Chapter 42

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While digging a grave at the far edge of the clearing, Howie Boy reconsidered his strategy. He originally intended to meet this Barlow Jackson character at six the next morning, kill him, bring him back to the lodge and dump him into the grave. Then he would do the same to the lady cop. She had been insurance in case Barlow didn't show up.

The snowstorm threw a monkey wrench into those plans. If it kept dropping snow at the rate of an inch an hour, he might not be able to make it back up the mountain. Even if he did, he had no desire to be snowed in by himself for who knew how long.

Nope. He would kill the lady cop now and leave; take his chances Barlow would make it to the meeting. If that didn't happen, Howie Boy felt confident he'd find another way. He always did.

No sense shedding his coat and boots since he'd be going right back outside. He left the shotgun on the deck of the backhoe. No way was he going to splatter blood all over the walls of the room. He would shoot her outside. Howie Boy smiled at his ability to think things through. He had it all figured out. He was a planner.

Howie Boy unlocked her bedroom door and entered. He approached the lady cop, grasped her shoulder and shook. "Hey. Wake up."

She made a mewling sound and opened her eyes. Closed them.

He shook her again. "C'mon, we have to go. Get up." Sliding a hand beneath her back, he tried to lift her. She was soaking wet from perspiration. Feeling her forehead, he discovered she was burning up with fever.

"No," she pleaded. "Leave me alone. I hurt."

Howie Boy considered the irony. He was about to kill this woman but also worried about how much pain she was in, feeling sorry for her.

He decided he didn't have time to feel sorry for her. Grabbing both of her wrists, he hoisted her into a sitting position. Two things happened simultaneously. The lady cop vomited causing him to recoil in disgust, and he felt a hard, blunt object poke him in the middle of the back.

Startled, he whirled around and gawked at a man pointing a rifle at his chest. "Who the hell are you?"

"Where's you father? Which room is he in? Who else is here with you?"

Howie Boy quickly figured it out. He had led Barlow Jackson to believe his father had spoken with him on the phone and made the arrangements. Somehow Barlow tracked him down and had gotten the drop on him. Howie Boy also recognized an opportunity to reverse the odds.

"He's at the end of the hall." He raised an arm and pointed in the general direction. Just as he suspected, Barlow shot a glance that way. When he did so, Howie Boy made his move.

He grabbed the rifle barrel with both hands and tried wrenching it from Barlow's grasp. The action caused Barlow to tighten his grip on the trigger and the weapon fired. The deafening crack of a rifle shot detonating in a confined space had a similar effect as a flash-bang grenade, disorienting both men.

The rifle dropped to the floor.

From somewhere behind him, Howie Boy heard the lady cop scream, but he couldn't be sure. Both his ears were ringing. He shook his head to clear his senses and noticed Barlow doing the same. The rifle lay on the floor between them, but it was closer to Barlow. If they both dove for it, Barlow would get there first.

Instead of lunging for the gun, he used a football move and launched himself at Barlow, driving his head into the other man's chest, his forward momentum causing Barlow to fall backward, crash into a chest of drawers, and crumble to the ground.

Howie Boy turned and went for the rifle. While bending to pick it up, he felt Barlow grip both his ankles and yank his feet out from under him. He got his hands in front just in time to prevent landing on his face. Barlow was crawling over his back, pawing for the rifle. Howie Boy shot out an arm and shoved the rifle under the bed. It clattered against the far wall, out of reach.

Barlow rolled off and tried to stand, but Howie Boy was quicker. Realizing that Barlow stood between him and the rifle, he scrambled out of the bedroom, a new strategy in mind. It was going to take Barlow at least a minute to move the bed and get to the rifle, plenty of time for him to run down the stairs and out the back door before Barlow could shoot at him. Plenty of time to retrieve to his shotgun.

How did Barlow manage to track him down? It didn't matter, in fact, it couldn't have turned out better. He had both of them now. Barlow coming here had made his job a whole lot easier. Everything always worked out to his advantage.

 Everything always worked out to his advantage

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Barlow allowed Howie Boy Collier to go. He'd deal with the man later. Right now, he needed to help Pet. She looked awful. Her purple bruises now appeared mottled pale. She was clammy with wide unfocused eyes. She lay back on the bed staring at the ceiling, trembling.

He bent over her and placed his hands on both sides of her face. The heat she gave off scared him. She had to be suffering from a massive injury or infection. "Pet, what happened? What did that bastard do to you?"

He could see her struggle trying to focus on him. She swallowed. Her strained voice sounded barely above a whisper. "Barlow, is that really you?"

"Of course. The Find-my-iPhone app worked. C'mon, I'm going to get you out of here."

She coughed and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. "Can't. I'm all busted up inside. Too much pain. Barlow, I'm dying. I'm so sorry. This time it's going to be me who leaves you."

"Don't talk like that. Please, Pet, try to stand."

She grimaced in pain. "It feels like my whole torso is on fire. I'm having trouble breathing." She gripped the blanket and writhed. "I can't stand it, Barlow. Help me to die to find relief from this agony. Let me go. Just let me go."

Rising panic welled within him. She was obviously in big trouble, but he would not let her give up. He would never again let her go. Squeezing both of her shoulders, he shouted. "You are NOT going to die on me, Petronia Henning. Fight." He shook her. "Fight, damn it. You have to hold on until I get you to a hospital."

She flashed a rueful smile but said nothing. She closed her eyes.

From the doorway behind him, Barlow heard one of the most intimidating sounds in the world, the snick-snick of a round being chambered into a pump action shotgun.

From the doorway behind him, Barlow heard one of the most intimidating sounds in the world, the snick-snick of a round being chambered into a pump action shotgun

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Did Barlow have his priorities wrong? Should he have dealt with Howie Boy before tending to Pet?

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