The restaurant was getting busy. Five o’clock to seven o’clock was always their peak time. Mark had sent Elliot a text and let him know that they had run into construction on I-64 and were going to be about forty-five minutes later than they originally planned.
Elliot took the towel he kept in his apron pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was hot in the kitchen, but his nerves were getting the better of him. He wished Mark and Dana would get there and get Cara to safety.
A scream came from the dining area. “Watch this food!” Elliot barked at Jason and ran out to the front of the restaurant. Elliot’s worse fears were playing out before his eyes. His father, Michael Matthews was standing just inside the front door of the restaurant blocking anyone from leaving. He was pointing his nine millimeter Glock at Cara.
Elliot moved closer to Cara. “Don’t move mother fucker!” Matthews yelled.
“Let’s just calm down,” Elliot said in a voice much calmer than he expected to hear come out of himself.
“Shut up, or I’ll blow your fucking head off,” Matthews shouted. “I’m just here for her.” He pointed his gun at Cara, who was holding two full plates.
Elliot inched closer to Cara. “Let me just take the plates from her,” Elliot said and reached for the plates.
Matthews seemed to be okay with that. Elliot took both plates from Cara and whispered, “Get ready to run.”
Cara just looked at him, but Elliot thought she understood. Elliot took the plate in his right hand and flung it at Matthews like a Frisbee. The plate hit Matthews square in the face eliciting a scream of pain and rage. Elliot did the same with the second plate, hitting Matthews in the bicep of his right arm. Elliot grabbed Cara’s hand and ran past Sandy, who seemed to be blocking Steven’s path.
There was no time to evaluate that situation. Elliot had to get Cara out of that restaurant. He hit the unlock button on his key fob, opened the passenger door and shoved Cara inside. Racing around the truck, Elliot almost slid on the loose gravel but managed to keep his footing. He hopped in the driver’s seat of his truck, turned it on, put it in reverse and pushed the gas pedal to the floor sending gravel flying. It was only when he turned around that he saw Steven coming out of the restaurant with a pistol.
“Duck,” Elliot yelled, grabbing Cara’s arm and pulling her down just as a bullet shattered the back window.
Throwing the truck in drive, Elliot floored it again, sending rocks flying like projectiles in Steven’s direction. As he came around the side of the restaurant on his way to Highway Sixty, Michael Matthews was in a shooting stance and started firing at the truck. Elliot ducked down as he fishtailed the truck spewing gravel at Matthews, forcing him to cover his face. Elliot got the truck righted as he burned rubber pulling out onto the highway and almost sideswiped an elderly couple.
Elliot wanted to glance at Cara but kept his eyes focused on the road. There was a lot of traffic, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone else in his effort to get Cara to safety. “Are you okay?”
Cara sat up and assessed the damage. She had a few cuts and abrasions, but other than that she was okay. “I think I peed on myself back there.”
“Having someone point a gun at you and shoot it can have those effects,” Elliot said, glancing at Cara again and noting how pale she looked. “Are you sure you’re not bleeding anywhere?”
Cara retook stock of herself. She didn’t appear to be bleeding profusely from anywhere. “I don’t think so.”
“You just look really pale,” Elliot commented and then swerved left to pass two cars and swerved right to avoid hitting one head on.
“It might be because I feel like I’m going to throw up,” Cara said and rolled down the window just in case.
“There are some plastic bags under the seat. Use those if you need to throw up, okay?” Elliot swerved to go around more cars.
“Is it really necessary to do so much swerving?” Cara asked, leaning her head toward the window.
“Sorry, I just have to get you as far away from there as I can,” Elliot said. He fished the secure phone out of his front pocket and opened it.
Cara looked over at him. “I knew it was a phone.”
Elliot gave her a weak smile and hit Mark’s number he had on speed dial. “Where are you guys?” Elliot asked when Mark picked up.
“We’re passing Mount Sterling,” Mark said. “What’s going on?”
“Matthews showed up at the restaurant. I was able to get Cara out of there, but I’m sure he’s right behind us, and Steven was working with him,” Elliot explained. “Get off Sixty-four at the Owingsville exit. No, scratch that. Get off on the exit right after that, on Highway Sixty, that’s what I’m on. We should come together in Salt Lick, maybe.” Elliot looked in the rearview mirror and saw Steven’s truck gaining on them. “Shit, they’re almost caught up with us. Call me when you’re on Sixty.” Elliot closed the phone and put it back in his pocket.
“What the hell is going on? Who are you?” Cara demanded, some of her color coming back. She looked out the rearview mirror and screamed, “They are going to shoot at us!”
Elliot swerved into the left-hand lane and passed the next two cars. He was barely able to shift to the right-hand lane before almost hitting a car head on. There was a line of traffic on that side of the road now so Matthews would not be able to pass the two cars between them, buying them precious seconds.
As they approached Salt Lick, Elliot knew they would have to slow down. Even though there were only about three hundred people, who lived in Salt Lick, at least a quarter of them would be on the road doing something. Elliot was weaving in and out of traffic, trying desperately to put more cars between them.
“Jesus!” Cara cried, holding onto the handle above the door and the dash. “Did you take driving lessons from Mario Andretti?”
“Dale Earnhardt,” Elliot quipped as he sped around another car.
“Smartass,” Cara snapped.
Steven was gaining on them.
“Hang on,” Elliot said. “We are going off the main road.”
“I am hanging on,” Cara cried.
Elliot let Steven get a little closer. There was too much traffic for Matthews, who was in the passenger seat of Steven’s truck, to try to shoot at them, but Elliot had a plan. As Steven continued to gain on them, Elliot picked up a little more speed. What he was about to do was dangerous, and they could crash, but he had to try something. They were approaching Polk Cemetery Road, Elliot knew it well. He liked to take it to go to Olympia where he bought fresh strawberries and blueberries from a farmer.
Timing was going to be everything. Steven was speeding up like he was going to try to ram them. Elliot let him get close, and then he took a sharp left onto Polk Cemetery Road.
Cara screamed as the truck went up on two wheels briefly before crashing back down and shooting forward. She thought she was really going to throw up.
Elliot took his phone out and called Mark. “Where are you now?”
“We’re approaching the Owingsville exit,” Mark said.
“Perfect get off there. Take Highway Thirty-six south to Olympia. I’m on Polk Cemetery Road headed that way,” Elliot explained.
“Why are you on a mountain road?” Mark asked. “That will slow you down.”
“I had to lose Steven and Matthews,” Elliot said. “They were right on our asses. I’m sure they’ll be right behind us again soon.”
“Do you have your iPhone with you?” Mark asked.
“Yeah,” Elliot said.
“Good. I have tracking programs on both phones. The one on your flip phone is not as reliable, so make sure you keep your iPhone with you. Try not to engage Matthews,” Mark said.
“Trust me; I’ve already engaged him enough to enrage him. I don’t want to have to deal with him until we are with you guys,” Elliot said. “I’m going to give the phone to Cara. I want to keep you on the line.” Elliot handed the phone to Cara. “This is Mark Cannon with the FBI. Just try to keep him on the line, that way if something happens he’s aware of what’s going on.”
“In case something happens,” Cara asked taking the phone. “My God, what else could happen?”
“A lot,” Elliot said and focused on trying to keep his truck on the road. There were pot holes almost big enough to swallow the truck. He was trying to miss those while keeping the vehicle on the road. In the rearview mirror, Elliot could see the dust of another vehicle being stirred up. If they could just make it to Olympia and meet up with Mark, everything would be fine.
Cara didn’t know what to say and just stared at the phone for several seconds. “Cara?” a man’s voice said.
“Yes,” Cara answered.
“Hi, Cara. I’m Mark. We’re on our way to meet you,” Mark said in a soothing tone.
“Why did Jenna’s father try to kidnap me?” Cara asked.
“Because he thinks you know where Jenna is?” Mark explained.
“But I don’t,” Cara cried.
“He’s in big trouble, and Jenna is the key. That’s why he’s so desperate to find her,” Mark said. “Once we get together, my team will deal with Matthews, and you will be safe.”
“But what about Jenna?” Cara asked then dropped the phone when Elliot hit a large pot hole that made the truck jump into the air. When they came down, there was a loud pop, and the truck started sliding sideways. “Oh my God!” Cara screamed.
Suddenly, the truck was going off the road and onto what looked like a foot path. Cara looked at Elliot, who was fighting to keep the truck under control. He guided the truck up the path and behind a bunch of pine trees. Opening the driver’s side door and holding out his hand to Cara, Elliot said, “Come on.”
The passenger side door was pressed against a tree, and the two of them started running to the west toward Olympia. They ran for close to a half a mile before Cara stopped and bent at the waist.
“I can’t run anymore,” Cara said.
“We have to keep going,” Elliot said, looking behind them. He’d heard the other vehicle stop a little while back. He knew that Steven and his father were hunting them.
After another hundred feet, they reached a group of large boulders. Elliot found a good hiding place for them. Cara was not in shape to keep going even though they were probably less than a half a mile from Olympia. He could only pray that Mark and his team found them before Steven and his father did.
Mark was watching the signal coming from Elliot’s smart phone. The flip phone was still in the truck, which was stationery. They were about three miles away, but they had several turns to make which would slow them down.
Elliot sat next to Cara with his back against the fifteen-foot high rock. They were protected for a few minutes. Cara was taking deep breaths trying to calm herself. She looked at him angrily. “Are you FBI?”
“No, not really,” Elliot said, also taking deep cleansing breaths.
“What do you mean, not really?” Cara wanted to know.
“It’s complicated,” Elliot said.
There was a loud pop and rock shards splintered from the side of the rock.
“I know you’re behind that rock. I’ve got a tracker on the girl’s phone,” Matthew’s yelled.
Cara’s eyes went wide. “Oh my God. That’s how he found me.”
“Don’t move,” Elliot ordered. He pulled his Beretta Pico case out of his back pocket. He opened the case, took the small handgun out and put the clip in the chamber.
“What are you going to do?” Cara whispered.
“I’m not sure yet,” Elliot said. He turned to Cara and stared into her eyes. After several seconds he said, “I’m so sorry.” Cupping her face, he kissed her and then pulled back. Reaching up with his forefinger, he took out one brown tinged contact and then took out the one in the other eye. He looked at Cara with his now cobalt blue eyes. “Just remember, I have always loved you.” And then he turned away and started around the edge of the boulder.
Another shot rang out and more rock splintered, this time on the other side, closer to Cara. “Come on boy,” Matthews yelled. “I only want the girl. You let me have her, and you can go on your way.”
Elliot watched as Michael Matthews raised his gun to shoot at the boulder again. Aiming, Elliot fired his small pistol and was rewarded with a howl of pain when his bullet shattered Michael Matthews’ elbow, making him drop his gun and grab his wounded arm.
“She’s not the one you want,” Elliot said and stepped around the boulder so his father could see him.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Matthews said. “I don’t know what she’s told you, but she has information I need to have.”
Elliot pointed the gun at Matthews. “I am who you are looking for, Dad.”
“What?” Matthews asked, clearly confused.
“Drop the gun, or she dies,” Steven shouted as he came around from the other side of the boulder with Cara pulled tight to his chest and a Glock pointed at her head.
Elliot looked back at Michael Matthews. “Tell him to let her go, and I’ll show you where Jenna is.”
“What?” Cara and Michael Matthews cried at the same time.
“That’s right,” Elliot said and ripped the front of his t-shirt open revealing a binding vest that zipped up the front. He rarely wore this binder because it was uncomfortable, but now he was glad he had been inclined to wear it today. He unzipped the binder revealing two small, female breasts. “Jenna is right here. I am who you are looking for.”
Michael Matthews, Steven, and Cara were stunned. Steven was so shocked that he relaxed his grip on Cara, who’d been taking self-defense lessons for the past two years. Cara took the opportunity and ran her elbow into Steven’s ribs as hard as she could.
Steven’s wind was knocked out of him, and Cara was able to get away. Regaining his control, Steven raised his gun to shoot Cara, but Elliot put a bullet in his temple and two in his chest before he could pull the trigger.
The sound of cars skidding to a stop and dust coming through the trees was a welcome sight to Elliot. Several car doors slammed and then there were sounds people running through brush.
Mark and Dana were the first to burst into the scene where Elliot, Cara, and Michael Matthews stood staring at each other.
Matthews looked at the FBI agents entering the area and then turned back to Elliot. “So you are telling me, that my daughter, Jenna is now a man. Or pretending to be a man.”
“I am a man,” Elliot said and raised his chin.
“You are a fucking liar. You are not my daughter,” Matthews yelled.
“Oh yeah?” Elliot challenged. He took his shirt and vest off. Standing there completely nude from the waist up, Elliot turned so that a long scar running from his right shoulder to his buttocks was visible. “You remember this, Daddy. You did this to me when you whipped me with the leather strap you use to sharpen your hunting knives.” At Matthew’s pale, shocked expression, Elliot continued, “You remember. You told the doctor that I fell out of a tree and a branch had caused the deep gash. The doctor hadn’t believed you, but you pulled that big bad police officer routine, and the man had backed down.”
“That scar,” Cara said shakily pointing at Elliot. “The one on the inside of your arm.”
Elliot sighed sadly and raised his arm revealing the scar from his arm pit to his shoulder.
Cara cried out and dropped to the ground, her hand covering her sobs.
Matthews looked from Cara to Elliot. “What is she talking about?”
Elliot pointed to the scar. “I got this climbing over a barbed wire fence when I was fifteen. I was sneaking through Kaylee Miller’s yard. My shirt got caught on the fence, and the barbed wire ripped through my arm. Cara’s mom took me to a doctor and paid for the stitches so you wouldn’t find out that I’d snuck out. Her mom knew you would have beaten me half to death if you would have known.”
A couple of the FBI agents went to the vehicles and came back with a first aid kit. They had already checked Steven and established that he was dead. Now, they were working on bandaging Matthews’ arm until the ambulance could get there.
Matthews stared at Elliot. “You were constantly trying to do boy stuff. I knew you were a faggot, but I didn’t realize that you were a freak of nature too,” he spat.
“I always wanted to do boy stuff because that was who I was inside. I didn’t fully realize that until I started living as a man in order to keep hidden from you. The longer I lived as a man, the more I realized that was who I truly was,” Elliot explained.
“Whatever!” Matthews shouted. “You’re a freak!”
“Shut up, Matthews,” Mark ordered. “Take him to one of the cars until the ambulance gets here.”
Dana was sitting next to Cara talking to her quietly. Elliot turned his gun over to Mark and started walking toward the two women. “Cara, I’m so sorry. I wanted to tell you.”
“Stop!” Cara shouted. “Don’t ever speak to me again!” Cara tried to get to her feet but lost her balance. Elliot started to reach for her, but she slapped at him. “Don’t touch me!”
Dana helped Cara up and gave Elliot a sad look. She helped Cara start walking to the cars.
Elliot dropped his head and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked up at Mark, tears rolling down his cheeks. “That was the way I feared this revealing would go.”
“Give her time, Elliot, “ Mark suggested.
Elliot stared off in the direction Cara and Dana had gone. He wasn’t sure that even time would be able to heal the pain he’d caused Cara.
Mark and Elliot heard the sounds of more cars arriving, several with sirens. Elliot stalked off to find his shirt and vest as more people started arriving at the scene. He kept his back to the people while he put his vest and shirt on. When Elliot turned around, there were officers from both the Bath and Rowan County Sheriff’s departments talking to Mark and looking at Steven’s body.
Elliot shuddered and felt like he was going to be sick when he looked at Steven lying there on the ground. He’d hated the guy, but it still upset Elliot that he’d had to kill Steven. Elliot knew he shouldn’t feel guilty about the shooting. Steven would have killed Cara without a second thought, but killing was not in his nature. It was part of the reason he’d never really gotten into hunting. He like venison, but he’d just assume that someone else kills the deer.
Darren Parker and Terry Howard walked into the scene a few seconds later. Elliot knew Darren’s real name was William Defoe, but he still addressed him as Darren, just in case he was still undercover. “Darren, Terry,” Elliot said with a nod to each man.
Terry stared at Elliot hard and then said, “Your mother is not going to believe this.”
Elliot nodded sadly. “I know.”
“But, she is going to be so glad that you are alive, I don’t think she will care if you’re a woman or a man,” Terry said. He reached out his hand to Elliot. “I know I’m glad you’re alive either way.”
Elliot gripped Terry’s hand firmly and gave him a weak smile. “Thanks, Terry. Do you have any word on Mom’s condition?”
Terry nodded and said, “She’s out of surgery and stable. When your father raised his gun to shoot her, she ran in a zigzag pattern away from him. He shot her in the back on the right side. The bullet punctured her lung. Thank God she was already at the hospital when it happened, and one of her friends witnessed it. They were able to get her in right away.”
“Your father doesn’t know that,” Darren said, “And we’re not going to tell him that she lived just yet. His intention was most likely to kill the two of you and then himself. He didn’t get that lucky.”
“I want to see her,” Elliot said.
“We’ll get you there as soon as we can,” Mark said as he approached the three of them with the sheriff from Bath County. “We’re going to need to go to the Sheriff’s office and take care of some paperwork.”
“Okay,” Elliot said. “What about next week? Do you need me to come back?”
“No,” Mark said, putting his arm around Elliot’s shoulders. “I have a feeling next week’s events may get canceled.”
“Why?” Elliot asked.
“Because Steven was the grandson of Judge Nelson, who we already had evidence against in the human trafficking ring. Judge Nelson was the lead man or Cobra One. Steven was a recruiter, and we can prove that. His cousin, Chase was the one we really wanted. He is Cobra Two, but he is a ruthless killer. We can connect him to three murders, not including the two girls from Evansville and the girl in your father’s freezer,” Mark explained. “With Steven dead, the judge and your father in custody, all we have to do is pick Chase up, which is in process as we speak.”
“Wow,” Elliot said. “I wondered what Steven inviting us to that Fourth of July party was about. Now, I guess it was about Chase getting to meet everyone and assessing who we all were.”
“Yes, it was,” Mark said. “Chase was aware of the FBI’s involvement, and that was why he changed the meeting to today.”
Elliot’s head snapped to the right to look at Mark, who nodded. “But you guys figured it out?”
“We’ve had a man working within their group for a while now. When we picked up Nelson a couple of days ago, Chase called an emergency meeting of the leaders at the cartel’s clubhouse in Cincinnati.” Mark’s phone buzzed as he got a text. He smiled and showed it to Elliot. The message said, “Cobra Cartel officially shut down.”
“Wahoo!” Elliot cheered.
Mark let out a heavy sigh. “Yes, this one is down.”
“But there’ll be another one,” Elliot said sadly.
Mark looked off to the road up ahead of them. “There’s always another one.” He turned back to Elliot and grinned. “Job security.”
Elliot shook his head. “People like to eat, that’s my job security. I couldn’t do what you do, but I’m glad that people like you, Dana and William are out there to stop these monsters.”