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He often wondered if he knew what right and wrong meant anymore.
The rain sprayed against the windshield with a tell-tale chunky splat, the gray morning so cold Eldon thought snow would begin falling at any moment. Eldon had been allowed to dispense with his blindfold once they’d left behind any sight of the city. The driver hadn’t been apologetic about having to blindfold him before they left, but Dr. Forster had at least forewarned of that particular… wrinkle.
The noise the driver’s black leather coat made against the back of his seat was vaguely unnerving, the sound jarring in the muted quiet of the truck. It wasn’t Eldon’s first assignment; vice was positively overflowing with opportunities for plain-clothes, even deep cover, work.
Neither Nathan, the hulking driver with a high and tight haircut, nor Eldon, alone in the backseat of the massive Hummer, said a word. It was too early. And it was clear the man behind the wheel was watching his passenger as much as the road.
Eldon’s handler — the amusingly disheveled Lieutenant Bennett — had gone over it one more time that morning in the hotel room, dawn still hours away, the wafting blue-white of his cigarette smoke drifting from his nostrils as the man’s keen eyes scanned the laptop’s screen.
“They’re going to be suspicious of you, at first. Get used to that right now. It doesn’t matter if your story is good, if everything checks out. They’re used to Dr. Forster. You’ve been doing these long enough to know the deal. Don’t be fucking cute. Just do your business, and get scarce when you can. Observe only — but if you find someone in danger, you do anything you can to get them out.” Bennett’s cold gaze had fixed on him then. “As long as you don’t break cover.”
The Dominion Trust was known to vice, of course, but what was frustrating was the fact Olympia PD knew next to nothing about it. Neither did Thurston County, or the staties. The organization had a dizzying array of businesses, subsidiaries, and proxies all over the country — and likely worldwide — but not a single one of them had ever come back dirty.
What was even more unusual, the organization didn’t appear to deal in any drugs at all, nor prostitution — at least nothing low rent. Presumably, if the Trust was involved, it was probably high dollar whores only. Those girls were much too smart to get pinched.
It was all too neat and tidy.
But yet the name of the Trust came up — and often enough to matter. Especially in the anonymous tip Thurston County had received about one Dr. Tom Forster.
He was an OB/Gyn out of Seattle, but the tip said he regularly made trips down to a location somewhere in rural southeastern Thurston County. The interesting thing was: there wasn’t much of anything in southeastern Thurston County. No medical center, not even an OB practice. They’d checked as far into the interior as Rainier and Yelm. Nothing came up on him.
But they did know one thing about Dr. Forster. He was a known associate of the Dominion Trust. He was listed as a stockholder in several of their subsidiaries, and he even sat on the board for one of them.
That was all they had to go on.
Thin as fuck.
But still, it was enough to convince vice to put someone in deep cover to try to learn more — starting with the good doctor.
Pre-med in school before dropping out to join the US Army to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11, Eldon was the perfect candidate for the assignment. It helped that he was new to the squad — not senior enough to dodge what was most likely a bullshit assignment.
Somehow they’d managed to pull off getting Eldon hired on as an MA in Forster’s practice.
Nobody, and no thing, was as clean as the Dominion Trust appeared to be. Especially not an organization of that size. He knew they were up to something — any cop worth a squirt of piss would have suspected it.
A hunch and proof were two entirely different kettles of fish though.
Vice was Eldon’s last stop, though he’d never told his superiors that. In their minds, he was the job. A good cop, a lifer, someone who could be trusted to do what needed to be done.
Even in the shitty underworld of vice.
It wasn’t nearly that cut and dried though. Had he been that man once? Yes, maybe.
The world was a lot more complex than shades of gray. It was an upside down shitshow.
Spending the past two years busting hookers, ruining the marriages of johns, and generally making the lives of small-time dealers miserable had worn him down, well past the point of really believing that what he was doing made the world a better place.
No, this was his last cover. Then he was out.
Even if he had not the faintest fucking clue what he might do next.
“You never been to the farm before, have you?”
The rumbling voice from the driver’s seat made him jerk, and Eldon rubbed his eyes, feigning exhaustion, hoping the man up front hadn’t seen his jumpiness.
“First time. Dr. Forster filled me in on the cases he usually sees though.” Eldon tilted his head, the popping of his neck clearly audible. “How often are you out there?”
“A time or two,” the no-neck muttered.
Eldon knew it would have been better to shut up about it, but he actually wanted to know. He guessed the gorilla sent to pick him up was some sort of transporter or fixer. The crisp, economical way he walked up to the office door said military, or at least some sort of martial training. So did the fact the man knocked on the door at precisely 7:00 AM.
Typical run-of-the-mill scumbags were on time almost as often as a broken clock.
“How much left to go?”
They’d been driving for a while, long ago leaving Olympia behind, heading southeast toward the foothills of the Cascades, nothing but deserted two lane blacktop and soaring Douglas firs all around.
“Would never imagine a farm being this far out.”
Nathan looked back with a wink. “Kinda the idea.”
Though tempted to look at his phone, Eldon thought better of it. It said ‘nervous.’
“I’m new on this job. Anything you think I should know?” Eldon feigned a weary chuckle. “Dr. Forster wasn’t exactly thorough with his directions.”
“You’ll figure it out.” Nathan met his gaze in the rear-view mirror, his sly grin spreading across his face. “More fun if you just go in blind for your first time anyway. I did.”
Turning off the blacktop, the Hummer bounced down the shoulder onto a gravel single lane, not much more than a logging road snaking through the forest, the branches of the Douglas firs occasionally skirring along the side of the vehicle.
“Little, ah, rustic out here.”
Eldon clenched his jaw at the stupidity of the words.
“Not much farther now,” Nathan said coolly.
More than one serial killer victim had probably heard those exact words.
He hated leaving his piece at the hotel, but he had no choice. One search — something practically guaranteed to happen if indeed the doctor turned out to be dirty — and the cover was blown.
Shaking his head, he looked out the window, grimly smiling at the injustice of a vice officer potentially getting nicked on his last fucking op.
At least if he got his ass killed, he wouldn’t have to decide what to do with his life once released into the civilian world.
The road suddenly smoothed out and straightened, and they rolled up to what looked like a cattle crossing, little more than a steel grate in the roadway, flanked by triangular frames. What was interesting was the fact a ten-foot ivy choked wall extended into the forest to either side of the grating. The truck’s tires made a teeth-rattling hum as they passed over the steel.
Beyond the wall, the trees had been cleared, leaving nothing but uniform verdant lawn for a hundred yards to either side of the roadway.
They drove another couple minutes, then followed a long, gentle rise up toward a cluster of white clapboard, low-slung structures, the group of buildings punctuated by a huge soaring A-frame house clad in cedar shake. It looked like a five story ski chalet.
He’d never seen anything like it.
The road ended in a wide circle, several vehicles, including two white, windowless panel vans, parked neatly along one side.
A weathered wooden fence, encrusted in hunter green moss, ran along most of the perimeter of the circle, a single open gate punctuating its lines.
And there stood a sight that had Eldon rubbing his eyes once more. A girl, blonde and beautiful, dressed in little more than a snug white sleeveless top and a pair of tan shorts so brief they were practically panties.
But that wasn’t the only thing she wore.
Stout black cuffs at wrist and ankle, and a matching collar around her slender neck completed the ensemble. As did the swaying silver chains linking them all together.
Two hulking men flanked her, standing quite close to the girl, saying something to her. One of them was dressed in a slate-gray Armani suit that was probably worth more than Eldon’s life, his jet-black hair slicked back and gleaming. His partner, wearing a black coat that reached to mid-calf, was pointing at the girl. Her head was bowed, her mouth an anguished moue, a lock of her flaxen hair at her temple blowing in the chill breeze.
Nathan shifted the big truck into Park, draping an elbow over the side of his seat as he looked back at Eldon.
“Welcome to the Farm.”
* * *
Though he knew he was stupid to do it, Eldon couldn’t help but stare at her. Nathan was at his side, silent as ever.
The girl met Eldon’s eyes once and in those blue depths he saw something he hadn’t felt in a very, very long time.
Something like… hope.
Then she turned away, and the men followed her closely, like hyenas on fleeing prey. Eldon’s cheeks heated — a wholly alien sensation to him — as he watched the movement of her pert buttocks in the close embrace of those shorts.
You’ve got a job to do. Stop acting like a fucking hormonal teenager.
He had no idea what the two brutes were saying to her, but he wanted to wring their necks for hounding the poor girl.
She slipped through the gate and disappeared. Strangely, the pair of men pursuing her stopped just outside that boundary as if knowing they could advance no further. They watched her go a moment, then turned back toward Nathan and Eldon, striding across the asphalt toward the parked vehicles. The man in the long coat looked back one last time toward the gate, a vein pulsing at the center of his high, tanned forehead.
His compatriot in the suit glared toward Eldon, a sneer marring his otherwise handsome features. “What the fuck are you looking at?”
Nathan placed a gentle hand on Eldon’s shoulder, then stepped forward. His deep voice took on a threatening, gravelly note, the sound eerily carried upon the soft, cool breeze.
“I’m looking at a couple fellas who need to be on their way. Don’t make me tell you twice.”
“Tour guide duty again, Nathan?” The man in the suit snickered.
His taller companion was silent, flicking a quick look at the hulking driver and picking up the pace of his walk.
Nathan said nothing, merely undoing the last button of his bomber jacket. The men got the message, and fled to a dark blue BMW. The tires screeched along the asphalt as they sped away, Nathan watching them go.
“It’s the same every time. Assholes.” Nathan shook his head, then headed toward the gate. “Sorry about that. Let’s get you inside.”
“What do you mean about this being the same? They been here before?” Eldon walked alongside the driver, matching his pace easily.
“Never mind,” Nathan muttered. “Not important.”
“Don’t worry about our visitors. They’re harmless.”
Both Nathan and Eldon stopped in their tracks at the new voice, the tall, lean form of another man filling the opening of the gate. Dressed in a silk suit the color of dark emerald, the man extended a long fingered hand, his bright teeth gleaming as he smiled.
“You must be the new hire. Dr. Forster’s right hand man, yes?”
Shaking the offered hand, Eldon nodded. “Well, medical assistant, actually. But I’ll take it.”
The towering man’s gaze glinted. “Travis Heller.” The man addressed the driver. “Trip was good?”
Heller’s brow arched. “Evaluation?”
“Shouldn’t present any problems, I don’t think.”
What are they talking about?
Then he had it.
Glancing back down the road they’d taken to get here, Eldon squinted, trying to see if the BMW was still visible. But it had disappeared into the morning mist. Maybe those two were more trouble than the gruff driver let on?
“That should be all then, Nathan.” Heller shook his hand, clapping him on a shoulder. “Thanks for bringing him out.”
Nathan scratched the back of his neck. “Same time tomorrow?”
“Wait — what?” Eldon’s heart began to beat a little faster.
“Come on,” Heller said, slipping back through the gate. “I’ll show you around. You must be eager to get started.”
“Uh, sure. But how am I getting home? If Nathan’s not back until tomorrow…”
Heller winked at him, one hand on the top of the gate’s inner post. “Not tonight, that’s for sure. You’ve got too much work to do. We have very nice accommodations at the central residence.” He nodded toward the towering chalet. “You’ll love it. I promise.”
This is not good, Eldon. Not good at all.
He tried to shake off the uneasiness at the change in plans. He hadn’t anticipated an overnight stay, and another quick check of his phone confirmed there still wasn’t a signal for some reason. Bennett was bound to get antsy if he didn’t return, but he had little choice but to chance it. To resist the offer — if it could be called that — of accommodations was something he knew was going to be frowned upon. Besides, an overnight might allow him time to glean additional information.
He had nothing but hunches to go on, thus far, but he suspected that was about to change. And in a big way.
Let’s hope that ‘big way’ doesn’t involve your dumb ass in a shallow grave.
There was more to this than that though.
There was something about her, the way she seemed to stand there and endure the harassment from those men, like a tall, elegant evergreen riding out the lashing winds of a coastal gale, her strange mix of strength and vulnerability fascinating him in a way he’d never experienced before.
But he didn’t even have so much as a name for her.
He gave the director the most relaxed smile he could muster. “Where to first? Gonna give me the grand tour?”
“Oh, absolutely. I suspect you’re going to find this place very interesting, Eldon.” The director extended an arm toward the complex of buildings clustered around the looming central residence. “Very interesting… for all of us.”