Into the Wild By C.S. Michaels

Jake Bryant lay in bed thinking that his life wasn’t too bad. He was living and working in Seattle. Living was probably too strong of a word. He was staying in Seattle temporarily until he decided where he was going to go next. So far, he had really enjoyed his time in Seattle. It was definitely different from Chicago, Illinois where he grew up.
Into the Wild
Into the Wild By C.S. Michaels

When he first arrived in Seattle, he didn’t know how long he was going to stay. He wanted to stay at least six months, maybe even up to a year. He had read articles on Seattle in magazines and it always looked nice with all the trees and greenery. However, he had heard that the downside to Seattle was that it rained all the time.

It did rain a lot, but it was a different kind of rain than what he had experienced in Chicago where they would get massive thunderstorms that would dump heavy rain in a couple of hours. In Seattle, it would drizzle all day long and it could last for several days. He once heard that it rained every day for sixty days. It wasn’t solid rain for sixty straight days he was told, but it was measurable rain each day. He wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but he believed that it probably was because it did rain a lot.

He was lying in a full-size bed that felt a little too small for him. He preferred a bed that had room to stretch out, but this bed didn’t allow that. Although it was small, the bed was comfortable so he was thankful for that. He had definitely slept in worse beds.

The walls were sparsely decorated with pictures. There was a window on the other side of the room where the curtains were letting sunlight fill the room. Jake figured it must be about eight o’clock in the morning based on how bright it was in the room. He had about seven hours of sleep, which was enough for him, so he felt refreshed. He was never one to lay in bed very long after he woke up, but in this case he decided he would give himself a couple of extra minutes.

The reason for the extra couple of minutes was lying right next to him. He looked over to his right and there was a brown haired beauty in a peaceful state. She was sleeping soundly, so he just continued to lay there watching her breathe. Her shallow breathing was barely audible.

Her mouth was slightly open with a little trickle of saliva running down her chin. He was thinking to himself how lucky he was that she was with him. She was a beautiful, kind, thoughtful, smart and caring woman. She was the exact opposite of Jake, so he wasn’t quite sure what she was doing with the likes of him. Not that Jake was a horrible person, but he had never been accused of being overly kind or thoughtful.

He had met Lauren Ferguson at The Last Chance Bar where they both worked. It was in a less than desirable part of the city. That part of town wasn’t the worst part of Seattle, but it certainly wasn’t the classiest part either. Jake thought that it should be called the Only Chance Bar because he didn’t know of any other bar for miles around. Maybe that’s why it was called the Last Chance because it was everyone’s last chance at a drink in that neighborhood.

The Last Chance Bar only served drinks, no food, unless popcorn and peanuts sitting out for days on end counted as food. Lauren was a cocktail waitress and Jake was a bartender. The clientele was just the guys from the neighborhood, which happened to be where Lauren grew up, so it was her neighborhood. They were blue collar workers that enjoyed a couple of beers after a hard day of work.

Jake and Lauren got along very well. She was his first real girlfriend. Sure he had dated before, but he never went out with a woman for more than a week. Either he knew right away there wasn’t a future or the girl realized it. Usually, it was the girl who realized it first. So, he wasn’t sure if there was a future with Lauren, but he was going to see where it went.

She had stunning green eyes set in a circular face. Her skin was white, but not pasty white. Her wavy brown hair was long, touching the middle of her back. She was one of those women that didn’t need any makeup to look beautiful. That was good, because she never wore any makeup. She was trim, fit and athletic from many hours of running and working out.

They had decided they would sleep in because neither of them had to work for a couple of days. Unfortunately, Jake was never able to sleep in. He wasn’t able to when he was a kid and he certainly wasn’t able to now. He wanted to stay in bed a little while longer because once he got out of bed, Lauren wouldn’t be too far behind him. No matter how quiet he was, she always woke up. He always felt guilty about that, but Lauren never seemed to mind.

He continued to gaze at Lauren. Jake could still smell the perfume that she wore the day before. Her hair was covering half her face and it flowed over his arm. Her smile was ever so crooked, but it gave her a unique look. She looked like she was having a good dream. Jake wondered if she was dreaming about him. She probably wasn’t. Knowing Lauren, she was probably dreaming about helping people. That was what she always wanted to do.

Jake instinctively looked for a clock to see what time it was, realizing quickly Lauren didn’t have a clock in her room. Much like everyone else in America these days, Lauren always used her phone for her clock, alarm and everything else. Jake didn’t have a cell phone and probably wouldn’t be able to figure one out. Not one for technology, he liked things simple and purposely avoided using anything that he didn’t have to. He often felt that he was born a hundred years too late.

Jake wanted to lie there longer, but he had been alone with his thoughts long enough. He was becoming restless so he decided to get out of bed and make some coffee. Lauren started stirring, so Jake quietly slid out of bed, put on some shorts that were lying on the floor and headed down the hallway to the kitchen.

Lauren lived in a small one bedroom apartment in the same run down part of town as the bar. As a result, the apartment complex had seen its better days. Jake didn’t mind what the complex looked like because he had definitely lived in worse places.

The bedroom opened up into a small hallway that had the bathroom on the opposite side of the bedroom. The hallway was only about three feet long before it opened up to a small living room to the left, the dining room on the right and then the kitchen. The walls in every room were painted white a long time ago, so now they had a brownish tinge to them.

The apartment was furnished with older furniture that Lauren had picked up here and there. As a result, nothing really matched. There was a light brown couch on one wall of the living room and a red leather easy chair against another wall. The worn chair was ripped in various places and Lauren had used red duct tape to cover it up. Unfortunately, the red tape and the red chair were different shades.

In front of the couch was a glass coffee table and on the other side of the living room was a small stand with an older model TV sitting on top of it. The TV was an older model that was big and bulky. It was probably a thirty-two inch TV, but weighed a ton.

Jake walked through the living room, turning into the dining room where there was a round, maple table with four chairs. There were scratches all over the top of the dining room table and the chairs had nicks and scratches in them. It was easy to see that the chairs had been picked up at a separate time than the table because they were mismatched.

Jake walked into a kitchen that had thin, green plastic counter tops that were splitting and peeling. The appliances looked like they had been there since the 1970s and were also green. There was wallpaper with blue pails and yellow flowers on the walls.

Jake rummaged around for the coffee and finally found it in the cupboard then grabbed a filter out of the adjacent cupboard and a spoon from the silverware drawer. Putting the filter into the coffee maker, he used two generous scoops of coffee. Next he filled the pot with water and poured it into the coffee maker then turned the machine on and started brewing a pot for them. Jake preferred strong coffee. Lauren didn’t like it very strong so Jake went easy on the grounds, using only half what he would have preferred.

Jake was six foot one and a hundred and eighty-five pounds. He had short brown hair parted on the left side, emerald green eyes and a hard look. He was one of those guys that looked mad even when he wasn’t. He wasn’t a big guy, but he was athletic and wiry. However, he was surprisingly strong for someone with his build. In fact, he was often underestimated because of his thin build. Bigger guys thought they could intimidate Jake. But he had grown up fighting all the time in Chicago, so he had no inclination of backing down to anyone. He liked to use people’s underestimation of him to his advantage.

One of the ways he did that was by challenging bigger guys to arm wrestling – for money or beers. He would do this in the bar after his shift. He would routinely beat bigger guys, which infuriated them. It was a way to make some extra cash after he was done bartending and he liked the feeling of beating bigger guys. It was an ego trip for Jake. Arm wrestling wasn’t always about strength. It certainly didn’t hurt to be strong, but he had found that technique played a big part of arm wrestling. As a result, he often won more times than he lost.

Once the coffee was brewed, Jake poured himself a cup and started thinking about his future. He would really like to stay in Seattle and see where his relationship with Lauren went. But he had lived all his life in one city and he really wanted to see the country. He was twenty-two years old and he wanted to experience living in different places. When he was growing up, he loved watching shows or reading articles about different cities, states and countries. He often fantasized about moving away. Not because he didn’t like Chicago, but because he didn’t like the environment he was living in.

About that time Lauren came walking through the dining room into the kitchen, interrupting his thoughts. She was wearing one of his tee shirts which came down to her upper thigh. He leaned against the counter, coffee in his hands looking at her. She hadn’t taken the time to do anything with her hair. She didn’t feel the need to fix herself up immediately after getting out of bed. He really liked the self-confidence she had in herself. It was one of the things that made him respect her. He just stared at her, thinking she looked really sexy.

“Good morning beautiful,” Jake said.

Lauren smiled one of her sly smiles that she had, walked over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup of coffee. “Good morning to you handsome,” she said.

Jake walked across the kitchen to Lauren. She stood on her toes and he kissed her on the lips. “Since both of us have the next two days off, what do you want to do this weekend?” she asked.

“The Bears are playing the Seahawks tomorrow; we should go to the game.”

Lauren crinkled her nose. She didn’t mind watching football games on TV with Jake, but she didn’t like going to the stadium to watch games. She had to deal with drunks every day at the bar, so she didn’t like going anywhere on her days off that involved drunk people.

“That doesn’t sound that great to me,” she said.

Jake took a sip of coffee. “I’ve never seen my Bears play in person before. That would be incredible.”

Lauren put some sugar into her coffee, stirring it with a spoon. “Do you know how much it costs to go to a game?” she asked.

Jake took another drink of his coffee and then topped it off. He had always lived very simply, so he didn’t know how much things cost. “I have no idea,” Jake answered.

She just laughed. “You live in your own little world Jake. You don’t know anything about what things cost. It will cost a minimum of eighty dollars for each of our tickets. It most likely will cost even more now because the Seahawks are in such high demand after winning the Super Bowl.”

“That’s crazy!” Jake replied.

Lauren set her coffee down. “That doesn’t even take into account the food and beer prices. Each beer is about ten dollars. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do with my money.”

Jake sighed in agreement. “I do too. So, the game is out. What do you want to do this weekend?”

Lauren thought for a second then said, “I really just want to spend time alone with you.”

“I just want to spend time with you too.” He took another sip of coffee and said, “I have another idea. I'll take you into the wild."

"What?" she asked, not having a clue what he was talking about.

"We could drive up to the mountains today."

She arched one of her eyebrows. “What do you have in mind?”

“Nothing sexual, although I wouldn’t be against it,” he replied, smiling.

“Then what do you want to do in the mountains?” Lauren asked.

“It’s supposed to be really nice this weekend. I heard on the news that it was supposed to be in the sixties. It might be the last decent weekend of the year.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“Remember the place we went camping a couple of months ago?

“You bet I do. It was a very romantic weekend,” Lauren answered.

“Remember all the trails they had? I thought it would be fun to drive up there and go hiking. I could take you into the wild. I know it’s about a two hour drive, but I thought it would be nice to backpack through the forest and have a little picnic.”

Lauren thought about that for a second and then said, “That sounds wonderful. Let’s do it!”

Since it was eight o’clock in the morning, they could get their backpacks together, leave in thirty minutes and be up to the mountains by ten thirty. They could hike for four or five hours and still be back in Seattle by seven that evening just in time for dinner.

“Great! You go ahead and start getting ready. I’ll start making some sandwiches to take with us.”

“I didn’t know you could make anything to eat. I guess there is a first time for everything,” she said with a smile.

He smiled back. “I don’t think I can mess up ham and cheese sandwiches.”

“I’m sure they’ll be the best ham and cheese sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. We should take some warm clothes. If they’re forecasting sixty degree temperatures here, it will be at least ten degrees cooler in the mountains, maybe even more. Also, the sun stays hidden behind the mountains and it’s even colder in the shade.”

“Sounds good. Let’s plan on leaving within the next thirty minutes.”

As Lauren went back to the bedroom to pack some extra clothes in a backpack, Jake started making the sandwiches. He made four ham and cheese sandwiches, grabbed eight bottles of water, a big bag of chips, and some granola bars. Looking at it for a second, he debated whether or not they needed all of that then decided that it was better to have too much than not enough.

He then put it all in a backpack, along with a couple of blankets, figuring they could sit on the blankets while they ate and if it started getting really cold they could use them to cover themselves up while they were eating. As Jake was getting everything packed, Lauren came down the hallway wearing some shorts, a tee shirt and hiking boots. She was also carrying a red backpack that was slung over one shoulder.

“I grabbed a sweatshirt, a pair of pants and a long-sleeve shirt for you,” Lauren said. “Storms can come up very quickly up there. I have a couple of ponchos I packed as well just in case the weatherman is wrong and it starts raining.”

“That works for me. I think weathermen have been wrong from time to time, so it’s good to be prepared.”

“As much as I like looking at your chest, are you going to go put a shirt on?”

“I guess I will. Give me just a minute to throw a shirt on and then let’s get out of here,” Jake answered.

Chapter 2

Jake and Lauren tossed the two backpacks into Lauren’s Jeep. It was a beat up, red Jeep with rust spots here and there. It was fifteen years old and looked every bit of it. Sometimes Jake wondered if it would even get them around the block, let alone out of the city. But Lauren loved it and couldn’t afford anything else.

She got in the driver’s side as Jake slid in the passenger side and they started down the road. Jake was excited to go up to the mountains. He had really enjoyed camping there during the summer and was looking forward to seeing the area now that it was fall.

His hometown of Chicago was in the middle of the plains, so he had never seen any kind of mountains before coming to Seattle. Nor had he ever gone camping or hiking. He had been surrounded by concrete all his life which made all of this a new experience for him and he enjoyed it immensely. Having Lauren with him just enhanced his enjoyment.

He thought to himself that this was much different than what he experienced in Chicago. He had a hard life growing up. His father abandoned him and his mother when he was five years old. Leaving him in his mother’s care was a bad choice because she was a drug addict. Eventually she abandoned Jake as well. Since he didn’t really have any other family, the state took Jake away. He never saw his mother or father again so he was sure they were either dead or in jail. At this time in his life, he really didn’t care one way or the other.

He bounced around different foster homes for the remainder of his childhood. Some were good, some were bad. Most of the people meant well, although Jake could always tell that some of them only did it so they could make extra money. In those cases, it was obvious that the money the state was giving the families wasn’t going to him.

Growing up, Jake had a bad temper and a short fuse so he started fights with anyone that said something negative to him. Even if Jake thought they had looked at him the wrong way, he was ready to fight. As a result, he was kicked out of every school he attended and he was too much trouble for the foster parents. So, they just kept getting rid of him. Not that Jake could blame them. He would kick himself out too.

When he was eighteen years old, the state said he was no longer their responsibility and he left the foster system. Jake worked several odd jobs around Chicago for four years. He ended up working as unskilled labor on construction jobs. It was actually good money for someone that had no education or skills. However, after a few years of that kind of work, he knew he didn’t want to keep doing that for the next sixty years.

So, he thought about what else he could do and where he could go. He had always been fascinated with other parts of the country and he always dreamed about seeing other places and experiencing different areas. So he decided it was time to get out of Chicago.

He was trying to decide where he should go, when one day he was watching a show on the Alaskan wilderness. The show was about people that lived off the land. He didn’t necessarily want to duplicate what they were doing, but he did think Alaska looked very beautiful. It certainly looked different than the flat lands he was used to. So, with that he decided he would go to Alaska. However, his plans changed when he got to Seattle.

He was able to save two thousand dollars working his construction job because of the way he lived. He lived in a very small, rundown apartment in Chicago that he shared with three other guys. He slept on an air mattress in the corner of the apartment. He didn’t own a car, so all he had to pay for was food and his share of the rent.

One day, he decided it was time to leave so he bought a bartending book and a bus ticket. The reason for the bartending book was that he had heard that people liked to drink in Alaska. Who could blame them, he thought. With the long, cold, dark winters, he figured he would probably drink a lot too. Because of that, he assumed there would be plenty of bars and plenty of bartending jobs.

Jake had no doubt that he could memorize all the drinks in the book. Although Jake never graduated from high school, it wasn’t because he was dumb. Actually, he was very smart. He had been tested many times in school and all the results came back that he was gifted. Part of his problem in school was that he was bored because the classes were too slow for him so the thought of memorizing drinks didn’t worry him.

Since he was taking a bus all the way to Alaska, he had plenty of time to memorize the drinks. Day and night on the bus, he memorized drinks. He would have people that sat next to him quiz him. At first they were hesitant, but traveling on a bus takes a long time so eventually the people were more than happy to do it as a way to pass the time.

The bus trip took less than a week to get from Chicago to Seattle. They took I-80 West through Illinois and Iowa. He had a little layover in Omaha. He then jumped on another bus through Nebraska and Wyoming ending up in Salt Lake City. From there, he caught another bus north through Boise, Idaho then headed west to Portland, Oregon. From there it was yet another bus to Seattle.

At that point, his original plan was for him to take another bus to Anchorage, Alaska. However, as they were driving into Seattle, he thought Seattle looked like an incredible city. It looked like a great place to live for a while. He was in no hurry to get to Alaska, so he figured he would stay in Seattle for a while then go to Alaska at a later date.

Once in Seattle, Jake started looking for a job and a place to stay. He found a motel that rented rooms by the month. The motel was a dump, but it would suit his needs fine. It wasn’t going to cost him much, but he still needed to find a job. He settled on the room and walked down the street to find a paper so he could look at the want ads. As he was walking, he happened across The Last Chance Bar and it had a “help wanted,” sign in the window.

He walked into the dark, dingy bar. It looked like a thousand other bars across the country. It wasn’t smoky like the bars used to be. There were too many anti-smoking laws these days, especially in a liberal state like Washington. It had a pool table in the corner and beer signs all over the walls. There was an L-shaped bar that could seat ten people with a handful of tables with chairs around them.

He asked the bartender if he could talk to the manager about a job. The guy behind the bar said he was the owner. He asked Jake some questions about different drinks, although he said that he really only needed to know how to pour a glass of beer and a shot of whisky. Jake must have passed the test because he hired him on the spot. Jake was pleased with himself because he had found a room and a job in one day.

His first day on the job is when he met Lauren. It took her a little while to warm up to him. She was used to getting hit on by the patrons and the other employees. So, she thought he was after the same thing everyone else was. But he persisted, and eventually, he wore her defenses down and she finally agreed to go out with him.

Once they started dating, they couldn’t get enough of each other. Like all new relationships, they wanted to be with each other day and night. So, about a month after their first date, he started staying at her place and he stopped staying at the motel. He didn’t have much to move into her apartment, just a couple of shirts and pants that he had bought to wear while he worked at the bar. So it was a really easy move for him.

It had been four months since he first arrived in Seattle. He was far happier now than he had ever been in Chicago. He couldn’t remember a time when he had truly been happy in Chicago, so this was a new feeling for him. He had concluded that it had been the best decision of his life to stay in Washington.

“Jake! What are you day dreaming about now?” Lauren asked.

“Sorry, I was just thinking how happy I am to be here with you right now,” he said.

She smiled and patted his leg as she kept her eyes on the road. “I’m happy too, Jake.”

“There sure isn’t much traffic on the road today. I figured with the good weather we would see a lot of other people,” Jake said.

“It’s still early. We might see some other cars later,” she replied.

“I hope not. I would like to have the trails to ourselves today. That way we could have some alone time up in the mountains,” Jake said with a smile.

“That’s all you think about.”

“That’s only because I’m with the sexiest and most beautiful woman in America.”

“That’s real smooth, Casanova.”

They continued taking Highway 9 out of the city. That took them to Highway 2 and they followed that east to the mountains. After driving through the mountains for a short time, they saw the sign for Boulder Lake and turned left which took them north.

They were now off the main east/west highway, following a smaller, windy road. The road wound through the mountains which had thick, lush trees and green vegetation right next to the road. Even though it was only fifteen miles, due to the curvy road, they couldn’t go too fast, so it took them about a half-hour to travel the road.

They saw another sign for Boulder Lake, so they turned off the paved road and started on the dirt road that would take them to the campground. They had to drive about three miles on the windy, bumpy, dirt road until they got to the road that split three ways. One went straight ahead; one went left and one went right. They took a right which led them to the main campground where they camped during the summer. It was a nice campground and it was a short hike to the lake. In fact, there were camping spots around the lake as well, so if people liked primitive camping that’s where they went.

That’s what they had done last time. This time, however they weren’t going to camp. They would follow the same trail to the lake. They would have a picnic and then follow the trail which looped around the lake and take them into the woods for a while.

There were a lot of trails around the lake, but that was the longest trail. It was going to be a very scenic hike through the mountains. Jake was really looking forward to it. He grew up looking at concrete and asphalt, so seeing mountains and a lake was something he enjoyed. Also, he was getting tired of working days and nights inside the bar. It was going to be nice for him to get some fresh air.

As Lauren pulled into the campground, Jake saw a sign that said Cottontail Campground. This was a nice campground that people with motor homes and fifth wheels could use. He had read that there were no hookups which meant no electricity, water or sewage. So, when they had come to this place in the summer, there was a mix of tents and various types of campers. Jake was in awe at the size of some of the motor homes and fifth wheels. He didn’t really think that was camping, but he figured everyone camped in their own way.

There was a parking area to the left as the road veered to the right then. There were five parallel roads that branched to the left. On each of those roads, there were five camping spots. Each spot had a pad where people could park a car or a camper. There was a picnic table and a fire pit in each spot. Lauren drove to the other end of the campground where the trail started. There was a bathroom and shower house with several parking spots.

She parked the car in the parking area, turned to Jake and said, “We’re here.”

Jake got out of the Jeep, grabbed the two backpacks and came around to Lauren’s side. He helped her out of the Jeep, handed her one of the backpacks and put the other backpack on. He walked over to the sign which showed the different trails. There were several different trails they could take. They were all different colors. There were green, blue, yellow, orange and red trails. The blue trails were the easiest and the red trails were the hardest.

He pointed to the Blue Grouse trail, which was a red trail. “That’s the one.”

Lauren nodded and they went into the woods.

Chapter 3

Joe Jensen and Vinnie Moreno were sitting in an expensive, black sports utility vehicle watching the front entrance to a fitness center. As they watched people enter and exit the building, they kept an eye out for three specific people. These people happened to be off-duty cops.

The cops spent two hours every Saturday morning working out in the gym, so Joe knew that the cops should be coming out any minute. He was watching the front entrance of a massive fitness center. Since this was October, it wasn’t very crowded, however Joe knew that as soon as January came around it would be swamped with people trying to keep their New Year’s resolutions.

Joe was in his mid-forties with short, black, curly hair. He was six foot three and weighed an easy two eighty. Joe was the supervisor of the security group which included the five others that were with him on this “detail.” He and the others were all dressed in their usual attire: black suit, black tie, black shoes and a white dress shirt. They looked like they belonged in the Secret Service when in reality their job consisted of much more than protection services.

Vinnie, the other guy in the car with Joe, was a big block of a man. He was six five and three twenty. He had dark hair, dark eyes and a head that looked too small for his body. That was probably because it seemed like he had no neck. His shoulders went straight into his head.

Technically, they were all part of the “security detail”. In reality, they did all the dirty work that the boss needed done. Sometimes the dirty work was done discreetly, other times it was done to send a message. That could range from breaking someone’s arm to killing them. Whatever the boss needed done, Joe’s team would do it.

Their boss was William Henderson. He was also known as “Wild Bill” Henderson. He owned a legitimate trucking company, which was based out of Seattle. He also happened to control the majority of the drug trade in Seattle. The trucking company was a perfect way for Wild Bill to transport drugs and stolen goods through Seattle and across the country when needed.

The three cops that Joe and Vinnie were looking for had been on the boss’s payroll for several years. They were in charge of making sure they told the boss when there was going to be a raid or if there was going to be some sort of bust. As a result, the boss was able to stay one step ahead of the law, frustrating the local law enforcement officials. It was the perfect match of dirty cops, drugs and money.

Everything was great until the boss found out a couple of months ago that these three had been intercepting some of the drug deals. They were keeping the money for themselves and selling the drugs, pocketing even more money. They were trying to keep it to very small deals, thinking nobody would notice. They figured the boss wouldn’t miss a little here and there. What they didn’t count on was that Wild Bill kept meticulous records and figured out what was going on. He was livid and wanted to teach these guys a lesson. That was when he brought in Joe and his security team.

Joe had devised the perfect plan, but he needed information first. They had another cop on their payroll as well. His job was to provide inside information to Joe. Basically, he was to provide knowledge of the police department to Joe whenever he needed it. It was always useful to know what was going on inside the department.

Joe had called the other cop and told him that he wanted to know if these three were going to go anywhere. Basically, he wanted to know if they had any trips planned. The cop told him he would find out and he would call Joe back. About three weeks later, Joe received a call from the guy telling him that these three were going on a fishing trip. They were leaving on a Saturday and they would be gone for a week. That Saturday was today.

Unfortunately, the cop didn’t know exactly where they were going. Joe decided that he and the others were going to tail them to their fishing spot which he assumed would be in the mountains. They would kill all three and leave them where only the mountain lions or bears would find them. Nobody would ever see those guys again. Normally, Joe and his team wouldn’t care if the dead guys were found. However, killing cops was a different story. Joe knew the rest of the cops wouldn’t stop searching when someone killed their own.

It was important not to leave any trace, so that it couldn’t come back to the boss. It needed to be treated as a disappearance rather than a murder. When Joe explained the plan to the boss, he was very pleased. In fact, the boss said he wanted to go with him. Joe tried to explain that it wasn’t a good idea for him to be around that kind of stuff, but he didn’t care. He wanted to kill those three with his own hands.

From various stories Joe had heard about Wild Bill, it sounded like this wouldn’t be the first time he had killed someone. It sounded to Joe like the boss had killed his fair share of people in order to take over the drug trade, so Joe wasn’t about to argue with the man.

While Joe and Vinnie were parked in the fitness center’s parking lot, the other four from the team were parked a mile away. Joe would let the others know when the three cops came out. They already had a plan in place; they were just waiting for Joe to give them the go ahead.

While the three cops were in the gym, Vinnie snuck over to the truck that one of the cops’ owned and put an electronic tracker underneath the bed. This would allow them to tail the cops without getting too close. The tracker would give out a signal up to ten miles, so they could stay close, but not too close. Joe picked the truck because he figured they would have a lot of gear and it would make sense to take the truck instead of a car when they went on their fishing trip. He was guessing they would take this truck to the mountains and the tracker would lead Joe and the gang right to them.

Right about then, Vinnie pointed to the front door of the fitness center. “There they are,” he said.

“I see them,” Joe replied.

They watched as the three of them stepped outside of the door to the fitness center. They were all well-built and had a certain look about them; a cop’s look. They stood outside the entrance, talking for a few minutes then went to their separate vehicles.

“It’s not going to be easy to get the drop on three cops,” Vinnie said.

“I know,” Joe replied. “We’re going to have to be careful. That’s why I think it’s best if we kill them up in the mountains. They won’t be suspecting it so we should be able to sneak up on them.”

“Yeah, that’s a good plan. We can leave them where nobody will ever find them. Eventually, the animals should take care of the bodies.”

Joe didn’t say anything. He just watched them as they went to their vehicles. “I still don’t think the boss should get his hands dirty with this,” Vinnie said.

“Are you going to tell him?”


“Either am I.”

Joe called the guys in the other two cars and told them to follow the guy in the truck. Joe knew that each week, when they were done, they all went back to their own houses. He figured today would be no different. Joe assumed today they would each go home to pack and the guy with the truck would then go pick the others up. Even if they drove separately to the fishing spot, Joe and the others would still be able to track them. The other four needed to keep within ten miles of the truck so they would continue getting the tracking signal.

While the others started their cars and trailed the truck, Joe and Vinnie were ready to pick up the boss, so they could take him to the place where the cops were going. “We need to go pick up the boss,” Joe said.

“I still don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I don’t either but there’s nothing we can do about it. He’s really pissed at these guys and he wants to see them die with his own eyes.”

Vinnie just shrugged his shoulders as Joe started the SUV. Joe watched as the cops pulled out of the parking lot. They waited a second and then Joe and Vinnie pulled into traffic and headed over to the boss’s house.

Chapter 4

Jake and Lauren started along the Blue Grouse trail. They knew this was one of the longest trails from all the hiking they had done when they had camped there in the summer. It started from their campground, wound through the woods to Boulder Lake, around the south side, west for a few miles, then back towards Boulder Lake, and around the north side. Once the trail came to the east side of the lake, it followed the lake back to where it first came. Then they would be able to follow the trail back to the campground. It was a long hike with plenty of changes in elevation, but the scenery made it worth it.

They followed the grassy trail north, looking at all of the fall colors of the trees. There were oranges, yellows and browns everywhere. The trail was well worn from all the traffic during the summer months and now it was covered with leaves. The campgrounds in this area were very busy during the summer so there was no shortage of feet trampling the grassy trail, making it easy for them to follow.

They followed the trail through the forest which consisted mostly of fir trees and mountain hemlock. The elevation started rising to Boulder Lake. They were five thousand feet in elevation and it was amazing to Jake how much the lack of oxygen at this elevation affected him. Even though they weren’t walking fast or hard, he could definitely notice the lack of oxygen.

Jake and Lauren were very quiet for most of the hike. Jake really liked that about Lauren. She wasn’t one of those people that had to talk all the time or that had to listen to her talk about herself. That suited Jake because he didn’t like to talk about himself. They talked when something needed to be said. Otherwise, they were both content to just have silence. It was never an awkward silence either. They both felt very comfortable with it. Jake was an introvert and didn’t like to talk all the time. Sometimes he just enjoyed the quiet. This was one of those times. Lauren was equally comfortable enjoying the silence. So they continued to walk in silence, taking in the beauty of where they were.

As they walked past the lake, Jake said, “Do you want to stop and eat lunch?”

Lauren laughed and shook her he head.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“You’re always ready to eat.”

“I can’t help it that I’m always hungry.”

“I’m not really hungry now. I would like to keep going,” Lauren said.

“That sounds great to me. I’m not hungry either,” Jake responded.

“Sure you’re not,” she said as they kept walking.

Originally they had thought about having lunch at the lake so they could take in the breathtaking view with the giant peaks behind it. The lake was so still it looked like the water was made of glass. Mountains rose in the background, some as high as ten thousand feet. Some of the peaks were already covered in snow.

They continued walking the trail along the south end of the lake. Jake was thinking to himself that they would have to bring fishing poles next time. He had never fished. He wasn’t quite sure if he would like it or not. It would be cool to catch fish, but he thought he might get bored quickly.

They kept following the trail along the south end of the lake and then west through the forest. At its most western edge, the trail led to a spot that overlooked the mountains and valley. “Now are you ready to stop and eat?” he asked.

“That sounds great. I worked up quite an appetite,” she answered.

Jake found a spot that was somewhat clear, took out the blankets and laid them down on the ground. Then Lauren got out a sandwich for each of them, along with the chips and water. They sat down and looked out over the mountains. The sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The warmth of the sun felt good on their faces. They were both relatively quiet while they were mesmerized by the area surrounding them.

They were probably a few hundred feet higher in elevation now than they were when they started. He looked out at the beautiful scene in front of him. There wasn’t any snow where they were now, but there would be in the next couple of weeks.

Lauren looked at Jake and said, “I know you don’t like to talk about your childhood or your parents, but I would like to know more about your life in Chicago.”

He just shrugged. “There’s not much to tell.”

“It must have been rough losing your mother and father at such a young age.”

Jake always told everyone that both his parents were in a car accident and died when he was five. It was just easier than telling them the truth. He didn’t like talking about himself and he certainly didn’t like talking about what had really happened. He just wasn’t a very open person. He also knew that if he talked about what really happened then there were always follow up questions. They were well meaning questions, but Jake didn’t like to answer them.

“It’s just something that happened. Nothing I could do about it,” he said.

“It must have been rough getting shuffled between foster parents all the time.”

“In their defense, I didn’t exactly make it easy for them. I was always getting in trouble, so I never blamed them for not wanting me around.”

“Well, I’m really sorry you had to go through that,” said Lauren with sympathy.


She stared into his eyes. “I want you around.”

He smiled and hugged her. He thought about Lauren and her life. She had a great family life. Although they weren’t well off, it sure seemed to him that they had a very close family. Jake hadn’t met them yet, but Lauren had talked a lot about them. He knew that her mom and dad both worked hard to provide for Lauren and her brother. Her dad worked on fishing boats all his life and her mom worked at a company that provided maid services for people. They lived simply, but Lauren never wanted for the necessities. This lifestyle shaped Lauren into the woman she was and it helped define the woman she wanted to become.

The bar was a temporary job to help put her through college. Lauren wanted to be a doctor and planned to work in Seattle. She was twenty-three years old and had completed three years of college. She was bound and determined to make it as a doctor. Jake knew it was her dream since she was a kid and he really admired her determination.

Working full-time and taking a full class load was a lot of work but she managed to do it without ever getting stressed or frustrated. There were some weeks that it seemed like Jake and Lauren never saw each other unless they were both working at the bar at the same time. She was always working, going to class, or doing her homework. That’s why this weekend was so special for both of them. It was the first weekend in a very long time that they were both available to just spend time with each other.

Jake put his arm around Lauren and they gazed out over the valley enjoying the solitude.

Chapter 5

Joe and Vinnie had to drive across the city to get to the boss’s house. The traffic on Saturday was light so they had no problem making good time. During the week, it would have been a ninety minute drive but they were able to make it in thirty minutes today.

The boss lived in a mansion in a very affluent part of town. They drove to an upscale neighborhood, slowing down at the boss’s house and pulled up to the gate. The property was surrounded by a six-foot brick wall. The gate was black with bars about four inches apart. It was eight feet high in the middle of the gate which tapered to six feet on the sides. In the middle of the gate was a shield with the initials “WH” in gold.

Joe stopped at the gate and pressed the buzzer. There was a camera that looked directly at them so Joe looked directly into the camera. They knew the guard in the command center in the house was looking at them. Next to the camera was a button to push to contact the guard desk, but Joe already knew the guard would be watching them.

The voice over the speaker said, “Hey Joe.”

“Gibson, let us in. The boss is expecting us,” Joe said curtly.

“Yes, he told me you would be coming.”

“Buzz us in and let him know we’re here.”

“I will, but the boss wants you to wait by the front door. He’ll meet you outside.”

Then they heard the metallic sound of the gate being electronically unlocked. The gate opened inward and they drove up the path and into the circle driveway. They pulled up to the front door, got out of the SUV, walked up to the door and waited in front of the massive, ten thousand square foot, white house.

Vinnie said to Joe, “Since he doesn’t want us to come inside, the boss must be anxious to get started with these guys.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Joe said as they waited for the boss.

Five minutes later, the boss came strolling out the door. He wasn’t a physically imposing man. He was five foot ten and one hundred and sixty pounds soaking wet. His short, black hair was slicked back with gel. He had a goatee that was showing the first signs of gray.

Joe and Vinnie stepped aside to let the boss through. “Boss, are you sure you want to do this?” Joe asked. “I mean no disrespect, but you shouldn’t be anywhere near this so you can have an alibi.”

William Henderson, or Wild Bill as he was called, looked at Joe and said, “I can always come up with an alibi, that won’t be a problem. I want to see these guys die with my own two eyes.”

“Yes sir, I understand. I just didn’t think you wanted to get your hands dirty.”

“Don’t worry about me. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to personally take care of a situation.”

“You’re the boss.”

“You’re damn right I am. Now let’s go.”

There was no use arguing with him, so Joe dropped the subject. They walked to the SUV and Vinnie opened the door to the backseat and the boss slid into the rear of the car. He always rode in the back seat because he didn’t like having anyone behind him. He didn’t want to get surprised someday with a bullet to the back of the head.

After Joe and Vinnie got into the front, the boss asked, “What’s the status?”

“The others are tracking them,” Joe answered. “According to Brad, they went home to pack and they should be leaving soon.”

“Good. Do you have any idea where they’re going?” asked Wild Bill.

“Not yet. According to my source they’re going somewhere in the mountains. At this time, we have no idea where. Hopefully, it’s deep into the mountains then that will make our job easier. We’ll know soon enough.”

They pulled out of the driveway and onto the street. They drove to a grocery store parking lot that was near the Interstate. Vinnie pulled in and they waited. Once Joe received the call from one of his guys letting him know which direction they were headed, they could get on the Interstate and follow. Twenty minutes later, Joe received a call from one of his men in the other car.

“We’re on I-5 turning east on I-90,” the man said.

“Okay, we’re on our way,” replied Joe.

Joe turned to Vinnie and said, “They’re going east on I-90. They’re about fifteen minutes away from us. Let’s go.”

Vinnie knew they were approximately fifteen miles north of where the cops were, so he pulled out of the parking lot, drove the half mile to the entrance to the interstate, proceeded to the entrance ramp and headed south on I-5. He kept his speed a steady five miles over the speed limit. As much as Joe wanted to catch up to them, Vinnie didn’t want to get pulled over for speeding.

A few minutes later, the guy called Joe again. “We’re heading north on the 405.”

“Got it,” Joe replied.

They continued like that as the cops made their way on the same path that Jake and Lauren had taken hours earlier. The man let Joe know that they had turned off of Highway 2 and were now headed north along a less traveled road, presumably getting close to their destination. Joe, Vinnie and the boss caught up to the other four killers who were in two cars; two killers per car. Vinnie drove up to the car that was tracking the cops.

Vinnie rolled down the back window. “What’s the situation?” the boss asked.

Jim Callahan, the guy that had been calling Joe, was another big man, although not as big and bulky as Vinnie. Most of his bulk was muscle. He was an inch shorter and a good forty pounds lighter than Vinnie. He was in his late thirties and bald as a door knob.

“They stopped, probably eight miles away. As soon as we saw them not moving, we pulled alongside the road and waited for you,” he answered.

“Do you know what’s up ahead?” Wild Bill asked.

“Yes, Brad scouted it out. According to Brad, there’s a dirt road that goes about three miles to a campground. They’re parked at a campground called Quail Campground. However, they didn’t set up their camp at the campground. It looks like you can take a trail directly to the lake from the campground,” Jim said.

“How do you know that?”

“At the campground there is a sign that shows different trails to take. There is one trail that you can take south to Boulder Lake. It’s called Red Robin trail and we think that’s the one they took. It doesn’t look like it’s too far of a walk from the campground.

“Were there any other cars at the campground?” asked Wild Bill.

“No, we checked.”

“That’s very good. Let’s go.”

They drove a couple more miles along the paved road and then turned onto the dirt road. They drove three miles along that road until they got to the spot that had three options. They took a left on to the road that led them to Quail Campground. When they pulled into the campground, they saw the cop’s truck. They pulled all three vehicles behind it, got out of their cars and saw the sign and the trail that pointed to the lake.

Joe pointed to a trail. “It looks like there’s a trail right here. We can just follow this.”

It was a dirt and grass path about three feet wide. The Parks and Recreation Department did a good job of keeping the trail from being overrun by trees and weeds, so they had no problem following the trail to the lake. All seven of them walked the trail, leaving no one with the cars.

It was another mile before they started hearing voices. They stopped and listened for a few minutes. It was definitely the cops. They inched up so they could get a better view. They crouched low, behind the brush so they could see what was going on.

They saw a relatively big clearing, approximately fifty feet by thirty feet that backed up to the lake. It was meant for primitive camping, so there was an outhouse, but no water or anything else. In the middle of the clearing was a fire pit. There were other camp spots just like it, but they were all empty.

They saw the cops getting their tents set up. Each one had a small two-man tent they were setting up. The tents were small dome tents with poles that ran perpendicular to each other. The poles made an “X” at the top of the tent. They had staked the tents down and were in the process of putting their sleeping bags inside.

Joe whispered to Wild Bill, “Should we get them now boss?”

“Not yet. Let’s continue to watch them,” Wild Bill answered.

After watching the cops for another five minutes, the boss whispered to Joe and the others, “Let’s get them.”

They all nodded their heads and quietly made their way out of the brush and into the clearing. As they walked into the clearing, Joe and the other killers had their guns drawn. “Get your hands in the air you son of a bitches,” the boss said.

All three cops were shocked to see the boss and his men so they just stared in disbelief. After the initial shock wore off, they knew that this was not going to end well. The boss wouldn’t be there with his security force unless they knew about what they had done.

Lester, the brown haired cop said, “Listen guys, I’m not sure what you think we did, but I can assure you it’s not true.”

Wild Bill shook his head. “You guys took a lot of money from me and I’m not happy about it. Now shut up!”

“It’s not what you think. Trust me,” Lester said.

“Shut up!” Joe yelled then turned to Vinnie. “Let’s tie these guys up.”

As Jim and Vinnie walked up to the three cops, the other four killers walked around the cops. They now had the cops surrounded. The cops started calculating their odds. There were six big killers against three cops. That wasn’t the best odds in the world, but the guns in the killer’s hands really tipped the scales.

“Tie their ankles and wrists together,” Wild Bill said.

As the other four killers moved closer to the cops, the redheaded cop, Hansen, lunged at Jim, who was on his right. He hit Jim with a right hook that staggered him. Wasting no time, Joe came over and hit Hansen in the back of the head with the butt of his gun.

As they were watching the exchange, Lester and the third cop, Tanner, started thinking through their options. The killers had their guns drawn and aimed right at their chests. They couldn’t try to make a break for it because they would just shoot them down.

Wild Bill could see the cops thinking through the options in their head. “Go ahead and try to get away,” he said. “It will make this more fun.”

Tanner lunged for the killer named Brad. He tried to wrestle the gun away from him, but Brad was too big and strong. He head butted Hansen right in the nose. Everyone heard the crack of the nose getting smashed. Hansen’s hands went to his face as blood came gushing out of his nose and down his cheek.

Lester just looked at Hansen and Tanner as they were now both on their knees and in some serious pain. They had both been immobilized in just under a minute. Lester decided it was best not to try anything further. Instead, he would try to talk his way out of the situation.

Satisfied that they had the situation under control, Wild Bill said, “Tie those three assholes up. Make sure there’s no way they can escape.”

They made all three cops get on their knees with their hands behind them. The killers tied their wrists together then their ankles. Once they were done with that, they connected the ties from the wrists to the ties around their ankles. They weren’t going anywhere.

“Good job,” Wild Bill said as he looked at the three cops as they were on their knees. “You guys are going to regret ever stealing from me.”

There was sheer panic in their eyes. Wild Bill just stared at them for several minutes, thinking how he was going to kill them. He figured a little torture was needed first. Nobody steals from him and lives to spend it. He didn’t care if they were cops. They needed to be taught a lesson. The boss looked at the three cops, each one of them on their knees before him. He liked this kind of power over men.

“I hope you guys don’t have anywhere to go because we’re going to be here for a while,” Wild Bill said.

The boss chuckled to himself at his little joke. He then pulled out a pair of pruning shears. “Let the fun begin.”

Chapter 6

After eating lunch, Jake and Lauren sat there content with enjoying the solitude that comes with being outdoors in the wilderness. It was very peaceful being in the mountains. They both enjoyed hiking and getting away from the hustle and bustle that is part of everyday life in the city. City life was great, but it was also tiring. Up in the mountains, there were no clocks or deadlines, no cars or buses, no work or school. It was just Jake, Lauren and the wilderness.

Jake often thought it would be great to build a cabin in the woods and just live the rest of his life like that. He really didn’t enjoy being around people all the time. The only thing preventing him from living like that is the thought that he would go crazy if he was by himself all the time as well.

“What are you thinking?” Lauren asked.

“I was just thinking how great it would be if you and I just left the city behind and moved to the mountains. We could build a cabin and live off the land.”

Lauren laughed. “That would be great for about a week,” she said.

“Just think about it. We could have seven kids and we could all live in a cabin that we built.”

“Seven kids? Are you trying to make me into a baby factory?”

“Having the kids probably wouldn’t be very pleasant, but making them would be a lot of fun.”

She laughed because she knew he was only joking. “Oh Jake, I think we would go nuts if we all lived in a small cabin out in the woods. We would probably drive each other crazy.”

“Well, it was just a thought.” He knew she was right. It sounded great, but he thought it would probably get old after a while. “You’re probably right,” he said as he stood up.

Jake reached down and helped Lauren up. “Are you ready to go?” he asked.

“I guess. I sure would like to stay out here a little while longer. But it will take us a while to walk back to the Jeep and then we have a two-hour drive back home. So we should probably go.”

They decided they would keep following the trail and it would lead them in a circular route that would bring them past the lake on the opposite side and then to the campground. They had found that out when they had camped there last summer.

They started packing everything back up, deciding to save the other two sandwiches for the drive back to the city. They drank more of the water. Since there was no garbage can anywhere around them, they put the empty bottles back into the backpacks so they could throw them away later.

Lauren got up and shook the blankets to clean the dirt off them and Jake put them back into the backpacks. They started walking along the trail, following it in a big circle. The trail that went around the lake had been an easy hike but when they had taken the trail away from the lake it was much more difficult. It had taken them up and down ridges, so it had been a good workout for them.

The map at the beginning of the trail had shown this trail would be the most difficult of all the trails. Jake definitely agreed with that assessment. Luckily, they were off the difficult part of the trail now, so it would be an easy hike back to the campground.

As they were walking, Lauren asked, “What would you like to do tonight?”

“I wouldn’t mind just having a quiet night in the apartment with you,” Jake answered. “We could make my famous spaghetti and meatballs.”

“I don’t think cooking ground beef qualifies as meatballs,” Lauren responded.

“Hey now, don’t make fun of the meatballs,” he said as he put his arm around her.

“Your spaghetti and meatballs sound great to me. Let’s do that. We can rent a movie and just enjoy an evening in.”

They finally approached the lake from the opposite side and walked back to where they were originally going to eat lunch. As they approached the spot, they heard some male voices. At first they figured it was just more hikers, but then they heard people shouting.

“Do you hear that?”

“Yes, it sounds like people are fighting. Let’s go see what’s going on.”

“Okay, but let’s be quiet. There are all kinds of crazy people around. I want to make sure we know what we’re walking into.”

They quietly moved forward until they could get a clear view of what was going on. Since they were still on the trail, they were in plain sight. Deciding that may not be a good idea, Jake and Lauren moved into the trees so they wouldn’t be visible. They quietly moved forward until they got close enough so they could see and hear without any trouble.

There were a couple of big, tall fir trees with a lot of shrubs and brush around them. They moved quietly through the brush and hid behind the two biggest trees. Crouching down low, they watched and listened to what was going on, trying to pick up the conversation.

They saw six big guys surrounding three other guys. The six big guys all had matching black suits on. At first Jake thought they belonged to the Secret Service or the FBI. The other three guys had their hands and feet bound and were on their knees. Right then, Jake knew they had stumbled on something bad. The scene told Jake these guys were not with the FBI because he had never heard of the FBI taking guys out to the woods and hog tying them like this.

There was a seventh guy yelling at the three bound guys. He was wearing a dark blue pin striped suit with a light blue shirt underneath it and a tie that had diagonal blue and white stripes. Jake didn’t know anything about suits, but it looked very expensive. He thought it must be Italian because he had always heard those were the most expensive suits. Whether that was true or not, Jake didn’t know.

The guy in the suit was much smaller than the other six, but it was evident by his demeanor and mannerisms that he was the boss. The way he held himself, the way he gave orders and the way the others obeyed him was a clear indication that he was the boss.

Jake looked at Lauren and saw that she was starting to stand up. He motioned for her to stay down. They couldn’t afford to be seen by this group. She nodded her head to signal that she understood and bent down again as they continued to watch and listen to what was going on.

“How dare you steal from me!” the boss yelled. “I gave you everything. I paid you well and gave you everything you ever wanted. All you guys had to do was make sure the business ran smoothly and make sure that all the drugs were brought in successfully. But, no, you had to get greedy. You started stealing drugs and money from me. Didn’t you think I would catch you?”

The brown haired guy started pleading, “Please don’t kill us Mr. Henderson. It wasn’t us. It was probably the Mexicans or Chinese. You know they’ve been trying to cut into your business.”

“Is that so Lester? Is that what you expect me to believe?” the boss asked.

“Yes, we swear that’s the truth. The Chinese are all over the city. We’ve been having all kinds of issues with them lately. They’re getting into the drug trade, so I’m sure it was them,” answered Lester.

The boss shook his head back and forth. He walked behind Lester and pulled out a pruning sheer that he had brought with him. He grabbed Lester’s hand, taking the pruning sheer in one hand; he reached down, instantly cutting off Lester’s pinky. Lester started screaming in pain as the pinky fell to the ground. He now had a stump where the pinky was and blood was flowing onto the ground.

Lauren covered her mouth with her hand, clearly in disbelief of what they just saw. She whispered, “Oh my God, I can’t believe what he just did. Jake, we have to do something to help them.”

“What can we do?” Jake asked. “They are all armed and we have nothing.”

“I don’t know, but we have to help them,” she said as they turned their attention back to the scene.

The boss walked over to the redheaded guy. “Hansen, I’ve had you on the payroll for five years. How much have you stolen from me over the years?”

“Nothing Mr. Henderson, I swear,” Hansen said.

The boss shook his head back and forth. “Do you think I’m stupid Hansen?” he asked. “I’ve been watching you guys for a while. I know exactly how much you’ve stolen from me.”

The boss held up the pruning shears, snapped them a couple of times as he walked behind Hansen. Hansen was trying to inch away from the boss now that he knew what was coming, but he couldn’t get away since he was hog tied. One of the big guys held Hansen in place just to make sure he wasn’t moving too much while the boss did what he needed to do. The boss grabbed Hansen’s shaking hand, holding onto the pinky. In an instant the boss had separated the man from his pinky.

Like Lester, Hansen started screaming, fell down on the ground and was writhing in pain. The boss tossed the pinky into the long grass. Both Hansen and Lester were screaming and moaning in pain, begging Mr. Henderson not do any more to them. Mr. Henderson didn’t pay any attention to them. He looked directly at the third guy. The third guy started squirming and then pleaded some more.

“Well Tanner, what do you have to say for yourself?” the boss asked.

“Okay, okay, it was those two guys,” Tanner answered as he pointed his head in the direction of his buddies. “I was trying to gather evidence that they were stealing from you. I had to pretend that I was one of them to gain their trust and confidence. Once I had enough evidence, I was going to bring it to you.”

The boss shook his head in disgust. “Joe, can you believe this guy?” he asked. “He’s throwing his buddies under the bus just to save his lousy ass. I thought cops were supposed to do everything they could to protect one another.”

He turned back towards Tanner then said, “I always knew you were a conniving bastard and you just proved it. The only thing I hate more than a crook is a liar, especially one that would sell out his friends.”

The boss walked over to one of the big guys. “Give me the knife.”

The big guy pulled up his pant leg, pulling out a long, sharp knife that was strapped to his calf. He handed it to the boss. The boss walked around the back of Tanner. Tanner was trying to pull his hands away, not wanting to lose one of his fingers. However, the boss had no intention of cutting a finger off. Quickly the boss grabbed Tanner’s right ear and cut it off in one fluid motion.

At first Tanner didn’t know what happened. It took a few seconds then blood started running down his neck and the pain intensified. The boss walked in front of him showing Hansen the ear he just cut off. Hansen fell to the ground and rolled in pain as blood continued to run onto the ground.

As he threw the ear on to the ground, the boss said, “See what happens when you lie to me?”

The boss then walked over to one of the big guys and gave him the pruning shears. “Jim, I want you to cut two fingers off each one of their hands.”

Jim nodded, took the pruning shears and walked behind the guys that were tied up. Lauren was stunned by what she was witnessing. She had only seen this kind of stuff in movies. She certainly didn’t think it actually happened in real life, but here it was, unfolding right in front of her.

Lauren whispered to Jake, “I can’t sit here any longer. There’s got to be something we can do.”

“What can we do?” Jake asked. “There’s too many of them. They have guns, we have nothing. They would shoot us down before we could do anything.”

Frustrated, they turned back and saw Jim cutting off Lester’s fingers. Lester was now in shock having four fingers cut off. The other two guys were just watching in horror because they knew they were next so they continued to beg for their lives.

“Who wants to tell me the truth? If you tell me the entire truth, I may let you live,” the boss said.

“Okay, okay. It was all three of us. There was so much drugs and money we didn’t think you would miss it. You have so much, we just wanted a little for ourselves,” answered Hansen.

“I was paying you each fifty thousand dollars a year to look the other way. I would say that’s a lot of money,” the boss said.

“You’re right,” Hansen said. “We should have never taken money from you. Think about what you’re getting ready to do. We’re cops. If you kill all three of us, the rest of the force is going to hunt you down and they won’t stop until they find you. That’s the code amongst cops. Let’s just forget about what has happened here. We won’t turn you in and we won’t say anything about the drugs or money.”

Lauren and Jake looked at each other. They couldn’t believe what they just heard. These guys were cops that the boss was torturing. Things just went from bad to worse. If they would do that to cops, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill Jake and Lauren.

At that moment, the boss stopped and listened for a second. Jake and Lauren quickly ducked down, hoping and praying they hadn’t been seen. The boss looked around thinking he had heard something. Eventually, he figured it was just a bunch of dumb animals running around.

“You’re right; you won’t say anything because you’re going to be dead.”

“No. Please don’t do this.”

“The only question is whether your death will be painful or quick. If you tell me where my money is, then it will be quick. If you don’t tell me, then I hope you have a high tolerance for pain.”

The boss walked up behind Hansen and slowly moved the knife along Hansen’s cheek. “Hansen, where is my money?” he asked.

“I don’t have it. I spent it all. I’ll pay you back. I swear it,” Hansen said.

The boss ignored Hansen’s pleas and jammed his knife into the kidney area. Hansen started yelling and screaming from the pain. The boss had a sadistic smile on his face. He was actually enjoying the pain and suffering these guys were enduring. In his mind, it served them right for what they did to him.

He turned to Tanner and asked, “Let’s just watch him die, shall we?”

It took five long minutes of agonizing pain before Hansen died. First he lay on the ground, grimacing in pain. The blood was turning the ground red. At first it was a bright red, but then it turned to a dark brownish stain on the ground. Eventually, he stopped saying anything. He just lay on the ground quietly until he was no longer breathing.

The boss pointed to Lester. “That was fun, now it’s your turn.”

The boss looked at one of the big guys. “Jim, I want you to start torturing Lester. He’s their leader, so we need to take our time with him. Take your knives and start slicing him up slowly. I want the rest of his fingers cut off first and then take your time cutting up his body.”

Lester started pleading, “I have a wife and kids. Please don’t kill me.”

The boss turned to him. “Shut up, you stupid son of a bitch!” he bellowed. “You brought this on yourself. You had a good thing going and you got greedy. I don’t feel one bit sorry for you.”

“What about him?” Joe said as he pointed to Tanner.

“Give him the same treatment.”

Lester exclaimed, “Wait! I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

“Where is my money?” the boss asked. “You guys took half a million dollars' worth of money and drugs from me. Where is it? I want it back.”

“Most of it is gone,” Lester explained. “I have some left, but I spent all I have on the house I bought and the vacations I took my family on. I have a little left. I can give that back to you. I’ll work for free for the next several years to make up for it.”

The boss looked at Tanner. “How much do you have left?” he asked.

“I spent most of the money on gambling and hookers,” Tanner answered. “I don’t have much left either, but I’ll work for free too. We won’t say anything about you killing Hansen. He was a moron anyway.”

The boss looked at them both for a long minute. “I believe you probably don’t have much of my money left. One thing you have to understand, there’s no way I would ever let you continue working for me. We need to set an example. I can’t have people thinking they can steal from me.”

He looked at his band of killers. “Kill them,” he instructed.

Lauren wanted to turn her head, but she and Jake watched as the big guy went up to the last two cops. Grabbing Tanner by the hair with his left hand, he held the knife in his right hand then dug the knife into Tanner’s neck, slicing it deeply. Tanner fell to the ground. Jim then walked over to Lester, ignoring his pleas and repeated the process on him. Blood started soaking into the ground, turning it dark.

While Jake watched in disbelief, Lauren whispered to Jake, “We have to get out of here. We need to go get them some help.”

“It’s too late for help,” Jake said solemnly.

“We still need to go.”

“Okay, but be quiet. We’ll hike back through the woods to the Jeep.”

“Let’s just make a break for it. I don’t think there’s any way that they can catch us.”

Jake looked at the killers. They were all huge so there was no way they could keep up with Jake and Lauren if they started running through the woods. “Okay, let’s get about fifty yards away and then sprint for the Jeep.”

“Sounds good.”

They started backing their way into the woods, when Lauren tripped over a fallen log, making a loud noise that echoed throughout the woods.

Chapter 7

Lauren had tripped and fell over a log about thirty-five yards away from the killers. Jake stopped, reached down and pulled Lauren up to her feet. They were looking at the killers as they were trying to get up and run away. The killers were looking back at them.

Jake heard someone say, “There are two people up there by the trees. Kill them!”

All six of the killers pulled their guns out and started shooting at Jake and Lauren. Turning away from the killers, Jake and Lauren started running as fast as they could. Jake knew they were too far for the hand guns to be extremely accurate, so their shots were hitting the trees and leaves all around them.

As Jake and Lauren disappeared into the trees, the killers kept firing blindly in their direction, when suddenly Jake felt his shoulder sting. At first he thought he might have hit his shoulder on a branch. It took him a second to realize he had There was no time to worry about getting shot so he kept running as fast as he could through the forest.

He heard someone else yell, “Go get them. I want them dead! Joe and Vinnie, stay here!”

Jake turned and saw that four killers were running towards them. Jake turned to Lauren and said, “Keep running Lauren. We need to go into the woods. We should be able to out run them.”

She started running down the trail, which was taking them back around the lake. Jake was ten yards behind her, but not gaining any ground. They jogged together a lot so they were in very good shape, especially Lauren. She had been a runner all her life and was extremely good at it. She had even won several races back in high school. Even though they were in good shape, they were still tired from their hike and the lack of oxygen at this elevation. Luckily, their adrenaline kicked in and they started running as fast as they could down the trail.

Every so often, Jake would turn around to see if the killers were still behind them. They knew they were outrunning the big guys, so after about a mile, they slowed to a jog. “Jake, we need to hurry back to the Jeep and get out of here,” Lauren said.

“We can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll bet they realized we’re parked at one of the campgrounds, maybe even the same campground they parked at,” Jake explained. “They probably sent a couple of guys to find our Jeep and they’re going to be waiting for us. We’re going in the opposite direction, so by the time we make it to the Jeep they’ll have had plenty of time to find it. We have to go into the woods and hide.”

At that time Lauren noticed Jake was bleeding from the shoulder. “You’re bleeding Jake.”

“It’s nothing,” he responded. “Let’s just get out of here.”

Ten minutes later they stopped to catch their breath. They were bent over with their hands on their knees breathing heavily. Suddenly, Jake looked to his left and asked, “What’s that? It looks like a trail.”

“It’s probably a game trail,” Lauren said as she followed his gaze.

“Let’s take this trail; it will take us deeper into the woods and further away from them.”

Lauren was looking at the game trail. It wasn’t clearly defined like the trail they were on now. It was just trampled down by multiple animals. With any luck, the killers would just run past it, thinking Jake and Lauren would continue along the well-defined trail. In fact, Lauren would never have noticed it if they hadn’t stopped.

They decided to take the trail even though that was going to lead them even further away from the Jeep. They were probably two or three miles away from the Jeep and now this was going to take them even farther. But Jake knew that was their only choice. The killers were going to wait by the Jeep thinking Jake and Lauren would be back.

Jake and Lauren started walking down the game trail. It was too thick with vegetation to run. Jake told Lauren, “I’m sure the guys that were following us are going to continue taking the trail. That will loop them by the lake and then back to where the Jeep is. Once they get there and meet with the others, they’ll realize that we’re not coming back to the Jeep.”

“What then? Won’t they come after us?”

“Not now,” responded Jake.

“Why wouldn’t they come after us now?” Lauren asked.

“Did you see how they were dressed? They’re wearing suits and dress shoes. They’re not dressed to come after us in the woods.”

“We have about another hour or so before they realize we’re staying in the forest,” Jake continued. “At that point they will have a decision to make. They’ll have to either just wait for us to go to the Jeep or they’ll have to come after us.”

“So we wait until tonight and then go back to the Jeep,” Lauren said.

“No, they’ll leave a couple of guys here to watch the Jeep. I’m afraid we’re stuck in the woods tonight.”

“It’s going to get cold tonight,” she pointed out.

“I know. Unfortunately, we left our coats in the Jeep. However, we do have our pants, sweatshirts and blankets in the backpack. If we build a fire, we should stay relatively warm.”

Lauren said sarcastically, “Relatively warm. That sounds reassuring.”

They continued walking and picking their way through the forest. It was dense, but the game trail allowed them to walk without too much problem. However, they had to keep moving branches with their hands so they weren’t getting hit in the face. Jake was thinking that if this was a game trail, that meant deer and other animals used it. If deer used it, that meant that animals hunting deer used it. Hopefully, they wouldn’t run into any of them.

About two or three hours later, Jake and Lauren emerged into an opening. On the left side was a rock wall that was about twenty feet high. It was smooth from years of rain and wind. There was a clearing and then a cliff opposite the rock wall.

The clearing had wild grass and weeds growing, but wasn’t overgrown. The clearing was about twenty feet wide and fifty feet long. Jake walked to the right edge of the clearing to see the cliff went down a couple of hundred yards. He certainly didn’t want to fall down that. He walked to the far end of the clearing. It looked like the game trail continued down the ridge.

Jake looked in the direction of the sun. He held up his right hand so that it was sideways. He counted how many fingers were between the horizon and the sun. “It’s going to get dark in about an hour.”

“Now how in the world do you know that?”

He showed her how he held up his hand so his fingers were between the sun and the horizon. “I believe if you can get three fingers between the sun and the horizon then you have one hour before it starts getting dark, he said. “I can barely get three fingers, so I would say we have a little less than sixty minutes until it gets dark.”

Lauren shook her head. “Where did you learn that?”

“I love watching survival shows and I’ve seen it on there a couple of times.”

“Okay, so what now?”

“We have a decision to make.”

“What do we need to decide?”

“Since it will get dark in an hour, we can continue taking this trail down the mountain or we can make camp for the night here.”

“What are the pros and cons?” asked Lauren.

“If we make a camp here, we’ll have time to build a shelter and make a fire. If we continue on, we may get stuck in the middle of the forest when it gets dark. If that happens we won’t have time to make a fire or shelter.”

“You’re assuming they’re not going to follow the game trail tonight.”

“That’s true. I don’t even think they’ll see it. Even if they do see it, I don’t think they’ll want to follow us wearing their suits.”

“I think we should make a camp here.”

“I agree. We should be safe here.”

“I hope you’re right.”

Jake looked around the clearing. “I guess this is home tonight.”

Chapter 8

When the other hired killers took off running after the intruders, Joe looked at Wild Bill. “What do you want us to do?” he asked.

Wild Bill motioned Joe to come walk with him. “Vinnie, keep an eye out for those two assholes just in case they return. Joe and I are going to go for a walk and talk.”

* * *


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