Lije Evans saw the telltale mark, the crack in the hand-hewed two-inch by eight-inch doorframe board, a split second before he heard the thunk.
Fired from a rarely used logging road that ran along the highest point of Swope’s Ridge, the shot had barely missed Diana Curtis as she had started out the door, with Lije right behind her. They both plunged back into the safety of the old house and slammed the door.
“That was close,” Curtis said.
“You OK?” he asked.
Lije moved back toward the door and opened it just a crack. The shot had splintered the rock hard wood harvested generations before in the Bavarian Black Forest for a former German soldier. The bullet had been. found its resting place in the outside doorframe of a home built in the late 1940s by a former Nazi soldier. To the small town attorney it suddenly felt like World War II might be starting again, this time a half a world and six decades away in sleepy, rural confines of a hillside in Arkansas.
“Think he’s gone?” Lije asked the former Arkansas Bureau of Invesitgation officer.
Curtis crawled to the door and tried to look up to the ridge. Just then another blast put a second hole in the door frame. This time the wood shavings fell onto the woman’s hair. Slamming her fist into the floor, she spat, “No.”
The shot was no accident. It was not fired by a hunter whose eyes had played tricks on him or teenagers up to mischief. Whoever pulled the trigger had a target line up in the gun site. Just before digging into the top of the doorframe, the screaming projectile flew a few scant inches above Curtis’ head. As close as it came, she knew it was not meant as a warning. Curtis’ immediate reaction, triggered by years of service in the Arkansas Bureau of Investigation, caused her to dive back into the small, dark house that overlooked a long section of the Spring River’s most dangerous white water rapids. As the sound of the shot echoed across the Ozarks and down through the valley cut thousands of years before by the stream’s clear, cool water, those who just an instant before had been carefully and peacefully searching the late John Schleter’s home froze in terror. For the first time in months, they again seemed to be prey. Whatever had caused the murder on Farraday Road and the subsequent violence that followed was not over — at least one man’s lust for blood was still alive.
A few moments before things had seemed so good. Lige thought they’d found the first real clue that might lead to solving the mystery of why his wife Kaitlyn had been murdered, as well as why he and his friends had almost lost their lives inside a cave. Strangely enough, an ancient high school yearbook also seemed to be the key discovering what had happened to a relative missing for more than seventy years. After three exhausting months this book had been the cold case clue that had suddenly produced a spark of hope, but now a lone volley from a high-powered rifle had instantly and dramatically put all optimistic thoughts so far on the back burner that the stove’s heat couldn’t begin reach them. In fact the only thing boiling was Lije’s blood. That shot had reawakened his grief, fatigue and frustration. It had reminded him of how tired he was of these life and death games, how exasperated he was at not knowing why this piece of property was worth the lives of so many innocent people and how consumed he had become in identifying the man behind what had happened that stormy night last spring on that muddy side road.
His heart was pounding. What did they want? What had he overlooked that was still in this old home? What were they missing? Was it the yearbook and how could a simple memento like that trigger such violence?
Rolling back away from the door, Curtis said, “I just heard a car start up and drive off, but he might have just been moving to a better spot. We’re still pinned down.”
“So,” Lije replied, “he could be still watching us. Still waiting to make his move.”
“We’re trapped,” he said. “He seems to always have us where he wants us!”
“So what’s he going to do now? I can’t take anymore!”
Turning toward the nervous voice on the far side of the room, Lije pushed an awkward smile toward his law partner Heather Jameson. When he had fallen to the floor by the door to avoid the line of fire, she’d taken cover behind an old overstuffed chair, peering wildly toward the door, her mouth halfway open and sweat beading on her forehead. She seemed unhinged, with a crazed look and that could’ve been mistaken for demonic possession.
Lije had seen this type of panicked expression only one other time — as a boy at a family reunion. He had accidentally dropped a wooden box on the floor just behind where his Uncle Jake had been sitting. The man, who had lost an arm in the Vietnam War, had instantly leaped from his seat, whirled in mid-air, and grabbed Lije by the throat. It had taken his father and three other men to yank Jake’s left hand from Lije’s small neck. His dad later pulled him aside and explained that Jake had come back from Asia with a condition then known as “shellshock.” Lije now could relate to what two shots had done to the young lawyer’s psyche. Having been falsely accused of Kaitlyn’s murder, spending time in jail, sure she was going to death row and, being released only to be then pressed into helping care for a brother mentally incapacitated by experiences in the Iraq War, Jameson had a right be falling apart. He knew her breaking point had to be just a cat’s whisker away. Still, he couldn’t let her shatter — not here and not now.
“We are trapped,” Janie Davies said, “but safe.”
Lije’s gaze fell upon the unseeing pale blue eyes of his legal assistant as she explained. “That door’s the only way into this place, “Janie pointed out, “and, if he tried to come through it, Diana’s gun will no doubt provide a welcoming note he wouldn’t like. So we’re safe — really safe. After what we’ve been through, that’s a lot to be thankful for too!”
As always, Janie provided a calm bit of wisdom in a moment that should’ve signaled nothing but chaos. The Ozark foothills were littered with millions of boulders, but none were more rock solid than this diminutive blonde. She had, thanks as much her to perception and attitude as her tightly honed sense of hearing, smell and touch, a vision that he lacked and an attitude that revealed logic in the midst of calamity. If she wasn’t an angel, she sure must have been the best prototype.
“Janie’s right,” Lije quietly assured Jameson, “we’re safe as long as we stay in the house. Just remain where you are and try to relax. Nothing’s going to happen to any of us while we’re inside.”
Heather nodded, but like a rabbit hiding from a wolf, pushed deeper into the spot behind the chair. She would’ve likely pushed into the thick wall if that had been possible.
Lije hoped he had allayed Jameson’s initial fears, but he couldn’t answer her most important question, “What was going to happen next?” How he hated being out of control, but that next move would be entirely up to the man who had fired the rifle. So knowing they couldn’t dictate the action, Jameson, Curtis, Janie and he all looked toward the door, listening intently for signs of someone approaching. Yet as the quartet continued to strain each of their senses, all they heard was the symphony provided by the majestic rushing water of the river as it cut its way through the foothills and the rustling of leaves on the tall trees surrounding the six-decade-old one-story structure, built more like a fortress than a home. These were sounds Lije longed to hear. They framed the moment with an aura of peace.
But now he was ready for a showdown. He glanced over at the woman who had been at his side so much of the time as they investigated his wife’s murder. Curtis was fingering the grip of the nine millimeter she had pulled from her purse. It looked as though she was itching to charge out into the sunlight and take on the assassin who had just missed ending her life. Yet, like those who had no weapons, she prudently chose to wait, convinced that Janie was right. The late Dutchman’s stuffy home offered sure protection against a foe carrying a lethal weapon.
The minutes dragged by and they each held their position. No one spoke or even drew a deep breath. Then, so silently that Lije failed to notice, Janie got up and began walking toward the door. For a moment he considered reaching up and pulling her back down to the floor, but he stopped. In her own uncanny way, she seemed to be avoiding any position where she could be seen from outside. Could she sense the sunlight pouring through the partly opened doorway or was it the slight breeze that led her? He watched as she continued to move. When she drew near the front wall, she reached out and touched the door’s thick frame. Her left hand lingered there for a few seconds, then she made a slow pirouette and rested her back against the wall. She stood unmoving, her toned body relaxed but her face showing obvious signs of concentration. What was she doing? What did she perceive that he could not? It was her ears that gave her insights. She’d moved to the door to better hear the outside world. She’d know long before any of the rest of them if someone was approaching. In a strange way, the blind woman had become the lookout.
“A car’s coming through the gate.” Janie turned her head in Lije’s direction.
“Are you sure?” He picked up a loose brick he’d pried out of the wall a few weeks ago.
“Yes, it’s moving slowly, but it’s heading this way.”
It took another minute before he finally heard it. The sound of the car caused him to squeeze the brick. He got down on his and knees and crawled over to the door. The home’s native stone floor felt cool.
“What do you think Diana?” he whispered. “Who is it?”
The former ABI agent shook her head. “I don’t know? But it is not Barton Hillman.”
Curtis was a solid CSI type. Lije knew that from watching her work. She had investigative skills that he deeply respected.
Lige hadn’t trusted the head of the ABI, In the not so distant past the man had watched Lije’s team battle for their lives while offering no help at all. Hillman had an agenda and whoever got in his way seemed to always feel death’s cold hand. Yet logic dictated this time the woman was probably right. Hillman wasn’t into giving warning shots and he really would have nothing to gain by killing any of them, at least not until they had uncovered the important riddle hidden on Swope’s Ridge.
“It’s not the same car that’s coming now,” Janie whispered. “At least not the one that drove off on the ridge.”
“The one we heard after the shots had a distinctive squeak, like a spring was broken. This one doesn’t. And driving on that bumpy, rocky driveway leading to this place would make that squeak even more pronounced. I guarantee it’s not the same car.”
Lije hadn’t noticed any squeak, just the sound of a car driving off. Glancing over his shoulder, he looked at Diana. She shrugged. She’d missed it too. So if this wasn’t the guy who just shot at Diana, who was it? Who would be coming to this spot so secluded that cell phones couldn’t even find signals?
Lije worked his way to the edge of the door. He peered through the narrow opening. A postcard-like scene illuminated the awesome majesty of the unspoiled Ozarks. He saw two robins fly up to a tree, a squirrel race up the trunk of a tree, and a wild turkey wander casually between rows of blackberry bushes. Nothing in his field of vision was unusual. In fact, this was as close to peace on earth that anyone could imagine.
Yet though he couldn’t see the approaching vehicle, like Janie he now could easily hear the sound of a motor moving closer. Would there soon be a violent confrontation, a life-and-death struggle in this remote idyllic setting?
“Get ready,” Janie whispered. “He just parked the car and turned off the motor.”
Curtis worked her way over to Lije’s left side, lifted her gun, and aimed at the point where she felt an intruder was most likely to first approach their sanctuary. Unlike Curtis, who was ready to take the intruder down with a squeeze of a trigger, Lije felt a sense of extreme curiosity, as if this might be the most important moment in his life. Would he finally look a killer in the eye? Would he finally get answers to the nightmare that had started on that fateful night on Farraday Road? The nightmare that had left his beloved Kaitlyn dead?
Saying a quick and sincere prayer, Lije readied himself for the fight. Yes, it was time! It was long past time!
“He’s walking this way,” Janie whispered. “He’s alone.”
Lije nodded, then realized, because she was blind, their alert sentry couldn’t hear him shaking his head. Still, he said nothing.
“Here he comes,” Curtis whispered. “I see his shadow.”
Lije glanced out and saw a dark silhouette seemingly floating on the wind-blown grass. It appeared to be a man and he had stopped moving.
Time seemed halted as surely as the intruder, now twenty feet outside their door. Not moving.
The clock wouldn’t start ticking again until the mysterious man’s next step and, for one of them, the moment that time again resumed might well be the second life ended. The next breath might well be the last. No one had to be told because they felt the grim reaper’s breathing down the backs of their necks.
This is the second in the Lige Evans' Mystery Series. If you are wanting to know more about Lije, Janie and the rest of the people who survived Farraday Road, this book has the answers. As it solves the first novel's mystery, this book takes readers far beyound Swope's Ridge to Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Berlin and Washington D.C. The mystery unravels to reveal not only who killed Kaitlyn Evans, but to also uncover a terrorist plot meant to crippled the U.S. government. Filled with dramatic plot twists, the book has more adventure and thrills than Farraday Road and provides deep development of the men and women who are such a vital part of this book series. I have chosen to share Chapter 2 with you.
The Exciting Sequel to Farraday Road
Book 2 in the Lige Evans Mystery Series
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Here is a link to the first pre-review of Swope's Ridge. Click here!