The crack of gunfire sounded loudly from an AR-15 rifle. Ryder quickly slid down to the ground, folding up his athletic frame as he pressed his back up against the steel door of a Barry County Sheriff’s department cruiser. Another blast of gunfire rang out, ripping into the emergency light bar, sending a shower of bits of red and blue plastic down over him and acting Sheriff Thom Thompson. Ryder’s fingers gripped tighter around the butt of the Glock G30 pistol clenched firmly in his hands. He leaned his head back against the cool steel of the door as he glared up at the sharp shooter positioned at the apex of the old weathered barn across the road.
How many times he had played in that barn, tossed down bales of hay to his father waiting on the snowy ground below. He turned and looked at the old house, the flagstone long stolen; this had been his home when he was a kid. He had played cops and robbers here, but he never dreamed he would be living it out for real.
There was another blast of gunfire. As it shattered the door glass he tried to shield his face, but Ryder felt the sting as a small piece of glass cut his cheek just below his left eye. Then it was still, the only thing he could hear was a deep breath of the man next to him. Ryder turned and saw the heavyset man with a round face and thinning gray hair, heavy plastic framed glasses covering his eyes, which he reached up and adjusted in a nervous way.
He was the county coroner: Thom Thompson, better known by his nickname Teeny Tiny or Double T for short. According to Missouri law, since the former sheriff had to be removed from office, the county coroner was now the acting sheriff until a special election could be held. That couldn’t come fast enough for Double T; he had no idea what he was doing.
“Don’t shoot back!” Ryder told him. “I can talk him out of there.” Ryder wasn’t a cop, well not anymore. Once the best homicide detective on the force in Kansas City, he was instrumental in tracking down one of the most ruthless killers the city had ever seen. The Kansas City Butcher-now, after winning a billion dollar payoff from Powerball, he took on investigations for those that couldn’t afford them, charging only a dollar a day. His latest client- Simon Peters- was the person shooting at them.
Ryder slowly rose to his feet and gazed across the hood of the black and gold county cruiser SUV. He aimed the Glock towards the old trailer on the other side of the road. An older pea green mobile home, one time the home of Bubbie, the grandmother of his girlfriend Yakira Rosen, now was surrounded by a barb-wire fence.
Just a few feet away from the trailer, menacing like a hungry wolf stalking a lamb, was a D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer. Its huge blade like shining teeth ready to take a bite out of the metal siding, of the trailer. He glanced out across the once meadow-like field. The towering trees that once gave shade in the summer and cash in the fall, when picking up the bumper crop of black walnuts, had fallen victim to the bulldozer’s blade, stacked up and waiting for their cremation and burial.
“I say we take him out. He is dangerous.” Ryder heard another voice say.”
Ryder hunkered back down behind the fender and turned and looked at the round-faced man who looked like Double T, just not as heavy. It was Double T’s brother Deputy Brian Thompson. Clutched in his hands was a Mossberg pump 500 tactical 12 gauge shotgun, his face covered by a riot shield and helmet. “He is going to hurt somebody; do you want one of these guys to get killed?”
“Of, course not!” Ryder drilled back. “You know that my blood still runs blue. But why have it end it like this, when I can talk him out of there?” Ryder paused for just a moment before he added. “Or do you really want to fill out all that paperwork?”
“All right Thom,” Deputy Thompson said his shotgun point down to the ground. “You are the acting sheriff; make a choice.”
“I am a Medical Examiner, not a cop.” Double T said, his head turning from Brian to Ryder, then back to Brian, and said. “All right, we are going to let Ryder go down field.” Deputy Thompson opened the door of the cruiser, reaching inside the SUV he grabbed the radio mike and handed it to Ryder, as he switched the radio over to PA setting.
Ryder gripped the Glock with one hand and the mike with the other as he gazed out across the hood again. Ryder brought the mike to his lips.
“Simon! Simon Peters,” Ryder said as he pressed down on the key of the mike and his voice boomed over the speaker on the SUV in the middle of the broken light bar. “This is Ryder, what is going on?”
“Ryder. Rick Ryder?” The voice replied from the trailer. “I didn’t know that was you. What are you doing with them?”
“These are my friends and you know how I feel about someone trying to hurt my friends.” All his life Ryder had always been a protector for his friends.
“Look around!” The man shouted back. “All these bloody dozers, they are getting ready to tear all this down.”
It was true. The Fletcher Egg Company had used eminent domain to take over his childhood farm, a huge yellow power shovel perched at the top of the hill behind the old pond, its bucket already tearing into the ground to make way for a storage tank for waste water for the factory that was being built. Every place that held memories was going to be wiped away in the name of modern progress.
“What does that matter to you?” Ryder asked, still clutching the weapon in his hand. “This is not where you grew up. These are my memories, not yours.”
“But you told me all about them, how you grew up here with your best friend just down the road. How you and she would ride your bikes to Snake Creek to go swimming, how you would spend the day just walking around the farm. I grew up in freaking Chicago!” The man’s tone was becoming angry. “You know what it is like to grow up there? Where there is no peace, no quiet!” The man sobbed. “Look around, just peace….” The man’s voice grew still for just a moment, Ryder could hear the man crying before he spoke again. “I just want peace.” He said softly. Ryder saw the torn lace curtain in the trailer move back and saw Simon appear in the window. “I just want Annie to have peace, a place I can bury her.” The curtain dropped down again and they heard a voice emit from the insides of the trailer. “Everyone thinks I murdered her.”
“I don’t,” Ryder said into the mike. “Let’s talk.” There was silence before the reply came.
“All right, but only you.”
“You can’t go in there!” Deputy Thompson said as he grabbed Ryder’s arm. “He is unstable and I got a warrant from Eureka Springs for the murder of his wife.”
“Brian, I don’t think he did it. I can talk him out of there.”
Brian set the shotgun down on the ground, resting it against the side of the SUV. “I don’t like it Ryder; you recognize that smell?” Ryder knew that awful nose burning, eye watering aroma of cat pee- it was a meth lab. “Have you ever seen one of those things blow up?” He turned to Thom and said. “Order him not to do it!”
“I am not a deputy. You can’t order me not to.” Ryder replied, turning and looking at the trailer and then continued. “Unless you are going to arrest me…” Ryder’s voice was low and calm. “…Well, what’s it going to be?” The acting sheriff didn’t say a thing. Ryder began to step out from behind the vehicle when the zipping sound of Velcro made him turn back. Deputy Thompson was removing his bulletproof vest. He lifted it off over his head and handed it to Ryder.
“Put this on!”
Ryder grabbed the vest from the deputy’s hand and laid it down on the hood. He removed his sunglasses and sports coat and the empty shoulder holster, before slipping the vest over his head and then using the straps to snug it up around him.
Ryder walked around the car and over to the barb-wire fence, he pushed the top wire down and slung his leg over and followed it with the other one. He took a couple of steps toward the trailer. “Simon, come on, just throw your gun out and come on out.”
“Not till I bury Annie; that is what I am here for,” Simon said, as the curtain pulled back again and Ryder saw the man standing in the window. He was less than six-foot, medium built, his head shaved cleaned, as was his face save for a triangular-shaped patch on his chin, just below his lower lip. Ryder watched as the man drew up a Desert Eagle pistol in his grip; it quivered in his grip. Simon sobbed as he added. “Don’t you get it, Ryder? If she is buried here those guys can’t build here.”
Ryder knew very well there was no law. If he did bury her, she would be just end up being moved. “Simon, I found her,” Ryder said as he took a step through the tall fescue grass towards the trailer. “I found her, the student at Crowder College in Neosho, she remembers you talking to her. She is giving you an alibi. She is making a statement right at this moment. Come on, just give it up.”
“It doesn’t matter Ryder,” Simon said. “I just don’t feel like…” Simon dropped the curtain down again. He must have sat on the floor next to the window, as Ryder could still hear him but he couldn’t see him. “I hate this damn life. I don’t want to fight anymore.”
“If you just come out I can take you somewhere that you can find peace.” Again there was silence so Ryder called out to him. “Simon! Simon! Are you there?”
“I am here.” He replied before he appeared in the window again pulling the curtain back. “I have something for you. “
“What is it?”
“A note, it is a note that is addressed to you.”
“Me?” From who?”
“The Kansas City Butcher.”
“WHAT!” Ryder shouted back. The name of that serial killer brought him back to one grisly murder after another, each body slit open from the breast bone to the belly button, an organ removed as a trophy by the killer, wrapped in freezer paper, placed in the deep freezer. Ryder shook his head in hopes of erasing the memory of this killer, but also to disagree. “That is not possible! She is in prison, I helped put her there. She’s facing execution in two months.” Ryder took another step towards the trailer; he was now about a hundred feet away. The wind whirled around changing direction, drifting a strong chemical smell and burning his nostrils. Ryder placed his hand up over his nose trying to block the smell.
“She left this message for you,” Simon said as he tossed a red colored piece of construction paper out the window, just the mere sight of the child like writing made his feet like clay; he had to make himself move.
He bent down and picked it up and unfolded it, he hadn’t seen anything like this since almost four years ago, hand printed with a black crayon. He began walking away from the trailer as he read:
My Darling Rick RYder
You thought you had reached the end
But what if it is just where it begins
The heart wants what it must need
Now it time for true love to bleed
This is the first darling that you will see
Signed the one who loves you the most in K.c.
“Where did you find this?” Ryder furiously demanded as he turned around to face the trailer once again.
“It was shoved under my door the day after Anna was killed.”
“Why didn’t you show me this?” Ryder shouted as he folded up the paper and tucked it into his pants pocket. His mind flashed back to that night as he and FBI Special Agent Isabelle Alexander enter the house and found the killer, painting the last victim’s blood on her face. It was after that trial and the verdict came down-‘Guilty. Death.-’ that Ryder walked out of the department, and with his last dollar bought a lottery ticket and won the biggest jackpot of all time- one billion dollars. He didn’t want to hear about this killer any longer; he just wanted to forget.
“Annie is gone.” Ryder heard Simon speak as a shadowy image appeared from behind the curtain. “All because you couldn’t stop her. Time to pay, Ricky!” His hand appeared out the window- there was something in it.
“Detonator!” He heard Brian yell. Ryder took off running, but his weak knee gave out on him. He collapsed to the ground just as the trailer erupted into a fireball, sending a plume of black smoke towering up into the sky. The percussion wave tore over him screaming like Banshees drawing souls into the grave, as flaming chunks of the trailer spun as if it were a wicked fireworks display, landing in the grass and creating small fires.
Ryder rolled over onto his back and gazed over at the trailer. The only thing that remained was the twisted frame peeking through the orange and red flames, dancing behind a thick black curtain of smoke. It wouldn’t be long before every neighbor would come to see what had happened. He thought he heard a chopper in the air, he looked all over the sky but he couldn’t see one. He felt someone grab him by the shoulders and pull him to his feet. They spun him around, it was Thom and Brian, Thom’s mouth was moving but Ryder couldn’t hear a thing, it felt as if he were underwater, and his ears were ringing. “What?” Ryder yelled, even his own voice sounded odd. Thom yelled as loud as he could.
Ryder put his hands over his ears and tried to unstop them, but they were still ringing.
Ryder shook his head and said, “I can’t hear anything.”