|It Happened One Night
By: Cat Walker
Sara couldn’t believe her luck. The falcons were really active, and the moonlight was perfect.
With her digital Cannon camera, and the Zies zoom lens, she had already gotten several photos of the birds in flight. She had even gotten a shot of one as it caught a small swallow in its talons.
Zooming in on two birds as they perched on the building across the way, Sara saw a movement to her left. Turning, she focused in on the top of the adjacent building.
She caught the movement again and watched as she saw two men fighting. Without thinking, she began to take pictures as she watched the huskier of the two men, push the other man away and when she saw a flash of light she realized in horror that he had shot him. Two more flashes of light told her that he had shot him again. Then she watched as he walked over to the man, now lying on the rooftop and fired a fourth time. Shaking, Sara reached for the phone next to her and dialed 911.
“Emergency Services, how may I help you?”
“I just saw a man shoot another man on the rooftop of the US Bank building.”
“On the rooftop?”
“How did you witness this? Are you on the rooftop as well?”
“No, I’m in the office building across the street. Please hurray.” Looking up she gasped, “Oh my God.” Sara sat down the phone and backed away from the window as she saw the gun man looking in her direction. He couldn’t possibly see her right? The room was dark. Focusing the lens again, she saw that he had received a phone call and was now looking in her direction. Turning, she ran for the elevator. But she stopped herself before she hit the down button. If he knew that she had seen him…and if someone had tipped him off that she was here. Oh God. What was she going to do? If she went downstairs now, she’d be an easy target.
“Think!” she said out loud.
He couldn’t have seen her. She was sure of that. The windows were like mirrors, and without any lights on he couldn’t have seen her. She hadn’t used a flash. Had she? She didn’t think so.
Turning toward the stairs she ran up three flights to the 52nd Floor. Running down the hall to the storage room, she unlocked the door and turned on the light. She could hang out here until morning. But before she could do that, she knew that there was one more thing she had to do.
Turning around, she ran into the computer room and logged onto the web server. Opening her Hotmail account she quickly downloaded the photos she had taken and then she emailed them to the Minneapolis Police department, with a note detailing what she had seen and what had happened. Then she quickly burned two CDs of the photos and her statement. Putting one of them in the bottom of the file cabinet and the other in her camera case, she felt satisfied that they could not be easily found.
Satisfied that the data would be safe, she logged off and went back to the storage room where she locked herself in. Turning off the lights, she sat behind some computer boxes, confident that she would be out of sight if someone looked in the room. Then she waited.
Lieutenants Jason Kollar and Shep Wilson stood studying the scene.
“It looks like a professional hit alright.” Shep nodded toward the body. “And considering the Vic, it probably was a professional job.”
Jason nodded and looked over at the Norwest Center. Someone had called in the crime but had been cut off. He was waiting to hear if her body had been found. The Emergency Services Tech had said that the last words out of the woman’s mouth had been “Oh my God”.
It didn’t look good.
“Kollar!” Jason turned and saw Captain John Harrison walking toward him.
“We just got a very interesting email sent to the general information address at the station. Looks like our witness got the photos sent off before she made her phone call.”
Jason’s cell phone rang. “Nothing here sir. We found the phone she made the call from. It was sitting on the desk. But there’s no sign of the woman. If the guy got her, he did her somewhere else. We’re dusting for prints now so we can ID her.”
“Good. I want to know her name as soon as you get it.” Hanging up Jason shook his head and relayed the information to his Captain.
Glancing at her watch, Sara saw that it was 7:30 am. Most of the people in her office would be in by now, and it just might be safe enough for her to sneak out.
Standing up, she turned on the light and tried to put herself together. She didn’t want it known that she had spent the night sleeping in the storage room.
Picking up a pad of paper and some pens, she unlocked the door and casually walked out of the room.
No one seemed to notice her and she made her way to her office where she quickly she sent a quick email to her boss saying that she wasn’t feeling well and left the office.
Something told her that going home right now would not be a wise move, so she headed for the police station.
Once there, she asked to see the officer in charge of the US Bank Murder case. When asked her name she said that she would rather wait and tell the person in charge.
Ushered into an office, Sara sat down and waited for someone to join her. She felt kind of silly for being so secretive, but the events over the last few hours had her feeling very cautious. There was something about what she had seen that wasn’t right. Not that witnessing a man being murdered was right, but there was something that was nagging at her memory and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Something about what she had seen that had her feeling very nervous about her well being. Probably the fact that the man had seemed to know she had seen it all happen, but she felt sure it was something more.
When the door finally opened she jumped up and clutched her bag to her chest.
‘The desk sergeant had been right, the woman certainly was edgy.’ Jason thought.
“I’m sorry that I startled you.” He said smoothly, trying to calm her ruffled feathers. “I’m Lieutenant Kollar.” He extended his hand toward her. Taking a deep breath she unclenched her hand and shook his hand.
Closing the door behind him he motioned toward the chair she had just vacated. “Please have a seat, Miss…?”
Sara studied him a moment. He looked trustworthy. Handsome and trustworthy. He seemed to be waiting for something. Then she realized that he was trying to find out her name.
“I’m sorry.” she said shaking her head. “I’m Sara. Sara Manning.”
Jason blinking in surprise. “Miss Manning?” He had just gotten the results from the finger prints from the lab and they belonged to a Miss Sara Manning. “We’ve been looking for you.”
Sara frowned. “You have? Why?”
“Well, unless we are mistaken, you were a witness to a crime last night.”
Sara slowly nodded her head. Closing her eyes she whispered. “Oh God.”
Jason took her by the elbow and lowered her into the chair. He could see that she was shaking. “Ms. Manning, can you tell me where you were last night?” he asked as he leaned back against his desk.
Nodding again, she took a deep breath, “I sent you an email.”
“Yes, we got that, thank you. But where did you go after you made the call to 911? Did something happen to you?”
“He seemed to know I was there.” she whispered. Shaking her head she knew she wasn’t making much sense. “I was calling 911 and I looked back out toward the US Bank building and I saw him looking in my direction. It scared me. I looked back thru my lens…”
“Your lens?” he interrupted.
“My camera. I had been taking pictures of the falcons. That’s why I was there so late.” Taking the camera from her bag he handed it to him. “I was using the zoom lens, that’s how I could see everything. How I could take the pictures.” She shuttered again. “I don’t know if you’ll be able to get any more information off of the disk so I thought I should give it to you.”
Nodding, he took the camera from her and sat it on his desk.
“Then what happened?”
“I saw that he was talking on a cell phone and he was looking at me, or at least in my direction. I took off. I ran to the elevator. But…”
She looked down at her hands briefly and noticed for the first time how badly she was shaking. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at him. “I was afraid that he had been tipped off somehow and would know I was there. It sounds so paranoid now, but I was afraid that since it was so late, that as soon as I walked out of the building he would know that I had seen him and I would be an easy target.”
Jason nodded his head. “That was a smart assumption.”
“I don’t know. But I was too chicken to test the theory so I sent the email and then I hid in the storage room.”
“Well, that would explain why my men couldn’t find you.”
Looking down she tried to remember if there was anything else she should tell him. Frowning she said, “I think that’s about it.” Then she shook her head again. “No it isn’t. I have a feeling that I saw something else last night that I should remember but can’t. I don’t know if I can explain it, but something is off.”
”What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure. But I feel like there’s a memory just out of reach. Kind of like when you can’t remember the name of a favorite song or something. You know what it is, but you can’t reach it.” Shaking her head again, “I don’t know, maybe I’m just imagining it.”
“You did have a shocking experience.” He tried to sooth her.
“You can say that again.”
Rubbing her hands over her face, and she looked back up at him. “So what happens now?”
Standing up, Jason picked up the camera. “Now, we get this to the lab, and we get a full statement from you. I’d like you to sit with a sketch artist as well. I know that you got some pretty incriminating photos of everything, but sometimes the artist can pull out a memory that the camera can’t.”
Sara nodded and stood up. As he reached for the door she knew she had to ask him one question. “Before we go out there, can I ask you a question?”
Jason nodded and turned his attention toward her.
“The man who was shot, he looked familiar.”
“How could…?” Sara took a step back as the gratify of the situation hit her. “Oh God.”
Jason put his hand on her shoulder. “We are going to do everything we can to keep you safe Ms. Manning.”
“The pictures are enough to convict, right?”
Jason couldn’t mislead her. “We will need your testimony as well.”
Sara closed her eyes. “Damn! Well, this is another fine mess I’ve gotten myself into.” Jason couldn’t help but smile at her choice of words.
Sara looked up at him and saw his smile. “Well, at least I still have my sense of humor.”
Jason studied her for a moment before saying, “Does that mean we can count on your testimony?”
“Of course! I may be a chicken but I don’t usually back down from what is right.”
Shaking his head he smiled at her. “Lady, I wouldn’t call you a chicken. Smart, daring. Brave actually. A lot of people would have turned a blind eye to what you saw.”
Sara just shook her head. “I couldn’t do that.”
Over an hour later Sara had made her statement and had sat with the police sketch artist. Sara still had the nagging feeling that she was missing something.
Jason had collected her again and sat her down in an audiovisual room with his partner, Lieutenant Wilson and his boss, Captain Harrison.
After a brief introduction, Captain Harrison addressed her. “Miss Manning, I’m sorry to have to ask you to do this, but we’d like to play back the photos you took to verify that nothing is missing.”
Sara nodded apprehensively. As the lights were dimmed and the photos began to flash before her, she couldn’t help the shutter of fear that once again covered her. It was like watching it all over again. Jason put a comforting hand on her shoulder and she welcomed it.
“Stop.” she said suddenly. “Can you go back a couple of frames?”
The technician did as she requested and started the slide show again. “There!” she pointed. “What is he doing?”
Jason stepped forward and took over the controls. Zooming in on the gunman’s hand they saw that he was removing something from the Senator’s pocket. “Can you isolate that?” he asked the technician. “Yes sir.” was the response.
“It looks like we may have a motive after all.” The Lieutenant said as he stared at the picture before him. The gunman had removed an envelope from the dead man’s pocket and on the next slide a name could clearly be read. “Douglas” Lieutenant Wilson nodded. “Son of a Bitch.”
Ushered once again back into Jason’s office, Captain Harrison turned to her, “Ms. Manning, I’d like to thank you for all the help you’ve provided. I don’t think we will need anything else from you today. Is there someplace that you can stay for the next few days?”
Sara felt like she had been punched in the stomach. Glancing over at Jason she saw the shock on his face as well. Looking down she considered her options. Damn them! She thought. “I’ll have to give that some thought.” She said. Captain Harrison nodded, “Why don’t we give you a few minutes. Lieutenants, I’d like a word with you.”
As the door closed behind them, Sara saw a possible opportunity. If she could sneak out of the station unnoticed then she could run and hide somewhere. Obviously the police weren’t going to provide her with a place to stay, and if they couldn’t guarantee her safety, she might as well try to hide on her own, where no one would be able to find her. Grabbing the baseball cap and the large sweatshirt she saw hanging on the back of the door and she stuffed them into her bag. Then she walked around the desk and drafted a quick note to the Lieutenant and taped it to the back of the door where the items had hung.
Taking a deep breath and saying a quick prayer that this would work, she opened the door and found the men standing near by. “I just need to use the ladies room.” she said, and when the Lieutenant Kollar started to direct her, she said, “I know where it is.” Then she turned back toward him adding, “Thank you.”
Walking into the ladies room, Sara stepped into a stall. No one was in the restroom when she had entered and she thought that had to be a good sign.
Quickly pulling her bag over her head, she pulled the sweatshirt on and zipped it up to her neck and pulled the drawstrings, cinching the hood close to her neck. Then pulling her hair up on the top of her head she pulled on the baseball cap.
Walking out of the stall, she looked in the mirror and tried to decide if she could get away with it. Adding her sunglasses, she thought that she looked a little different; hopefully different enough to get out the door and not be recognized by anyone who knew her.
Saying another quick prayer she slipped out of the room and headed for the exit.
She couldn’t believe she had made it. But she knew she had to hurry. They wouldn’t believe she was spending that much time in the restroom and they would probably send someone in to look for her. She only hoped that they wouldn’t find her note too quickly or she was sure they’d be able to spot her.
Her first stop was her bank where she withdrew $2000.00 from her savings account. She had taken off her disguise before she had entered her bank, and had put it back on before she left the building again. She knew that the bank had several cameras and she didn’t want to take the chance that they would look at the tapes.
She had a plan, and she hoped it would work. She just needed a little time and a whole lot of luck. An hour later she was on a greyhound bus heading for Duluth. It would be close to four o’clock by the time she reached Duluth and another hour before she got to her first stop for the night. She would need to get some shopping done once she reached Duluth, but with luck, she hoped that her plan would work.
The resort she had found had a small cabin with a full bathroom, and they took cash. It would serve her proposes well.
Opening the door, she stepped into the darkening room and switched on the light. Small was right. She thought as she looked around the room. To her right was the small kitchen that had an efficiency size stove and refrigerator, which sat next to a small table with two chairs. The small bathroom was next to the kitchen. Taking a quick peek in, she saw that it did indeed have a shower. How they had managed to fit it in there she had no idea, but it seemed to be in working order. The rest of the cabin held a full size sleeper sofa that looked like it had seen better days, a coffee table and an old rocking chair that matched the sofa. Drawing the blinds, she locked the door behind her and put the bags on the table. First things first, she thought as she opened her shopping bag and pulled out the Clairol hair dye and the scissors she had purchased. Walking into the bathroom she looked at her long blond hair and wanted to cry. She had worked so hard to grow it out. But she knew that a baseball cap and oversize sweatshirt would not keep her identity secret for long. Especially once Lieutenant Kollar discovered them missing.
Picking up the scissors she took a deep breath and began cutting.
Slamming his door, Jason let out a slew of swear words. Damn it. He should have known that her ‘Thank you’ really meant ‘Goodbye’.
He couldn’t blame her, what was Captain Harrison thinking? ‘Do you have someplace you can stay?’ What the hell?
Damn it! He had promised her that they would keep her safe and the Captain had pretty much given her the brush off.
Sitting down at his desk he rubbed his hands over his face. ‘Where the hell could she have gone?’ Looking back up he saw the note taped to his door.
I’m sorry. I have borrowed your sweatshirt and cap. I’m sure you won’t mind since it appears to be the only protect that the Police can offer me right now. Hopefully I’ll be able to return them to you when all of this is over. I’ll be in touch.
“Damn it Sara, I would have protected you.” he whispered. Opening the door he headed for the Captain’s office. At least now he had something to go on.
Sara woke early and headed out. She didn’t want anyone to see her, and she knew she had a long way to travel before she reached her next destination.
She had flushed her hair down the toilet and she would dump the box of dye when she found a large trash dumpster. She didn’t want to give anyone any ideas of what she had done to change her appearance. She felt a little silly, but she didn’t know what else to do. She had always been good at playing dress up for Halloween, laughing when her friends or family couldn’t recognize her. But this time she knew that if she was recognized that it could mean the difference between staying alive or ending up dead.
Her goal was to hike as far as possible, continuing through out the night if necessary and not stopping until she could find one of the deer stands she had seen in previous years. She felt that she would be safer if she could hide up in a tree stand than to just pitch her tent on the ground, but she was prepared either way. The bear spray she had purchased could be used on man or beast.
She knew that she had bought enough food and provisions in Duluth to tide her over until she reached Silver Bay, MN which should take her about five days to get to. She hoped that by then the police would be ready to have her come in to testify. If not, she would be able to pick up more supplies in Silver Bay and head back on to the trail. She really hoped that that wouldn’t be the case.
She had hiked the Superior Hiking Trail a number of times before and she hoped that it would provide her with a good hiding place. The resort she had stayed at was located just five miles from the trailhead, and with any luck she wouldn’t run into anyone on the way. It was still dark out, but she kept her headlamp turned off until she was out of sight of the resort.
While people knew that she liked hiking in the SHT, she hoped that they wouldn’t guess that that was where she had gone. It was her only option. She couldn’t risk putting any of her friends or family in danger hiding out at their places, and she couldn’t rent a car without proper identification, which she didn’t want to risk either. So she had decided that she would hoof it.
She had managed to catch a ride to Two Harbors the night before and had hiked the two miles to the resort. Now, leaving before the sun had started to rise, she hoped that no one would know where she had gone.
Two hours later, Sara was disappointed at how slow it was taking. She had forgotten that hiking in rough terrain took longer than walking around the lakes. She finally reached the trail head when the sun was starting its slow rise in the east. Grabbing one of the trail maps, she started down the trail but stopped and turned back toward the shelter.
Pulling out the business card from her pocket she debated whether she should call the Lieutenant to check in. She didn’t want him to know where she was; not just yet anyway, but perhaps it would be good to let him know that she was safe and to let him know she would be contacting him in a couple of days.
She wanted to save her cell phone battery, so she picked up the pay phone she plugged in her calling card number and then dialed the number on the card.
Jason looked up from the report he was reading. “Do you have a moment sir?” Detective Smith was standing at his door.
Motioning him in, Jason sat back in his chair. “What do you got?”
“From what we’ve been able to gather, Ms. Manning left the station and proceeded directly to her bank, where she withdrew $2000.00. Cash. From there we aren’t completely sure where she went, although, there is a possibility that she took a greyhound bus. Destination unknown. Surveillance cameras at the depot did see someone matching her description but we aren’t sure which bus she might have boarded. She hasn’t used her credit cards or her ATM card yet so we don’t have any leads there.”
“Well, she’s playing it smart.” Jason said. “She doesn’t know who she can trust, so she’s trusting no one. Damn it. Let’s just hope we catch a break before our hit man does. Thanks John.” He added as he reached for his ringing phone.
“Lieutenant Kollar? This is Sara Manning.”
Jason stood up. “Sara. Where are you?”
“I can’t tell you that right now. I’m sorry. I just wanted to call you and let you know that I’m safe and that I’ll be contacting you again in a couple of days. In the meantime, if you need to get a hold of me to testify, send a message to the ‘personal ads’ in the ‘City Pages’. I’ll watch for it.”
“Sara, listen to me. You don’t know that kind of people we’re dealing with…”
“Maybe not, but since your Captain didn’t seem that concerned about my safety I decided I should take care of myself.”
“I’ll be in touch Lieutenant.” She hung up the phone.
“Damn!” Dialing the operator he asked if they could find out where the call had originated. Looking back up at the Detective he said, “She running scared and damn it, we pushed her to it.”
It had been over a week and he still hadn’t heard back from Sara. Word on the street was that there was a hefty bounty on her head, and Jason was getting worried. None of their leads had panned out, and they were running out of time.
Jason pulled Shep into his office. “We need to talk, and it’s a conversation I don’t want the Captain knowing about. Is that alright with you?”
Shep nodded in agreement, “Does this little conversation have anything to do with our missing witness?”
Nodding, he replied, “I have a hunch I know where she is.”
“And you don’t want our Captain using all the finesse of a bull in a china shop locating her.”
Jason smiled at his long time partner and friend.
“There’s something else. I’m not sure, but I think there may be a leak in the department.”
Frowning, Shep asked, “You think it’s the Captain?”
“I don’t know.” Jason shook his head, “I can’t put my finger on it, but something just doesn’t feel right. First he pretty much dismisses our key witness, and then I find out that her apartment was gone over by a professional.”
“If it’s not the Captain, then it’s someone else in the department who’s close to the case.”
“I agree.” Jason replied, “I also think that you’re going to need some help on this one. This is definitely the big league and personally, I can’t help thinking that we should be calling in some back up. The Captain wants to keep this in the Department. Frankly I think it’s a damn political move, but as you said, I can’t be sure there isn’t more behind it. Listen, I have a couple of friends with the Bureau that I could call and ask if they’ll do some nosing around.”
“That’s not a bad idea.” Jason lowered his voice adding, “But we need to keep this very low key. If the Captain or one of his lackeys is working both sides of the fence…”
Shep nodded, “I know. They get wind of this and we could be making our wills out early. Not to worry. The guy I’m thinking of calling knows how to work under the radar.”
Shep sat down on the edge of the desk, “In the mean time, I think it’s about time you took that vacation you’ve been meaning to go on. There isn’t anything going on that I can’t handle.”
“Thanks partner. That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
Standing back up, Shep had his hand on the door when he turned back toward Jason. “Be careful. You won’t have anyone watching your back on this one, and I’d hate to loose a good partner.”
Jason nodded. “I’ll keep in touch.”
“Good.” Shep said as he left the room.
Jason turned, sent the email he had composed earlier, stating that he was taking leave, and then turned off his computer.
Picking up his coat, he headed out the door. Leaving a message with the desk sergeant that he would not be available, he looked up and caught Shep’s eye. Nodding, he turned and left the station.
Jason had a hunch and he tended on following his hunches. If he was right, he’d hopefully find Sara and get her someplace safe. If not, then he would be taking an extended vacation.
It had taken her seven days to reach Silver Bay. Much longer than she had anticipated, and she had been disappointed to learn that the police had not been in contact with her, nor had she read any news about the murderer being caught. Fighting the urge to call the Lieutenant for a status report, she decided she needed to sit down and considered her options.
But first things first, she was tired and she needed a shower. She had been on the trail for over a week and she was exhausted. Walking up to the hotel clerk, she smiled at the look she received. She knew that she looked a little rough, but considering everything else she really didn’t care.
“Hi, I’d like to get room for the night.”
“It’s $79.00.” the clerk said skeptically. “That’s fine.” And when he seemed to hesitate she added, “I’ll be paying in cash, if that’s alright.”
“Oh!” He seemed shocked. “Yah, that’s alright. I’ll just need you to fill out this form.” He added as he pushed a registration form toward her.
Sara picked up the pen and started to complete the form with the false name and information she had decided to use.
Picking it up, the clerk said, “Thank you Miss.” he looked down at the name “Wind, if I could just see some identification.”
Sara bite her lip and started to explain that she had lost her identification while hiking on the trail. She said she hoped that it wouldn’t be an issue since she was paying with cash.
The clerk seem uncertain for a moment, but since it was so late, he decided that he’d let it slide. “I guess it would be alright.”
“Oh thank you!” her face brightened with a smile. “You don’t know how much I appreciate it! I really need to dry out the rest of my gear and call my parents. God you don’t know what I’ve been thru. Thank you!”
As the clerk handed her the keycard and her receipt, Sara heard the door open. There was something about the aftershave that caught her memory and she held her breath as the clerk repeated her room number and the directions. Picking up her bag, she nodded her thanks and turned to leave. ‘Don’t look.’ she told herself as she turned her head away from the man to put the paperwork in her bag.
“May I help you?” the clerk was saying. “Yes, I’d like a room.” Sara recognized the Lieutenant’s voice and hurried out.
Finding her room, Sara closed and locked the door behind her, before collapsing into a nearby chair.
Something didn’t feel right. Why hadn’t he contacted her as she had requested, and more importantly, how had he found her? Damn it! If he had found her, then it was a good chance that the hit man would also find her.
How the hell had he found her? She wondered. She thought that she had been so careful. As much as she wanted to believe that he was one of the good guys, she couldn’t afford to let her guard down now. No matter how exhausted she was. She had set the rules of how she was to be contacted and she knew that he had not tried to reach her via the personals as she had instructed, and that puzzled her.
It didn’t really matter. She didn’t believe this was a coincidence. Some how he knew she was up here. But maybe he hadn’t recognized her. She could only hope. What she did know was that she had just wasted $79.00 on a room she could not use.
A quick shower and she would have to be on her way. She couldn’t risk him IDing her.
She’d have to make due with whatever supplies she could get from the Super America station and head back onto the trail. She’d decide where to go after she was sure he wasn’t following her.
A knock at her door had her suddenly shaking with fear. Peeking thru the peek hole, she saw that it was indeed the handsome lieutenant.
Trying to disguise her voice she said, “Yah?”
When the clerk had said that the hiker had just come off the Superior Hiking trail, he knew he needed to talk with her. Perhaps she had seen Sara or at least he might be able to determine which direction to head on the trail.
Holding his badge up to the peek hole, he said, “Ms. Wind? I’m with the Minneapolis Police department and I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.”
Sara closed her eyes. What should she do? At least he still thought she was Tara Wind. “Can it wait?” she asked briefly, still trying to disguise her voice. “I’m afraid that it can’t.”
Jason heard the curse on the other side of the door and smiled; his sentiments exactly. He was tired and wanted to take a hot shower just as she must have, but time was of the essences.
Hearing the lock turn in the door, he lowered his arm and waited as the door slowly opened. “Thank you.” he said when he finally saw a head peek around the corner of the door. “Do you mind if I come in?”
Sara stepped back and let him into the room. She was wondering when he would finally recognize her and what would happen once he did.
Jason glanced around the room and saw that she hadn’t started to unpack yet. Turning back toward her he said, “I won’t keep you long. I understand that you just came off of the Superior Hiking Trail.”
Sara nodded and avoided looking into his eyes. Instead, she looked at the clock, hoping that he would think she was just being impatient.
“I was wondering if you ran into anyone while you were up there. I’m looking for a woman, long blond hair, about 5’4. She would have been traveling alone.”
Jason stopped and stared at the woman before him. With the exception of the shorter red hair she looked a lot like…
Sara could feel him staring at her and despite her best efforts, she found herself looking up into his eyes. Just as she suspected, her eyes gave her away.
“Good God.” he whispered, “I didn’t recognize you.”
Sara frowned. “That had been the idea.”
Reaching up he touched her hair. “You did good Sara.”
Shaking her head, she stepped away from him. “Well, obviously not well enough.”
Sitting down on the bed she suddenly felt exhausted. “Please tell me that you got the bad guy and that the only reason you are here was to tell me that everything’s ok and I don’t have to hide any more.”
Jason shook his head, “I’m sorry.”
Sara closed her eyes. “Damn.”
Jason studied her. She was beautiful. How had he missed that? Maybe he hadn’t exactly missed it, but as his witness he hadn’t seen her in that way before.
Looking back up at him, Sara wondered about the look he was giving her. “What?”
“I like your hair that way.” he said before he could check himself.
Sara smiled. “Halloween 2004.”
Sara laughed. “Halloween 2004. I dressed up as Ginger from ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and had a wig this color.” She tugged at her hair. “My own sister didn’t recognize me in the pictures. So when I had to pick a color and style, I went with Ginger.”
Standing up she walked to the chair where her backpack sat and opened it. “I don’t know what the plan is now, but I’d really like to take a shower and get cleaned up. It’s been over a week since I’ve had a shower and I’m sure I smell like it.”
Jason nodded. “That’s fine. Just let me go get my bag.”
Shaking her head, she stopped him. “Wait. Why do you need to get your bag?”
“Sara, now that I’ve found you, I’m not going to let you out of my sight.”
Walking up to her, he put his hands on her shoulders, “I told you that I would keep you safe, and I intend to do that.”
Sara looked up at him and that she saw sincerity behind his words. But she couldn’t be sure. Letting out a shaky breath she whispered “Thank you.” and then she stepped back from him.
Jason dropped his hands and turned toward the table where she had put her keycard. Picking it up, he said “I’ll be right back.” and then he left the room.
Sara stared after him. There was something about the man that was both comforting and disturbing as well.
Looking down at her open backpack she tried to decide what she should do. She wanted to believe that he was there to help her, to protect her, but she just wasn’t completely sure.
Whatever else, she did know one thing; she was just too tired to run right now. She would wait and see what his intentions were, and would deal with things as they came. If he was there to harm her, he hadn’t done anything yet, and he did seemed pretty confident that she didn’t suspect anything if that was the case.
Jason knocked briefly and then opened the door. Sara was standing where he had left her but she had picked up her hiking pole and was holding it as a weapon.
Upon seeing him, she slowly lowered it. “Sorry.”
Locking the door behind him, he smiled at her. “No problem. I’m glad to see that you aren’t taking any chances.”
Sara looked down at the pole and shook her head. Who was she kidding? As if a hiking pole would offer her any protection against a man with a gun.
Setting it down, she picked up her change of clothes and her toiletry kit. “I’m going to jump into the shower if that’s alright with you.” Then she turned and shut herself into the bathroom.
Stepping into the shower, she turned on the water and let it pour down on her. Picking up the bar of soap she turned and let the water rain down on her, finally allowing the tension she had been carrying around the last few days to wash out of her. The fear and uncertainty seemed to get the best of her and she buried her head in her hands and sobbed.
When the bathroom door finally opened, Jason could see that Sara had indeed been crying. He had thought he heard her crying while she took her shower, but he hadn’t been sure. Now, seeing the tear streaks still evident on her cheeks he knew that he hadn’t been mistaken.
Sara knew that her emotions were shot and she was struggling not to completely break down. She also knew that if she looked at the Lieutenant that her resolve would melt and she would be a blubbering idiot; and that was something she was not going to do.
“It’s all yours.” She said when she emerged. Her hands were full of her clothing and she made a beeline for her bag.. Taking her time, she began to fold her clothes, hoping that he would get into the bathroom before she lost it again.
Jason picked up his toiletry kit and stopped just inside the bathroom doorway. “Don’t open the door for any reason, ok?” Sara nodded and continued to put her clothes away. Satisfied that she would do as he asked he closed the door behind him.
Sara glanced over at the closed door and bit her trembling lip. Damn it. She couldn’t fall to pieces now. She just couldn’t.
Taking a deep breath she debated as to what she should do next. There was something that just didn’t feel quite right about the Lieutenants’ arrival. He seemed sincere, but then again, would he act insincere if he was there to harm her? Probably not. But why wouldn’t he have contacted the local police and gotten her to a safe house if he was there to protect her. God, her head was swimming.
Spying his room key, she made her decision. Walking over to the bed, she moved the extra pillows under the blankets and hoped that it would fool the Lieutenant into thinking that she was laying there asleep. Then she quietly gathered her pack and slipped from the room.
The room he had booked was on the second level and she was glad that no one was around to see her enter the room. She didn’t turn on the lights, but waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness before she moved away from the door. After closing the drapes, she reached into her pack and grabbed her headlamp. Switching it on, she saw that the room was much like her own, with one large queen-sized bed, a dresser with a TV sitting on top of it, and a small desk with a chair.
Grabbing the chair, she pushed it up against the door, in the hopes that should anyone try to break in, the noise would wake her.
Then she slipped out of her hiking pants and crawled beneath the blankets. She wondered if the Lieutenant was out of the shower yet, and whether or not he had discovered her missing yet. If he was on her side, wouldn’t he notify the local police, in the hope of finding her? She’d hear the sirens if that was case, and then she’d know that she could trust him, and she would come out of hiding. She knew she’d have to explain her actions, but that didn’t worry her. If he was there to protect her, she was sure he would understand her motives. If not… closing her eyes, she said a quick prayer that she was doing the right thing, and then she willed herself to sleep.
Sara woke with a start. It took her a moment to determine where she was, and then she tried to figure out what had woken her. Sitting up in the bed, she looked toward the door. The chair looked undisturbed. Quietly getting up, she slipped back into her hiking pants and slid her feet into her boots, pulling the toggles tight. Then she walked over and hazarded a glance through the peek hole. She didn’t see anyone. Walking back toward her bed, she decided to take a glance outside. Slowly lifting the curtains, she looked out onto the parking lot, and found nothing to be alarmed about.
The clock read 4:30 a.m. It had been after midnight when she had left the Lieutenant. Either he still thought she was sleeping, or he hadn’t notified the local authorities. Letting the curtain fall back, Sara sat back down on the bed and tried to decide what she should do next.
She still didn’t know if she could trust the Lieutenant. One thing she knew for sure was that he hadn’t tried to contact her via the personal ads as she had instructed and that didn’t feel right.
She needed to figure out what her next step would be. But first, she needed to get some space between her and the Lieutenant, without being seen.
Opening her pack, she pulled out her toiletry kit and walked into the bathroom, closing the door before turning on the light. Inside the kit she found the self-tanning lotion and the other Clairol Hair dye she had bought before leaving Duluth.
Looking into the mirror, she stared at the red color she had chosen just over a week ago, and wondered if all this coloring would make her hair fall out. But it couldn’t be avoided. Now that the Lieutenant had seen her with this hair color and she would have to change it again if she wanted a chance to slip past him.
Grabbing the scissors from her kit, she stared cutting another two inches from her hair.
An hour later she was waiting for the tanning lotion to dry before she would put her clothes back on.. She had picked a dark lotion, and as the color began to appear, she was happy to see that it would give her a nice deep tan. Hopefully, her new skin color, and the dark purple mop of hair would fool the best of them.
Slipping into her hiking clothes, she gathered all the evidence of her costume change and threw them into the plastic bin liner. She would throw them away on her way out of town.
Quietly leaving the room, she made her way down the stairs and out into the parking lot. Glancing back toward the hotel, she hoped that no one noticed her departure, as she made her way toward the nearby gas station. Downing her knit hat, she slipped into the store and gathered the supplies she would need before she hit the trail again.
As she was packing her purchases away into her backpack, it began to rain and she wondered if her luck could get any worse.
“Oh dear, you don’t have to start walking in this do you?”
Sara looked up and saw an elderly woman standing beside her. Smiling back, she nodded, “I’m afraid so.”
The older woman studied her a moment and then said, “I don’t usually do this, but you seem like such a nice girl. Would you like a lift somewhere? I live near Tettegouche State Park, and they have some nice camper cabins there. You may be able to rent one, or you could at least wait out the shower in the ranger’s station.”
“I really don’t want to be any trouble.” Sara replied.
“Nonsense, I can’t have you getting drenched, now can I? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself!” Nodding toward a blue Ford Fiesta, she added, “That’s my car, come on.” Then she lifted her purse over her head and walked quickly to the car.
Sara smiled at her luck, and picked up her backpack and followed the woman to her car. Throwing her back in the back seat, she quickly got in the passenger seat. “This is very kind of you. I really appreciate it.”
“I’m Clara.” The woman extended her hand.
“Sara. It’s nice to meet you. Thanks again for the lift. I was planning on hiking to Tettegouche and camping for the weekend, so this is perfect. I guess I should have checked the weather report before I headed out this morning.” She added as by way of explanation.
As Clara started her car, she said, “I have a Granddaughter about your age. She’s a hiker too and I’d feel badly if someone didn’t help her out if she needed it. She lives in St. Paul and goes to the University. She’s going to be an Elementary Education teacher. She’ll make a good one too. She’s very patient.”
Sara smiled, and relaxed back into her seat. She knew from previous experience that the ride to Tettegouche would be a short one, but this would give her the head start she needed and she felt very grateful to the woman next to her.
“How long does your Granddaughter have left before she graduates?”
“She’s in her second year, but she hopes to get her Masters degree so it will be a while yet. She’s planning on coming back here to do her student teaching, and will be staying with me for the summer. I’m really looking forward to that. It will be nice to have the company.”
“Are you originally from Silver Bay?” she asked, trying to keep the conversation moving. She hoped that Clara wouldn’t ask her any questions about herself. She didn’t really want to lie to the lady, but she didn’t want to make her vulnerable either. While Sara didn’t think anyone would find out that she had gotten a lift, she didn’t want to chance it either, and decided that the less Clara knew about her, the better.
“I’m from Iowa originally, but I met my husband up here and we decided to live here.”
Sara smiled, “Now that sounds like an interesting story.”
Clara smiled back, “Well, I suppose it is.”
Sara turned her attention toward the lady and relaxed as she launched into her lovely story.
After Clara had dropped her off at the Ranger station, Sara headed off toward the Superior Hiking Trail. The rain had abated a bit and she hoped that she’d be able to make some good time on the trail and reach the second campsite on the map by night fall.
She knew that she would be well ahead of the Lieutenant, should he be following her, but she kept looking back to make sure that no one was following her.
Several hours later, she reached her intended campsite. It was still very light out, and a glance at her map showed that another campsite a few miles ahead. Wanting to put as much space between herself and the Lieutenant, she picked up her pace.
Sara sat back against her backpack and listened to the rain pour down on her tent. She loved that sound. It always relaxed her.
She had found the third campsite just after dark, but had decided to continue up the path until she found an area off the trail that her tent could easily fit in. It was against her basic principle to camp in undesignated sites, always being conscious of the ‘leave no trace’ philosophy, but drastic times meant drastic measures and she had taken a deer path several yards off the main path and had found a site well hidden from the trail.
She had quickly hung her food pack and was now sitting in her tent contemplating her next move. As she saw it, she really had only one option. The people who had killed the senator were obviously professionals and she couldn’t afford to trust that the police would be able to offer her any kind of protection and she still wasn’t sure about whose side the Lieutenant was on. The fact that he hadn’t notified her as she had specified, and more importantly, that he hadn’t alerted the local police when he had found her, bothered her. Now, she didn’t know who she could trust. One thing she did know, was that she would have to remain on the run, possibly indefinitely; and that would mean that she would have to take a page out of one of the spy thrillers she liked to read.
She had already changed her hair color, now she would have to change her name, her personality…everything. She would have to become a new person. Someone not even her own mother would recognize.
Pulling out her trail map she estimated that it would take her another two weeks of steady hiking to reach Grand Marais. She could stop on the way for more supplies if needed, but she felt that it would be best to keep to the trail as much as possible to avoid running into anyone who may be looking for her.
She would have two weeks to perfect her new personality. She had watched enough thrillers to know that she would have to make the transformation as complete as possible. She couldn’t afford to slip up.
Sitting up, she took out the notepad she had bought at the garage and started to make a list of her personality traits. Her likes and dislikes. The things that people would associate her with. Then she made a list of characteristics that were the complete opposite, but traits that she felt she could pull off.
First on the list was her name, which she knew would have to be the first item to change. While Sara Manning wasn’t exactly a very unusual name, she didn’t think it would be a good idea to stick with it. Also, since she had already used Tara Wind, she knew she’d have to find another alias.
God only knew how long she would have to keep up this charade and she realized that it would have to be a name that she wouldn’t easily forget. Putting a line next to her name, she decided to leave that alone for now, and then she concentrated on the rest of the list.
Going over her list she realized that some of her habits would be easy to disguise, while others would take considerable practice. Her choice of clothing, as with her hair, could easily be changed, as could her profession. She had already begun to loose some weight from all the hiking and her body was toning up nicely. This, she realized, she could use to her advantage. These were the easy changes. Looking back down at her list she decided that another, relatively easy change would be her views about smoking. Her father had died of lung cancer, and she had always been anti-smoking. While she still was adamantly against smoking, she felt that she might be able to pretend that she was a smoker. It would take some practice, but she felt it would be worth it, especially if she wanted to fully adopt her new persona. Setting her notebook down, she carefully considered who she would become.
Her destination was to be Grand Marais, Minnesota; a small northern Minnesotan town that had a seasonal tourist trade, and a thriving art community. She felt that she could easily blend in given the right circumstances.
Picking up her list again, she studied it. She had changed her hair from blond to a dark purple color and had chopped her long hair off to just below her ears. The cut she realized was on the rough side. ‘OK,’ thought to herself. ‘I’ll go rough.’ She had dressed up as a biker chick a number of times for Halloween, and that was as rough as she thought she could go and still blend in with the other towns’ people. She decided that it would be fairly easy to just to wear jeans, boots and some biker type t-shirts. She could cop an ‘attitude’ and she might just be able to pull it off. The clothes would be easy enough to pick up, and hopefully this will be enough to convince everyone that she was who she claimed to be.
It being late August, she knew that the tourist season would be coming to a close, and she hoped that she would be able to get a cash job in one of the local bars or restaurants to help pay for her expenses. She also hoped she would be able to find a place to live before the snow started to fly.
Putting her notebook back in her backpack, she decided she would start working on her new personality tomorrow morning. For tonight, she would still be Sara Manning. Tomorrow, she would be… she’d think of that tomorrow.
Robbie Walker arrived in Grand Marais seventeen days later. Checking into a local B&B, she had made her introductions and had counted on the older couple who ran the place to spread the word of her arrival and her desire to settle down in Grand Marais. Robbie (Roberta) Walker explained that she was an artist, jewelry being her medium, and that she was interested in getting a job as a bartender or a waitress to pay the bills until her artwork took off.
With in a few days she was introduced to Billy Johnson, the owner of the local VFW bar, who told her that he was looking for a bartender to help him out a couple of nights a week. He also informed her that he had an apartment for rent above the bar. He promised that the place was clean and the rent was cheap if she would be willing to put up with the late hours. She accepted the position and the accommodations and started working that evening.
Over the next couple of weeks she learned everything she could about her new job and she started to make some acquaintances with the towns’ people. Always very careful to keep her true identity and personality hidden, she laid down the foundations needed to back up her new identity.
In her new apartment upstairs from the bar, she kept her charade going with ash trays and suitable clothing for her new persona. While she feels like she is being paranoid, she figures that it’s better to be paranoid then dead.
Creating jewelry has long been a hobby for her. She has set up a work area complete with beads, wire and even some soldering equipment to make her claim of being an artist seem legitimate and possibly to turn the hobby into an actual business.
Things are going well. She keeps mostly to herself, and spends most of her spare time working on her jewelry. She’s managed to complete a few pieces and has made arrangements with one of the local merchants to display her work at their shop, giving them a small percentage of the sale.
It’s been a few weeks since she arrived in Grand Marais and she feels like she’s getting into a comfortable routine. Stopping in the local grocery store, she spots an ad for a house-sitter for one of the cabins just on the outskirts of the Gunflint Trail. Stopping at the corner pay phone, she calls the number and arranges to meet the owners in the next hour.
Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Smith are an elderly couple who have decided to spend their winter in Florida, and they want to make sure that the pipes don’t freeze in their absence. The cabin is beautiful and exactly what she is looking for in the way of a retreat. She explains her situation, and she says that she would be happy to watch the house for the next couple of months, stating that while she can’t stay at the cabin every night, she will stay at the house every weekend, and she’ll keep an eye on the premise every day during the week. Luckily, the Smith’s seem to like her, and they hire her to watch the house.
Moving her camping gear into the cabin that weekend, she decides to keep the cabin sitting job a secret, hoping that this can be a refuge, a place where she can be herself, without worrying about being found out. She also decides to use the cabin as her launch point should anything go wrong in town. From here, she can take daily trips into the Superior Hiking trail, and starts planning an escape route should the need arise. Stocking up on supplies, she begins to place ‘caches’ along the trail to aid in her escape.
As the weeks go by, she gets into a nice routine. On her days off work she hikes further into the trail, setting up a number of ‘base camps’ that she can hide out in, should the need arise. She hopes that she is just being overly cautious, but she knows that the men who killed the Senator will stop at nothing to find her, and she must be ready for anything.
It has been two months since she saw the murder, but she still has not seen any notices in the City Pages. She checks on-line everyday, but still nothing. She wonders if Lieutenant Kollar is still looking for her, and whether she did the right thing by running away when she saw him in Silver Bay. But the fact that she hasn’t heard from him, doesn’t set well with her. If the Lieutenant was on the level, wouldn’t he have at least tried to contact her via the internet? Something just didn’t feel right about it. While she feels certain that she has been accepted as Robbie Walker, and that no one in town doubts her identity, she continues to be cautious. She can’t imagine that he would have figured out where she had headed, and if he did, he would have been here already.
Stopping in at the library to check the internet, Robbie overhears one of the local women taking about a tall, dark handsome stranger in town asking questions about a runaway. Robbie is immediately suspicious, and while she wants to ask them about the man, she decides that it is best not to draw any attention to her self. Logging off the computer, she decides that perhaps to take some additional precautions just incase.
Leaving the library, she heads out of town to the cabin. She has a few hours before she is expected at work, and so she takes the time to check her equipment and verify that it is ready should she need to head out on the trail. Then, while she is getting ready for work, she decides to put some bandages on several of her fingers. She will tell her boss that she has burnt her fingers while soldering a piece of jewelry. This is just in case the man claiming to be the FBI decides to run her prints. She feels so paranoid, but if her suspicions are confirmed, and this is the hitman, then she will know that she will have to run.
Federal Agent Samuel Johnnie has already spoken with the owner and the other barmaid at the Landing. He has shown them the photo of Sara Manning and neither of them recognized her, but say that maybe Robbie Walker, the night girl, would know something.
Walking into the bar, Robbie knew at once the man everyone had been talking about. He was about 6’4” tall, and large. Not fat, definitely muscular and most definitely handsome. No wonder every woman in town was talking about him. He had introduced himself as FBI, but Robbie decided she couldn’t count on it. The thugs who would be after her could easily fake IDs to get the answers they needed to get her; to kill her. But she also knew she had to be sure before she ran again. Pushing aside the urge to seek him out, she walked up to her boss and held up hands.
“Guess what I did.” She said.
“What the hell happened?” He grunted in reply.
“To make a long story short, I was soldering a piece and I f’d up. I ruined the piece too. Really pisses me off!”
“Ok, you pour the beer and I guess I get dish detail. Looks like I’m going to have to buy you some pot holders for Christmas!”
“Thanks boss. You know I can use the cash.” Billy grunted, and Robbie went to work, filling glasses of beer while her boss filled the mixed drink orders, worked the cash register and did the dishes. About an hour after she had started her shift, the FBI agent finally decided to make his move.
Siding up to the bar, he motioned to her and asked her for a new beer. After she had poured him a draft and set it down in front of him, he held out a photo and asked, “Have you seen this woman around?” Robbie looked Sam in the eyes, flirting, before taking the photo between her bandaged knuckles. Looking down at an old photo of herself, she studied it for a moment before saying, “Pretty girl. What’d she do?” She looked up as seductively as she knew how. “Just a runaway.” He replied. “Sorry, I haven’t seen her, but then again, if she’s a runaway, I doubt she would be in a bar.”
A man down the bar hailed her attention. Handing the photo back to the handsome agent she added, “Good luck finding her.” Then she went off to help the other customer. Robbie tried not to look back at the tall man still standing at the bar. She hoped she had fooled him and that he had not seen though her disguise. When he finished his beer, he threw down a few dollars and headed for the door. Robbie was busy with another customer but she knew that before he left, he looked back at her before walking out the door.
Robbie gave herself a mental shake. She knew what she had to do. He may not have ID’d her, but she also knew that she was no longer safe. She had to move on; And that made her angry.
Robbie worked until close and then, as habit, she walked up to the apartment and pretended to settle in for the night. She had done this for the past two months. She knew the routine by heart, but tonight she took extra care in doing it right. She took her time when she got into her apartment, walking around the apartment, pretending to prepare for bed. She even went as far as undressing just on the other side of the drawn shade, her silhouette showing her every movement. Then she crawled into bed, turned off the bedside light and laid down on her bed.
She lay there only a minute before carefully slipping out of the bed. She quickly downed the clothing she had dropped next to the bed and snuck out the backdoor that lead to the street; however instead of heading the direction of the street, she headed for the roof and slipped over the edge to the adjacent building. From there, she skirted her way to the back alley where she had a bike hidden behind the dumpster. She took care to insure that no one had seen her, and that no one had followed her as she made her way down the street to the post office three blocks away where the 4 wheeler she used to get to the cabin was waiting for her. She dumped her bike once again behind a dumpster and took off on the vehicle. No one followed her, she was sure of that.
She was smart enough to know that despite her precautions, the handsome agent would probably be able to find her. But she was prepared for that too. She had had two months of worrying, planning, and strategizing. She wouldn’t let some ‘city’ agent ruin everything for her. If the FBI didn’t want her testimony on her terms then they could just go to….
She pulled off at the crossing and headed up the long path to the cabin. The crossing was well hidden and she hoped that the snow that was starting to fall would hide her detour.
She was sitting on the porch sipping a beer when he arrived. She hadn’t heard him. It was more that she ‘felt’ him. Taking a deep breath, she willed her nerves to calm down. If she had been wrong about him, if he was the assassin hired to kill her, she hoped she would be able to deal with him. If he was the FBI agent, she hoped that she wasn’t making a terrible mistake.
“You’re trespassing.” She said when she saw his tall form in the shadows of the house. “Mmm” he grunted and stepped out into the porch light. The snow was really coming down now, and she was sure that he had had a hell of time driving in it. “You own the place?’ he asked slowly. She glanced over at him. “A friend of mine does. But you already knew that – and you’re still trespassing.”
Robbie looked back to study the lake and the falling snow. The wind had started to pick up and the cold wind was blowing at a good 20 knots. “I doubt you came all the way out here just for a social call, not to mention that the weather doesn’t seem to be travel friendly. You want a beer before you tell me why you came all the way out here in this god forsaken weather?”
Robbie finished the beer that was in her hand and reached over and took the top off the beer she had prepared for him. She held it out for him as he opened the porch door. Then she grabbed another beer for herself and settled back into the rocking chair. The porch had a wood-burning stove which she had fired up while she was waiting for him. It was good and warm in the porch now, and she hoped that would help set the mood for what she had in mind.
Agent Johnnie took the beer from her and sat down on the small daybed; the only other seat available in the small porch. The stove felt good, he had to admit that. The temperature had already begun to drop and while he didn’t so much mind the cold, the warmth felt inviting. He took a long draw off the cold beer before settling his eyes back on her.
She had done well, he thought to himself. He knew she was Sara Manning, but the woman in front of him showed no sign of her true self. Her transformation has been complete.
Her looks had changed; the hair color, the makeup. Even her clothing was much different than anything that Sara Manning would have chosen.
Shy and demure. That was how everyone he had spoken to had described her. Robbie Walker was anything but shy. Seductive, would be how he’d describe her now.
But he had noticed some discrepancies. He had notice, for instance that she had never really smoked the dozen or so cigarettes she had lit. She had only puffed on them once to get them lit, and then ‘played’ with them until they had burnt out. Most people wouldn’t have noticed, and would have thought she was a chain smoker.
And the way she had carefully paused before laughing at a joke or replying to a question. She was reminding herself to act as Robbie, not as Sara – the girl who laughed quickly at jokes and who had had a quick response to everything. Sara had been naive. Or at least that had been what he had been told. But Robbie seemed to know every trick in the book. Just about every Sara characteristic had been carefully removed. She must have worked hard to become Robbie Walker, and he admired her for that. But the game was up. If he had tracked her down, then there was a possibility that Wilson’s men would too, and he couldn’t let that happen.
Robbie felt unnerved by Agent Johnnie’s stare but she had continued to look out at the falling snow. She took another sip of her beer, hoping that it would encourage him to do as well. She had guessed at the amount of sleeping pills to add to the liquid when she had prepared it for him. She knew he was a big man, but she didn’t want to cause him to over dose. She just needed to knock him out for a few hours while she got away. Reaching over, she put another log in the wood stove and stoked the flames up a bit. Then leaning back in her rocker, she looked over her beer at him and said, “Take off your coat. Stay a while. I really don’t think you’ll be able to drive back in this blizzard, and as much as I don’t usually have house guests, I can’t exactly have you driving off in this shit.”
Sam continued to stare at her but then shrugged out of his winter coat.
“While you’re at it, would you mind taking off your boots. I really don’t think the owners would appreciate getting water stains on their new rug.”
Sam was feeling pretty relaxed and thought, ‘What the hell. I guess I can’t take her out of here tonight in this blizzard. We should be fine here for the night.’ Reaching down to unlace his boots, his head spun a little and he sat back up. Robbie was still looking out at the snow falling. She was pretty he decided. Despite the ridiculous color of her hair. Leaning back against the back of the daybed, his boots forgotten, he took another draw on his beer. Yes, she was pretty. He had thought so when he first saw her photograph. Pretty but stupid is what he had thought. But now he saw a different woman. Still pretty, but definitely not stupid.
Robbie watched Agent Johnnie lean back on the daybed, his beer leaning on his belt, and waited. He had taken about 3 or 4 long draws off the beer and she felt sure that the drugs were beginning to work their magic. She said a silent prayer that they weren’t too potent and that he would simply have a nice long nap, but not a fatal one. When the bottle started to slip from his fingers, she gently pulled it from his hand and set it down on the table between them and then she waited ten minutes more before she began to move.
First she added more wood to the fire and put a warm blanket over him. Then she drew down the bamboo shades that lined the porch. Anyone walking around the outside wouldn’t be able to see him. Then she hurried to change into her hiking clothes and left via snowshoe to her hiding place.
She woke with a start. Listening into the darkness, she tried to determine what had woken her, and she wondered where the hell she was. As a snowflake settle on her cheek, the events of the last few hours came back to her.
Base camp two.
She had been so exhausted when she had gotten there, she hadn’t taken the time to check the tarp above her and now it was evident that one of the tie downs had come loose and she would be soaked if she didn’t correct the problem. Reluctant to leave the warmth of her sleeping bag, she began to slowly unzip it when she heard something just below her. Robbie held her breath. While she felt sure that her tree top hiding place couldn’t be seen from below, she didn’t feel as confident now that she had hid her tracks as well as she should have. The sound came again to her left and she breathed a sigh of relief. They were moving off. It was probably just a deer or some other harmless wild animal.
Getting out of her sleeping bag, Sara spared a glance out of the tree fort she had built a few weeks before. The snow was still falling pretty steadily, and she once again felt fairly confident that her tracks would be covered. As she reached up to secure the tarp, she wondered if she shouldn’t pack up and head out for camp #3. She had been very meticulous in planning her escape. Creating several campsites to hide out at, but now she was feeling uneasy. Relocating to another part of the state and changing her persona, now seemed to have been the easy part. But they had found her, and she wondered if this new route would be just as easy to follow. She frowned as she looked out into the darkness. She thought about the man she had drugged, laying back at the cabin. She hoped he would be ok, if he was who he claimed to be, the FBI. But she couldn’t chance it. She had been very specific about how she wanted to be contacted, and showing up asking questions had not been it.
Tying off the rope to secure the tarp, Sara was satisfied that it would stay secure and that it would provide adequate shelter for her. Once again she toyed with the idea of packing up and going to her next campsite, but she was tired. Bone tired.
She had left the cabin quickly after she was completely sure that the man in front of her was asleep. The snow was falling pretty heavy and she switched on her headlamp and followed the GPS coordinates. Her snowshoes traveling lightly over the new snow and she glanced behind her several times through out the night and was satisfied to see her tracks disappearing beneath the new falling snow. Her route led her to the lake and to the canoe she had stowed away a month earlier. She was glad that it was only November and that the lake was not frozen solid. Otherwise she would have lost valuable time snowshoeing around the lake, and her trail may have been picked up more easily. She slid the canoe into the frigid water, breaking the ice that had begun to form, and she started off across the lake. There were two portage sites recorded on the lake, but she knew of a third one. It was an old logging site, and she set her GPS for it, and then paddled off in silence. After carefully hiding her canoe at the overgrown site, her route had taken her to her first camp, where she had taken only the time needed to verify that her supplies were intact and well hidden, before continuing to Base Camp Two. It had been well after 3 AM when she had finally reached the camp; a tree fort she had built only a few weeks before and after climbing up the spikes she had secured there, she had pulled out her sleeping bag and crawled into it. She was asleep in moments.
Now, standing next to her sleeping bag, she weighed her choices. The snow was still falling steadily, and while she was exhausted, she decided that she should take advantage of the snowstorm and she quickly packed up her sleeping bag.
Sam turned over and felt the rough wool blanket against his face. His eyes popped open. The chair where the girl had been sitting was vacant, and the porch was flooded with light. Sitting up, he glanced at his watch and saw that it was 10:15…in the morning. “Damn!”
He stood up quickly, but had to grab the table next to him as he felt a dizzy spell wash over him. What the hell?
He spied the bottle of beer on the table. She had drugged him. “I’ll kill her.” He muttered under his breath. Right after she testified. Then he would surely kill her.
The snow outside was still falling and he knew that finding her trail would not be easy. He took a quick survey of the cabin. Where had she gone? He didn’t have much time. The hearing was in a month and with the price that had been placed on her head; he knew he wouldn’t be the only one looking for her.
Angry, he turned to head back to his truck when he spotted a magazine, and then he had his answer. Reluctantly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. The man at the other end answered at the first ring.
“She’s on the run again. I’m going to need a few things.” Sam clipped into the phone. He nodded at the man’s reply and grounded out, “I know what is at risk!” With that, he clicked the end button on his phone. “I’m going to kill her.” He said again as he headed out the door.
He had to hand it to her, she was full of surprises.
Sam locked up the cabin and headed into town. He would need to pick up a few supplies before he set out after her.
Sara stumbled again, and realized that she needed to get some rest. She had managed only a few hours of sleep and she was past exhaustion. If she didn’t get some rest, she would start to make mistakes, and she couldn’t afford to do that.
Glancing down at her GPS she noted that Base Camp #3 was about a mile away. Shaking way the fatigue, she picked up her pace; determined to get there as quickly as possible.
Sam’s phone rang just as he reached his truck. Looking at the caller ID, he was surprised by the number that came up.
“Have you found her yet?” the man on the other end of the phone sounded impatient.
“Not yet, but I will.” was Sam’s response.
“Listen Johnnie, I don’t have the time for you to mess up.”
“I won’t mess up.” Sam growled.
“I want her out of the way. Do you hear me? You have two weeks. If you can’t get to her by then, I’ll call in someone who can get the job done right. I can afford to get the best, and I’ll do it!”
“I am the best!” Sam grounded out, and then hung up the phone. “Ass hole”
Checking his watch, he hit his speed dial.
“It’s Johnnie. He’s making threats again.” Sam listened to the man on the other end of the phone and then added, “Don’t worry. I’ll get the job done.” Then he hung up the phone, started up his truck and headed back down the road toward Grand Marais.
Sara rolled over and tried to ignore the pounding in her head.
She had gotten less than six hours of sleep in the last three days and her body was rebelling. Everything hurt - Her head, her back, her feet… She didn’t think there was one inch of her that didn’t hurt. Looking at her watch she saw that it was nine o’clock in the morning. She should get moving. If the man who claimed to be FBI Agent Johnnie was on her trail, she couldn’t afford to waste valuable time. Especially if he was the hit man sent to kill her. If he was with the FBI, she realized that if he had found her, then anyone who was looking for her would be able to find her, and she couldn’t take the chance on getting caught.
Unzipping her sleeping bag, she quickly pulled on her winter gear and packed up her things. Her next camp was eight miles away and it would be well after dark before she reached it. It was taking her longer than she had anticipated in making each of her camp sites. She was moving slower because of the snow and fatigue. She just hoped that she was still ahead of the man following her. That is if he had figured out where she had headed. Thinking back to his handsome face she some how knew that he was indeed on her trail. He had a look of confident determination etched into his face, and she really didn’t relish meeting up with him again. She was sure that drugging him would have put him in a bad mood. Not that she could blame him. It had been her only option; but she doubted he would see it that way.
Picking up her backpack, she shrugged it onto her shoulder and then climbed down from the deer stand where she had spent the night. Then, checking her GPS, she headed off down the path toward her next way point.
Sam picked up his pace. He was sure he was on her trail, and now that the snow had stopped falling he was seeing definite signs of her. He had seen signs that she had stumbled on the trail; she was getting tired. That was obvious. If his calculations were correct, she had been hiking pretty much non-stop since she had drugged him, a fact that still irked him.
He had found evidence of campsites, and he realized that she had been planning this escape for quite some time. ‘Smart lady.’ He had to hand it to her; she had managed to slip past him, and had spent the last few days and nights hiking thru some pretty rough territory. His research told him that she had hiked the Superior Hiking Trail in the past, but he had never taken her to be this hardy. Then again, when someone’s life was on the line, they tended to go to some extraordinary lengths trying to stay alive.
Checking his map and the GPS, he verified his location and the tracks he was following verified his suspicions. She was heading toward Ely via the Boundary Water Canoe area. Another smart move, considering it was a protected area and the only way around it was by foot or canoe. He knew that Ely was approximately 114 miles from Grand Marias. That is, if you were driving in a car. But the young lady he was tracking was on foot, and traveling the backwoods. At 8 miles a day, it was going to take her roughly 15 days to reach Ely. He estimated that it would take her a bit longer than that. He had half a mind to double back and drive to Ely and wait for her there. But she had surprised him once, and he wasn’t going to count on her sticking to the route he had determined. He would continue to track her, and with any luck, he would catch up with her before she reached Ely. Before she reached civilization.
Checking her GPS again, Sara verified that she was heading toward the Kekekabic trail. When she had begun her journey, she had thought she would stay in the BWCA, using the wilderness as cover. But now she was running low on supplies, and the Kekekabic trail would allow her to travel much faster, and with luck, she’d find some place to stock up.
Her research had shown a few vacation resorts near the trail, and she hoped that they would still be open for the season. If not, she might have to break into one of them to find some provisions; an option that didn’t exactly sit well with her. Her list of offenses was adding up, and she really didn’t relish a stint in jail.
Picking up her pace, she wondered again if the FBI agent had figured out where she had gone and if he had followed her. Looking back, she could easily see evidence of her trail, and she realized that if he was on her tail, it wouldn’t be hard for him to find her. Her only hope was that she had covered her tracks enough at the start, and that he wouldn’t have guessed her plan. One thing she was sure of, he would have had to go around the lake and find her canoe to be on her trail now, and that would have taken him considerable time. If nothing else, she could be sure that he was a few days behind her. Hopefully that would be enough time for her to get away.
The cabin looked deserted, but she knocked and called out to make sure. “Hello? Is there anyone home?” She waited and knocked twice more before she decided to break the window. While she hated the thought of breaking in, she realized that she had no other choice. She had walked around the cabin twice, and hadn’t been able to find any hidden keys, and she needed to get in out of the weather. The storm had picked up and she was sure she was facing blizzard conditions.
Stepping back, she raised her walking stick and punched it thru the lower right window pane. The glass broke instantly. Using the edge of the pole, she knocked the remaining glass away, and then carefully reached in and unlocked the door. Stepping into the porch, she pushed the door closed, and then she looked around for something to shove thru the broken window. The snow was already starting to fly in, and she knew that she needed to close up the hole as quickly as possible. Spying a pillow, she stuffed it into the opening and stepped back to see if it would hold. It would, at least for the time being, until she could find something more permanent.
Turning, she surveyed the room. It was small, but well looked after. Walking up to the cabin door, she crossed her fingers that it wouldn’t be locked. She really didn’t want to have to break another window. Luck was on her side, and the door opened easily. “Hello?” She called out again. She really didn’t think anyone would be there, but she didn’t want to risk surprising anyone.
Stepping out of her boots, she stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind her.
The room was chilly, but she was relieved to be out of the storm. Taking off her backpack, she trying the light switch, she was happy to see the over head light come to life. Then she started walking around the room to assess the area. She found a note on the refrigerator that gave instructions on how to bring the cabin to life, and she set about making the necessary adjustments. First she found the heating control, and turned the dial up a few notches to start warming the cabin. Then locating the basement door, she made her way down to the hot water heater, and turned the appropriate knobs as the list instructed. Hearing all the faucets come to life, told her that she had done everything correctly. She decided that she would let the water run a little while to clear the pipes.
Next to the water heater, she found a washer and a dryer, which she decided she would take advantage of as soon as the place warmed up. Walking in the next room, she found a small sofa, a television and another door which led outside. Next to it she found a basket with the remains of firewood. She would need to stock up on some firewood, and glancing outside, she was glad to see a large pile of logs not too far from the cabin.
Walking back upstairs, she completed her tour of the cabin, turning off the faucets as she came upon them. In all, she found two bedrooms, one bathroom and a very large living/dining area.
In the porch she found a pantry stocked full of various canned fruits, vegetables and miscellaneous other food items which would sustain her. In the kitchen she found more staples, and the refrigerator even held some edible items. At least she wouldn’t starve.
Grabbing her boots, she returned to the basement and ventured back out into the storm to retrieve a healthy supply of firewood.
Closing and locking the door behind her, Sara felt a sense of accomplishment as she surveyed the large stack of firewood that was now lining the basement wall.
Removing her boots, she left them by the door to dry, picked up the firewood basket and carried it up the stairs. After verifying that the flute was open in the fireplace, she started to build a fire and with in minutes she had a warm fire burning. Sitting back, she took off her coat was pleased to find that the room was starting to heat up.
After retrieving her boots from the basement, she set them by the door on a rug to finish drying, and hung her coat up on a coat tree that she found next to the door.
Then she went in search of a hammer, nail and something to cover the broken window. She found the supplies she needed in the porch closet and went about repairing the window.
Grabbing the wet pillow she had used in the window, she verified that the porch door was locked, and headed back into the cabin, stopping to locate a flashlight and spare batteries she had spied earlier.
Back in the main cabin, she placed the wet pillow next to the fireplace to dry and then began to unpack her backpack. She wanted to get her things washed and dried, and some supplies packed away in case she had to make a run for it again. She felt fairly certain that she wouldn’t be found, but then again, her luck in that area hadn’t been exactly perfect and she felt it best to be prepared.
An hour later she had her clothes drying in the dryer in the basement, her sleeping bag layed out and drying near the fireplace and the rest of her gear cleaned and packed away. In the morning, she would pack up the food supplies that would be suitable for travel, and then she would be ready.
Feeling a little hungry, she grabbed a few items from the pantry and made herself some spaghetti with red sauce, with some mixed vegetables she found in the freezer.
Now, filling pleasantly warm and full, she slipped into a pair of pajamas she found in the back bedroom; grabbed a large comforter, and spread out on the sofa. It felt good laying on something other than the forest floor, and she hoped she would be able to stay here for a while.
Staring into the flames, she felt herself relaxing into slumber. She knew that the fire would burn itself out, so she wasn’t worried about it, and she allowed herself to fall asleep, feeling for the first time in weeks that she was safe.
Waking with a start, Sara laid in the darkness and tried to figure out where she was. The dying embers of the fire reminded her that she was in the cabin she had broken into.
Sara rolled over on her back and tried to fall back to sleep. Hearing a faint sound behind her, she held her breath. Had she locked the doors? Yes, she knew that she had. If someone was trying to break in, they’d surely make more noise than that. Carefully sitting up, she looked back in the direction she had heard the sound and saw nothing but the dark cabin.
She listened once more to the sounds around her. Hearing the sound again, she realized that it was a faint scratching sound. The storm had picked up a bit, so perhaps it had been something outside hitting against the side of the cabin; a tree branch perhaps. Concentrating on the sound, she is convinced of it. Slipping back under the comforter, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to relax.
She was just dozing off when she sensed that she was not alone. Mice. She was sure of it. She had noticed several traps set around the cabin, so it was obvious that they had been seen in the past. The warm cabin had probably attracted them, and brought them out of their hibernation. While she was sure that they would leave her alone, she wasn’t so sure that they would leave her sleeping bag and pack alone. She’d have to get up and take care of her belongings. Reluctantly she stared to untangle herself from the warmth of the comforter.
“I wondered when you’d wake up.”
Sara tried to sit up, but found herself pinned down by the handsome FBI agent.
“Oh no you don’t. “ He said between clinched teeth.
“How did you get in?” Sara whispered, unable to breathe as fear crept into her.
“The basement door.” Sam replied. Then as if he anticipated her next question, he said, “Yes, it was locked. But I have some experience picking locks, so it wasn’t a problem.”
Sara stared back at him and wondered what would happen next. If he really was an FBI agent, wouldn’t he release her? And if he was the man sent to kill her, would he do it quickly and leave or… The answer she sought was not easily gained.
“You drugged me!” He said inches from her face.
The menacing look had her closing her eyes and pushing back into the sofa. She didn’t know what to say. “I… I had to.” She stammered out.
“Do you know that it is a Federal offence to drug an officer of the law?”
Sara opened her eyes and studied the man before her. “You.. you’re really an FBI agent?” She asked unbelievingly.
Sam leaned back a bit and studied her face. “I said I was.”
“But you didn’t notify me as I requested.” She replied.
“As you requested?” Sam asked as he sat back, releasing her from his hold.
“I told Lieutenant Kollar that I wanted to be reached through the personal ads. I’ve checked, and there’s never been an ad sent to me.”
Sam pulled her into a sitting position. “When? When did you tell Lieutenant Kollar that you wanted to be reached through an ad?”
Sara frowned back at the handsome agent in front of her. What difference did it make? They hadn’t done what they were suppose to do. “I called him before I hit the trail.”
“When? After you met me, or before?”
Sara’s frown deepened. “Before; Right after I left the Twin Cities, I called him before I hit the Superior Hiking Trail near Two Harbors.”
Sam stood up and ran his hand through his hair.
Sara hardly noticed, she was thinking out loud. “I wondered why I hadn’t seen anything in the ads when I got to Silver Bay. I was going to call him again, but then he was there, and...”
Sam spun around. “What do you mean, he was there?”
Sara suddenly felt frightened again, and slowly stood up from the sofa. “He was in Silver Bay.”
Sam grabbed her by the arms and gave her a shake. “When?”
“Why? What does it matter? He hadn’t notified me as I requested, and I wasn’t sure why. I left. That’s why you were called, right? He hadn’t succeeded in finding me, so they called in the big guns.”
Sam squeezed her arms and repeated his question. “When did you see Lieutentant Kollar in Silver Bay?”
Sara tried to pull out of his grasp. “You’re hurting me.” She whispered.
Sam relaxed his hold, but kept her in his grasp. “Sara, I need to know exactly what happened in Silver Bay.”
Sara wasn’t sure what was happening, or why it was so important for him to know about Silver Bay, but she was definitely starting to doubt the Agent Johnnie’s intentions.
“You’re here to kill me aren’t you?” She sounded calmer than she felt.
Sam frowned, then he shook his head. Releasing her, he stepped back. “No Sara. I’m here to protect you.”
“Sit down Sara.”
Taking her arm gently in his hand, he guided her to sit down, “Please, I think you need to know some things.”
Sara allowed herself to be seated, and then she waited. Sam stood up and took off his coat. The cabin had cooled during the night, and Sara suddenly felt very chilled. Standing again, she walked over to the fireplace and stoked up the fire. Then glancing back, she said, “Would you like some coffee or tea?”
Sam nodded, “Some coffee would be nice Sara.”
As she started toward the kitchen area, she stopped and turned back toward him. “I never really fooled you with my fake name did I?”
Sam smiled back at her. “You would have fooled most Sara. But I was determined to find you, and so I was looking for the discrepancies.”
Sara thought about that for a moment, but didn’t question him further. Turning, she walked into the kitchen and started making the coffee. Glancing back at the handsome agent, she commented. “You may want to take your boots off to dry, and if any of your gear needs drying it might be a good time to take care of it.”
Sam was surprised by her suggestion. It was a logical suggestion, but considering the circumstances, her calm behavior surprised him. Accepting the suggestion, he nodded, and went about removing his boots, setting them by the door next to her boots and hung his coat on the coat tree.
Then, as she suggested, he unpacked his backpack and laid out his sleeping bag and other items to dry.
“There’s a clothes washer and dryer in the basement if you need it. My things are probably dry by now.”
“I’ll do that later.” He replied. Glancing down at the steaming mug of coffee she was offering him he paused. Looking up into her eyes, his question was obvious. “No, it’s not drugged. I promise..” It was then that he noticed that her calm appearance was a ruse. She was shaking like a leaf.
Sitting in the chair next to the fire, Sara added another log on the fire. Wrapping a throw around herself, she tried to stop her body from shaking. She knew that it wasn’t just the chill in the air that was making her shake.
She was nervous about what Agent Johnnie was about to tell her. Had she made the wrong decision back in Silver Bay? Should she have trusted Lieutenant Kollar?
Sam pulled a stool up next to the fire and studied the woman next to him. While the cabin was a little chilly, he knew that her shivering was not because of the climate. “Sara?”
Looking into his eyes, she tried to read his eyes. Was he really here to protect her or was that just a line to make her trust him? Taking a deep breath, she took a gamble. “Just be honest with me. Did I make a mistake back in Silver Bay? Should I have trusted the Lieutenant?”
Sam put his hand over hers. “You did the right thing Sara.”
Sara released the breath she had been holding.
“Sara, I need to know exactly what happened in Silver Bay.”
“Why?” She didn’t understand why it mattered.
“Just trust me Sara. I’ll tell you everything, but right now, I need you to tell me when you last saw the Lieutenant and exactly what happened.”
Sara took a deep breath and decided that she would trust him. Taking a sip of her coffee, she nodded and began to tell her story.
After she had finished tell him how she had snuck away, and had hitched a lift to Tettegouche State Park, she concluded, “I hit the trail, and made it to Grand Marais, and well, you know the rest of it.”
“So, as far as you know, Lieutenant Kollar didn’t contact the local authorities about your location.” Sam verified his suspicions.
“I’m not sure. But I never heard any sirens and well, wouldn’t they have conducted a through search of the place? Knocked on doors, asked questions to make sure no one had seen me?” Sara shook her head. “I’m sorry Agent Johnnie, but I guess I’m not being of much help.”
Sam smiled back at her. “It’s Sam, and you have been very helpful.”
Sara was afraid to ask her next question. “Why is it so important to know what happened in Silver Bay? Is Lieutenant Kollar in some kind of trouble?”
Sam looked her in the eyes as he replied. “Lieutenant Kollar went missing over two months ago.”
“What? He didn’t…he wasn’t…?” Sara couldn’t bring herself to ask the horrible question.
“We don’t know what happened to him. The last we heard was that he was following a lead on your disappearance. Up until now, we didn’t even know he had headed north.”
“Do you think he is still trying to find me?”
“I don’t know Sara but one thing’s for sure, the local police in Silver Bay were never contacted by the Lieutenant. If he was looking for you as his partner suggested, it stands to reason that he would have asked the local authorities for their assistance.”
Sara stared back into the flames of the fire. She wasn’t sure what to think of all of this.
Then she asked the one question she was dreading to ask. “Sam, how did you know where to look for me?”
Sam put his hand on her arm, “Look at me Sara.”
“I found you, because I needed to find you. I studied everything I could about you, and I followed a hunch. The fact that you ran when the Minneapolis police didn’t offer you protect showed me that you were smart enough to know that you knew you wouldn’t be safe. It also told me that you wouldn’t jeopardize your friends and family by hiding out at their place. So, I dug a little deeper into your personality and decided that you would probably run someplace you felt safe. I found an old diary of yours, and in it you had mentioned loving the freedom of hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail; so I followed you here.”
“The Lieutenant found me too.” She reminded him. “If both of you found me, and neither one of you are the men sent to kill me, then…”
“Sara, I’m here to protect you, and I promise you I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Besides,” he added with a smile, “I wouldn’t exactly say you’ve been the easiest person to track down.”
Sara tried to smile back, but found that she couldn’t muster it. Looking back into the fire, she tried to push back the fear that was still tightening around her heart. God, she wanted this nightmare to be over.
Sam knew that she needed some time to process everything that they had talked about. Standing up, he said, “Would you like some more coffee?”
“No thank you.” She replied and handed him her empty cup.
Sam wanted to double check the perimeter and to set up some traps, just incase they did have any unexpected visitors, but he didn’t want to alarm her.
Picking up his dirty clothes bag, he mentioned that he would be right back, and then he headed downstairs to put his clothes in the wash and to check the doors and windows in the basement. He had managed to sneak in fairly easily, and he wanted to setup a few booby traps just in case. It only took him a few minutes, and when he returned to the main cabin, he found Sara just as he had left her.
Making his way to the back bedrooms, he fastened booby traps to each of the windows he found, and then made his way to the bathroom, where he added yet another booby trap to the window, and used the facilities.
Returning to the main room, he found that Sara had moved to the kitchen, where she was checking the locks on the windows. Turning, she smiled briefly before explaining that she realized that the place probably needed a security upgrade.
“I’m assuming that you’ve been burglar proofing the backrooms?”
Sam smiled and replied, “I have. Would you like to help with this room?”
Sara smiled, but shook her head. “I think I’ll let the professional do it.” Then she walked back to her seat by the fire.
Sam completed his preparations within 10 minutes and felt relatively sure that if anyone tried to break into the cabin, that they would be alerted in plenty of time to act.
Glancing at his watch he noted that it was nearly 3:30 a.m. Turning off the overhead light, he joined Sara by the fire. “It’s late Sara, and we both need to get some rest.”
Sara nodded, but didn’t move.
“You can take one of the back bedrooms, and I’ll sleep here on the sofa.” He added by way of direction. But she shook her head. “I’d rather sleep in here if that’s alright with you.”
Crouching next to her, he took her hands into his. “Sara, the cabin is locked up tighter than a drum, and the security devices I’ve attached would wake the dead.”
Sara gave him a weak smile. “I know. It’s just that I’m feeling a bit uneasy right now, and I’m comfortable here.”
“Sara, I really need to get some sleep…”
Sara held up her hand and stopped him. “I know. The truth is, I’d rather have you in the room with me. I know it sounds silly…. I’m not asking you to sleep on the floor or anything like that. The sofa is a fold out, and to be honest, I’d feel safer with you near me.”
Feeling suddenly very embarrassed, Sara stammered on. “I’m not trying to be forward or anything…”
It was Sam’s turn to raise his hand. “I understand Sara, you don’t have to say anymore.”
Then he stood up and unfolded the mattress hidden in the sofa. It looked clean, and relatively comfortable. “I’ll be right back.” Then he disappeared into the closest bedroom, emerging with pillows and blankets.
Sara stood up and helped him put one blanket down first as an under sheet, and then they layered several more blankets on top.
Sara crawled beneath the blankets and waited for Sam to return from the bathroom.
Sam returned wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants and joined Sara on the fold out bed. Sara noticed that he was carrying something in his hand, and when he got beneath the blankets she realized that it was a gun. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it.
Sam reached out and lifted her head to look at him. “This is for our protection.” He indicated the gun. “I meant it when I said that I am here to protect you Sara. I need you to believe me. I need you to start trusting me.”
Sara closed her eyes briefly and then nodded. “I’ll try.”
Putting the gun under his pillow, Sam then lay back, and gave Sara more room on the bed. “Get some sleep Sara.”
Sara studied the man next to her a moment, and then closed her eyes and willed herself back to sleep.
Sam watched her, and didn’t allow himself to drift off until he was sure she was fast asleep.
Sara opened her eyes and found herself looking at the face of the sleeping FBI agent. He looked at peace and that felt comforting to her. Slowly moving her legs, she slid out of the bed and made her way to the bathroom.
Being as quiet as she could, as to not disturb the sleeping agent, she brushed her teeth, and washed her face. She would need to take a shower later, but for now, she grabbed a bathroom she found hanging behind the door and made her way back out into the main room.
To her relief, Sam was still sleeping, and she tip toed past him into the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee and some easy bake blueberry muffins. While they were baking, she quietly grabbed the firewood basket and made her way down into the basement to retrieve some more firewood.
When she returned, she was glad to see that she still had not disturbed the sleeping man.
Loading a few logs into the fire, she struck a match and started a few strips of newspaper on fire under the logs. The fire cracked to life, and she sat back to warm her hands before the flames.
“Do I smell coffee?”
Sara turned around to find Sam lying on his side, looking down at her. Smiling, she replied, “And blueberry muffins if you are interested.”
“You’ve been busy.” He replied, and then frowned.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I should have heard you.” He grumbled.
Sara wanted to let him off the hook. “Nonsense, I was quiet and besides, I have a habit of putting you to sleep.” She winked and stood up to get him a mug of coffee.
As she grabbed a couple of mugs from the cupboard, she felt him standing behind her. Sam leaned into her and whispered, “You really shouldn’t remind me about that.”
Sara heard the humor in his voice, and relaxed. Glancing back at him she said sincerely, “I am sorry about drugging you by the way. I wish now what I had trusted you.”
Sam turned her around and looked into her face. “No, it was good that you acted on your gut feeling. Against all odds, you’ve kept yourself safe and I can’t fault you for that.”
Sara reached up and gave him a kiss on the cheek, “Thank you for understanding.” Then she turned back around and poured them each a full cup of coffee.
Handing him both mugs, she suggested he return to the fire, while she got the muffins out of the oven.
With two plates, a basket of muffins, butter and a knife in hand, Sara made her way back to the fireplace. He had put the sofa back together, and had moved a small coffee table in front of it. Together, they ate the muffins in silence.
Sitting back against the sofa, she asked. “What happens now?”
Sam wiped his mouth and replied, “Well, by the sound of that storm, it looks like we will be held up here for a little while.”
“There’s a television in the basement. I’m not sure if it works or not, but if it does, it might tell us what the forecast is.”
“Good idea. We’ll check that a little later.”
Sara looked down at her hands before continuing. “And after that? Is it safe for me to go back to the cities yet?”
Sam shook his head. “I wish I could tell you that it was. The truth is Sara, the men who killed the Senator are determined to keep their identity safe, and they have been busy trying to cover up any loose ends. Our sources tell us that they’ve made a rather attractive offer to whoever can find you, and make sure you don’t testify.”
“Do you think that was why the Lieutenant was looking for me?” she hated to ask.
“I don’t know. It could be that he was honestly just trying to do his job. But it’s not looking good. We won’t know for sure until we locate him.”
Sara stood up and gathered the dishes they had used, returning them to the kitchen sink.
“Sam, does anyone know that you’ve found me?”
Sam had followed her into the kitchen with their coffee mugs. “Just my superiors, why?”
“Well, doesn’t it seem strange that no one has ever tried to contact me via the personal ads as I requested?”
“Sara, this is the first I’ve heard of that. I’m going to guess that the Lieutenant kept that knowledge to himself.”
“If that’s so, and if he was crooked, why didn’t he just send me a message to meet him someplace, instead of trying to find me?”
“That’s a good question Sara.”
Sara leaned back on the counter and continued. “Follow me on this one. Let’s say that the Lieutenant isn’t crooked. Let’s say that for some reason, he couldn’t trust his co-workers and that he had gone off on his own to find me.”
“He still would have contacted the local police.” Sam interrupted her.
Sara nodded. “Ok, what if something prevented him from contacting the local police.”
“Sara, we can only go on what we know for sure. Lietenant Kollar took a two week holiday and has not been seen or heard from since. Even his partner said that he hadn’t told him much more than he had a hunch of where you were, and that he wanted to check it out.”
“Listen Sam, all I know is that both you and Lieutenant Kollar managed to figure out how to find me, and I also know that I gave specific instructions as to how to contact me, and no one has done that. Now, either the Lieutenant was crooked from the start, or someone else in his department is.”
“You are right about one thing Sara, Kollar’s partner admitted that they suspected a leak in the department. That was why they had used the vacation ploy as a cover up. It wasn’t until he was late returning that I was called.”
“Who contacted you?” Sara asked quietly.
Sam frowned. “Kollar’s partner, Lieutenant Shep Wilson.”
“Why did Lieutenant Wilson contact you? Why didn’t Captain Harrison contact you?” She asked suspiciously.
Sam laughed, “Shep’s my brother-in-law. He’s married to my oldest sister. That and I owe him one.”
“You owe him one?”
“That’s a long story.” He replied off handedly.
But Sara some how knew that there was more there. “We have all day.” She said, crossing her arms in front of her, waiting for him to answer her question.
Knowing that she wouldn’t give it up, he conceded. “Let’s just say that he was there when I needed him.”
Sara wanted more of an answer but decided to let it go for now. She didn’t know why, but she wanted to know everything she could about this man who had been sent to protect her.
Pushing away from the counter she said, “I’m going to jump into the shower if that’s ok with you.”
“Of course, I’ll take one after you.”
Sara nodded and slipped past him. Gathering a change of clothing, she stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
On her earlier exploration of the cabin she had found soap, shampoo and conditioner in one of the drawers in the bathroom, as well as extra towels. She gathered everything now and set them next to the shower. Turning the hot water on, she waited for the water temperature to heat up before turning on the cold water to adjust the heat. Then she shed the pajamas she had been wearing and stepped into the warm water. It felt wonderful, and she was tempted to stand there for the rest of the day. But she didn’t know how long the hot water would hold off, and she didn’t want to deprive Sam of a hot shower, so she hurried through her shower.
Turning off the water, she grabbed one towel for her hair, wrapping it around her head in a turban style, and then reached for another towel and started to rub her skin dry.
Five minutes later, she emerged from the bathroom feeling like a woman again. Clean, and ready for just about anything. “It’s all your’s.” She called out to Sam as she slipped into the bedroom to finish dressing.
“Thanks.” She heard Sam reply as he passed the bedroom door.
Picking up the hair dryer she had found in the bathroom, Sara plugged it in, and started drying her hair. While her hair was still short, it was fairly thick, and from past experience she knew that if she didn’t dry it with the hair dryer, that it would take hours before it was completely dry. Glancing in the mirror, she was struck by the realization that now that she had been found that she would no longer need to dye her hair this ridicules color. She could go back to her natural blond locks.
After drying her hair and dressing, Sara opened the door to find Sam just walking by. His hair was still damp from his shower, but he was dressed in fatigues and a ‘Go Army’ tee shirt. Sara couldn’t help but appreciate the muscular body she saw.
Stopping, he let her exit the room and allowed her to walk back into the main room ahead of him. It was a simple gesture, but it showed that he was a gentleman.
‘Good looking and a gentleman.’ The thought popped into her head before she could check it. ‘Careful girl.’ She warned herself. She knew that she was vulnerable and realized that she could easily become romantically involved with the handsome agent.
He wasn’t there to date her. She reminded herself. He was there to protect her, and she had better keep her mind on track. Hell, he probably had a wife and five kids, so hands off.
Walking into the kitchen, she suddenly felt ill at ease and tried to shake the feeling. What was wrong with her? Giving herself a mental scolding, she looked back and saw Sam putting another log on the fire. His back was toward her, so she couldn’t tell if he had noticed anything. She hoped that he hadn’t. She would be embarrassed if he knew she was attracted to him.
Sam put another log on the fire and grabbed the iron poker to stoke up the flames. He was still bothered by the fact that he had slept through her morning preparations, and there was something else that was bothering him.
Something didn’t feel right. By all accounts Jason Kollar was an honest cop. Shep had been his partner for over eight years and he had no doubts about his partner’s integrity. Something must have happened to the Lieutenant.
Sam needed to get a hold of the Silver Bay police and have them question the hotel management where Sara had last seen the Lieutenant. Sam felt sure that Jason would have contacted the local police. While Shep and Jason believed that there was a leak in the department, Shep was adamant that Jason would have followed protocol and he would have contacted the Silver Bay police for their assistance. That left only one other option, the hit man had gotten to Jason before he had a chance to call the local authorities. Sam had to get the Silver Bay police on the case. There would be a trace, a clue of what had happened to the Lieutenant; something would turn up, and then Sam would know what had happened to the Lieutenant.
Stabbing the iron poker into the log that was smoldering in front of him, Sam swore under his breath. If what he suspected was true, then that would also mean that the hit man may have guessed Sara’s general location, and that spelled real trouble. He would need to get her some place safe. Some place the hit man wouldn’t dream of looking.
Straightening up from the fire, he turned and found Sara staring at him. She blushed and turned to pour some coffee into a mug, but not before he had seen the unmistakable look of… what? Desire?
When Sara opened the bedroom door, he thought he had seen something in her eyes that looked dangerous. This wasn’t good. He hadn’t expected her to find him attractive, and given her current situation, any attraction could spell disaster. He needed her to keep focused. Hell, he needed to keep focused, and if this beauty kept sending him those looks, he wasn’t sure he would be able to ignore his own feelings. He had found her attractive and yes, desirable from the moment he was handed this case, but he had put his feelings aside and had concentrated on finding her. Now that he had found her, he needed to concentrate on keeping her safe. He couldn’t afford to become involved with her. With the hit man possibly on their trail he would need to keep his wits about him, and getting distracted by an affair was not what he would call a wise move.
Sara was struggling with her own thoughts. ‘Damn it!’ She was sure he had caught her staring at him. She felt like a silly school girl. She was grown woman for God’s sake. She should be able to keep her hormones in check, and stop fantasizing about that amazing body.
She needed to get some air, but one look at the blizzard outside told her that she would not have to chance to escape just yet.
She had spied a bookshelf with several novels in the basement, and decided that they would offer her the excuse she needed to retreat into the other room and the distraction she needed to forget the sexy man in the cabin with her.
Grabbing her fresh cup of coffee, she started for the basement, saying when she passed Sam, “I saw some books downstairs I thought I’d like to read. I’ll be downstairs.” She added as she started down the stairs.
“Ok.” Was the only reply she heard, and she was glad when she reached the basement. Switching on the overhead light, she set her coffee down on the small coffee table, and glanced back to verify that he hadn’t followed her down.
Breathing a sigh of relief, she frowned at herself. What the hell was wrong with her? You’d think she had been in a room with a man before. Shaking her head, she walked over to the television set and switched it on. The static that met her told her that the owners had cancelled the satellite service while they were gone for the winter. A quick flick through the rest of the channels confirmed her suspicions. Oh well, they would just have to make an educated guess about the storm.
Turning the set off, she turned and started to browse the titles of the books that lined the narrow bookshelf. She finally found an author she was familiar with, and a quick glance of the back cover revealed a story that she thought could hold her interest.
Sitting down on the denim covered sofa, she pulled an afghan over her feet and started in on the novel.
Upstairs, Sam was still struggling with his own feelings.