Authors: Jamie Freveletti
Tags: #Fiction, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Adventure
An Emma Caldridge Novella: The Final Episode
MMA SAW THE
posse coming after her when they were still three miles away. The convoy of pickup trucks and SUVs wound around the mountain on the road, which was their first mistake because she was belly down on the hiking trail and the two paths wouldn’t cross. She used the night vision goggles given to her by Edward Banner to watch their progress.
Samantha Yoder lay flat on her stomach next to Emma. She had been living on the mountain, flitting from place to place as she avoided a forced marriage to Emmet Shaw, the reclusive and enigmatic leader of the cult to which most of the posse belonged. She’d broken into Emma’s cabin to find food when Emma had come upon her.
It didn’t take Emma long to figure out that Yoder’s knowledge of the mountain trails would help her search for her friend Sebastian Ryan. Told that it was the cult that might have kidnapped him, Samantha was more than happy to assist.
“By now they have to know that it was you who saved Carrie,” she said.
Emma had seen the girl being dragged into a forced marriage and intervened. The posse looking for Emma was the result. Emma had left both Carrie and Cowboy Leon, a rancher willing to defy the cult, in her cabin and ordered them both to bar the door.
“I’ll be setting up to watch all night with this,” Leon had said, holding up his rifle, “so be sure to announce yourselves when you return so I don’t blow you away.”
Now, Emma lowered the goggles.
“I see at least ten in that posse,” she said. “Do you know how many might be left at the compound?”
Samantha thought a moment. “Maybe thirty?”
“Is that only the men? Or does it include wives and children?”
“That’s everyone, mostly women and children, maybe five men or so.”
“Huh,” Emma said. “That’s not so bad, then.”
Sam stared at her. “Not so bad? Five men with shotguns, dynamite, and religious fire in their hearts?”
Emma nodded. “I assume they’re stone cold crazy acolytes of the Supreme Son?”
“Oh yeah,” Samantha said. “They’ll turn their backs on their own when Shaw tells them to. Especially the parents of the younger kids. That’s how he manages the forced marriages for the girls and the expulsion of the teenage boys. They’ll do anything for him.”
“What about dogs? I’ve never seen any roaming the compound, which is odd because I’d expect him to at least have a couple of guard dogs.”
Sam looked away, and when she looked back, Emma saw tears in her eyes. “No one in Sunrise City has a dog. At least not openly. We hid them. Shaw ordered them all collected and destroyed. Honestly, it was the one time that I came close to committing murder. If I could have reached him, I’d have done it. We moved all of them out of Sunrise to a safe location.”
Emma had dealt with a lot of strange things in her life, but ordering a mass collection of dogs to kill them was a new level of incomprehensible.
“Why in the world would he do that? Were they diseased?”
Sam shook her head. “There was nothing wrong with them. It was just another way to wield power. Don’t go down there. You can’t think you’ll really be able to infiltrate that house and get your friend Ryan out. Let the police handle it.”
“The police have decided that Ryan’s a suicide,” Emma said. “No one’s looking for him. I know they’re the ones who have him, because I was with him when they chased him before. He knew too, and he left cash and a note asking me to find him. I’m not about to let him down. If I do, he’s as good as dead.”
Anger bubbled through her as she packed the goggles into a soft carrying case and rose. She looked at Sam. “Here’s a hint about stone cold crazy: it works both ways. I’m going to hit them in a blaze of my own fury, and believe me, I’m furious.”
After shoving the carrying case with the goggles into her horse’s saddlebag as Lily pranced in place, she swung into the saddle and took up the reins. “I left my satellite phone back at the cabin with Cowboy Leon,” she said to the girl, “so I need to get to a location where I can pick up a cell signal. Any idea where that would be?”
Sam thought a moment. “Probably a mile closer to the compound, but I can’t be sure.”
“Is there a path that will take me farther away from the road they’re on?”
Sam pointed to the left. “You’ll hit a second cutoff about half a mile down. It ends at a rock plateau that overlooks Sunrise City. You’ll get a signal there, but it’ll be weak.”
“I’m off, then. You should get back to the cabin. If the posse finds you, use the sat phone and call the number that I gave you for Edward Banner. He’s a contract security CEO who deals with the Department of Defense. Tell him what’s happening.” Emma removed her watch from her wrist and handed it to the girl. “Keep this on at all times, and when you get back to the cabin give it to Carrie. It contains a GPS chip that Banner can track. They grab her again, I want to be able to find her. Banner gave it to me, so just let him know that you have it.”
Sam strapped the watch on and swallowed once. “What do I tell him about you?”
“Tell him I’m homing in on Ryan.”
Sam shook her head. “Don’t do this. Don’t go near the compound. It’s suicide.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay,” Emma said, and turned Lily down the path.
HE REACHED THE
rock plateau twenty minutes later and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw two small bars light up on her cell. Before she could make a call, she heard the sound of engines revving over and over again. She took out her binoculars and sighted the piece of the road that the posse was on. Two of the three cars that were after her were racing back the way they had come, presumably to the compound. Emma couldn’t see how many men were in each, but the odds had just shifted against her.
She scrolled through the contacts list to call Sumner, and as she did, the phone began to vibrate. In a moment of serendipity, his name lit up on the display. She hit the button and put the phone to her ear.
“So tell me about the guy who stole my gun,” Sumner said without preamble.
Emma had always loved the way he cut to the essentials of the matter. Sumner’s intensity was only tempered by his occasional flashes of humor, and when she called him, he responded every time without fail. Having Sumner at your back was a true godsend.
“His name is Tarnell and he’s the sheriff of Sunrise City,” she said. “What are you doing up at two in the morning?”
“Worrying about you,” he said. “After that somewhat cryptic voice mail where you suggested that I call the governor, I actually did place a few calls. You should know that things have changed. The FBI and ATF are preparing to execute a warrant against Shaw. They’re sending a team to surround the compound.”
Emma’s spirits lifted. “That’s excellent news! I think they’re holding Ryan there, and if I’m right, he’s as good as out and I won’t have to do a thing.”
“They’ll be in place in the next hour. You know how the FBI loves its early morning take-downs.”
Emma thought about the men racing back to the compound. “I’m not so sure the news is all good. Shaw may have gotten wind of the mission. The posse that’s chasing me sent some men back to the compound.”
“Did you just say that a posse is chasing you?”
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing I can’t handle, but that’s why I’m calling.”
“You don’t know what I want yet.”
“Whatever it is, the answer is yes. And I’m coming out there to get my gun.”
Emma snorted. “You can’t get here in an hour from Florida.”
“I’m not in Florida, I’m riding with the ATF. I’m an hour outside of Sunrise City.”
“How did you manage that?”
“Federal agencies stick together. Mine talked to theirs. What were you going to ask me for?”
“Access to Ryan’s cell phone. It’s always bothered me that those nuts from the Supreme Son who chased us in Miami Beach were able to follow us to Vanderlock’s place in Largo. Seemed like someone was tracking us remotely. The Miami police said the phone is off, but some apps will still send GPS signals even when a phone is powered down. I’ll bet they’ve kept his phone with them, or stored it nearby. Maybe I can get a confirmation of his location.”
“Didn’t the police follow that angle?”
“They hit a brick wall. The app company refused—they claimed privacy violation, but we all know they were really protecting their tail. Their apps shouldn’t be collecting information on a phone that’s turned off. They demanded proof that Ryan had their app downloaded, which I couldn’t provide, and they also demanded a subpoena. The police decided Ryan was a suicide and moved on. I asked the feds before I came here, but they were happy to leave the investigation where it was. Maybe now that they’re headed this way the FBI will agree.”
Emma saw a flash of movement to her right. She dropped into a crouch and scuttled behind a small shrub. Lily raised her head and looked in that direction. Her ears flicked forward as if she were trying to listen.
“I’m out,” she said. “Someone’s tracking me and I need to move. I’ll get back to you.” She took two quick steps to Lily’s side, put the phone in the saddlebag and mounted.
The first shot missed her, but winged close to Lily’s ear and sent the horse into a panic. She reared, dropped back down, and Emma felt Lily’s muscles tense as she prepared to bolt.
“You’re okay.” Emma murmured the words soft and low, trying to calm the horse. She kept the reins firm and Lily surged forward and stopped, surged and stopped. Emma battled to keep her in hand and not allow her to clamp onto the bit in headlong flight. Lily lowered her head to buck, and Emma used her knees to press her to the right and released some pressure off the reins. The horse got the message and burst into motion, her body heaving as she plunged up the trail. Bits of rock and debris clattered loose under her hooves and she scrabbled to keep her balance. Emma grabbed a pistol from the holster, chambered a bullet, and scanned the path ahead. The roar of an engine on the road running parallel to them signaled nothing good. The posse had found her.
She focused on a stand of trees about three hundred yards off. While small, it would provide some cover for both her and Lily. After the conversation with Sam about the dogs, Emma had no doubt they’d shoot the horse out from under her. She would be at a massive disadvantage on foot. She could run for hours, so it wasn’t her abilities in that regard that worried her. Nor was she worried about the cars overtaking her, because they would be forced to remain on the road and she was on the trail. They’d have to disgorge their men to chase her on foot, and that would level the playing field. Even those on horseback didn’t worry her, because as long as the path remained steep she could move as quickly as a horse. Her real concern was that while on foot she would be required to either run or shoot, but not both. Being mounted had the advantage that Lily could keep going while she twisted around to fire.
They reached the trees and bits of bark flew off the trunk nearest to Lily’s head; she jerked and swerved right. Cutting too close to another tree, Lily’s charge forced Emma to throw one leg over the horse’s withers to avoid having it crushed between her flank and the trunk. After galloping a few yards into the forest, Emma stopped, dismounted, and prepared to fire.
There was nothing to shoot. Emma stared down the moon-illuminated trail. The branches above her head swayed and creaked in a slight breeze, and Lily blew out a breath, but all the remaining noises were natural. There was nothing to indicate a man on foot moving up the path, except possibly the silence from the insects. There was no scratching, peeping, or buzzing. She wasn’t fooled by his stealth. The attackers were out there, she was sure of it, and her instincts told her that whatever was behind this sudden silence, it wasn’t good. She had no doubt that the posse in the vehicle were also heading toward her on foot. If they surmised that she was hiding in the woods, they could easily have driven past it and doubled back. It’s what she would have done: drive her into a location where they could trap her in a pincer movement.
She lowered herself to the dirt, trying to make as small a target as possible. Lily stood next to her, still prancing with nerves. A bit of white foam flecked her lips. As she had expected, Emma heard the sharp crack of a breaking twig from the direction of the road. They were coming for her. She settled next to a trunk and kept scanning the area beyond the trees; first down the trail and then to the forest on her left. She heard another crack and strained to see anything in the shadowed woods. She wasn’t about to shoot aimlessly. The most likely outcome would be that she hit nothing, or that she would hit a tree, causing the bullet to ricochet. She turned Lily back toward the trail, mounted, and waited. She thought the trail contained one shooter, but the road posse would be more and she needed to pick some off.
The bizarre sound of a rabbit in distress echoed through the woods. The high-pitched squeal repeated over and over, and the night exploded into noise. Coyotes yipping and barking filled the air all around Emma. The animals seemed concentrated in the wood to her left. Lily raised her head and her eyes rolled in alarm at the coyotes’ howls, but she kept her place.
The road posse tipped their hand first. A flash of motion was all she needed. Emma fired in that direction and then squeezed Lily, who responded by leaping out of the tree line. Emma angled her to the right. The coyotes kept up their frenzied barking, and Emma took advantage of the noise cover to kick Lily into a gallop. The ground sloped gently down at this elevation, but it would end at a steep decline that neither she nor Lily could navigate. At that point she’d have to take a ninety degree turn and reenter the trail, hopefully beyond and below the shooter.
Behind her she heard the rhythmic beat of hooves, and she twisted to look behind her. Sam’s light hair glinted in the moonlight and she rode Cowboy Leon’s horse. Emma slowed as the girl came alongside.
“Keep moving, there’s a shooter on the trail,” Emma said.
“And a group in the woods,” Sam said. There was a device that looked like a large industrial flashlight painted camo green strapped to her horse’s pommel.