While I know it has only been a couple of months since the release of Cover Fire, my affinity for Hawk Tate was too strong not already have the third in the series drafted, this one a small departure from the format of the first two, but still very much in line w/ what (I hope) readers have enjoyed thus far about the character.

For all of you that have written in expressing interest in seeing a third, hopefully this will keep you tided over until the next release of Hawk, most likely some time early in May.

Chapter Seven
I have never been one for deep sleep. Even as a young man, my subconscious tended to stay just below the surface, my REM patterns lasting for hours on end. No matter how exhausted I might have been, very rare was the instance in which I would succumb to total darkness, my mind, my awareness, refusing to leave me.

In the time since the skill has served me well, playing a role during both my time in the navy and later the DEA. Sleeping in strange locations, being involved in active investigations, resting within miles of a hostile enemy.

None were the optimal conditions for slipping into a coma-like trance. Not only would doing so make me an easy target, it would lengthen the time needed for my body to pull back from it, to shift from rest into an alerted state.

Because of that, when the pounding sounded against the door of the cheap hotel room I had rented for a few nights, my body reacted the same way it always did. There was no exorcism style rise from the darkness that had to take place, no sudden jolt that caused me to sit upright beneath the thin covers of the bed, lights popping before my eyes, trying to gain my bearings.

Instead, only two things moved, both in tandem.

First, my eyes opened, staring straight up at the textured ceiling above me, the thick paint arranged in oblong swirls, tiny globules dried and hanging down like miniature stalactites. The overly pale color of the ceiling, despite the late hour, told me that the snow had most likely continued, the whiteout just beyond the window allowing an overstated light to seep in around the curtains.

The only other movement came from my right arm, extending straight out at the shoulder, my hand wrapping itself around the grip of the Smith & Wesson on the nightstand beside the bed. The rawhide clasp at the top of the holster was already unsnapped, allowing me to draw the gun out over an inch, my pulse remaining even as I sat and waited.

The knock came in a burst of three even tones, each the same duration and decibel. There was a short pause, my body remaining completely motionless, before a second trio sounded out, the same exact intensity as the first.
Not quite threatening, but definitely loud enough to be heard.

“Jeremiah Tate,” a voice called.

The owner of it was male. Despite the fact that it had been muffled a bit by the closed door between us it was obvious that the man was older, or at least older than my thirty-five years.

His usage of my full legal name also told me that it was most likely somebody involved with law enforcement, having run the plates on my truck and gotten back the official moniker it was registered under. Nobody else in the world, ranging from my parents to my school teachers growing up, ever called me Jeremiah.

To anybody that I had known for longer a minute, I was Hawk. It was even the name I had registered the room under, telling me further that the person wasn’t merely a motel employee coming to tell me something was wrong.

Besides, they would have used the phone for that.

How I knew all of this from just two words harkened back to skills earned in a different life, the kinds of things that don’t just leave a man, no matter how hard he tries to forget them.

“Jeremiah, this is Sheriff Rake Ferris. Can we talk?”

This time there were nine words, the conglomerated bunch giving me just as much information to work with. The first and most obvious was what he said, asking if we could speak. There was no demand that I open up, no trying to impose his position by telling me how many men were outside.

There was the possibility that it was all just a ruse, a simple trick to bring my guard down, but it seemed unlikely. Not at such an hour, not in the middle of a blizzard that had arisen from nowhere and seemed to be settling in for the long haul.
Second was the fact that he had used his full name. If this were somebody merely trying to pose as the sheriff, to get me to open the door blind, they wouldn’t have bothered doing so. They would have just given me a blanket title and hoped for the best.

During the previous winter I had seen enough election signs around to know that Rake Ferris was the name of the sheriff in Valley County. It seemed even more unlikely somebody would use a real name and not be who they said they were, though again, not impossible.

No malice seemed apparent in his tone, no reverberating voice, no attempt to make a scene. The words were delivered just loud enough to be heard, enough to call out to me directly and nobody else.

Blinking twice, I forced all of this information into place in my mind as best I could. Doing so only seemed to bring about a host of questions, starting with how he had managed to track me down and ending with why he had bothered to do so. In between there were dozens more, all running the full gamut of options, but one at a time I shoved them aside. 

Pushing the gun back flush into the holster, I left the clasp on it unsnapped and cocked my arm at the elbow, lifting the weapon from the table. I slid it under the pillow beneath my head, hiding it from view, as a third round of knocking sounded out.

The weapon was registered, everything legal, but I still didn’t quite want to go through the process of explaining why it was sitting out, the hasp unfastened, in a motel room in the middle of the night.

Again, the kind of institutional knowledge one accumulates living the kind of life I have.

“Just a second,” I called, folding the blankets down to my waist and sitting upright. In quick order I did an inventory of the room around me, looking over what little gear I had present, a sizeable percentage of everything I owned sitting in a duffel bag on the floor or hanging in the closet.

The aging carpet beneath me was cool to the touch as I stepped out and grabbed up my jeans from the armchair beside the bed. Without bothering to pull on socks, I shoved my toes down into a pair of hiking shoes and pulled a Henley on over my head, not bothering to remove the ribbed tank top I had been sleeping in.

Stepping over to the corner of the room, I braced my shoulder against the wall and peered through the narrow crack between the wall and curtains covering the front window. The opening was no more than a half inch wide, providing me just enough of an angle to see a few feet of the front walk and nothing more.

Standing right outside my door was a man that looked to be at least in his mid-fifties, though it was difficult to be sure, most of his face obscured by a white cowboy hat atop his head. A clear plastic cover was cinched into place around it, snowflakes and droplets of water dotting the surface.

He was by no means a large man, looking to be several inches below six feet tall, wearing boots, jeans, and an oversized canvas coat that swallowed most of his upper body.

Most importantly, both hands hung empty by his sides, held out in plain view despite the cold.

Running a hand back over my scalp, I stepped across the room to the door and unlatched the chain, pulling the door open to be greeted by a gust of Montana air. It pressed into the space in a strong surge, blowing right through my clothes and sucking most of the heat from behind me.

“Jeremiah Tate?” the sheriff asked, making no movement to step forward, his voice still the same non-threatening din. “Can we talk?”
 
 
 
Chapter Eight

Without his hat on I could get a good look at the sheriff, my original assessment appearing pretty close to accurate. He still had the majority of his hair, though it carried just a few isolated swirls of color in it. A matching scheme permeated a handlebar moustache, either end stopping just above his jaw line.

The man wore a Montana life for all to see, heavy squint lines around his eyes displaying someone that was used to braving the elements. His skin had moved past what one would call tan and on into a state that was permanently pretty close to leather.

Sheriff Rake Ferris was seated in the armchair that was previously serving as a clothes rack for my jeans, the hat turned crown side down on the table beside him. A small puddle had formed beneath it from the snow and water that had ran down from the protective covering.

He sat with both hands resting flat on his thighs, his left leg bobbing up and down in an urgent pace. The coat still covered the top half of his body, despite the warmth in the room.

Why he had sought me out in the middle of the night I could only guess at, the circumstances of his arrival making it especially peculiar. Instead of even trying to figure things out myself I stood back from the foot of the bed, my hands shoved into the front pockets of my jeans, waiting for him to explain.

In total it took less than a minute for him to get on with it.

“I’m sorry for showing up like this, waking you up in the middle of the night,” he began, his voice carrying a touch of gravel, the result of a lifetime spent with cigars, whiskey, or both. He paused there, waiting for some form of acknowledgement, and when I gave none, he added, “Believe me, I wouldn’t be doing so unless it was important.”

I had expected as much upon seeing him standing outside the door, though I refrained from saying it. For most of the preceding twenty-four hours I had been confined to the motel due to the weather, something that several people could vouch to. There was no way they could actually be interested in me for anything, the previous day being the first I had spent in Glasgow in more than a month.

My last time in the area had ended in a rather raucous manner, but that was well outside the edge of town and had been vetted completely by the DEA office in Billings.

Ferris looked at me a long moment as if waiting for me to say something. When nothing came back he pressed his lips together and nodded.

“Forgive me for being brief here, but I don’t have a lot of time.”

Once more I remained silent, trusting he would get to whatever it was in his own way.

In my experience of our short time together though, his approach was certainly anything but brief.

“Two hours ago a doctor was abducted from Valley Memorial Hospital,” Ferris said, causing my eyebrows to rise a bit as much from the statement as his finally getting to the point.

“Abducted,” I repeated, flicking my gaze to the window, towards the snow I knew was piled up outside. “On foot?”
“No,” Ferris said, “at least we don’t think so.”

Dozens of scattered thoughts passed through my head as I stared at him, trying to process what he’d just said and why he’d possibly come to see me about it. I knew, based on his demeanor and the conversation we were having, that he didn’t consider me a suspect, though beyond that I didn’t know much for certain.

“Meaning?” I prompted.

Ferris drew in a short breath, the effect puffing out his sternum a few inches as his leg continued to move up and down like a sewing machine.

“An hour and a half ago we got a call from the front desk at the hospital. Yvonne Endicott was the doctor on the floor today and due to the storm she was forced over. Her replacement couldn’t make it in.”

I nodded, pulling my hands from my jeans and folding my arms over my torso. The name meant nothing to me, my mind doing a quick inventory before dismissing it as I continued to listen.

“I guess someone had stumbled in from the bar down the street with half a beer glass jammed through their hand. The nurses had thought Dr. Endicott had gone to lie down, but when they checked the call rooms, she was nowhere to be found.”
It seemed that Ferris had practiced the speech a time or two on his way over, the sentences coming out in a rapid-fire cadence, matching his leg as it continued to move.

“There are a limited number of cameras on the grounds, so they had the security guard run a check back over the last half hour.”

He paused there for a moment, so I asked, “And they saw her be abducted?”

“Mhm,” Ferris said, “in a manner of speaking, anyway. The cameras are angled down to cover the entrances, but nothing out into the parking lot.

“All they saw was Endicott standing outside, just getting some air, when something caught her attention. She turned around and waited there for a few minutes as a pair of headlights swept over her.”

Again he took a moment, his eyes twitching slightly, as if he was rewatching the scene in his head without wanting to.
“As the lights got closer she stepped off the sidewalk into the snow. Made it a step or two, right up to the edge of the camera’s vision, before realizing she was in trouble.”

There was a twinge of sorrow added to the last sentence that I didn’t bother to comment on, letting it pass as I pressed ahead. “Did the camera see who grabbed her?”

“Two men, both dressed in dark colors, hoods pulled up over their head,” Ferris replied. “Like I said, they were right on the edge of the view, basically showing us just enough to see that she was taken against her will.”

“Why didn’t the guard see it when it happened?” I asked, feeling myself getting pulled into the story, even if I had no idea why it was being told to me.

“Said he was making rounds at the time,” Ferris replied, his fingers curling up into his palms, forming a matching pair of fists. “I suspect he was actually asleep, but didn’t press it.”

At that the conversation fell away for a long moment, Ferris seemingly recalling his prior interview, the fists still present on his thighs, my own thoughts scattered. There were scads of follow up questions I could ask, the vast majority aimed at the story he was telling me and the enormous holes in it.

Those would have to wait.

For the time being I was more concerned with the man sitting in my room, pulling me from my slumber, seemingly just to tell it.

“How’d you find me?” I asked, ripping him from his thoughts, drawing his gaze over towards me.

The previous look of agitation fell away from his features, replaced in order by surprise and then understanding.

“This is a small town,” he replied. “And these days we make a point of watching whoever passes through.”

He didn’t elaborate much on the last point, though he didn’t need to. It had been common knowledge to all of eastern Montana that since oil drilling commenced in the Bakken, every spare bed in the state had been snatched up by some roughneck or the company that employed them.

The room we now sat in bore that out, the place a complete dump, the only one I could find on short notice.

“Okay,” I said, not pressing his explanation any further, “allow me to rephrase. Why did you find me?”

In quick order Ferris opened his mouth to respond before thinking better of it. He pressed his lips together tight a moment, mulling over his response, before saying, “It’s not exactly a secret around here what went down last month. We could all see the smoke for two days afterwards.”

I could feel my features tighten as I realized what he was alluding to, an encounter with a cartel from Los Angeles that had followed me up to the cabin I had outside of town. The entire affair had been vetted and cleared by the DEA, and I was even offered a job out of the ordeal, but none of that would have any effect at slowing the gossip mill from turning around town.

“But I’m guessing by your tone and posture you don’t actually think I had anything to do with this girl being taken,” I said. “I only just arrived before the snow really started falling.”

“I know that,” Ferris said softly, his gaze drifting from me to the opposite wall. His eyes glassed over as he stared at the vertical lines of the wood paneling, his lips pursed just slightly before him.

“Look,” he said, his voice having fallen to just more than a whisper, “I know this is bad form. I don’t want to be here and I’m positive you don’t want me here.”

More than once I had heard talks that began in a similar way, a quick roil passing through the pit of my stomach. With it came a tingling sensation at the small of my back, my façade giving no indication of the reaction my nervous system was producing.

“My entire staff is five people,” Ferris said. “Myself, two deputies, a dispatcher, and a janitor that is really just a retiree that likes hanging around the place. That’s it.”

I kept my reaction impassive as I listened to him speak, some idea of where he was going already beginning to form in my mind.

“In normal circumstances I could call the state police over in Billings, but they can barely make it to edge of the city, let alone all the way out here,” Ferris said.

More questions came to mind, though I remained silent, letting him go on.

“I even tried the feds, hoping maybe they could get a chopper or something in, but there’s just no way, not until this lets up.”

At that he turned his focus back to me. “And after speaking to every agency over there I could think of, that’s when I remembered seeing your truck parked over here this morning.”

I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered that he thought of me or offended that he took such an interest in my rig sitting outside the motel.

For five years my mailing address had been in Glasgow, the cabin my home during the six months a year I wasn’t working as a guide out of West Yellowstone, and not once had I gotten so much as a parking ticket. My cabin was completely up to code, every weapon I owned had a permit.

“I was completely cleared in everything that happened here last month,” I said, just enough of an edge present to let him know I didn’t appreciate being watched.

“I know that,” he said, raising both palms towards me and patting the air twice before lowering them back into place. “Believe me, if half the story that made the rounds here is true, you’re a hell of a bad man.”

He watched me for a moment, waiting for a reaction, before adding, “Exactly the kind of man I could use to give a hand on this right now.”

It had taken him well over ten minutes, the exact opposite of what he had referred to earlier as being direct, but finally he had gotten on with it. He was short staffed and facing a kidnapping case of someone I presumed to be a respected member of the community.

As a doctor, the woman was probably nothing short of aristocracy in a town such as Glasgow.

A blizzard prevented him from calling in the heavy hitters from the alphabet agencies, or even leaning on the state police to roll in everybody they could spare.

Still, the simple question of why me remained.

Seeming to sense my thought process, watching me remain rigid across the room, Ferris said, “I know how this looks and sounds. I do. I basically just told you we’ve been keeping tabs on you. I’m sure you’re pissed about it, I would be too.”

I offered a tiny grunt to let him know that was the case without making it so obvious as to derail the conversation.

“But right now I have a ticking clock. You’ve worked on this side of things before, you know how it goes. Every hour, every minute, that passes reduces our chances of finding that girl alive.”

In this one instance he might have been overstating things just a bit, the snow piled up outside actually helping our cause. It would reduce the number of places the kidnappers could take her, would narrow a search area significantly.

Still, I knew what he was trying to get at and let him get on with it just the same.

“This damn storm has cut off everybody but the people right downtown,” Ferris continued. “I had a hell of a time just making it over here. That means anybody that has to come further than a few miles is out.

“You know how many people that leaves around here with any kind of law enforcement or military training? I don’t have a lot of options here.”

A bit of the resolve bled from his face at the last statement, the man finally showing his cards for me to see. It truly wasn’t anything personal. This was a man that had precious few choices and he knew it.

He wasn’t coming to find the man that had blown up his own cabin to take down some rogue drug runners, he was seeking out the former DEA agent that knew how to handle a gun.

He had no idea who I was, that’s why he had called me Jeremiah when standing outside the door. I was a warm body, and that’s all he was concerned with at the moment.

“Anyway,” Ferris said, pushing out a sigh as he stood, taking up his hat from the table beside him. “I’m meeting my deputies at the station in half an hour to debrief and start doling out assignments.”

He paused a moment, as if he was going to make one last plea for assistance, before thinking better of it.

With just a simple nod he turned for the door, disappearing back into the cold without another word.

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