By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 21: Shots Fired! Shots Fired!
“How much of a head start has he got?” Henry Mitchell asked Officer Wade Craig. He hated a cold trail – no sport in it.
“Two hours, maybe more, but not by much,” answered Wade. “You think your girls can find him?” He eyed the two dogs curiously.
The dogs, a Blood Hound named Billie and a mixed breed with a long wide nose and a reddish blond coat named Sandy, sat on their haunches to either side of Henry with tongues lolling. Wade thought Billie looked bored but ready. Sandy on the other hand quivered with excitement, as if there were no place on the planet she would rather be than on this hunt. She looked up at Henry with adoring eyes.
Henry looked down at the two with a fond smile and said, “I can’t say as to whether we’ll find your man, but we’ll find his trail, and you’ll know where he left these woods; that you can count on. Have you got an item of clothing like I asked you?”
Wade produced a plastic bag with a label that read, “103 Silent Glade Drive, Franklin TN, Upstairs Bathroom” with the day’s date and time. In it were a pair of dirty socks – filthy socks in fact.
“We’re pretty sure these belonged to the killer. If not, I guess your dogs won’t leave the yard,” Wade said with a smile as he handed the package to Henry.
“Let’s hope not. I hate to waste the state’s money,” Henry said with a smirk. Honestly, he could care less. In fact, he would rather get paid to stand around. Not that he did not like a good hunt, he just figured that a man was less likely to get shot standing around than hunting a killer through the woods. He put on plastic gloves and then pulled out the socks for his dogs. “Okay girls. This’ your boy. Smell that. Git it.”
Each dog snuffled the socks thoroughly and then looked up at Henry with eager eyes.
“Find!” Henry barked.
They bounded around the yard for a few moments before orienting towards the forest. At the edge of the Stanton’s yard, they both turned to wait, prancing around, anxious to continue the hunt. They knew the rules though and neither wanted to displease Henry, so they waited.
Henry turned to Wade with a wink and a proud grin. He said, “They got your man’s scent. Who’s coming with me?”
“Damn, that was fast,” Wade said, nodding in astonished approval. He pushed the button on his radio and said, “Harris, Green, Kellner you’re with Henry. Let’s go. The dogs have the scent.”
Three officers hurried into the backyard from around the side of the house where they had been gearing up. They met Henry and the dogs at the property line. Their job was to protect Henry and his dogs as well as apprehend the fugitive if and when he was found. All three had military backgrounds and were considered experts in their field. Between the three of them were seven tours of active duty. Harris and Green were still in the reserve. These men would not hesitate. They would give no quarter if Tom Eastman came out swinging. Their friendly smiles did not hide the hard look behind their eyes. Henry suddenly felt a whole lot safer.
Henry said, “I hope you boys ‘re ready. These girls ’re hot to trot and they don’t wait for no man.” He leashed the dogs, then took out the sock one more time and gave each a refresher. He stood back up, nodded to the three men with him and said, “Let’s get him, ladies. Sic ‘im.”
The dogs sprang to life and jerked Henry into the woods. The three officers leapt into the woods in pursuit. Tracking was life to Sandy. She hunted for the reward of pleasing Henry. She loved him as only a dog can and would track for no other. Billie had been bred to it though – literally made for tracking. Billie had been through two controllers before Henry as she was much older than Sandy and had been traded to him late in life. Henry was simply one of many. This task was in Sandy’s nature, and she did it well. Like a path painted through the forest, they had no trouble following the scent presented to them. Something else lived in this forest though. A scent neither of them had smelled before. The deeper into the forest the spore drew them, the stronger the new smell became.
“It looks like he killed the boy first, but not by much. I wasn’t sure, but there must’ve been fresh blood on the floor the first time that wheelchair rolled in. You can see the tracks it made.” Del pointed out the distinctive wheelchair tire tracks.
Nina nodded at his observation, then said, “He stabbed that poor man at least twenty times that I can see. This is a whole new level for Mr. Eastman. We should not wait for the rest of the team to canvas the area. We need to do it now. These people are not safe. I’m going to talk to dispatch and the Franklin PD to see if we can get mobilized sooner rather than later. They need to know what they’re dealing with or we’ll lose others. Obviously, these people didn’t take our warning to change their locks very seriously.”
“Agreed,” Del answered. Although her last statement nagged at him. He could not clearly remember telling anyone to change their locks. They must have though. Why else did they spend the entire day on this street before both of them became so sick with food poisoning? He shrugged it off as irrelevant for the moment and said, “I’m going to look around a bit more. I’ll meet you down by the road. Call me if I’m not out by the time you’re ready.”
Nina left Del to his task. If there was anything to find inside, Del would find it. Nina needed to speak to Wade Craig. The neighborhood needed to be patrolled starting right now, and the neighbors needed to be warned. There was a killer on the loose, one who had a key to everyone’s house in Silent Glade. Surely to God most of these folks had changed their locks already. Obviously not everyone did, she thought as images of the dead men in the house behind her floated into her mind’s eye. Most would have, right?
She found Officer Craig next to his car on the street, talking on his radio. He said, “No, keep them out. No press. We have a killer on the loose. In fact, the road’ll stay blocked until I give the all clear. Nobody in or out unless I say. You got that?” He listened for a minute then said, “Good.”
Wade looked up as Nina approached. She stood about a head taller than he. He held a finger up to Nina and said into his radio, “Call immediately if anyone approaches you from this side without my express authorization. Over.”
He smiled sadly at Nina. “Glad you’re here. What a mess, right? How many people are the TBI sending? We’ve got a lotta ground to cover in a short amount of time.”
“A team is already on route and should be here within the hour, but…” Nina answered.
“Damn it! That’s not fast enough. We need to warn these people now!” Wade said.
“I agree. Detective Fuller and I will help. Where do you need us?”
He picked up the radio, “All available officers–”
Before he could finish the thought, the two dogs up on the hill began to bay. The K-9 team had found their quarry. A helicopter flew in from the north toward the sound of the baying. The eyes in the sky had arrived.
“Thank God,” Wade said in relief.
Nina said, “Do they have him?”
“Those two don’t usually start baying until the hunted is in sight. Henry’s the best damn dog trainer I’ve ever seen.”
Suddenly, the baying stopped as if a switch had been flipped. Nina and Wade looked at each other in confusion. Had it been a false trail? Was everybody okay?
“Talk to me damn it, right now,” Wade yelled into the radio.
For a tense moment, no sound issued from the radio or the hill, then a sharp high-pitched yip of surprise and pain broke the stillness. One of the dogs had been hurt. This was immediately followed by the short-burst staccato of gunfire from high on the hill. Apparently, Tom Eastman had chosen to fight instead of surrender.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” Wade said into the radio for the benefit of dispatch and anyone still inside the Stanton house.
“This is Chopper One. The team is high on the hill behind the round-about at the top of the neighborhood. We can’t get a good view through all the trees. Wait a second… Holy shit! What the fuck is…” A strange ripping crash sounded through the radio and then, “Mayday, mayday. We’ve been hit and we are going down. I repeat, we are going down.”
Nina and Wade shielded their eyes from the sun and looked up just in time to see Chopper One fly away from the scene with a trail of smoke pouring from the tail-end and an unhealthy whine from the rotor engine. The helicopter was too low. It flew past the last house and fell out of sight. A distant explosion and a billowing dark cloud of smoke told them everything they needed to know.
“How the hell did he take out a chopper?” Wade demanded.
Nina shook her head in disbelief. Her wide-eyed stare and an involuntary shrug told him she had no idea. The radio remained quiet.
“Henry, what’s going on up there?” Wade said, holding down the button so tight his knuckles turned white.
Still no answer.
“Somebody, tell me what the fuck’s going on!” He screamed, but there was no answer from the hill.
“Hey, there’s one of the dogs,” Nina said, pointing up the street.
Wade looked up just in time to see Sandy race passed with her tail between her legs. Her red-blond coat was splattered with dark red blood and had small sticks and leaves stuck to it in several places. She didn’t stop at the cars or even at Henry’s K-9 van; instead, Sandy fled from Silent Glade as if all the demons of hell chased at her heels.
Just before all the commotion started outside and drew his attention from his current task, Del was working his way through the Stanton house, looking for clues.
It appeared that all the killing had taken place in the bonus room, although there were smears of blood throughout the house. These additional smears most likely came from the killer’s hands as he moved from one room to the other. Had he been drunk and stumbling? There had been no care taken to hide the deed and numerous fingerprints had been found throughout the house.
In what appeared to be a guestroom, Mr. Eastman had slept covered in blood and small bits of forest debris. Why had he brought in so many leaves and twigs? Had he been trying to create some sort of camouflage? Why had he murdered these two men in the first place? Obviously, Officer Brown had just been unlucky enough to discover the scene alone. His death at least made sense, but why the other two? Had they offended Tom in some way? Or did he have it in for everyone in Silent Glade?
Tom had used one of the bathrooms to clean up. The bathtub and shower curtain were covered in streaks of drying blood, dirt, and bits of leaves. Filthy clothes stiff and covered in dried blood lay in one corner. Much of the blood on the shower must be Tom’s blood. Forensics would have to test it to be sure, but there was far too much for all to have been wash-off from his victims. Did one of the Stanton men fight back and get in a good blow or two?
And if clothes in the corner of the bathroom were Tom’s clothes, what was he wearing now? The Stanton men were both far larger than Tom Eastman. Their clothing would have been uncomfortably billowy and would not have made good escape clothes. Had Tom brought his own clothes? Maybe he stopped by his house first before coming here. Then in a flash of insight, something occurred to Del that sent a chill down his spine.
He grabbed the first officer he could find and said, “Where are the clothes the victims were wearing? Did somebody already bag ‘em?”
“No sir. Nothing has been removed as far as I’m aware.”
“Find those clothes. That’s your top priority.” Del ordered, but he already knew what they would find. He had a pretty good idea of what Tom Eastman currently wore. He pulled his phone to call it in when the radio on the officer next to him blared to life with, “Shots fired! Shots fired!” and all hell broke loose outside.
Mike Blanchart sat on his overly plush sofa with his casted foot resting on the coffee table. Kathy would not approve, but she was not here now so he did what he wanted. Of course, he would certainly put his foot back on the pillow when he heard her come in; his momma did not raise a fool. He flipped from one channel to the next, finding nothing of interest. He considered switching to one of the online services to watch another movie, but he had seen so much TV over the last couple of weeks while stuck on this sofa that he was just about over it.
Realistically, he could have gone back to work last week. His broken ankle ached occasionally but the pain could be managed. He would not deny that he had grown a little lazier after reaching fifty-five a few years ago, nor would he deny that his boss had pissed him off and the idea of a long vacation on the company dime pleased him. Not to mention, those little pain pills Kathy managed to keep feeding him felt really nice too. Just yesterday he told Kathy he could see an early retirement in his future. Right now, though, surfing through the endless boring tide of daytime TV, Mike began to rethink his intentions.
He parked the TV on channel 5 and went to find something to eat. Picking up his crutches, he hobbled into the kitchen.
He peered out the kitchen window as he washed a tomato and saw all the blue lights at the end of the street. Well, at least he knew where Kathy was right now. No point in him worrying about it. She would tell him everything when she got home – and probably way more than he wanted to know. That wife of his was a busy-body and that was no joke, but at least she kept him entertained. He loved her more than he would admit, even if she annoyed the hell out of him occasionally.
The TV in the living room moved from a commercial to a news alert. Mike could only hear parts of the story, but he caught the words “man-hunt” and “Silent Glade.” He blinked. He stepped into the living room to see if he had heard correctly. Sure enough, a pretty reporter stood in front of a news van at the turn off to Silent Glade. She was saying, “…flew from the forested hills of the sleepy Silent Glade neighborhood and crashed in a field belonging to the Canton family less than a mile away. Smoke is still pouring off of the crash site and emergency services are on the way.”
The camera shifted up and to the left. A column of black smoke could be seen some distance away. After a few seconds, it moved back to the reporter who had one hand over an ear as she listened intently to some instructions. “It appears the police are going door to door to warn the neighbors to lock up and keep an eye out. There have been shots fired already, but we are currently unclear as to the outcome. Please, if you are watching this from within Silent Glade keep your doors locked.”
A loud knocking echoed through his house and he jumped, landing on his cast.
“Shit!” He yelled in pain.
The knock came again. This time with more urgency. “Mr. or Mrs. Blanchart are you home? This is the Franklin PD. We need to talk with you.” This was followed by three more knocks.
He let out a long whistle of breath and said, “Coming, coming. Just a second.”
He shuffled into the living room and across to the front door. He could still hear the TV in the other room. “…longtime resident Tom Eastman. Police warn…” He peered through the peephole and saw a Franklin PD officer standing on his porch. He opened the door.
The officer stood with his back to the door looking out across the neighborhood. Some sort of red stain ran from the man’s neck down the length of his police uniform jacket.
“Thank God,” Mike said. “You scared the crap out of me. I thought you were…”
“Tom Eastman?” Tom asked as he turned around and pushed Mike back into his house. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”