At the tree line, I felt the whiz of a bullet tickle my ear. Naturally, I dropped like a stone, losing my hold on Carson as I crumpled into the freezing hell of a snowdrift. Bark exploded from a nearby tree, and it took me all of a second to realize that had I not dropped, the inside of my head would be decorating this tiny little patch of trees.
The shooter could see us, which wasn’t hard since it was freaking winter and only the evergreens provided even a shred of cover.
So, this was what fucked looked like. Awesome.
Keeping low, I snatched Carson’s collar, ready to not get dead in this stupid freaking forest. Fighting against his heft and the drag of the snow, I managed to pull us behind the lush branches of a Fir, and prayed the shooter didn’t decide to get a closer look.
Spots danced in front of my eyes as I crouched. My breaths were coming in noisy little pants. Hyperventilating. Get it together, Gemini.
I swore I wouldn’t make fun of a horror movie heroine ever again. From the outside looking in, it was easy to think I could just breathe quieter, slower. I could pick Carson up, think clearer. But every thought was like spun molasses in my brain, and every action took far too much concentration. I didn’t have a cell, but Carson might.
Turning back to check on Carson, my heart soared as I noticed the black plastic radio attached to his shoulder. Our salvation wrapped up in a bit of electronics and plastic. I could call for help.
But was the shooter a cop? Wouldn’t a distress call just be giving myself away?
My eyes latched onto the crawling puddle of blood seeping into the snow underneath the officer.
Fuck it. Clicking the button, I refused to let myself hesitate.
“Officer down. Officer down. I need a bus and lights and sirens. Active shooter on Old Mill Road at mile marker seventy-eight.”
A startled voice croaked through the mic, “S-say again?”
I clicked the button again as a shot rang out, and snow showered us as I let out a startled squeal. “Officer down,” I repeated praying my voice didn’t crack. “I need EMS and tactical support. Active shooter. Old Mill Road, marker seventy-eight. We’re in the trees for cover.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the man’s voice sounded surer as he rattled off the call for all units, likely forgetting to click off with me as he did so.
I worried the call didn’t go through for about a millisecond before I got down to the business of keeping Carson alive. I unbuckled my belt and began the awkward task of wrapping it around his shoulder. I didn’t know how effective the thin leather would be as a tourniquet or even if the blood could be slowed from this angle, but I had to try.
As I cinched the leather tight, Carson’s eyes fluttered open, a tortured groan falling from his lips.
Carson’s eyes rolled back in his head for a moment before he shook himself, inhaling a huge agonized breath as his gaze focused on me. His left arm dug in the snow, reaching for his back pocket for his wallet.
“You have to call my handler,” he said, his staggered words slurred with pain. “Need help. Protective custody.”
Together, we worked his wallet free, and his bloodstained fingers found the slip of paper he was looking for. Trembling, he passed the card to me.
“Call him. Soon as… you can…” At that, Carson passed out.
Shivering, I slipped the card into my bra and then stuffed Carson’s wallet into the inside pocket of his uniform jacket. Carson’s handler. I wondered if I would dare call him. If somehow this whole damn state was corrupt as this tiny-ass town in the middle of bumfuck nowhere filled with people with too much money and too much power.
But someone sent him here to dig, and Carson was doing it despite his family ties and loyalty.
Yeah, I’d have to call the handler. If I made it out of here, I’d scratch it at the tippy top of my to-do list.
A minute later, when the sound of sirens reached my ears, I finally felt a tiny bit of hope.
* * * * *
“You’re telling me you just found him in the road like that, and good Samaritan you are, you dragged two hundred pounds of dead weight into the trees?” Collins roared at me as I stared up at him from my perch in the surgery waiting room.
The room was crowded with the few officers not looking for Carson’s shooter, but the whole of them were staring at me. Yeah, I was lying my ass off about just finding Carson like that, but everything else about my story was true, so I put on my indignant hat on and fired away.
“Look, man, if you don’t believe me, look at the scene. I’m pretty sure my rental is exactly where I parked it when I saw him lying in the road. Not to mention the bright red blood trail that points exactly where I drug his heavy ass in the trees.” I paused to hold up my bloodstained hands, which highlighted the jagged ruin of my nails. “Do these hands look like I just came from the spa? No. They look like I just tried to save a man’s life. Your officer is alive right this second because I pulled him to cover.”
A part of me worried if the reason Carson got shot in the first place was because of me. If he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and I was the one meant to be bleeding out on an operating table. Guilt swamped me, and I fought back tears as I stood, refusing to let Collins intimidate me for one more second.
“Someone shot your officer, Collins. Someone almost blew my head off in those woods. I suggest you look into that instead of wondering at my feat of strength.”
Collins looked like he’d really enjoy slapping the shit out of me, and if he didn’t have so many witnesses, he probably would have.
“Don’t leave town, Perry. You’re the cause of this shit, and as soon as I get even a shred of evidence you caused that shooting, I will rain down everything I have on you. Freedom will be a memory when I’m done with you, you hear me?” Collins seethed through clenched teeth.
I tried to keep the fear off my face as I volleyed back. “First you want me to go, now you want me to stay. You’re gonna hafta make up your mind, Captain,” I drawled, my southern accent as strong as I could make it.
Collins raised his fist, ready to put all his strength into the blow before his arm was caught in an iron grip.
“Stand down, Captain,” Noah growled, maneuvering himself in between us.
I hadn’t realized it before now, but Noah towered over Collins by more than a few inches.
“Get the fuck out of here, Graves,” Collins shouted, trying to push past him to get to me.
I had to good sense to back up, climbing over the back of the chair to put some space between me and the crazy man who wanted to hit a girl. A few officers seemed shocked the Captain would stoop so low, the others seemed pissed enough to jump in and help Noah hold the Captain back.
“If you think I’m going to stand here and let you strike the woman that kept Westwood alive, you are out of your fucking mind. I suggest you get the hell out of this hospital and get your shit together, Captain before I put your ass in lockup.”
Noah looked like he was ready to commit murder, and the only thing that would hold him off would be to slide a pair of cuffs on Collins’ wrists.
“You think you can put me in a cell?”
“I think you keep pushing me and you’ll find I’m capable of a whole host of things. None of them you’re gonna like.”
At that barb, Collins swung, his mammoth fist aimed at Noah’s head. But Noah was ready for it, and before I could blink, Collins was in cuffs, his face smashed into the linoleum floor. “Jameson Collins, you are under arrest for assault on an officer, disturbing the peace, obstruction of justice, and whatever the fuck else I can come up with to put your ass away. Kiss your job goodbye, you piece of shit.”
Four uniforms picked Collins up off the floor, dragging him kicking and screaming from the waiting room, the threats he was making only digging the hole deeper. Jameson didn’t know it, but he tried to punch an FBI agent. He. Was. Fucked. I almost wanted to laugh, but the crash of shock from the day made my bones feel like lead.
And then I couldn’t see the screaming likely former police captain because I was staring at the crisp buttons of Noah’s shirt. Once again, he pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket, dabbing my cheek with the soft linen. Only when the cloth made contact did I remember the cut.
“Let’s get you back to your hotel and cleaned up. Okay?”
Noah’s voice was soft, calm. It lulled me into thinking I was safe, so when he led me to his car, I didn’t quibble. It was only after he helped me unlock my door to my hotel room and swore he would keep me safe, did all that had happened came crashing down on my shoulders. I was in the shower, watching the blood turn pink as it swirled down the drain when everything hit me all at once.
I was supposed to be dead. Carson was still in surgery, and he might not make it. My sister was dead. My mother knew something, but she would rather bury her daughter than get answers. My father was coming here, and he’d be caught in the crossfire. And whoever killed my sister was ready and willing to kill to keep it all quiet.
My breaths came in those same short, squeaking pants like I was still in the trees watching Carson’s blood pour from his body. Spots danced in front of my eyes, and I would have gone down except that Noah’s arms seemed to catch me. The scalding water soaking his formerly crisp shirt as he wrapped his arms around me, holding me up.
Safe for the first time all day, I broke apart.
Thank you for reading this chapter of Seek You Find Me! New episodes will release on the last Tuesday of each month. If you enjoy this story, you should check out the Shelter Me Series.