Don’t Tell A Soul – D.K. Hood

Kill me. One blood-splattered cowboy boot crunched on the chipped cement floor inches away from his cheek. A sick chuckle followed by a nerve-shattering kick to broken ribs brought back the tremors. A lightning bolt of white-hot agony shot down his spine. In a desperate attempt to pull precious air through swollen lips, he spat blood and gasped precious air. Lungs burning with effort, he writhed like a worm in the dirt waiting for the death blow. His vision blurred and pain pierced his eyes. He had lost all sense of direction, and his tormentor’s peals of satanic laughter played tricks with his confused mind. Night had drifted into another day of endless torture. He tried to crawl away and puffed out a spray of red, stirring the straw on the dusty floor. How long had it been since he walked into the stables? One day? Five days? Time had become the periods between attacks. He had suffered unimaginable torture from a man well skilled at inflicting misery, but he’d somehow survived. At first, he tried to reason with his captor and gave him the information he demanded, but he had fallen into a lunatic’s sadistic fantasy. He had had no time to retaliate, no time to bargain for his life. The first hammer blow knocked him senseless and he came out of oblivion into a world of pain, tied hand and foot at the mercy of a monster.

He hovered between reality and delusion. The mind is a wonderful organ, and his tried to compensate by taking him on trips to the beach with his family. At times, he floated into another dimension on marshmallow clouds but reality came crashing back with each round of torment. He soon discovered crying or begging for mercy made the sessions last longer. Biting back moans and pretending to be unconscious gave the wielder of pain no satisfaction. Under him, the cold floor acted as a balm to his injuries, numbing the agony, and when darkness came, he could crawl beneath a pile of stinking straw. The fermenting horse dung kept him warm, kept him alive. He had spent the first hours in captivity gnawing at the ropes around his wrists, using his teeth to loosen the knot, but one swing of the lunatic’s hammer put paid to any hope of escape. A shadow passed over him. A boot pressed down on his spine, the heel twisting to part the vertebrae in bone-jarring agony.

Sensation left his legs. He has paralyzed me. Determined not to give him the satisfaction of crying out, he remained silent. One more night naked on the freezing ground would finish him, and he would welcome the release. A car engine hummed in the distance and Cowboy Boots bent over him, grabbed his legs, and dragged him into a stall. Straw tumbled over him, coating his eyelashes with dust. Through the golden strands, he peered out the open door and his heart pounded in anticipation. A police cruiser pulled up in the driveway and two uniformed officers climbed out. A female cop handed his captor a piece of paper. He edged forward on his elbows, dragging his useless legs behind him.

Sucking in a deep breath, he screamed though his shredded lips but only a long whine escaped his throat. The woman glanced in his direction and he clawed at the ground, edging inch by inch from the stall. He had to get her attention, and fighting back waves of nausea, he tried again. “Aaaaarh.” The police officer indicated toward the barn with her chin then moved in his direction, but Cowboy Boots blocked her way and shook his head. A grin spread across his face with the cunning of a gargoyle, evil personified. The cop spoke again but her muffled words dissipated in the wind and his tormentor’s attention moved back to the paper in his hand. Somehow, he had convinced her all was well. I have a chance to escape. He dug for his last ounce of strength and bucked to move forward one painful inch at a time.

I must crawl into the open. Spitting blood, he pushed sound through his shattered mouth. Hear me. Please hear me. “Aaaaarh.” The woman flicked a look his way, squeezed Cowboy Boots’ arm in a comforting gesture then followed the other officer back to the car. Despair enveloped him, and all hope lost, he allowed the tears stinging his eyes to run down his cheeks. Footsteps came tapping on the cement floor like the ringing of a death knell. His cries for help had enraged the maniac. “How dare you try to alert the cops? I own you.

” Cowboy Boots spat a hot, slimy globule on his cheek. “It’s your fault the bitch scanned my yard. You are so gonna pay.” Blows rained down on him, searing pain exploded in his head, and his vision blinked. A strange fog surrounded him and he embraced the peace of darkness. ONE “It’s official. I’m crazy, nuts, certifiable.” David Kane peered through the frost-covered windshield into the inky darkness closing around his SUV. “Only a madman drives overnight in a blizzard.” Alone in the car, his voice seemed louder than usual.

The headlights illuminated a strip of blacktop like a glossy, ice-covered snake winding through snow-covered fields. An uncomplicated life in a small, sleepy town in Montana had looked good during his ten-month stint in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but after four hours of driving deeper into oblivion, he was beginning to have his doubts. “Talking to yourself is the first sign.” Yawning, he opened a window to clear his head. A blast of freezing wind slapped his face, jerking his concentration to full alert. “That’s better.” He pulled down his black woolen cap to cover his ears then tapped the GPS screen. “Are you awake?” The robotic female voice keeping him company had remained silent since her last set of directions. In the distance, he caught the intermittent glow of taillights and accelerated. Following a vehicle through the treacherous, unfamiliar roads would make life easier, and if it dropped out of sight, he doubted another would come by any time soon.

Isolated and far from civilization, only idiots like him visited the backwoods town of Black Rock Falls during a blizzard. He rounded a long curve and gained on the bobbing red lights. Snow piled on the wipers and left a frozen trail on the windshield, distorting the view. He slowed to keep pace, remaining at a distance, not wanting to tailgate or disturb the driver, but the fact someone else had braved the weather gave him comfort. When a road loomed up on the right with a stop sign peppered with bullet holes and sagging at a jaunty angle, he sighed with relief. The SUV’s headlights picked out a white barn, fences, and a driveway leading to darkness. At last, signs of life. The roar of an engine cut through the silence and light hit the rear-view mirror. Twin halogen beams cut into his corneas, blinding him. The vehicle shot past at high speed, showering his black SUV with ice and gravel.

He blinked away red spots in time to make out a mud-covered license plate on a dark pickup carrying a large black barrel secured by ropes. Idiot! The speeding maniac bore down on the car in front and both disappeared around a tight bend. A wave of apprehension hit him. A loud bang and grinding shattered the still night and he slowed his pace. Taking the sweeping turn with caution, he gaped in dismay at the pieces of twisted metal littering the bank of fresh snow. Vivid memories of life-changing seconds slammed into his mind. The image of his wife’s lifeless eyes staring into nothingness. The blood on her forehead. The anger knowing the bad guys had won. He shook his thoughts back into the now and scanned the road for wreckage.

The ruts in the snow indicated one vehicle had left the road. He inched the car forward and stared into the distance. Two red taillights disappeared into the darkness. Jerk. The pickup had appeared out of nowhere as if the driver had lain in wait behind the barn then rammed the other car with no regard to human life. What a great start to his new job. He would arrive in Black Rock Falls as the sole witness to attempted murder and leaving the scene of an accident. This is all I need. Using the SUV’s headlights to scan the area, he crawled forward, searching the gray packed snow on the edge of the road for the other vehicle. A plume of smoke shimmered in a nearby field and a deep groove in the soil showed the car’s trajectory.

He turned his car to flood the area with light. Leaving the engine running, he grabbed a flashlight from the glove compartment and slid from the seat. Sleet stung his cheeks and an icy chill cut through his clothes. He zipped his thick winter hoodie and shivered. His gut clenching with apprehension of finding death in the crushed metal, he ran, boots crunching on ice, toward a police cruiser with the “Black Rock Falls County Sheriff’s Department” logo on the door. The car revolved on its roof, wheels spinning and cloaked in a haze of mist. As it came to a stop, he jumped the drainage gully along the roadside, dropped the flashlight then slid on his knees toward the driver’s side. A cloud of fumes billowed around him and gas pooled in the snow. One spark and the fuel would ignite. Placing one boot on the side panel, he grabbed the handle and gently levered open the door.

He reached for the flashlight and aimed the beam on the face of a woman in uniform suspended upside down by the seat belt, her face flush with the airbag. She glared at him, dark eyes flashing. She appeared alert and, from her expression, pissed to the max. She’s alive. As he moved the flashlight over her, the officer squinted then lifted the muzzle of a Glock 22 and aimed it at his face. TWO Kane gaped at her in disbelief, the offer of help frozen on his lips. Okay, what is going on here? Blood oozed from her hairline but her small hand remained steady. She narrowed her dark gaze. “Take the light out of my eyes. Step away from the car and get your hands where I can see them.

” “Yes, ma’am.” Kane laid the flashlight on the ground and raised his hands. He kept his manner calm and professional to avoid her splattering his brains all over the snow. “Do you want me to call this in and get the paramedics? You’re injured.” As cool as a combat-trained field officer, she did not blink and spat out commands. “No, I don’t need medical assistance. It’s just a scratch. Give me your name.” “I’m David Kane, Black Rock Falls’ new deputy sheriff. Can I show you my creds or license? They’re in my inside pocket and I’m carrying a revolver in a shoulder holster.

” He stared into eyes as cold as ice. She wore the stark expression of a trained killer and one as familiar as his own reflection. “I don’t have a badge. I’m due to collect one and my uniform on arrival.” “The creds they sent you will do just fine.” Her gaze moved over him but the Glock remained aimed at his forehead. “One hand on your head, leave the gun holstered then take out your ID real slow.” Wondering what kind of place he had relocated to after his years in DC’s Special Forces Investigation Command, he complied then flipped open the wallet and turned it upside down to display his ID. “The Black Rock Falls County Sheriff’s Department is a small office—I’m sure you’ve heard about my appointment? I’m due to report at zero eight hundred on Monday to Sheriff Alton.” “Put some light on that ID.

” She blinked away the trickle of blood seeping into one eye. “No sudden moves.” He held the wallet holding his photograph and creds as deputy sheriff in front of the flashlight. “Now you know who I am, can I help you, ma’am? Can I call someone to take a look at your head?” She did not offer her name but gave him a curt nod then winced. “It’s nothing and I don’t require the paramedics.” Moving his gaze over her ashen face, he leaned closer to push away black bangs from an inch-long scratch oozing blood at the hairline. The gun did not waver but her finger slid away from above the trigger and curled around the grip. He swallowed the command to insist she holster her weapon. “I’ll need to help you out of the car so I can dress the wound. Any other injuries?” “No.

I’m just peachy.” She gave him a sarcastic smile. “There’s a knife strapped to my right ankle. Grab it and cut through the seat belt.” Kane went for his own knife and her eyes widened. He ignored her and punctured the airbag on the underside, away from her face. The deflated balloon allowed him more space to check her injuries. “Take the gun out of my face. If it misfires, we’ll both be toast. The gas tank is leaking.

” “Do you see my finger on the trigger? I’m not a rookie. Here, take it.” She dropped the muzzle of the weapon and offered it to him butt-first. “Get me out of here.” He pushed the Glock into the back of his belt. “Okay, tell me if anything hurts when I move you.” Sliding his left arm around her waist for support, he sliced through the seat belt then lifted her out of the car and placed her on the ground a safe distance away. He collected the flashlight then returned and offered his hand. “Can you stand?” “Just a minute.” She touched her head gingerly, stared at her bloodstained fingers, then turned away and vomited.

“You’re showing signs of a concussion. I’m calling nine-one-one.” She wiped her mouth with a handful of snow and glared at him. “It’s not the head injury. It was the car spinning.” She gagged and crawled away from him on hands and knees. “I’ve had a concussion before and I’m lucid, my vision is fine. I’m not going into shock. Give me a second.” She was not reacting like someone who had just had a near-death experience.

She had gone on the offensive the moment he had arrived on scene, and remained in complete control. Why did she pull her weapon on a potential Good Samaritan unless she believed her life was in danger? He scratched his chin and caught the slight tremble of her gloved hands. Yeah, it was freezing but she seemed adept at blocking all signs of emotion. He had worked in the Special Forces Investigation Command long enough to recognize specialized training, and his mind reeled with the implications. Why would the SFIC put me slap bang in the middle of an ongoing undercover mission? Kane moved back to the cruiser and kicked a pile of snow over the spreading patch of fuel. He pulled out his cellphone and took a few photographs of the scene then called nine-one-one. One of the other deputies would have to secure the scene. His priority was getting her to safety. When a dog barking ringtone came from the female officer’s cellphone, he turned to stare at her. “Yeah, that’s right, nine-one-one calls go straight to my cell.

Consider the accident reported.” She pressed a handful of snow to the oozing cut on her head and winced. “I’ll get someone out here in the morning. Just secure the vehicle.” “Yes, ma’am.” Rounding the vehicle, he went to the open door and peered inside. The interior was devoid of the usual take-away coffee lids and wrappers. He slid across the front seat and opened the glove compartment. Inside was a pile of blank summonses and a thermos. He collected the items, snatched the keys from the ignition and climbed out, shutting the door behind him with care.

The beep from the key toggle sounded loud in the darkness. Wind blasted him, and a bone-numbing chill hit the metal plate in his head and sent a shiver across the back of his neck. A familiar throb set up a painful beat in his temple, spreading to the backs of his eyes. In the few minutes since the accident, the sleet had turned into a blizzard. The officer was on her knees puking her guts out. He needed to move her into his vehicle before she went into shock. He tossed the items into the back seat of his SUV then returned to her side and crouched beside her. “Any weapons in the trunk?” “No.” She did not look at him. “Okay, let’s get you out of the cold.

” Ignoring her protests, he scooped her up and headed for his vehicle. She was heavier than expected and had the kind of muscular body that took years to perfect. The fact that she had the same physique as many of the female agents he had worked beside for the last ten years sent up more red flags. He could be wrong; not everyone was in the same position as him. People wanted him dead. Although the media reported his death in a car wreck along with his wife, Annie, he would need to watch his back twenty-four-seven. His commander had organized the escape to the country right down to the demotion to deputy sheriff. Changing identities came with the job, and after spending months in recovery perfecting his cover story, he had expected to have time to mourn the loss of his wife in a lazy country town. Instead, he had marched into trouble yet again. I seem to attract crime.

Holding her close, he crunched through the snow and her enquiring gaze fixed on him as if she had read his mind. He indicated toward his vehicle with his chin. “I have a first aid kit in my car. I’ll see to your head wound before we head off.” “Do you usually dash in and take charge of situations?” “It’s part of the job and it’s not like you’re in any shape to take charge.” He juggled her in one arm, pulled open the passenger door, and eased her inside. “Here.” He handed her back her pistol. “Just in case I get out of hand.” He shut the door and headed around the hood of the car.

Snatching the first aid kit from the back seat, he climbed in beside her. To his surprise, she sat motionless and allowed him to clean and dress the wound. She had been correct; the cut was small but he still had concerns. “I know you’ve refused medical treatment but will you allow me to check your pupils?” “If you must.” He picked up the flashlight then flicked the beam across her eyes. When both pupils reacted in unison, he sighed with relief. “All good.” “Roger that. Now can we get going?” Moving as if in pain, she leaned back in the seat and secured the belt. He tossed the first aid kit into the back and turned to her.

“You know my name. How would you like me to address you?” “Sheriff Alton will do just fine.” The twinkle of amusement in her eyes reflected his disbelief. He guessed by her cool-headed response to the accident that she had spent time in the field, but holding the position of Black Rock Falls’ sheriff had not entered his mind. For the first time, he took in her features. Too young to have the experience necessary for such a high-profile position, and he would likely have to take the lead in anything over a parking ticket. Her uniform was pristine apart from the blood spatters and she wore her hair in a short yet fashionable style. Dark blue eyes set off an attractive face and he wondered what division of the military had trained her. The question burned on his lips but he pushed it aside and gave her a nod. “Do you know who ran you off the road and why?” He moved the gearshift into drive and turned onto the highway.

“No, I was kind of busy trying to survive. Did you get a plate?” He glanced at her and shook his head. “The number had mud smeared over it but I made out one digit, a nine.” “Make?” “Yeah, it was a Ford pickup, maybe a seventies model with a dark paint job, maybe blue or green with a torn sticker next to the taillight. It was carrying a beat-up black drum with molasses written on the side. I’m sure I would recognize the vehicle again. I assume the driver came out from behind the barn some ways back because I had nobody following me.” He cleared his throat. “Do you have any enemies?” “Who doesn’t in Black Rock Falls?” Alton snorted. “If it’s not members of the Town Council at each other’s throats, it’s the drifters or cowboys doing the rodeo circuit.

Then we have the fights between the rival hockey teams and the fans. We have a stadium on the other side of town and this weekend is a home game. Trust me, even bad weather doesn’t keep them away. The majority of hockey fans arrive early and stay for the weekend.” She shrugged. “They tend to overindulge, and if the driver was under the influence, he wouldn’t stop to help a cop and risk prosecution.” “I guess, but the mud on the plate seems a little too convenient for me.” He considered the implications of investigating a horde of visitors in town and shrugged. “At least we have a partial and the make and model of the vehicle.” “There are dozens of Ford pickups in Black Rock Falls without considering those from the other towns.

” She gave him a long, considering stare as if assessing him. “As to personal enemies, I could give you a list of maybe five people who’d prefer to have a man in my job. It’s just as well women have the vote.” So, not the quiet little town I had envisioned. He sucked in a breath. “So what emergency had you out at this time of night?” “It was a prank call.” She pressed trembling fingers to the white dressing on her head. “They didn’t leave a name and said they’d seen a wreck near the Simpson place. That’s about a mile past the barn you mentioned. I crawled five miles in either direction but found nothing and was heading home at the time of the accident.

” He stared at her, confused by her calmness. “I wouldn’t class what happened as an ‘accident.’ The car came out of nowhere. I think the driver was the prank caller and waited for you to pass. At the speed the pickup was traveling, hitting you was deliberate. I’ll track down the vehicle and haul them in for questioning.” “You’re very motivated.” Alton pulled up her collar and he noticed her fingers shaking. “Have you worked many hit-and-run cases?” “One or two.” He flicked a glance in her direction.

“Do you make a habit of going out on patrol in the middle of the night without backup?” “I usually take Rowley or one of the other deputies.” Alton’s mouth twitched as if in amusement. “Now you’re here maybe you’ll volunteer for permanent night duty?” “Maybe later, when I get to know the area.” The SUV’s headlights picked up groups of buildings stacked along the road. “I’ll drop you home then I’ll need directions to the O’Reilly Ranch. I’ve arranged to stay there until I can find a place of my own.” “Hang a right at the next crossroads. The O’Reilly Ranch is about a mile away. Look out for a white arch with a bull’s skull on top.” Her lips twitched into a semblance of a smile.

“You’re staying with me. I own the O’Reilly Ranch.”

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