Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 20 continued

 

Portolan_chart_by_Francesco_Pizzigano_(1373).jpg

 

CHAPTER 20, continued

“Glad we got that settled.” Jimbo had been intently watching the interaction. He grinned, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “Can we move on now?”

Owen looked deeply into Kian’s eyes. “No more secrets, I swear,” he said. “Just tell me what you know already, Kian, then I want to hear about your friend’s boss.”

“No, we start with my boss,” Aidan growled as he grabbed the two fat folders from the coffee table and slammed them down in front of Owen. “This is what my boss got while he was stalking Kian. Oh, and he was stalking Jacob Steiner, too. It’s all in there.”

While Owen looked through the folders, Aidan explained about Power and how he had blackmailed the fake Stephen, how Stephen’s fake wife was really called Raven, not Mary. Aidan was animated but Owen just listened, eyes shifting between Aidan, Kian, and the folders.

After Aidan finished talking, there was a long awkward silence. Owen continued to scan the information in the folders, face stony.

Finally, Jimbo jumped in. “What we don’t know is how this Raven broad fits in. She’s much too clever to be just one of Power’s jackasses. Not the type to be blackmailed into pretending to be fake Stephen’s wife.”

Owen remained silent, now staring ahead but still stone-faced, and probably seething inside, Jimbo figured. Aidan looked rather smug.

It was Kian who broke the stand-off. “Owen, we have the Ark. My mother sent it.”

“You have it, you have the Ark? Kian, you should have told me.”

“And you should have told me you knew about it. A long time ago.”

“Point taken,” Owen said. “But do you know Jacob has the wings that open it?”

“We do now and we got them,” Aidan said. “And we opened the Ark.”

Owen continued to focus on Kian. “Oh my god, you opened it?”

“Yes, we found some pipes to call up the Elemental Kings and some sheets of soft metal with lines and writing on them. But we don’t know what they are.”

Owen crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back, now focusing on Aidan. “Those are the maps to the other Arks.”

“One other thing, my parents are alive. They sent me the Ark.”

“That’s great news,” Owen said leaning forward. There was genuine softness and caring in his tone. Kian did not pull away.

Jimbo looked at Aidan, but his face was inscrutable.

“So, now tell us what else you know about the Ark,” Kian said.

“First the history of the Ark,” Owen replied. “Here’s the thing. Ten thousand years ago, a fleet of ships set sail from what is now the Orkneys and Scotland. On board were four families of the old blood. They had the Ark with them. One woman, a Priestess of the Old Ways, she was the Keeper. The three other families were Guardians. My family was one of the Guardians. We were the Gryffuds back then. The Bucknuns, your father’s ancestors, were also Guardians and one of the Bucknun sons was married to the Priestess. These four families were our ancestors, Kian, yours and mine. They settled here with people from an earlier migration, one just after the floods and the earth upheavals that sank the ancient homeland.”

“So, when Mom and Dad married, they knew they were Keeper and Guardian? But doesn’t that get confusing. I mean, what does that make me, Keeper or Guardian? Or Both?”

“Not confusing at all. Keepers and Guardians marry all the time. One of the girls, usually the oldest, would be the next Keeper. The boys in the family take the role of Guardian.” Owen caught Kian’s eye and smiled, “Marriage between sacred families is quite common. It happens all the time.”

Jimbo watched as Aidan’s neck tightened and bulged, a sure sign his buddy was not happy with that news. He needed to break this up fast. “So, what are you thinking, Scotty? Is this guy legit?”

“Seems so,” Aidan replied. He eyed Owen closely, “So far anyway.”

“Agreed,” replied Jimbo, still leaning against the kitchen counter.

Owen turned to face him. “Good, maybe you’ll stop probing me. It’s annoying as hell.”

Jimbo withdrew his senses and slapped his thigh. “Scotty, we may have found us a genuine ally here.” Looking at Owen, he continued, “Trooper, the odds are now at least eleven against three. Four if you count Kian.”

“We don’t count Kian,” Owen snapped. “Haven’t you guys been listening? She’s got the old blood from her mother. She’s the Keeper now.”

Kian stood and crossed her arms over her chest. “No, you count me in. Counting me out is what got us into this mess in the first place.”

“Kian, that’s against everything I know.” Owen was pleading now, but at least Aidan’s neck had relaxed. “Keepers are to be protected,” Owen continued. “They are never to be put in harm’s way. That is my job now, to protect you.” He looked over at Aidan, “Mine alone.”

Aidan’s neck tightened again. Jimbo had all he could do to keep from reaching out and shaking his friend. Distractions cost us, buddy. Remember that.

 

 

Aidan, seething inside, pushed himself away from the table. “Like hell, its yours alone,” he told Owen as he marched over to his computer on the coffee table.

“Distractions, buddy, distractions. I’m making that rule number five,” Jimbo said. “I’m heading out. Touch base later.”

Distraction, my ass, Aidan wanted to call out as Jimbo left through the kitchen door. But he knew Jimbo was right. Distractions cost.

Ignoring Owen and Kian talking softly at the table, Aidan checked his tablet. The cars seemed to be gathering again, this time in the horse pasture at the cut off. He texted Jimbo, then did a quick Internet search on the name Griffiths. Their history went back as far as the Buchanan’s. Like Kian’s family, the land had been deeded to them in the early 1600s based on a “prior claim.”

Next he did a quick search of the name, Gruffudd. Literally translated from ancient Welsh, it meant “Chief with a strong grip.” Handy for a Guardian, Aidan mused.

Aidan got up and returned to the table. “Look, we need to work together. Are there any more Guardians we should know about?”

“My brother, but he’s only fourteen. I don’t want to drag him in. My dad died a year ago. Kian was an only child and so was her father. She may have some cousins, but I’m sure they don’t follow the ancient ways.”

The old grandfather clock struck eleven.

“It’s late,” Aidan said as he stood, drawing himself to his full height.

Owen rose and feigned a yawn. “I’m going back to town,” he announced. “I’ll let it be known Kian took off for the city. My partner has spread that Bigfoot story all over anyway so I’ll just say she got spooked or something.” Aidan nodded and Owen continued, “You may get some yahoos looking for Sasquatch tonight. Bet there will even be a video on YouTube by tomorrow.” He chuckled and then added, “I’ll text if I know anything. We all better get some sleep.”

“Thanks,” Aidan said as he moved to shake Owen’s hand.

“No problem. Look, about what I said earlier…. I’m glad to know I got some help. Aren’t many Guardians left, you know.”

“What about that third family? You never said.”

“Their name was Cameron,” Owen replied half way out the front door. “Forget them. They’re gone, too.” He closed the door, calling through the glass panels, “Don’t forget to lock up.”

 

Jimbo spent the next two hours dodging Bigfoot hunters. For him, it was like a game, first exposing his bulky blanket-wrapped frame, then leading them along before disappearing up a tall tree or under some dense brush. At first he led them away from the stone chambers where they might do some damage and then toward the forest surrounding the overgrown horse pasture where Power and his coven were bedded down for the night. Satisfied that the twenty-odd men and women stalking the legendary beast would keep Power’s minions pinned down, Jimbo crept unnoticed onto the front porch and rapped at the window. “Hey, lover boy, let me in.”

Aidan opened the door and Jimbo strode into the room. “I gave those Bigfoot aficionados some good YouTube footage, and I checked on our friends. They won’t be going anywhere tonight, not with all those crypto-zoo-whatever type people out there. Cheez, how do those baboons expect to find that ape with all that commotion?”

Jimbo plopped down into the overstuffed armchair, his exhausted body sinking into the tattered green velvet. “I tagged two more cars. We now have eight.” Jimbo entered the new codes into Aidan’s tablet. “Power’s people won’t be going anywhere tonight.” He set the alarm. “And if they do, we’ll know about it.”

Aidan chuckled and took the tablet from him. “Good. We both need some shut-eye.”

“True that. And besides, someone has to chaperone you and the pretty lady upstairs. Shit, a blind man can see how you two feel about each other! She’s pretty smitten, ya’ know.”

“With me or with that Owen guy? I saw how he kept looking at her.”

“Jealous are we, lover boy?”

“No, I’m just saying….”

“Scotty, you two belong together. That one’s a ‘Keeper,’so to speak.” Jimbo laughed at his own joke.

“No argument with that,” Aidan replied. “You sleeping on the sofa or am I?”

“You are. There’s a spare room upstairs with a squeaky old cot and smelly sheets. I’ll take that.”

 

 

Photo Attribution:

By Francesco Pizzigano (Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 20

 

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CHAPTER TWENTY

 

Once inside the house, Aidan encouraged Kian to go hide in the caves. She refused. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here and we are doing this together.”

“She’s got a point, Scotty. We are stronger if we stay together.”

“Yes, well, that depends on what the BOLO says,” Aidan replied as he opened his computer and did a search of the FBI database.

Kian stepped up behind him. “What’s it say?”

“You are only wanted for questioning. I guess even Power can’t get a search warrant at this point.”

Then, without warning, he slammed his laptop closed. “Someone’s coming I can feel it. Kian get upstairs.”

Kian did not move.

Aidan turned off the living room lights as Jimbo peered out one of the glass panels framing the front door. “That’s the shithead BOLO guy.”

“Now, Kian,” Aidan demanded. “Get upstairs now! And stay there.”

“Fine.” She turned and mounted the steps two at a time. “But you are not my boss.”

Aidan, intent on watching the figure approach, did not respond. “Bet he is here for Kian,” he told Jimbo.

“Probably. No other reason to be. I’m goin’ out. Need to check for more of them.”

Aidan heard the kitchen door slam just as he recognized the man approaching. Owen Griffith, Stephen’s arresting officer, the guy who tried to keep him away from Kian at the crime scene.

Aidan ducked back behind the door and waited. There was a bold knock. “Yes, tell me what you want,” Aidan called through the door.

“I need to talk to Kian.”

“About?”

“Not your business. Where is she?”

“And that’s not your business.”

Aidan took a quick glance through the glass panel in time to see Owen close his eyes and take a deep breath. When he let it out, Aidan felt a ball of searing hot fear slam into his solar plexus. He felt himself draw back and watched his right hand reach for the doorknob. Mustering his willpower again, he withdrew it. Damn, where’d this kid learn that? The last time someone had thrown a fireball at him, he was confronting an old sorcerer out west.

“Sorry, jerk, that won’t get you anywhere. Now what do you want?”

Fearing the guy might have more tricks up his sleeve, Aidan peered out the glass panel again. He was right. The officer, it seemed, had grown larger, more imposing. He’d taken on what was often called the ‘Glamour.’ Aidan closed his eyes and shot a ball of fire at the young officer’s solar plexus causing him to stumble back off the porch. The officer looked bewildered, fear now in his eyes.

At that moment Jimbo appeared from behind and grabbed Owen’s arms, holding him in a lock. Aidan rushed out, disarmed the man, and then patted him down for good measure. He found a knife strapped to the officer’s ankle. Once disarmed, Aidan and Jimbo showed the officer into the house.

Aidan scowled at the young man. “Where’d you learn to throw fireballs?”

“Look man, you don’t understand. In fact you have no idea.”

“Try me,” said Aidan.

“You won’t believe me. I need to see Kian.”

“She’s not here. Now talk to me. Why are you here?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” Owen countered, pointing to Aidan’s duffle beside the sofa. “Why are you staying here?”

“Because someone is shooting at Kian and I don’t see you or your department doing anything about it. Now you.”

“It’s a long story.”

“So tell it.” Aidan pointed to the dining table and motioned Owen to take a chair. He sat across from the young officer while Jimbo, arms crossed, leaned against the open counter between the kitchen and the dining table.

“I know this is going to sound crazy,” Owen said, “but our families, Kian’s and mine, we go back more years than anyone would believe. I’m going to be straight with you. Kian’s in more danger than you realize. She may have something priceless, beyond anyone’s measure. Something I was sworn to protect, as were my ancestors before me. And, something your scheming boss wants.”

Aidan looked at Jimbo. Maybe he was legitimate, Aidan figured. Or maybe he wasn’t.

Jimbo nodded. “See, well, we already know that, shit-for-brains. Now tell us something we don’t know.”

Aidan could see the officer getting agitated. He watched as Owen closed his eyes again. Aidan prepared himself for another fireball, this time raising an invisible shield that would turn it back on the young man. But instead, the air became lighter and brighter. It felt like open empty space.

“She’s upstairs, isn’t she?” He turned toward the steps. “Kian, get down here now!”

 

 

Kian heard men arguing. She crept back to the top of the staircase to listen and recognized Owen’s voice. Had he said he was sworn to protect something, as were his ancestors before him? She was jolted. The Ark? Had to be. Paralda said there were Guardians for the Ark. Oh, now it all fits.

Then she heard Owen ordering her downstairs.

“All right, that’s it,” Kian muttered as she descended the steps and rounded the corner into the dining area.

Aidan was the first one to see her. “Kian, get back upstairs.”

Kian glared at him. “Stop ordering me around.”

“Way to go, girl,” Owen said.

“And, Owen Griffiths, don’t you tell me what to do either.”

She gave her words a moment to sink in as she took a seat at the table. “Now, what’s this all about?”

Jimbo, still standing leaning his back on the counter to the kitchen, was the first to speak. “Officer Griffiths here was one of the officers on the BOLO.”

“Owen? Were you going to take me in?”

“No, I wasn’t. But better I should be here than someone who doesn’t know you.”

“Point taken,” Kian said as she turned to Aidan. “Owen’s a friend of mine, always has been and always will be.”

Owen reached for her hand and patted it gently. “Kian, we need to talk privately.”

She pulled her hand back. “You can talk in front of them.”

“Kian, I am serious.”

“And I am tired of being treated like a child. Now why are you here?”

“Because of them.” Owen pointed first at Aidan then at Jimbo. “Do you know who their boss is?”

“Power is Aidan’s boss, not Jimbo’s and, yes, I know. What we don’t know is why you have not arrested Power yet.”

“They can’t get a court order,” Aidan jumped in. “At least that part is clear.”

Owen nodded before continuing, “Look, Power is after something….”

“I know. The Ark,” Kian said.

Owen’s eyes went wide. “You know about the Ark? Jacob finally told you?”

“No,” Kian said exasperated. “I had to find out for myself. The hard way, with people shooting at me. Why does everyone keep secrets from me?”

“We decided it would be safer,” Owen said.

Owen went to take her hand but, again, she yanked it away. “Who’s ‘we’?”

“Jacob, my parents, me,” Owen responded. “Listen, when your parents did not come back, we figured maybe Power killed them. Because Power and a couple of guys showed up here after that and they were stalking you….”

Kian, growing angrier, had all she could do to keep her voice steady. “And you were planning on telling me about being stalked exactly…, when?”

“Kian, calm down and just listen to me. Your parents went to get the Ark. When they did not come back, well we thought maybe Power got it. But when he showed up here, we knew he wouldn’t be watching you if he had the Ark. So now you were in danger, too.”

“Go on. That doesn’t explain why you never told me.”

He looked at her, and Kian could see true concern in his eyes. “See, the problem was that we thought Power might use you to find the Ark, so we decided as long as you didn’t show signs of knowing things or of having the Second Sight, then he’d leave you alone. That’s why you went to Boston instead of living here with us.”

“So you just shipped me off, let me think god-knows-what about my parents, and then ignored me. That’s great, Owen, just great.” There were tears in Kian’s eyes.

 

Photo Attribution:

By Christos Doudoulakis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 19

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

Aidan listened attentively as Kian related her vision about her parents. When she explained about the hidden room in the cave, he was intrigued.

“We should check it out, maybe move the Ark back there with the rest of the stuff. How close is the cave?”

“We can get there in maybe ten minutes with the Jeep.”

“How much canned food do you have?”

“Not a lot. Do you think we can get to a store?”

“At last count, there were four vehicles out back and we have bugs on all of them.” Aidan checked his tablet. “All parked together. Grab your Dad’s translations with the other valuable stuff.”

“Sure.” Kian was already taking the stairs two at a time.

While she was upstairs, Aidan went through her kitchen and pantry. He estimated she had a two-day supply of non-perishable food. Then he remembered Jimbo’s appetite. That cut it to less than one day. He packed what he’d found in a box, put the bag of cat food on top and hauled it to the Jeep. After that, he went to his Land Rover, retrieved two boxes of dried meals, and put them in the back. Kian came out with a loaded backpack and an arm full of her dad’s papers.

“Where’s the Ark?”

“In my backpack,” Kian replied. “Hurry, I don’t like leaving Lucky all alone in the house.”

They shopped for supplies in town, then Kian drove back toward the house while Aidan kept his eye on his tablet. “One car is moving.”

“Where’s it going?”

“On the highway in front of us. It just went past your house.”

When Kian reached her dirt road Aidan announced, “A second car is moving.” She turned onto her road. A few seconds later he said, “It’s following us.” Suddenly afraid for Lucky, Kian floored the gas pedal, leaving clouds of dust behind.

The Jeep, made for agility, not speed, was no match for the Mercedes chasing them. Kian saw it in her rearview mirror. The last thing she wanted was to lead the perp back to her house and Lucky. As she neared the pine tree and the cut off, she took a quick left, barely scraping the tree as she flew past the deep rut. Aidan swung around to look. He saw the Mercedes hit the rut, bounce up, and sink, splashing muddy water onto its windshield. It tried to back up, but the axel was caught. “Good work, kiddo. It’ll take an elephant to get that car out. Can we get to the cave from here?”

“Lucky. I gotta go back and get him.”

“Kian, I swear to you, we’ll get Lucky, even if I have hire an army to do it, but we need to supply the cave first. It’ll take them a while to get that car out anyway.” Kian knew he was right.

Aidan’s phone buzzed. “I got bad news, buddy.” It was Jimbo. “Two more friggin’ cars showed up, and that turd-for-brains Power found out the police arrested our fake Stephen. Everyone is breaking camp and pulling out.”

The visual was too much for Kian. “Turd-for-brains?” She laughed.

Aidan did, too. “Listen,” he finally said, “Two cars left a few minutes ago. One headed to town, the second one chased us. Do you know who they are?”

“One was a guy who showed up with Power last night. He left first, and then a woman named Raven left.”

“Raven is fake Stephen’s supposed wife. Her car is hung up in a rut about half a mile from the highway. Raven was the one that killed Jacob and shot at Kian. I’ll explain later. Can you get a bug on the other two cars?”

“Already done.” He gave Aidan the codes to punch into the tablet.

When two new dots showed on the map, Aidan said, “Got them. We’re on our way to the caves. We’re stocking them just in case, and then driving back to the house.”

“Sounds good. I gotta get the hell out of here before they find me. I’ll let you know if the bitch comes back. And text if you need me to rescue your sorry ass.”

“Got it.”

Aidan watched as Kian drove the Jeep along a different trail, one that led away from the highway. After about five minutes, Aidan was totally lost. “Where is this place, anyway?”

“Not far now.”

They drove over a third rocky brook. Kian stopped the Jeep. Aidan checked his tablet. They had made a circle and were about a half mile from the stone chambers.

They got out of the Jeep. Kian picked up two of the boxes and tied the scrapbooks on top. Aidan got three boxes and then swung the backpack onto his shoulders. Kian led the way up a hill and down into a valley. Within minutes, the old growth forest obscured the Jeep. On foot, they followed a trail made by the deer. It was an easy one as it meandered through a meadow. On the far side, huge ancient evergreens cast dark shadows on the spongy ground. Kian turned to the right and stepped behind a tall rock. Aidan followed. They were at a passage wide enough for two. “Is this tunnel natural or man-made?” asked Aidan.

“Originally natural, but I think it was enlarged some.”

The deeper they walked, the darker it got. “Walk with your shoulder against the wall. It’s safer that way. I used to play here as a child.”

A small beam of light shone through a hole in the rock above. Kian put her boxes down and worked her hands around a boulder. When her fingers settled into two handholds chipped into its side, she stepped back and motioned to Aidan. “Here, look.” She took Aidan’s hands and placed his fingers into the pecked indentations. “Now lean back and pull the boulder with you.” He did and the rock moved, leaving a twelve inch opening. “If you don’t have your hands just right, it won’t move. Something about balance. Too high and you push it down. Too low and you push it up.”

Aidan peered into the darkness of the cave.

Kian entered the cave and made her way to a small table. There she felt about until she found a kerosene lantern and a lighter. It took several tries, but the lighter caught and she was able to get the lantern going. It sputtered and threatened to go out several times before it gave off the light required. “That’s a miracle,” she said.

Aidan stacked the five boxes on the floor of the chamber and placed Red’s notes on top. Kian removed the Ark and Wings from the backpack and placed them in a cubbyhole to the back of the cave. Together she and Aidan moved a large stone in front to hide them from view.

When Kian was satisfied that all was secure, she showed Aidan how to move the rock back into place to close off the chamber.

As they turned to leave, Aidan pointed down the tunnel that continued past the cave. “Where does that go?”

“Back to a bigger cave. There’s some pottery, mats, old stuff the Native people had. I’ll take you there some time, if you’d like.”

She moved in close to him and wrapped her arms around him, but Aidan pulled away this time. He rested his hand on her shoulder. “I’d like to explore a lot of things with you. But right now we can’t let ourselves get distracted. It could get us killed.”

Kian understood. This wasn’t some bodice-ripper of a novel after all. “Come on, let’s get those other boxes,” she said.

The second trip to the cave seemed shorter because the load was lighter. This time they took a few minutes to check the items Kian’s parents had left in the cave. The candles still worked, and the blankets were a bit musty but usable. The cans of food had corroded. There was kerosene in a can and two more lanterns on a shelf. When they tested them, they still worked.

Aidan asked about the water supply, and Kian took him to a stream down a narrow passage. It flowed so swiftly no algae had formed on the rocks.

“It’s a perfect place to hide,” Kian said. “We could stay here forever if we had to.”

Aidan opened his tablet. “Except for one thing. We’re blind in here.”

 

When they got back to the Jeep, Aidan took his cell phone and punched at the keys.

Jimbo answered. “Need me to save your sorry ass already?”

“Not yet. Where are you?”

“Out back behind the house. And you?”

Kian grabbed the phone. “Is Lucky okay?”

“Preening himself in the back window.”

She handed the phone back to Aidan and climbed into the Jeep.

Aidan pulled himself up into the passenger seat and closed the door. “Jimbo, do you know where Raven is?”

“Power picked her up. She didn’t look too happy. The tracking device indicates they are in town. All the others are scattered throughout town.”

“All the others? How many?”

“At least eleven, last count. What’s that asshole Power doing anyway?”

“Beats me. Finding out is why I got you.”

“Now you tell me.”

Aidan studied his tablet. “I still see one vehicle at the old camp.”

“The maroon SUV. They ditched it, literally. Let it roll down a ravine.”

“Got-cha. On our way.”

Kian turned the Jeep around and started to drive back to the house.

When they got to Kian’s road, Aidan asked her to stop so he could inspect the Mercedes. It had been stripped before it was abandoned. “I don’t like leaving it here,” he said. “It blocks the back way. Always have an escape.”

“No problem. We’ll make another way.” While Aidan watched from the vantage point of the stuck Mercedes, Kian backed up a few feet, then swung the Jeep further to the right. She drove about two hundred feet, and then turned sharply left, heading back toward the Mercedes. Even with pine needles cushioning the way, Aidan could see that the Jeep bounced wildly. Twenty feet from the old track and the Mercedes, a large branch blocked the way. Kian climbed out of the Jeep. “Help me move it, will you?”

Aidan hurried over. Together they were able to swing the branch out, leaving just enough room to pass. With the way now clear, it was easy to get around the Mercedes and back to the Jeep trail.

“How many trails are there around here?”

“A lot. Most were carriage roads and mining tracks at one time. You just have to know where they are. Before my parents left, they kept the tracks cleared. Now a lot have saplings and small trees growing on them. Some are too big for me to cut and move by myself.”

When their Jeep reached the dirt road, Aidan’s cell phone buzzed. He answered it. “You are on speaker. What’s up?”

“Right after you called, a couple of the local officers showed up. Long story short, Power put out a ‘be-on-the-lookout,’ a BOLO for you, Kian, and two officers were sent to pick you up. One guy seemed impressed as hell because Power is FBI. He saw the blood on the porch and wanted to go in.”

“Are they still there?”

“Nope, I scared them off.” Kian and Aidan looked at each other.

“How’d you do that?” Kian asked.

“Did my Bigfoot impersonation.” Jimbo let out a piercing howl. “I shook a tree, threw some rocks, walked around like I owned the place.”

“Didn’t they see you?”

“Sure did. Well, anyway, seems this place has a reputation for being strange. One of the officers said, ‘Told you this place was spooky,’ and took off. The second guy followed making the sign of the cross. They left in a big hurry, I’ll tell you that.” Jimbo chuckled.

Kian and Aidan pulled up to the house as a large brown figure stepped through the trees toward them. Its shape was indistinct, eyes menacing, the creature let out a howling screech.

Kian gasped and grabbed Aidan’s arm.

A big grin plastered across his face, Jimbo stepped out of the woods and lowered the ratty old horse blanket. “Why’d you jackasses take so long?”

 

Photo Attribution: Percy Benzie Abery [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 18

 

 

SIG_Sauer_P226_neu.jpgCHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

Once showered and dressed, Kian put the books away and straightened the library. She picked up the book about Chokole and was reading on the sofa and stroking Lucky, soothed by his purr, when she heard a thud in the barn followed by loud scraping sounds.

Kian felt vulnerable. Why wait until tomorrow? She and Lucky should go to the cave today. As soon as Aidan gets back.

Kian retrieved her cat carrier from the hallway closet, grabbed a bag of unopened dry food, and placed the two next to the front door. Should she leave the Ark and Wings hidden or take them along? Could she be sure nobody would find them under her attic floor?

Kian heard someone shout outside, then a gunshot. It sounded like it came from the barn.

Oh my god! She ducked down, swooped Lucky up into her arms, and pushed him into his carrier. Her hands were trembling. She tossed her backpack over her shoulder. “Off we go, buddy,” she said as she grabbed the carrier and placed her hand on the doorknob. She peeked out one of the long glass panels next to the door. Fake Stephen emerged from behind Jimbo’s truck. She could not go out the front. There was no way to get to the Jeep. Which rule said to always have an escape?

When Kian looked back out the window, she saw fake Stephen holding his hand. Blood dripped into a small pool in front of him. He was wounded. The odds of escaping out the front were about even now. It might be worth taking the risk. She looked again. It was his right hand. She tried to remember. Was he right handed? She did not know.

When Stephen spoke to someone behind him, her heart sank. There was no way she could get past two of them. Kian would have to take Lucky through the kitchen and out the side door. She would hide in the woods until Aidan returned.

But what if Aidan was walking into a trap?

She took one last glance out the front window and heard Aidan call to her. “Kian!”

“Aidan, be careful, they’re out front,” she shouted back.

“I know. I got him.” Confused, Kian looked out the small glass panel again. Fake Stephen was approaching the porch steps, Aidan following behind and holding him at gunpoint. “Open up, will you?”

She opened the door and stepped back.

“There’s a dirty tee-shirt on my bag. Toss it to this creep,” Aidan said. Kian grabbed the garment and threw it to Stephen who immediately wrapped his bleeding hand.

“Get everything off the sink,” Aidan said. “Anything this bastard could use as a weapon.”

Kian hurried in front of them. She didn’t think the spice jars constituted a lethal weapon, but the paring knives did, so she shoved them onto a pantry shelf along with the cutting board. She hurried back to remove the plastic dish drainer stacked with last night’s dishes–all breakable, Kian figured, and the sharp edges could be dangerous.

“To your left and into the kitchen,” Aidan growled. Kian turned to see Aidan press his gun into the man’s lower back, pushing him forward two steps. “Put that hand over the sink. Kian, is this the guy who claims to be Jacob’s son?”

“Yes.” She reached for the wall phone.

“Ms. Buchanan, I’m bleeding. You gotta do something,” the man pleaded as he walked past, holding out his wounded hand. His voice shook, the tone wildly out of control, and his brow dripping from sweat.

“She is doing something. She’s calling the cops. Should be here in ten minutes, so unless you want them to find a corpse with a shot-up hand, you better start talking. There is a man called Power walking around out there. How do you know him?”

“Look, man, he’ll kill me if I say anything, I swear. Man, you don’t understand.”

“No, I don’t. So spit it out. How do you know this guy Power?”

“He brought me in for questioning on bond trading. The trading wasn’t, well, exactly kosher.”

“Power brought you in for illegal bond trading. Then what?”

“He threatened me. Said I’d go to jail. So I told him to wait ’cause I got a wife and kids, and I can’t go to jail.”

He looked from Aidan to Kian. She saw pleading in his eyes. This cold-blooded killer was pleading with her. She wanted to slap him. Hard.

“Go on,” Aidan demanded.

“Threatened my family, too. Called it Power’s Finishing School. Man, it didn’t take a genius to know what he meant by that and every time he talked to me, he said it again. Don’t you see, I was stuck?”

“Tell me what Power wanted you to do.” Aidan’s tone was sharp now as he scowled at Stephen.

“It seemed clear enough.” Stephen replied. “Raven and I. We had to pretend to be Jacob’s son, his daughter-in-law.”

“Raven? I thought her name was Charlene, or Mary, or something like that,” Kian shrieked, shaking with rage. She didn’t really want to talk to him, she wanted to make him pay. With blood. She glared at him, staring straight into his now terrified eyes.

“Raven,” he managed to choke out, looking down to avoid her stare. “We called her Charlene. It sounded better. Classy. Kinda French.”

“Go on, why did you pretend to be Jacob’s son?” Aidan’s scowl deepened.

“To get him to change his will. Leave everything to me. Then I would turn around and give it to Power.”

“You didn’t have to kill him.” Kian spit the words at him. She could barely hold herself back now. She wanted to go at Stephen with rusty razor blades.

“Wait, lady, wait! I didn’t kill the old guy. Raven did. Not me. She’d have killed you too. Only I stopped her. I pushed her. When she shot at you. Lady, she’s a crack shot. Doesn’t matter how much weaving you did. She’d have hit you for sure.”

“I think you are just trying to save your sorry ass,” Aidan countered. “I should turn you over to Power. Let him finish you.”

“Man, no, please! I’m telling you the truth. Look, I didn’t want to kill the old guy. That was Raven. I just tried to scare him. Power wanted to know about this artifact. A pair of wings or something. Look, I tried to be nice. Get on Jacob’s good side.”

The kitchen clock ticked away. Time was running short. The local authorities would be arriving in two or three minutes.

“Tell me what happened Thursday night,” Kian demanded. “I want to know what you did Thursday night.”

“I slipped that date rape drug into his tea. To loosen his tongue. It made him dopey. When Raven found out, she lost it. Told him to kneel on the floor. He didn’t, so she pushed him down. Tied his wrists with duct tape.” Stephen looked up at the clock and then at his bleeding hand.

“Go on.” Kian wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the rest, but she had to know. She just had to.

Stephen continued to stare at his hand and at the blood now dripping onto a soapy sponge. “She took this leather cord. Wrapped it around his neck. Said something about a Three-Fold Death.”

“Then what?” Aidan demanded.

“The old man kept falling. Passing out. She got mad as hell and yanked him up.” Stephen looked up at that moment and caught Kian’s eye. She saw him shudder. “She’s cold! You have no idea.” With his good hand, he wiped first his right, then his left eye before continuing. “Her temper. She was screaming. And twisted the cord again. Too hard. I heard his neck go pop. Then she took her knife. Slit his throat.”

Aidan demanded, “And what did you do, you scumbag?”

“I kept shouting, ‘Let’s leave.’ But, no. She got this bowl. Put water in it and shoved his face in it. Then she looked me straight in the eyes. ‘That’s the Three-Fold Death,’ she said. ‘Remember it. I can do it to you, too.'”

Kian continued to glare at Stephen. Uncle Jacob was probably too drugged to know what was happening. But that thought did not make her feel any better. She heard a police siren in the distance.

“You got one more minute to answer my questions,” Aidan growled. “Why didn’t you let Raven kill Kian?”

“I was sick to my stomach. Her killing the old man and all. I told Raven, why kill the girl? We need to find this Ark thing. Even Raven had to agree to that.”

Aidan scowled at him. “When you had your chance, why didn’t you leave?”

“Look, I’m no hero. If I leave, I’m dead and it won’t be pretty. And they will go after my family. Don’t you see? If I run away, someone pays. It’s that simple.”

The police car pulled up to the house. Kian opened the door and watched as her childhood friend, Owen Griffiths, took three long strides up the steps.

“Are you okay?” Owen looked around the large open room, a frown crossing his face when he saw Aidan. “What’s he doing here?”

“Helping me,” Kian replied, a warm smile on her face. Owen scowled at her again, then looked at Aidan who was checking Stephen’s bleeding hand.

“You’ll live,” Aidan said. Without turning around, Aidan addressed the responding officer, “FBI. My ID is on the table.”

“I know damn well who you are.” He looked past Aidan to the suspect. “Well, well, if it isn’t Stephen Steiner, con artist and murderer. Where’s that ugly wife of yours?”

Looking sullen, Stephen ignored the officer.

“I take it I am arresting this man,” Owen said, handing an old plastic bag to Stephen to wrap around his bleeding hand. “What’s the charge? Homicide?”

“Start with breaking and entering, and drawing a weapon on an FBI agent,” Aidan said as the officer cuffed his suspect. “I don’t think we can charge him with dropping that weapon or shooting himself in the hand, but accomplice to murder sounds good.” Aidan secured his own weapon.

“Fine.” Owen looked at Kian, “I’ll be back later. Stay put.”

Now Owen was ordering her around. Kian felt her hackles rise, but she held her tongue.

Owen scowled at Aidan one last time before turning to leave. By the time his prisoner reached the bottom step, the officer had read Stephen his rights.

Kian closed the door just as Lucky let out a piercing howl. “Oh, no!” Kian bent down to open the carrier door. Aidan looked at the carrier, the bag of dry food, and Kian’s stuffed backpack.

“Going somewhere?”

 

 

 

Photo Attribution:

Hardenacke at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons