Lieutenant Amanda Rann sat on a wooden park bench. She wore a World-War II-style leather bomber jacket that covered a concealed carry, subcompact .40 caliber Glock 27 holstered in the rear waistband of her jeans. Nine rounds of special ammunition waited in the magazine ready to protect her and the country from the unique enemies she and her team hunted.
Out here, in the park, she looked the part of a typical mom—but in a secret unit of the United States Special Forces, she was a highly trained soldier. And Rann didn’t run, that’s what they said. She didn’t run from anything—except maybe her family.
Rebecca, her seven year old, and Holly, who had just turned ten, took turns on the slide. They loved the playground and Amanda couldn’t think of a better place to bring them, for their last visit together before she deployed.
Her smile, as she watched them, belied the melancholy of her emotions. Her marriage to Rod had turned sour, something she swore would never happen. Unfortunately, and perhaps understandably, the long-term deployments, along with all the secrets, had taken their toll.
Rod didn’t know where she went, how long she would be gone, or what she did in service to the country. Many times, she would have to tell him it was only a training exercise. He had always been able to see through the lies, and he resented them. That led to him resenting her.
“Mom, do you have to go?” Rebecca asked, waking Amanda from her thoughts. Rebecca had traversed the distance between the slide and the bench without her knowing. On a mission, a lapse in awareness could get her killed. Once in the field she would have to put aside all thoughts of her family if she hoped to survive.
“Yes, honey, I do. I’ll be back though. Mommy’s got to go to work.”
The gravel crunched behind her, just beyond the short metal fence that separated the playground from the parking lot. Amanda looked over her shoulder, not surprised to see Rod’s Chevy Tahoe pulling next to her Jeep Wrangler two door Sport.
Holly ran over to where Rebecca stood. Amanda got off the bench, squatted down, and gave them both a big hug. Tears didn’t flow. Amanda knew they should, but the emotion she once felt didn’t come as easily as before. Her work had made her numb.
“I love you both. Be good for Daddy.”
Rod walked through the opening in the fence and over to them. He brought with him a palpable tension.
“Hey, sweethearts,” Rod said. “Why don’t you girls start walking over to the car? I’ll catch up.”
The girls did as he said, Rebecca looking back a couple times as they walked away.
Rod had let his beard go scraggly. His hair was a little shaggy, and his loose fitting clothes made him appear lazy, aloof. Rod had always had a carefree way about him, very different from the men she encountered in her work and maybe that’s why she had been interested in him. Maybe she just didn’t want to bring her work home. He looked the part of an English professor, the part he played every day at the local community college. They had been a strange match, a PhD and an instrument of the DOD. Somehow, though, their differences had complemented, now they just grated on both of them.
“How are you doing, Amanda?” Rod asked, putting his hands in his pockets. When had they gone back to first names? She remembered when they only answered to honey and sweetheart.
“I’d be better if I wasn’t leaving for God knows where.”
“Then don’t go,” Rod said. They had had this argument dozens of times. Now it seemed they would have it again even if it were just by rote.
“It’s not that simple, and you know it.” Amanda’s face tightened and she felt a knot forming in her stomach. “I have a responsibility to my country.”
“What about your responsibility to Rebecca and Holly?” He looked down as he spoke, as if he understood the cruelness of his words.
“That’s really low, you know that, Rod?” Now she wanted to push him down and kick him in the balls. “What am I going to do, just not show up, go AWOL? I can either serve out these last two years deployed as the government sees fit or I can serve it out in the stockade.”
“I asked you not to reenlist…”
“Yeah, yeah. You asked me a lot of things.” That’s it. He could take his guilt and cram it. At the time of her reenlistment, the military felt like a big part of her life. She couldn’t have imagined life as a civilian. Reluctantly she acknowledged to herself that in those days she still identified with being a soldier more than being a mom. She had no regrets about reenlistment. Those years had gone by quickly. Now, the challenge would be serving the additional four years in the reserve.
Rod shook his head and walked away.
She watched him get back into his SUV, and then it was hard to see him or her girls behind the light tint of the windows. Rod pulled away taking two parts of her with him.
Amanda took a deep breath as she watched the Tahoe turn the corner and disappear out of sight. She had a job to do, just like she had told Rebecca, and Rann didn’t run, not from her duties—just from her family.
Amanda spent the drive to the compound in numbing silence, she didn’t turn on the radio to block out her thoughts, and she didn’t try to suppress her rising anger.
The GPS sent her south from her adopted hometown of Nashua, New Hampshire to the uneven asphalt roads of Massachusetts. About forty minutes later, she had reached her destination.
The old military base in Ayer stood abandoned—at least that’s what the government wanted people to think.
Driving her Jeep onto the access road, she followed it to where a guard station stood, a sentinel to a forgotten time.
Amanda flashed her ID and the guard opened the gate. She sped past him without a second glance.
Before budgetary cuts, Evans Air Force Base had housed a thriving military community. Amanda had had the chance to visit in its heyday, back when the movie theater bustled with soldiers and families looking for an escape from their everyday lives. Now the brick and concrete building stood void of all life. The marquee boards stood empty, waiting for a time when they would be needed again. Sadly, she knew that time would never arrive.
Amanda drove through the ghost town of military housing until she reached a nondescript concrete building that showed a semblance of life only by the few cars parked in the lot. The resources leveraged to the building and personnel had remained so sparse even Old Glory stood absent from the flagpole.
Inside the building, a civilian receptionist looked up from a romance novel and greeted her.
“Colonel Crone is expecting you.”
Amanda walked the lonely corridors following the receptionist’s directions. She knew Crone would have appropriated the best office space possible for his pay grade, and she wasn’t disappointed when she arrived at the spacious room. Someone had made a placard from duct tape, his name written on it with a Sharpie.
Fully furnished, the corner office would have been well sought after real estate back in the day. As of now, only an old desk and a couple of chairs stood out among the empty space. At least the two big windows let in a good deal of sunlight.
Amanda sat down in the plastic chair in front of Crone’s empty desk.
She didn’t have to wait long before Colonel Crone arrived; he wore a jovial expression, but she knew he was frowning on the inside. He walked in all spit and polish, even his bald head gleamed.
She stood to salute but he just waved her off, waiting until he was seated before speaking.
“I have an intel mission for you, Lieutenant,” Crone said. “We’ve been getting some very strange reports out of Wellington, Massachusetts, and some energy fluctuations.”
She didn’t like the sound of that.
“Energy fluctuations? Does that mean what I think it means?”
“That’s what I need you to find out. I need eyes on the ground. I can’t trust the tech-geeks on this one. You’ll be given a cover and whatever equipment you need. You leave ASAP.”
When you had to do something you didn’t want to do, only one response remained available in the military.
“Can do,” she said, hoping that she would go to Wellington, find nothing, and get back to her normal life, but all the while knowing that nothing ever happened that easily.
Amanda didn’t waste any time grabbing her gear and heading to Wellington. Crone’s staff had made all the arrangements earlier.
As soon as the killing hit the local morning paper, an operative—who worked double duty as an assistant district manager for the Red Arrow Animal Control Services Inc.—called the police to offer their services and remind them of their state government contract, just in case anyone forgot and tried to award the business to a friend. (They had real staffed offices, not P.O. Boxes and actually had critter wranglers who did what the company claimed, all the while most of the staff remained unaware of the clandestine operations going on in the background.)
Amanda procured one of the Red Arrow vans stored in a hanger and allowed the GPS to show her the way. No reason to make the trip any more difficult than it had to be. An hour and a half later she found herself on Castle Road parked behind a black Dodge Charger.
Amanda got out of the van and approached a handsome, well-dressed detective. She found herself immediately attracted to him even though suave dress had never been her style.
“Detective Callahan?” she asked.
“I know you were probably expecting a redheaded Irishman.”
Amanda laughed despite herself. She wasn’t one to let her guard down, but with him, it seemed natural.
“Don’t worry, Detective. I’ll try not to make an ass of you or me.”
Callahan chuckled. “I like you already. Military?”
“You can tell?”
“You talk like military, you have military bearing.”
“Arrow hires a lot of ex-military. Takes one to know one?” Amanda said raising her eyebrows.
“You’re not making an ass out of either of us by assuming that. Desert Storm. And you?”
“I’ve been around.”
“I’m sure you have. Mysterious. I like that.”
Amanda gave him a wry smile. “So what am I looking for here?”
“Seems a wild animal decided to use one of our residents as a chew toy. Now the victim was a real shit bag so I really don’t care ‘cept, of course, to keep our citizenry safe. I was hoping you could tell me what did this. I have a witness saying she heard what she thought sounded like a wolf.”
“Wolves aren’t native to this area. Anything’s possible, I guess. They’re finding Great White Sharks right here on the east coast now, just like in the movies. Can you show me the tracks?”
“You see, that’s the funny thing: didn’t leave any tracks.”
“That is a funny thing,” Amanda said trying to act surprised, but she wasn’t and that didn’t portend anything good for the people of Wellington. “Maybe your people missed them. It happens all the time. They can be really faint. I’ll do a sweep of the area and look for all the signs. If you want, I can meet you back at the station with my findings.”
“Sounds good to me. I’m up to my eyebrows in paperwork. But I better at least show you the crime scene and get you situated so you know where to look.”
“Lead the way,” Amanda said, but she really wished he would just leave. She couldn’t get her gear and begin her real job until he left. He would ask too many questions she couldn’t answer.
They walked through a thicket of woods until they came to a clearing.
“This is where we found the body,” Callahan said, his hands automatically clasping behind his back, as if the memory of the crime scene took control over his limbs. Amanda had seen the behavior many times before with detectives.
“Seems like a real peaceful place,” Amanda said.
“It was,” Callahan said. “Well, I’ll leave you to do what you do.”
“Detective? When I’m done here I’ll need to view the body.” Amanda knew she was pushing believability, but she needed all the information she could get to make an accurate conclusion.
“Aw, you don’t want to do that.” Callahan puckered his lips and shook his head.
“I’ve seen my share of dead and mangled. I assure you I’m no shrinking violet.”
Callahan laughed. “I bet you ain’t. Okay, meet me at the coroners at say 4:30 pm. That give you enough time?”
“I’ll see you at 16:30 hours, Detective.”
“Call me Adrian,” Callahan said and then smiled.
“Amanda,” she replied.
He nodded and then walked back to his car.
As soon as the detective had left the scene, she returned to her van and grabbed a rucksack full of equipment.
Back in the clearing, she pulled out an EMF detector and checked the residual electromagnetic field. The needle spiked as she passed the detector over the ground. Shit! Her heart sank and her stomach felt like she had swallowed a stone. She looked around, no high-tension wires or anything stood out that would explain such a high level.
In an open outdoor area like this, the magnetic field would dissipate within a few days. She could just go back to Crone and tell him she didn’t find anything, go back to her kids, hope this spike was just a one-time thing.
Amanda climbed into the driver’s side and shut the door. She noticed that, on the other side of the street, a little girl sat on the sidewalk holding a red bouncy-ball. The little girl stared at the woods intently.
Amanda got out of the van walked across the street and then squatted beside her so she could look the little girl in the eyes.
“What’s you’re name?” Amanda asked.
“Sheila,” the little girl said looking down at the ball she held.
“That’s a very nice ball you have, Sheila. And a very pretty dress. Can I ask you a question?”
“Did you see anything last light?”
Sheila nodded again.
Sheila turned to her and enunciated very clearly and harshly.
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