Authors: Brandilyn Collins
andy Sullivan was sweating through an early-morning workout when his cell went off. Bear’s ringtone. Randy snatched up the phone. “Crooner.”
“We got ourselves a second chance with Shaley O’Connor.”
Excitement shot through Randy. “You’re kidding. Where is she?”
“In a cabin in north Montana.”
Randy’s SWAT team served all of Utah, Idaho, and Montana. “They
“She’s there. Fledger too. Local and state police have them surrounded. Fledger’s not communicating. I want you at the Stable in ten minutes. Immediate aerial transport to the scene; we’ll brief on the way. Get moving.”
The line went dead.
In sixty seconds Randy was gunning his car away from the gym.
onald Fledger! We have you surrounded.” The voice from the bullhorn echoed between the cabin and the nearby hill. “Come out with your hands on your head. Nobody will get hurt.”
I cringed at one end of a worn blue couch in the cabin’s living room. I’d heard the voice for almost two hours now. The man had identified himself as Rick Schwartz with the state police. Joshua paced the room, from couch to kitchen and back again. His right hand gripped the shotgun, every movement jerking with tension. His curses mingled with prayers to God to save him.
On the kitchen table lay three handguns. All fully loaded.
How many policemen were outside now? Joshua had closed the cheap white curtains. I had only sound to go by—and I’d heard plenty. Cars arriving, doors slamming.
Joshua halted abruptly and turned accusing eyes on me. “This is all your fault.”
I swallowed. “If I go out there—”
“If you weren’t such a
” He spat the word. “Picture all over the place. Strutting around with that mother of yours.”
he didn’t. Joshua could say what he wanted about me, but not my mom. She would be dying with worry by now.
“Just let me go, Joshua. This’ll all be o—”
“Shut up. Shut
” He stalked over and glared down at me. Evil and blame twisted his face.
With a low growl in his throat, he raised the shotgun and pointed it at my head.
I stared at him, heart pounding. This was it. He was going to pull the trigger.
Joshua whirled toward the sound, both arms thrust into the air. “Shut uuuuuupp!” he bellowed. He waved the gun and stomped toward the front door. “Shut up or she’s dead!”
The bullhorn fell silent. Had they heard him?
He swiveled back toward me. “You’ve done this to me! A prophet of God!”
I bit my lip, barely daring to breathe. I had never seen Joshua this unstable. Trapped, he’d become a raving madman.
How to rationalize with someone like that? How to save my own life?
You won’t be saved, Shaley.
Joshua had meant what he said. If they stormed the cabin, he’d kill me.
sounded overhead. Helicopter. I’d heard it on and off.
I thrust a hand in my straggly hair. It had long ago fallen from the rubber-banded ponytail. My scalp felt oily and sweaty. The bruises on my face were purple and black. My arms and hands were also still bruised, and the skin around my wrists remained raw.
What a way to die.
My eyes closed, and in my mind I saw my own broken body lying next to Joshua’s.
The voice came from deep within me, barely audible, yet firm.
Don’t give up.
I opened my eyes. Watched crazy Joshua resume his stomping back and forth.
Then you’d better help me, God. Because I’ve got nothing left in me.
beat the air above the cabin, as if the helicopter hovered over us. Joshua stopped near the kitchen table, tipped his head up. He smacked the shotgun into both hands and pointed it at the ceiling.
“No, don’t!” The cry burst from me before I could stop it. Joshua pivoted toward me. My hands dug into the couch cushions, my throat going dry. I gulped a breath. “If you shoot, they’ll come running in here. They
Joshua. They’ll think you’re shooting at
“Maybe I will.”
“Do you want to die? Do you
want to die?”
He lowered the gun, suddenly looking like a lost child. “They won’t go away. They won’t leave me
My head nodded. “We need to talk to them. I can tell them to back off.”
letting you go out there.”
“I can shout through a window.”
“Please. Just let me talk to them.”
But his shoulders slumped a little more.
I pushed to my feet.
“Stay there!” He brandished the shotgun at me. “Sit down.”
My foot took a step. Was I moving it? “I’m going to the window. I’ll tell them to go away.”
go near the window.”
I took another step. “They’re not going to hurt me, Joshua. But you need to stay out of sight. You can be at the wall right next to me.”
My legs moved me forward. Joshua watched me, indecision crisscrossing his face. His tongue poked out and licked his upper lip. He pointed the shotgun at me. “You tell them what I say.”
“Okay. I will.”
I reached the front wall, a few feet from the window. My legs shook. I turned to Joshua. “Don’t stand there in the middle of the room.”
He moved to the wall on the other side of the front door. His legs were apart, his weapon trained on me. “Open the curtain.”
In that instant I pictured dozens of men out there, guns pointed
at the cabin. They probably had sharpshooters. One move of the curtain, and all those weapons would swing toward the window.
What if they shot before they saw who it was?
This was crazy. I couldn’t do it.
“Open it!” Joshua’s face reddened.
“I…what if they shoot?”
“Shove your face against the window. They’ll see it’s you.”
Maybe. Maybe not. What if the sun glared against the glass?
My knees turned watery. Another minute and I would fall over. As if it belonged to someone else, my hand reached toward the center of the window. I grasped the curtain on my side. Pushed it back.
Dead silence outside. I knew they’d seen the movement. Every eye was now trained on that window.
“Go!” Joshua pushed the air with his left hand.
I thrust myself toward the window. Pressed my face up to the glass. “Go away!” I yelled as loudly as I could. “I don’t want you here!”
Joshua pressed against the wall, panting. “Say it again.”
“I want to live here!” My left palm raised to the window. “Just leave us alone!”
Nauseating fear spiraled through me. I yanked away from the window. My feet stumbled back until I caught myself.
My eyes locked with Joshua’s.
“Shaley, we hear you.” Schwartz’s voice rolled across the cabin. “Let’s talk some more. We can get you a two-way radio. Then we won’t have to shout.”
I nodded at Joshua, silently pleading. If we could talk to them, maybe they’d calm him down. At least distract him. Maybe…something.
“I got nothin’ to say to them,” Joshua hissed.
“Then I’ll talk.” Somehow I kept my voice steady. “I’ll keep telling them I want to live here with you. That I’m happy. I can’t do it all through a window, Joshua.”
“I ain’t lettin’ anybody come in here. Soon as that door opens, they’ll shoot.”
Some force outside myself pushed me back to the glass. “How do we get the radio?” I yelled. “We don’t want anyone near the cabin!”
“And you’re not goin’ outside, neither.” Joshua took a step closer.
“Just a minute, Shaley,” the bullhorn said.
Silence. Barely breathing, I stayed at the window.
Come on, come on.
Joshua could change his mind in a heartbeat.
“Shaley.” The voice echoed. “We’ll lower it to you from the chopper. Right outside your door. All you have to do is open the door and pull it inside.”
“No!” Joshua’s left fist bashed against the wall. “We ain’t openin’ the door!”
“How else are we going to get it in here?”
“We won’t. Forget it.”
“Joshua, if we say no, at some point every one of them will come barreling in here. We have to convince them to go.”
I turned back toward the window and shouted, “Okay, lower it!” Immediately I pulled back and slid the curtain shut.
Joshua let loose a string of curses. “What’d you do that for?” He stalked toward me, fire in his eyes. “I’m just gonna kill you right now.”
“Fine.” My throat tightened. I wanted to back away but held my ground. He stopped inches from me. “Then you’ll be all alone, with nothing to stop them from forcing their way in here.”
opening that door!” His face turned crimson.
“Then that radio will sit! Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean we have to get it.”
We glared at each other.
Overhead the beat of helicopter wings receded.
Joshua looked up. “It’s going away.” Anxiety edged the words.
“To pick up the radio.”
His chin jerked back down. He pinned me with a stare that iced my veins. “This better work. You better convince them to leave.”
I held his gaze, fists pressed against my thighs. “I will.”
Joshua backed off. I eased across the room and half fell onto the couch.
Joshua resumed pacing. Outside all was quiet. My nerves felt like sawdust. Suddenly I didn’t want the radio. Once we had it, I’d have to keep up my act. I’d have to think clearly, keep one step ahead of Joshua. Where would I find the energy?
I didn’t want to think about that. I pulled my thoughts away, turned them to Mom and Dad. Brittany and the band. Even if I got out of here alive, what would my life be like? How do you go back to living normally after something like this? Only God would get me through it.
The air above the cabin beat a
The helicopter was back.
Only then did I realize why the police were giving us the radio this way. Even in all the protective gear they surely wore, no one was going to take the chance of walking up to the front door.
Joshua stood like a rock in the middle of the room, gun in his hand and feet apart. He caught my eye, and his mouth pulled into his now familiar threatening sneer.
my expression told him.
Something heavy fell on the porch.
Joshua pivoted and aimed his gun at the door.
Long seconds ticked by. The
“Shaley!” Schwartz’s voice came over the bullhorn. “We’ve left the radio on the porch, two feet from the door.”
Joshua strode to the couch and yanked me to my feet. Left hand clamped around my burning wrist, he pulled me to the kitchen table. He tossed down the shotgun and picked up the weapon he’d used to shoot the policeman. Joshua moved behind me and wrapped his left arm around my chest. Dragged me over to the front door.
The gun pressed into my skull beneath my right ear. “When I tell you to, you open the door. When you lean down to get that radio, this gun stays at your head. Got it? One funny move from them and you’re dead.”
I managed a nod.
“You move real fast.” Joshua’s arm squeezed against my lungs. I gasped for air. “Unbolt the door, get the radio, get back in. Hear me?”
The gun barrel dug deeper into my head. “On the count of three.”
Please, out there, don’t shoot.
Why had I pushed this? It was insane. I was going to
“One. Two. Three—
My hand unbolted the lock. Opened the door. Sunlight poured over me, so bright I could barely see. In a split second my eyes grazed over too many vehicles to count. I leaned down toward the radio, Joshua moving with me. A long rope was tied around the radio. Is that what we’d heard drop? My fingers snatched up the bundle. We backed inside the cabin, a large section of the rope trailing at my feet. Joshua pulled me around the corner and out of sight. I tried to slam the door, but the rope still lay over the threshold.
“Get it!” Joshua yelled.
I reached down with my left hand, trying to reel it in. I couldn’t see the end of it. In my mind I envisioned men running toward the door. They’d get me
Panicked, I pulled harder. The last of the rope whipped toward me.
Joshua leapt around me and slammed the door. Bolted it.
I sank to my knees, then collapsed on the floor, heart flailing.
Joshua grabbed the radio. He fumbled with it, searching for a
button. Raised it to his mouth. “Schwartz. You there?”
From the floor I watched him, too shaken to get up.
“I’m here, Ronald.” The voice came through loud, startling.
“My name ain’t Ronald, it’s Joshua!”
“All right. Joshua.”
He flicked me a menacing look. “Shaley’s got somethin’ to say to you.” He thrust the radio toward me. I took it with a trembling hand.
“Shaley?” Schwartz’s voice.
“Yeah. I’m here.” I ran the back of my hand across my sweaty forehead.
You can do this, Shaley.
“I want you all to go away. I want to stay with Joshua.”
Joshua grabbed my hair. “Tell ’em again.”
My finger keyed the radio. “I…do you hear me? You all need to leave. I—”
Joshua wrenched the radio from my hands. “Hey! You get that? You have one hour to get every last person outta here.
If you ain’t gone by then—she dies.”
ayne’s body felt tight, her lungs parched for air. She walked the great room, unable to stop. They’d watched the horrific scene unfolding on TV until Rayne had to turn away. Those rustic cabins in the middle of nowhere, police cars littering the road, men in gear carrying multiple weapons. The news was being broadcast courtesy of the closest TV station crew, who’d rushed to the scene. Rayne knew other local and national crews were on their way from all points in the country. Let them film all they wanted. She couldn’t bear to watch.
Ross, Ed Schering, Morrey, and Kim remained in the den, eyes glued to the TV. They would report if they saw anything new.
Rayne paced. Every minute was torture, every ring of Al’s phone a nightmare waiting to unfold. Brittany, Gary, and the rest of the band had gathered in the great room, their official location to wait. No one spoke. The very air twanged with tension.
An hour ago Al had received a call about John Baynor, the man who owned the Utah cabin where Shaley had been taken the first night. Baynor had stumbled into the police station in Lewistown, Montana, frightened and shaking, and spilled his story to a detective. Al related the information to Rayne and Gary.
“He and Ronald Fledger built cabins outside of Peace, Montana, planning on starting some sort of religious community. The kind cut off from the world—no phones, no TV. Baynor stayed at the place while Fledger left, saying he’d come back as soon as possible
with his ‘bride.’ Baynor insisted he had no idea about Fledger’s plans to kidnap Shaley.”
Gary huffed. “His Utah cabin sure was convenient. The electricity was even left on.”
Stan and Rich crowded in, listening. Brittany gripped Carly’s hand.
Al shrugged. “He says his brother was going to move into the Utah place. At any rate, Baynor happened to go into Peace yesterday. In a diner he saw Fledger’s face on TV, wanted for kidnapping Shaley. Baynor says he ran out of the restaurant and took off south. He didn’t want any part of that. He stayed in Lewistown last night, and this morning on TV saw the news about the Montana cabins being surrounded. That’s when he went to the police.”
Rayne pressed her hands to her temples. “Will he talk to Fledger? Try to convince him to let Shaley go?”
Police were flying him to the scene, Al had said. Baynor was going to try.
The latest news from Al was that Baynor had arrived at the Montana cabins. A few minutes later a radio was delivered to Fledger. Now at least the police could communicate with him.
Al’s phone went off again. Rayne pulled up short and swiveled toward the sound. Gary strode over to the FBI agent.
“Scarrow.” Al’s eyes met Rayne’s across the room. He listened.
Rayne’s fingers laced so tightly they cramped.
What is it, what is it?
She walked toward him, part of her wanting to back away. To not hear.
“Thanks.” Al punched off the line.
“What?” Gary demanded.
“They’ve talked to Shaley. She’s insisting she wants them to go away and leave her alone.”
Gary’s face reddened. “He’s making her say that!”
“We know.” Al looked from him to Rayne, hesitating. Fear whirled through Rayne. Whatever it was, he didn’t want to tell them.
“Fledger’s given an ultimatum. The police must leave in one hour.”
“Or what?” Gary’s face paled.
“No!” Rayne’s knees sagged. “Don’t say it.” She sank into the nearest chair. “Just…don’t.”