Silence is Goldenbyowengreybeard©
I was awake and standing in a crouch beside my bed before I really knew why. My hand was on the electronic lock on top of the gun safe and I was already punching buttons when I heard the pounding on my front door. When you live in the woods, pounding on the door usually means a neighbor in trouble, but the hair on my arms was standing up, and over the years on battlefields both wild and urban, I'd learned to trust my body when it moved into that kind of a primal response. As the black Kimber Custom 1911 slid into my hand like an old but deadly friend, I grabbed a tactical light and headed into the front room of my cabin. The pounding was light, but persisted in a frantic staccato until the door rattled in its casement.
A figure was backlit by the nearly full moon. It was a woman or a child, by the size of the silhouette, and since it was pounding wildly with both hands, unarmed, unless the weapon was on the porch or beside the door frame. I advanced to the door without turning on any lighting, inside or out, to maintain my own night vision and to prevent a tango outside from finding me, unless a U.V. vision device was involved, and that kind of thinking was premature at this point, even for me. I flicked on the 2 million candle power tactical light, and in spite of years of training, I recoiled at the visage in the light. I've seen the faces of the fallen, the dying and the stricken in my life, but it'd been a while since I'd seen total abject terror like that on the face of the young woman at my door. Her hair was streaked with rain and mud, and her eyes were wild, darting back and forth in her wide eye sockets as she screamed. At least it looked like she was screaming, but although her chest heaved and her mouth opened wide, the only indicator that she was even breathing was the fog of her breath advancing and retreating on the glass.
With the notable exception of her tiny hands fluttering in percussion on the door, the night was silent.
She was quite petite; probably not quite five feet tall, and initially, I thought she was a child.
Her eyes settled for a moment and she saw me. She immediately looked over her shoulder into the dark forest at her back, then back at me. Whatever the source of her fear, it was behind her and closing fast. Without checking any further for weapons or other persons of interest, I yanked the door open and caught her as she stumbled into my home. She was soaked to the bone and shivering, but before I could even try to calm her, she pulled away, shot under my kitchen table and slid to a stop next to the wall. She lay in a ball, pointing at the woods and screaming soundlessly.
The rhododendron beside the driveway shuddered, and a large bearded man stumbled into the driveway. His plaid shirt was torn and bloody, his woodland camo pants were soaked and a large stainless revolver dangled from his right hand. I flipped on my illumination lights, and the front of the cabin burst into near daylight. Not coincidentally, the two outer lights were pointed straight out, effectively ruining the stranger's night vision and blinding him. He threw one arm in front of his face to shade his eyes.
"ANNA! Anna, you come out of there right now, or I'm coming in for you!" He shouted, his shoulders rising with his breathing. "You're in enough trouble as it is; don't bring others into this! ANNA!"
He took two staggering steps toward the house.
"That's far enough, friend!" I yelled.
"This is none of your business! Don't take sides, or you will get hurt. You let my woman walk out of that nice cabin right now and I won't hurt you."
"I don't think your 'woman' wants to play with you any more, sonny. Why don't you run along and fuck a nice coyote, or something closer to your intelligence?"
His face went dark, and he started for the porch. I placed a .45ACP Hydra-Shok +P+ round into the ground between his feet, and he lurched to a halt.
"I don't see any way out of this that doesn't involve you dying, friend. Let her go and I'll make it fast!" He shouted, wildness glowing in his eyes.
"Better men than you have tried, son. You step onto this porch, and the buzzards will be eating your eyeballs by noon tomorrow." I went to 'low-ready' in the doorway and as he raised his .44 Magnum, I planted two rounds in his sternum, directly into his heart. He sank to his knees, looked up at me and said, "Don't do that again!"
His S&W 629 rose toward me again, so I put a round into his left eye. As the back of his skull flew into the trees, along with most of his twisted brain, I quietly said, "OK."
I had performed a tactical reload and was checking the trees for more tangos when the little girl flew past me and leapt off the porch. She stumbled straight to the body in my driveway, and began to kick it with great gusto. Her arms flew randomly as the sound of her foot smacking into the corpse blended with the sound of the rain on broad rhododendron leaves.
"Hey! Can you hear me?" I shouted at her slender back. She stopped kicking the man in the plaid shirt, leaned forward until her hands were on her knees, and she threw up on the body. She staggered a little, and I jumped off the porch and caught her as she fell. A few moments later, we were inside and I laid her on the couch as I stoked the fire up. I hustled over and got my medical bag and a couple of blankets, then returned to the couch. A quick triage told me that she was no child, in spite of her diminutive stature; she was dehydrated and that her temperature was 92 degrees. Hypothermia is a deceptively dangerous condition, and frankly I was amazed that she hadn't literally dropped over dead from all the excitement.
She started to fight again as I put the blankets over her, until awareness returned, and then she calmed and looked down at the blankets. I yelled out, "CAN YOU HEAR ME?", whereupon she flinched and grabbed her ears, nodding. She pantomimed what appeared to be, 'ears OK, can't speak' and motioned for pencil and paper.
"Well that will make this easier," I said out loud. As she wrote slowly on the paper, I started some soup on the stove, as well as some tea.
She handed the paper to me, and started to shake. "Look, I have to get some warmth into you," I said. You're hypothermic and dehydrated, so let's start with some tea, and then we'll move to some soup when it looks like you're not gonna throw it up." I gave her some tea, and she poured it out into her mouth, and then tipped her head back. I was thinking how weird that was when I started to read the note.
'Kidnapped a while ago. Don't know what the date is now but he got me April 13th. Got away two nights ago. What do we do with body?
"Jesus Christ, Anna," I said. "October. It's October 20th. The fucker had you for over 6 months. We've got to get you well; there are tons of people worried about you. I don't find myself in this position often, but I'm speechless."
"Me, too," I think she said. She motioned for the pad. I noticed with a shock how she held the pencil. Her thumbs were missing
I was the perfect target. Homeless for about a year, since I got out of college. Out of money, I went to a Library and advertised in the Adult section of Craigslist as a 'personal masseuse'. Drugged me, and I woke up in a house in Lebanon, I think. I fought every chance I could, and he finally sedated me and clipped my cords and took my tongue out. When I picked the lock in my room, he took my thumbs away and told me that the next time I would lose more. He is ,or was, a doctor, that's for sure.
Nobody missed me.
There's nobody left.
I read her note. When I looked up, her face was turned down and she was shivering.
"Anna, I need to get you into a warm bath, and then get some soup into you. Can you stand?"
She tried, arms shaking as she attempted to rise, and then shook her head.
"Is it OK if I help you get into the bathtub?" She looked at me and nodded.
I slid my arms around her and stood. She placed her head on my shoulder as we made our way to the bathroom, a frown crossing her face as she found the tears on my cheek.
I sat her gently on the edge of the tub and started the water. I have an instant on heater, so the water was hot right away. I checked the temperature as it started to fill, since warm to me might be uncomfortably hot for her. I knelt before her and began to unlace her boots. They came off hard, probably because they hadn't been off in quite a while. In addition to the smell that hammered its way into my sinuses, there was an extra sock wadded up in the end of each boot. When I took her first sock off, I found out why. No toes. Either foot. I looked up at her, rage in my heart, and she pantomimed running with her fingers and then shrugged her shoulders.
"I've never been glad to have killed a man before today, but I think I'll sleep just fine tonight," I said. She nodded slowly.
Her jeans were next. They were torn up enough that I didn't think they were savable, and they smelled like feces, which proved to be the case. I guess captivity is not kind, even if it's in your own country. She wore no panties, and she was filthy front to back. It took a couple of washcloths to get the worst of it, and I stripped her shirt off next. Her small breasts showed signs of starvation and dehydration. They sagged, like empty little sacks, nipples large and cherry round, pointing to the floor.
I held her under the arms, and she sighed as I lowered her into the bath. Her eyes were closed, and stayed that way as I bathed her. The scars on her hands were light pink and healed nicely, and as I lifted her arms to wash them, she curled her fingers around my hands. Her armpits and lower legs were covered in fine black hair, but I felt it was asking too much to go there right now. Besides, for some reason, I liked the look.
I partially drained and refilled the tub a couple of times over the next hour.until the water stayed clean, and by then she was starting to look a little flushed, so I retook her temp with my infrared ear scanner and she was up to normal. I rinsed her hair one more time and added some conditioner, then rubbed it slowly. Her head got heavier and heavier until she was asleep. I rinsed her off with the shower flex hose and lifted her out of the tub, barely waking her. I tucked her into bed, leaving a thermos of soup out in the bedside table, along with a cup and spoon.
Early in the afternoon, I put on my favorite holster, a Milt Sparks "Roadrunner", snuggled the Kimber into it and stepped out onto the porch to deal with our unwanted intruder.
He was gone.
The rain had stopped, and the sun was warming the ground in spots to the point that there were little fog banks rising up from the forest floor. Through one spot near the Douglas fir with the blood splatter on it, I could see that there was a drag trail heading into the forest to the left. Only a few animals in this forest were large enough to move a 250 pound body. One was a black bear, but a bear was more likely to consume the body in place.
The little helper I was betting on was a cougar. I'd seen a fleeting glimpse of a nice healthy male a few weeks back, and I believed that the blood trail I was following was going to take me to the same animal. I proceeded very slowly, placing my feet carefully on the damp forest floor. After twenty minutes of tracking covering over a mile, I moved around the base of a tree and the largest cougar I had ever seen was twenty feet away from me. He had the dead man's neck in his jaws, and his golden eyes bored into me with unbelievable focus. I backed away slowly, keeping the animal in sight, and shortly he began to consume the body. His eyes never left me, and he growled softly as he chewed, tearing great strips of flesh off the body. I made a GPS waypoint where I stood, so that I could return later to see if there was any evidence left, but as it appeared in the moment, I wouldn't have to worry much about being found with a dead body. I would, however, make sure that the parts with bullet holes were never found.
The return trip to the cabin was faster, but I admit to looking over my shoulder much more than I normally would have, not wishing to feel the three inch fangs sinking into my neck after a majestic pounce.
Anne was still asleep when I got back, so I flopped out on the couch after locking up, and soon sleep overcame me.
I awoke the next morning to the smell of bacon. Anne was in the kitchen, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of workout shorts cinched up around her tiny waist. I sat up and stretched, and before I'd finished, she was next to me, a cup of coffee carefully gripped between her thumbless hands. I took it from her, and my thank-you was answered with a shy curtsy. She pointed to the table, where two places were set. A legal pad covered in writing sat next to one of them.
I really don't know where to begin. What do you say when a stranger saves your life and then treats you like a beloved friend? You could have turned away from me, or let the monster take me back, preferring not to get involved.
You treated me like a princess last night, and I don't know the last time I felt secure, let alone as if I had a guardian with me.
I appreciate beyond my ability to express the kindness you've shown me. I also know that I'm in the beautiful home of a man who is used to solitude , so if you'd like me to leave, all you have to do is say so, and I'll be on my way.
On the other hand, I don't take up much room, I guarantee I will never raise my voice to you, and you'll never catch my with my thumb up my ass.
With sincere appreciation,
p.s. his name for me was Ann. I'd appreciate it if you didn't call me that.
I sat and read her letter over again, impressed with the cojones it took to write it. Sometime during my reading, DeeDee had stopped cooking and stood looking out the back window as if she didn't care what the outcome of the letter was. Her body language betrayed her, though. She was about to fly apart. I stood, laughing at the last paragraph, and as I walked up behind her she turned toward me.
"DeeDee, I want you to know that you owe me nothing. I did what any man worth the name would have done," I said. Her head shook violently side to side, and she pointed at me. Her mouth formed the word 'you', and then she shook her head side to side again, and mouthed what I felt was 'nobody else'.
"What I'm trying to say is that I am not solitary by nature, but I do have baggage along with me; leftovers from two wars and countless skirmishes. I was a Navy seal, and then a mercenary. I've done things I wish I hadn't, and they haunt me, sometimes to the point of near-insanity. You need to know that you would be doing me as much of a favor as anything I've done for you. I think you're real special, and I'd love to have you stay until you want to go."
By this time, she was vibrating in excitement, her hands clasped as if in prayer. I took her hands in mine and said, "You don't have to pick up for me, or cook for me, or anything, though, OK? And by 'anything' I mean sex. You especially don't owe me that."
She came to me and wrapped her arms around my hips; her head resting against my chest. I figured her height at 4' 6" and her weight at around 80 pounds. I stroked her hair. "Your hair smells good," I said.
'Thank you', she said silently. She pointed at the table, and we both sat down. She put a small forkful of scrambled egg in her mouth, then tilted her head to chew it. She realized that I was watching her and ducked her head. "It doesn't bother me, DeeDee. If you wanted, I'd chew it for you like a momma bird and then yak it up for you." She made a face at that, and then took a drink of OJ.
DeeDee took the pad back and wrote for a while. I watched her write and couldn't help but smile. She was very pretty even without makeup, her attitude was unbelievable, considering what she'd been through, and her penmanship was already better than mine, although that wasn't saying much. She slid the pad to me and smiled.
"You're even prettier when you smile. I hope to make that happen a lot more often," I said. She clapped her hands and beamed at me.
A couple of things I need to figure out, OK?
1.What's your name?
2.I can't be here if I don't earn my keep. Please let me help you. I promise not to try to change things if you don't want me to.
3.If you have a job, maybe I can help you do it.
4.I need some clothes and stuff. How can we get it and how can I pay it off?
5.What happened to the body?
"That's fair enough, DeeDee.
"To answer your first question, my name is Ioan McKenzie. It's spelled 'I-O-A-N' and pronounced 'Owen', though. My family is from Scotland; in fact my father was a first generation Scottish-American. I grew up just a couple of hundred miles from here, in Ashland, Oregon. I joined the Navy when I was 17 to get away from my dad, who was a proud alcoholic. I went to BUDS when I was 20, made the Teams, and stayed in as a SEAL for 22 years. Spec-ops is a young man's game, so I retired. For the next ten years, I was an "Executive Problem Solver", which is to say a mercenary executioner under informal contract to various governmental agencies, and got out of it a few years ago. So, to answer your unasked questions, I have killed people; actually, I have killed a lot of people, but every one of them was a monster in their own right, kind of like the guy who was chasing you last night. In fact, 'Flannel Guy' wouldn't have even made the short list for the bad guys I've been asked to take down. It's not your average life, but it worked for me; I would understand if you found it less than acceptable."
"As far as things you can do around here, we can run this place together as partners for as long as you want to stay, and anything you would like to do is more than welcome. Partners means we make decisions together."
"Third question; I have been paid a fairly obscene amount of money to do some fairly obscene things, so I don't have to work, which means you don't have to work either."
"Fourth question. We are about 50 miles from a couple of big cities, Salem and Eugene. I could drive us both to the nearest truck stop and get you an outfit you could go out in, and then we'll go shopping, OK?"
That got me a kiss on the cheek and a big hug. "Go easy on me, girl. I'm just little!" I blurted.
"Now as for the last question. 'Flannel guy' was due for a burial this morning, but when I went out to deal with him, I found that a cougar had beaten me to it. When I made eye contact with our furry benefactor, he was happily munching on 'flannel guy's' head. I'll follow up in a few days to make sure he didn't leave any leftovers, but for now there are no skeletons in our collective closets."
The trip to the truck stop was uneventful, although DeeDee insisted on giving money to all the street people she saw. I guess I'm going to have to put a box of dollars in the Land Rover. I got her a pair of jeans, some cheap tennis shoes and a "Peterbilt" t-shirt. I left her in Victoria's Secret for a little while, gratified that the teenager who helped us didn't seem to mind that DeeDee couldn't speak. She actually seemed to think it was a game. I gave the girl a thank you hug and a $100.00 tip when I got back, and mentioned her to her manager, who made a big fuss over her. When I left, I put the Land Rover keys in DeeDee's pocket so she wouldn't worry that I'd leave her. She didn't make a big deal out of it, but I could tell that she appreciated the thought.
I strode over to the Apple store and bought her a Macbook Pro like mine. Partly because I wanted her to be able to surf the internet, and partly because the Macs all have a voice synthesizer built in.
All in all, she got a lot of clothes and other girl stuff, and I got to make her happy and forget for a while. Believe me, forgetfulness is a gift, and you take it when you can get it.