as she threw back the covers and made her way across her bedroom to her cell phone ringing and bouncing back and forth on her dresser.

“Hello?” Jacki yawned.

“Jacki, it’s Dwayne. We’ve got a bit of a situation down here at the station. If you could come in as soon as possible I would really appreciate it.” Dwayne said a note of extreme irritation in his voice.

“What’s going on, Dwayne?” Jacki asked, now more alert than before.

“I think you better come down and see the situation for yourself. No one’s in danger or been hurt, but… you just need to come down here.”

“Good Lord, Dwayne. Is it another reporter from Dallas about this missing kid in Dead Man’s Pass?” Jacki asked trying to get as much information as possible out of Dwayne before she made up her mind about traveling down from her seclusion into town.

“You could say that. Trust me Jacki.” Was all Dwayne said before gently hanging up the phone.

If it had been any other deputy in any other town, Jacki would have been furious for being disrespected with a hang up, but this was Dwayne, and this was Calamity Falls. Getting hung up on here wasn’t a sign of disrespect, but a silent message of urgency. In fact if some one actually took the time to end a phone call politely, it usually meant they were hiding something.

She supposed it had something to do with the constant flow of angry family coming to look for their lost loved ones. Manners were the last of their worries, and a lot of their impatience and lack of tact had eventually rubbed off onto the local community.

She padded from her bed room into the small kitchenette and started making herself a pot of coffee. As she was standing in front of the coffee maker measuring out the correct amount of grounds, she glanced up and looked out the small window above her sink. It had snowed again in the few hours she had been asleep. Just a light dusting, but it was enough to give the pines and bare maples an almost mystic quality. The early morning sun light reflected off the small snow covered branches and made the empty barren forest feel alive with possibilities. If she were awake at this time of morning for any other reason she would have admired the beauty, but because she was in a hurry she merely got a glimpse before she turned around and headed back to her bedroom while she left the coffee to percolate.

She started to grab a uniform out of her closet, but considering she still didn’t know exactly what was going on down at the station she opted for a smart looking black pinstripe suit. She was going for political instead of authoritarian. Hopefully if it was just a reporter or some upset family member of the most recent victim of Calamity Falls it would have more of a calming effect instead of giving off the err of superiority of the uniform.

Not taking the time to shower, Jacki dashed from the bedroom to the bathroom and gave her hair a quick blow dry, and tucked it up in a smart little bun. She quickly threw on some foundation and mascara, and returned to her bedroom gracefully sliding into the suit. She quickly filled a thermos with her fresh coffee, grabbed a jacket and made her way out to her large department 4×4.

She climbed into the drivers seat, and not bothering to let the engine warm up she started down the winding snow covered road. She wasn’t driving fast by any means, but she wasn’t creeping as she normally did when leaving the house. She was more intrigued than worried, but she was still in a hurry to figure out what was going on.

 

————————————————————

 

Ricochet McHendon sat quietly on one of two old orange plastic chairs in the lobby of the quiet little police station as his sister Cherokee paced back and forth yelling obscenities into her cell phone. They had flown in from Dallas this morning to aid in the search for their youngest sibling, Rogue, who had gone missing off of Dead Man’s Pass two days prior. Ric couldn’t understand why Cher was so upset, but he had learned to live with it over the past 23 years. Cher was always the most ambitious of the three, and it was no surprise that she graduated high school early, and had already received two law degrees. She was used to getting her way, and getting it fast. Patience was not one of her strong suits. He felt kind of bad for the deputy that had born the brunt of Cher’s wrath for the better part of an hour while they were waiting for Sheriff Melborn to arrive. He had no idea whom she was yelling at over the phone now. He had blocked out her ranting after the first obscenity filled sentence.

“Well!” Cher shouted in Ric’s direction, pulling his attention back from his daydreaming. “If we waste too much more time waiting for this so called sheriff they will have one hell of a wrongful death suite on their hands! Why aren’t there more people out searching for him? Is this entire town incapable of waking up before noon? It’s twenty degrees out there Ric! Twenty degrees! Even with all of Rogue’s experience out in these conditions there is no telling how long he’ll last or how many supplies he has or if he was hurt when his car went off the road into the ravine.”

“Cher, sweetness, you need to calm down or this sheriff is going to toss you into one of those cells for bein’ a crazy nut bag.” Ric answered in his trade mark smooth Southern drawl.

“Ha! I’d like to see him try!” Cher harrumphed.

“Her.” Jacki said as the door closed with a squeak behind her.

“What?” Cher spat turning around ready for a fight.

“I’m the sheriff Ms…?” Jacki said calmly.

“McHendon, Cherokee McHendon, and this is my brother Ricochet.” Cher answered still with a defiant tone in her voice, but she had lowered the volume to a more manageable indoor level.

“You must be family to Rogue.” Jacki said turning to offer a handshake to Ric who had stood and walked over.

With a smile he accepted.

“I’m sorry about the accident Ms. McHendon, but we are doing everything we can. At this time of year, no matter how much we want to search it’s just too dangerous to be out every hour of every day. The town didn’t get it’s name for being a great vacation spot. It’s just as dangerous for us out there as it is for your brother.” Jacki explained as she walked behind the counter and glanced at Dwayne who silently rolled his eyes in agreement.

Jacki had delivered this speech hundreds of times before, and normally it was followed by screaming, crying, threats or all of the above. This time it was met with silence, which after seeing Cher’s attitude upon arrival was quite a surprise.

She turned around to see why she wasn’t receiving one of the normal responses, and saw only Ric in the lobby. Cher was no where to be seen.

“Where did she go?” Jacki asked.

“Who knows. Probably down to the bar for a drink. She doesn’t handle bad new well. I’m just as surprised as you are she didn’t put up more of a fight.” Ric answered stepping closer to the counter. “Sheriff Melborn, as a fellow defender of the peace, I’d like to know what’s really being done about the search for my brother, not just the official statement bull.”

He pulled his Dallas County badge out of his back pocket and showed it to Jacki. She gave him a blank look in return. She wasn’t quite sure how to take him.

“Mr McHendon…” She began.

“Ric.” He interrupted.

“Ric, what I told your sister isn’t just the official statement. It’s what’s really going on. We don’t waste time with official statements here in Calamity Falls. I tell people the truth from the start. It helps them grieve and move on. If I gave everyone the same official statement I would have people chasing after ghosts for years.”

“Would you be willing to take me up to the crash site? Just so I can get a feel of my own on what happened?” Ric asked, undaunted by Jacki’s cold reply.

“I can arrange it, but not until after it stops snowing.” Jacki answered.

Ric nodded politely, and turned to leave. “Thank you Sheriff. I’ll be back in an hour or so, after I catch my sister and keep her from tearing your town apart.”

With a tip of an imaginary hat, Ric walked out the door.

“They sure are something.” Dwayne said after the door squeaked shut.

“Yes they are. Although if Rogue is anything like the rest of them it gives me a little glimmer of hope about his survival.” Jacki answered. “Are they what all the fuss was about?”

“Yeah. I tried everything I could to get them to calm down and leave until you got in, but the girl is some hot shot lawyer and started spewing legal jargon at me that I didn’t understand.” Dwayne explained as Jacki walked back into her office.

She was already in for the day. There was no reason to turn right around and go home.

“Did anything else exciting happen last night Dwayne?” Jacki called back toward the front desk.

“Nah. Nothing more than the usual reports of some sliding snow up near the peak, a few accidents on Dead Man’s Pass, none fatal, and a bar fight where one fellow wound up with a broken arm.” Dwayne answered walking back into Jacki’s office with a donut box. “Want one?” He asked offering the box to Jacki.

“Not this morning, thanks. Did you write up the bar fight?”

“I did. I was actually just finishing up the last of the paper work before those two Dallas folk showed up. After that I was going out on patrol until the rest of the search crews showed up.” Dwayne answered, picking the remaining donut out of the box and taking a hefty bite.

“Sounds good. Thanks Dwayne.” Jacki said, expecting Dwayne to turn and walk back to his desk. When he didn’t she looked up from her computer screen. “What is it?”

“This whole business with the McHendon clan. Do you think his family is in on it?” Dwayne asked.

“I can’t be sure, Dwayne. I also can’t be sure there is anything to be “in” on. Just because we found his car ran off the road, drugs in the trunk and blood in the passenger seat doesn’t mean he was part of anything other than a stupid mistake.”

“But that Lawyer was really agitated and angry. She knows something.”

“I agree she was a little more upset than a concerned sister, but again. Until we find him or evidence to what he was involved in if anything, we have to assume the best about his family.”

“I don’t like it, Jacki. Especially that smooth talking brother of his.”

“Neither do I, Dwayne. That’s why I’m running a check through the national database to see if Ric is actually a cop before I take him up to the scene of the accident. Not that there will be anything to see under the fresh snow. If he is a good cop, maybe another set of fresh eyes will help us put an end to all of this.”

“Alright Jacki. Just be careful.” Dwayne said as he turned and walked back to his desk.

“I will be.” Jacki said under her breath as she pulled up the necessary website to check out this Ricochet McHendon.

 

————————————————————

 

Ric pulled up the collar on his jacket as he walked the two blocks from the sheriffs small office to the only local bar. He wasn’t sure that is where Cher went, but it was a logical place to start if nothing else. The weather was worlds away from Dallas at twenty degrees, with a brisk wind coming off the mountain and whipping it’s way through the valley with brute force. Both he and Cher had to buy winter clothes before leaving the airport and surrounding major city to trek up the mountain. He was wishing now that he had bought the goose down coat the sales person at the mall had suggested. At the lower altitude the weather was still a mild sixty degrees. Ric had a hard time believing that it could be so different a few miles up the mountain. He was sadly mistaken.

He reached the door to the small bar appropriately named Calamity Jane’s and tried the handle. To his great surprise it swung open. He carefully glanced at the hours on the opposite door.

“Open twenty four hours? How is that even legal?” He wondered allowed as he continued his way into the dimly lit room.

As he suspected Cher was sitting at the bar nursing a vodka tonic. The bartender was no where to be seen as Ric walked up to the seat next to Cher and took a seat.

“What was that all about?” He asked as Cher turned to face him.

“What was what about? Storming out and heading over here? Why should I stay and argue with another country bumpkin? No one will understand the severity of the situation, even if we told them the whole story. Coming up here was a mistake.” Cher slurred, as she downed the remainder of her drink and slammed the glass down on the bar.

“How many of those have you had, Cher?” Ric asked, still looking around for a bartender.

“I don’t know. As many as I want. No one was here so I helped myself.” Cher answered as she reached over the bar and mixed herself another drink.

“Cher!” Ric yelled, slapping the bottle out of her hand. “Come on, is this place even open? You’re a lawyer how can you just walk into a place and make yourself a drink with out even thinking of the consequences?”

“Everyone else does it at these hours. Don’t worry. I pay for a bottle of everything before I leave at night. Whomever wanders in here after that is taken care of.” An older woman with salt and pepper hair said as she walked out of the storage room and behind the bar. “Do you want me to finish that for you sweety?”

“See Ric? Don’t be so uptight. Everyone does it. Make it a double lady.” Cher said smugly nearly falling from her chair.

Ric only shook his head and grabbed her shoulder to steady her.

“I assume you must be Jane?” Ric asked the bartender and she quickly threw together Cher’s drink and handed it to her.

“And I assume you are family of that boy that went missing after the accident Tuesday?” She replied.

“Yes’m. Ricochet McHendon, and my sister Cherokee. Ric and Cher.” Ric answered extending a friendly hand.

“I see. I’m Beth. The bar is named after the town not me.” Beth replied ignoring Ric’s out stretched hand, and going through an inventory of her stock to see what all had been consumed while she was gone if anything. “Do you want anything or are you going to remain dry until a more appropriate drinking hour?”

Ric lowered his hand back to the bar and shook his head in answer to her question.

“I think I’ll pass right now. Some one has to get this one home. Do you mind if I ask how what you are doing with this bar is legal? You can’t just leave it open for everyone all hours of the night. It’s against state policy.”

Beth paused, and turned back around to face Ric.

“Honey, in Calamity Falls a lot of things get over looked. Even by the state.”

“But wouldn’t an unattended alcohol stash add to the towns statistics of… well for lack of a better word, calamity?”

Beth gave Ric a once over, before she answered.

“This bar is open for families like you who come up here looking for their lost loved ones. If I lock the doors some one just breaks in. There is something up in these parts that makes people go crazy. Maybe it’s the thin air, maybe this place is just cursed by the Devil himself, but here in Calamity Falls you don’t go a day without seeing a new face here grieving over the loss of a loved one. It’s a mystery to me why people still come up here. Even the locals are risking death and destruction just by choosing to stay here another day.”

“Why do you stay here then?” Ric asked.

“Nowhere else to go. My husband was killed in Iraq, my kids have all grown and started families of their own, I’m an only child. I’m just biding my time until death creeps up on me. I figured I’d give him an advantage by staying here.” Beth answered bluntly.

Ric paused looking at this weather beaten woman hardened not only by a harsh mountain existence, but by life itself. He silently wondered if the rest of the locals had the same outlook on life. Other than Beth, Jacki and the deputy at the sheriff’s department Ric hadn’t encountered any other locals.

“They are. Well, except for Jacki. She’s only arrived here a couple of years ago.” Beth said as if reading Ric’s mind before she disappeared behind a door that presumably lead to the kitchen. “But is that really such a bad thing Mr McHendon? To have a place to go when you’re ready for death? No one is born here in Calamity Falls, the weak and tired migrate here to live out their last days in peace.” She said as she returned with a fresh pot of coffee.

Ric thought about this for several moments as he accepted the cup of coffee Beth prepared for him. He supposed it wasn’t truly a terrible thing for those searching for death could find a sense of community in this town, but he also wondered how many of Calamity Falls’ supposed accidents went uninvestigated under this philosophy. Surely since Jacki had only moved here several years ago the investigations were serious and complete, but after learning this tid bit about the town he couldn’t be sure. Maybe Cher did need to call in a favor with the state police. After the sobered up, that much was clear.

Cher had finished her last drink and was now slumped over on the bar staring off into space while attempting to sing along with the radio. She was in no condition to walk down the street let alone call the state police department for anything.

“So, since the laws are so lax around here about everything else, does that mean Cher here can walk back to our hotel with out getting arrested?” Ric asked Beth, who was now cleaning up a few bits of trash left here and there by overnight patrons.

“Depends on what kind of mood Dwayne is in, and if he likes you.” Beth answered honestly. “If she was ranting and raving in the sheriff’s office anything like she was ranting and raving when she first got in here, I can say a ticket is in her near future possibly even a stint in the one room jail house.”

Just what Ric was afraid of. Cher had been here for less than a few hours and already she had managed to find an enemy. He wished his little sister would learn that just because she could argue a witness into giving a full confession on the stand, didn’t mean she could argue with everyone about everything and get her way. She had a very strong personality and she was very persuasive when she needed to be, but most of the time it didn’t earn her any favors. In fact if she didn’t have such a strong personality and a shot gun, Ric would spend most of his time protecting her like he had while they were growing up.

Ric protected both of his younger siblings while they were growing up. It was one of the deciding factors in his eventual career decision. He and Cher had never known their father, and their step father was a sad excuse for a replacement. He was drunk seventy five percent of the time, and when he wasn’t drunk he was high or angry. Ric wasn’t sure why their mother had stayed with their step father so long, but once she found her self pregnant with her youngest son, Rogue, she packed up several bags picked up Ric and Cher from school and drove off into the night.

After her original flight, they never stayed in one place for very long. Ric and Cher had grown up in Texas. The entire state of Texas was their home town, they had moved around so much unless either of them took the time to look up their birth certificate neither of them could remember exactly where they were born. It wasn’t a bad life by any means. They grew up fast, but that was inevitable the children of a hard working single mom, even if they had settled down in one town.

Their mother never had the urge to leave Texas. I guess she figured that it was a big enough state with plenty of places to hide from their step father. She was right until about five years ago when he finally caught up to her in a dark alley as she was leaving her night job. It was a brutal scene to behold. He had taken out all of the years of pent up rage in one savage attack. If she hadn’t been the only employee working at the small copy shop, and he hadn’t taken his own life as he realized what he had done it would have been next to impossible to identify the her.

It was supposed to be Ric’s first big case until the victim was identified as his mother. He can still remember the first things he heard about his mother’s death. Not how sorry any one was, or how tragic the event had been. No, he got the cold hard facts, right down to the nitty gritty details. Thinking about it even now made a cold shiver run down his spine. It also snapped him back to reality where he realized he had been sitting at the bar staring off into space as several more patrons came in. As he began to look around he was greeted by Beth’s wary glare.

“I’m sorry. I suppose we’ve worn out our welcome here. I should get her home anyway.” Ric said as he stood and turned to pull out his wallet to pay their tab.

“Don’t worry about it. What you need to worry about is finding your brother in one piece.” Beth said, waving away his money. “And getting her back to the hotel before Dwayne starts his rounds.”

Ric nodded in appreciation, and gently led his sister from her stupor on the bar out into the cold morning air and back to their hotel room.

 

————————————————————

Jacki had lost track of time delving into Ric’s past. There was quite a file on Mr. McHendon. Nothing terrible or criminal on his record, but he seemed to move around every few months. He had well over one hundred previous addresses on file, and with that much moving around who knew what didn’t get recorded or reported. She thought it was odd and it peaked her interest, but the matter of fact what that Ric was who he said he was.

His service record with the state police in Texas was impressive to say the least. If he was a dirty cop he worked very hard to hide the fact, but if he wasn’t he certainly didn’t know what his little brother had gotten himself into. She couldn’t find much on the annoying lawyer sister, other than the dates when she passed the bar exam, and graduated from school. Jacki assumed she had gotten her records sealed for whatever reason. Maybe it was to prevent black mail, or maybe it was just because she wanted to hide from some one or something. Either way, her file was shockingly empty compaired with her brothers’.

Rogue, so far, had lived up to his name. He had a criminal record a mile long. Nothing more than misdemeanors, but from the time he was fourteen Rogue had been a trouble maker. It wasn’t surprising then that he found himself in the predicament that he was in with the suspicious circumstances surrounding his auto accident. It was Calamity Falls, but even so his accident sent up red flags every where. Dwayne was even particularly upset with it, and Dwayne had been on the force so long in this weird little town that hardly anything got his attention.

Jacki closed out the window on her computer monitor and rocked back in her desk chair rubbing the sleep and hurt out of her weary eyes. It had been a very long couple of days, and it was shaping up to be an even more drawn out affair that she had any desire for. That was another thing about this town. When something unusual happened, the repercussions stuck around for an eternity. She was dogmatic about finding out the truth behind each and every accident, but even she had to admit her town had more than it’s fair share of unsolved cases.

As she continued to ponder the weight of the case at hand Dwayne wandered back in from his rounds.

“Anything to report today Dwayne?” She called after he came in the door and slipped behind the small front desk.

“Nothing out of the ordinary.” Dwayne replied. “Well unless you count NOTHING as out of the ordinary here. It was pretty quiet around town this morning. Even up on Dead Man’s Pass.”

“Well that’s a refreshing change. Have you heard from the rest of the rescue team? Since I was on the afternoon effort I don’t know what time I’m supposed to be expecting volunteers.” Jacki asked rising from her chair and walking out into the lobby to join Dwayne.

“I’m surprised they haven’t already shown up, unless that lawyer scared them off with threats.” Dwayne answered honestly glancing at the large clock that adorned the station wall above the door.

Jacki also glanced at the clock. It was nine in the morning, and Dwayne was right. Not a single soul had shown up wanting to help out. She sighed, and looked down at her suit.

“This was a bad decision.” She mumbled to her self, silently wondering if she had any extra clothes stashed away somewhere in the station. “Well, I guess I’ll find something to change into, find his family and head up there. No reason to waste light.” She said as she turned back and walked to her office.

“They’re staying up at the Pine. I checked them in myself this morning.” Dwayne called after her.

“I figured as much.” Jacki said in return as she began to search through various filing cabinet drawers in search of appropriate hiking attire.

She was in luck. At some point either in the months or years prior she had stashed an extra pair of hiking boots, and snow gear in the bottom drawer of her desk. She closed and locked the door to her office, drew the blinds and quickly changed into her hiking gear.

Moments later she was heading out the door, and down the street towards Calamity Falls’ only working hotel. The city was bustling with activity this morning. There were people walking up and down the sidewalks on their way to and from various businesses, the usual amount of tourist and ski fanatics had made their way into town for breakfast before heading up to their potential demise. The little diner on the square was a hot bed of activity, people bustling everywhere to and from their vehicles distracted by any number of electronic devices as cars filled with other people distracted by electronic devices sped by unaware of the pedestrians on the streets. Jacki silently shook her head in amazement.

What had happened to society where interactions with each other through zeros and ones had taken precedent over interactions face to face? It wasn’t even a matter of talking to people on the phone anymore. There could be human interaction with out even hearing another voice. While under the guise of bringing people together, what it actually did was desensitize people. People became less of a fellow human being and more of an idea. That was one of the roots of the problems with society. People no longer associated a fellow human being with an individual. When people were deleted from your life on a daily basis for nothing more than a difference of opinion, it wasn’t too hard to make the jump to deleting people in real life.

Jacki thought she had gotten away from the guilt and grime of the modern mind set by moving up into this tiny town, but she soon realized that instead of moving away from it, here the modern mind set was at the forefront of everyone she encountered every day. There was no escaping it. Society was on the brink and failing fast. It was all she could do to keep up with it. She let out a deep sigh, and waved to Marleen and Jacob the owners of the small diner, who were busily ushering out one crowd and seating the next. They nodded in her direction with two small smiles and quickly returned inside.

Jacki passed the diner, made her way around the side walk sale the local sporting goods store was having, and casually window shopped as she walked by the hardware store before she made her way into the hotel lobby.

The Pine was once an exquisite resort hotel opened in the very early days of Calamity Falls, before it had earned it’s unusual reputation. The old Victorian construction was now instead of a beautiful welcoming site, an ominous run down wreck fitting to inspire any horror, suspense, or mystery novelist. There had been a fire in the west wing some years ago, and it had never been properly rebuilt, leaving only one floor completely functional.

Most people didn’t stay in town after flirting with death on the slopes or hiking trails so it wasn’t an issue for the town to not have the hotel fully functional. If it had been Jacki would have been the leader on the reconstruction committee. She wasn’t the mayor in her small little world, but she felt as though everyone looked to her as such.

The actual mayor hardly ever made a public appearance. He silently stayed in his office or up on his little piece of mountain. There really was no need for a bureaucrat in a town that pretty much ran itself. Tourism was always up, even with all of the accidents and, well for lack of a better word calamities, that happened on a constant basis. The economy was always booming, and he always ran uncontested. There was no need for him to be in the public eye.

Jacki supposed it was only natural for the people of Calamity Falls to turn to her for leader ship. She did work closely with the mayor on most things, and she was out and about in public a lot more than the mayor himself. It was still a vast responsibility that she didn’t want. She just wanted to keep the peace and find as many lost or stranded tourist as she could before the end of the day.

It wasn’t a lofty goal by any means, but it was something to keep her occupied until she either got officially shuffled into the mayoral duties, or decided to transfer somewhere else. She wasn’t really living, but she had a comfortable existence and she was relatively content with it.

She walked through the small barren hotel lobby, and up to the front desk where she located the old worn out register and looked up the most recently rented room. They were on what was left of the second floor in room 2B.

She closed the register with a loud thump, and headed up the stairs. As she walked the floor boards creaked underneath her shoes like an old sea battered pier. She found the sound comforting like an old familiar friend and smiled as she raised a hand to knock on the door of room 2B. Before her hand made contact with the door it was thrown open, and Ric stood with one hand on his hip and the other across the door jamb.

“Can I help you?” Ric asked with a sly grin flowing across his face.

“You said you wanted to go up to the crash site, right? Well I’m heading up there in about twenty minutes. If you still want to go, meet me at the station in fifteen. How is the old Pine treating you?” Jacki answered trying, and failing to hide the flush of emotions on her face as Ric had startled her.

“Ah, it’s treating us alright. Nothing special, but a warm place to hang our hats and that’s all we really need. I’ll head up there with you. Cher is a little out of it right now, but I’ll be down in a few moments.” Ric answered a mischievous glint in his eye as he noticed Jacki blush.

“I’ll be waiting in the lobby for you then. No rush.” Jacki said quickly as she turned and headed back down the stairs.

She couldn’t believe what a fool she had just made of herself. Ric must have heard her coming up the stairs. The sound she considered her old familiar friend had betrayed her and embarrassed her. It’s not that Ric was exceptionally attractive, or non attractive, but it was something about him that made her skin crawl in anticipation. She wasn’t particularly intimidated by him but she wasn’t quite sure what to do with him. It was like there was a raw magnetism eminating from him. His aura some might say. She had only felt this way about one other person before. Her partner on the State Police force.

Andrew Dixon was a stocky little man, but he had a personality big enough for ten men. He took his job very seriously, but had a jovial attitude about the entire thing. He was one of those guys who could tell you your mother died, but because he said it with a smile you would laugh and buy him a beer. It worked well for Andrew, and at the thought she missed him dearly. Andrew was part of the reason she took the job in Calamity Falls.

He was killed in a high speed chase and ever since that day her out look on life had never been the same. Maybe that’s what drew her to Calamity Falls. It seems to be a reoccurring theme amongst the local community. This town was somewhere you came after a terrible tragedy, or deep depression. No one moved here because they enjoyed life and thought it was an adventure. In fact, now that she was thinking about it, Jacki couldn’t remember the last person to move into her town since she had been in office. The populace was small enough that unless you were a tourist every one knew your name.

“Hmm..” She wondered to herself. “Who WAS the last person to move in up here?”

“Billy Reynolds.” A voice answered from some where behind Jacki.

She spun around to see Marv Bekinsdale the owner of the Pine walking slowly toward the front desk. He had recently been in the hospital for an emergency hip replacement. Jacki wasn’t even aware that he was out of the hospital until just now.

“Marv! I’m glad to see you’re feeling better. How did the surgery go? Well I assume since you’re already up and moving around.” Jacki asked with a broad smile. Marv was one of the first people that welcomed her into her new life as sheriff and they had become fast friends. Jacki felt terrible that she didn’t know more about the status of Marv’s affairs, but she had been consumed with the search for Rouge for several days and had lost track of basically everything else going on it town. If she hadn’t had Dwayne to provide back up the town probably would have gone to hell in a hand basket.

“Oh you know as good as one can be after having my leg nearly ripped off by a rock slide and having some doctor try to reattach it.” Marv answered honestly.

“I’m sorry I didn’t make it out there to see you, but with this missing kid I’ve kind of had my hands full. Watch out for his family by the way. They are staying up in 2B.” Jacki whispered softly as she looked over her shoulder to make sure Ric wasn’t standing right behind her.

“That’s what I hear. I stopped in and talked to Dwayne for a moment this morning, and ran into Beth at the post office. They’re making quite an impression, even for the family of a lost kid.” Marv replied as he hoisted himself into the chair behind the desk and began rearranging various brochures and other tourist information that had been haphazardly thrown across the desk in his absence.

Jacki started to say something, but before she could open her mouth Ric walked down the last flight of stairs and into the lobby. Marv looked past her, and she took his cute turning around her self and giving Ric a polite smile.

“Here he is now.” Jacki said. “Ric, this is Marv. He’s the owner and proprietor of this hotel. When you get ready to check out be sure to settle up with him personally.”

“Will do.” Ric said as he nodded toward Marv.

Marv returned the nod and continued to reorganize his desk.

“Well, let’s not waste any more time getting up there. It will be dark soon and we need to get our search grid set up before the volunteers arrive.” Jacki said after an awkward pause.

She lead Ric out the door and back towards the police station and her awaiting SUV. The sun had risen above the mountains taking the slight chill out of the air. It was still cold, but not unbearable. Jacki was starting to think she might have over dressed for the occasion. Ric too looked mildly uncomfortable in his cold weather gear. Jacki imagined that Ric always looked uncomfortable in cold weather gear growing up in the deep South. He was probably much more at home in a pair of Wrangler’s and a plaid cotton button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up just above the elbows. Or possibly his state trooper’s uniform, but definitely not a down coat, turtleneck shirt, ski pants and snow boots.

She was also surprised at his choice to not wear a hat. While it was warm out now in the sun the moment you stepped into the shade a deathly cold chill seemed to seep out of the ground itself and into your bones.

The monologue she had tried to keep to herself while walking along had apparently began to become a narrative as Ric began to laugh.

“I do enjoy a good button down plaid shirt.” He said, as he watched Jacki’s face turn three shades of red. “Don’t worry. I do it to. It helps me think. Some times the only voice of reason in the room is your own.”

Jacki was mortified. Not only for the fact that her opinions about Ric were completely out in the open now, but that when she was deep in thought she started talking to her self. How many other people knew her personal thoughts and were just too polite to say anything? She couldn’t even really apologize. What would she be apologizing for? Being a judgmental prude? Instead she quickened her pace, reached the car, and climbed in with out another word.

Ric only smiled as he walked around to the passenger side and also climbed in. He kind of thought that Jacki was attracted to him, but after hearing her description of him in western wear he was sure of it. It didn’t affect him one way or another, as long as she could keep it together long enough to do her job and find his brother.

It wasn’t like he had anyone to go home to anyway. His wife had left him seven months prior to Rogue’s disappearance, and he had consumed himself with work. He actually had the divorce papers sitting on the kitchen table back at his apartment. Both he and Karen, his wife, were really in no hurry to move on. They were both very strong independent people who worked better both professionally and personally alone. Looking back on it now Ric wasn’t sure why he even wanted to get married. He justified the divorce by saying he was young and dumb when they got married, but in reality at that very moment when they said I do it was everything he had ever wanted in life. He knew the weight of his decision and had fully intended to stick it out until death as the vows had stated, but after several years of bliss things just started falling apart.

He and Karen were both very dedicated to their jobs and spent many hours plying their trades. With Ric being a police officer long hours and an unpredictable schedule were implied but with Karen also working a demanding unpredictable job in a high class hotel restaurant they hardly ever saw each other. It wasn’t that they truly fell out of love, but their lives just took them in completely different directions. Eventually they both realized that there was no point in staying married when they were both living as they were single. It was a completely mutual decision. They sold their small house, split everything down the middle and moved into their own apartments.  Thinking about it now, he wasn’t sure how he felt about the whole thing. At the time it made sense, but was it really the best choice? Neither of them had taken any initiative to complete the process, and they still talked on a regular basis. At least as regularly as before they had decided to split.

Ric shook his head and rubbed his eyes. This wasn’t what he needed to be thinking about right now. He needed to concentrate on finding his brother and figuring out what Rogue had gotten himself into.

Ric had heard rumors around town that Rogue had wound up involved with the Mexican drug cartels, but he didn’t believe it until this unexpected trip to the mountains and a trunk full of heroine found at the crash scene. He was trying to remain impartial to the whole investigation. Especially since his brother was not the most upstanding of citizens, but something about it just didn’t seem right. Rogue had committed petty crimes before, but even he knew to stay away from the cartels and their agendas.

This information was probably something he should share with Jacki, but he wasn’t prepared to jeopardize the investigation with rumors just let. He wasn’t sure if he could trust her to continue with the threat of Mexican cartels showing up in her town, or if she would even care about finding him.

Ric had dealt with small town sheriff’s many times over the course of his career. Especially when you started getting out in no man’s land. No matter how dedicated they said they were to the law eventually their own personal interest or the interest of the town won out. He didn’t want to believe that about Jacki, but his experience told him otherwise.

He looked over at Jacki as they drove through the early afternoon tourist traffic and headed up the mountain. She was still flush from her embarrassing moment earlier, and doing her best to completely ignore him and keep her eyes on the road. He couldn’t quite figure her out. She seemed professional and politically savy, but she also seemed incredibly innocent and naïve. He wished he would have taken the initiative to look up her back ground information before he went up there. The thought hadn’t occurred to him until he actually met her. The towns people seemed to really respect her, which was always a good sign. Unless they were in on it, most citizens didn’t support a corrupt official, even in small towns. He would just have to wait and see how things played out, he only hoped that he would have enough time to make an informed decision before things got too deep.

 

————————————————————

 

The ride up the mountain was a slow and laborious process. Between avoiding the tourist traffic, and trying not to get thrown off the road by wind or snow what would have been a twenty minute drive in the summer took over an hour. Jacki was still in a mortified catatonic state. She was embarrassed beyond belief. Not only in a political and professional sense, but also in a personal sense.

It had been years since she had been interested in anyone, and here she was interested in a complete stranger. Although the pool from which she had to chose in town was more like a puddle it was still quite flustering. Until Ric walked into her town she didn’t even consider herself “on the market”. She wasn’t sure what had come over her in the past few hours. It was probably exhaustion. She still hadn’t gotten more than a few hours sleep in the past few nights, and she had been out in extreme weather conditions. It was really a wonder how she was able to focus on the drive let alone worry about her potential love life.

It would have been a non issue if she would have kept her feelings to herself instead of blurting them out like a fool. At that thought she shook her head in disappointment.

Ric had been staring at her for quite some time now. She was pretending not to notice, but she could feel his eyes searching and analyzing her. Was it because he was attracted to her too, or was he suspicious? She had to admit if she had shown up in the town where he was acting sheriff on an investigation she would have her doubts about his ability to perform the investigation. She also understood his wariness about sharing information. She knew that he was hiding something, but again when placed in the same situation she would do the same thing.

It still made her incredibly uncomfortable. It wasn’t so bad when there was more space between them, but in the confines of the car on a long and tedious journey it made the awkward situation so much worse. In her brief glimpses in his direction she could see that even his cool façade was starting to wane. He was starting to get visibly uncomfortable as well. She wanted to break the awkward silence, but didn’t have anything productive to say.

There wasn’t anything terribly exciting about the initial trip up the mountain. It was the usual winding mountain road. Covered with snow, and providing breath taking views of life threatening cliffs and valleys. The drive up wasn’t the issue. The decent was the tricky part. There had only been three accidents while people were going up the mountain the entire time Jacki had been acting sheriff. Those accidents were also because people were on cell phones or had cameras trying to take pictures while driving. There were several pull offs for picture taking available, but it never failed. Some idiot somewhere wanted a picture of the view in the very middle of a dangerous curve.

“It’s beautiful up here.” Ric said finally breaking the awkward silence between them.

“Yes, it really is. I wish people would slow down and actually enjoy the beauty instead of rushing around like crazy people. There would probably be less accidents if people would slow down and just pay attention.” Jacki answered, swerving out of the path of an oncoming car that was currently driving down the middle of the road. She slowed and watched the car in her rear view to make sure it didn’t end up careening off the side of the road.

As far she could see it did not, but disappeared around the corner still flying at an incredible rate of speed.

“Did you catch the license plate on that car?” She asked Ric.

“It was an out of state plate, but  I didn’t catch the actual number.” Ric answered.

Jacki nodded in acknowledgement, then motioned to her cell phone which was stashed in the drivers side cup holder.

“Could you call it in to Dwayne? He’s number 1 on speed dial. Hopefully he can catch them at the bottom before they go rocketing through town.”

Ric nodded, picked up Jacki’s phone and pushed the speed dial. Three rings later Dwayne answered the phone.

“Hey Dwayne, this is Ric. Jacki’s driving right now. We just wanted to see if you could catch a blue Honda civic with Georgia plates heading down from Dead Man’s Pass. Reckless driving and speeding.” Ric started. There was a brief pause in the conversation as Dwayne replied, and then with a thank you Ric ended the call.

“I can’t believe how many idiots fly down through here like that. They say the town is cursed, but the only thing that’s cursed us is a plague of idiots who have to regard for human life or their own safety.” Jacki spat angrily. “There is nothing I can do to change that until they get me some more deputies and a bigger budget, but they have all lived here so long they have bought into the entire curse thing.”

“I know how you feel. It’s part of these small town dynamics. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. It’s all the same. Usually the towns people have more say than the law enforcement.” Ric replied, silently pleased that Jacki was still passionate about her job.

“I knew that when I moved up here, I knew that when I took the job, but it still irritates me. I do everything I can to keep these knuckle heads safe and they go fall off the cliff anyway because they are texting or trying to take a picture while speeding. AH!” Jacki yelled hitting the steering wheel with her palm.

Ric had no reply for that, but he did chuckle at Jacki’s use of the word knuckle heads. He hadn’t heard that phrase since middle school.

“I’m sorry. It just really boils my blood. All it takes is common sense. Apparently it should be called uncommon sense now, because I haven’t seen any in years.”

Rick continued to chuckle under his breath. He didn’t want to make light of the situation, but she was so cute when she was angry and it really amused him.

He turned to her with a smile, and asked: “Knuckle heads? I haven’t heard that name since sixth grade.”

At that, Jacki smiled and also began to laugh.

“Well, some times I think that’s what they are. They are good hearted people, and they mean well they just don’t understand how the world at large works. It would be fine if it was anywhere else, but here in Calamity where 90% of the town population fluctuates because of the tourism? The world at large is in their back yard.”

Ric’s measure of respect for Jacki was growing with every word she said. He was ashamed of himself for thinking the worst of her, but he only smiled in return.

“Do I sound like a totally nut job?” Jacki asked seeing his smile.

“Not at all. You do sound like you’re from the nineteen fifties with your knuckle head and nut jobbing, but I really admire your dedication to the law. Not a lot of small town sheriffs retain that after they realize the town calls the shots.” Ric replied.

“I know. That’s how I ended up with the job in the first place. Internal investigation.” Jacki replied as she signaled and pulled over to the side of the road. “This is the place. You can still see where the guard rail was repaired.”

She pointed out of the passenger side window as she killed the engine, and checked her rear view mirror before opening her door and quickly hopping out. Ric followed her pointing, and looked out into the freshly poured payment and new guard rail. It must have been some accident to necessitate pouring new pavement. He was more worried that his brother was alive now than he had been when they first set out on their journey.

He knew Rogue was an experienced survivalist, and had been lost in these mountains before, but that was partially by choice and he wasn’t injured. Ric never understood what drew Rogue out to these mountains. In true Rogue fashion, he announced to the family one day that he was going to get lost in the woods because he had never done that before and it sounded like something he would enjoy. No one questioned him. He did many things just because he hadn’t done them before. That was why even though he had committed several petty crimes through out his life, no one viewed him as a threat, only a danger to himself.

As he thought about this Jacki’s description came to mind. Rogue was the same breed of knuckle head that Calamity Falls had been plagued with most of it’s existence. He only hoped that this time Rogue hadn’t gone too far.

Ric slowly climbed out  of Jacki’s SVU trying to take everything in. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was looking for, but he didn’t want to rush and over look it. The road had been packed with snow for several days covering up any skid marks so it was hard to tell which direction Rogue was traveling in before he left the road. Ric assumed he was coming down the mountain from the size of the guard rail section that had to be replaced, and while going up the mountain was dangerous in it’s own way do to reckless drivers, it wasn’t difficult to maneuver at any rate of speed.

“We think he swerved to avoid something coming down the mountain. An animal or maybe another car parked in the road. There were minimal skid marks. He either came up on it so fast he didn’t have time to break or thought he could avoid it.” Jacki explained as Ric continued to wander around the crash site.

“Where did the car end up?” Ric asked deep in thought and observation.

“Right over there between those two trees half way down the slope, right before it breaks off into shale.” Jacki said, drawing Ric’s attention to where they found the car. “We didn’t find anyone in the car, but we knew it was rented to your brother and there was a significant amount of blood on the front passenger seat. We also found some interesting cargo in the trunk.”

Ric looked at her with a look that signified he already knew what she had found in the trunk. She had already assumed he knew, and guessed it was part of the reason he a police officer, and Cher a relatively notable lawyer had really shown up here. Not that they weren’t concerned for their brother’s safety but they were also completely prepared to defend him in the case of a criminal investigation.

“I can see I don’t have to tell you what we found.” Was all Jacki said in the matter. If Ric really wanted to help with the investigation and not just stonewall everything to protect his brother he would volunteer information at this point. If not, he wasn’t going to be privileged to any other information about the case.

Ric looked at her trying to decide what he should or shouldn’t say. He didn’t want to impede the investigation at all, but he still wasn’t exactly sure he could trust Jacki completely. He knew she was evaluating his response and had to tread lightly.

“Well… let’s be honest with each other here. You are suspicious of me because he is my brother which I understand if I was in your shoes I would feel the same way. I am suspicious of you because you are a small town sheriff, and many times they can’t be trusted to do anything unless it directly effects the town. You know it, I know it. We aren’t going to get anywhere in this investigation unless we both afford each other a little trust. Am I right?” Ric said with a deep sigh.

Jacki took a moment to think before nodding in agreement.

“So, you found drugs, what else did you find?” Ric asked relieved that Jacki truly wanted to conduct the investigation completely.

“Other than the heroine we also found a disturbing amount of blood in the passenger seat. No bodies have been found anywhere in the surrounding area so we don’t think it was an injury from the accident. If it was they are either buried under the snow and ice and our search dogs can’t quite pick up their scent, or they have fallen into the river and been carried away.” Jacki answered.

“Do you have any idea who it might have been? Was Rogue seen with anyone around town?” Ric asked taking it all in.

“Not that I’m aware of, but to be one hundred percent honest no one pays much attention to tourist unless they cause trouble or go missing. One of the down falls of living in a town like this.” Jacki answered honestly.

Ric nodded, and walked over to the guard rail peering over the embankment. Although the trail of cleared underbrush was now covered with snow, the path the car had taken was still visible. The brush was almost perfectly sheered, almost like the car had been sliding on it’s roof instead of rolling down on it’s wheels or tumbling end over end.

“How was the car found? Right side up?” Ric asked.

Jacki paused to think. It had been a few days, and so much had happened in those few days some of the details were a little blurry at this point. Of course she had written everything down in her case file for future reference, but she hadn’t bothered to bring the case file with her. She would have to call Dwayne, but she wasn’t sure if he was still out on patrol or if he was back at the station.

“I honestly don’t remember. I have it written down, but it’s been so long since the whole thing happened, and I’ve been out with the search teams day and night for the past three days.” She finally answered.

Ric said nothing, but nodded in understanding.

“Do you have any climbing gear with you?” He asked after a brief pause. “I’d like to take a look at where it ended up, if that’s okay with you.”

Jacki didn’t answer but instead went back to her car looking to see if she had stashed her climbing gear back in the storage compartment. She had used it her self just yesterday to investigate a possible camp site the search team had run across. It turned out to be a camp site abandon by another lost hiker several months prior.

They had found that poor soul frozen and ravaged by bobcat. She felt terrible finding his abandon camp, which made her realize how far off their search grid actually was. If they had been just a fraction of a mile to the East they probably would have found him alive.

Upon opening the back tail gate she saw her gear, grabbed it and carried it over to the anchor she had used when they first found the wreck.

“Are you sure you want to use this? It’s not rated for anything over one hundred and fifty pounds. It won’t exactly be safe.” Jacki warned, as Ric began to look over the gear and adjust it as best he could to suit himself.

“I’ll manage.” Ric said getting into the harness and climbing over the guard rail.

He had never actually repelled on anything with snow on it, but he imagined it couldn’t be any more difficult than repelling down a sandy cliff. He started slowly, calculating every step with immense precision.

Jacki watched him intently. She had every faith that he could handle himself, especially since he wasn’t confused about how the gear was supposed to work. It still made her nervous especially since none of her gear was rated for him. Even the most experienced climber with the proper gear was subject to accident, and gear failure. Having gear that wasn’t even rated for you in the first place was an even bigger gamble. She wasn’t sure his brother was alive, but she certainly didn’t want to face his sister if she came back to town with not one but two corpses.

As Ric continued cautiously make his way down the slope he noticed the worried look on Jacki’s face. He was taking a great risk doing what he was doing, but his curiosity got the best of him. It was the one thing that he and his brother had in common. While Ric had much more common sense and less tendency to be completely reckless and break the law he was very much on the adventurous side. One of his favorite things to do after successfully closing a case was to go sky diving.

He had eighteen successful jumps under his belt, and he couldn’t wait to find his brother and have Rogue join him for his nineteenth. He thought he might even invite Cher along. She was the least adventurous of the three, but it would be good for her to expand her horizons a little bit, and it was definitely better for her than sitting around at a bar and drinking until she couldn’t stand, which was how she normally “celebrated” winning a case or lamented losing a case. Really she just looked for any excuse to sit in a bar and get belligerently drunk. She took after their father that way. It worried Ric sometimes, but she was an adult capable of making her own decisions. There was nothing he could do but encourage her to seek help and sit back and wait to clean up the aftermath if she chose not to.

His foot slipped causing the rope to take his full weight and snap his attention back to the task at hand. He was more than half way down the slope, and as he regained his balance he noticed something in the newly exposed ground. When he had slipped all of the snow had been cleared from a shiny object that was slightly imbedded in the soft dirt.

“Are you okay?” Jacki called down, concerned.

“Yeah. In fact I think I found something.” Ric answered, starting to pull himself back up a few feet to get a closer look at this mystery object.

As it came closer and closer to being with in reach, he immediately noticed what it was.

“Hey Jacki!” He called. “Do you have an evidence bag with you?”

“I think so why?” Jacki answered digging around in her coat pockets looking for something to store evidence in.

“I’m afraid the blood in the car might have been Rogue’s, but more than that I’m afraid you might have a serious trafficking problem going through your little town.” Ric answered, poking at the object with his coat sleeve until Jacki could deliver the evidence bag down to him.

“What do you mean?” Jacki asked attaching the evidence bag to the opposite end of the rope and throwing it down to Ric.

“This is a ceremonial knife issued to high ranking members of the Mexican cartels.” Ric explained pulling the item out of the dirt and carefully placing into the evidence bag. “There is insignia on it, that I’ll explain to you when I get back up top.”

Jacki was completely shocked. If she did have a drug trafficking problem in her little town she was in no way equipped to handle it. Dwayne was in his sixties, and she was only one woman. If a Mexican cartel ever showed up, they would quickly and immediately have control of the town and surrounding roads.

“Why was a high ranking member of a Mexican cartel this far North? I know they don’t make runs themselves.” Jacki asked, trying to mask her concern.

“There’s no telling. This is what I was afraid of. I some how always kind of knew Rogue would get himself involved in the cartel’s one way or another, but I really didn’t want to see it or deal with it.” Ric said his voice tense with anger.

“Ric, do you think they are just passing through, or do you think I should be concerned about this?” Jacki asked, helping Ric as he began to ascend back to the road.

“I don’t know Jacki, but if Rogue is alive I certainly hope we find him before they do.”

 

————————————————————

 

Once he reached the top of the slope Ric kept true to his word and explained the insignia to Jacki. It made her heart skip a beat, as she had seen it several other places around town recently. She hadn’t even really paid any attention to it, although she didn’t really know what it meant or signified until now. She had gone from being merely annoyed with tourist to having a very serious potential crime problem on her hands.

They quickly packed up and made their way back to town. Ric didn’t want to say that they should call of the search, but after finding the knife he was almost certain that Rogue had met an unfortunate end and would never be found.

Jacki was also thinking the same thing, but she couldn’t bare to bring it up. It was the hardest part of her job some times, telling families with lost loved ones that they had either been found too late or would most likely never be found at all. She knew Ric had to be thinking the same thing, especially because of his back ground, but even so. That didn’t make it any easier. She was thankful that at least Ric could convey the consensus to his sister, and she wouldn’t have to.

The ride back down the mountain was spent in silence. Partially because Jacki was concentrating on the road, and partially because they were each lost in their own thoughts. This was the outcome Ric had always feared when coming up here. Something clicked within him as soon as he received the call about Rouge’s accident. He knew it had something to do with the cartels. He couldn’t explain it, but he just knew.

Looking back on the way she had been acting since they arrived, he was nearly certain Cher knew the outcome they would find as well. She wouldn’t have gone on a drinking rampage if she hadn’t thought the search was already over.

“Are you going to call of the search?” Ric asked, staring blankly at the passing scenery.

Jacki paused. She wasn’t quite sure what to do. It had been nearly four days, and no one had found even a shred of evidence that Rogue or anyone else that might have been involved in the accident was still alive and lost in the woods. The only real reason she was continuing the search efforts was because they hadn’t found and bodies either.

“Well… it’s up to you really. You’re his family.” She finally answered.

Ric thought long and hard about it. He should probably discuss it with Cher before making the final decision, but if she got overly emotional about it again Calamity Jane’s would go through their stock before the week was out. Although even if he did discuss it with her and they came to the same conclusion she would still need a stiff drink to calm her soul. It was a lose, lose situation regardless.

“At this point in time, it’s probably not a good idea to continue. If his body is out there somewhere, you’ll never find it.” Ric answered with a heavy heart.

“I’m sorry. I never like when the searches end this way.” Jacki said rounding the last bend before heading back into town.

“It’s his own fault for getting himself involved with the cartels. You did everything you could.” Ric replied, still staring off out of the passenger window and into space.

“Speaking of the cartels, how much of a problem do you think I have? Were they just passing through, and looking for Rogue, or do you think they are here in Calamity?” Jacki asked her voice filled with concern.

“I don’t know, but I’m willing to help you find out.” Ric answered as they pulled to a stop in front of the station.

They both climbed out of the SUV slowly, with downtrodden expressions on their faces, and made their way inside. Dwayne was sitting behind the front desk as usual doing something on the computer. Jacki guessed it was more than likely solitaire, or something to that effect. Even if Dwayne had caught the speeding blue Honda he would have finished that paper work, and been back to his normal quiet job of occupying the station.

Jacki was slightly surprised that no volunteers had shown up yet, unless Dwayne had sent them all over to the diner until she returned.

“Dwayne? Did any volunteers turn up this morning?” Jacki asked almost immediately upon entering the station.

“Nope. Not one.” Dwayne answered looking up from whatever he was doing on the computer. “I thought you might have called things off. It’s been four days.”

“I was going to call things off, but I hadn’t made up my mind this morning before we left. Some one should have shown up.” Jacki said, more to herself, than anyone else.

Dwayne only shrugged in reply as both Jacki and Ric walked by and back towards Jacki’s office.

Ric was confused and very suspicious about the lack of volunteers. Most people who volunteered for mountain rescues were very dogmatic about their searching. Some wouldn’t even sleep or eat for days until they found their target, or were ordered to stop. Having them just randomly stop showing up was odd. Unless the cartels really were in great presence in the city. If that was truly the case Ric not only put his life in danger by climbing down to the crash site, but he also put his life in danger by merely signing the hotel register.

A flash of panic rushed through him as he realized that Cher was still at the hotel. The hotel where the room was registered to Ricochet McHendon, one of the top ten most wanted by the Mexican cartels. With out a word, he turned immediately and bolted out the door running to the hotel for all he was worth.

“What was that all about?” Dwayne asked as the door slammed shut.

“I have no idea.” Jacki said, zipping her coat back up and following after Ric.

Ric bounded through the hotel doors and practically leapt up the stairs taking then two and three at a time. He reached the door to 2B, and began pounding frantically.

“Cher! Cher! Open the door!” He cried waiting for some sort of response, even if it was only a hung over groan from inside the room. “Cher!”

Ric looked like a mad man, but he also felt like a mad man. He would never be able to forgive himself if something happened to Cher. Not only would he have lost his brother, but by attempting to save Rogue he had inadvertently put Cher in danger. When he received no response from within the hotel room he began to pace around frantically. He didn’t know what to do. He had left the room key with Cher in case she wanted to go out and add her own contribution to the search efforts while he was up on Dead Man’s Pass. If the small sedan they had rented hadn’t been in the parking lot when he raced by he would assume that was where she had gone, but Cher was lazy. You wouldn’t catch her walking two feet unless she was drunk and unable to drive.

Still pacing frantically back and forth, he remembered that the attendant had returned to the front desk. When he and Cher had checked in Dwayne was the only one active in town. He checked them into the hotel, he escorted them to the police station, and he called Jacki. Something about this struck Ric as a bit odd, but he was too concerned with finding Cher to really put too much thought into the whole thing.

He pounded on the door one more time, and then turned and headed down the stairs back towards the front desk maybe Marv would have a spare key to the room. Surely Marv would have a spare key to the room, or at least know where Cher had gone to. As he was about to reach the half way point of the stairs he ran almost nearly over Jacki.

“Whoa there! Slow down. What’s going on?” Jacki asked grabbing the hand rail to keep from falling and Ric tumbled down a few steps after running into her before he caught his balance.

“I can’t find Cher.” Was all Ric said before he continued to dash down the stairs at a frenzied pace.

Jacki paused to completely regain her balance before following after Ric. She wasn’t sure what exactly was going on, but it must be important for Ric to have lost his composure. She arrived in the lobby to find Ric behind the front desk searching through drawers, cabinates, and anything else he could find, Marv throwing a fit with every leaf of paper Ric turned over or misplaced.

“Hey! Ric! Stop that!” Jacki yelled with an authoritative tone. “Ric! What the hell are you doing?”

“The spare key for 2B. I need it! I need it NOW.” Ric yelled in return, as he pulled out a ring of spare keys and bolted back up the stairs.

“What type of hooligan is he!?” Marv yelled, still seated on his high back stool, shaking his crutch violently in Ric’s direction.

Jacki followed Ric back up the stairs, but by the time she reached the second floor he had already found the key to the room and was inside. She quietly approached not knowing what she would find when she turned her head in through the door. Before she could reach the door, Ric stumbled out his face as white as a sheet. He looked at Jacki, back into the room, then down to the floor before he collapsed.

“Ric? What is it? Is everything okay?” Jacki asked cautiously approaching him.

Ric didn’t reply, but instead raised his arm and pointed into the room.

Jacki becoming more concerned drew her weapon and slowly made her way into the room. She saw the mattresses on the two beds had been violently flipped over, the dresser drawers strewn about, the luggage riffled through with no regard and the small dressing mirror shattered. Something had definitely gone very wrong here while she and Ric were up at Dead Man’s Pass. She slowly turned into the bathroom and there she saw the most disturbing sight of all. A large pool of blood crept out from underneath the vanity and spilled onto the white tile floor. There was also a shocking red splash of blood across the mirror and shower curtain, and then her eyes met the toilet and the sight of Cher’s body. Her face was hidden behind the back of the toilet as she had desperately tried to crawl away from her attackers, assuming she still had a face after the brutality of the attack.

Jacki bent down to check Cher’s vitals. She didn’t have to go very far, as Cher was cold to the touch and rigor mortis had already started to set in. Then she noticed another small knife with the same insignia that the knife at the crash site had etched into the blade. As she stood to take in the implications from it all she also noticed the same insignia written in blood across the back of the shower with something in Spanish she couldn’t understand written underneath it.

She did understand that Ric was in great danger, and that she had a very serious gang problem on her hands. They had merely left town for only three hours. This must have happened right after they left, and if Cher was in a drunken state she would have never seen it coming. Carefully Jacki backed out of the room and pulled her cell phone out of her pocket to call the county coroner, and the state police department. She didn’t want to go into this alone. She was already vastly undermanned for something of this magnitude, and now that the stakes had been raised to involve human life she was taking no chances.

“Ric, I am so sorry.” She said as she left the room and hung up her phone. “Is there anyone I need to call, or anything I can do? We can put you up at the station if you like, or I have a spare bedroom, there’s a room for rent above Jane’s, you don’t have to stay here.”

Ric stared off into the space behind Jacki’s head. He could hear her talking, but the words weren’t registering. His little sister was savagely murdered practically the moment he set foot out side of the room. How could he have been so stupid? If he truly suspected the cartels why on Earth did he leave her alone in the hotel room? Why didn’t he think to register the room under a false name? It wasn’t like Dwayne knew who he was or how long he was going to be staying. It was all executed poorly. The entire trip up to Calamity Falls. Now he was paying the price for his poor judgment and it felt awful.

“Ric?” Jacki asked again, softly putting a hand on Ric’s shoulder breaking his concentration.

“Oh, yeah. Nobody to call, Rouge and I were her only family, and you don’t have to go to the trouble of finding me another place to stay. I can do that on my own.” Ric finally answered still staring off passed her.

Jacki, unsure of what to do sat on the floor next to Ric silently and waited for the coroner and her back up to arrive. They waited a few moments and then everything seemed to happen at once. There were crime scene techs literally crawling all over the room and hallways of the hotel, several detectives were milling about getting a feel for the scene, and asking Ric questions. There were also a few random reporters from a few towns close to the proximity of Calamity Falls taking notes and asking questions. Thankfully, because it was Calamity Falls, and something terrible happened here nearly every day, the national news crews hadn’t arrived and hopefully they wouldn’t. Jacki stood on the sidelines watching it all happen. She remembered these days. The hustle and bustle of running around to different locations in their great state solving crimes and gathering evidence. It was a rush she missed here in Calamity Falls. Sure she always had something going on, but those things were rarely a murder or involvement with a dangerous Mexican drug cartel. She couldn’t help but be a little excited, even considering the terrible circumstances. This gave her pause and she began to wonder if she had been in the job too long. How could some one be excited over the death of some one? A fellow human being was just mercilessly slaughtered and she was excited. She was more excited about the prospect of catching her killer and bringing them to justice than the murder itself, but she still felt incredibly guilty.

She felt even more guilty after seeing how down trodden and broken Ric looked. He looked like he had been taken outside and thrown to the wolves. Not only had he lost his little brother, he also lost his little sister in the same week, more than likely by the same hand. It couldn’t have been easy, and she certainly could understand.

Ric caught a glimpse of Jacki watching from the back ground as detective finally finished his questioning. Ric was now free to go, but where he was going to go was another thing entirely. He had no idea where he was going to stay or if he even wanted to. The cartels knew he was here now, and he didn’t want to put anyone else in danger, but he couldn’t give them the upper hand and let them know he was scared and wounded by their actions by killing his family. He was tough, and nothing they could do would stop him, from finding the people responsible and bring them to justice. His resolve still didn’t protect anyone.

He slowly walked over to Jacki. She smiled a polite concerned smile and waited for him to speak. The silence was awkward, but that couldn’t be avoided considering the situation.

“Well, I’m done here.” Ric said.

There was a long pause. Jacki wasn’t sure what to say, and Ric wasn’t sure what to say either. He wasn’t even sure what to think after everything that had happened. So they just stood there in an awkward impasse. The rest of the investigation continued on around them, but all Ric could here was his last conversation with Cher.

She had been completely trashed from her stint at the bar, but she still had her wits about her. She was thinking of ways she could both defend Rogue in front of a lawyer and bring the people he was involved with to justice. Even in her completely drunken state she was able to come up with her opening and closing arguments and deliver them effectively. It always amazed Ric just how composed Cher could really be even in times of turmoil. It kind of made him wonder if she had been drunk while taking the bar exam. It wouldn’t have surprised him at all.

At that thought he let out a small quiet chuckle bringing him back to reality. Jacki was looking at him with intent curiosity and concern. He couldn’t blame her. He was acting like a nutcase, and she didn’t know him very well at all. He could tell her cop intuition was starting to take over. She was trying to figure out if he was going to be a danger to himself or others in the next few days and weeks that he would be gracing her town with his presence.

“I’ll be okay sheriff.” He said, again with a weak smile. “I just need some time to regroup, and a place to hide out.”

Jacki had a hard time masking her relief. She was genuinely concerned about Ric. Not just because he had just lost both of his siblings in less than a week, but because he was in danger in her town and she was none the wiser until something terrible had happened. It was really bothering her, but she had to push the guilt away so she could focus and do something productive and proactive to help him.

“Right. Glad to hear that. Let’s go get you some new safe accommodations.” Jacki said as she gently lead Ric out of the Malay back to her SUV.

“About that…” Ric said when they reached the bottom of the stairs. “I don’t think anywhere in town is a good idea. I don’t want to put anyone else in danger. I should have known better than to register under my own name. Especially when I suspected that Rogue might have been involved in the cartels.”

“We need to talk about that, but not here and not right now.” Jacki said, walking through the lobby and out the front door issuing a small wave to Marv on the way by.

The continued to walk in silence back to the station. Jacki was very disturbed by the fact that some one found Ric at the hotel. Before Marv had returned no one knew where the register was kept because they kept it underneath the counter. The only people who knew where the register was kept were Dwayne, herself, and Marv. Unless the killer went door to door in every hotel with in a ten mile radius of town and searched every room or intimidated every clerk looking for Ric it had to be some one in town either feeding them information or involved with the cartels in the first place. This really bothered her because the only people who knew who they were was Dwayne, herself and Beth. People whom she had grown to love and trust. Dwayne with her life. It really shook her up knowing that one of those people could be working against her.

They reached her car and silently climbed in. Once the doors were shut and locked Jacki began.

“You are an officer of the law, Ric. From what I’ve seen a good one. You can’t tell me that you didn’t know coming up here that the cartels were a possibility. That being the case, knowing we were a small town, knowing we were looking for your brother, knowing that you have a price on your head, why on Earth didn’t you tell me from the beginning? A phone call probably would have saved a lot of grief.”

Ric sat silently and nodded in reply. She was right. He couldn’t be mad at her for being right, but what she was saying was still boiling his blood. It needed to be said, but he couldn’t trust himself with a calm reply so he just sat there and nodded.

“Also, I need to know if you had any contact with any other citizen of this town other than Dwayne, myself and Beth before we left town. Some one found you with out hardly even trying, which means more than likely some one told them. One of my people. I want to know which one of my people, because if it was Dwayne this whole investigation has been compromised from the very beginning, and that just makes me sick.”

Ric felt better knowing that Jacki realized that her people could be involved. Just as she hadn’t wanted to tell him about his brother, he hadn’t wanted to tell her the likely hood of her friends and colleagues being involved in this messed up situation.

“I know. I underestimated these people and the depth of the evil that they represent. I paid that price, and I will have to live with it for the rest of my life. I can assure you that isn’t easy. Really though, even if I had told you the results would have been the same or maybe even worse. You aren’t equipped to deal with something of this magnitude. Even if Dwayne was in his younger days, two against this is impossible.” Ric said, finally breaking his silence.

It was Jacki’s turn to nod silently contemplating her next move. Instead of sitting idly in the truck, however she turned the key and the engine roared to life. She needed some advice, and she knew just where to find it. She was bringing Ric along not for the fact that she really wanted him to come, but that she needed to keep him close to protect him.

He may have thought that she was just a small town sheriff with no previous gang experience, but he was forgetting that she had just recently been assigned this job here. Before she had taken over as the sheriff of her God forsaken little town, in her State police days she had been part of some very dangerous sting operations involving many different gangs and factions of gangs. This wouldn’t be her first time around the block, but she did have to agree that she was vastly undermanned for such an operation here in Calamity. This is why she was heading out to see Leroy.

Leroy lived on the other side of the mountain on a vast ranch left to him by his parents, and their parents before him. He was the last remaining Native American living in the area. He knew these mountains like they were his family. Every road, tree, rock, river, nook and cranny. He would know who and what was going through his mountains.

“Where are we going?” Ric asked as Jacki pulled out into the light evening traffic.

“To visit an old friend and get some answers.” Jacki answered as they set off toward the mountain.

 

————————————————————

 

They drove for several hours through winding mountain roads. Up and down, around bends and curves through snow drifts, around rock slides and eventually reached the summit of the mountain. Here, Jacki pulled off into a look out and climbed out of the car. Ric had fallen asleep and she didn’t feel the need to wake him so she stretched her legs by herself walking back and forth from the car to the guard rail.

The view was breath taking, especially in the early evening when the setting sun cast an amazing red shade over all of the recently snow covered tree tops. It looked like the valley was on fire. She could see the ski slopes closing down for the evening, the lifts making their last round before being turned off for the night, a few straggling skiers making their way down to the lodge. They looked like small colorful dots against the pink and orange sunlit snow. She smiled remembering simpler times when she could finish up at the office in time for a few runs down the slopes. There was always something going on to some extent, but most days were better than the past few had been. Things only got truly stressful when some one went missing or there was a fatal accident. The other problems were annoyingly disproportionate to the population, but they weren’t any different than working in a larger precinct.

A cool wind whipped up the face of the slope and past Jacki giving her quite a chill and reminding her of the task at hand. They needed to get moving. Leroy didn’t have a phone, and he wouldn’t think too kindly of people sneaking up on him after dark, even if it was just Jacki. She rubbed her hands together and walked back to the car, opening the door and quickly hopping in. She had left the engine running to expedite their departure from the mountain.

She had never felt uneasy driving around here until this afternoon. She supposed it was the recent revelations that if she was to end up careening off the side of the mountain she would be on her own. If Dwayne was the inside mad connecting her to the cartels she would be left out here to rot and no one would think anything of it. They would either assume she got fed up with everything and left town like their previous sheriff or that she had fallen into the hands of fate by simply being a resident of Calamity Falls.

She drove ever carefully as they started their decent. She was traveling well under the speed limit and had even gone so far as to turn on her hazard lights. Maybe she was being a bit obsessive, but she didn’t want to make a mistake under the guise of being too careful. She would relax once they got off the mountain and out of Peak County. The fates of Calamity Falls couldn’t reach her there. Hopefully neither could the cartels.

A few white knuckle moments later they reached the base of the mountain and the road both leveled and straighted out. Jack breathed an audible sigh of relief, which was loud enough to stir Ric from his sleep. He yawned, stretched as much as he could in the passenger seat, and rubbed his eyes. Instead of refreshing him, his sleep had only made him look that much more weary and disheveled.

“Hi there. I was wondering if you would wake up soon.” Jacki said with a pleasant smile as she turned from the main road onto a small gravel side street.

The snow had yet to fall on this side of the mountain. It was still quite chilly, but much more of a dry cool. You could still feel the heat radiating off the ground, it was much more of a dessert climate. It always put Jacki at awe how the climate could be so completely different a mere few miles apart.

“Where are we?” Ric asked looking out the window toward the setting son.

“We’re just out side of Peak County heading to the ranch of a friend of mine. He will know what’s going through his mountains and who all is involved. He’s lived up here his whole life. He also might give you a place to stay for a while outside of town so you won’t be putting anyone in danger.” Jacki answered, pulling up to a large steel gate across the road.

“He isn’t expecting us?” Ric asked seeing the gate.

“He doesn’t have a phone. You just kind of have to show up and wait at the gate. He’ll be around shortly to let us in.” Jack explained, putting the car into park and turning off the engine.

Ric was still half asleep, and didn’t feel like asking anymore questions. In fact he really didn’t feel like living anymore at that point in time. Not only was he physically exhausted from his climbing down the mountain, but mentally and emotionally exhausted. He had been battling these cartels for most of his career. He kept going strong, but after so much devastation he didn’t know how much longer he could go on. Ever since the death of his mother, and being involved in the investigation he could compartmentalize his emotions well enough to do his job, but holding everything in for so long was poisonous to the soul. He thought again about Karen, and how foolish he had been to marry her, while all along he was feeding the darkness into his soul every day when he went to work. Divorcing her was possibly the best thing he could do for her. He would have to sign the divorce papers when he got home. He couldn’t hold on to her and bring her into this world more than he already had. At that thought he let out a small moan laugh sigh, and buried his face into his hands.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Jacki asked, treading around the issue lightly.

Ric raised his head and just looked at Jacki. Really looked at her instead of just analyzing her. She was mid to late thirties, with deep brown eyes and a coffee colored complexion with jet black hair. She looked aged by the job, but other than that she could pass for any young twenty something on the street. He could see a vibrant depth behind her eyes that he hadn’t noticed before. He thought that if he had met her under any other circumstance that they would have hit it off and possibly fell into a romantic endeavor. But he shouldn’t kid him self with such notions now. The fates had denied him yet again.

Snapping back to reality he considered her question. Did he want to talk about it? Talk about what? The fact that his family had been mercilessly slaughtered, or the fact that he was interested in a friendship and possibly more with this small town sheriff? Or did he want to talk about Karen and signing the divorce papers? He had so many things running through his head he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to THINK about these things let a lone talk about them. So he stared at her like an idiot hoping that whomever they were here to meet would catch on that they were sitting at his gate and come relieve them of this awkward tension.

The longer Ric remained awkwardly silent the more amused Jacki became. He clearly wasn’t thinking about his family, but something else was on his mind. She could almost see him running down the list of things going on in his head trying to find an appropriate conversation starter. It was all she could do not to laugh. She didn’t want to offend him if he was lost in catatonic thought about some distant memory of his family. Although if that’s what he was thinking about he must have had a very entertaining family.

Before things could get any more awkward, a figure appeared at the gate. It was Leroy, and she had never been more happy to see him.

“Oh here we go.” She said, waving through the windshield at Leroy, who nodded in return, and opened the gate.

Jacki pulled on to the property, and idled while Leroy closed the gate and then walked up to her window. She rolled the window down, and smiled.

“Hey Leroy. Sorry to drop in on you so late, but I have an emergency.” She said.

“I heard. That poor lawyer girl was killed up in the Pine. Come on up to the house and we’ll talk.” Leroy said starting back towards the house on foot.

Jacki rolled up the window and drove past Leroy toward the house.

“Shouldn’t we offer him a ride up?” Ric asked looking out the rear window back at Leroy as Jacki passed him on the road.

“You can offer him a ride all day long, but he won’t accept. He only uses his truck when he has to run into town. I’ve only seen him in town twice since I’ve lived here.” Jacki explained.

“Is he one of those Green folks?” Ric asked settling back into his seat.

“You could say he is one of the original “green” folks. He is the last Native American remaining on his land for miles. Some think he has sent his spirits out and cursed Calamity Falls. That is one of the reasons that his family was left on their land when the settlers originally came through. A silly superstition. It worked out to his benefit though. Everyone avoids his land unless they know him, some even if they do. I think he embellishes the rumors too. He’s pretty private, but very observant. I wish he would work for me on an official capacity, but all he wants to do is take care of his livestock and keep out of the public eye.” Jacki said pulling to a stop in front of the beautifully maintained classic mountain pine home.

It wasn’t quite a cabin, but it wasn’t a lodge. It was put together to blend in with the surroundings perfectly. A natural camouflage provided by the tall pines which Jacki assumed the lumber from the house had come from surrounded the interior property. It was almost like the house had grown out of the forest itself instead of being built there. Then again Leroy’s family had lived on the property for nearly a hundred years. The house probably did grow out of the forest while they settled there. Very few modern amenities had been added to the house over the years, and yet the architecture was years beyond it’s time. It some how looked like a classic, and modern piece of art all at the same time, which is the mark of a truly great work of art. Timelessness, and this house had buckets of it.

Even Ric was impressed with the beauty of the house. He wasn’t much of an architect, nor did he really appreciate modern architecture, but this house left him speechless upon site.

Jacki parked behind an old rusted out truck, turned off the engine and stepped out of the car to wait for Leroy. Ric followed suit getting a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He looked like he had fallen down the mountain on the way over. It was kind of embarrassing, but there was nothing he could do about it now.

He walked around the car and stood by Jacki looking down the drive way for Leroy. They stood in silence, watching as the small woodland creatures made their way to their nests for the night, and as the sky grew from a fiery shade of red to the deep purple of night.

Eventually Leroy rounded the last bend and sauntered up to the house. He didn’t say anything to Jacki or Ric, but when he opened the door Jacki began to make her way towards the house. Ric followed still not exactly sure what proper etiquette was in this situation.

Leroy left the door opened behind him for Jacki and Ric, went to his kitchen poured himself a cup of fresh hot herbal tea, and sat down at the head of the dining room table. Jacki ushered Ric into the house, closed the door behind them and walked into the dining room.

“You can help yourself to some tea if you like.” Leroy said, motioning to the tea pot sitting in the counter.

“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass. Would you like some Ric?” Jacki answered taking a seat at the table with Leroy.

“Sure. I could use some.” Ric answered standing awkwardly in the dining room door way.

“Help yourself. There is a mug on the counter there.” Leroy said again raising his hand and pointing toward the counter.

Ric followed his directions, walked over to the counter and poured him self a cup of tea then joined Jacki and Leroy at the table.

“What is it I can help you with Sheriff?” Leroy asked as soon as Ric had settled.

“We have a very serious crime problem in Calamity. I don’t know how long it’s been going on, or if it just started recently, but apparently some Mexican drug cartels have started trafficking through our mountains. Do you know why or where they could be going, or how long they’ve been up to it?” Jacki explained, while Leroy listened intently.

“These Mexican cartels are behind the death of the nice young lawyer?” Leroy asked.

Ric thought to himself that no one would call Jacki nice unless they had met her face to face with a beer in their hand. He made a mental note of this, and continued to watch Leroy for any other subconscious mannerisms that might give away clues as to what he was really thinking. He trusted Jacki completely, but he wasn’t so sure about this Leroy fellow.

“Yes, or at least we believe so right now. Their insignia was left at the crime scene, and I can’t imagine any tourist being smart enough to copy gang insignia after a murder. Especially when they were the ones responsible for her brothers disappearance.” Jacki answered. “This is Ric, her surviving brother. His life is in danger, until we can get everything sorted out. Do you think he could stay here with you for a few days?”

Leroy looked at Ric, then back at Jacki.

“If these people are so dangerous staying here won’t protect him. He needs to leave town, and go somewhere where no one will know him.” Leroy said as a matter of fact.

“I want to be involved in the investigation. It’s my fault that my brother and sister were killed. I need to see this through.” Ric said, speaking slightly out of turn by interrupting Jacki’s reply.

“Do you really think that’s wise? Being involved in the investigation, after your involvement caused so much harm?” Leroy asked, with a piercing gaze.

Ric felt a chill run down his spine, and he could swear that the room got a little darker, but he wasn’t intimidated by this old woodsmen. He had respect for him, but he certainly wasn’t going to be run off from putting his siblings’ killer to justice.

Jacki could see the look of staunch determination on Ric’s face. Even if he didn’t stay with Leroy he wasn’t going back home or very far away from Calamity Falls anytime soon. This troubled her a little bit. She wanted him to be safe and out of the way of the investigation. He needed time to properly greave. Sitting around in the thick of it wasn’t going to accomplish that. She looked at Leroy, who caught her small glance and returned a smile.

“I’m sorry, Ricochet, but you can not stay here. If you want to be a part of bringing these killers to justice that is one thing, but I will not harbor you on my land from those evil men.” Leroy said again, before rising from his seat and taking his cup to the sink.

Ric could feel his blood staring to boil. How could this complete stranger accuse him both of endangering his siblings and causing their death and then deny him the satisfaction of a safe place to stay while he brought their killers to justice? He tried to get his emotions under control, but his voice still sounded strained when he asked Jacki: “Why did we come out here again?”

“To ask Leroy some questions. I asked him one, and I’d like you to step out of the room while I finish. You’re getting a little agitated and out of control.” Jacki answered as a matter of fact.

She wasn’t truly upset, especially considering everything that Ric had gone through in the past few hours, but she knew Leroy wouldn’t take so kindly to Ric’s agitation and anger, even if it was only directed toward him and not actually his fault.

Ric sent a scathing glare in Jacki’s direction, but stood up from his chair and walked back out of the front door and into the cool evening night.

As soon as the door closed behind him Leroy returned to the kitchen with a knife in his hand.

“Do you want me to take care of him now, or wait until he settles in for the night?” He asked Jacki.

“I don’t know that we actually have to take care of him so much as keep him off of our trail. He’s already so flustered it shouldn’t be much of a problem. I’ll have to talk to Carlos in the morning and see what he wants to do.” Jacki replied, pulling her hair out of the tight pony tail that it had been in for most of the day and leaning back against the chair.

“I think it’s too risky. Has he suspected you at all?” Leroy asked, placing the knife on the table and taking his seat.

“No. He has suspected everyone else, but leading him to the knife I put on a really good show and won over his trust. As long as the feds don’t get too close to me I’ll be fine. Did you find the brother yet?” Jacki said watching Ric pace back and forth outside the kitchen window. She turned her face away, on the off chance he could read lips, but he wasn’t really paying attention anyway. Leroy did the same and placed a napkin over the knife on the table.

“I found his camp, but I still haven’t been able to actually locate him. He has to be running out of steam. I found some of his traps and removed the bait. Unless he has caught other things that I haven’t seen, he hasn’t had anything to eat in days. Were you able to recover the goods from the evidence locker?” Leroy answered also watching Ric pace back and forth outside.

“I haven’t had a chance. With the search going on it’s been impossible for me to be in the station alone. At least now that the whole thing has come to light I can use the mole excuse. It will be much easier for me to get it out with out too much question now.”

“Would you like Dwayne to meet with an unfortunate end on his rounds through Dead Man’s Pass tomorrow? I happen to know it’s mating season and moose love to cross the road to get to the lake.” Leroy suggested shifting his attention toward a mounted moose above the large stone fireplace in the living room.

“If we did that who would replace him? The state would just send some one in, and they wouldn’t be nearly as blind to everything as Dwayne. It would be shooting ourselves in the foot.” Jacki answered.

They both sat in silence for a while thinking everything over. Ric continued to pace back and forth outside. He was fuming. The more he thought about Leroy’s inference the more steamed he became. He also didn’t like how once he left the room they both became so secretive. Something felt off about this. He wasn’t sure exactly what, but his intuition was going crazy. Then it hit him like a ton of bricks. Leroy had called him Ricochet, and Jacki had introduced him as Ric. He stopped in the middle of his route past the window as everything started falling together.

Jacki hadn’t brought him out here to find him a safe place to stay, she had brought him out here to deliver him into the hands of the cartel. She was in on it too. That’s why she wasn’t shocked and appalled at the brutal murder of his sister, she in all likely hood had been the one that committed it. Without a second thought he continued pacing until he was out of sight, and then he took off into the woods. He was underdressed, but it was better than being dead. He also wasn’t even sure where he was going, but if he could last a few days out in the woods some one would come looking for him. Especially since he was the last remaining family for Cher and Rogue and they would need him to finalize the funeral arrangements.

He briefly wondered how long it would take Jacki and Leroy to notice he was gone, but it didn’t slow him down any. He disappeared behind the house and started up the slight slope that would eventually become the mountain. He had to think of some way to mask his trail. An especially good way since Leroy would be sure to pick up his trail in no time. Especially on his own property. Realizing this fact he immediately back tracked and started off in another direction. He did this three more times to confuse the trail and then picked a fourth direction and picked up his pace. As far as he knew he still wasn’t being trailed at this point, but he was running out of time and he knew it. His best chance was to get as far up the mountain as possible in the dark.

He tromped through the underbrush, snapping twigs and making much more noise than was necessary in an attempt to scare up any near by wildlife. He was hoping they would also help mask his trail, but so far the only thing moving in the darkness was himself. He paused momentarily to take a rest and regain his balance. He wished he had eaten lunch. He hadn’t realized that he hadn’t eaten anything except that one cup of coffee that was long wore off, and now he was out in the woods

attempting to survive.

Suddenly an arm wrapped around him and pulled him back into a small area of brush. He tried to fight back but he was completely caught off guard. A hand clasp over his mouth and inhibited a scream before he was spun around to face his attacker. He raised his fist, and stopped in complete shock.

“Rogue!” He shouted, before he embraced his little brother in a giant bear hug.

Rogue returned the hug, although not as enthusiastically, and motioned for Ric to be quiet.

“I assume since you’re out here running around like a mad man you figured out what’s going on?” He asked quietly.

“I did. I don’t know if they’ve realized I’m gone yet, but the sheriff and this Indian guy are in on it. I was at the Indian’s house in the woods. The sheriff had brought me out here under the guise of finding out what happened to Cher. She’s dead, Ro. They killed her.” Ric explained, his voice full of emotion.

“They tried to kill me. I’ve been out here hiding from them since the accident. There is a small stream just North of here where I’ve had some good luck with fishing, and there was an abandon cave not too far from there. Come on.” Rogue explained taking Ric by the arm and leading him back through the brush.

“How did you make it over the mountain?” Ric asked trying to keep pace with Rogue who was flying through the underbrush.

“I wasn’t just hauling heroine. They thought the coke and speed was lost in the accident. Nope it’s what’s been keeping me going this whole time. That and the few measly fish I’ve been able to catch.” Rogue answered.

“That does explain a lot.” Ric said mostly to himself as they continued flying toward the relative safety of the cave.

 

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It hadn’t taken long for Jacki and Leroy to figure out that Ric had disappeared. Leroy immediately went to the woods, and Jacki took to the roads. There was only one real place he could have gone if he stuck to the roads, and that was back towards Calamity. She hadn’t told anyone she was taking Ric out to Leroy’s so she wasn’t worried about returning to town with out him, but eventually the other investigators and Dwayne would want to talk to him, and if she told them he was out at Leroy’s and then he suddenly disappeared, there would be more speculation, and problems. They had to find him. Especially since they were having so much trouble finding Rogue. Carlos would be very unhappy with them, and Carlos was not a man that you wanted to be around when he was mad.

Neither she nor Leroy could figure out what had spooked him off, but he was definitely gone. At least she thought he got spooked off, but he could have just given up on life and wandered off out of despondency. She really did care about him, but she also cared about her own future in Calamity. Her salary  was next to nothing, and even if she didn’t turn a blind eye on the cartels they would continue to use her town as a distribution hub to the Northern states. She couldn’t believe they had actually killed his sister. He must have done something terrible to piss them off. She didn’t know all the details, but she knew he was on the top ten most wanted by the cartels, and his little brother had been nothing but trouble ever since he had been stationed out here.

She’d never had the pleasure of working with Rogue, or displeasure if she was to believe the stories she had heard. She thought he was probably a lot like his brother, and she could see from what she was getting to know of Ric that they could be quite difficult. She only hoped that she would find Ric before Leroy.

Leroy too, was brought into the world of the cartels out of necessity. As soon as Jacki had taken over as the sheriff she learned that no one and nothing went through the mountains with out Leroy’s approval. It took a lot of convincing, and threatening before he agreed to let them use Dead Man’s Pass, but every one has their price. Jacki was there when Leroy eventually agreed. It seemed like he had given up with everything. He only wanted to live out his last days on his land with out any trouble, if siding with these criminals was the only way to make it happen than that’s what had to be done.

It kind of made her sad to see some one so apathetic, but she herself was in the exact same boat. After the loss of her partner she just didn’t care anymore. No amount of passion, or degree of professionalism could curb the way the society was heading. It was a losing battle. She had fought her fight for so long, but after his death she couldn’t deal with it anymore. If this position hadn’t come up around the same time that Carlos had approached her about transporting his goods, she probably would have abandon the profession all together. The only reason she remained a police officer was to maintain her cover. Really Calamity was the perfect place for her. She feigned interest and concern, but in all honesty she was just another apathetic soul waiting for death just like the rest of the population. In some way she thought that her superiors knew this, which is why she ended up here in the first place.

Suddenly her phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. She looked at the caller id and saw that it was Carlos. This wouldn’t be good, and she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to answer it. He would have to be informed at one point or another regardless of when so she flipped the phone open and waited for his wrath.

A barrage of angry Spanish flew at her through the other end of the line. She didn’t understand ninety percent of it, but the ten percent she did understand got the point across. He was not happy in the least.

Eventually he calmed down enough to start speaking to her in English. At that point she wished he would have kept speaking Spanish because his words were far from kind, and they were really making her angry. She had bee through this many times before, and she knew that the best way to deal with this was to let him get it all out and then reply. If you interrupted him in the middle of a tirade to defend yourself it only made things so much worse. She was glad that he had chosen to call her instead of confronting her face to face. The last time they met in person she had pulled her weapon on him, and nearly ended up with a bullet in between her eyes.

“… do you understand?! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Carlos yelled bringing her attention back to the conversation.

“Yes, I understand. We don’t know where he went. He could have just decided that life was not worth living after the loss of his siblings and wandered off. Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean that he figured it out.” She replied with a little bit too much force. She immediately regretted it.

“Oh yeah? Really? You think that’s what happened? Well you better PRAY that’s what happened, because it will be your head on a shiny silver platter if you lost him and he figured it out. Find him TONIGHT.” Carlos yelled through the receiver before hanging up.

Jacki closed her phone to make absolutely sure the connection was closed before she threw it across the car and screamed at the top of her lungs. When she was first approached by the cartel it had been Carlos’ father who had been running the show. He was very much in control, but surprisingly diplomatic for being a drug over lord. He was one of those crusading criminals that you could respect. It was much easier on the conscious to work for him, but when he was met with an unfortunate end by a rival gang and Carlos took over everything went to hell in a hand basket. Carlos was a small man, both in stature and personality and it was reflected in his rule.

Jacki was actually surprised that he had made it this long with out an attempt on his life. No one liked him, or even respected him. They were all just biding their time until he eventually met his demise and some one else could take over. With the way he ran things it wouldn’t be very long at all.

Then a thought occurred to her. What if she could use Ric’s disappearance to her advantage? She could lure Carlos out of hiding and up into the mountains where Leroy could take care of him. No one would suspect anything suspicious in Calamity, even if he was one of the leading members of the biggest cartel in Mexico. Would Leroy trust her enough to help her? He had never met Carlos in person, in fact he hadn’t even talked to Carlos. All of his orders went through Jacki. It was really her he worked for and she didn’t think he would question her decision, especially if she sweetened the deal with something like unlimited hunting rights in the mountains or something.

She smirked to herself as she turned off the road and headed back toward Leroy’s ranch. That would be the last time Carlos would yell at her, and no one would think twice about his end in the mountains of Calamity Falls.

 

————————————————————

 

Leroy walked silently through the woods, watching the changes in the forest through out the changing time. It had been early evening when he went out, but now it was bordering on the turning of morning. The horizon had turned to a pale shade of blue and it was slowly spreading across the sky. He would stay out here for days if necessary, but he would find the McHendon brothers. One could allude him, but together they would be easier to track. One person’s tracks can look like a number of animal tracks or disturbances in the brush, but two people can only disturb the brush like two careless human beings could. He had already found Ric’s feeble attempt to throw him off the scent, and quickly picked up the rest of the trail when Ric presumably met up with his brother. He met up with some one, and Leroy couldn’t figure that anyone else would be out so close to his property other than Rogue.

Rogue had been gradually heading West since his accident, which would have eventually lead him right into Leroy’s grasp. Now that he met up with Ric, and Ric had figured out the connection between the cartels and Jacki they would head back toward Calamity Falls where they knew they could find help, or if not help at least a phone. It intrigued him that they were currently heading North. There was nothing to the North of here for days by car, weeks possibly months on foot. Maybe they were just trying to angle their way up the mountain? He wasn’t sure but they certainly weren’t making an effort to disguise their trail anymore as Rogue had been before. It was only a matter of time before he would find them. Only a matter of time.

 

————————————————————

 

Just before dawn Rogue and Ric had reached the cave and collapsed in exhaustion. Rogue had cleaned and dried some small fish and left them for later, which they both devoured in record time, followed by a warm cup of pine nettle tea by the fire. If they weren’t being perused by a crazy corrupt sheriff it would have been almost like the camping trips they had enjoyed as boys.

From the very beginning they had been wilderness men. It was the only thing they could do some nights to escape their father’s drunken rampages, disappear into the desert until daybreak. Ric could still remember the first time he had taken Rogue out with him. Rogue was deathly afraid of the dark when he was in the safety of the house, but if you took him ten feet outside of the yard he became literally paralyzed. Ric knew it would be for the best if he could learn to survive out in the desert as he had in boy scouts. By the time Rogue had come along their step father had demanded that the entire family be home by dinner and stay inside until leaving for school the next morning.

Ric wasn’t sure if this was because his abuse had gotten more physical and he didn’t want people to see the marks left behind on either the kids or his wife, or if he was just starting to slip into his psychosis, but Rogue was never able to do much outside of school. He was an incredibly sheltered child which made him very socially awkward. It really was a wonder that he had turned out to be the most adventurous and irresponsible of the three, and yet here they were.

Rogue had been successfully living in the mountains with out any proper supplies for nearly two weeks now, and he had been avoiding a person searching for him and done all of this after a terrible car accident. It made Ric swell with pride at for his little brother and all of his accomplishments over the past two weeks, but then again he also felt a the desire to kick him half way to Tuesday for getting himself and the family involved in this mess in the first place. Ric still blamed himself more than anyone for Cher’s death, but he couldn’t help but at least think thoughts of blame toward Rogue.

Rogue for all the growth he had gone through in the past few weeks and years was still terribly irresponsible and reckless. He rarely thought about how his actions affected the others in his life. He barely even reacted when Ric had delivered the news about Cher. It wasn’t truly surprising, but at the same time it was. Ric still wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but all of that cold wait. Their main objective right now was to get out of these woods and off of this mountain alive and bring the killers to justice.

Ric was awakened by the sun shining through the sparse brush cover that Rogue had placed over the mouth of the cave.  The set up that Rogue had going was fairly comfortable. It was still outside in the middle of winter in the mountains, but with the cave and small fire pit that he had thrown together it was actually quite warm in their little hide away. He had also found a wonderful fishing spot where he was lucky enough to catch more than his fill every day with out much effort. It made Ric wonder how hard Leroy was actually searching, or how well Leroy actually knew the mountains if he hadn’t already looked for signs of life around the fishing spot.

Really, Leroy was the least of their worries. They had to figure out how to get back over the mountain and back to civilization where they could get protection and back up to take on the cartel. Ric rolled over and sat up rubbing the sleep from his eyes and scratching the stubble under his chin. The morning would be spent catching, drying and preserving as many fish as possible for their journey over the mountain. Before he had left the hotel the night before he had looked at the weather and noticed a storm front moving in slowly from the West. That had been nearly two days ago, according to his wrist watch. If the storm wasn’t on top of them currently it would be moving in by the end of the day. With it would come several feet of snow, wind chill of zero or below, and freezing rain. Not something you want to be stuck outside in. Not something you want to be stuck INSIDE in up here in the mountains, but they had no choice.

He was hoping that the threat of weather would slow Leroy and Jacki’s search down, at least for a while. Maybe they would count on the elements to kill off the McHendon brothers and not worry about searching for them.

“I can only hope.” Ric muttered to himself, which startled Rogue out of his fitful sleep.

“You can only hope what?” Rogue asked forcing himself up right trying to blink the sleep out of his eyes.

“That the storm moving in will keep Leroy and Jacki from searching for us for too long.” Ric answered poking the now smoldering fire with a stick.

“Ha! Leroy has lived out here his entire life. I don’t think a little snow will stop him. Which reminds me, we need to get up and get fishing so we can get a move on. Leroy is probably about to stumble over our little camp any moment now.”

“What do you mean?” Ric asked kind of confused about Rogue’s choice of words.

“Leroy may have lived in these mountains his entire life, and he may be a Native American, but he is a joke when it comes to tracking. I’ve sat up here in the cave behind my brush cover and watched him walk right past me at least six times since he’s been out looking for me.” Rogue answered. “All he does is take the bait out of the few snares I’ve been setting, and leave. Maybe he knows I’m here, but doesn’t have the nerve to actually turn me in, or maybe he’s impressed with my out doors skills. I don’t know, but he’s literally almost been on top of me and not said anything.”

Ric thought this was extremely odd, especially considering the wonderful display of craftsmanship around Leroy’s property. Surely a retiree wouldn’t drag in that much social security and pension to hire some one to rebuild the house. If he possessed the craftsmanship to build such a wonderful rustic house, surely he could hunt and track well. Maybe Rogue was right, maybe Leroy knew exactly where they were hiding all along and just chose not to turn him in.

“Had you ever met or talked to this Leroy fellow in your dealings with the cartels before?” Ric asked Rogue.

“Once or twice, when I started running things up here, but he isn’t a very social or talkative person. I never got into his actual job with the cartel. He was there because Jacki was there. I honestly thought he was her body guard. Jacki talks a big game, but she’s really a very small woman. Not only in stature, but in character.” Rogue explained.

Ric thought it was ironic that Rogue was comparing character after the stunt he pulled by getting involved with the cartels in the first place, but he listened politely anyway. It would be the most difficult thing he would ever have to do when he turned Rogue over to the authorities after all of this was said and done. Especially right after the loss of their sister, but he had a professional obligation to catch criminals, and as much as he hated to admit it his little brother had become a criminal involved in a very substantial crime ring.

“I know.” Rogue said, as if reading his brother’s thoughts. “I know you have to turn me in as soon as we return to Calamity. I didn’t want to get dragged into this life, Ric, but I really didn’t have an option. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it was either join them or die. It’s not like I had much going for me anyway, with my checkered past. The best thing I could hope for was a job at the Quick Mart, food stamps, and a crap hole section eight apartment. At least this way I got to live a little before they lock me up for good. Things were great until recently. I was doing my job, no questions asked picking up the product and dropping it off. It wasn’t hard, they paid me a percentage of the profits and I got to see the country. Get out of Texas for a while. It was a sweet deal, but then some one screwed Carlos over. I dropped the stuff off, but they didn’t give me the payment as planned. They said they had already paid Carlos. I don’t know why I was dumb enough to believe them, but when I called him on the way back, I got chewed out and told I was finished. Until they tried to shoot me and run me off the road I thought he meant he was going to turn me in. Again, I don’t know why I was so dumb. I guess I counted on my beginners luck to pull me through. I just don’t know.”

Ric listened patiently. He wished that he could help his little brother. He really did, especially since he could hear the sincerity and remorse in Rogue’s confession. The fact of the matter was that the law was clear on things of this magnitude. There was nothing Ric could do to save him. He would have to hope that he could find a lawyer that would be able to finagle his way through the muck toward a plea deal. He knew that if Cher had still been alive she would have been able to pull it off so he had hope that it was possible, but Cher was their sister. She tended to forgo ethics in favor of winning when it came to her family. Ric probably should have arrested her for black mail, intimidation, and extortion before he arrested Rogue on trafficking charges. Rogue was remorseful, Cher was not.

“Rogie, everyone makes mistakes, but everyone has to own up to them eventually. I’m sorry, but I’m glad you understand.” Ric said calmly, trying not to get things too emotional.

“If I didn’t go work for the cartels I wouldn’t be me, and if you didn’t turn me in you wouldn’t be you. We’re just remaining true to ourselves.” Rogue said, shifting his attention from the now extinct fire and out side toward the beautiful mountain morning. “Well, we should get going. Especially if a storm is moving in.”

 

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It hadn’t taken Jacki very long to find Leroy even in the vast woods on his property. Ric hadn’t strayed too far from the edge of the clearing where the house was, and so Leroy hadn’t strayed  too far from the clearing. All she had to do was return to the house fire her weapon and sound the horn on the SUV before he sauntered back out of the woods to see what was going on.

She had explained her phone call with Carlos, and her plan to have him meet an unfortunate accident when he came up to Calamity himself after Leroy couldn’t find the McHendon brothers. Leroy wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea, but then again Leroy wasn’t very enthusiastic about anything other than violence and herbal tea.

He really didn’t have to be excited about it as long as he was on board. It would take a tremendous effort to get Carlos out of his Mexican palace and up into these mountains. Especially during the winter and after a large snow. She was confidant that she would be able to lure him up as long as Leroy was willing to arrange the accident.

They discussed plans briefly about the accident, and what should be involved and then Jacki decided to head back to town to see about the rest of the investigation into the McHendon sister’s death. She had already been gone from her town for nearly two full days. If she didn’t return soon she would be missed. She was sure Dwayne was itching to get out of the station and go home for a while. She felt bad kind of abandoning him there, especially with all of the new media attention that came with the identification of the victim as Cherokee McHendon, amazing lawyer from Texas. Now, not only did she have to deal with tourist alone, but she also had to combat the media. She also couldn’t imagine what this murder was going to do to the business at the Pine.

It was already primarily rented by people who were looking for a macabre place to stay. A place rumored to be filled with ghost and gremlins and spooks of all different types. It was also the place where legend told that the “curse” of Calamity Falls began.

The original owner of the Pines had been a greedy, and fool hardy man. He had a wife and three daughters, whom he treated slightly better than his livestock. The oldest daughter got fed up with the way that her father was treating her and ran away into the woods. She stayed out in the woods for as long as she could on her own, and just when starvation was about to over come her she stumbled upon an Indian village. She shared her story with the chief, who immediately agreed to take her in, if she agreed to work as a slave in the camp. Slavery to an Indian chief was far better than the life she had led back in town and she agreed. After several months of living in the camp she met and fell in love with the son of the chief. They were married and had two children. When she was telling the tale of her terrible childhood to her oldest son, he took it upon himself to seek revenge on his grandfather. He left the tribe in the still of the night with many makings for black magic. As he snuck into the town and found the hotel, he was caught by the local authorities and thrown in jail. While in jail he received the same terrible treatment by the towns folk that his mother had received from her father. It was then that he decided not to exact revenge on his grandfather, but curse the entire town, which he did. In order to complete the ritual he had to make a human sacrifice. The plan had been to sacrifice his grandfather, but since he was locked away in a cold jail cell he had no choice but to sacrifice himself which he did, because he had to sacrifice himself there was no one to complete the curse. Instead of the town completely collapsing and being no more as the curse was intended, it now only had a terrible streak of luck. Things would never get better and many people would die, but the town would live on forever.

Jacki never believed this tale, even for a moment. For one it sounded like it was thrown together at a drunken bon fire. No part of it was congruent to the next. It was something that had been passed down as an oral tradition for several generations, but somewhere down the line something had gone awry. Thinking about it now, she kind of wanted to go back to the historical society and dig up the real legend. That would have to wait until after she could get rid of Carlos.

She yawned, and checked the clock on the dash board. She was driving back through Dead Man’s Pass, and she hadn’t slept. She probably should have taken that into consideration and taken a snooze at Leroy’s, but she decided that getting back to town was more important. Especially if that storm they were predicting moved in this afternoon. There was another reason she wasn’t worried about finding Ric and Rogue. No one could survive that storm based on the gear they had on hand. Certainly not Rogue who had been out in the elements for nearly two weeks. If she could get Carlos to come up here and search for himself she would be rid of all of her problems, and firmly in position to take over this faction of the cartel.

She decided to turn all of her attention on the road and forget about making grand plans for taking over this fraction of the cartel. It wasn’t likely, even thought she had been second in command since she arrived in Calamity, she wasn’t truly part of the family. When she was studying the Mob in her criminology classes, it never made sense to her, but after being out in the field for so long dealing with it day in and day out, listening to so many confession, hearing so many tales of woe, the clouds were finally starting to clear and the logic of crime was starting to make sense. Even the lines of her morality began to shift after that revelation. It was something that completely shattered her world. You could say it was a broken spirit, but she considered it a free spirit. She was no longer constrained by the choices of morality, she was now only constrained by the choices of her superiors. Even those choices really were of no concern to her. When you began to live your life getting things done by any means possible, everything was possible. Now she realized why so many people were willing to fire on police officers and then not apologize when they were arrested. She now understood what it felt like to break a law in standing up for something she believed in, even if society did not. It was liberating and invigorating. Much better than the day to day grind of trying to keep the peace, which in all honesty had become a losing battle. It had always been a losing battle to some degree just because of human nature, but in her life time it had become an obvious losing battle. Even in her comparatively few short years on the force she had watched the world get so much worse.

She herself was living proof of how the world was sliding forever into darkness. A police officer now aspiring to be a career criminal? It was hopeless the only thing one could do was embrace the changes and adapt. Isn’t that how the world survived it’s massive changes before? Survival of the fittest they say. She silently agreed to her self, flipped on the radio to her favorite station and carefully made her way home.

 

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Rogue and Ric had caught their fill of fish, packed up what little gear they had, got their bearings and started their long journey. It had been Ric’s idea to sneak back onto Leroy’s property and scavenge as many supplies as they could before starting their trek. Surprisingly they were able to gather a lot of necessary things for survival in the cold that just happened to be laying around the edge of the property. Ric made a mental note of this as he and Rogue disappeared back into the shelter of the forest.

They walked in silence for several hours as the altitude began to increase and the forest and air began to thin talking became too laborious so there was no point to start now. Before they had left their camp they had both estimated that at their average pace would put them back at the top of the road on Dead Man’s Pass where they could then hitch a ride would take a little over a day as long as the terrain remained relatively easy. The only thing they were unable to find was climbing gear, so if they reached a cliff face or sheer drop they would have to make their way around it instead of being able to go through or over it.

Rogue had failed to encounter any such terrain on his way down the mountain, but he wasn’t really keeping track of his path on his way down here. It would be much more difficult on the way up. They weren’t even one hundred percent sure where they would intersect with the road in Dead Man’s Pass. Another obstacle that they hadn’t counted on would be avalanches after the fresh snow piled on top of the melting current snow.

Reminding them of this fact the wind stirred up and whipped around them dragging the grey clouds on the horizon that much closer toward them. Ric paused momentarily and took a look back at all the progress they had made in the few early morning hours. He could see a thin wisp of smoke rising from Leroy’s chimney, a few small specks of distant cars on the highway, and a vast open wilderness spreading out from the base of the mountain and continuing as far as the eye could see. If he had been here for any other reason he would have really enjoyed his time in the mountains. This was beautiful country. Such a nice change of scenery from the deserts and rock faces in Texas. Until he came out here he didn’t know things could be such a wonderful shade of green. It was a deep, yet vibrant shade of green that only pines could achieve. Being accented by the pure untouched white of the snowfall made things just that much more breath taking.

“Hey are you coming?” Rogue asked from several feet ahead.

Ric turned around from the majestic scene and nodded his head.

“This place is really beautiful. I’ve never seen so much green in one place.” He said as he caught up to Rogue.

“It is pretty amazing.” Rogue answered taking a moment himself to reflect on the beauty.

Suddenly from above them on the ridge they heard a loud snap like a limb breaking from a tree, or a rock being dislodged from it’s moors. They waited and looked around anxiously. This was the first time either of them had actually come into contact with some form of wildlife other than fish, if that was indeed what was making the sound.

“What was that?” Ric whispered, still scanning the forest for the source of the noise.

“Could be a moose, mountain lion, bear, deer, any number of woodland creatures. Or it could be Leroy heading in from the other side of the pass trying to cut us off. Maybe that’s why his place was deserted?” Rogue answered, also frantically searching the woods a head of them.

“Do you see anything?” Asked Ric.

“No. I don’t see anything other than rocks and trees… wait! There! Look!” Rogue gasped.

Ric followed the direction that Rogue had pointed out. There slightly above them on the ridge was a large mountain cat, with it’s piercing feline eyes directly locked onto them.

“What do we do in this situation, mountain boy?” Ric asked not daring to move a muscle other than those necessary to talk and possibly defend himself.

“I don’t remember. Hope he leaves us alone? Pray maybe? I can’t tell if he’s stalking us as prey or he’s just looking us over because we’re bumbling through his territory.” Rogue answered honestly.

Ric thought it over momentarily. He then slowly moved for the pack he had acquired during their raid of Leroy’s property, and began to look for his stash of fish.

“Maybe if we leave him a snack, he’ll leave us alone?” Ric said, pulling out his container of fish and opening the seal to pick out a few and lay them on a near by rock.

The mountain lion noticed this, and slowly walked down from the ridge. Rogue and Ric stood petrified. They had never seen an animal behave this way before. Especially a two ton cat. Ric wasn’t a fan of little house cats, and he certainly was not a fan of the larger breeds. To be trapped like a sitting duck waiting for this cat to either attack or go about it’s business was the most nerve wrecking thing he had ever done.

He had squared off with drug lords, murderers and psychopaths but nothing compared to the fear he felt now as the cat made it’s way closer and closer. Both he and Rogue were surprised at the behavior of the cat. It was almost like he had been tamed and then released back into the wild. He had no fear of humans, but he also had no drive to hunt them. He only cautiously approached them and took their offering of fish slowly off the rock, keeping one eye on them at all times. Once he finished his meal, he did the stereotypical cat thing, and stretched out to sun himself on the vary rock that Ric had first placed the fish on. With one big stretch, and one big yawn it curled up on the rock and closed it’s eyes.

Rogue and Ric were still too scared to move at first, but after a few moments of the cat remaining still and not showing any obvious signs of aggression, they slowly began to make their way up the mountain. Both of them kept a close eye on the cat as they moved away, but he seemed perfectly content to enjoy the last remaining rays of sunshine before the storm moved in. When they had been walking away for about an hour and the cat still hadn’t followed them Ric looked at Rogue and they both stopped for a moment.

“What was that all about?” They asked each other in unison.

At that they both chuckled. Their mother had always said they were one brain in two bodies. From the time Rogue could talk he and Ric were always saying the same things or finishing each other’s sentences. It was almost uncanny especially considering their age gap.

“That cat had to have been tamed or trained at one point.” Ric said, still looking over his shoulder in paranoia of the very cat he was speaking of.

“You think Leroy has him trained to “take care” of people up here?” Rogue offered, taking off his pack and taking a moment to sit down and rest.

They had been going non stop since sunrise that morning. No one was sure what time it was since their phone batteries had died long ago, and neither of them wore a watch on a regular basis, but they did know it was getting late in the day by the angle of the shadows and the color of the sky. So far the storm hadn’t moved in over their direct area. They could still see the storm menacing on the horizon, but it seemed to have decided to go around the mountain in a giant sky shaped crescent. They could feel the wind moving everything in, but they weren’t going to complain. It would be much easier to bed down for the night when it wasn’t snowing than if it was.

“There’s no telling with those two. They are quite a pair. I’m surprised you didn’t see right through Jacki.” Rogue answered.

Ric hung his head and avoided eye contact with Rogue. He himself was a bit ashamed that he hadn’t seen right through her too. He could blame it on the fact that he was distracted by Rogue’s disappearance, but in reality he had been distracted by her charm and good looks. The two things that he should have looked past in the first place. He had also fallen for her story about how she was fed up with the town and how she couldn’t keep up with all of the stupid people. Thinking back on it now, that part he still believed to be true. He knew at one point Jacki had been a good person, who cared about her job. It was the small town mentality that he had discussed with her earlier. She knew what he was looking for in a trust worthy partner, because he had told her exactly why he didn’t trust her. It was a terrible mistake, but a classic undercover technique. He should have seen right through that too, but he didn’t.

Unlike Jacki, he really was getting worn down and exhausted by the job. There was so much cynicism through out the law enforcement world now. There always was to some extent, but now it was so much worse. He wished he could have lived in the early days of the country where things were still for justice and truth. Law enforcement officers were heros instead of villains. The lines were clear cut. Good was good, evil was evil. Life would have been so much simpler.

“Hello? Earth to Ric?” Rogue asked waving a hand in front of Ric’s face.

“What? Huh? Did you say something?” Ric answered.

“I asked you if you wanted to bed down here for the night? We wouldn’t get much more ground between us and Leroy in the next few hours anyway, and we should take advantage of the remaining day light.” Rogue explained.

Ric looked around at their current surroundings. It was relatively out of the wind, so if the storm did catch up to them during the night they wouldn’t have to dig their way out. It was also difficult to see them coming up the mountain, and there was a slight over hang so it would also be difficult to see them if some one was looking for them while coming down the mountain as well. Really after being out here himself Ric wasn’t surprised that Rogue was able to allude Leroy for so long. There were so many little nooks and crannies in these woods people could live out here unnoticed for years.

“Yeah. I think this is as good a place as any. If you want to get started on a shelter I’ll go gather some firewood and get that going.” Ric answered.

“Do you think they’ll send a search team out looking for you?” Rogue asked as he slipped out of his pack, and began to look around and see what kind of shelter he would need and what materials he had to work with.

“Why would they send a search team out if they don’t know I’m missing? I’m sure Jacki told them that I was out here staying with Leroy and in perfect health until they could capture whomever was out to kill our family.” Ric answered also slipping out of his pack and surveying the surrounding woods for the necessary fire making materials.

“But won’t they want to see you since Cher’s death? You are a suspect too if I’m not mistaken on my criminology.” Rogue retorted.

Ric thought about that. Rogue had a good point. He was sure some one would need to talk to him eventually and either trek out to Leroy’s or wonder where he had gone to. He supposed that if it took long enough to find out where exactly he was supposed to be that they would eventually send out a search team, but the goal was to be back in Calamity Falls by nightfall of the next day. He doubted they would send a search team out looking before at least forty eight hours with out contact from him.

“I don’t think they’ll send anyone out until at least Wednesday and we should already be back into town by then, even if we have to walk the entire way.” Ric answered.

Rogue nodded, and pulled out his machete going to work on removing some small pine bows from near by trees for their shelter.

They worked as quietly as one could trashing the forest to build a shelter, both keeping a keen eye out for their mountain lion friend. Soon they had a rather large fire with some fish grilling away, a nice sized shelter and the sunset casting it’s eerie shade of burgundy over the scene. They were both as relaxed as they could be considering the circumstances. Rogue was lounging in the shelter taking a nap, while Ric was tending the fire and finishing up the fish. If you had stumbled upon them you would have thought that this was normal every day life for these brothers.

That was one good McHendon trait. Adaptability. Ric supposed that it had come from moving around so much with their mother in the early days. At the time he had hated it. Moving from one school to another, some times even before the semester had ended. Always being the outcast and odd ball outsider where ever they went. It really was a terrible childhood to have, but it had definitely given them skills to survive in life that was for sure. They could go anywhere in the world and be as comfortable in their skin as they were sitting in the comfort of their own homes. It didn’t matter the situation, the circumstances of the situation, who they were with or what they were doing. The confidence was always with them. Some say it made them cocky, but it was just the way of life for them. You had to be confident or you would get taken advantage of. No one messed with some one who was truly comfortable in their own skin, unless they were really afraid of them. The trick was you had to use your confidence for good and not be arrogant about it. Most people didn’t get that, even though they tried.

Another snap in the distance, broke Ric’s concentration, and rousted Rogue. He had his machete in hand, but it was nearly impossible to see anything past the ring of the fire. There were several more snaps and cracks of twigs breaking, each one closer than the next.

“Ric!” Rogue whispered getting Ric’s attention.

Ric turned slowly to face Rogue who was handing him the machete. Ric took it and slowly rose to standing. Even his movement didn’t stop the approaching intruder, that could only mean one of two things either this animal wasn’t afraid of fire or humans, or it was a human. Just as suddenly as they had started, the snaps and cracks stopped without any explanation.

Ric stood silently for a moment, before returning to his seat. Rogue too spooked to go back to sleep crawled out of the shelter and also took a seat next at the fire on the opposite side from Ric. They were still wary as a light snow began to fall around them.

“Looks like the storm caught up with us.” Ric said, finally breaking the intense silence.

“I wonder if it’s going to be as bad as they predicted when you last watched the news?” Rogue asked rubbing his arms trying to encourage some circulation to return.

“Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” Ric answered, scooting closer to the fire to try and combat the chill in the air. “Guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

 

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Jacki had made it safely back to town a mere half an hour before the storm hit. Most of it had gone either North or South of the mountain that Calamity was snuggled up against, but there was still quite a bit of wind and snow.

The first thing she did was stop by the station to relieve Dwayne. She made up some story as to why she got stuck on the other side with Leroy all night and then told him he could have the rest of the day off. If he had doubts about her story he certainly didn’t protest before gathering his things and heading out the door.

Now that she had the place to herself she could start thinking of ways to lure Carlos up the mountain, and accidentally start “losing” evidence in regards to the McHendon murder. She was surprised that none of the state forces or FBI had stuck around today. Maybe they were all hunkered down in their hotel rooms afraid of the snow? She didn’t really care, especially since they would only complicate things if they had remained in town.

Sitting down at her desk she looked half heartedly at the folder of paper work and box of evidence that lay on her desk waiting to be catalogued and put away. They hadn’t found much other than some finger prints which could have belonged to anyone since they came from the hotel, a few hairs, who could have also come from anyone, and a shoe print on the bathroom tile. That was something that needed to be accidentally misplaced as only a few people had been in the room that could have left the print.

Jacki hadn’t carried out the hit herself. In fact she didn’t know who had. She guessed it was so she wouldn’t have to pretend to investigate and draw suspicion toward herself. On the one hand that was nice, but on the other hand she didn’t like knowing there was a murderer visiting her town. Just because he followed the orders to kill Ric’s sister, didn’t mean he would stop with her. Especially so far away from Carlos’ iron grip. Hopefully whom ever it was, was an experienced and cool professional and not some hot head trying to prove himself.

She took the shoe print out of the evidence box and laid it down on top of a stack of paperwork. She had finished rummaging through the box, now it was time to start on the report. She quickly skimmed over everything, and then settled in to read it carefully. She had the power to edit it once she was entering it into the computer since it had been hand written and/or typed up instead of written out digitally, but if she had poorly placed edits people would know the report had been altered on purpose, especially since some one had painstakingly taken the time to write it all down. This was going to take a while. It looked like she was going to be stuck in the office much more than she had anticipated today. Hopefully there weren’t any other accidents or things that would require her attention. She really needed to hire another deputy, but before she could do that she needed to find the funds to pay the pension for the deputy she already had.

————————————————————

 

Dwayne drove carefully to his small rental property just outside of the city limits. This storm was tame by even Calamity standards, but you could never be too careful around the Falls. As he pulled in the driveway, he turned off the engine and sat in silent reflection. Something about the story Jacki had told him about getting stuck on the West side of the mountain didn’t make sense. She had said she had car trouble and was forced to stay behind to get it taken care of, but when she left town it was already going on six in the evening. By the time she got to Leroy’s it would have been well past eight, and Leroy still lived another forty five minutes from the next big town with an auto service center. No matter how dedicated they might have been to their craft, no mechanic was staying open past eight during a weeknight, especially not one who was more than likely digging himself out from under three feet of snow the entire day before.

True, maybe Leroy could have had the tools and time to fix whatever was wrong with her car, but if that was the case why didn’t he do it after she arrived instead of waiting until the next morning? And why would she take a suspect in the only murder investigation that they had seen since she had been acting sheriff OUT of town? She should have kept him close at hand. It was true that Ric’s life did seem to be in danger, but he could have stayed with Jacki or they could have locked him up in the sheriff department’s single cell through the night and when he wasn’t with either one of them. It was a little unorthodox, but if that’s what needed to be done than that’s what would have to be done. If nothing else they could have locked Ric up under the mental instability excuse. He did just lose his sister and brother all in less than a week. It would have held up if Ric had tried to sue them. It just wasn’t sitting right at all.

Dwayne finally got out of his car, although reluctantly and headed into the house. He felt like he should call some one with the FBI or state investigation team and tell him about the suspicious circumstances, but then again who would he call and who would they be more likely to believe? Some old about to retire officer who could never get to anything more than deputy in a town where he all but grew up, or the attractive young elected official who even though the numbers were still outrageous had managed to bring the statistics of mysterious events down substantially? It was a no brainer really. Of course they would side with Jacki. The town would side with Jacki, especially since one of the perks of being an elected official is just that. You are elected, so at least the majority of people like you or how you do your job to at least some degree.

He opened the front door to his well kept bungalow, and to his surprise stood face to face with Leroy.

“Leroy!” Dwayne called out in surprise. “How did you get in here? How did you get over the mountain in this weather?”

“The weather on the mountain is calm and still, and the back door was unlocked. You should really be more careful Dwayne, my friend.” Leroy answered.

“Was it really? I must have forgotten to lock it after letting the cat in.” Dwayne said factually as he shuffled around Leroy and collapsed on the couch. “Have a seat Leroy. What’s on your mind?”

Leroy paused, not sure if he wanted to sit down or stand for what he was about to do. He had known Dwayne basically all of his life, but he had orders from Carlos, and no one disobeyed Carlos. It would be easier to take care of Dwayne than it would have been to take care of a young person with a family, but it was still the most difficult thing Leroy would ever have to do. Hopefully Dwayne would understand his predicament and not haunt him for eternity up in his mountain side retreat. He decided he would stand, but turned around to face Dwayne, and drew his small pistol from with in the pocket of his coat.

Dwayne wasn’t sure what to think when Leroy turned around baring arms on him, but he didn’t have much time to think before Leroy pulled the hammer back and fired off one shot into the couch cushion directly next to Dwayne’s head before dropping the pistol to the ground, and bolting out the door.

Dwayne was in shock, but not so much shock that he couldn’t draw his own weapon and chase Leroy out the door and into the woods behind the house. He had to assume that Leroy was still armed, which made things a bit more difficult, but it was necessary. If Leroy had truly meant to kill him he wouldn’t have missed. Something more was going on here.

“Leroy! Leroy what was that all about? Are you okay?” Dwayne called out into the barren woods. He wasn’t really paying attention to tracks, because he knew that if Leroy didn’t want to be found that he wouldn’t be found even with an entire team of expert trackers on his trail. Dwayne just wanted to see if his friend was alone or with some one else who was forcing his hand. “Leroy! Come on back now, and we can talk about this!”

There was only silence in reply. It appeared that if Leroy’s hand was being forced, and he hadn’t just gone off the deep end that whomever was doing the forcing was near by. That put Dwayne on even more of an edge than just being shot at. He slowed down and carefully began to survey the woods in the dim cloud obstructed light. He didn’t see anything but fresh snow, and the barren trees, and he decided that now would be a good time to return home.

Still with his weapon drawn he went back into the house, closed and locked all of the doors and went room to room inspecting to make sure that Leroy hadn’t doubled back and slipped inside while wanting to try again. When everything came up secure he called it in. He skipped Jacki and went straight to the state police. It was too much of a coincidence that after one murder, and one visit from Jacki that Leroy would show up here and try to kill him. He wasn’t sure what all they were involved in, but Jacki and Leroy were deep into something if they had to resort to murder. After hanging up with the state department, Dwayne retired to his bedroom staying far away from the windows and watching the door like a hawk. It would take the state half an hour to send some one out, and until then Dwayne was a sitting duck.

 

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When they awoke, Ric and Rogue had to dust the snow off of themselves. They had both crawled into their shelter after the snow began just a few hours before, but it was made out of sticks and branches. The holes for the snow were abundant. It still trapped their body heat and kept the majority of the snow off of them which was the point. As far as that was concerned the shelter had done it’s job. Ric walked over to the fire, which was amazingly still smoldering. He added a few more dry sticks and soon they had quite a blaze going. They threw the last few fish they had on the fire to cook, and brewed up some pine nettle tea. It wasn’t much of a breakfast, but it would do, and it was certainly better than nothing.

After breakfast they didn’t waste anytime in getting started on the last leg of their trip. From just their basic calculations they had made it over halfway up the slope yesterday, and they should reach the peak by early afternoon, unless they reached the road before hand. Reaching the road was only half of the battle. After that they had to find some one to actually pick up two tired and terrible looking hitch hikers. Ric was hoping that they would recognize Rogue from the recent search, and not ask any questions if they ran into a passing motorist. It was a small glimmer of hope, and even if they didn’t actually give them a ride surely some one would call the state highway patrol to report the two suspicious fellows wandering through Dead Man’s Pass.

They quickly and quietly packed up their gear, and set out. It was an unspoken thing to travel at a break neck pace today, and Rogue was leading the way with a particular flair that Ric hadn’t seen in him in a long time. They still spent most of their time in silence. There was much that needed to be said between them, but they both wanted to focus on the task at hand and worry about all of that family stuff later.

Just as Ric was about to open his mouth and request a quick break, Rogue stumbled through some brush and disappeared.

“Ric! Ha! We did it!” Rogue shouted. “The road! It’s just up ahead!”

Ric smiled and rushed up to meet Rogue. He had never been so excited to see a small strip of asphalt in his entire life. It was covered with snow, and had yet to be plowed, but at least one car had driven by recently exposing the blessed surface just enough to make it recognizable. Ric was surprised that there weren’t any guard rails around this particular curve, but then he realized that the ground was pretty much level with the road at this particular junction and a guard rail probably wasn’t necessary.

Only one question truly remained, and that was which way to head on the road. Currently it was running North to South, and they needed to head East. There really was no way of telling which way would take them up the mountain until the could see the grade of the road or reached a curve that set them in the right direction. They both looked left and right trying to distinguish any thing they could about the right direction to take, but nothing was springing to life out at them. Finally they decided that they would head North in the interest of going up the mountain.

It must have been their lucky day, because North was the direction that would lead them to the peak. They made much better time on the pavement, even though it was still slick with snow and slush. In less than an hour they reached the peak which was joined by a scenic pull off and several parking places two of which were occupied by vehicles. Rogue nearly collapsed from joy. He couldn’t wait to get back to civilization. Camping was fun when it was planned, but surviving out in the wilderness for so long was not something that he ever looked forward to doing again.

Ric was slightly more reserved. They didn’t know who occupied those cars, and why they were up here so recently on such hazardous roads. They could have been the very enemies they were trying to escape. He grabbed Rogue’s arm and gently held him back.

“Wait a second. We don’t know who they are. What if it’s members of the cartel? If we rush in there it could be the end of us.” Ric said pulling Rogue behind him and trying to keep him out of sight as they approached the cars.

“Why would members of the cartel be up here right after a blizzard?” Rogue asked annoyed with his brother for being so over protective.

“Why not? No one else is going to come out here after a storm unless it’s road crews or law enforcement.” Ric countered, still cautiously making his way toward the cars.

“With that logic why are we even bothering to go up to them? They clearly aren’t road crews, and aren’t we currently at odds with the local law enforcement?” Rogue spat frustrated.

“Local yes, but these guys seem more like federal law enforcement.” Ric answered.

They were now less than ten feet away from the cars, and they had stopped. It wasn’t that Ric didn’t know what to do next, it was just the fact that it would require so much of him physically to get away if these people weren’t federal officers. He didn’t want to go back into the woods after being so close to civilization again. He would if necessary, but he was really not looking forward to it at all.

Before they could decide what they wanted to do or how they wanted to approach the situation the door to the nearest car swung open and a man stepped out and approached them.

“Hello there, can I help you two? You look like you’ve been out here for a while.” The man asked calmly.

Ric could tell that the man was just as wary of them as they were of him, so he took a step forward and extended his hand.

“Yes, sir. Thank you so much! We could use a ride into the nearest state police station. Do you think you could arrange that?” Ric said as the man received his hand and shook it vigorously.

“I could take you there, but Calamity Falls is just over the hill here.” The man replied, ushering Ric and Rogue into the back seat of his car.

“I see, but don’t the state police handle all of the search and rescue in the area?” Rogue replied trying to skirt his way around why he didn’t want to go to Calamity.

“They do, but a local liaison is stationed in Calamity. Let’s just take you there. How long have you been out here?” He asked, handing each Rogue and Ric a bottle of water and a lunch box. “Help yourself to anything in there. I have a few sandwiches and some trail mix.”

Rogue snatched the lunch box from Ric, threw open his water and devoured a sandwich, while Ric simply opened his water and took a long refreshing drink.

“We’ve been out here about two weeks. We we were hiking through the gorge and got turned around on a trail. Once it started snowing we couldn’t tell up from down and must have wandered even farther off course. We just found the road this afternoon and hiked up here hoping our cars would still be here. I guess they’re impounded or something.” Ric answered on the fly.

Rogue kind of gave him a disbelieving look, but continued to eat the contents of the lunch box. He had finished the sandwich and a bag of trail mix and now he was working on a bag of carrots and broccoli. He was excited to have anything to eat other than fish. He didn’t think he would ever eat another fish in his life.

“You aren’t that guy that went missing after the car accident? You really look like him.” The man asked turning over the engine and slowly backing out of his parking space and back on to the main road.

“There is some one missing after a car accident?” Rogue asked his mouth full of carrots. “That has to be rough. I would have just as soon shrivled up and died of exposure if I’d ended up out here after an accident.”

Ric watched the man’s reaction to Rogue’s fib closely. He wanted to believe that this man was just some concerned citizen but he was asking far too many questions. In depth questions that no one would think to ask when picking up to stranded hikers.

The man noticed Ric watching him intently and smiled.

“Alright boys. You got me. I’m Agent Bonelli FBI. I know you’re the McHendon brothers. What I don’t know is why you don’t want to go to Calamity and insist on going straight to the state police.” Agent Bonelli explained. “I’m here working a separate missing persons case. Ironically two hikers did leave their cars at the look out on the peak and disappear.”

Ric immediately relaxed, as did Rogue, and he took a giant sigh of relief.

“We have reason to believe that the sheriff of Calamity Falls is involved in a drug trafficking scheme for one of the Mexican drug cartels. In fact, they tried to kill us for it so that’s pretty definitive proof. I’m sure you’ve heard about the murder of our sister already. Word travels fast around this town.” Ric offered, finally taking a moment to lean back in the comfort of the car seat and rest his eyes.

“Wow, so you want to go to the Staties? Clearly you underestimate this cartel.” Agent Bonelli said. “Sheriff Melborn was recruited by the cartel while she was serving as a state police officer. That’s part of the reason she was moved to Calamity Falls. We’ve been investigating this town for some time trying to figure out what exactly is going on here and why so many accidents seem to happen. Word does travel fast around this town.”

“Should you be telling us all of this? You don’t even know what we’re involved in.” Rogue said as he closed the lunch box and returned it to the front seat.

Agent Bonelli laughed.

“I’m the FBI. Of course I know what you’re involved in Rogue.”

 

————————————————————

 

It had been a flurry of activity since the police had arrived at Dwayne’s residence. He explained the connection between Leroy and the Jacki as his reason for not informing her about the failed attack first. He had reason to believe that Leroy was still on the property yes, but he was unable to locate him. No, he didn’t have anywhere to stay in town that would be undisclosed. It was all a fluster, and he just stood in the middle of it watching it all unfold around him as if he were in a dream.

It really felt like a dream. Still, he had known Leroy his entire life and to see him fall to the side of the cartels was heart breaking and quite disconcerting. How had these illegal goings on been unnoticed for so long? How could he have been so blind to Jacki’s true intentions? At least now the feds were involved and he would have some measure of protection from the back lash of turning Jacki over.

He still didn’t have a place near by to stay. Anywhere he would go Leroy would know about it and follow him there. Dwayne had to believe that Leroy didn’t want to kill him, especially since he shot into the couch and not directly into Dwayne’s brain, but he also thought Leroy would never get involved in something like the cartel. He didn’t think he could trust or know anyone in town at this point. He didn’t know how deep things went. And so it was all a giant blur of information floating around in his head and distracting him as one small car pulled off of the main road and started asking questions to the commanding officer. Dwayne was only half paying attention, but something caught his eye about the car. He took a second glance and realized that not only was Ric in the car, but so was Rogue the boy they had been searching for. He shook himself of his stupor and made his way over to the car.

“… That’s all we know right now Bonelli.” The commanding officer in charge of the investigation finished as Dwayne walked into ear shot.

“Well that lines up with their stories, so I wouldn’t doubt it. We really need to get internal affairs up here to help with the investigation if it’s gone this deep.” Agent Bonelli said before he noticed that Dwayne had walked into the conversation.

“Are those the McHendon boys?” Dwayne asked Agent Bonelli. “Are they in custody or did you find them on the mountain?”

Agent Bonelli directed his attention toward Dwayne, and gave him a quick once over. Dwayne was still in his uniform from the day before, and Agent Bonelli could see from his frazzled state that he was the officer that Leroy had tried to kill. Agent Bonelli didn’t really want to answer Dwayne, but there really was no way around it. He would find out sooner or later whether or not Agent Bonelli told him.

“They sure are, and who might you be?” Bonelli asked.

“Dwayne Richards. The one and only deputy here in the Falls.” Dwayne answered. “Are they in custody or did you find them on the mountain?”

Agent Bonelli paused at such an odd and forceful question. Why was this Dwayne Richardson so worried about whether the McHendon brothers were in custody or if he had found them on the mountain?

“Well, I found them on the mountain and now they’re with me, but I’m not holding them here so they’re not technically in custody proper.” He answered honestly, although reserved.

Dwayne could see that Agent Bonelli was wary of telling him the information that he wanted to hear. It wasn’t really a surprise since Dwayne was the only other law enforcement in the area other than Jacki, and Jacki was clearly corrupt. Dwayne was just glad to hear that the McHendon boys were safe in all honesty. He was suspicious of Jacki’s intentions the moment he heard about Cher’s death. It was all just too coincidental for his taste that Rogue would go missing, the volunteers would mysteriously stop showing up, then his sister was brutally murdered under the guise of a gang war with the Texas state police, and she whisks Ric all the way out to Leroy’s place with out telling the rest of the investigating officers where or why she is taking him out there, and then Leroy shows up on Dwayne’s property trying to kill him? It had corruption written all over it.

Dwayne had suspected Jacki of something since she had moved up here. He would have taken the town sheriff position himself if he hadn’t been about to retire. Calamity wasn’t a tough town to control on most occasions. It was unique, but it wasn’t difficult. Mostly because all of the locals kept to themselves and generally kept out of trouble. It was just the tourist you had to watch out for, and most of the time unless they were getting rowdy at the bar, or lost in the mountains the tourist kept out of trouble too.

Dwayne smiled at Agent Bonelli, and then turned and walked back to his assigned spot on the lawn while the rest of the crew finished their search. He wasn’t sure where he was going to go until everything got straightened out, but he would have to leave town. Maybe the FBI would have a safe house provided for him seeing the gravity of the situation at hand. He could only hope.

“What was that all about?” Ric asked as Agent Bonelli pulled away from Dwayne’s house and back out onto the main highway.

“Leroy paid Mr Richardson a visit this afternoon and tried to put a bullet into his brain. He failed. They’re not sure if it was intentional, as a warning to Dwayne to mind his own business when it comes to this murder investigation, or if it was genuinely a mistake, but after he fired one shot into the couch a few inches away from Dwayne’s head he took off out the back door and off into the woods. No one has seen him since.” Agent Bonelli answered.

Ric looked at Rogue with a silent question. Rogue caught his eye and returned an answer, also silent. They were both wondering if Dwayne was also in on the corrupt operation. It was very odd and forceful the way he had insisted on knowing whether they were in custody or had just been found in the mountains. Anything was possible at this current moment in this tiny little town. There had been so many twist and turns in recent events that it was hard to keep everything straight, even though they themselves had experienced it. Once this was all over it would take weeks, if not months to sort everything out and piece it all together.

Agent Bonelli was watching Ric and Rogue closely in the rear view mirror. He could see they were thinking the same thing that he was. This town was so deep into corruption that now even the criminals were beginning to turn on each other. How this had gone unnoticed for so long, he wasn’t sure. It would still be an incredibly long process gathering evidence enough to convict everyone in the corruption, and nearly impossible to find a replacement who wasn’t as easily corruptible. As far as Bonelli was concerned they needed to shut down the entire town and call it done. As long as he could remember there were agents stationed in Calamity Falls for one reason or another. Nothing ever got any better, it just got more convoluted and dangerous. Especially now that the cartels had made their way this far north. There was no telling what new level of filth they were going to bestow upon this poor little town.

 

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Jacki was in the middle of an important game of solitaire when Leroy burst through the door to the station.

“Jacki!” He called out urgently. “Jacki!”

She rose from her desk and walked out into the lobby to see what all the commotion was about.

“Leroy? What are you doing here?” She asked as she rounded the corner.

Before she had a chance to find out, Leroy raised his weapon and shot her square between the eyes. She fell back onto the floor a lifeless lump, and Leroy ran out the back door into an alley where he tossed his pistol up into the gutter of a near by building before continuing to run onto the next street and to his awaiting car. There was no doubt in his mind that they would match the bullet from Dwayne’s couch to the bullet now embedded into Jacki’s skull, but he didn’t care. After everything he had done to try and save his land and his way of life, it was still a disgrace. He was a disgrace. The only thing he could do now was try and make it right. It would mean the rest of his life would be spent on the run, either in the woods or in prison, but it was the only way he could think of to make things right. There was one other person that he needed to visit, and that person was far away from Calamity Falls, but he intended to find him.

 

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Agent Bonelli pulled to a stop in front of the sheriff’s office, and swung open the car door.

“Alright boys, it’s time to see how deep this river runs. Would you follow me please? We need to confront Ms. Melborn. Well we won’t actually confront her, I’m working undercover, but we’ll see her reaction when I bring you in and go from there.” Bonelli explained as he opened the back door of the car. “She hasn’t been violent towards either of you so far, so as long as I don’t leave you alone with her we should be okay. Since she took you up the mountain I doubt she had anything to do with the physical act of killing your sister. She might have called the shots but she definitely didn’t pull the trigger.”

Ric wasn’t so sure, but he wasn’t going to argue with the feds. Partially because he was just so tired, and partially because he was out ranked. Bonelli was going to get his way regardless of what he did or didn’t do. He might as well play along. Rogue was much more hesitant, but eventually followed Ric’s lead.

“Okay. Down trodden like you’ve been out with out food and water for weeks.” Bonelli said with a sly smile.

“Oh yeah. Gotta’ love the cop humor.” Rogue said sarcastically as both he and Ric followed behind Bonelli.

The moment Bonelli opened the door the overwhelming stench of death met their noses. It was a vile mix of blood and excrement that one never got used to no matter how much you encountered it. They all froze in place as Bonelli reached for his side arm and drew it slowly. Rogue and Ric hung back as Bonelli slowly walked further into the office to investigate. It didn’t take him long until he saw the source of the odor. Jacki lay where she fell in an inhuman contortion, and puddle of bodily fluids. The shock and terror still present in her lifeless eyes.

“Well that was ugly.” Bonelli said, holstering his weapon after noticing the back door was wide open. “I’m going to guess it was Leroy’s doing since he has apparently been taking the law into his own hands here.”

Ric slowly walked up behind Bonelli as Rogue stayed near the door. Even being involved with the cartels Rogue had never lost his sensitivity to death. He was fortunate to only encounter it on rare occasions being involved solely in trafficking, but every time it hit him like a ton of bricks.

It made him feel better about himself that it bothered him so much. He wondered how jaded Ric had become to be able to walk into a crime scene and not think twice when encountering death and destruction. Especially violent murders. He supposed it came with the job, but it was something he never wanted to get used to. He would never work in a field where that would become the norm. Well after this fiasco he would probably never work anywhere other than a factory or fast food joint. After he got out of prison that is, and by that time who knows what could happen in the outside world.

Even with out actually seeing the body, just the smell was enough to send him over the edge. He wanted so badly to step back out onto the street, but if some one was going around killing people involved with the trafficking the last thing he really wanted to do was be spotted. Especially at the sheriff’s office. If he did that, he might as well end his life himself.

“Leroy?” Ric asked as Bonelli bent down to check Jacki’s vitals.

“I can’t tell. That’s a job for the CSI’s, but more than likely.” Bonelli answered returning to a stand and pulling out his phone.

Ric nodded and briefly stared at Jacki. She had been such a vibrant woman at one time, and now she was reduced to this. A mess on the sheriff’s station floor, with her reputation tarnished and her town in shambles. It was a sad turn of events but it couldn’t be prevented now so there was no reason to brood about it. He did say a small prayer before walking back into the lobby to join his brother, but it was more out of pity than respect.

“So, what do you think is going on here Ro? Is this a gang war we’re dealing with or just some dumb luck?” Ric asked, trying to get his brother’s attention away from the stench of death in the air.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like a rival gang the way the murders are relatively random, but I never dealt with that end of business before. I was strictly traffic.” Rogue answered.

“How did you get involved with this anyway?” Ric asked.

Rogue thought about it for several moments. He wasn’t entirely sure how he managed to get himself involved in this mess. It had happened so many years ago, and so much had happened in those years that it was difficult to distinguish one event from the next.

“I’m not exactly sure.” He said, taking a brief pause to think before he continued. “I think it was Tabitha. I did a favor to help out Tabitha and ended up becoming a drug runner.”

Ric chuckled to himself. He could believe that. Tabitha had been Rogue’s no good on again off again girlfriend for most of high school and into early adulthood. They were a firey couple to say the least. There were epic fights, insane passion, lots of drugs and lots of parties between them. Things were either really good or really bad, but they had never managed to find a middle ground on anything. Tabitha wanted children, and Rogue did everything possible to not have children up to and including having a vasectomy with out Tabitha’s knowledge.

That had been the nail in their tumultuous relationship’s coffin when Tabitha turned up pregnant and tried to tell Rogue the baby was his. It was a fight to end all fights that evening before Tabitha eventually stormed out never to be seen again.

Ric had done some minimal digging into her were abouts just to clear his mind of any ill thoughts of his brother. She had moved to Dallas, had the baby and calmed down substantially since. He wondered if there could ever be anything else between she and Rogue after all of this time apart, but he never mentioned it to Rogue, and Rogue never asked.

“Yeah. It was Tabitha. I remember now. It was after a huge bender where we had traveled across the country that she decided she needed another fix. We were in San Diego at the time and I didn’t know anywhere to get any thing. I asked around and found this guy named Carlos. He said he could hook me up if I did him a favor. I agreed and one favor turned into another until I ended up trafficking through these mountains, all for a ten minute fix on one crazy road trip.” Rogue said reminiscent as he turned around to see the cavalry descending upon them.

Cars from the county, state, FBI, and ATF all showed up at the sheriff’s office seemingly at once. Their light bars igniting the dim cloud covered sky with a ferocity never before seen even in the Falls. It wasn’t long before the occupants of the cars began to spill out and make their way into the crime scene. The only thing that was lacking from the chaos was the press, and one could only assume that they weren’t far behind. With a response of this magnitude there was sure to be national news coverage. This would in turn actually harm the investigation, but there was nothing that could be done about it. People wanted to know, and know they would whether they wanted to or not.

Rogue and Ric stood there out of the way just watching the hustle and bustle of everything. They had no idea where they would go or what would happen now that this whole thing had gotten blown so far out of proportion. They both decided to wait for Agent Bonelli to find them and make the final decision. They were in no mental or physical shape to do it them selves.

After several hours of standing in the lobby waiting for an answer as to what they should be doing other than standing in the middle of the lobby Agent Bonelli walked up to Rogue and Ric.

“Well boys, looks like you’ll be safe here in the Falls with out my help now. As far as we can tell Leroy is heading down to New Mexico in search of the ring leader of this whole operation. At least that was the word from the patrolman who spotted him heading south out of town a few hours ago, Jacki is dead, and Dwayne has been brought in for questioning surrounding the entire fiasco. Unless there is some one else involved in it that we don’t know about the problem has resolved itself. I suggest you head back home and take care of yourselves, and your sister’s funeral arrangements. It’s been a crazy two weeks, for both of you.” Agent Bonelli explained.

It was quite a shock to Ric that after everything they were just being told to go home, and not even asked to stick around for the pending investigation, but he wasn’t going to argue. He had had enough of this town for a life time. As far as he was concerned Calamity Falls could fall off the map and he wouldn’t care a bit. Rogue shared Ric’s relief. All he wanted to do was go home and take a very long hot shower, eat a bucket of fried chicken and take a very long nap. If he had anything to do with it this would be his last foray into the criminal underground. He was going to straighten up his life. Nearly being killed and living out in the woods for weeks had been enough to scare him straight. After his nap and bucket of chicken he was going to start looking for a job. A real job with steady hours and decent pay. Something he had never had in his life before. When people spoke of him they could use Rogue and stability in the same sentence. He was going to become an honest man, maybe find a girl and settle down. The American dream that he had been avoiding and running from for so long. Maybe he would even go back to school in memory of his sister. It would be a nice chance however it happened and whatever he ended up doing.

Ric wanted to ask Agent Bonelli a barrage of questions, but instead nodded a polite thank you and turned to walk out the door. Rogue also nodded in Agent Bonelli’s direction and followed Ric out of the station and aimlessly down the street until they reached the parking lot of the Pine and the rental car that Ric and Cher had driven up a few days before when all of this adventure started. Ric pulled the keys out of his back pants pocket and unlocked the door climbing in behind the steering wheel. Rogue climbed into the passenger side with out questioning, and they quietly pulled out of the parking lot, pulled into traffic which had slowed down quite a bit with all the commotion going on in front of the sheriff’s office, and silently slipped their way out of town.

After several hours on the road heading back to the air port Rogue finally broke the silence.

“Why do you think they let us go with out questioning us, or keeping us around during the investigation?” Rogue asked staring aimlessly out the window at the passing scenery.

“Who knows? Maybe they thought we were still in danger and getting us out of town was the only way to keep us safe. I don’t really care at this point. I’m just glad to get out of there. All I want to do is go home take a long hot shower, call Karen, finally sign the divorce papers and get a job at a coffee place. I’m done with this crime drama and making the world a better place. Nothing you do can make this world a better place. Crime will always exist. Criminals will always do terrible things to people, and no amount of good intentions will stop that. I feel like I’ve wasted my life Rogue. All of my good intentions, and all of my hard work to keep you and Cher safe for nothing. Look at what I’ve become. A nothing. Just another old bitter cop.” Ric answered listlessly.

Rogue wasn’t sure what to say to that. On the one hand what Ric was saying was the truth, but on the other hand Rogue didn’t think that he had completely wasted his life. Ric had protected and taught himself and Cher all of those years when they were running from their step father. It wasn’t Ric’s fault that he and Cher had turned out the way they had. It wasn’t even Ric’s fault that Cher had been killed. She made the choice to practically drown herself in alcohol before he left with Jacki. If she had been sober she probably could have defended herself. She was a tiny woman but she could hold her own in a fight especially if it was a matter of life or death. She had been a lawyer after all she fought for a living, although verbally instead of physically. The sprit was the same in either camp.

It also wasn’t Ric’s fault that Rogue had turned out the way he had. Ric had been the best older brother anyone could ask for. Not only did he stand up for his little siblings, but he was an excellent teacher and had always protected them from everything he could. Rogue remembered one time that he had gotten into the cookie jar at the most in opportune time. Their step father was having a particularly violent binge when he arrived home that evening, and suddenly decided that he wanted some cookies. Rogue had eaten the last ones only moments before their step father had returned from the bar. So recently before their step father had returned in fact that he still had a milk mustache and crumbs on his chin. When their step father reached into the cookie jar and found it empty all hell broke loose. He chased each of the children around the house until finally Ric stepped up and confessed to the crime of eating the last cookie. He was beaten so badly that he ended up in the hospital where he remained for weeks after until his wounds had healed. If it had been Rogue who had taken the beating he wouldn’t have survived. Ric knew that, even then at the tender age of eleven. He knew that if their step father had gotten a hold of Rogue that Rogue wouldn’t have survived so he sacrificed himself instead of taking the easy way out.

Rogue wasn’t sure if reminding Ric of this now was the right thing to do. Maybe it was better to let him sit in his self loathing for a while, especially considering everything that had happened in the recent months and years. He was worn out, who was Rogue to try to lighten his spirits? He would never know what Ric was going through at that particular moment in time so he wasn’t even going to try. Instead he answered with: “Such is life.”

 

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Ric and Rogue had both returned to Texas and made drastic changes in their lives. Ric resigned from the police force, and Rogue had gotten a job as the general manager of a local car wash. Ric was still in transition after several months back home. He and Karen had decided to forget the divorce and try marriage again since Ric would be spending more time at home. It was a quite a blessing in disguise. Once they were able to spend time together their relationship flourished once again. Some times Ric got bored sitting around the house all day, but being able to prepare dinner for Karen and seeing her light up when she walked in the door after a hard day at work to a wonderful home cooked meal was all worth it. They were even thinking about starting a family of their own as long as things kept going smoothly.

Rogue too had found a steady and healthy relationship. When they returned to Texas Ric had contacted Tabitha. They had met over coffee and managed to finally work out their differences. It really had been a giant step for both of them, and their relationship had also flourished.

Things were going exceptionally well until one afternoon when Ric received a knock on his door. He jumped up off of the couch laying down the book he had been reading and trotted over to the door. Looking through the peephole he was surprised to see Agent Bonelli standing there.

“Hello?” Ric said with a hint of question in his voice as he opened the door.

“We meet again Ricochet. We meet again. May I come in?” Agent Bonelli answered with a smile

“Sure, come on it. What is this about?” Ric asked stepping aside and showing Agent Bonelli toward the living room. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“No thanks, I’m fine. This is about Calamity Falls.” Agent Bonelli answered taking a seat on the couch.

Ric bristled at the name of Calamity Falls. There had been nothing but terrible memories associated with that place, and to this day he still had nightmares about it.

“What about it?” He asked taking a seat across from Agent Bonelli in a small decretive arm chair.

“When we finally untangled the web of crime up there we discovered something very interesting that I thought you might want to know.” Agent Bonelli started watching Ric closely for a reaction. “Your sister wasn’t killed by a member of the cartels, and Rogue wasn’t run off the road by the cartels either. In fact the entire mess with the cartel happened completely by accident. Dwayne Richardson is actually Mark Eppiburg, your step father.”

It took a moment for those words to sink in to Ric. His step father had killed his mother and then shot himself. They had the body identified… or had they? It had happened so long ago and Ric was so distraught over the loss of his mother that he was only half paying attention to the true details of the case. He had just assumed that the male body that they had found with matching bullet wounds to his mother had been Mark and no one had bothered to correct him. Maybe no one even knew until he was pulled in for questioning regarding the intrusion of his house.

“Wait a moment. How is that even possible?” Ric asked still baffled.

“Well, after he killed your mother he skipped town and threw off his scent with the other body in the alley. No one local bothered to look him over other than trying to reconstruct the body for the funeral. It was understandable considering that it was your mom and you were a very important part of the department. They wanted closure for you. The only reason the FBI got involved is because of the man Mark used to fake his death. I was actually the one who stumbled across the discrepancies in the file while I was working the missing person’s case. The man buried under Mark’s name is actually the true Dwayne Richardson. He could have been Mark’s identical twin brother anyway through a mystery of genetics. It was highly improbably that poor Dwayne would happen to run into Mark at the bar. They would notice how much the other looked like themselves and then they left together. Dwayne didn’t know that Mark’s plan was to murder your mother, so he followed along. Little did he know that he too would become a casualty of Mark’s madness. That’s what I was actually doing in Calamity Falls. I had discovered that some one was using Dwayne’s identity, and went up there to investigate. Little did I know I would stumble into a whole different mess, but I did. It was Mark who killed your sister, and he would have eventually gotten to you too if he hadn’t tried to blame the whole thing on the cartels. Once he did that a whole domino effect took over and chaos ensued. Jacki thought that her boss Carlos had ordered the hit on your sister, but she didn’t know who executed it. Then when she started asking questions Carlos got defensive and pissed Jacki off. She then decided to take matters into her own hands and start destroying evidence to lure Carlos into town where she could get rid of him and take over as the leader of the cartel. She shared her plans with Leroy, who after much thought decided that he didn’t want to be a part of all of the mess anymore and also decided to take things into his own hands. He went to kill Dwayne, but when he saw Mark sitting there on the couch he knew something wasn’t right. He abandon that idea and immediately went to kill Jacki instead. He actually managed to get down to New Mexico and kill Carlos before we could catch up with him. We still don’t exactly know what drove him to do all of that, but we think it was the guilt of participating in the criminal activity to begin with. He still isn’t mentally all there if you know what I mean. So anyway, when they went to investigate the shooting out at Dwayne’s place it gave me the opportunity to get in and out him as your step father. That’s partially why I let you leave, because as long as Dwayne was still an acting member of law enforcement you were both in danger.” Agent Bonelli explained.

It really was a completely convoluted mess, and Ric was having a terrible time trying to keep up, but he was at least relieved that all the guilty parties had been brought to justice.

“Now comes the difficult part. I hate to swoop in out of nowhere and ask you to do this, but I need you to get Rogue to turn himself in. I also need you to testify against Mark in the murder trial for your sister. To do all of these things I need you to return to Peak county. Can you do that for me Ric?” Agent Bonelli asked with a rough almost forceful tone.

Ric sat in complete silence and shock. He knew that Agent Bonelli was right. Rogue would have to own up to the things that he had done in his past, and some one would need to testify to Mark’s pattern of violent behavior especially since all who knew him thought he was an upstanding citizen and law enforcement officer.

“You’ll have to give me a moment to decide. That’s a lot you’re asking, you know.” Ric said, standing up and beginning to pace around the room.

“I understand. Take your time. Here’s my card. The trial is set for next week I’ll need your answer by tomorrow regarding that, and Rogue will be arrested in three days unless he turns himself in.” Agent Bonelli said, also rising from the couch and handing Ric one of his cards.

Ric accepted the card and watched as Agent Bonelli showed himself out. He stood and stared at the card. He had no idea what to do about any of this. He wanted to testify against his step father he did, but his life was going so well and he didn’t want to put Karen in danger. He also didn’t want to see Rogue lose Tabitha over something that he had done a long time ago. He did need to own up to his mistakes, and Tabitha had calmed down quite a bit since their last break up. Maybe he could reason with her and she could convince Rogue? This was all a lot on his plate especially to accomplish in basically two days.

He continued to pace around the room until Karen arrived home from work two hours later.

“Ric, honey, I’m home!” Karen called from the entry way of their small country cottage. “What’s for dinner? I’m about to wither away to nothing.”

Karen thumbed through the mail on the small side board, and patiently waited for Ric’s reply about their up coming dinner, when she didn’t immediately receive one she walked through the entry way and into the living room where she found Ric still pacing back and forth with a terribly worried expression on his face.

“Ric? Honey? Are you okay?” Karen asked walking up to Ric and gently placing her hand on his arm.

This startled Ric out of his catatonic stupor and he turned to face Karen.

“What?” He asked, in a gravelly small voice.

“What happened to you? Are you okay?” Karen asked again, taking a seat on the couch patting the cushion beside her.

“Oh… I… uh… wow.” Ric said taking the offered seat beside Karen. “That FBI agent I met in Calamity Falls was just here. They need me to go testify in the case against Cher’s murderer, and turn Rogue in. Or rather convince him to turn himself in.”

Karen sat in silence for a moment taking it all in. Ric still had night terrors about this place called Calamity Falls. She wasn’t sure she wanted him to go back and relive everything that had happened to him there. She could tell that he too was distraught over the prospect of returning to that town, but he was also a man of honor and duty. He would do the right thing, even if it tore him up inside.

She also wasn’t thrilled that they expected him to turn his own brother in after everything they had been through in the past few months. Rogue had made some mistakes in the past but he had turned his life around. Everything was going really well for him. If they were going to prosecute him they should have done it when they had him in custody originally. Not waited several years and then decided that he needed to pay for the crimes he had committed. There had to be a statute of limitations on some of his crimes, but even if there were he was probably just within their limitations. It was how those government agencies worked. She knew it, but she didn’t like it.

“I’m sorry sweetness.” She said into Ric’s ear as she gave him a small squeeze. “What are you going to do?” She asked, even though she already knew the answer.

“I guess I’m going to go talk to Rogue. Do you know what time he works tonight?” Ric said with a silent resolve.

“I think he closes tonight. Are you sure you want to do this?” Karen answered. “The FBI found you, surely they could find Rogue if they really wanted to. You shouldn’t be obligated to turn him in.”

“I know, but it will be easier this way for both of us. If I don’t go talk to Rogue he will always wonder if I betrayed him. At least if I tell him I’m going to turn him in he won’t have to wonder.” Ric said, sliding off the couch and making his way toward the front door.

Karen watched as the love of her life walked out the door. So much had changed about him after his encounters in Calamity Falls. He was a completely different person. He hadn’t talked much about it, and she hadn’t asked much about it. She figured that he would open up and tell her eventually if he wanted her to know. It’s how things had worked in the past and she had no reason to expect them to change now. She still wished there was something she could do to make everything better for him. She hated to see him upset. Even when they were on the verge of divorce she still hated to see him upset, and now that their relationship was better than ever it was really taking a toll on her. All of that, and the fact that she had found out she was pregnant at the doctor’s office this afternoon was really quite a flood of different emotions. She had wanted to tell Ric when she arrived home, and then go out for a quiet meal just the two of them to celebrate, but as soon as she walked in the door she knew that wasn’t going to happen. It would just have to wait. Surely this trial wouldn’t take very long. Then she could tell Ric and everything would be a joyous celebration once again. At least she hoped so.

 

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Ric thought about what he was going to say for several hours as he drove around aimlessly through the city streets. How do you tell your brother that you are about to betray him and turn him into the authorities? The same brother in fact that had completely turned his life around and was finally starting to get on the right track after many rough and tumble years. It was going to be next to impossible. Definitely not something that Ric would enjoy, but it was the right thing to do. Rogue was a criminal after all, and he needed to pay the price for his crimes. Mercy was a wonderful thing, but it only went so far. Rogue wasn’t invincible, and he needed to learn that. If nothing else, he needed to learn that.

Finally Ric pulled into the car wash and stepped out of the car. Rogue was busy talking to a regular customer while tallying up the days earnings and getting ready to close up shop. Ric didn’t really want to interrupt, but he had finally worked up his nerve and if he didn’t go through with his plan now he never would. He slowly walked up to Rogue everything sinking into tunnel vision and his heart began to race. He could feel his face growing flush with anticipation and beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

It was like one of those classic scenes from the movies where everything sank into slow motion before some epic showdown. He had faced criminals of all types, armed and unarmed hostile and suicidal and nothing could compare to facing his own brother with this ultimatum.

Rogue turned and smiled in Ric’s direction and wished his customer a good evening and sent him on his way.

“What’s up?” Rogue asked as Ric walked the remaining few steps toward the confrontation. “You look like you just saw a ghost.”

Ric shored himself up and started right in: “Rogue, Agent Bonelli is in town. He wants you to turn yourself in.”

Rogue stood there momentarily, waiting for Ric to smile and laugh the whole thing off as a big joke. When he didn’t a wave of panic washed through Rogue.

“What do you mean? I thought we were off the hook!” Rogue nearly yelled, fear clearly visible in his eyes.

“I thought so too, but apparently not. Listen, they already know where you are and where you might go if you run. There isn’t any point to it.  Maybe if you turn yourself in they can come up with some sort of plea bargain or something? You’ve really turned your life around and the judge and jury will see that. You’re also practically at the end of the statute of limitations for many of your crimes. They can’t charge you for anything too serious. You’ll probably get probation, maybe a few months of jail time to make a point.” Ric said quickly, trying to calm his brother and keep him from doing something rash.

Rogue paused a moment to see if he could see the sincerity in Ric’s eyes. When he did he calmed down if only for a moment. He still couldn’t believe that after all of this time Agent Bonelli had come looking for him. It was unfair and not right at all. He knew he would have to pay for the crimes he committed eventually, but he was hoping that he would be able to avoid the law on Earth and take up his score with Saint Peter at the pearly gates.

Ric watched Rogue thinking things over long and hard. He hated to be the bearer of bad news, but it couldn’t be avoided. It was also probably better that it was Ric doing the news delivering instead of Agent Bonelli himself. Rogue was still highly unpredictable when it came to such matters as confrontation. Not so much with family but most certainly with law enforcement.

“Okay, so what do I do? Just show up at the local FBI field office and tell them I’m Rogue McHendon?” Rogue asked with complete sincerity in his tone.

“I’m not sure. Bonelli gave me his card. Why don’t you finish up here, call your boss and explain the situation and come home with me. Hopefully after you get everything straightened out you will still have a job to come back to.” Ric said with a heavy sigh. “I hate to see you do this Ro, but it’s for the best. You know you have to face up to everything you did.”

Rogue nodded.

“I know I do. What am I going to tell Tabby? I was going to purpose to her Ric. We were going to be a family.” Rogue said, finishing up the last little bit of paper work and shutting off the open sign above his head.

“Tell her the truth. She knows about your past. Hell, she was there for most of it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to her that it finally caught up with you. She faced up to her past, it will probably gain you more trust if anything.” Ric answered honestly.

He wasn’t a huge fan of Tabitha and everything she did to Rogue, but as they all had she really had changed in the past few years. For the better. She had her son to think about now, and that had really cleaned up her act. She should understand. The old Tabitha would have pitched a fit and fought like a wet cat with Rogue when he delivered the news of his decision to turn himself in, but the new Tabitha should take everything in stride. She would still probably be very upset because Rogue turning himself in probably meant that she would have to leave her cozy job as a mom and housewife and go back out into the working world, but she should at least understand that it was temporary and once Rogue figured out what all was going to happen he would be right back to take care of her.

“You really think she’ll be okay with it?” Rogue asked following Ric to his car.

“Well she’ll just have to be. There aren’t any other options.” Ric answered as a matter of fact.

“That’s really encouraging Ric.” Rogue said sarcastically as he climbed into the passenger seat of Ric’s truck and the both took off toward Rogue’s apartment.

The drive to Rogue’s apartment was a short one, seeing as how he only lived a few blocks away, but it seemed to be taking forever. Ric wasn’t sure if it was just because he wasn’t looking forward to the confrontation with Tabitha, or if it was just because he was wishing time would go slower so he didn’t have to watch his little brother get hauled off in handcuffs again. It was hard the first time, it would be even harder now that he had cleaned up his life and things were starting to go well for him. Ric didn’t want to be there to see it happen. He would have to tell Agent Bonelli that when he called him later.

Rogue slowly got out of the car and made his way up the stairs to the apartment. He had asked Ric to stay in the car, and Ric was going to honor his wishes even though he thought it was a bad idea especially considering how volatile Tabitha could be during times of stress. There was no doubt about it that Tabitha was not fun when she was stressed out even though her temperament had changed.

Ric waited in anticipation for Rogue to return. While he waited he thought about everything else he would have to decide before he called Agent Bonelli. He still couldn’t believe that Dwayne had actually been Mark and vice versa. It was true that they did look a lot a like, Ric had noticed it the moment he first laid eyes on him, but nothing Dwayne said or did triggered any memories of Mark. It would kind of explain why he was so insistent to find out if they were in custody or not, especially if he had intended for them to be lost in the woods forever after he had killed Cher, but he still couldn’t believe it. Could he testify against some one whom he didn’t even truly believe was his step father? How would that effect the juries perception of the man? Was it something he could pull off with out endangering the trial? He didn’t know the answers to those questions and so he was finding it hard to come up with an answer for Agent Bonelli. Would the agent force him to testify regardless as he strongly suggested that Ric get Rogue to turn himself in? More than likely that’s how it would play out. Even if he refused to testify when he called Agent Bonelli tonight, he would be forced to testify later when the judge sent him a subpoena.

Ric hated being boxed in like this. He wanted to make his own decisions not just sit around and play along in other peoples games. It was the one thing he hated more than anything else being backed into a corner. Especially when the issues at hand were so important and life altering. What if the cartel members showed up to the trial and picked off the family one by one? And if he left Karen here while he traveled to Peak county to testify what if the cartels came after her? It was so much to risk over something so trivial. He wasn’t even an actual witness to the crime, he was only providing a character witness. Surely they could find some one else from his past to testify leaving Ric out of it. Thinking about it Ric could name several people off the top of his head that would both enjoy a trip into the mountains and gladly testify against his step father. Maybe he would suggest a few names to Agent Bonelli. It seemed like the logical thing to do.

Ric’s thoughts were interrupted by Rogue running back down the stairs, furniture and shoes flying after him. He quickly threw open the door to the truck and hopped in. Ric just as quickly, turned the engine over and sped away from the apartment complex watching a very angry Tabitha raging in the parking lot behind them.

“I take it that didn’t go over very well?” Ric asked, as Rogue was checking the new forming bruise around his eye.

“Actually she took it really well for Tabitha. She was just mad that I purposed to her anyway even though I am most likely going to spend some time in jail.” Rogue answered wincing as he patted his face lightly.

Ric couldn’t help but laugh. Of course Tabitha would freak out about commitment, and not about the possible jail time.

“You sure know how to pick them, Ro.” He said continuing to chuckle.

“Yeah. I sure do.” Rogue agreed, finally sitting back in his seat.

Instead of meandering around like he had previously on his way to the car wash Ric drove straight back to his apartment. The drive only took about twenty minutes, and soon both he and Rogue were sitting on the couch across from Karen patiently for Agent Bonelli to arrive.

Karen was near tears over the whole thing, which Ric thought was kind of odd, but then again he did just drop the bomb on her when she walked in the door and she had had a long day at work. It was a lot to deal with. Thankfully she was taking it better than Tabitha or both of the McHendon brothers would be with out a mate when they returned from their perspective tasks.

They waited in silence. The only sound other than an occasional sob from Karen was the tick toc of the clock hanging on the wall. Soon the rhythm was broken by a knock on the door. Ric stood to answer it. It was Agent Bonelli as expected, but curiously he was alone and not with an army of officers. Ric lead him back into the living room where Rogue was waiting. Rogue stood up ready to do the deal and turn himself in, but Bonelli motioned for him to sit back down. Ric also sat back down.

“So how do we do this?” Rogue asked, anxious to get it over with.

“Well, for you we don’t. I was talking to my superiors about bringing you in and they decided it wasn’t worth it especially after everything you’ve done to turn your life around. Putting you in the system now would be like a step backwards.” Bonelli answered, obviously annoyed with this outcome.

Rogue was just as annoyed. He had just put the woman of his dreams through hell less than an hour before trying to explain why he had to turn himself in and how it was for the better and that he would take care of her when he was done serving his sentence only to now return home and tell her he was wrong? That wouldn’t calm her down any, no it would probably make her even more angry.

“So all that drama I just put my fiancée through was for nothing?” Rogue said with a sarcastic laugh as he sat back down.

“I don’t like it either, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbled.” Bonelli replied. “You’re not quite out of the woods yet anyway. I still need you to testify against your step father.”

Rogue stopped, and looked at Ric with a quizzical look, then back at Agent Bonelli.

“What do you mean testify against my step father? My step father is dead.” Rogue asked.

“That’s right.” Karen chimed in. “He has been dead for years. Whoever this person you found that is claming to be their step father is a complete sociopath.”

“I’m not saying he’s not a sociopath, but he is Mark Eppiburg. You didn’t share this tasty little morsel with your family?” Agent Bonelli answered, and then fired back at Ric.

“I hadn’t decided what to do yet, and it wasn’t important until I made my decision.” Ric answered stoically.

“So it IS Mark?” Rogue asked Ric, his voice raising a few octaves in anger. “That bastard is still alive, and you knew about it?!”

“Calm down Rogue! I didn’t know about it until this afternoon when Agent Bonelli first stopped by, and it was just as much of a shock for me as it is for you. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to testify or not.” Ric fired back.

“That’s not the issue here Ric, the issue is…” Rogue began before Karen stood up from her chair and yelled at everyone for yelling.

“STOP IT. It doesn’t matter who knew what or when and why they didn’t tell us! Calm down! I don’t want you two fighting and screaming in the living room I’m pregnant!!” She belted out, before bursting into tears and retreating to the bedroom.

After hearing that revelation both of the McHendon brothers became silent immediately and looked at each other.

“Surprise?” Agent Bonelli asked with a snide tone in his voice.

Both Ric and Rogue turned to glare at Agent Bonelli, who took a few steps back to keep from getting a fist in the face.

“I’m sorry about all this. Really, I am, but this whole damn thing is a screwed up mess. It’s like we’re living in a soap opera or an M. Night Shamalan movie. Some crazy alternate reality!” Agent Bonelli said throwing his hands up in frustration.

Rogue and Ric had to agree. The entire thing was a bit convoluted and unbelievable.

“Tell you what, let’s sleep on it. I’ll get a hold of you tomorrow and give you each time to figure out your decision. Deal?” Agent Bonelli asked as he looked at his watch, and then the clock on the wall.

Ric nodded in agreement. Rogue was more hesitant, but eventually came around and also agreed. After receiving their consent, Agent Bonelli once again showed himself out.

“What did we just agree to Ric?” Rogue asked also standing up, but instead of walking out the door he walked into the small kitchen and helped himself to a large shot of whisky.

“I’m still not sure. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. Did Karen say she was pregnant? Did I hear that right?” Ric asked following Rogue into the kitchen.

“Why don’t you go ask her?” Rogue said throwing back the whisky and pouring himself another.

Ric stood silently for a moment, then took his brother’s advice and made his way back to the bedroom. He found Karen sitting on the edge of the bed looking at her hands. She had a few tissues crumpled on the bed beside her, and her eyes were puffy and swollen.

“You’re pregnant?” Ric asked not sure what to start with after his idiotic display in the living room.

Karen nodded, but didn’t bother to look up at him.

Ric sat down on the bed beside her, and took one of her hands gently in his.

“That’s amazing, babe. You’re going to be a wonderful mama.” He said, bringing her close in a strong embrace. As he did she began to sob again. “I’m sorry all of this came up before you had a chance to tell me. I’ve decided to testify. Once I do that all of this terrible mess will be behind us for good, and we can start fresh with our new little one.”

Karen still didn’t say anything, but hugged Ric in return. They sat there for a few moments in silence just holding each other until Rogue knocked on the bedroom door.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but can I get a ride home?” He asked, slurring his words and hanging on the door to keep his balance.

Ric looked up at him and nodded, then waved him out and back into the living room. Rogue took the cue and stumbled his way back down the hall. He wasn’t entirely sure why he wanted to go home. Tabitha would also be drunk and a pretty big fight would ensue, but he still felt like it was the right thing to do. If he intended on making her his wife he needed to step up his game. It would prove something to her that he returned and didn’t hide or just leave all together. That’s what needed to be done no matter how uncomfortable it was. It would have meant even more if he had been able to do it sober, but he was taking baby steps right now.

Ric, squeezed Karen a little bit tighter, and stood up to take Rogue home.

“I love you, babe.” He said, before he walked out of the bed room, and found Rogue passed out on the couch. “Hey! Wake up!”

Rogue stirred from his drunken sleep, but didn’t fully wake up until Ric picked up the couch and dumped him onto the living room floor.

“Hey! I’m awake! Where we going?” Rogue said, slowly picking himself up off the floor.

“Taking you home.” Ric answered grabbing the back of Rogue’s shirt and helping him the final few inches to his feet.

“Tabitha?” Rogue slurred.

“Yep. She can deal with you. I need to be here with Karen.” Ric answered opening the front door and ushering, herding rather, Rogue toward the truck.

Rogue grunted in reply, and managed to open the door to the truck and climb in.

 

————————————————————

 

Ric had stayed to make sure things between Tabby and Rogue didn’t get too violent. When they finished their spat and retreated inside their apartment, Ric left them to their own devices and drove to a local off duty cop hang out. He needed to be among friends for a while. He was sure Karen was asleep by now, and even if she wasn’t she knew how volatile Rogue and Tabitha were. She wouldn’t expect to see Ric home anytime soon.

There was so much going through his head right now, it was all Ric could do to keep himself from falling off into a catatonic state. He just needed to chew the fat with some of his buddies. Relive war stories, be a part of something other than this mess he had found himself in. He pulled into the parking lot of the small restaurant/bar and silenced the engine. It would be weird coming in out of uniform, almost as weird as it was to be one of three cars out of probably twelve to fifteen that wasn’t a cruiser or some sort of law enforcement vehicle.

He climbed down out of his truck and made his way inside. Immediately he was greeted by several of his former colleagues and absorbed right back into the gang as if he had never left. It was just what he needed at that moment. There wasn’t any awkward oh how have you been talk, he was thrust into the middle of a heated argument between two officers just as if it had been any other day.

After several hours and a few too many drinks later Ric stumbled out the door toward his truck. He shouldn’t have been driving, but he was only a few blocks from home, and he had traveled much further much more drunk before. Who was going to stop him? He was leaving the bar with many of the finest officers in the city, all falling down drunk.

He made it home, and staggered into the front door. Just as he suspected Karen was asleep soundly in the bedroom. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, before heading to the bathroom for a quick shower. By the time he got back to the bedroom the sun was just starting to appear over the horizon and Karen’s cell phone alarm was ringing loudly. She rolled over and hit the snooze button, and snuggled back under the covers. Ric, feeling much more clear headed after his shower, climbed under the covers next to her and wrapped his arms around her. She returned the affection with a small squeeze of her own, and then before he knew it Ric was sound asleep.

The landscape of his dreams was an erratic plane of vibrant colors and situations sprinkled with memories of things past and present. The mind works in mysterious ways when you sleep. Ric felt like he was floating in and out of consciousness.

 

“It wasn’t like he had anyone to go home to anyway. His wife had left him seven months prior to Rogue’s disappearance, and he had consumed himself with work. He actually had the divorce papers sitting on the kitchen table back at his apartment. Both he and Karen, his wife, were really in no hurry to move on. They were both very strong independent people who worked better both professionally and personally alone. Looking back on it now Ric wasn’t sure why he even wanted to get married. He justified the divorce by saying he was young and dumb when they got married, but in reality at that very moment when they said I do it was everything he had ever wanted in life. He knew the weight of his decision and had fully intended to stick it out until death as the vows had stated, but after several years of bliss things just started falling apart…”

 

At that thought, he stirred nearly waking himself. How could he think about that now, after learning the wonderful news of Karen’s pregnancy?

 

“He had eighteen successful jumps under his belt, and he couldn’t wait to find his brother and have Rogue join him for his nineteenth. He thought he might even invite Cher along… “

 

And suddenly he was in a free fall. The sky swirling around him in a blanket of a million different colors. Cotton candy clouds broke his fall and he stood up to a vision projected in front of him.

 

“She was mid to late thirties, with deep brown eyes and a coffee colored complexion with jet black hair. She looked aged by the job, but other than that she could pass for any young twenty something on the street. He could see a vibrant depth behind her eyes that he hadn’t noticed before…”

 

He yelled at her, called her horrid names, lost all of his self control and ran toward her full of rage. Just as his fist was about to connect with her face

 

“He disappeared behind the house and started up the slight slope that would eventually become the mountain. He had to think of some way to mask his trail. An especially good way since Leroy would be sure to pick up his trail in no time. Especially on his own property. Realizing this fact he immediately back tracked and started off in another direction. He did this three more times to confuse the trail and then picked a fourth direction and picked up his pace. As far as he knew he still wasn’t being trailed at this point, but he was running out of time and he knew it. His best chance was to get as far up the mountain as possible in the dark…”

 

He was flying, flying up, racing to the top of the mountain. Back and forth through the trees until he came upon Rogue sitting by a small fire. Before he knew it Rogue was also flying with him they flew around the peak of the mountain, looking down on Calamity falls. The kaleidoscope of colors were dizzying, and invigorating. They both landed at the top of the peak.

 

 

“…the wind stirred up and whipped around them dragging the grey clouds on the horizon that much closer toward them. Ric paused momentarily and took a look back at all the progress they had made in the few early morning hours. He could see a thin wisp of smoke rising from Leroy’s chimney, a few small specks of distant cars on the highway, and a vast open wilderness spreading out from the base of the mountain and continuing as far as the eye could see. If he had been here for any other reason he would have really enjoyed his time in the mountains. This was beautiful country. Such a nice change of scenery from the deserts and rock faces in Texas. Until he came out here he didn’t know things could be such a wonderful shade of green. It was a deep, yet vibrant shade of green that only pines could achieve. Being accented by the pure untouched white of the snowfall made things just that much more breath taking…”

 

Just like that, the phone began to ring bringing Ric back from his unusual dreamscape. He rolled over and looked at the bedside clock. It was half past noon. He had slept the morning away. Before he even looked at the caller identification he knew it was Agent Bonelli itching to get an answer on whether he had decided to testify or not. He had made his decision last night, but at this particular moment he had no desire to talk to Agent Bonelli. The phone clicked over to voicemail, paused a few moments and immediately began to ring again.

Ric blindly reached over to the night stand and grabbed his phone, flipping it open and announcing a scruff gravely: “Hello?”

“Have you made your decision, Ric?” Agent Bonelli asked anxiously on the other end of the phone.

“Well good morning to you too. I have made my decision. I will testify.” Ric answered kind of taken aback by the rudeness of Agent Bonelli’s greeting.

“Thank you! I will get your travel arrangements all put together. Can you be on a plane this evening?”

“I suppose if it’s absolutely necessary, but I would like to see my wife at least for a while before I trek off across the country.” Ric answered bluntly.

“Sure we can arrange that. Be at the airport at 8pm. I have you scheduled for a flight out at 10:30. That should give you plenty of time to see your wife and get everything arranged for a trip out of town. Pack for a few weeks. I don’t know how long this trial will be, but it doesn’t seem very cut and dry considering all of the circumstances.” Agent Bonelli said, just as bluntly before he hung up the phone.

“What gate should I be at? What airline am I traveling on? Things I need to know!” Ric yelled impatiently into the phone, but it was too late.

If he was going to arrive at the airport at eight, that wouldn’t give him much time with Karen at all. She didn’t even get off until six at the earliest. Maybe there was still time to meet her for lunch. He opened his phone once again and flipped through the contacts until he pulled up the number for Karen’s office. He dialed it and waited patiently while his call was redirected to Karen’s extension.

“Karen McHendon, how can I help you?” Karen said over the line.

“I was wondering if you might be available for lunch this afternoon, Mrs. McHendon?” Ric asked trying his best to sound professional.

“Ric, hi! I actually was just about to take my lunch here in a bit. If you leave now you can meet me at the front.” Karen answered, her tone immediately lightening and adding a happy note.

“Sounds great. See you in a bit, babe.” Ric said.

“Okay. See you soon.” Karen said before she disconnected the phone.

Ric rolled out of bed, and grabbed some clothes from the dresser. He looked a bit disheveled, but he didn’t really care. He didn’t have time to find anything else or make himself look presentable. He did take out several other outfits, grab his travel case of toiletries and throw them all into an overnight bag. Karen had an hour for lunch, and then he was going to have to go find Rogue to make sure he was still going to testify. If he didn’t pack now he might not have time to do it later.

Grabbing a few other things off the dresser and nightstand to keep him entertained while he was away, he grabbed everything and headed out the door.

 

———————————————————————————————-

 

He met Karen out side of the office just as planned. She was happy to see him, which was a relief considering everything that had happened the night before. She didn’t ask where he had been all night, or if everything was okay with Rogue and Tabitha. He assumed she was either still mad about it, or that he would tell her if he needed her to know. Even though they were much closer now than they had been before their renewed relationship, there were still moments when they were both quite distant. Neither of them took it personally. It was just how their relationship worked. As long as it kept working it wasn’t a problem.

They discussed his travel plans, and how they would stay in touch. Karen was scheduled to go back into the doctors on Thursday that week, it was her second prenatal visit. So far the baby was doing well, but it was still very early. She would need to be heavily monitored for the first few weeks due to her history of miscarriage, but after that everything should progress normally.

Ric was still kind of in shock at the revelation that Karen was pregnant. They hadn’t been trying for a family, but they hadn’t been taking staunch precautions either. Collectively they had been married for five years, and it was a good thing. It really was the next step in their relationship moving into parenthood. They briefly discussed the possibility of Ric going back to work and Karen becoming a stay at home mom, the school district that their house fell in, names for their future offspring and who they wanted to tell right away. It was all so much information to absorb, Ric was having trouble paying attention. Karen was even having trouble keeping track of the conversation.

Too soon, Karen’s lunch was over and Ric reluctantly drove her back to the office. She gave him a small peck on the cheek before hopping out of the truck and disappearing behind the revolving door into a sea of people. Ric sat there for what seemed like an eternity watching after her. She had long sense left his field of vision, but he felt obligated to keep watching. He didn’t like leaving her in such a fragile state, but he didn’t have any other option. She understood and didn’t hold it against him at all, but he still felt guilty. His phone rang finally drawing his attention away from the revolving door. Looking at the caller identification he noticed it was Rogue.

“What’s up?” He asked as he answered the phone.

“I can’t do it, Ric.” Rogue said, a hint of sadness in his voice. “I didn’t want you to go all the way over there on your own to face Mark, but I can’t do it. I have a job, amazingly I still have a job, and I need to be here to take care of Tabby and our boy.”

Ric paused before he answered.

“I understand. Have you contacted Agent Bonelli?” He said, trying to hide the disappointment in his voice.

“No, I couldn’t get an answer at the number I copied off the card. That really isn’t a surprise considering how drunk I was last night when I wrote it down. Just let him know for me okay? Keep me informed. I have to get ready to head to the car wash now. I just wanted to let you know before you came around looking for me.” Rogue explained.

“Yeah, I was just about to head over there. Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Ric asked again. He didn’t want to force Rogue to do something he didn’t want to do, but he wanted to make absolutely sure it was Rogue who made the decision and Tabitha wasn’t holding anything over his head.

“I’m sure, Bro. One hundred percent sure.” Rogue answered.

“Okay then. Take care of Karen for me. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“Will do. I gotta’ go. Be safe out there.” Rogue said as he hung up the phone.

Ric was at a loss he didn’t know what Agent Bonelli would think of Rogue bailing out on him, but Rogue had made his decision and there was no changing his mind. Hopefully Agent Bonelli wouldn’t make too big of a deal about it. Also closing his phone, Ric looked at the digital clock on the dash. It was only five. He had two hours to kill before he needed to leave for the air port. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to do with this time. It wasn’t quite enough time to go home and accomplish anything, but it was too much time to just sit around in front of Karen’s office like a weirdo. So he turned the engine over and drove out of the parking lot. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but it felt good just to drive around town. It was almost like he was back on patrol.

He missed his patrol days. If he could have stayed a cop out on the streets instead of getting promoted to detective his life would have been so much easier. At the time he was being considered for promotion he was young, ambitious, and idealistic. He eventually wanted to be the chief of police with many accommodations for bravery and valor under his belt. As time wore on he eventually realized how shallow this dream really was and so he abandoned it. Before he had headed to Calamity Falls he was merely buying his time until retirement. He still did his job well, but the spark had gone out. It was just a job. Something he had to do in order to pay bills and buy groceries, not something he wanted to do, or something that inspired him to wake up in the morning with a smile on his face as it once did.

Most of life had become this way recently. It was something he did, because he had to not truly because he enjoyed it. He felt cursed by monotony. It wasn’t enough that he really felt he needed a drastic change in his life, but it was still enough to make him feel like an old man.

He then thought that whether he wanted a dramatic change or not, he was about to get one in just nine short months. He wondered what kind of father he would be. You can always imagine yourself as a parent until the day it actually happens. Once that child is brought into this world there is no going back. All of the things you always thought you would or could do as a parent are put to the test. This was something that he constantly worried about even before he found out Karen was pregnant. He had never had a strong male influence on his life. While he grew up to be a good man, at least by most standards how would he be able to father a child when he never had a father himself? It weighed heavily on his soul before, and it was certainly in the forefront of his own mind.

He then thought about what he was going to go do. Here he was worried about what kind of father he was going to become as he was setting off on a journey to testify against the only father he had ever known. Needless to say, this man was a murderer, thief and all around bad guy, but he was still his step father. Would his child have the audacity to do the same if the need ever arose? Maybe Ric was having such an easy time going to testify against Mark because he hadn’t been involved in his life. Maybe it was all because Ric had spent so long learning to compartmentalize his emotions and distance himself that he was willing and able to go put his father in prison or possibly on death row and for what?

What would he gain by bringing his father to justice? In all actuality he wasn’t even truly bringing his father to justice. That would be up to the judge and jury. He was only offering his two cents worth against him by testifying how terrible Mark had been as a father and how he and his siblings and mother had been on the run for most of his childhood because of the crazy things that Mark had threatened and eventually done. For all he knew the jury could acquit Mark, and then he and his family would be in danger all over again. Anyone who was crazy enough to murder some one and then assume their identity would be crazy enough to stop it nothing to find the people who tried to put him in jail. Especially since he already had so much hatred in his heart toward them.

Thinking about it that way Ric was beginning to regret telling Agent Bonelli he would testify. Although, if he didn’t Mark had that much better of a chance to get away with what he had done. They needed Ric’s testimony to seal the deal on what a terrible person he truly was. Ric knew that many people in the area would still see Mark as Dwayne. The man who had been on their police force since he had graduated from the local high school. Why should they believe that the man on trial was an imposter? Even if he was he had performed his duties admirably while on their police force. No one had ever questioned his judgment, and he was good at his job. Fair, and as far as they were concerned honest. It would be hard going to convince anyone from within a several mile radius around the mountain that Dwayne was long gone, and in his place was a murdering psychopath. Ric wasn’t even sure his testimony would help at all. He did need to at least try to help out. His mother would have wanted it that way, and so would Cher. He knew they would be there in spirit watching the whole thing go down. They would be counting on him just like Rogue and Tabitha, Karen and the baby. He had to do it no matter how much he didn’t really want to.

And so, glancing at the clock on the dash board once again, he headed toward the air port to avenge the deaths of his mother and sister by testifying against his step father.

 

————————————————————

 

The flight over was long and boring as usual. Ric used the time to catch up on sleep. While he did he was once again plagued by the same vivid dreams that had visited him the night before.

 

“It wasn’t like he had anyone to go home to anyway. His wife had left him seven months prior to Rogue’s disappearance, and he had consumed himself with work. He actually had the divorce papers sitting on the kitchen table back at his apartment. Both he and Karen, his wife, were really in no hurry to move on. They were both very strong independent people who worked better both professionally and personally alone. Looking back on it now Ric wasn’t sure why he even wanted to get married. He justified the divorce by saying he was young and dumb when they got married, but in reality at that very moment when they said I do it was everything he had ever wanted in life. He knew the weight of his decision and had fully intended to stick it out until death as the vows had stated, but after several years of bliss things just started falling apart…”

 

At that thought, he stirred nearly waking himself. How could he think about that now, after learning the wonderful news of Karen’s pregnancy?

 

“He had eighteen successful jumps under his belt, and he couldn’t wait to find his brother and have Rogue join him for his nineteenth. He thought he might even invite Cher along… “

 

And suddenly he was in a free fall. The sky swirling around him in a blanket of a million different colors. Cotton candy clouds broke his fall and he stood up to a vision projected in front of him.

 

“She was mid to late thirties, with deep brown eyes and a coffee colored complexion with jet black hair. She looked aged by the job, but other than that she could pass for any young twenty something on the street. He could see a vibrant depth behind her eyes that he hadn’t noticed before…”

 

He yelled at her, called her horrid names, lost all of his self control and ran toward her full of rage. Just as his fist was about to connect with her face

 

“He disappeared behind the house and started up the slight slope that would eventually become the mountain. He had to think of some way to mask his trail. An especially good way since Leroy would be sure to pick up his trail in no time. Especially on his own property. Realizing this fact he immediately back tracked and started off in another direction. He did this three more times to confuse the trail and then picked a fourth direction and picked up his pace. As far as he knew he still wasn’t being trailed at this point, but he was running out of time and he knew it. His best chance was to get as far up the mountain as possible in the dark…”

 

He was flying, flying up, racing to the top of the mountain. Back and forth through the trees until he came upon Rogue sitting by a small fire. Before he knew it Rogue was also flying with him they flew around the peak of the mountain, looking down on Calamity falls. The kaleidoscope of colors were dizzying, and invigorating. They both landed at the top of the peak.

 

 

“…the wind stirred up and whipped around them dragging the grey clouds on the horizon that much closer toward them. Ric paused momentarily and took a look back at all the progress they had made in the few early morning hours. He could see a thin wisp of smoke rising from Leroy’s chimney, a few small specks of distant cars on the highway, and a vast open wilderness spreading out from the base of the mountain and continuing as far as the eye could see. If he had been here for any other reason he would have really enjoyed his time in the mountains. This was beautiful country. Such a nice change of scenery from the deserts and rock faces in Texas. Until he came out here he didn’t know things could be such a wonderful shade of green. It was a deep, yet vibrant shade of green that only pines could achieve. Being accented by the pure untouched white of the snowfall made things just that much more breath taking…”

Once again he was standing face to face with the mountain lion. It stood majestically upon it’s perch peering into his soul with it’s dark cat eyes. They stood in the stand off for what seemed like an eternity even in a dream, when suddenly the cat began to speak.

“You know your destiny.” The cat said in a surprisingly deep male voice. “You have found your path now follow it.”

Before Ric could reply the cat faded into a poof of neon green smoke and before him appeared a road paved in blue sapphire. On one side of the road there was a deep blackness, and on the other lavish gold and ornate decorations hanging from pearl white trees. He started to walk down the path, and from both sides people began calling his name. His family, criminals from his past, each and every one of them belting out his name and beaconing him to come closer to the edge of the path. He paused. He wasn’t sure where to go from here. Both sides were tearing him apart he wanted to go to the side of Light, but he also felt a strong pull of the side of Dark.

Suddenly he saw himself disembodied. One went to the Light side, and one went to the Dark side, then they were consumed and absorbed by each respecting side. He then heard the voice of the lion once again in his head.

“You know your path.”

He looked around closed his eyes and began to walk. Which ever side he ended up on would be the side that consumed his soul.

 

He awoke with a start to a flight attendant quietly asking him to return his tray table and seat back to it’s upright position. He did as he was asked, and then rubbed the sleep from his eyes. It had been a long flight, and he wasn’t sure what to make of his dream. Normally he didn’t find any significance in dreams, but having this one twice with the added path seemed far to important to be over looked. When he landed he would have to find some where to research the meaning of dreams or at least find some one to talk to about it.

It was so vivid. He had never had a dream so bright, colorful, or in depth. At least he had never remembered them upon waking if he had. It was a little disconcerting, but then again the whole situation was a little disconcerting.

The plane landed safely and he disembarked, gathered his checked luggage and headed to the car rental counter. Agent Bonelli had already reserved a car for Ric, all he had to do was stop by the counter and pick it up. There was some minimal confusion between the employee at the counter and Ric’s actual request, but soon enough he was on his way back toward Calamity Falls.

The closer he got to the mountains the more he realized how much he actually missed this scenery. He hadn’t forgotten about the beauty of the place, but it was over shadowed by so much pain and negativity that he had never wanted to go visit anywhere even remotely like it again. It was a big step for him to be on his way right back to Calamity now. He would most certainly be stopping and making a visit to Jane’s once he got settled into the hotel. According to Agent Bonelli the Pine had been shut down by the state board of health and condemned. It was Ric’s guess that they should have been shut down when he stayed there the first time around, but no one had bothered to report it to the health department. They had since demolished the Pine and rebuilt a Holiday Inn in it’s place. Ric wondered if Marv still worked the front desk, and then quickly dismissed that thought. If he had been the owner of the Pine there is no way he would want to work for the company that ran him out of business. Unless he like so many other people in Calamity Falls was so apathetic and corrupt that he didn’t care where the pay check was coming from just as long as he didn’t have to live solely on his social security check.

The streets were unusually quiet as he drove into Calamity. It was late spring, so not quite hiking and camping season, but too warm to hit the ski slopes. He guessed it was the slow season for tourist right now, but it was even more dead that it should have been. It made him uneasy, but he had gone too far to turn back now. Agent Bonelli had some things to finish up back at the Texas field office before he could join Ric, leaving Ric to his own devices while in town. Ric hadn’t even asked who had taken over the police department after Jacki and Dwayne’s demise, he just assumed that the state was taking care of things.

He parked the small rental sedan in the parking lot and walked into the elaborate new hotel. Everything was sparkling clean. It looked like it had never been touched after it had been placed in the hotel by the decorators. He thought to himself that it probably hadn’t been used. If the Pine was able to operate for months with out the proper health code clearance it was because no one had stayed there and complained. For as many tourist as there were going in and out of this town pretty much all the time, it was amazing how few actually chose to stay over night here in the hotel. It was more of a day trip destination for what ever reason.

He walked up to the desk and was greeted by a chipper young woman.

“Hello there! How can I help you?” She asked in a bubbly high pitch voice.

Under normal circumstances Ric would have been appalled, and annoyed with her voice, but since he was relatively sure that he was the only customer this poor girl had had in several weeks if not months he let it slide.

“I’m Ric McHendon. I should have a reservation.” He answered trying to be polite, so he didn’t ruin this poor girl’s day.

“MaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacHeeeeeeeeeeeeeeendon…” The girl said completely mispronouncing the name and butchering it in the process. “Oh here we go. Room 411. Here’s your key, enjoy your stay Mr. MacHeendon.”

Ric smiled, and snatched the key from her hand quickly turning to head up to his room before this woman decided that she wanted to chat. He wasn’t sure how he ended up on the fourth floor considering no one else was staying here at the moment, but he didn’t question her. All he wanted to do was change into something comfortable and relax gathering his thoughts before he had to testify before the judge the following day.

 

———————————————————————————————-

 

Before he knew what had happened, the alarm clock next to his bed was sounding loudly. Ric had gone up to his room the night before, and slept until his alarm rousted him. He knew he had been tired, but he didn’t know he had been that tired. He rolled over silencing the alarm and checked his phone. He had been expecting to hear from Agent Bonelli, but had not. Not unless Agent Bonelli had come by the room last night while he was passed out from sheer exhaustion. He was so tired in fact that he didn’t even dream. He closed his eyes and a blissful dark calm came over him. It was a blessing. He now felt rested and mentally recharged. Still uneasy about the upcoming events of the day, but at least he was mentally acute again.

He stood up and opened the curtains on the small window that looked out over the mountains. The hills were even more alive in this season than they had been in winter. If he thought the mountains had been green before, he was now looking out onto an other worldly green. Maybe if things didn’t work out with the trial and necessitated a need to leave Texas he and Karen could move out here to the mountains. Not Calamity Falls, but somewhere. Get a nice cabin on a few acres of land much like Leroy’s property and just disappear into the mountains. Maybe even if Mark ended up locked away for the rest of his life they would move to the mountains. As long as he could find work enough to support his family there would be no reason not to move especially since Karen was going to quit her job anyway when the baby came. He would have to start looking at cost of living and jobs while he was out here. Surely Karen wouldn’t protest, even if she did she wouldn’t after she came out and saw the majesty of the mountains.

He stared out the window for a few moments more before closing the curtains and getting ready for his day. He was supposed to meet Agent Bonelli in the hotel lobby in half an hour. These plans had been prearranged prior to Ric leaving Texas in case they missed communication during or after transit. Ric had no idea why he was supposed to be meeting Agent Bonelli, other than possibly going over the case one more time, but he had come too far to argue at this point.

After a quick shower, a quick run through the breakfast room at the hotel, and several cups of coffee Ric was now pacing around the lobby waiting for Agent Bonelli. Agent Bonelli wasn’t late just yet, Ric had made his way down to the lobby early, but it was still nerve wrecking sitting there waiting on some one. Ric attributed it to nerves. He was still very nervous about the whole thing testifying against his step father and potentially opening a whole new can of worms as far as trouble went for his family. He was surprised that the only reason he was called out here was to testify against his step father. He had been more involved with the cartels than anything in the past ten or so years. Why didn’t Agent Bonelli want him to testify about that? It was a question that would probably remain unanswered, so he removed the thought from his mind and finally decided to sit down instead of pacing around like a mad mad.

Soon after Ric sat down Agent Bonelli walked in through the hotel doors right on time. He saw Ric and made his way over taking a seat beside him.

“Good morning, how was the flight?” Agent Bonelli began in an uncharacteristic show of concern.

“Okay I guess. I made it in one piece.” Ric answered wary of Agent Bonelli’s sudden change of attitude.

Agent Bonelli kind of smiled, and then looked down at his hands. He was hiding something from Ric. Ric had no idea what it could be, but it was very obvious. They sat in an awkward silence for a while each trying to figure out if the other knew what he was thinking with out speaking. Finally Agent Bonelli looked at his watch then back at Ric.

“Okay, so you’re here to testify against Mark Eppiburg. You know that. We’re about to meet the prosecution so she can set up the case with you. After that we’re heading down to the court house and all of this is happening today.” Agent Bonelli explained. “Hopefully it will all be a cut and dry case and you’ll only have to take the stand once the we can all go home, and put this behind us.”

“What do you have to put behind you?” Ric said before he could stop himself.

It was kind of rude and presumptuous and totally not like Ric, but it had slipped out none the less.

“Well, for starters I don’t live here either. I live in Maine in case you hadn’t figured that out by the accent, and I don’t particularly want to spend any more time in this God forsaken town and away from my kids.” Agent Bonelli fired back, with out missing a beat.

“You’ve got kids?” Ric asked trying to redeem himself.

“I do. Two little girls. I’ve been on this case for years now traveling back and forth all over the place and I feel like I’ve hardly seen them.” Agent Bonelli answered still slightly peeved from Ric’s out burst. “It’s a very tense situation for all of us. True, you got the short straw with the combination of everything, but the rest of us all have our crosses to bare you know.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just been a really long night.” Ric said, even though it hadn’t.

“We need to get going. The trial was extradited to a different county considering the circumstances of Mark’s affiliation with law enforcement here. It’s about an hour drive.”  Agent Bonelli said as he stood up and motioned for Ric to follow him.

Ric got up and followed Agent Bonelli out to the drab government issue sedan he had waiting in the parking lot. They both climbed in and began their journey. It wasn’t long before Ric had fallen asleep watching the passing scenery.

 

“He had eighteen successful jumps under his belt, and he couldn’t wait to find his brother and have Rogue join him for his nineteenth. He thought he might even invite Cher along… “

 

And suddenly he was in a free fall. The sky swirling around him in a blanket of a million different colors. Cotton candy clouds broke his fall and he stood up to a vision projected in front of him.

 

“She was mid to late thirties, with deep brown eyes and a coffee colored complexion with jet black hair. She looked aged by the job, but other than that she could pass for any young twenty something on the street. He could see a vibrant depth behind her eyes that he hadn’t noticed before…”

 

He yelled at her, called her horrid names, lost all of his self control and ran toward her full of rage. Just as his fist was about to connect with her face

 

“He disappeared behind the house and started up the slight slope that would eventually become the mountain. He had to think of some way to mask his trail. An especially good way since Leroy would be sure to pick up his trail in no time. Especially on his own property. Realizing this fact he immediately back tracked and started off in another direction. He did this three more times to confuse the trail and then picked a fourth direction and picked up his pace. As far as he knew he still wasn’t being trailed at this point, but he was running out of time and he knew it. His best chance was to get as far up the mountain as possible in the dark…”

 

He was flying, flying up, racing to the top of the mountain. Back and forth through the trees until he came upon Rogue sitting by a small fire. Before he knew it Rogue was also flying with him they flew around the peak of the mountain, looking down on Calamity falls. The kaleidoscope of colors were dizzying, and invigorating. They both landed at the top of the peak.

 

 

“…the wind stirred up and whipped around them dragging the grey clouds on the horizon that much closer toward them. Ric paused momentarily and took a look back at all the progress they had made in the few early morning hours. He could see a thin wisp of smoke rising from Leroy’s chimney, a few small specks of distant cars on the highway, and a vast open wilderness spreading out from the base of the mountain and continuing as far as the eye could see. If he had been here for any other reason he would have really enjoyed his time in the mountains. This was beautiful country. Such a nice change of scenery from the deserts and rock faces in Texas. Until he came out here he didn’t know things could be such a wonderful shade of green. It was a deep, yet vibrant shade of green that only pines could achieve. Being accented by the pure untouched white of the snowfall made things just that much more breath taking…”

Once again he was standing face to face with the mountain lion. It stood majestically upon it’s perch peering into his soul with it’s dark cat eyes. They stood in the stand off for what seemed like an eternity even in a dream, when suddenly the cat began to speak.

“You know your destiny.” The cat said in a surprisingly deep male voice. “You have found your path now follow it.”

Ric awoke with a start as Agent Bonelli pulled up to the massive court house in whatever county they had arrived in. He couldn’t figure out these dreams. It was really starting to bother him. They had just started randomly after his trip down memory lane with his buddies at the bar, and now he couldn’t shake them.

“Dude, are you okay?” Agent Bonelli asked as the car door on the drivers side hung open before he stepped out of the car.

“Yeah, just having some hard core dreams right now. I think it’s just because of everything going on. I’ll be okay.” Ric answered, wiping the sleep out of his eyes and getting out of the car.

“They must have been pretty hard core the way you were talking and flailing around in the passenger seat on the way over here.” Agent Bonelli replied.

Ric stopped walking, and looked at Agent Bonelli. He had been talking and flailing and Agent Bonelli hadn’t stopped or tried to wake him up? He was slightly offended.

“Don’t look at me like that. You’re not supposed to wake a sleep walking person up, and I assumed that if you hadn’t been buckled in the car you would have been sleep walking.” Agent Bonelli replied seeing the look on Ric’s face. “And it was entertaining, and I was bored. What can I say?”

Ric didn’t say anything, he just followed Agent Bonelli into the court house. They signed in, and made their way to the proper chambers. They opened the door and walked in to an empty room. Apparently the lawyer was running a little late. They both took a seat, although on opposite sides of the room. Agent Bonelli sat facing the door, anxiously waiting, and Ric took a seat next to a large picture window looking out toward the mountains.

It was weird to see them on the horizon instead of being surrounded by them. He didn’t know how far they had traveled or even if they were in the same state, but the view from here was still just as beautiful as the view from his hotel in Calamity. He began to drift off into the world of his dreams once again. Trying to wrap his mind around the significance.

 

It wasn’t like he had anyone to go home to anyway. His wife had left him seven months prior to Rogue’s disappearance, and he had consumed himself with work. He actually had the divorce papers sitting on the kitchen table back at his apartment. Both he and Karen, his wife, were really in no hurry to move on. They were both very strong independent people who worked better both professionally and personally alone. Looking back on it now Ric wasn’t sure why he even wanted to get married. He justified the divorce by saying he was young and dumb when they got married, but in reality at that very moment when they said I do it was everything he had ever wanted in life. He knew the weight of his decision and had fully intended to stick it out until death as the vows had stated, but after several years of bliss things just started falling apart…

 

He had eighteen successful jumps under his belt, and he couldn’t wait to find his brother and have Rogue join him for his nineteenth. He thought he might even invite Cher along…

 

She was mid to late thirties, with deep brown eyes and a coffee colored complexion with jet black hair. She looked aged by the job, but other than that she could pass for any young twenty something on the street. He could see a vibrant depth behind her eyes that he hadn’t noticed before…

He disappeared behind the house and started up the slight slope that would eventually become the mountain. He had to think of some way to mask his trail. An especially good way since Leroy would be sure to pick up his trail in no time. Especially on his own property. Realizing this fact he immediately back tracked and started off in another direction. He did this three more times to confuse the trail and then picked a fourth direction and picked up his pace. As far as he knew he still wasn’t being trailed at this point, but he was running out of time and he knew it. His best chance was to get as far up the mountain as possible in the dark…

 

 

…the wind stirred up and whipped around them dragging the grey clouds on the horizon that much closer toward them. Ric paused momentarily and took a look back at all the progress they had made in the few early morning hours. He could see a thin wisp of smoke rising from Leroy’s chimney, a few small specks of distant cars on the highway, and a vast open wilderness spreading out from the base of the mountain and continuing as far as the eye could see. If he had been here for any other reason he would have really enjoyed his time in the mountains. This was beautiful country. Such a nice change of scenery from the deserts and rock faces in Texas. Until he came out here he didn’t know things could be such a wonderful shade of green. It was a deep, yet vibrant shade of green that only pines could achieve. Being accented by the pure untouched white of the snowfall made things just that much more breath taking…

 

He was interrupted by the door to the room flying open and a very frazzled looking young woman stumbling into the room. She reminded him a lot of Cher in her early days before her career took off, although Cher had always been extremely put together at all times. It was part of what made her intimidating during the cross examination. The thought of his sister brought a tear to his eye and a heaviness to his heart that he hadn’t felt in a long time. He turned his attention back toward the window as Agent Bonelli stood up to greet their visitor.

“Ms. Landersheim?” Agent Bonelli asked, grabbing a few slipping file folders and stacks of paper out of the struggling young woman’s hands to keep them from spilling all over the floor.

“Yes. Sara. Hi. I’m sorry I’m running a bit behind. Forgot to set my alarm to mountain time. You must be Agent Bonelli, and I assume that over there is Mr. McHendon?” Sara answered finally getting herself through the door and setting the remainder of her things down on a small table just inside the door.

“That would be us. Yes. What can we do for you?” Agent Bonelli answered.

“I’m okay thanks. I just need to talk to Mr McHendon for a moment. Could you wait out side?” Sara answered with a chipper and confident smile.

Agent Bonelli nodded and walked out gently closing the door behind him.

“So, you’re the step son, eh?” Sara asked taking Agent Bonelli’s seat.

Ric continued to stare out the window he really had no desire to talk to this woman until he was on the stand. It was just too painful. She reminded him too much of Cher, and with everything else going on right now it was the last thing he needed.

“Ric, are you going to be able to do this?” Sara asked concerned, not only for her time limit to talk to Ric, but also for Ric in general as a person. He seemed really shaken up. More so than she expected for some one of his accolades and previous profession. “Ric?”

Ric was completely lost in his own thoughts. He just couldn’t get his mind off of his dreams. Something wasn’t right. They were so incredibly vivid and so incredibly life like and bizarre. They were trying to tell him something. Something important he knew it. If he could just stare out this window a little bit longer, maybe it would come to him. It had to come to him. The entire lot of events just felt so wrong.

“Ric? Ric! Ric! Ric! Ric!…” He kept hearing his name, but he couldn’t respond to it. Something was keeping his attention glued to the mountains. “Ric… Ric! Ric! Ric!…”

And then with a shocking amount of force he was thrown through the plate glass window, and out onto the lawn. Instead of landing on the lawn, he kept falling. Falling, forever down a tunnel with no end until he crashed at the bottom and his eyes flew open.

 

———————————————————————————————-

 

“He’s awake! Nurse! Nurse he’s awake!” A familiar voice cried as Ric’s vision slowly began to clear.

He blinked several times, and looked around. He was in a hospital bed hooked up to all sorts of machines and monitors. No one was in the room with him currently, but a bedside table had been filled with cards, flowers, and well wishes. From the looks of it the table had been filling over the course of several months.

When had he ended up in the hospital? What happened? The last thing he remembered was sitting in some strange court house waiting to testify against his step father. Suddenly his room was a flurry of activity. Doctors and nurses flooded in from the outside of the room and began asking all sorts of questions and running all sorts of test. Ric answered accordingly until one by one the doctors and nurses finally made their exit.

He sat alone in his room for a few moments after the last doctor had left the room, and then to his surprise Cher bounced into the room with tears streaming down her face, followed by Rogue, Karen, Jacki, Dwayne and Leroy.

“What the hell?” Ric asked, finding his voice, and attempting to sit up in his bed. He was immediately stopped by a sharp pain in his abdomen, which he assumed was a broken rib.

“You were in a terrible car accident several months ago. You’ve been in a coma since.” Cher answered running up and giving her brother a ginger but robust hug.

“It was quite an accident Mr. McHendon. It was the worst one I’ve seen in a very long time.” Jacki added. “We don’t have any shortage of them around these parts either. If it hadn’t been for your brother being able to get out of the car and back up to the road you would have been long dead.”

“Wait a moment, you mean Rogue saved ME?” Ric asked.

“That’s right, brother. We were coming back down the mountain after an afternoon of skiing, when this reckless blue Honda ran us off the road. We slid about half way down the mountain bouncing off trees and flipping over several times, but once we came to a stop I was able to get out, but you were pinned and hurt bad. If Dwayne and Jacki here hadn’t been driving by on their patrol when I got back up to the road you would have been toast.” Rogue said, also giving his brother a hug.

“Sweetness don’t you ever do that again! I was so worried about you.” Karen cried as she too gave Ric a hug.

Ric just sat there taking it all in. He wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, or if it was all a dream. It would take a few days for him to get everything sorted out, but at least his family was here alive and well. He was so excited to see Cher he was about to burst, and Rogue and Karen traveling all the way out to see him. He wasn’t so sure how he felt about Jacki and Dwayne just yet, especially after everything that had happened to him while he was unconscious. Again, he would have to sort it all out over the next few days. It was just so good to be alive, and see his family alive that was all that he cared about right now.

 

———————————————————————————————-

 

Over the next few weeks, Ric learned the complete story behind his accident. He and Rogue had actually turned out to be some of those knuckle heads that Dream Jacki had described in such detail. Rogue had just proposed to Tabitha, and on the same night Karen had announced that she was pregnant. Immediately the first thing on the boy’s mind was to take some crazy road trip in celebration. While perusing around the internet one day, Ric had stumbled upon this place called Calamity Falls. Reading into the back story of the slopes supposedly being cursed, and the unusual ratio of accidents to population he immediately decided that should be their celebratory destination.  They packed their bags and had a great week in Calamity Falls until they decided to go back up to the slopes for just one more brush with death before they were due to head back home.

It was on that fateful trip down the mountain where the accident had occurred, and it was solely because both he and Rogue had smuggled a bottle of liquor up to the top of the slope and taken a shot. He knew it was wrong at the time, but he thought by the time they reached the bottom the alcohol would have metabolized not affecting their driving. He was wrong, and now after all the excitement he realized that.

Prior to their rescue mission, he and Rogue had met both Jacki and Dwayne at Calamity Jane’s. They were both good people, and why Ric’s imagination had made them out to be something so completely to what they were not was a complete mystery. Dwayne really did remind him of his step father, but his step father was dead and buried long ago. He also wasn’t sure why he had regressed his relationship with Karen back to their troubled days. They had just recently gotten back together before his trip up the mountain, but it was a great time in their relationship a great time in his life. If only he had been smarter about his decisions.

He felt incredibly guilty for what he had put them all through, in his crazy imagination and in reality. There was a long road ahead of him due to his injuries. He had shattered both legs, punctured his left lung and dislocated his left arm. He had also been in the coma for so long that it would take him months to learn how to walk properly again. All of his muscles had withered away to nothing. Luckily, the department had put him on medical leave instead of just letting him go for his recklessness. They figured that what he was going through physically was punishment enough.

Karen was also able to work from home and had moved into a small apartment across from the hospital so she could be close to Ric. She was six months pregnant now, and they would have to prepare to have the baby born in Calamity Falls. It was kind of exciting actually because the McHendon baby would be the first child actually born in Calamity Falls since the late forties. The circumstances could have been better, but it was exciting none the less.

Cher had also moved her practice closer to Calamity Falls in the past few months. True, it wasn’t as lucrative as the work she had been doing in Dallas, but it was close to her family and that was the most important thing for her. She had grown up a lot in the time that Ric had been day dreaming. He noticed it almost immediately when she walked into the room. She had stopped drinking and met a man. Things were going great.

Rogue was the only one still commuting every few weeks from Dallas. Tabitha had a good job, and Rogue had found one himself. They were doing really well, well enough that he could afford to fly out and visit Ric in the hospital.

Life it seemed, had gone really well for everyone in Ric’s absence. It made him feel a little lonely, but it was also a wonderful thing to see. He was always constantly worried about how things would work out for Karen if something would happen to him, and now he knew.

He still had a long road a head, but it would be one filled with family and good friends. He could live with that.

 

 

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