A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
DETECTIVE JANA BURKE'S GRANDMOTHER HAS BEEN PUSHED FROM A LADDER AND HAS BEEN TAKEN TO THE HOSPITAL FOR SURGERY BY TRIBAL POLICEMAN, TY LONGACRE. TY AND JANA ARE COUSINS, AND HAVE BECOME EMBROILED IN AN UNSOLVED SERIAL MURDER CASE. JANA IS CONCERNED THAT HER UNCLE TONY, SHAMAN OF THE SIOUX RESERVATION, MAY ALSO BE IN DANGER, AND HAS ASKED TY TO RETURN TO THE RESERVATION TO MAKE SURE HE'S SAFE.
Fog induced by a collusion of marsh moisture and warmth created hazardous conditions as it crisscrossed the winding county road. Tribal Policeman, Ty Longacre, kept his speed low, and his eyes roving the edges of the road for nocturnal animals on the move.
His thoughts backtracked to the hospital encounter with his cousin, Jana; and the fear he sensed beneath her veneer of control. Her edges were invisible to most people, but Ty marked her moods like a tracker marks the lines and swirls of a prey's passing. He reckoned she was at the point where sleep is the only thing that can make you see straight. It was for that reason, his conscience insisted, that he'd suppressed certain details of her grandmother's accident.
A two-lane, granite bridge came into view. It was a wheel gripper even under good conditions. Ty slowed to a crawl, relieved he could see no lights coming towards him. Halfway across, though, an animal broke through the fog rolling up from the banks of the creek.
Shit, where'd that thing come from?
He slammed to a stop just short of hitting the animal. His heart pumped adrenaline to all his nerve endings. He was of a mind to jump out and chase it into the woods. But something held him back. Something about the way the thing moved caused him to reconsider.
Tufts of fog clung to the animal's hindquarters so that Ty could only guess at the size based on its massive neck. He knew some on the Reservation had illegally-bred dog and wolf hybrids, and thought he might be looking at one of those.
Except for the soft rumble of the idling engine, the night was preternaturally silent -- even the bullfrogs cowered in the creek. He expected the dog to move to the opposite bank where a quarter-mile of barbed wire fencing kept out poachers. Instead, it stopped square in the middle of the road, turned and faced the patrolman.
Sweet Christ, will you look at that?
Ty reached for the gun at his hip. Staring back at him was a creature whose face was split down the middle by red and white paint. To the extent it had a muzzle and wicked sharp teeth, it resembled a wolf. But its lips were pulled back into a cannibal grin, and the way its eyes bore into his was as unnatural as anything he'd ever seen.
A devil dog painted like a warrior?!
He kept his hand on the heel of his gun and fought the urge to run the bastard over. Years of hearing tales of devil dogs over-ruled his cop sense. What kept him riveted to the spot was its colors -- red and white -- warned of a foul wind whipping through the reservation bringing blood and death.
Ty's neck hairs rose as the devil dog advanced with the seeming intention of mounting the hood of his car. He shifted into reverse, intending to back off the bridge, when the engine cut out. At any moment, another vehicle could come barreling out of the fog and ram into the back end of his car. He had to do something... anything.
Inertia was a foreign invader, and Ty wasn't willing to bow to its dominion. He nudged the car door open, took up his weapon and set his feet on the ground. Keeping his movements slow, he hunkered down alongside the car and listened for sounds of movement. Despite his heavy jacket, he was cold to the marrow of his bones. He estimated he had a decent chance at getting one good shot off before it came for him. If he missed, they'd likely have to use a shovel to gather up the bloody trail of his body parts.
In one fluid motion, he stood and brought his weapon up for the shot. He expected to be looking straight into the eyes of hell, but the animal was gone. Ty kept his weapon drawn as he searched the area for signs of its presence. He walked to where he'd first spotted it. Squinting into a fog so thick he couldn't see past the toe of his boot, he assessed his chances of finding prints damned near impossible. Anyway, his tracker instincts told him the animal was long gone, though how that was possible was a mystery.
From four different directions, howls filled the night. They reverberated against his skull and filled him with a sense of dread. “Tony Buday. Christ, I'd almost forgotten about him. He'll know what this means. Unless...”
He sprinted for the car and whooped when the engine started. It was another ten miles to the shaman's house. Ty pushed his speed into dangerous territory, heedless of the danger to himself. A sense of doom swirled around him, like cancer cells, arrogant in their power to kill.
He reached the turn-off to Tony's house and was forced to revert to a crawl due to the trees crowding the dirt track lane. He'd been there earlier in the evening when he'd stopped by to give Tony a heads-up about his sister, Agnes, being taken to the hospital. The house had been empty except for Tony's agitated hound.
When Ty reported the situation to Jana, she insisted her uncle would never leave Wasu behind. Her alarm mirrored his own concern. He readily agreed to head back out to the reservation, leaving her alone to wait for news of her grandmother's surgery.
Ty's hopes were squashed when he saw that Tony's truck was nowhere to be found. From the bottom of the porch steps, Ty could see the front door was ajar. He ducked out of sight and assessed the situation.
It was locked earlier. All the doors were locked. Call for back-up or go in alone? It'll take too long to get a deputy out here. Can't afford to wait.
He climbed the steps and pushed open the front door. Peering into the darkness, he could see a large shape sprawled in front of the wood stove. He moved with caution, but almost went down when he stepped into something slick on the floor. He heard a moan and recognized it as the sound of an animal in horrendous pain.
Retrieving his flashlight, he examined the situation from a distance, still wary that it might be a trick of the devil dog to draw him in. His stomach lurched when he realized he was looking at Tony's old hound, Wasu.
When he knelt beside Wasu, he could see the extent of his wounds. His throat was gouged, and Ty smelled the entrails that spilled from the dog's torn gut. Yet his eyes were open and he tried to move his head closer to Ty's hand.
"Aw, shit, Wasu. I'll bet you gave the Sungmanitu a good fight,” he said as he rubbed the dog's muzzle. Wasu managed a weak lick of his wrist, shuddered violently and went still.
Ty swiped the tears from his cheeks and looked around for something with which to wrap the dog's body. That done, he moved through the rest of the house. Except for the violence done to Wasu, everything else appeared neat and untouched.
He switched on the kitchen light and looked around for signs of Tony. There were no dishes in the sink or on the cupboard. No pans on the range and no coffee in the pot which was disturbing as Tony Buday was known to drink copious amounts of coffee each day.
A cell phone rang from somewhere in the house. Ty ran from room to room until he found one on a bedside table.
“Tony?” he asked.
“Sadly no, Officer Longacre. But I do know where Tohneeeee is.”
“I'm warning you that if you've hurt that old man in any way, I'll skin you alive.”
A coarse cackle went on for some seconds before the voice continued. “You saw what I did to that mangy hound. Do you really think you can take me on? Besides, Tony is not important. The priest is the one I want. And you will bring him to me, you and that tight-ass cousin of yours.”
“I'll never let you get near Jana.”
“Oh, but I'm certain no one will keep her from coming after me. In fact, I'm counting on it.”
“You said you want a priest. We have no priests on the Reservation.”
“Cleverness is a virtue I admire. But clever will get our hostage dead. Capice, redboy?
“I'll find you in whatever stinking black hole it is you try to hide!”
“No you will not. You will come only at my summoning. In four hours time, you will receive instructions on how to do that. Until then, sweet dreams.”
The line went dead. Ty sagged against the wall, looking at the phone in his hand. He threw it across the room and retrieved his own from the inside of his jacket. Finger's trembling, he entered the number of Detective Jana Burke.
~~~ End of Part 1 ~~~