Jack Broad Miniseries: Part 8
Jack's eyes snapped open. Had he heard the door or was that a dream? He swiped the bed around him and leaped to his feet when he realized it was empty.
“Shannon?” He whispered outside the bathroom door.
He rapped on the wood door panel. He called her again, this time pushing the the door open. But the bathroom was empty. Jack fumbled to the door, crashing into the little table and chairs set in the way as his brain cleared slowly from the sleep he so desperately needed. There was a small cellphone sitting where she'd left it. But her truck keys and the small clutch she kept her money and license in were missing.
He threw the metal room door open and stumbled toward the office. The air was dry and prickled the inside of his nose. Already the sun was rising hot. Jack wasn't sure what time it was, but it felt like late morning. And he couldn't remember anything since he fell asleep hours ago.
“There's a double occupancy fee.” The same Mexican man stated, staring unmoved at yet another soccer game on the small television as though he made statements apart from his mind.
“Did you see her this morning?” Jack panted, skinning one of his bare feet as he pulled the door open.
“She walked to the market a couple hours ago, why? You fighting already?” This time his eyes flicked away from the screen for just a fraction of a second.
“Oh God...” Jack spun around and jogged back to the room for his shoes and car keys.
“Wait!” Frederico fell in step behind him.
Jack didn't wait. He raced inside and stuffed his feet into the dusty boots beside the door, “No time for you, man.”
“Frederico. I'm Frederico.” He said dejectedly. “If Shannon is in trouble...”
Jack paused, his car keys in his grip. Frederico seemed bruised, his hands taking turns smoothing over each other. "This is a friend" something inside assured him.
Jack stepped to him, “Have you seen a red mustang... candy red. Must be a sixty-eight.”
“Tito. Next town over. My family knows him... He's the sheriff's son.”
“Shit.” Jack remembered the flint-faced man in khakis that had roughed him up for conducting a search in the bigger boarder town.
“The cops on the scanner always call the car Hot Cherry. They let him be.”
“Where?” He slid into the drivers seat.
Frederico, in step behind him, spoke through the Pontiac's open window, “I dunno. But they avoid the east side of town when he's here. That I do know.” Jack turned the engine over and backed so hard out of the space that he left rubber where he'd been parked.
“No good comes from the east side.” Frederico warned.
“I'm no good.”Jack growled as he sped into the still rising run.
A white plastic bag of groceries caught his eye along the side of the road not far from the convenience shop. He stepped out of the car and picked it up. Prepared fruit and some plastic-sealed deli meat were inside. His stomach sank to his feet. Nearby a wallet lay in the abandoned parking lot of an old store. It was the same billfold that normally lived inside the clutch left in the hotel room. It's contents were strewn about but accounted for, the girl and the license had been stolen, the money had not.
He cruised the small grid of streets all along the east side of the main road through town near mad with fear. All border towns looked similar to him. Tan or white stucco buildings. Occasionally a rough log sided one would stick out. Very rarely there were brick buildings. And even less common were wood structures. The east side was no different. All the houses looked as though they were pieced together as an afterthought. They were hollow and sparse. No lawns existed here. No sidewalks. No fenced yards to mention. Just run down homes, most of which were no longer owned by Americans these days anyway. And as the minutes ticked by impatience grew with the lack of any cherry-red muscle cars. After his forth tour of the sleepy worn-down streets Jack cycled back onto the main road. There were hardly any houses in the tiny forgotten town. The whole task had taken less than an hour.
He pulled his phone out and dialed the motel. Frederico answered on the first ring. “Did she show up?” Jack asked, unable to mask the hopefulness in his voice.
“No.” The single word reply cut him to the bone.
“Shit.” He ended the call and threw the phone on the passenger seat.
Jack passed a gas station on the way back to the motel. He pulled to the side of the road and glared at the filthy town around him. His fingers drummed angrily on the steering wheel.
“Shit.” He stated angrily another time.
There was nothing. No trail. No magic golden brick road of bank card transactions. No hunches. Nothing. If she had disappeared before she was little more than invisible vapor now. Despair threatened to steal his reason and he clamped his eyes closed, banging his head softly against the back of his fists on wheel. He shoveled through the thoughts in his head for anything remotely like direction. Nothing seemed to surface.
Something made him open his eyes. Some reflex. A play of light leaping from behind clouds. A hardly audible urgent clamor. Whatever it was his eyes opened to the bright red glint of a classic Ford pulling alongside similarly aged gas pumps across the road.
Jack restarted his car and watched. Tito pulled himself from the car and twisted open the gas cap on the tailgate. Slow breaths drew into Jack's lungs and pushed back out again. Tito threw some money at the nearby attendant and fell back into the drivers seat. The Mustang roared to life and drove noisily onto the main road. Jack watched it turn down a nearby east side drive before he turned his Pontiac around and followed.
Jack parked a little way from the front of the house as the Mustang pulled into the dusty drive of a small adobe bungalow. Tito got out and called desperately for his family members that lived there.
“Mi tia esta usted en casa?” He cried for an aunt who didn't answer, cupping the side of his face tenderly.
Jack stepped slowly from his car and walked steadily to the driveway unnoticed as the smaller man called out again without reply. Jack sidestepped along the red Ford, glancing as he went. The tiny brown-haired picture of Shannon on her drivers license lay on the highly visible center console. Elation turned to fury deep inside Jack's chest at the sight of it. It wasn't until he was less than two paces away that Tito realized someone was behind him. He spun on his heel, ready for a confrontation, but it was too late. Jack wrapped an arm around Tito's throat, shoving his neck into the hard bone of his forearm with the other hand.
“Where is she?” Jack growled low.
“Hey, screw you, man.” Tito gagged, swinging punches.
“Tell me where she is.” Jack said, relentless.
“Screw you man! My Papa's gonna mess you up.” Tito's voice was gugrly and broken.
“Maybe. Maybe after I mess you up...” Spittle flung into the air under the force of his hatred, “But that's if he even finds you. Now, where is she!”
“I said...” Tito choked and gasped, “Screw you!”
Jack turned loose of him just long enough to drive Tito's head into the frame of the Mustang's door.
“Wrong answer.” He put him back in a choke hold, “Try again.”
Tito struggled, sinking a few punches into Jack's side. Jack retaliated by driving his knee into Tito's spine. Caught off guard by the pain Jack was able to let go of him and bounce Tito's head off the car's roof edge another time.
“Hold up! Hold up!” Tito panted, turning to spit bloody mucus, “Dude you loco. I dunno who you're lookin' for.” He tried to play dumb, no doubt to cover his own interests, Jack knew better.
“The girl!” Jack grabbed his shirt and slammed him into the car another time, “Where is she!”
“I.” Tito panted, “I dunno... what you're talkin' 'bout.”
Jack opened the car door and pulled out the license. He pushed it into Tito's face so hard the edge left and indent in his cheek. “Where!”
“I don't kn...” Tito started, but Jack gabbed his head to smash it into the car's hood but the exhausted Tito raised his hands, “Okay, okay, man. Okay.”
He fell to the ground and leaned against the car's tire when Jack let go of him. He spit again, checking a loose molar with his dirt encrusted fingers.
“She's nowhere, man. You can't find her. She's lost. She belongs to a dude named Hofsten now. By the time you even find his place she'll be gone. Trafficked, man.”
“I said where!” Jack kicked him hard in the ribs, feeling the satisfying crunch of the bones under the metal toe of his boot.
“God! Stop!” He coughed hard and hugged himself. “It's impossible to find...”
Jack saw red. The entire neighborhood disappeared except for the driveway beneath his boots and the man against the car. He snatched him up by his throat and dragged him, kicking, to the passenger seat of his car. There was an old roll of electric tape from an after market temperature gauge he'd installed last year still in the glove box, and he used most of the full roll to tape Tito's hands together. When he was finished he buckled the old lap belt and tied the tail around it tightly, effectively locking his captive in the seat. “Where?” Jack said, a little calmer, as he sat down in the driver's seat.
“South.” Tito winced, his gold teeth turned orange by blood.
The GTO peeled onto the main road and roared south down the highway.
Shannon had fallen asleep. She'd lost count of how many times she'd counted to sixty, just trying to keep track of time. It had been hours. She awoke to the muffled ringing of a cell phone. Her captor's voice murmured low and deep in the next room. She leaned against the locked door and tried to pick up on any words she could. Nothing came clear and his sudden movement spooked her so that her pulse and breathing hid anything she might decipher. After a short while she heard the sofa groan as the man lay back down. And then silence.
Had a night passed yet? What time of day was it? She felt like a week had gone by, but she knew that was impossible. She wasn't hungry for the knots her stomach was in, and she still had to use the bathroom. There was no other noise, she was fairly certain if someone else had been in or entered the house she would have woken up sooner. It was still just the same man. She had to act, she had to do something.
Take control of the situation.
Her hand raised to the door multiple times. Once her voice nearly worked, except all that escaped her lips was a squeak. Shannon took a deep breath and forced herself to pound on the door. First once. Then a second time. Finally she heard the man stir in the other room.
“Hey! I need to pee!” She shouted hoarsely.
Footsteps silenced her. They moved in her direction and then away. She heard a door open somewhere else in the house and it banged against a nearby wall. The man moved into the kitchen and she held her breath. Suddenly the pantry door was thrown open and she was disgorged from the space by the yanking of her arm.
For the second time she was forced to squint with the change of light. It wasn't very bright, since the windows were heavily covered, but it still flashed a sharp pain across her brow. The man lead her to a dark hallway and for a moment she feared he might be taking her to a bedroom. Just as she began to struggle he shoved her through a dingy bathroom door. Her bare feet lost traction on the slick tile floor and she flung herself at the small sink to keep from crashing to the floor. The man disappeared behind the door as he pulled it shut.
Shannon looked around frantically. The bathroom was narrow and almost entirely tiled. Even the exposed bathtub and shower near the door was tiled with faded and molded mint colored ceramic. The matching toilet was stained brown with hard water and the sink she'd touched left a sticky feeling on her hands. Even in the back of the room, near the toilet, she could touch both sides of the narrow space at once. She considered calling the man back in and hitting him with the makeshift weapon she carried, but the space was too small for her to swing it with any force.
When she was finished with her business she opened the door, turning her shoulder so she could be grabbed up again for the journey back to her closet. A knock at the front door set a hiccup in their rough walk.
“Your ride's here.” He muttered, dragging her a little faster, “You wait here like a good girl, he'll want to see you.”
Shannon was stood against the wall beside a large framed piece of needlework that had turn the same red-tan color as the world around it over the years. She panted as her mind began to reel. Fear kicked in until she no longer felt her body.
Full intent. Full force. Lethal force.
Her hand reached into the back of her clothes and pulled the folded tire iron from its hiding spot. Her feet, suddenly pain free, stepped quickly under her and her torso twisted into a hard coil before she drew the tool across the back of the man's head. The force was so surprisingly great that she fell with him, wondering for a moment if the socket had embedded in his skull. Blood seeped from the man's head, soaking his sideburn and neck.
“Oh God. Oh God....” Shannon panted.
Her hands shook so uncontrollably she could barely force them to feel for a pulse. Her sweaty palms slid along his skin, shoving him until she could find an open section of neck. There was no motion under her fingertips, no matter how many times she wiped them on her jeans and retried.
The world around her felt like it was pulsing, forcing her to sway unsteadily. Another knock at the door startled her back to reality. The wide shadow of a man's shoulders burned against the tattered curtain across the door's window and her eyes darted frantically for any other exit from the home. There didn't seem to be one so she fled down the hall and shut herself in a back bedroom. The shutting of her door was masked by loud opening of another. Shannon backed into the far corner of the small room and held her shaky breath.
“Steve? Oh man!” Knees banged to the floor as, no doubt, the visitor also checked for a pulse and also found none.
Footsteps turned to pounding as the man raced to the kitchen and threw open the pantry door. He man stepped softly to the hall and down to the bathroom door. Shannon heard the hinges grind as he looked inside.
“Hello? I am a police officer, I'm here to help.” He said, creeping towards the bedrooms.
Shannon stepped into the closet beside the corner where she huddled and pulled the hanging clothes across the bar to hide her further. As silent as she tried to be the metal hooks still scraped enough to make noise and soon the man opened the bedroom door, crossing the space to the closet. She screamed impulsively when he smacked the clothes to one side, lurching against the wall behind her.
A small man in uniform stood before her, one hand against the clothes, the other resting on his holster. Shannon flung herself at him, shaking violently.
“Oh thank God!” She cried as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and guided her back into the living room.
“Hush, hush now. It's alright.” He soothed, smoothing her hair as he passed her by the dead man on the floor. “Let's get you out of here, huh?”
Shannon nodded. Every fiber of her being ached until she was certain that each step was the last one she could possibly ever make. The light outside the tiny old ranch home pierced the backs of her eyes. The officer opened the back door of the black squad car and helped ease her into the back seat. Shannon curled forward, her feet resting on the rocky dirt, and held her head in her hands, wiping the painful sun from her eyes.
“Oops, watch your feet.” The officer said, pushing the door shut against her legs.
“I just need some air for just a second...” Shannon started, but he lifted her legs and scooted her into the car, shutting the door firmly.
The house had once been flanked by sheds and barns, part of a sweeping beef production nearly a century earlier. But now it was just a lonely house set in the midst of scrub and cactus at the end of an impossibly long, rutted, driveway. Great mounds of red-brown rock rose towards the sky in some directions. In others the lands stretched out towards an infinite horizon. And still everything shimmered with heat and Shannon felt incredibly inconsequential in the space.
The officer sat in the driver's seat for a moment, his own feet resting outside, as he flicked off the CB radio. The same was done to the mouthpiece on his shoulder, which he unclipped and left on the console. Shannon glanced out the car windows, realizing all the red lights on the car's cameras were also already turned off. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and she roiled under a wave of sickening realization.
This was her ride.
The man paced back to the house and returned a little while later, dragging the dead man down the front steps, around the side of the house and out of sight. Shannon tried the door latch, but the interior mechanics had been undone. It only moved the handle pointlessly. There was a wire mesh that separated the backseat from the front seat, the holes of which were far too small to reach through. There were steel bars across the window glass which prevented them from being broken out. She grabbed at the lights mounted to the space above the back seat and after much effort ripped the whole unit free, metal bar and all. Sweat poured from her face and made her grip slippery, every moment seemed to raise the temperature by thirty degrees. She struck the narrow back window repeatedly without any effect. Just when she was about to give up the back window exploded into a pile of tiny crystals.
Shannon threw herself through the opening head first, exhaling hard as she pulled herself free. The trunk hood singed her skin and she rolled onto the ground, scrambling to her feet. The officer had thankfully gone around the opposite side of the house as the long driveway where the squad car rested. So she ran full force, denying her bloodied feet any quarter, towards what she hoped was the road. Her lungs ached. Her eyes crusted with dirt and sweat and they burned when she wiped them. The house grew a little smaller, but flight assured her she was not far enough away from it yet, so she ran still harder, her chest stabbing with pain until she thought she might pass out.
Suddenly she stopped short and dropped to her knees. A car flying up the desert road some distance away, a great cloud of dust waving like an enormous flag behind it. It turned hard into the long driveway, fishtailing until it gained traction. She scanned the area for anywhere to hide as it bore down on her, finally settling for a large sage. Shannon squatted down near it. Glints of blue sparkled in the sun as the roaring engine passed. She recognized the spotless exterior of Jack's redone GTO.
“Jack!” She breathed, almost leaping to her feet.
The GTO skidded to a stop a few dozen yards from the police car. The officer had returned to the driver's seat while she ran, no doubt scanning the area for her, preparing to drive after her. She watched, bile creeping up her throat, as he emerged from the drivers seat almost before Jack's car had stopped completely. He raised the gun from his hip holster and aimed it at the GTO from behind his open car door.
“Step away from the car.” He shouted at jack, who had also stepped out from the vehicle as it was still rocking on the suspension.
“Sir, I'm just looking for a friend.”
“Get on the ground!”
Jack refused to obey. He shouted again at the officer.
Shannon's insides roiled at the sight of Tito, a little bloodied and swollen, climbing from the passenger seat without any recognition from the officer. She watched as Jacks face tracked Tito's deliberate movements to the squad car. He opened the passenger door there and sat himself inside, reaching around until he produced a shotgun from under the front seat. He too took aim at Jack and pumped a pair of rounds into the GTO's front end.
“Better get on the ground, Ese.” Tito shouted.
Shannon was sick as she watched Jack recognize what was happening. Jack slowly squatted and slid himself onto his belly beside the car where Shannon could no longer see him. Any elation she felt at having seen his car melted in aching waves through her legs. The officer took a few steps towards Jack's car, but vehicles racing up the driveway stole everyone's attention.
Her truck flew by and stopped behind Jack's. Frederico spilled from it and ran towards Jack, a sawed off shot gun raised at the two men. Jack popped up from the ground, a confused smile raking his face.
“God! How'd you find me?!” He said, grabbing his outstretched hand.
Frederico hoisted him to his feet. “Your car stands out, man. I saw you pulling out of Tito's neighborhood. Recognized the kid, knew you were in for it.” He tossed Jack the shotgun and pulled a pistol from inside his plaid shirt.
Tito and his father raced to the back of the squad car, hiding themselves. Their boots slung gravel in different directions as they hunkered low against the metal. Jack and Frederico ducked behind the GTO. A shot echoed suddenly from the Sheriff's car. It pinged noisily off the front end and Frederico took aim for a quick response.
"No! I don't know where she is, I think she might be in the trunk." Jack tugged his arm down.
"I won't hit it, don't worry. We just gotta keep 'em still." Frederico let off a round and the car lurched suddenly, tilting onto the wheel rim of a blown tire.
Jack did the same on the other side, "Keep them from moving?"
"I hauled ass after you man, but the Calvary was behind me." He glanced over his shoulder.
A string of state police cars was churning up a cloud of dust and debris on the red earth of the horizon, their sirens fully blaring. An ambulance was close on their heels, teetering comically side to side as it struggled to keep up on the rough roads. Tito and his Father saw them too. Tito ran for the house, launching himself through the front door. The officer took off running into the desert.
Men in black uniforms spilled from the SUV's before they even lurched to a full stop. The acronyms 'FBI' and 'ICE' on the back of their suits stood in sharp contrast as they gave chase, swarming from the vehicles and overwhelming the scene. She watched as Jack and Frederico were dragged into the protective circle behind their vehicles as commands were shouted and radios chattered. It seemed like hours, but Tito and the Sheriff were produced in handcuffs and sat on the ground in the driveway.
It was over. Her whole ordeal had lasted less than a day.
Jack broke free of his conversation with a tall, dark, agent near one of the state trooper cars. He nearly outpaced the officers to the men by the sheriff’s vehicle. He struggled to force answers from the men now in custody as police tried to pull him away. Repeatedly she heard her name fall from his lips.
She stood, some distance from the scene, and took it all in. Her legs refused to work. Bloodied sores on the bottoms of her feet from being dragged and running barefoot on the gravel were full of dirt and throbbed mercilessly. She hadn't realized she was covered in bloody scrapes and lacerations from the ordeal, but now they pulsed and stung.
“Jack!” She screamed, almost too exhausted to even force breath from her lungs. He couldn't hear her immediately over the frenzied din of activity around him.
Shannon tried again, but it wasn't until one of the FBI agents told the state troopers to silence their sirens that she was finally heard. Jack spotted her first, standing where her body had found the end of itself. He sprinted to her, chased by a tan-clad officer and a paramedic. Jack threw himself against her and spun with her. Every pain in her body dissolved as she was pressed into him. She hid her face in his neck and laughed with him until it made her cry.
“This was such a bad idea.” She wailed, though the smile on her mouth couldn't be subdued for it.
Paramedics pulled them apart and began searching her over for serious injuries. Jack's hands fought to keep some hold on her, even pushing theirs away at times.
“It's okay. It's okay.” He said, wrapping his hand around hers as the men continued their rushed inspection of her well being, convincing himself, as much as anyone else, that she really was alright.
“I can't believe I ran... Or that I was in a trunk... I was in a car trunk! I killed someone.” She said, remembering it just then.
“Oh, God. Shannon. You did what you should have, you're so strong.” Jack sat beside her and shoved the paramedics out of the way, “If anything had happened to you...”
“I'm alright though.”
“Did anything happen?” He said murderously.
She shook her head hard and started crying again, “No!” Her cries turned to laughs, “No! Jack! I broke out of the backseat of a police car!” She looked at her hands before her, as though amazed by their ability.
She laughed as though hysterical, Jack pulled her against him harder. She was just a regular girl. Soft. Slender. And up until recently she'd been an invalid recovering from serious injuries. All her life she'd been swept along by the currents of life. Always waiting for someone else to rescue her. Or steal from her. Or to leave her. She had struck a man with a concealed tire iron that she'd had presence of mind enough to secure. She had broken free from a corrupt officer sent to deliver her into the human trafficking market.
Shannon looked at Jacks worried face as he still eyed her top to bottom, taking a silent category of all the scrapes and raising bruises.
Something had made her strong enough to fight, something much like the silent strength and steady voice of her dead husband. Shannon's breath caught. Despite all that had just happened she felt such a satisfying sense of being loved. For the first time in her life she knew that not only had Collin loved her, not only had his parents despaired for losing her the same as they had their own child, but some unseen force cared enough for her to allow Collin's voice to guide her through the darkest of her hours. And to set her free, to let her loose...
And Jack... Jack had caught her, he found her. Just like that knowing little voice inside her head had promised. It was as if heaven had given her Jack when the world had stolen everything else that she'd dared to love.
Jack had sought her out. He'd chased her down. Hunted her tirelessly. He'd stood at gunpoint ready to die for her. That man who had sworn to run from everything. A man hiding from the shame of not protecting and loving his woman and child. A man who had refused any other second chance. God had given him her. God hadn't let him fail. And he was still there beside her. All their failings. All their holes and rough edges... They were just cogs that fit together if they stood close enough. They were a machine. A team.
“I want to go home, now.” She stated suddenly, causing Jack's eyes to snap to hers.
He nodded, “Yes. Heather and Bill are waiting for you. They are so worried and...”
“No. With you.”
Jack smirked, but it bled into a rich laugh, “Well. Alright, then.”