Somewhere Over Wisconsin
I started to wake and knew immediately something wasn’t right. The loud hum in the background, the slight movement of my body, the feel of the bed, it was all wrong. I blinked my eyes open, the blurry vision clearing as I blinked away the film on them. I was in an airplane, a small jet, reclined back in one of the seats. I tried to move and groaned with the pain, finding my hands and feet were bound.
“Ah, my patient is awake,” a man said as he moved to me. He looked to be in his forties, with a thin beard and salt-and-pepper hair. “My name is Doctor Olson, and I’ll be taking care of you now. Just relax, your injuries are still healing, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself. I need to check your vitals so just rest your head and I’ll be done in a minute.” I didn’t have the energy to fight, and where was I going to go anyway? I could see the clouds out the window. If these were the bad guys, they wouldn’t have a doctor caring for me. I relaxed with the thought that these were friends.
He checked my pulse and blood pressure, then put his stethoscope away. “Everything seems to be fine, but I’d avoid sudden movement and any strain. That bullet wound needs more time to heal.” He started to remove the straps that held my legs, the Velcro ripping noise filling the cabin. “I’m leaving the seatbelt on for now. Would you like to sit up a little?”
I nodded. The seats were much nicer than the airplanes I’d taken in the past. He lowered the footrest halfway and raised the backrest, so it was about a sixty-degree angle. “Is that comfortable?”
I nodded as I looked around the cabin. There were eight seats, the two in front reclined together as a young couple slept with their limbs entwined. The door to the cockpit was closed. “What is happening,” my scratchy voice asked.
He went to a small refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. Opening it, he handed it to me and I took a drink. I wanted to gulp it down, but he warned me to drink slowly so I didn’t get sick. “When you’ve finished that I’ll get you some food. You’ve been out for four hours, the sedative they used should be gone in another hour. Just take it easy and your energy will come back.”
I suddenly realized who wasn’t here. “Where is my aunt?”
“She was left at the hospital, she should be waking up now. She’s fine, but even she could not know where you were going, for her own safety as well as yours. The danger Mongo told you about was greater than even he knew. We had to get you out of there before you or the Club got hurt, even if we couldn’t tell them we were doing it.”
I was confused. “Who is WE? Where am I going?”
“You’re going to northern Minnesota to stay with Roadkill and Possum at their home, at least until it is safe for you to return.” I relaxed; both were members of the Orlando club. Possum was Rori’s mom, she and her late husband had adopted her when she was a toddler. She had met Roadkill at a Club party and became a Steel Lady when they married a few months later.
“We’re with Canvas? Where is she?” I looked again at the couple in front, that was NOT them.
“She and Frame won’t leave Orlando for a few more days. It would be too obvious if they left at the same time you disappeared. We had to do this in a way that didn’t give the Sons of Tezcatlipoca any idea where you were and didn’t look like the Steel Brotherhood was involved either.”
I let my mind roll over this before I realized what he meant. “Wait, you mean Mongo doesn’t know you have me?”
“Only Rori and Chase know, and they can’t tell anyone else,” he said.
“Oh shit, Mongo is going to blow a gasket when he finds out.” With tensions already high and the Sons riding into Florida, this could get really bad, really fast. “You have to tell him I’m all right.”
“We can’t do that,” he said. “This whole operation is being done under communications silence. No phones, no messages, no real names. The pilots were given false names, your phone is still in your hospital room, and those two are ghosts. They won’t be missed or remembered.”
I took a moment to think about it; in a way it made sense, but I felt bad for my aunt and uncle. So much loss, and now their niece disappearing from the hospital without a clue. “The cops won’t like this.”
“Nope, especially since the officer standing guard outside the room was drugged so we could get to you. Meghan flirted with him and gave him a coffee laced with sleeping pills. She’s the one who snuck you out of the hospital. Her mate, Tom Nichols, he hacked into the hospital security system and took down the cameras while she was there. It was the middle of the night, hardly anyone saw them, and she left nothing behind that could lead to us.”
“The Club and the police will find a way. The DEA is going to get involved.”
He just smiled. “It won’t matter. She was wearing a disguise, so the policeman won’t give a good description. With the cameras out, there is nothing for facial recognition to work from. Her access card was forged, and the vehicle they used had fake license plates.”
“There’s still DNA and fingerprints,” I said. I’d watched enough CSI: Miami to know they always left something behind.
“Good luck finding DNA, and they won’t find fingerprints.” He pulled a small bottle of liquid bandage out of his pocket. “Before going up, she coated her fingertips with this so no prints would transfer. The cup she handed the policeman was in a tray and had been wiped clean so they can’t identify the Starbucks store or the barista who prepared it. Even if they managed to get a print, Meghan is not in the system. It will go nowhere.”
They’d really thought this out. “So what is the plan?”
“We’re landing in Two Harbors, Minnesota soon. We’ll drive you to their house and put you in a room so you can heal up. I’ll visit once a day or so to monitor your progress, then you need to stay out of sight. No email, no text messages, no Facebook or Snapchat, no communications at all.”
“Is that really necessary?”
“Yes. Chase explained it to me last night. The DEA has been compromised, someone is leaking the names and locations of former deep-cover agents to the bad guys. Two other agents and their families have been wiped out. It’s not just the National Security Agency and their surveillance apparatus we are worried about either. The Sons are well-connected with the Cartels and their intelligence structure, and they want you dead. The ONLY safe play for you now is to stay with us, out of sight and out of reach.”
I couldn’t fault his logic, but I hated his conclusion. My stomach growled and he smiled. “Let me see if I can find some food for you.” He opened up the refrigerator and came back with a cup of sliced fruit and a fork.
I moved myself a little more upright and looked out the window as we flew. The landscape below was covered in snow. “I haven’t been around snow since I was a little girl in Washington, DC,” I said.
He just laughed. “Oh, you’ll see plenty of snow now. The North Shore of Lake Superior averages five feet of snow a winter, and it’s a LONG winter.”
My jaw dropped at this. I’m a Florida girl now, where forty degrees calls for four layers of clothing, and this was December in Minnesota. “How the hell do you survive? Does the sun even come up?”
He just laughed. “You get used to it. There’s plenty to do at the property, and the long summer days make up for it.”
“Yeah right.” The pilot told us we were on approach for landing, and I carefully lowered my footrest and brought my seat upright. Taking it slow, I was able to sit up for the first time in days and the pain wasn’t bad.
“That’s good, just try not to move around,” he said. “Did they allow you to get out of bed at the hospital?”
“No that was supposed to be today.”
“Well, it’s better if you’re carried off the plane. The vehicle they bring is plenty big and comfortable.” He moved across to his seat, and I saw the two young ones up front wake up and put their seats up. They were so cute together, obviously in love. I looked out the window; the pine forests and rocky cliffs heading to a part-frozen Lake Superior were beautiful in the morning sun.
The jet touched down and a few minutes later, we taxiing to a hangar. “Welcome to Two Harbors and Richard B. Helgeson Airport,” the pilot said over the intercom. “Weather outside is minus eight degrees Fahrenheit with light winds and clear skies. Please remain seated until the seat belt sign is turned off.”
I looked out the window at the frozen fields covered with what looked to be a foot of snow. “Minus eight? That’s colder than my freezer!”
“Don’t worry, it should get up to ten by this afternoon,” Doc teased. When we parked, a big green Ford Excursion pulled up next to the plane. The pilot came out and opened the door and lowered the stairs. “Return flight leaves in four hours,” he said.
“Who is going back?”
“I am,” Tom said. “Sorry about the cloak and dagger stuff, did Doc Olson here explain why we took you?” I nodded. “My m… my wife Meghan could have been seen, so she’s going back home to disappear with you. I was seen around the clubhouse, and I need to be seen there again so I don’t raise suspicions. I’ll return in a few days with Rori and Chase.”
Meghan came up to me. “I’m sorry I had to sedate you, but it had to happen. I’d like to be friends if you feel like it once you’ve settled in.”
Friends with my kidnapper? Was it even kidnapping if it was for my own protection? I thought about what she did; drugging the cop alone could have gotten her locked up for years. She risked her life to keep me safe, and that was a good start. “I’d like that,” I said.
They had winter coats and boots on as they walked out, and I was still wearing a thin gown from the hospital bed. Even the blanket over me wasn’t helping me, despite the slightly heated air from the hangar. They got off, and my eyes lit up when I recognized Roadkill coming in holding a shopping bag. “Hey Crash,” he said as he came over.
“I brought you some clothes that are more climate appropriate,” he said as he gave me a hug. “Can you stand up?”
“With help, and slowly,” Doc said. They helped me up, then they helped me dress in the clothes he brought. Thick flannel sleep pants, wool socks, and Uggs went on my legs, a flannel sleep top and a warm winter coat on top. He put a ski mask over my head. “It’s as much to keep you from being recognized as for warmth,” he said. Doc walked out first, then Roadkill just lifted me up and handed me down to him. He carefully got me set in his arms, then walked over and buckled me into in the passenger seat of the truck. “Would you be more comfortable reclining?”
“A little bit, I want to see,” I said. When I was happy, he got in the seat behind me. I had felt stabbing pains with every step on my injured side, and I let Doc know that I was hurting again.
Roadkill got in the driver’s seat and handed me a travel mug of hot chocolate, and Doc gave me two pain pills. Tom and Meghan were in the third row, they were kissing each other as Roadkill pulled out of the hangar. “Just relax, your new home is about a half hour away.”
“On the lake?”
“Of course, Possum insisted we have a beach for the grandchildren to play on. It’s not far from the big house Chase and Rori built, and just down the hill from the community center. I’ve got an ice house out on the lake, we can drive out there and go fishing sometime if you want.”
“Drive out there?”
“Yeah, it’s almost a half-mile out. Really comfortable once you are inside; four fishing holes, a small kitchen, satellite television, and the world’s biggest ice chest right outside the door.”
“I can’t believe you drive on lakes.” We left the airport and got on the roads, all lined with pine trees that still had snow from the last storm on them. “It’s beautiful up here.”
“It’s not a bad place to end up. The tourists don’t show up until spring, so things are nice and quiet. The wife is excited to have you, and you’ll love the grandkids. God knows she does, or we’d have been in Orlando with you all winter.” Roadkill had sold his trucking company but still kept a house in the area for winter. Possum just couldn’t be gone from her grandbabies that long, though.
We caught up on things the whole drive, and I could hear his pride in running the garage and maintaining the equipment. “So, is this place a resort?”
“Kind of like a big timeshare resort,” he said. “People own homes, cabins or rent rooms on the property, which covers a good chunk of lakeshore and about a thousand acres of woods. The company maintains all the properties, plus provides year-round equipment for use. Fishing and ski boats, motorcycles, ATV’s, snowmobiles, jetskis… we’ve got it all. I have four people working for me on maintenance and customer service.”
“That’s pretty cool, so it’s like an all-inclusive resort?”
“Yep. You just call and reserve what you want, and my team makes sure it’s ready for you. The motorcycles are in winter layup, but you’ll absolutely love snowmobiles. As soon as you heal up, I’ll teach you and take you out. We’ve got miles and miles of trails, and you can hit eighty miles an hour on the lake.”
It did sound fun. Cold, but fun. The trip had flown by, and we turned off the main road onto a private drive that wound through trees and along the lakeshore. “Wow.” The big community center dominated the hill on top of the point, and houses surrounded it closer to the lake.
“Pretty impressive, huh? Big dining room, gyms, and an indoor pool.” The pool was easy to find, the frost on the windows was heavy. We pulled into a driveway of a beautiful ranch home with a walk-out basement. “We’re here.”
Roadkill got out and Tom moved around to drive. “You’re not coming in?”
“Our house is farther down the lake,” he said. “A buddy is going to drive Doc home, then he’ll take me back to the airport when it’s time. Good luck, Harleigh. I know they’ll keep you safe.”
Roadkill picked me up, and I squeezed Meghan’s hand before we walked towards the door. The door opened and the woman squealed in delight. “Crash!!!”
“Hi Possum,” I said. “I love your home.” The home was warm and inviting, a Northwoods-lodge look with pine siding, green and maroon painted walls, and lots of fishing and hunting decoration. He kicked his shoes off and walked me to the guest room on the main floor, sitting me on the edge. I was worn out, and an hour later I’d been bathed, fed and put to bed.
It was all too much, and I started to cry softly as I thought about how everything had changed. My sobbing hadn’t been quiet enough to avoid notice, because Donna slipped back into the room and slid in behind me, pulling me into her arms. “Just sleep, dear, it’s going to be all right,” she said.
“Grandpa knows how to change diapers too, love. I’ve got you.” Warm and safe, I fell asleep.