The Hero (Page 32)

Author: Robyn Carr

“Yes, I guess you are. So—want to toss this possibility out to your mom and Mac? Give them time to think about how they want to respond?”

“I could do that. But I like the idea, if it works out for you.”

He felt a little funny. Kind of warm and fuzzy inside. He had never expected his life to take a turn like this, to have such a positive relationship with Ashley. He knew he didn’t deserve it.


Laine had screwed up. The compound was shut up tighter than a tick these days. If the men were leaving and returning, she was unaware of it, and part of her job was to be aware of everything. Last night, in the middle of the night, Lorna had made her escape through the woods with two children—her two children. Jacob’s two children.

Laine hadn’t had contact with anyone on the outside for a couple of weeks. While they sold produce at their stand by the side of the road a farm woman stopped by in an old pickup truck. She was tired-looking, hump-backed, dressed in muddy jeans and worn boots. She was missing a couple of teeth and read from her list with a lisp—six apples, six pears, pint of blackberries, squash. In the lower left of this ragged slip of paper was written 9-13.

Laine knew there was no hope of getting either Pilly or Charlotte to leave so she had confronted Lorna and given her the chance. And in the morning there was no one in the kitchen because that was Lorna’s domain. Laine thought perhaps she should have gone with her, but there was one reason she just couldn’t bring herself to flee—sweet little Liam. She hoped to somehow rescue him. If she could think of a way to take Charlotte’s four-year-old as well, she would, but Liam was too little to fend for himself. And for that she paid a large price.

Jacob stormed into the house at six in the morning, his face red, his fists clenched. He looked so frightening she jumped back with a gasp. And she thought, It’s going down.

“It’s you,” he said in a low, menacing growl. “It has to be you.”

“No,” she said. “Lorna’s gone. She must have left on her own. Or one of the men, I think. Not me! If I’d known she was going, I would have gone with her.”

Out of nowhere, his fist flew into her face, knocking her back about four feet. It was so sudden, so powerful, she was momentarily dazed. Had she guessed this might happen, she could have been better prepared, but everything they knew about Jacob was that while he could get very angry and abusive, he didn’t seem to be violent.

He came at her again and she put up her arms in defense and began to scream, which brought Pilly and Charlotte running. Jacob was delivering his first kick to her midsection when they came into the kitchen, and they ran to him, trying to pull him away, joining in the screaming. And while Laine had not really bonded with these two, the sight of her down on the floor, under assault by Jacob, must have brought them naturally to her side.

Jacob had slapped people around—he’d even been known to grab one of the women and give her a shake, but he was more inclined to rant and shout, bluster and stomp around, maybe throw something. Laine would not be here if he had a known violent streak. He was fully expected to try to fight back against the law, but this assault was shocking.

The man known as Sam came in the back door and stood in shock at what must have looked like a pile of women on the floor and an enraged Jacob. Right behind him came the man known as Joe. Between them they pulled him back and held him, but they said nothing. Jacob was rigid with rage and strained against the hold his men had on him.

Laine was so grateful that it was in character for her to cry. She was reduced to sobs; her mind buzzed from the blow. Pilly and Charlotte tried to help her sit up, but she was almost too dizzy.

“Jacob, what happened? Why are you doing this?” Pilly asked. “What did she do?”

“Lorna is gone. Lorna and the children! Someone is doing this—it has to be her. The only women left are you, Charlotte and Laine, and I know you two wouldn’t betray me. I know it!” He shook off his two men and said, “Take her across the river and tie her. Then check the fence. The entire fence!” Then he stormed out of the house.

The two men exchanged looks and then, apparently resigned, went to Laine and lifted her to her feet.

“Please,” she whimpered. “Please, no... I didn’t do it. I wouldn’t do that....”

“Come along now,” Sam said. “Like a good girl.”

How many Sams and Joes had worked for Jacob? she wondered. She looked beseechingly at Pilly and Charlotte who both looked shocked and scared. “Tell him I wouldn’t do that,” she begged. “Pilly, don’t let him tie me up. He’s going to hurt me.”

Laine knew better than to struggle against these two big men even if there was a chance she could get away from them. It was safer to stay in character and play her part. But to her dismay this meant that if she had a chance to flee she’d have to take it and just hope that no harm came to the two remaining women and their children. Right then Laine vowed to herself that if she got out of this place, she’d run far and fast and never look back. This wasn’t what she’d signed on for. This was supposed to be a simple fact-finding mission and when she had the information she needed, she was simply going to walk away from this compound. Then she found the guns, the pot, the danger to the children...

They tied her to a kitchen chair in Jacob’s house, her hands behind her back and her ankles bound to the chair legs. Then she heard the men talking with Jacob, telling him they were going to secure the perimeter and she thought, that sounded like police talk. But these men were not police. She heard one of them tell Jacob not to do any more damage. And then they left.

Every nerve in her body was on high alert and her heart was hammering so hard she trembled, but took comfort in the fact that this would be a normal reaction and would not raise suspicion. She watched the clock on Jacob’s oven and it ticked by slowly. She could hear him talking on the phone but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. Who could he be communicating with? she wondered. He’d led them all to believe his entire world was inside the fence; that he neither wanted nor needed anything else.

Around ten in the morning she heard a knock at his door, heard him get up and open it and heard Pilly talking to him. Her voice was faint and trembling, but Laine thought she could make out a bit of what she was saying. “Don’t do this, Jacob, you’re scaring us. Let me take her back to the house and we’ll watch her. Please, Jacob, I’ll do whatever you need, but don’t hold her prisoner.”

And then Jacob could be heard, and there was no mistaking his words. “She’s not going anywhere until I get to the bottom of this! I think it’s her and she’s ruining everything!”

There was a bit more pleading then the door closed again, presumably on Pilly’s departure. At almost two, the men were back and she distinctly heard three voices in addition to Jacob’s. And she could hear their words, which were remarkably calm.

“The breach of our security has gone too far and has involved too many people. Too many have left and they’re talking—I’d bet anything.”

“It’s time to shut it down.”

“No! I’m not giving it up!” Jacob shouted.

“We’ll never get another shipment out of here and I’m not going to jail! It’s time to follow the original plan. Burn it and leave it.”

“No! We fight back!”

“Jacob, they’re bigger than we are, and too many people have left. We can’t rely on their silence. They’re going to sell us out—these women. Burn it, and while they’re dealing with the mess and the torch, we’ll take what we can out the back way. We’ll pick up a couple of cars and get out.”

“I’m not giving it up until they’re here with a warrant. Then we can torch it!”

“I’m telling you, I’ve seen this before. If you think the town constable is coming with a warrant, you’re delusional. They’ll come with a small army. And no one’s getting away unless we get out before they try to get in. Leave the girls and their babies behind, take the cash on hand and let’s move.”

Laine cursed under her breath because that was as much of a detailed conversation as she’d ever heard among the men. And she had to pee like a racehorse.

They continued to argue, except that Jacob’s men didn’t try to get tough with him. They calmly advised him, and they were articulate. Very well-spoken drug dealers. These were businessmen. Jacob was half-loony, a self-aggrandizing fool. But the people around him, the women and the men, appeared to be intelligent and in control.

How had he managed that?

“I’m not for taking more chances. We always said we were exiting this property before it got hot. When a dozen people take off, it’s hot.”

“We have a little more time,” Jacob said.

They’re going to run, Laine thought. And her greatest fear was that Jacob could be willing to die for it. She’d been here for months and his anger had been steadily escalating. He didn’t like the size of his tribe getting smaller.

Finally the talk stopped and the door to Jacob’s house closed. She used her small, pitiful voice. “Jacob?” she called softly. “Jacob?”

He stood in the kitchen doorway. He crossed his arms over his chest. One side of his mouth lifted in a half smile. “Something?”

“I have to... I need to use the bathroom.”

“Finally dependent on me, are you? And if I say no?”

“I’m afraid I might... I could have an accident.”

“If you piss on my floor, I’ll beat you. And you already look like bloody hell.”

Oh, he was getting dangerous. “I just want to use a bathroom, Jacob. Please.”

“I’ll think it over.” Then he turned and left her. And she put her mind in a Zen state that allowed her not to lose control. She would not invite another beating.

* * *

Devon’s next-door neighbor, Mrs. Bledsoe, was very sweet and thoughtful and not only frequently brought a half-dozen cookies over for Mercy, but a couple of times she invited Mercy over to help make them. The only family she had in the area was a twenty-eight-year-old grandson who checked on her regularly even though he had to drive from Coquille to do so. And because Mrs. Bledsoe was more than happy to watch Mercy for a little while, Devon got back into running. Well, it was more like jogging, but she did like to sprint up the hill to her house. And it felt so damn good.

Rawley wasn’t big on time off from work, but he loved it when Devon called his cell phone and asked him if he’d like to come to dinner at her little house. The one thing she couldn’t seem to break him of was bringing little gifts. Sometimes it was something inexpensive for Mercy or some item for Devon’s kitchen. Although he was deadpan if not grumbly when he came to dinner, she could tell he was delighted. And while she was neither a good cook nor extravagant at the grocery, she did try to serve things she thought he’d like. A small roast, red potatoes and green beans like the ones he’d gotten her at the Farmers’ Market. Or a meatloaf, mashed potatoes and sliced tomatoes. And, she remembered a dish of Lorna’s—sausage, squash, onion, peppers and spinach. Mercy wouldn’t eat the sausage dish but Rawley seemed to enjoy it. Or maybe he was just happy to be asked.

“Rawley, you should come to a football game with us sometime,” she said.

“Can’t. Cooper has to go on account of Landon. And I keep the bar open.”

“Does anyone show up out there when there’s a football game in town?”

“Sometimes someone comes in off the bay. But not often. I just ain’t big on a lot of people.”

“It’s really fun,” she said.

“I bought me a DVR,” he said. “I learned how to record shows and I record the sports. If you ever want to see some game...”