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The Predators, Part 3 Carolina Requiem
The instant the gun barrel made contact with the back of Valentine's head he remembered the afternoon he picked his granddaughter up at school on a warm spring day ten years before...
The sun felt good on his arm as he sat in his truck with the window down, the radio tuned to a country station and turned down low. He had another week before his next rotation in Iraq, the warrior in him looking forward to getting back to it. He wondered how his guys were, thought of them often and hoped they were keeping their heads down.
He heard a bell and watched the kids file out the front door and start a line toward the gym. He spotted her at the front of the line, pig tails bobbing, walking quickly pulling a book bag behind her that weighed as much as she did. His heart swelled, he smiled. Those two things happened every time he spotted her here. Nothing in his life felt quite as right as this moment.
He fired up the El Camino and pulled into the line, Garth was singing about his friends in low places and when the melancholy hit him, it was palpable. He felt it deep, could almost hear it, slamming into his chest making him draw a quick shallow breath. It was dread. It was death. And it was as real to him in that moment as anything he'd ever felt. Then it was gone, but not forgotten. Never forgotten.
"Poppy!" Bethany said as he pushed opened her door and grabbed the book bag, dragging it across the seat. He looked into her face...
"Remain absolutely still," the voice from behind him was calm, deadly.
One man stood in the kitchen area, another in the hallway that Valentine assumed led to the bedrooms. Identically dressed in camo, both men were stocky, fit and each man held a Beretta in a "shooter ready" position.
"Wait a minute, you said this was a just a joke," Jasmine said and hysteria blossomed in her voice.
"Rick," the man behind Valentine whispered. The guy in the kitchen flashed into a shooting stance and fired one shot. Jasmine's eyes widened as the shot tore through her shirt into her heart and she collapsed onto the floor.
"I'm glad I don't have to clean that up," the other guy said.
"Show a little respect, Frank," Rick said.
Valentine was searched, flex cuffed at his wrists and elbows then marched down the hall. The first bedroom had been emptied and set up for water boarding. One end of an old closet door was elevated on six concrete blocks. Next to the door were a stack of towels and a five gallon bucket filled with water. A huge roll of silver duct tape lay beside the bucket on beige shag carpet that had seen better days.
The two men put him on the door face up and head down. They began to duct tape his legs and body to the door. The coughing started. Valentine coughed violently and couldn't stop. He coughed and coughed, shook his head from side to side trying to get his breath. His vision darkened and the coughing began to weaken. He passed out.
"Get him up!" The order was barked from behind Valentine in the hallway. Quickly, the men slid the door to center it on the blocks and then tipped Valentine's body upright. He didn't move at first, then suddenly gasped. He coughed weakly and finally as his breathing returned to normal he saw the man who gave the order.
"Cut the flex cuffs and give him a towel," Captain Teller said. Frank cut the restraints while Rick picked up a white towel from the stack. He tossed it to Valentine who wiped his face with it. He dropped it, pink and soiled back onto the floor and nodded to the Captain.
"Pardon me if I don't salute, Captain," Valentine said.
"You're in much worse shape than reported," Teller said. "Perhaps we'll have to forgoe the water boarding." He paused and turned to head down the hall. "Perhaps not. Frank, go search his car."
Steve Eaglefeather watched from the woods as a man in camo searched Valentine's El Camino. The man tugged an old blue iMac from behind the seat and lugged it back into the house. Steve had heard the shot that came from inside the trailer and had hidden his Avalanche down the road, grabbed an equipment bag and then jogged back. He checked again and saw he still had no signal on his phone. He turned it off and headed for the trailer, crouched low, picking up cover wherever he could find it: a tree, a couple of bushes, the El Camino.
Steve made his way to the back of the trailer, crawled down the side until he heard voices in one of the back rooms. Above his head, the storm window was broken, the screen torn and the inside window was raised about six inches. Steve got a flex tube from the bag and slid the camera end over the sash into the room. He hit record and watched the scene on a his iPad mini...
Inside the bedroom, a four kitchen chairs had been carried in and Valentine was slammed into one.
"Secure the prisoner?" The one called Rick asked.
"Don't bother," said the Captain. "Valentine, I'm going to ask you once for your password to get into this computer. If you mess with me, you can go for a little swim. Don't think you will survive that but if you do ... we'll ask again. You know how this works, you'll eventually give it to me or die. I'd like to know how much info you have on us, but..."
Frank set the iMac up in a chair against the far wall and plugged it in. He sat in another and looked over his shoulder at Valentine.
"Hey Valentine, you couldn't find an older computer, it'll take a week to start this dinosaur."
The man turned back to the screen, found the button and punched it on. The computer jumped quickly to life. Surprised, Frank turned around to stare at Valentine who smirked.
"Made a few mods," Valentine said seeing the photo of his granddaughter that was on the screen. The password box at the bottom began to blink.
"Password?" asked the Captain.
"Try pedophile," Valentine said and instantly Rick punched him. Valentine felt his nose break, the pain flared white hot and sparked another bout of coughing. Rick stood in front of him, opening and closing his hands.
"She wasn't a virgin," the captain said after the coughing finally subsided. "I know, I had dibs."
Hatred flashed though Valentine as he struggled to get his breath.
"Get him on the board," the captain ordered. Rick reached for him.
"Wait," Valentine wheezed. "I'll give it to you." He coughed weakly several more times and wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve.
Frank, sitting at Valentine's computer, cracked his knuckles and waited.
"Okay it's all caps..."
"Go ahead," Frank said.
"That's p-o-p-p-a?" Frank asked.
"No numb nuts, it's p, you know the letter after o," Valentine said. "They don't teach the phonetic alphabet anymore?"
"Fine," the man said. "Papa..." and typed in the letter with his middle finger which he then ceremoniousely showed Valentine.
"That's it, Valentine?" The Captain asked. "Poppy is your password?"
"Hit enter," Valentine wheezed. "and you're in, well, roughly in ten seconds."
Frank hit enter and the screen saver changed instantly to a slide show with the number ten small and red in the lower left hand corner. Various photographs of Valentines' grand daughter slid across the screen: at the beach, on a pony, her first bike. With each picture the number decreased.
Valentine watched, tears streamed down his face and he closed his eyes as the count went to one...
"Shit," Steve Eaglefeather thought and covered his head with both arms.
The explosion blew the wall above Steve out and over him as he lay on the ground, shielding him from the debris he felt hitting it. He couldn't hear a thing but when he felt the thumps subside he began to crawl backwards...
"Poppy!" she exclaimed as he pulled the book bag across the seat. Valentine looked up from her face out the windshield to see nothing but brilliant white clouds, dark blue skies, bright glorious light and a two lane road that seemed to run to infinity ahead.
"Poppy, is this heaven?" she asked.
"Close enough, Bethany. Close enough."
- Predators, Caught In A Trap
The unnamed "bum" from Predators, A Short Story returns to continue his quest for vengeance in the second part of this series.