North of Saratoga
Deakins alighted from the SUV, his gaze fixed intently on the house. The place seemed innocuous enough, but just the thought that perhaps his detectives had been held in there… or maybe were still being held… was enough for him to want to see the structure burned to the ground.
He looked around to find Logan and Bishop approaching with the local police lieutenant.
“This is Lieutenant Pete Harrison,” Logan introduced him. “Lieutenant, Captain Deakins, head of the Major Case Squad.”
The two men shook hands in a cursory gesture. Deakins was not so long out of the field himself that he didn’t notice the irritation in the other man’s eyes. Apparently he wasn’t too thrilled with being swamped by police from other jurisdictions.
“Your detectives filled me in on the basics,” Harrison said. “Personally, I think you’re on the wrong track. I know the kid that owns this place. I can’t see him doing the sorts of things you’re saying that he’s done.”
“Have you seen Lucas Graham recently?” Deakins asked, watching out of the corner of his eye as members of the New York and Miami CSU teams alighted from vehicles and began unloading equipment. The squad of officers they’d brought with them were already in place, ready to enter the house.
“Lucas Graham…?” Harrison echoed, confused. “If you people are looking for a Lucas Graham, then you’ve got the wrong place. You won’t find anyone by that name here.”
Deakins frowned. “According to the records we looked at, that’s the name this housewas purchasedunder.”
“Well, I don’t know anything about that,” Harrison said dismissively. “But the kid that uses this place is called Erik Mathers.”
“Mathers…?” Bishop echoed, startled. “Captain…”
“That’s the brother of the man who was murdered nearly a week ago,” Logan said tensely. “The guy who was originally Goren and Eames’ prime suspect.”
Deakins snapped his fingers at the front door of the house.
“Get that door open, now!”
“Hang on!” Harrison burst out. “You can’t just go barging in…”
Deakins waved a thin sheaf of papers under Harrison’s nose.
“This warrant says we can. We have two missing people, Lieutenant Harrison, and there’s every chance that the person who owns this place is responsible. Now, if you aren’t going to assist us, then stay out of the damned way! Logan, Bishop, get in there now!”
Logan and Bishop exchanged half smirks, and Logan signalled to Mack and Horatio that they were ready to enter the house. They led the way, waiting just long enough for the door to be hammered inwards, before moving into the house with their guns drawn. Horatio and Mack followed closely, while the rest of the officers covered the perimeter of the house to watch for anyone who might attempt to flee.
Inside, Logan led the way down a dark hallway to the first room, a door on the left. He pushed it open cautiously, and Bishop stepped in, sweeping the room with her gaze before nodding the all-clear to Logan.
They continued down the hallway, tag-teaming each other with every room they came to, until they’d cleared the entire house.
“It’s all clear,” Logan said grimly as Deakins joined them. Deakins nodded, and looked around at Mack and Horatio.
“Okay. Send your people in. See if you can work a miracle, and find some proof that Goren and Eames were here.”
Mack and Horatio exchanged rueful looks, but neither said a word, and instead went to get their people.
“Nothing?” Deakins burst out incredulously. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
Mack cringed visibly under the force of Deakins’ explosion.
“There’s nothing. No fibres, no blood, nothing. He didn’t bring them here.”
“I don’t want to hear that,” Deakins snapped. “I want to hear you say that we’re on the right track! Damn it, Mack, we’re running out of time!”
“I said you wouldn’t find anything,” Harrison said, a little too smugly. Deakins rounded on him furiously.
“Two of my detectives are missing, and we have a little over two days to find them alive. All evidence so far points to the man that you are so convinced couldn’t possibly be a killer. Either you start to help, or you get out of our way. Do you understand me, Lieutenant?”
Harrison’s smirk faded quickly.
“You mean it’s cops that are missing? No one said anything about that. Christ, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
Deakins glowered at him.
“We shouldn’t have needed to.”
“Okay,” Harrison said grimly. “Okay… I’m sorry. Yes, I’ll help. Look, I’ll have one of my deputies take a couple of your CSIs across town to where Erik parked his van when he brought it back down the mountain a few days ago.”
“His van?” Logan interrupted. “You mean he’s in town right now?”
“Not in town,” Harrison answered. “Look, he’s been coming up here nearly every week for a couple of months to do some hunting. He never stays in this house, that’s why I knew you were never going to find anything in there. I’m sorry, I know I should’ve said so sooner.”
“He comes here every week?” Horatio asked. “When, specifically?”
“Well… Every week for the last couple of months, that is. Before then he’d turn up maybe once every three or four months. Anyway, he usually arrives in town early Monday morning… although, a couple of people said they didn’t see him arrive this last Monday until early afternoon. He’ll drive up the mountain, off-load whatever he’s brought with him, then drive back down here to the town. He’ll park his van, then hike back up the mountain. Then, we don’t usually see him until late Thursday or Friday. He’ll come back down the mountain, collect his van and head back up. I always figured it was to collect whatever kills he’s made. He goes there to hunt, you see.”
“Doesn’t it strike you as odd that he doesn’t keep his vehicle up there with him?” Mack asked, frowning. Harrison shrugged.
“A little. But I asked him once, and he said he likes to challenge himself.”
“Where exactly does he go when he goes up the mountain?” Deakins asked, struggling to stay calm. Again, Harrison shrugged.
“To his cabin, I guess.”
“His cabin?” Logan cut in. “He has another place actually up the mountain?”
“Sure. I don’t imagine he’d last more than a day up there without one. Temperatures up there drop to freezing at night. You get caught up there without some sort of shelter, and you might as well kiss your ass goodbye.”
“Where’s is Mathers’ vehicle?” Deakins demanded.
“In the parking lot of our local bar.”
“I’d appreciate it if one of your officers would show some of our CSIs to it. And I want to know where this cabin is, exactly.”
Harrison looked uncomfortable.
“I don’t actually know where the cabin is…”
He grunted in surprise as Deakins grabbed him by his shirt collar, and yanked him in close.
“Then find someone who does. And call Search and Rescue and make sure they’re on priority stand-by. We’re going up that mountain.”
Bishop glanced back over her shoulder to where Deakins was consulting on a plan of action with Mack Taylor and Horatio Caine. Three of the CSI officers had already gone with one of Harrison’s deputies to check out Mathers’ van, and the rest of them were getting ready to head up the mountain.
“He doesn’t like being jerked around,” she murmured. Logan grunted.
“Tell me about it. Especially when it involves the welfare of his two star detectives…”
He trailed off as Bishop focused a hard look on him.
“Why do you do that?” she asked. “Are you jealous of them, or something?”
Logan shifted uncomfortably.
“I don’t know. Defensive reaction, maybe.”
“Or just a fat ego,” Bishop retorted. “What is it, Logan? Do you just hate knowing there’s a cop out there who’s smarter than you?”
Logan’s expression darkened.
“That was below the belt. I told you, I might not particularly like Goren, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him. He and Eames are both good cops. I don’t have a problem admitting that. I’ve just never seen a superior go into bat for his detectives like Deakins has done this time around. It’s a bit of an eye-opener, that’s all.”
Bishop looked back to Deakins once more.
“He just doesn’t want them to die,” she said softly.
“None of us do,” Logan pointed out. “But the truth is, we might not be able to stop that from happening.”
She threw him a sharp look, and he held his hands up defensively.
“I don’t want them to die, Bishop. I’m just stating facts. You know it as well as I do. Even if we find this cabin, and even if it’s the place where Mathers kept them, they could be anywhere now. You said it yourself when Deakins first told us what was going on. We could search for a month up there, and not find them. It’s why Mathers brings his victims here.”
Bishop clenched her jaw, biting back the budding anger.
“I think I’ll keep a positive attitude. Think what you like, Logan. But keep your opinions to yourself.”
She stalked off to join a group of officers and CSIs who were mobilising to head up the mountain. Logan watched her go, then sighed faintly and headed after her.
“I sure hope so,” Danny said grimly, “because if Mathers didn’t bring them through here, then those two cops are dead. We don’t have any other leads to follow up.”
Wolfe and Delko exchanged grim looks, then followed Danny up to the van.
“Unlocked,” Danny commented when he tried the rear doors and found them open. “Ballsy.”
“Folks mind their own business around here,” the officer accompanying them said by way of explanation. “We’re out of the way… Don’t get many strangers coming through town. People don’t feel the need to lock up.”
“Lucky break for us,” Delko commented. Danny smiled a little, and pulled open the doors.
“Whoa,” Wolfe said in a low voice.
“We just caught our next break,” Danny said grimly, eyeing the blood soaked interior of the van. “So to speak. Let’s just pray some of that blood is human. Ryan, hand me some of those swabs, will you?”
Wolfe handed them over, and Danny climbed carefully into the van to take various samples. He handed them back to Delko, who immediately began testing the blood. A minute later he looked up grimly.
“It is human blood. I’m betting that at least some of it belongs to our missing detectives.”
“We won’t know that for sure until we get it analysed properly,” Danny said, “but right now all we needed was confirmation that there was human blood in there. It’s enough to tell us we’re going in the right direction. Eric, you want to give your boss a call, let him know what we found?”
Delko nodded and quickly made the call.
“They found blood in Mathers’ van. Human blood.”
Deakins wheeled around to look at Harrison who, in turn, was looking decidedly pale.
“I want to know where that cabin is, Lieutenant. I want to know now!”
Harrison cringed again. “I’ll call Jamie Winters… If anyone knows, it’ll be him. He knows that mountain better than anyone around here.”
“Send someone to get him,” Deakins demanded. “We need all the help we can get.”
They were on their way up the mountain road, a convoy of seven cars and a large van, after one of Harrison’s deputies had collected Jamie Winters from his reserved spot in the local bar. The man was fifty-seven, silver-haired, and about as hardy as they came. True to what Harrison had said, Winters seemed to have an intricate knowledge of the mountain region. He had also been curious to learn that they were looking for Erik Mathers.
“Do you know Mathers very well?” Bishop asked, twisting around in her seat so she could get a good look at Winters. He gave a short, gruff laugh.
“No one in this town knows that boy too well. He made sure of that. He won’t talk to anyone unless he’s talked to first, and half the time all we can get out of him are one word answers anyway. He definitely doesn’t like anyone nosing into his business. He’s a real oddball and if you ask me, I think he’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous in what way?” Logan wondered, ignoring Harrison’s derisive snort from the rear of the van.
“Well, just some things he said in the bar, once. This was some time back, mind you. Nearly two years, I think. I remember it, too, because he’d just turned up again after being gone for over eighteen months. Anyway, we were having a drink, and one of the boys mentioned that he’d been invited to join one of those paintball matches. Erik was there, and he piped up and said that paintball was a game for pansies. He said they ought to have a tournament where men could use real weapons… where they could hunt each other down for real. He said paintball was no challenge because no one really got hurt, and everyone knew it. He said it was only a challenge when someone was in real fear of his life.
“Now, the thing that really got me… and it got some of the other boys, too… was the look on his face as he said. I swear, his eyes kind of glazed over as he talked about it. Damn near started drooling, he got himself so excited. I tell you, since that time I’ve steered well clear of that boy. He had a bloodlust in his eyes that I’ve never seen before. It was terrifying.”
Again, Harrison snorted loudly, derisively. Deakins shot the lieutenant a murderous look.
“Lieutenant, if I were you, I wouldn’t be making so much as a squeak back there,” Mack Taylor said dryly, not even bothering to lift his eyes from the forensics reports that he had been studying. Harrison immediately went on the defensive.
“Hey, how about you high and mighty, big city cops cut me a little slack? I had no way of knowing what Erik was doing. Hell, there’s no real solid evidence even now to suggest he’s responsible. All I know is that the kid had valid hunting and gun licenses. I didn’t have a responsibility, or a reason, to investigate any further than that. I wouldn’t have known what I was looking for if I had. And as for his van, every man in this town who goes up into the mountains to hunt comes back with his vehicle covered in blood.”
“Animal blood, maybe,” Deakins growled. “But not human blood.”
Harrison glowered. “How do you know it isn’t his own? Maybe he had an accident…”
It was Logan’s turn to snort derisively.
“And maybe we’ll get up there and find him, Goren and Eames having a happy little campout together.”
“What’s Erik done?” Winters asked, frowning.
“We believe he’s responsible for the deaths of at least five people,” Horatio explained quietly, “and that he has another two people up on the mountain right now.”
Winters was horrified.
“You mean… hunting them down… like animals? Oh god…”
“We need you to show us where this cabin is, Mr Winters,” Deakins told him. “We believe he holds his victims there before releasing them and hunting them down. If we can find the cabin, we might have a chance of finding his two current victims.”
Winters nodded slowly.
“Well, I can take you there all right, but the problem is that it’s nowhere that you can get to by car. Closest we can get to it is about ten miles, maybe more. If Erik has done what you say, I don’t see how he could get those poor folk up there in the first place.”
“Just show us where to go, Mr Winters,” Mack said quietly. “Let us worry about the rest.”
Winters nodded his compliance.
“This is as close as we can get. Have to walk from here.”
They alighted from the vehicles in silence, emerging into the frigidly cold mountain air, Major Case detectives, CSU officers and task force officers alike.
Deakins left the group to its preparations after pulling on a heavy duty coat, and walked over to the edge of the woods, staring into the blackness beyond the trees in heavy silence. He was acutely aware that night was coming on fast, and the thought of Bobby and Alex out there somewhere in the freezing cold night was like a knife in his gut.
As much as he was praying for a good result, deep down he understood the grim reality. He knew what the chances were of his two best detectives being found alive. Even if Mathers had kept them together… Even taking into account Bobby Goren’s incredible intellect and intuitiveness, and Alex Eames’ stubborn determination and strength of will… What chance did the two of them really have?
He recalled with reluctance his conversation with Gavin Eames, Alex’s father, two days previous, and having to tell the man that his daughter and her partner were in the hands of a psychopath. Gavin’s first reaction had been all cop. Did they have a lead? More importantly, did they have a suspect? Deakins had been sick to his stomach, having to answer no to both questions.
Then, Gavin’s second reaction had been all loving father. He had broken down in tears, and begged Deakins to do everything in his power to find them alive. It was a promise Deakins had readily made, but they had both known the odds. And the odds were not good.
“These two that are missing…”
Deakins looked around to find Winters standing beside him. The older man went on quietly.
“They’re friends of yours, aren’t they.”
It was not a question. Deakins was silent, considering that for a moment. In all truth, he’d never thought of Bobby and Alex as friends. Colleagues and subordinates, yes, but friends…?
“Yes,” he said softly, and felt a fresh pain through his heart as he made the admission to himself as well as to Winters. “They are. They’re also two damned fine cops.”
Winters started a little in surprise.
“Cops? Erik took two cops? That damned idiot. Like the rest of it isn’t bad enough, but he’ll be signing his own death warrant if he kills a couple of cops.
Deakins didn’t say anything to that. Winters peered at him questioningly.
“He already has signed his death warrant, hasn’t he? You people aren’t planning on taking him alive, are you?”
“We would prefer to take him alive,” Deakins said carefully. “Whether we actually do will be partly up to him.”
Winters smiled faintly.
“My brother is a cop, Captain Deakins. I know about the whole ‘brotherhood’ thing. Erik crossed a line when he took two cops. Even if you do find them alive, I imagine they’ll be pretty badly beat up. I don’t need to see proof to know that Erik is a sadistic little bastard. It won’t surprise me at all if he ends up with a cop’s bullet in his head or his heart. And just quietly, that might not be such a bad thing.”
Deakins looked sideways at Winters, his expression inscrutable. They two men stared at each other for a long moment, until Logan approached, cautiously tapping Deakins on the shoulder.
“We’re ready to move, Captain.”
Deakins nodded, adjusting his coat.
“Okay, then. Which way, Mr Winters?”
Winters pointed to an opening in the trees, and what appeared to be a well-worn, narrow walking track.
“Through there. About two miles in, and then we turn off the track and head north-west. Another seven or eight miles or so beyond that will get us to the cabin.”
“Okay,” Deakins muttered, silently dreading the long, anxious walk ahead of them. “Let’s go.”
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