Authors: Brandilyn Collins
on’t lie to me, Shaley,” Joshua spat. “You weren’t looking for shoes.”
His eyes narrowed as I cringed by the bedroom closet. For a terrifying moment we faced off. My heart was about to bang out of my chest.
“Yes, I was.”
He strode toward me. “You picked up the phone, didn’t you?” He caught my arm and squeezed.
“I heard the
“You didn’t!” My head jerked toward the closet. “You heard this door open.”
Joshua’s stale breath poured over me, his anger buzzing like bees. “Who’d you talk to?”
” He yanked me close to him, his face inches from mine. In his eyes I saw hatred and betrayal deep enough to kill. My stomach shriveled.
“I didn’t talk to
He cursed and shoved me away from him. I hit the wall. “You’ve really done it now, Shaley. If anybody comes here to rescue you—you’re dead.”
andy and his team reached the target area at 6:55 a.m. They’d landed in an open field a good distance from the cabin—so as not to alert the HT—then were driven in by sheriff’s department vehicles.
Sheriff’s deputies had blocked off the narrow dirt road to the cabin. The road rounded a bend about a quarter mile away, disappearing into forest.
They piled out of the vehicles and were quickly introduced to three men who’d had a chance to survey the area firsthand. Bart Stockle from the Utah State Police shook Bear’s hand. Stockle was commander of the mission and would make the decisions regarding the SWAT unit’s actions. “Glad you guys are here. I arrived just a short time ago. Still gathering information.”
Off to Randy’s left sat the mobile command post brought down from the state police in Provo. The large vehicle contained all the communications equipment needed to link every member of the three agencies involved in the mission. Radio would be used, since the guys manning the command post couldn’t be close enough to see the action. Randy and his unit, plus all the men from the two other agencies, were their eyes and ears. Randy’s radio transmitter, housed in a pouch on his shoulder, attached to an earpiece via a clear cord.
“All right.” Rich Adams, from the sheriff’s department, pointed up the dirt road. “Cabin’s about a third of a mile up, around that bend.” He held up a large, hand-drawn map, similar to the small ones Bear
had handed out. “We’ve got men here, here, and here.” He pointed to areas around the cabin. “First responder arrived within five minutes of the call. He and backups stopped here and went in on foot. There’s no other way out of the cabin but this road. And it’s been manned since then. We’ve got snipers in the woods on all sides of the cabin.
“No vehicle outside the cabin. The HT’s stolen Ford Explorer apparently is in the closed detached garage. There are no windows to the garage. In the darkness one of our men crept close enough to the cabin to hear voices, so we know they’re in there. All windows in the cabin are closed. Front door entrance only.”
Adams set down the map and picked up a set of blueprints. Randy knew the local guys had been busy while he and the team were in the chopper. Some unlucky clerk at the building department had no doubt been awakened by the sheriff’s department with an immediate request—blueprints for the cabin.
Stockle moved to hold up one side of the large blueprints.
“Okay.” Adams pointed to the document. “First level is essentially one big room. Den here, kitchen here.” His finger slid left. “Over here on the right—stairs. Upstairs, we have…” Stockle let go of his side, and Adams flipped to the second page. “Long hall and two bedrooms with a bathroom in the middle. Two windows in the hall. Bedroom windows here.” He pointed to numerous locations. “One window in the bathroom.”
Adams turned to Bear. “What’s your assessment?”
Bear eyed the map. “We can’t know what floor they’re on. Now that it’s light it’s not feasible to get a man across the clearing and able to check through a window without the possibility of being seen. Surprise isn’t the way to go.” Bear looked at Chuck Trayna, the man serving as negotiator.
“All right.” Stockle nodded. “I say it’s time we make ourselves known and talk him out of there.” He looked to Adams. “The cabin phone—who’s it registered under?”
“John Baynor. Whereabouts unknown. Apparently he’s not at the cabin.”
Stockle repeated the name to himself. “What do we know about Baynor?”
“Short rap sheet: petty theft, that kind of thing. Worked as a clerk in a small hardware store in town until a week ago. He gave notice, said it was effective immediately, and hasn’t been seen since. Oh, and he gave away his dog to a friend.”
Gave away his dog? Guy must have had some kind of plans.
Stockle considered the information. “But he’s not our guy.”
“Nope,” Adams replied. “It’s Fledger for sure. Maybe he knows Fledger. Or maybe Fledger just happened to stumble upon his empty cabin.”
Randy gazed down the dirt road. His uniform was hot and heavy. Fully loaded with weapons, he would be carrying forty-five pounds.
Hang in there, Shaley. You’ll be rescued soon.
Stockle nodded decisively. “All right. Let’s get this team in place and make a phone call.”
andy was sweating by the time the cabin appeared around the bend. He and his unit moved in a loping run, silent and with heads down, guns in their hands.
Bear signaled for them to stop. Every man skidded to a halt, eyes on their leader. He pointed to various members of the unit, then indicated what direction they should go. Randy peeled off to the right with Coop, Rex, and Volt. The plan was to diffuse into the forest, using tree cover to approach the cabin. They’d have two men on all four sides. Once surrounding the target, they’d position to fire. The procedure did not call for complete stealth. On the contrary, they wanted the HT to know they were there. Their presence and firepower sent a very clear message—
you are outnumbered.
Randy skulked through the trees, followed by the other three. His heart beat double, and his hands gripped the gun. No matter how hard the training, how much experience he’d had, every mission sent his blood pumping.
At the clearing Randy and Coop veered toward the side of the cabin. Rex and Volt ran on toward the back.
Randy positioned himself behind the first tree at the edge of the clearing. The cabin sat a mere thirty feet away. He keyed his radio and spoke quietly. “Crooner and Coop ready.”
Some ten feet away, behind another tree, a sniper crouched. The insignia on his uniform read
Utah State Police.
If negotiations went south and they had to go tactical—storm the cabin—the snipers would provide cover as the SWAT unit moved in to breach the door.
In the next minute voices on the TAC channel sounded in Randy’s ear.
“Volt and Rex ready.”
Shaley, just a little while longer.
He pictured the teen freed, calling her mom. Randy couldn’t wait to see that.
“Bray and Starsky ready.” Cover for those two would be the garage, on the other side of the cabin.
“Bear and Eagle ready.”
Eight law enforcement vehicles, both from the sheriff’s department and Utah State Police, gunned up the dirt road. Two of them carried the rest of the SWAT unit’s gear in their backseats—masks, ear protection, and other equipment needed if the team had to go tactical. For now the men did not wear the masks, as they decreased visibility. The cars slid to a halt, kicking up dust, lined up one behind the other. A man leapt out of each car and squatted behind it, weapon aimed at the target. One of them was Adams.
Shaley’s kidnapper had to be feeling the heat about now. What would he do?
From inside the cabin, Randy heard the phone start to ring.
One jangle. Two…three…four…Randy lost count after ten.
He knew Trayna was phoning from the command post, Stockle by his side. If the HT didn’t answer the phone, Trayna would move behind the sheriff’s department vehicles and use the megaphone. But that would be a one-sided conversation. Always better to engage the HT, try to win his trust. It was the best chance of persuading him to give up.
The phone rang and rang…then stopped. Randy exchanged a glance with Coop. Not good, but not unexpected. It could take hours for an HT to decide to talk. Hours more to convince him to surrender.
The phone started ringing again.
Randy thought of Rhonda and Stevie. They’d be getting up about now. Stevie would be eating breakfast—pancakes, since it was Sunday. Rhonda would make him a special one in a heart
shape. Stevie loved that. He’d insist on buttering it himself. And he’d pour on too much syrup.
Randy squinted at the cabin windows. He saw no peering face, no hand with a gun. What was happening inside? Randy shifted on his feet. This was the hard part—waiting.
Time ticked by. The phone rang and stopped, rang and stopped. After half an hour, Randy heard Stockle’s voice in his ear. “We’ve giving up on calling. Moving in to megaphone.”
Soon a sheriff’s deputy car drove up behind the others and stopped. Trayna got out. Using the cover of all the cars, he stooped low and made his way as close to the cabin as possible.
“Ronald Fledger!” Trayna’s amplified voice split the quiet morning air. “This is Chuck Trayna from the Utah State Police. We want you to come out with your hands behind your head. We have the cabin surrounded. The best way out of this for you is to come out quietly. Nobody will be hurt.”
The words faded away—then silence.
Randy focused on the windows, seeing nothing.
Stockle waited a few minutes, then tried again.
A third time. No response. Just agonizing quiet.
Sweat trickled down Randy’s neck. The longer the silence, the more likely they would hear the sound they all prayed wouldn’t come—one shot in the cabin, followed by a second.
The HT’s murder of his victim, then his suicide.
Randy held Shaley’s image in his mind. So young. So much to live for. A cold feeling crept through his gut. Something was wrong inside. Very wrong. They should have seen something, heard
by now. Even if the HT shouted at them to go away. Better to hear him curse and rave than this impenetrable
Trayna tried again and again. Each time—nothing.
Randy and Coop exchanged another glance. The time was coming for Plan C. They could feel it.
Trayna lowered his megaphone and fully disappeared behind the deputy’s car.
No words in Randy’s earpiece. Most likely Trayna was on the second channel that connected him to Stockle and Bear. As commander of the mission, it was Stockle’s decision alone to make the call to go tactical.
In the lull birds sang in the forest, and a breeze ruffled the weeds around the cabin.
What was happening in there? What was the HT planning?
Randy let his eyes glide over the deputies behind their cars, pistols aimed at the cabin. He could see Rex and Volt in their positions at the rear. He couldn’t see the other four on the team, but he knew they were there, weapons ready. All those guns. All that ammunition. And one seventeen-year-old victim who could so easily get caught in the crossfire.
A crackle in Randy’s ear. Bear’s voice came over the channel. “Stockle just gave me the green light. We’re moving in.”
f anybody comes here to rescue you—you’re dead.
” I gaped at Joshua, his words echoing in my head. The 9-1-1 operator had said the police were on their way. Now it was too late to stop them.
Joshua caught my wrist in a viselike grip and swung toward the bedroom door. With a jerk he pulled me behind him. “Come on,” he growled.
I stumbled after him, sick and trembling. Up the hall he dragged me, then down the stairs. Tears blurred my eyes. We hit the first landing. I tripped and fell into Joshua. He grabbed a bunch of my hair and pulled me up like a broken doll. I yelped. He shoved me over to the couch and pushed me down. “Sit. Don’t move.”
I cringed on the dingy sofa, head hanging.
Joshua stomped over to the TV and smacked it on. Punched the channel button again and again. Was he searching for news? Fear chewed at me. Surely my call wouldn’t be on the news this fast…
All we saw were commercials.
Joshua ran into the kitchen. Rummaged through drawers. With a grunt he banged the last one shut and strode back to me, carrying a three-foot piece of rope. “Gimme your hands.”
I did as I was told. He wound the rope around my wrists, a sneer on his face. “Thought you could beat me, didn’t you. Thought you could get away. Guess what, Shaley.
one’s taking you away from me alive. Not
rittany slumped in a chair next to Rayne in the great room, numbly watching through the rear windows as sunlight leaked into the backyard.
At five in the morning Ed Schering, needing something to do, had rounded up Rayne’s three bodyguards plus his own security guys to bring down the great room furniture from the storage shed. Now all the Rayne band members, including the three backup singers, were gathered with Agent Scarrow in the big room. Some stood, some paced. Carly, Shaley’s favorite backup singer, sat with her dark head bowed—probably praying. Kim and Morrey huddled together on a couch. Ross stood with legs apart and arms folded, gazing out the back windows at the rear gardens.
Agent Scarrow stood near the wall, one hand rubbing his lips. His phone—their connection to news, the bright possibility of this horrible nightmare ending—sat clipped to his belt.
Tension vibrated the room. No one spoke.
Feeling wooden and heavy, Brittany turned her gaze to the floor. A dozen terrible scenarios whirled in her head. Shaley, killed by her kidnapper. Or caught in the crossfire of her rescuers. Shot dead…wounded…paralyzed for life.
God, please get her out of there safely!
Agent Scarrow’s phone rang. Brittany jumped.
Every person in the great room tensed. Every pair of eyes snapped to the FBI agent.
He pulled the phone from his belt. “Scarrow.”
Brittany clutched Rayne’s hand. Her heart whirred into erratic beats.
“Okay.” Agent Scarrow focused across the room. He wouldn’t look at Rayne. Did that mean something?
“Yeah.” He nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”
He punched the
button and lowered the phone. Finally he met Rayne’s gaze.
Stop, don’t tell us!
What she heard next could kill her—and
she didn’t want to know…
Gary wrapped an arm around Rayne’s shoulder. His breathing sounded ragged.
Agent Scarrow spread his hands. “They can’t get an answer out of the suspect. The SWAT unit is moving in.”
“Unnhh!” Rayne let out a wail. Gary clung to her, still as a stone. Kim gasped, and Ross uttered a curse. Brittany couldn’t move. Couldn’t talk or cry. Rayne’s head slowly turned toward her, and they locked eyes.
Within minutes, this horrible nightmare would finally be over.
But would Shaley still be alive?