Authors: Moxie North
“Brooke…” he started, trying to gather his thoughts. “I believe that the universe puts certain people in our paths for a reason. Sometimes they are there for a short time and only make the slightest impact on our lives.” Tanner watched her cock her head to the side in that cute way she did as she tried to understand him.
Taking a deep breath, he continued. “Then I think people are put in our paths who are meant to make a much bigger change to who we are. I trust the universe, fate, whatever you want to call it, to guide my life. I know that every person that I interact with on a daily basis is an opportunity for me to grow, to learn, sometimes to just keep me humble. I believe that you are important to my life. To my future. There is a reason you ran to Apex. There is a reason I was there with you in the woods. I can tell you that you are important. So very important to who I’m supposed to be in the future.”
those moments in life when you have a choice to make. Every person has the instinctual fight or flight mechanism in their brain. Brooklyn Nishi knew that and had learned to listen closely to that instinct from her father’s many lessons.
Haruto was a doctor, like his father before him. His family had emigrated from Japan before he was born to live the American dream. He was focused, dedicated, and often formal, even with his daughter.
Her mother, Maybelle, grew up in Louisiana and never quite fit in with that part of the South. She had free thinking ideas and wanted to go to a college where she wouldn’t stand out. Looking in California, she decided Berkley would be the perfect choice. That is where she met Haruto. She liked to call him Harry, and they fell in love while petitioning for signatures to end nuclear testing. They were polar opposites who constantly gave Brooklyn a well-rounded view of the world.
Which way she chose to act depended on whether she heard her mother’s voice or her father’s voice in her head.
Her mother would be the one that would stand up and fight. Raising her voice the loudest so her words would be heard. Her father on the other hand would assess, debate, then usually retreat. Today, they were silent in her head. No input, no words of wisdom, just static.
Right this moment, she was frozen in fear. Her hind brain, the part that kept her alive, was screaming
play dead, you fool
Brooklyn had chosen her career carefully. Her father wanted her to be a doctor like him. Her mother wanted her to be whatever she wanted as long as she was happy. She’d compromised and decided to become a nurse. She figured it was a noble profession with less schooling than a doctor, but more patient interaction. Then she realized bodily fluids were not her thing.
not her thing.
She finished nursing school because she wasn’t a quitter and didn’t want to squander the money she’d already spent on her education. Then she switched gears to get her Bachelor of Science in nursing and then her Master’s degree. She’d been the hospital administrator at St. Luke’s now for almost three years. She loved working with people, away from the blood and gore.
Today she was facing blood and gore. A lot of it. She’d heard that an ambulance was bringing in a gunshot victim from outside their service area. This wasn’t totally unheard of when other hospitals had an overflow, or there was a disaster. Often, though, it was because they figured St. Luke’s was closer, and they liked to restock at her hospital more than others.
It was ten o’clock on a Friday night, and she was in no mood for it, so she was on her way down to have a word with the ambulance crew. Normally she’d have the ER relay her wishes, but she wanted to make it clear they weren’t a dumping zone.
When she walked outside to confront the ambulance crew, she saw they were in the last bay leading to the hospital. There was room for four aid vehicles at a time, so most took the first spot near the door. This vehicle was as far from the door as they could get, just a stone’s throw from the loading dock where supplies and laundry come and go.
This was not totally out there; maybe it was their lucky spot. What was confusing were the two rough looking jean-clad men in patched leather vests that were loading boxes into the back of the ambulance while three men wearing suits looked to be supervising.
The whole scene was confusing. It didn’t make any sense. When Brooklyn stopped short, wobbling on her tan heels, no one noticed her. Her palms went instantly damp, the clammy sensation traveling over her body. Nothing about what she was seeing was normal. Her brain was unable to process the scene before her.
But it didn’t take a rocket scientist to quickly deduce that someone was using the ambulance to move something they didn’t want anyone else to know about.
It was like something out of a TV show. Brooklyn’s brain was trying to keep up with the reality of her situation. The men in the leather vests appeared to be from some sort of motorcycle club. One turned, and she saw the back of his leather said
. There was no way that was a knitting club.
Brooklyn could also see that while the bikers looked relaxed, the mob looking guys did not. They were nervous, eyes darting around. One of them had his hand tucked into his jacket, clearly ready to pull out something that would cause a body serious damage.
The last boxes were loaded, and the bikers closed the back of the ambulance. The two men turned to the suits and in a blink the one with his hand in his suit had pulled out a long dark gun with a silencer. The two shots were barely audible as Brooklyn saw the bikers’ heads jerk back. Gory holes opened in the back of each head, blood and brains flying out in what felt like slow motion before Brooklyn’s eyes.
She never saw the injuries happen to patients, only the results. This was worse than a movie. The noises – not just the shots from the muffled gun but the fluid, viscous smack of brain and spinal fluid hitting the pavement – were sounds she’d never forget.
Brooklyn knew it was just a matter of seconds, from the trigger being pulled and the bodies hitting the ground. She also knew she must have made a noise. She didn’t know if it was a gasp or a scream, but the eyes of the suits turned to her.
Fight or flight kicked in, and she flew. Back into the hospital, back to the safety of numbers. After that, she had no plan but she felt that her life had changed. Brooklyn just didn’t know how much.
his hand through his hair, ruffling the brown curls, Tanner Rochon gave a loud sigh. Today was not his day. Normally Fridays were a cakewalk, but the day was not going to plan. A drunk driver started his morning off in a bad way. As the only Sheriff in the small town of Apex, he was on duty more than he wasn’t. He had two deputies who shared duties with him and usually that was enough, but some days it seemed like he never was away from it.
After the drunk driver, he’d gotten a call that Tommy Seymore had stolen soda, a dirty magazine, and a bottle of cooking oil from the gas station. That required a trip to his parents’ house where arrangements were made to have him work for Mr. Angelo for a month to make up for his transgression.
He thought that was the end of his excitement. His plan to patrol town was thwarted when Gabriel, one of his many cousins, called and said he had an emergency and needed to talk to him.
Now he was waiting. Gabriel was young, just twenty, but he was family. Tanner’s bear clan pretty much took up the whole peninsula in Washington. The family had been there for generations. Tanner’s father and uncles ran Rochon Lumber, along with the mills and a large trucking company. His father worked in the mills and had expected his only son to work there as well.
Tanner wasn’t a lumber man. In fact, every summer he’d spent working the family business made it very clear to him that he was not destined to take over. He liked watching cop shows when he was young, thought about the military for a while, but didn’t want to leave home for long periods of time. Staying and smelling like sawdust for the rest of his life wasn’t his grand plan, so the police academy seemed like a logical choice. He’d be home with his family, including his two sisters, plus he could do some good.
Being the sheriff of a small town that, unbeknownst to the local populace, was full of shifters actually made his job easier. His family was in every part of the town. His aunts ran shops, restaurants, and sat on the local boards. His uncles, including his dad, still had their hands in the family businesses. Most of his cousins all worked locally too. The Rochons were a legacy in their small town.
Sometimes it felt like his dumbass cousins were the biggest pain in his butt.
The door to his office opened, and a disheveled looking Gabriel walked in, his eyes on Tanner.
“What the hell did you do now?” Tanner skipped any sort of greeting. He wasn’t in the mood. His young cousins loved to raise hell, and it was usually him stuck cleaning up after them.
“It wasn’t my fault!” Gabe was a tall man that was a little on the gangly side. His body was just starting to bulk out but still had that youthful look. His overly long hair fell into his eyes. His clothing showed signs he’d left it on the ground and put it back on heedless of the dirt and leaves stuck to it.
Tanner let out a snort. “Sure, just like it wasn’t your fault when Kyle ended up with his ass glued to that porta-potty seat,” he reminded him. Although he’d laughed about it later, it did take the EMTs and a bottle of acetone to unstick him.
“No, that was totally me.” Gabriel laughed proudly, then sobered when he saw the look in his cousin’s eye.
“So what now?” Tanner asked. He really wanted to get this done. He needed coffee, and not from the crusty pot in the corner. That was emergency use only. He wanted the good stuff, the stuff that made your eyes twitch and your hands jitter.
“So here’s how it happened. I went out for a run, you know…a
?” Gabriel gave him a raised eyebrow.
Tanner gave him the finger roll in the air urging him to continue.
“So I was out running and out of nowhere, I mean it totally threw my bear off course, was a woman!” Gabriel said this like it was the oddest thing he could find in the woods. Not a spaceship or Bigfoot, just a woman.
“A woman? Was she a hiker?” He had no idea where this was going, but his bear was giving him a clear indicator that he wasn’t going to like where this story ended.
“Uh, I don’t think so. No backpack, she was wearing regular shoes. Anyway, she saw my bear and screamed. Like
, dude. Then ran straight towards the river. We turned the other way and went back to my clothes. I tried to walk back through the way we came to see if she was okay, but I couldn’t find her. She wasn’t running towards the trailhead, so I’m worried she might be lost. I mean, she could be fine…I don’t know,” he finished sheepishly.
“So let me get this straight. You went for a run and scared the shit out of a civilian that clearly was not someone who should be out in the woods. Then you waited to come and tell me in person that she might still be out there?” Tanner narrowed his eyes at his cousin. Clearly the Rochon intelligence gene had skipped this one. Or he was just a young idiot.
Blushing, Gabriel mumbled, “Ah, yeah?”
“And still you say it with a questioning tone in your voice,” Tanner said with a sigh. “I’m calling your dad. You call whoever you can think of to come help us look for her. Where were you?”
“The Snake Split trailhead. Just towards the creek. There’s never hikers out there; those aren’t maintained paths. It’s usually empty,” Gabriel tried to defend himself.
“It’s also less than a quarter mile through the woods to the motel. Obviously it was someone who didn’t know where they were going. Let’s head out. Grab some walkies from the storeroom and then meet me at the trailhead.”
Grabbing his own walkie off the desk, he made a call to search and rescue just in case. It would be easier to track a human if they had a dog tracking through the woods. Plus, they had no idea if she was even still out there. She might be long gone.
“Gabriel, I need a description,” he said, turning to the young man who was texting on his phone at lightning speed.
“Uh…” Gabriel stared at the ceiling, and Tanner gave him a moment. Recalling memories from your animal was easy, but it was a joint operation.
“She was average height? Her hair was shortish? Like…you know, bouncy curly?” Gabriel said vaguely.
“Why does everything you say sound like a question?” Tanner growled.
“So, yeah, darker skin, she was pretty. Maybe Asian? Her eyes were really pretty,” he trailed off and refocused. “She was wearing a tan coat, the kind with a drawstring in the middle. Jeans, I think too.”
Tanner relayed the information to search and rescue. He packed up the gear bag he kept loaded to cover any situations he might come across in the woods. Most people who grew up near the woods knew that even on day hikes you needed to be prepared.
Tanner knew his day sucked, but it was about to get so much more complicated.