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The Wrong Thing to Say-Fiction by Bill Baber
Late One Night, We Killed them All-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Call it in the Air!-Fiction by Jim Farren
Arendt and Eichmann: Behind Bars-Fiction by Edward Francisco
A Provocation Game-Fiction by Norbert Kovacs
Carol's-Fiction by G Emil Ruetter
Casting Call for a Tijuana Firing Squad-Fiction by j brooke
Preserving Beauty-Fiction by Paul Michael Dubal
Straight Shooter-Fiction by Mark Joseph Kevlock
Meat-Fiction by F. Michael LaRosa
The Internship-Fiction by Henry Simpson
The Knife She Done it With-Fiction by Matt Phillips
Almond-Flash Fiction by Francis Woodland
Squatters-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
The Cookie Crumbles-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
A Funeral Pyre-Flash Fiction by Karen Schauber
Twist-Flash Fiction by Ram Praseth
Something Has Happened-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
unbound-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Sweet Rivalry-Poem by Meg Baird
when it comes round-Poem by Meg Baird
Dat No Apply to Debra-Poem by Joe Balaz
No Can Change Its Stripes-Poem by Joe Balaz
Infested-Poem by John Grey
Living With the Dead-Poem by John Grey
They-Poem by John Grey
Chesapeake Night-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
Sunrise on Port Royal Sound, SC-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
The Final Dream-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

lateonenight.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2018

Late One Night, We Killed Them All

A Barry Wilder Short Story

Kenneth James Crist

 

Being home from the road actually felt pretty good for a change. I had been home several weeks, catching up on chores, getting the house cleaned up and the yard ready, doing everything from fertilizing the grass to shampooing carpets.

I was back from a road trip of several months, after the death of two of my best friends. Commando Cody, the big Doberman, had gone first. Natural causes for old Cody. He just got old and when it was time, he went as gracefully as he could. The vet said he was healthy right up until he wasn’t. In other words, he ran out of heartbeats.

Roland Nesper didn’t fare quite so well. He had a series of heart attacks, stents installed and all that, but the heart killed him in the end. I had carried his ashes to Wyoming and planted him next to Iva Gonzalez, a woman we had both loved at different times, but never competed over. I had buried Cody in my backyard, wrapped in an old leather jacket that had been Iva’s.

A lot of the miles I have ridden since the loss of my friends are a blur. There was that incident at the Salton Sea and a major disagreement with some gang people that they had lost, but other than that, the days have pretty much flowed together.

I inherited a dog along the way, a Jack Russell terrier I’ve named Bonnie, and she has taken to the lifestyle like a duck to water. She seldom even lets me out of her sight. I think she’s afraid of being abandoned again, like she was when I found her, wandering in the park at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. She has perfected the art of riding on Thumper’s saddle, either sitting upright in front of me or lying crosswise across my lap.

It was about the time I started running out of chores that I ran across what was at first only a curiosity, but later became a mystery and finally an obsession. On my handy-dandy home computer, I had installed a copy of Google Earth and sometimes when there was nothing good on TV, I would play with the software, like most people, getting satellite views of famous places: The White House, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids at Giza. Then I started getting interested in things other people had found, mostly by accident. Area 51, which we all know doesn’t exist, but there it was, big as life, overflown by LandSat, the unclassified satellite that takes nice clear pictures everyone can see. I looked at shipwrecks and the hulks of crashed airplanes, based on coordinates anyone can find with the investment of a little computer time.

That got me interested in a game, or sport maybe, called Geocaching, in which people place small boxes or cans at certain hidden places and then publish the GPS coordinates on a website. You make your way to the site, find the cache, log in on a notebook contained there and if there’s anything you want in the box, take it. The only catch was you had to leave an object, too. That was fun for a while and on pretty days, Bonnie and I would go find a couple sites. I always logged us as Barry and Bonnie. Never bothered to tell anyone that Bonnie was a dog. She often left small Milk-Bones as her part of the contribution, and I actually think she was smart enough to understand that someone else would find the box and perhaps give the treat to their own dog.

One evening around the first of May, I was on Google Earth, looking at places in Kansas and seeing how recent the pictures were. Of course, you always have to look at your own house. The picture of my place was almost two years old. The detail, especially whenever a spot was available in street view, was pretty amazing. I “flew” out of town and looked at a couple of lakes in the area, seeing boats and swimmers from the equivalent of just a few hundred feet up. In the back of my mind I wondered, if the imaging from an unclassified satellite was this good, what must the high-performance military birds be able to do? The ones we mere mortals were never allowed to see. I had heard that if the angles and lighting were right, they could read a license tag on a car from orbit.

Skimming across the landscape, I found myself looking at everything from wind farms to combines cutting wheat, to tall granaries, to individual cars on the highways. Far out in western Kansas, I swooped over seemingly endless fields, many made circular by the use of irrigation rigs that travelled slowly around a central point. I swooped over a John Deere tractor with a doll beside it and a guy digging in the middle of a field. I was getting sleepy and I soon turned off the computer and went to bed.

That was at 10:30. At 4 A.M., Bonnie needed to go out and patrol the yard. I got up and let her out and stood on the sunporch with a .40 caliber Glock in my hand. I had been hearing our local coyote pack singing a lot lately. Coyotes get pretty bold at night, even in rather densely populated areas. And they like nothing better than a tasty little dog or cat for a midnight snack. As I stood there waiting and watching Bonnie doing her business, my mind wandered back to the satellite images I’d seen the night before. Something was bothering me about something I’d seen. I almost had it, but then it was gone. A few minutes later, we went back to bed. Bonnie tunneled under the covers and crammed herself against my feet. Gotta love those four-legged heaters. . . .

Over a bowl of raisin bran at a quarter to seven the next morning, my brain finally kicked in and a sudden chill ran down my back. A John Deere tractor with a wagon. A doll beside it on the ground. A guy digging . . . but if that was a doll, why was it as big as a person?

Ten minutes later, breakfast forgotten, I was back on Google Earth, looking hard and retracing my path across western Kansas. It took a half hour to find it again, but there it was. Big green tractor. Wagon hitched on behind, looked to be painted red. Figure of a woman, nude, or partially nude, splayed on the ground. Guy with a gray shirt, overalls and a red ball cap . . . and a shovel.

Digging a grave.

Oh, well, fuck. Here we go. Call the sheriff? What the hell county was it in? This would require some research. I knew how to take screenshots and I got busy. Pictures of the tractor and the guy digging, zoomed in as tight as I could get. Then working my way around, looking for the closest habitation. Finally finding a farmhouse and outbuildings, four miles to the east on what appeared to be a dead-end dirt road. No street view available. More screenshots. Printer working its ass off, printing everything out in living color. Then, looking for the nearest town.

Greeley County. There was Tribune, where the timeline ran through just east of the town, separating Central Standard from Mountain Standard time. I slowly worked my way back north and west, counting squares. Kansas is laid out on one-mile square grids in most areas. Seventeen squares north, and eight west of Tribune.

There was my spot. I switched to the GPS function and laid the crosshairs on the grave the unknown guy was digging. I scribbled down the coordinates and stopped to think about this. What were the chances that the satellite would be right overhead when some guy was burying a body out in the middle of nowhere? If it weren’t for bad luck, this poor schmuck wouldn’t have any luck at all.

But, was he really burying a body? Maybe the crazy bastard knew the satellite would be overhead at a certain time and did this shit for a joke, to show his buds and laugh about over a few beers. Some farmers plowed and planted pictures into their land—the American flag, maybe an actual portrait—knowing satellites and people in airplanes would see their handiwork. Maybe this guy had a goofy sense of humor and bought a blow-up doll and was having some fun.

And what were the chances that I would be dicking around on Google Earth and see the image? I thought, maybe I should run out and buy a lottery ticket . . . because I already knew it wasn’t a doll. And it wasn’t a prank. It was a woman. And she was dead.

Now would be a good time to call the Greeley County sheriff and tell them what I saw. Let them deal with it. But then, I thought, fuck it. This is mine. Why else did this chain of events take place? So I could call some county sheriff who probably has two deputies and three pickup trucks? Nope, I’m gonna take this as far as I can. If I get in too deep, then I can drop a dime on the local boys and bail.

Bonnie started paying attention to me, then. I guess she could smell excitement coming off me in waves. First, I went to the gun safe and looked to my weapons. I pulled out my Mossburg New Haven 12-gauge shotgun. It’s cut off to a legal 19-inch barrel and still retains the original stock and forearm. It is essentially a riot gun. A box of .00 buckshot and a box of deer slugs. Next, my Ruger AR-556 rifle. My “assault rifle,” some would call it, not knowing the AR designation actually came from Armalite, the original Colt model name for the rifle, which was sold to the U.S. military as the AR-15 and the M-16 during the Vietnam era. This one had a starlight scope mounted and sighted in for 100 yards.

Then, handguns. An old European model Berretta 92-S in blued steel, 9-millimeter, 16-shot capacity. A Glock Model 36, chambered for .45 ACP, its barrel threaded for a suppressor, and last, a Smith and Wesson Shield in .40 caliber. Lotta guns? Yeah. I’d rather have ‘em and not need ‘em than the other way around. This would not be a motorcycle trip. I was figuring a lot of dirt and gravel roads and maybe some cross-country driving through fields and rough terrain. I took the guns to the garage and opened up my Toyota Tacoma pickup. In the back seat, there was a doggie “hammock,” which fastened around the headrests and was designed to keep dog hair and other debris off the upholstery. Bonnie didn’t care for it, but I’d left it in the truck because it was easy to hide stuff under and still be able to reach from the front seat. The shotgun and rifle went under this, lying on the seats with the stocks toward the left side door.

In the Tacoma, the back seats unlatch and swing forward, with storage areas behind them. The Berretta went behind the left seat, the Glock behind the right, along with a box of ammo for each. The Smith went to its usual place, in the waistband of my pants, in the back. Two spare magazines went into the center console glove box.

Next, I went to my walk-in closet and started rounding up clothes. I was headed for farm country, and while I was not kidding myself about trying to blend in, I still rummaged around and found some old bib overalls that fit, some plaid flannel shirts, and some clodhopper boots that still had mud on them from the last time they were worn. I packed a medium-sized duffle and included my shaving kit and all the stuff I normally keep in there. I completed my ensemble with a couple of cheap, giveaway ball caps, one in black, with a Cat Diesel Power emblem, and one in red with Northcutt Trailers on it. Northcutt had a facility in north Wichita.

I thought about taking Bonnie to the animal hospital a mile from my house and having her boarded, but I knew she was smart enough she could prove useful, and besides, I hated leaving her. The look of reproach I would get from her would just about freeze my heart. I grabbed a bag of kibble and her water bowl and packed those in the truck and a half-case of bottled water went in the bed, under the locking tonneau cover. I threw in a spade and shovel and a pickax. I strolled across the street to Steve and Jeannie’s house and told them I’d be gone for a few days. They would pick up my mail and the daily paper and keep an eye on the place.

When we were ready, Bonnie hopped up into the truck and we set the alarm on the house and rolled out. I stopped on west Kellogg and filled the tank and we cleared town just before ten o’clock.

A hundred miles west lies the small town of Greensburg, Kansas, made smaller on the night of May 4th, 2007 when about 95 per cent of the town was destroyed by a tornado. Now, eleven years later, much of the town had been rebuilt, but there were parts that would never return. It was being rebuilt with an eye toward energy efficiency and was touting the slogan “Greenest Town in Kansas.”

I pulled into the Dillon’s store on the south side of the main drag and let Bonnie out to run. I said, “If ya got business to take care of, now would be a good time.” I watched her as she slipped around the back of the truck and carefully assessed the traffic, then, when the coast was clear, she set off across the street and into a number of vacant lots where a mobile home court had once stood. Once I knew she was safe, I went inside for coffee. My interrupted breakfast hadn’t lasted long and I noticed a display of muffins and snagged two on my way to the register. A few minutes later, I was back at the truck. I looked around for Bonnie, and when I didn’t immediately see her, I began to look around the parking area.

Two stalls to the west was a dilapidated old Chevy station wagon that had once been green. Inside the car were three or four kids sporting dirty faces and snarled hair. By the driver’s door was a fat, red-faced woman who was holding my dog. Bonnie seemed to be undecided as to whether she should be enjoying the attention or struggling to get free.

“This yer dawg?” The woman had a smirk on her face I didn’t like and there was a belligerence in her voice.

“Yep, she’s mine.”

“Ya know it’s ee-legal ta let a dawg run without no leash.”

“You the sheriff?”

“No, I am not. But I know him. I could call him an’ git choo in some trouble.”

Bonnie had now decided she didn’t care for this woman and she had begun struggling. “I’d suggest you put her down now,” I said, “and go call your friend the sheriff, then.”

“I’ll put her down when and if I get ready. Maybe I’ll just keep her for my kids, since she was runnin’ at large.”

I smiled tolerantly and then said, “Okay, Bonnie. Tell the nice lady bye-bye and let’s go.” I opened the truck door and Bonnie kicked her struggles up a notch. The fat woman had her hands full now and Bonnie had entirely lost her friendly demeanor. I heard the woman say, “Damned mutt, settle down!”

Then, Bonnie clamped down on the webbing between her thumb and index finger, whereupon the woman started shrieking. It didn’t take her long to let go.

Bonnie shot over to the truck and jumped into the passenger seat, as the woman continued to howl and hold her bleeding hand. I added insult to injury by saying, “I’d get that looked at, if I were you. She’s had her shots, but ya just never know.” By this time half the kids in the car were staring, and the other half were bawling. Mama got hurt and they weren’t quite sure how all this was going to turn out.

“I’m gonna sue yer fuckin’ ass! That animal’s dangerous!”

I decided I’d had enough at that point and I stepped over to the woman and moved up well within her personal space. Very quietly I said, “Her name is Bonnie. You had no business touching her, and in spite of that, she saved your miserable life today.”

Now she was sniveling, and she whined, “Whatta you mean?”

I eased my Smith and Wesson out of my belt just far enough that she could see it, but it wasn’t visible to anyone else. I said, “She kept me from having to shoot you dead in this parking lot. Go home and put some peroxide on yer fuckin’ hand and forget this ever happened.”

As I got in the truck, the woman had retreated into her car and was wrapping her hand with a filthy handkerchief and staring at me. I smiled at her and waved as we pulled out. Bonnie had discovered the muffins and had forgotten all about the woman dog-napper. As we rolled on west, we shared the muffins and had a good laugh.

Our total time to Tribune was four-and-a-half hours. When we got there, I decided we needed a place to stay before we did anything else. A room at a Best Western cost us eighty-six bucks, which included a “dog deposit,” presumably in case Bonnie ate all the wallpaper and sheetrock or destroyed the carpeting. I looked at the weather channel and discovered there would be a full moon that night, and I decided right then that I would go find the proper spot and do my digging in the dark. I fed Bonnie and we took a nap.

At around eight-thirty, we were on the move, grinding slowly up and down dirt and gravel roads, trying not to raise too much dust or attract too much attention. The area was all but deserted. I decided we should take a turn past the nearest habitation, the farmhouse I’d seen in the satellite photos. I pulled out the pictures I’d printed out and kicked on the dome light. I found the house and figured out where we were and then cruised on, making a couple turns and then we were moving up the dead-end road. The house wasn’t really a house, as such. It was more of a compound. At first glance, it reminded me of the Reverend David Koresh’s compound near Waco, Texas, where the U.S. government had backed itself into a corner it could not get out of gracefully and had wound up killing a shitload of people.

There were six buildings, but none that actually looked like a proper house. All were painted the same shade of tan and roofed in the same green metal. And other than that, there wasn’t much to see. Except a big green John Deere parked in the grass beside the biggest building. And a guy with a rifle standing in the yard. There was a big halogen yard light on a pole, lighting the place up like daylight, and the man with the rifle was making no effort to be stealthy. The rifle was some kind of lever-action carbine, probably a Winchester or maybe a Marlin, most likely a .30-30. He had it casually balanced back on his shoulder, holding it one-handed. He was comfortable with it, for sure. I was stopped at the end of the driveway and I decided to just play it cool. Just some guy who’s lost. Nothin’ ta see here, folks.

I put the truck in reverse and K-turned across the drive and drove away, feeling a cold spot on the back of my neck. I watched the rifle-guy in my mirror as we left. He never took the rifle down from where it was resting on his shoulder. He kept his eye on us as we left and as we were almost out of sight, I saw the flare of a match or lighter as he lit a cigarette.

“Okay, Babe,” I said to Bonnie, “let’s go dig us a hole.” Fifteen minutes later, the Toyota was tucked in behind the hedgerow on the east side of the correct field and I took the shotgun, the shovel, and the pickax, and we took a stroll.

Bonnie found the spot, as I knew she most likely would. In the drenching moonlight, her coat looked almost silver, and the ground was level enough, it was easy walking. My portable GPS got me within about five yards of the spot, and Bonnie did the rest. She walked right to the spot, where the ground was actually mounded slightly, and stood and then sniffed and pawed the dirt.

“Yep, that’s the place, Bonnie. Good girl! Let’s find out what’s down there.”

I slipped on some leather gloves and set to work. The pickax was not needed. The soil was loose enough, it was easy digging. Twenty minutes and I could smell what Bonnie had been smelling from above the ground. The body had ripened quite a bit. I was surprised the coyotes hadn’t been digging at the spot. I only removed about two and a half feet of dirt before I saw blonde hair and another ten minutes of careful work fully exposed the corpse of a woman, maybe twenty-five.

I dug out a small flashlight and took a long look around, then turned on the light. Near her feet, there was a cheap black plastic purse. I tossed it to one side and examined her as closely as I could stand. I would be throwing away the gloves. She had been beaten badly enough that her head appeared misshapen and I saw no other signs of injury. No gunshots. No stab wounds. Beaten to death, evidently. I turned off the flashlight just as Bonnie growled, and a woman’s voice said, “Freeze! Federal agent! Do not move!”

I let go of the shovel and raised my hands. Bonnie was still growling and I knew in just a few seconds, she would erupt into shrill, furious barking. “Bonnie. It’s okay. Settle.”

“Take off the gloves and drop ‘em.” The voice had a slight shake, maybe excitement, maybe fear. Definitely nerves. I don’t like nervous, armed people. I did what I was told.

“Hands behind your back. Don’t do anything stupid.”

I placed my hands behind me and my thumbs were grasped in one hand and cuffs were applied with the other. Very quick, and very professional. A very bright flashlight came on and the woman said, “Gettin’ ready to move her some place better?”

“No ma’am. Just seein’ if what I thought was here really was here.”

“Sounds like you and I need to have a talk. First, I’ll read you your rights….”

She proceeded to do that. I didn’t tell her I knew my rights better than she did. I didn’t figure it was the right time. She picked up my shotgun and checked it, stripping the rounds out of it and rendering it safe. “Let’s leave the shovel and pick here. We’re gonna take a walk to my car.”

She had parked right behind my truck and I had heard and seen nothing. She was good. At her car, she opened the back door and said, “Take out your ID and give it to me.” I surrendered my wallet and then she said, “Watch your head getting in. . . .”

There followed a few minutes in which she and Bonnie sat up front and she talked on her radio and petted my dog. Finally, she hung up the mike and said, “Okay, Wilder. Retired cop. One of the good guys. Vouched for by about thirty different people, even at this time of night. So exactly what the fuck are ya doin’ out here, diggin’ up a body?”

I told her all about my chance viewing of the burial going on, shot by satellite and my curiosity and need for something to do. She took my keys and went to my truck and retrieved the satellite pictures and looked them over.

Finally, she said, “Where ya stayin’?”

I named the motel and she said, “Okay. There’s a recovery team comin’ here to take . . .” She looked at a driver’s license she’d taken from the black purse. “Janey Rickett out there to a morgue and work the crime scene. I’ll follow you to your motel and we’ll see if we can get this shit straightened out.” She let me out of the car and uncuffed me, handed me my keys and wallet and let my dog out. Back in my truck, Bonnie stood with her back feet on the passenger seat and her front feet on the dash, watching the road and periodically looking over at me. I felt like she was enjoying the shit out of me getting arrested by the FBI.

When I reached my motel, I walked to my room and stood waiting while Bonnie ran the lot and took care of business and the FBI talked on her radio some more. Finally, Bonnie came back and we went in. I left the room door ajar and went to use the restroom. In a minute, I heard Bonnie’s collar tag jingle and I figured she was on the bed. When I came out, the agent was by the bed, again petting Bonnie and making friends.

“I should introduce myself,” she said, hooking her red hair back over her ear. “I’m Carolyn Foster, AIC of Western Kansas Division.”

I shook her hand and only thought to myself, Holy shit! Agent-in-charge? She’s young for that. . . .

“So, Mister Wilder—”

“Barry.”

“Barry, then. What do you imagine is going on out here?”

“No idea. Some guy’s idea of a quickie divorce?”

“Not exactly. I’m just glad I found you out there tonight, instead of the Mission of Life Ministry idiots. . . .”

“So, you’re dealing with a religious cult?”

“They just like not paying taxes. And having total control over their brides, the adults and the children.”

“The compound out on the dead-end road?”

“Yeah, you were out there, too?”

“Just long enough to turn around in the driveway and get some looks from a sentry they had posted.”

“This Janey Rickett was one of theirs, I’m pretty sure, but the women are brought out so seldom, we can’t even be sure of that. We know they have some really young girls there and that they marry them as young as eight years old, then let them grow and develop and consummate the marriages later.”

“When they’re of legal age?”

“Not always. The few times we’ve been able to even talk to any of the women, it’s been apparent they’ve been browbeaten and brainwashed into believing their leader sitteth at the right hand of God Almighty.”

“What’s his name?”

“Chas Burgher. He’s a big, mean, nasty son-of-a-bitch. Doesn’t care much about personal hygiene, either. I ran across him in Tribune once, in the Dollar Store. His body odor alone cleared the place out.”

“Have you tried finding some way to get an operative inside?”

“Twice. Both agents have gone missing. No contact and no reports after the first day. Both young women agents, cute and smart. They may just be captive, or they may be dead. We can’t be sure, but I’m not sending in another agent.”

“So, can’t you get a warrant and raid the place?”

“No, not really. I sent the agents in off the books.”

“It wasn’t authorized through channels?”

“No. I fucked up, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Now, I’m at a loss. I don’t know what my next move is gonna be.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t do anything. . . .”

She sat down on the end of the bed, still petting Bonnie. “What’s that mean?”

“Maybe if you just bide your time, the problem will solve itself. . . .”

“Huh. I don’t see that happening.”

“Oh, I think it could, if you and your folks just pull back and put your feet up.”

“Well, now, I can’t allow you to do anything . . . illegal . . . or improper. Besides, you’re just one guy. What could you possibly do, against them? I know they’ve got lots of firepower out there and they have the advantage of ownership. As soon as you step foot on their property, you’re a trespasser, and they could be within their rights to kill you.”

“Know what, Agent Foster? You worry too much.” I stepped over to the door and opened it. “I need to get some sleep. I’ll say goodnight now. . . .”

“Best you go back to Wichita, Barry, and forget about this. If you get in trouble, I won’t be able to help ya.”

“Yeah. I know. G’night, now.”

“Well, okay. I put my phone number in your phone, just in case you might need to talk to me . . . at some point. . . .”

I gave it thirty minutes and then took Bonnie out for another walk. I wanted to be sure Agent Foster was gone. Once I was sure, I took everything out of the motel room and we loaded up and drove back north, toward the Mission of Life Ministry.

I made one stop at a combination truck stop/convenience store and bought a gas can, a gallon of unleaded, and a package of road flares. Nothing illegal, just ordinary, everyday stuff every motorist should have.

I made my approach from the south, since the prevailing wind was from the north-northwest. If they had dogs, I didn’t want to set them off from too far out. I parked the Toyota over a mile south and hauled out the Glock .45. I reached under the driver’s seat and felt for the two Velcro strips and peeled them loose. Into my hand dropped an eight-inch long suppressor, which I stashed in my back pocket.

I grabbed the AR-556 rifle and the filled gas can and road flares. I knelt down and spoke to Bonnie. “Okay,” I whispered, “really quiet now. No barking, okay? Gotta be sneaky. . . .” I was pretty sure she got it, but ya never know with dogs unless you trained them yourself.

We started hiking north, directly across plowed fields, and as we got closer, we kept in the long shadows thrown by the buildings from that extra-bright yard light. We made it to the south side of the largest building, which was a hay barn, and in a quick check of the side of the building, I found a door set into the side near the east end. There was a hasp, but no lock. It had been secured by putting an old, rusty screwdriver through the hasp. I pressed in on the door and silently removed it. I opened the door as quietly as possible, but there was a bit of noise from rusty hinges. There was light inside, but not much. A couple of old, dusty electric bulbs were set high up on two of the walls.

Bonnie and I slipped inside and looked the place over. There was baled hay almost to the roof on the south end, stair-stepping down toward the north end, where there was an old table and a couple of chairs. Maybe this was where the boys came to play cards and get away from the women.

We climbed to the top of the hay bales and settled in to wait. I wanted to hit them at about 4 A.M. It was the best time to attack, when people are at their lowest and most vulnerable. As it turned out, we didn’t get to pick the time. Instead, we got to meet Chas Burgher himself.

We had been in place maybe four minutes, when a door at the north end of the barn flew open and he came in, dragging a small, struggling teenage girl. I watched as he dragged the child to the table and then strapped her face-down with leather restraints I hadn’t noticed before. The upper half of her body was on the table, and her feet were not quite touching the floor. He fastened more restraints around her ankles, to the table legs, as she moaned and begged. She knew what was coming, maybe from experience, maybe from the other women who had been there.

As he yanked down her jeans and panties, I pulled the suppressor from my back pocket and screwed it onto the Glock .45. From a nail on one wall, I watched Chas take down a razor strap. I was familiar with the strap, or “strop,” as it was properly called, from my own childhood. I knew it would cause a lot of pain and if overused, it could cut and split flesh. It was leather on one side and canvas on the other and almost three inches wide. Bonnie was sitting up with her ears raised and she didn’t like this shit at all.

He didn’t waste any time talking, but immediately began smacking her ass with the strap. She wailed and screamed, and he hit her about seven or eight times. I had Bonnie’s collar in my hand, keeping her from bolting down there to try and eat the guy. As we watched, he stopped and talked to her. I could not hear what he said, but I had an idea what was coming next. The girl did too. It was apparent, when she began really fighting the restraints, much harder than before.

I watched Chas Burgher unbutton his overalls and drop them to his ankles. He wore no underwear. He was much too well-equipped for the child he was about to rape, and as hard as it had been to watch the beating, I knew I was not about to let this shit happen.

As he took himself in his hand and stepped forward behind her, she took a deep breath. She was ready to scream loud enough to raise the roof. I squinted down the barrel of the Glock, over the suppressor and squeezed off one shot. He had just tipped his head down to watch his own penetration and the round took him in the top of his head. It blew a fine mist of blood out onto his back and he toppled backward onto the floor, dead before he hit the dirt.

There was silence for a moment, and then Bonnie was scrambling down, headed to the girl. I followed her down and went to the table and got out my ceramic knife and cut her restraints.

“Get yer jeans pulled back up and we’ll get ya outta here,” I said.

“Who are you?” She was sniffling and wiping her nose on the back of her hand. “You the cops?”

“Nope, but you’re safe now. Not gonna let anything happen to ya. What’s your name, Sweetie?”

“Ellie. Eleanor. Eleanor Miner.”

“How long ya been here, Ellie?”

“A . . . about a month, I guess. They grabbed me right off the street in Denver. I think they were gonna send me someplace. Maybe overseas, like to some Arab place. I got in trouble with him, ‘cause I wouldn’t behave myself and keep quiet.”

“How many women are here?”

“Maybe thirty, thirty-five, in three houses. Some of them are their own wives and stuff. We’re not all people who’ve been kidnapped. . . .”

“Okay, we gotta get ya outta here.”

“No! I wanna stay with you!”

“No, listen, it’s gonna get really bad here, shortly.” I took her face in my hands and made her look up at me. I wiped her tears away with my thumbs. “I want you to take this. . . .” I pulled out my truck keys and pulled the remote off the key ring. “Go out this door back here and walk straight south. In a little over a mile, yer gonna find a silver Toyota truck. Unlock it with this and get inside and lock the doors. My dog here is gonna go with ya. Her name is Bonnie. Can ya do that for me?”

She nodded her head and swallowed more tears and said, “Kay . . . okay.”

“Keep the dog with ya, okay? I’ll be there in a little while. . . .”

I walked her over to the door, and she and Bonnie slipped out into the dark. I gathered up my flares and gas can and got to work.

I splashed gas on the hay bales, on the table, on the walls of the barn, and especially on the body of Chas Burgher. When the can was empty, I checked myself and made sure there was no gas on me. Then I walked to the back door and ripped the tab on a flare and ignited it. As soon as it was burning intensely, I threw it back into the barn and shoved the door shut and leaned against it. Felt the force of the ignition push on the far side of the door like a dragon-beast from a fairy tale, blowing its hot breath around the door, lusting for blood.

I shoved the rusty screwdriver back into the hasp, grabbed my rifle and took off to the east, getting back into the dark, getting distance from the carnage that was coming.

It took a few minutes. Long enough for me to pick my spot and get into my prone shooting position. First, I heard dogs. Sounded like two, maybe three, raising hell, howling and barking. Then, I heard two gunshots, probably from the sentry’s rifle. That brought men out of the houses, and the yelling began.

I could hear, “Fire!” “Fire!” “Barn’s on fire!” Brilliant fuckers. Gonna do something about it, or just run around and yell at each other, belaboring the obvious?

I switched on the night scope, then immediately switched it off. The yard was too bright. Carefully, I sighted on the yard light and squeezed off one shot. The roar of the fire from the barn, along with the popping and cracking of old, dry wood, covered the sound of the shot nicely and the yard light winked out.

Men were running around in the dark now, trying to hook up garden hoses and get some water going. Waste of time on a hay barn, but I guess they needed something to do. The nearest fire department was twenty-four miles away. The barn would be gone by the time the first unit arrived, but maybe they could save the rest of the buildings.

I turned the night scope back on and went to work. The men were ghostly green figures in the scope, with a bright green dot at the aim-point, where the bullet would strike. I took my time and got the first three before they began to realize what was going on. As soon as they got their shit together and went for weapons, I moved. They had seen muzzle flash from the east. When they came back out with their own rifles, I was gone, moving through the dark around to the north. I picked a spot and dropped to the ground again and got a good shot and took out another guy. Now there were several women moving around, too, making it more confusing. No kids, though. I was glad. Kids didn’t need to see this. I got up and moved again.

As I reached the northwest corner of the buildings, I saw the lights on the big John Deere tractor, and I heard its big diesel engine start. Now it would get more interesting. The tractor started out, bouncing and roaring toward me. I stepped around the corner of a building and waited.

When the tractor came roaring by, I raised the rifle and shot the driver. The tractor was a fancy, air-conditioned, full-cab model. I watched the driver slump down, dead at the controls.

The machine continued on out into the fields, making a long arc around to the east. I tore my attention away in time to see a man taking aim at me with a shotgun. I dropped to the ground as he fired, and most of the shot load went above me. I felt the sting of some pellets on my left shoulder. There wasn’t enough impact for it to be lethal. It was most likely birdshot, rather than something deadlier.

He racked the slide, raising the gun nearly vertical to do so. Bad technique. He could have held on target while he operated the slide; it wasn’t that hard to do. As he started to lower the shotgun, I fired twice, both snap-shots with little in the way of aim.

The first shot missed. The second staggered him backward, and I saw blood erupt from his neck. He landed on his back and thrashed around for a few seconds. Very few. He was no longer a threat.

I looked back to the tractor and saw it still going and still turning. If it kept going like it was, it would soon be back. In its headlights, I saw a small brown and white dog, racing toward the buildings. Damn dog . . . you were supposed to stay with the girl. . . .

I could do little or nothing for Bonnie. If I whistled, she might or might not hear me and I might give away my position. I saw her go behind one of the buildings and then I saw two German shepherds headed my way. I looked for someplace to go, but I would not be able to make it anywhere before they would nail me. They were much too fast for me to have any hope of outrunning them.

They slowed as they saw me, hesitating just a little, not quite sure what to do, but I was upwind and they soon had my scent. And they smelled my blood. I saw their hackles come up and their tails bush out and then they were in motion again, coming on strong.

Then, from my left, a small brown and white rocket shot across in front of them, barking shrilly and raising hell. As one, both shepherds turned and started pursuing this interloper. I glanced around to make sure I wasn’t about to become meat, then looked back into the compound. Things were lit up nicely now by the fire, and I watched as Bonnie did an amazing thing. As the larger dogs closed on her, she made a sudden tremendous leap and landed on the low-hanging limb of a dwarf pear tree and scrambled over more branches until she was out of reach. Until that moment, I had never seen a dog climb a tree.

The shepherds milled around below the tree, confused and wanting very badly to kill this dog-cat. Or cat-dog. They had completely forgotten me. Then I ducked as more gunshots came, but they lacked that special sound you only hear when you’re out in front of the gun.

I moved around the outside of the compound and watched as several women, two in particular, shot several men, even walking over to where they had fallen and shooting them again, just to be sure. Most likely the two missing FBI agents, loose now, and armed with rifles they’d either found in the houses or picked up from the fallen. I decided maybe it would be a good time to move out. I looked back to Bonnie’s tree, but she wasn’t there. The two shepherds were gone, too.

I worked my way around to the south side of the compound again and saw Bonnie, racing between buildings, dodging back and forth, wearing out two big shepherds, then I didn’t see her again for a while.

And then, here came the damned tractor again. I watched in amazement as it drove itself directly into what was left of the burning barn. Its engine stalled, and it didn’t come out the other side.

I was halfway back to the truck, when Bonnie came up on me out of the dark. The other dogs were gone and there was no way she could tell me how she lost them. She seemed pretty proud of herself, though.

At the truck, I had to knock on the window to get Ellie to unlock the doors and let us in. She had actually fallen asleep in the passenger seat. When we got in the truck, Bonnie kept trying to crawl over the seats to get to me and I finally realized it was because of the blood from my shoulder wounds. I got in the back of the truck and dragged out my first aid kit and stripped off my shirt. Ellie helped me clean the pellet holes and apply a big gauze dressing. It would have to do, until I got back to Wichita.

As we left the area, I pulled out my cell phone and called Agent Foster’s number. She answered on the first ring.

“Ya better get out there. All kindsa shit going on out there, fires, shootin’, lotsa trouble.”

“I’m already on the way. The local cops are headed there, too. What did you do?”

“Me? I didn’t do anything. Oh, by the way, ya know that convenience store there on the north side of Tribune?”

“Yeah . . .”

“If you send somebody by there, you’ll find a young girl named Ellie Miner. She’s a kidnap case outta Denver. She’ll need a ride home. I think maybe there’s a number of kids out there. Human trafficking, I’m thinkin’.”

“Did you see anything of my two agents?”

“You mean the two who were walkin’ around, shootin’ assholes? Nope, didn’t see ‘em. Wasn’t even there. . . .”

“Good night, Mr. Wilder.”

“Barry.”

“Good night, Barry.”

“You got this, then, Agent Foster?”

“You betcha. And thanks. I think. . . .”

“You’re welcome, Carolyn.”

I dropped Ellie off at the convenience store. As she was about to get out of the truck, I said, “Promise me you’ll wait for the cops and not take any rides from truckers.”

“Okay. I promise. And thank you.”

She told Bonnie goodbye and kissed my cheek. I gave her twenty bucks so she could get an ice cream. Then we hit the road, headed home.

Bonnie curled up in the right seat and I could swear she was smiling in her sleep.



Kenneth James Crist is a tired, broken-down old motorcycle cop from Wichita, Kansas. He began writing a novel in 1994 as keyboard practice and has since written four more novels, several novellas and a butt-load of short stories. His publications have been seen in Bewildering Stories, Tales of the Talisman, A Twist of Noir, A Shot of Ink, Eaten Alive, The New Flesh, The Sink, The Edge, Skin and Bones, and Kudzu Monthly, to name a few. Recently, he appeared in two of John Thompson’s anthologies at Hardboiled. They are Hardboiled, and The Undead War, both available at Dead Guns Press on Amazon.com                                   

He also has four books up in Kindle format, for sale on Amazon.com: Dreaming of Mirages, The Gazing Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for Burial, his latest zombie fiction.

He will turn 74 this month, and he still rides his big Harley every day that weather permits and is now officially “retired”. He also operates Fossil Publications, publisher of Black Petals and Yellow Mama. This month he made his first parachute jump and crossed that off his "bucket list."



In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2018