Read an Excerpt
THE FIFTH SEED
By JOHN SHEEHAN
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 John Sheehan
All rights reserved.
A Father's Plea
The man who called himself Bruce Jenkins gazed blankly out the newly installed bay window of a quaint Craftsman bungalow. The St. Paul home, tucked back along the scenic river bluffs of Merriam Park, was being gradually restored by its owner.
Bruce's watery eyes fell momentarily on a small squirrel nestled in at the foot of a giant oak. He watched absent-mindedly as it dug in a nut for winter storage. As he stood there, contemplating his story, stray words popped into his mind: purposeful, deliberate, intuitive ... yet pitifully stupid.
"You were saying," a voice nudged carefully from behind him.
Bruce, a large burly man with close cropped salt and pepper hair, stood almost six-foot four inches tall. He turned abruptly to face the voice.
The man who'd spoken was ex-FBI agent Grady Hamilton. It was his home office in which Bruce now stood. The office appeared to be immaculately kept, with Grady's antique mahogany desk taking up the vast majority of the room's smallish footprint. The young private investigator sat with his back to a floor-to-ceiling bookcase crafted of dark stained oak. The shelves were crammed with leather-bounds—but the office and the books were all show. Grady rarely used the library behind him, doing all his research online these days.
At the moment, Grady's eyes were focused intently on Bruce's massive frame, blocking his view of the bay window he'd installed himself and of the backyard beyond. It was there Bruce began grasping for his next words ... the right words. What he was about to explain required the utmost care and tact.
After a moment's pause Bruce appeared to compose himself. "As I said, I want you to locate my daughter."
"And her full name?" Grady inquired, asking what he already knew.
"Anna Rae Jenkins." Bruce replied swallowing hard, perturbed by Grady's oddly repetitive line of questioning. "As I said, I haven't seen her in over a year."
"Yes, yes ... I recall you saying something like that on the phone. But you said you couldn't or perhaps wouldn't elaborate then."
"No, I needed to meet you before we went into details."
"And?" Grady prodded again.
"You'll do." Bruce said with a bluntness he regretted immediately.
"I can't thank you enough for your overwhelming show of confidence," Grady jabbed back sarcastically.
Go to hell were the first words that came to the tip of Bruce's tongue, but he held back. He wasn't about to blow it ... not now. Instead, Bruce tempered his response. "I'm sorry, I'm a little emotional right now."
"How so?" Grady inquired with rapid-fire skepticism. "From our brief phone conversation you and your wife sent your daughter off at the age of twelve to a special center for problem children—someplace up in northern Minnesota.
"It's called Northwoods, and yes, it's near Bemidji," Bruce answered, "but ..."
"In any event," Grady said cutting Bruce off, "from my standpoint you abandoned your responsibilities as parents, paid what I assume was top dollar to institutionalize your own flesh and blood in a private home, and then washed your hands of her for the last six years, visiting her on what I will respectfully describe as an irregular basis. Excuse me for being harsh, but that certainly doesn't fit the loving, caring father role all too well."
"You must understand. There have been complications." Bruce paused, flushing with a show of apparent grief.
Impatient, Grady nudged him forward. "Go on."
"My wife, you see. She's sick. Has been for the last two years. The last year it's been complicated ... anyway the doctors don't think she'll make it." Another choke of emotion cut him off.
For the first time in the interview, Grady backed off and sighed. "I'm sorry Mr. Jenkins. I didn't know."
Still apparently grief-stricken, Bruce tried awkwardly to wave Grady off and turned back toward the same squirrel digging at the base of the old oak.
Grady watched as Bruce's body heaved a couple of times with silent sobs, and for a brief moment he felt a sliver of guilt for the hard tack he had taken with Mr. Jenkins. But this was Grady's style. In his three plus years of working as an investigator for hire he had seen more than his fair share of clients walk through his door. Most of them had a story. And most of them lied, especially to him. In this business he had developed a detached, less-than-empathetic attitude toward those who retained his services. It was this hard line of questioning that usually helped him figure out who was telling the truth and who was giving him a dump truck full of bull.
A minute passed before Mr. Jenkins spoke again, still facing the window. "You see Mr. Hamilton."
"Call me Grady ... everyone does," he offered, a little more politely.
"Okay, Grady. As I told you on the phone, my daughter is missing. Actually I guess you'd call it an escape. Anyway, she walked out of Northwoods along with three other patients about a week ago. You must understand, all her young life she has been treated for clinical depression, mild schizophrenia, and drug abuse."
"I see, which for you, justified the home."
"Yes," Bruce spoke turning back to Grady, letting the man's jab slide this time. "At age twelve ... my God she was only twelve." Another sob. "She got in with the wrong crowd. She was always smart—perhaps too smart. Martha, my wife, and I saw it coming. She started getting bored in school ... lost interest in her studies. Her A average quickly slipped to a B and then a C, and still lower. We tried everything, from tutors to psychologists. Everyone said the same thing. Anna was amazingly intelligent, but her mind wandered terribly. She started having horrible nightmares, fell into fits of depression and was caught skipping school on more occasions than I could count. It was then that we discovered her stash."
"Do you know what kind of drugs she was into, Mr. Jenkins?" Grady asked evenhandedly.
"We only found a baggie of pot, but after she had spent some time at Northwoods they told us she admitted to drinking and experimenting with meth."
Grady watched Bruce closely as he spoke. The man seemed amazingly composed after his short breakdown only a few seconds ago. Something was odd about him. He seemed to slide in an out of his emotions quickly, and his words were now more deliberate ... or rehearsed. Grady was sure Jenkins was hiding something, and he thought he knew what it was.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Jenkins, but I have to ask. Your daughter ..."
"Yes." Bruce asked cautiously, as if sensing what was coming next.
"Was she abused?" Grady asked, his unblinking eyes never leaving Mr. Jenkins' own.
Bruce eyed Grady with contempt. "Christ! I don't need this shit. There are twenty other investigators I can get to take this damn job," he yelled, snatching his coat off the back of a chair as he stormed for the door.
Grady was intrigued by Mr. Jenkins' quick response. Grady had never directly suggested Mr. Jenkins was the abuser, but the man seemed to have taken it that way. Still, Grady let him go, watching as Bruce blew past his desk, out of the office, on his way to the front door. No longer able to see Mr. Jenkins, Grady played his last card. "Why didn't you call them first then ... the other investigators?" he shouted after Mr. Jenkins.
At first there was no answer, but Grady never heard the front door open. So he waited, hands clasped in his lap and head down, waiting patiently for Bruce to reply or leave. To Grady, it really didn't matter either way. But then Grady heard the soft shuffle of footsteps across his hardwood floors, signaling Bruce's slow return. Out of the corner of his eye, Grady saw the man reappear, pausing just inside his office doorway.
"You're so smart?" Bruce said after a long, deliberate pause. "You tell me."
Lifting his head, Grady turned, swiveling slowly to face Bruce. "Because I'll find your daughter."
Two Weeks Later
Peering through the thick, dense fog, like a lone, ominous eye it came toward him: a round object, at first only a glimmer of yellowish-white light, glowing dimly, and then ever so slowly brightening.
Curt stood the only ground he had, fiercely clinging to a broad metal column rising up beside him, his knuckles whitening against the cold, brisk breeze that buffeted the Golden Gate Bridge. Below him, his sneakered feet rocked precariously on the outermost rust-orange rail, the final impediment separating pedestrians and cars from the churning waters of the bay below.
In his mind's eye he could sense the throng of observers who had stepped from their cars and now clustered on the walkway behind him. Their shouts to come down only vaguely registered in his troubled mind. Instead his thoughts centered upon the irony of his situation. For years his life had not been his own. For years he had longed to be free, to live as he chose, as he wished, and not by another's code. Yet here he was tonight, finally free, as he had been for the last few weeks. Yet now his life seemed somehow even more unlivable.
Curt knew all too well the darkness would eventually find him. He knew deep down, like few people could truly understand, that his captors were closing in, and that what lay before him was his only way out. He so desperately wanted to be away from them ... those horrible people and the sheer terror of what they could do to him ... and the things they could make him do.
Teary eyed, he lifted his gaze skyward once more at the eye hovering out in the mist, parting the thick night sky. The light's brilliance now accompanied by the deep thumping chop of helicopter blades as they beat the crisp autumn air with a vengeance. The hanging bird closed in, the spotlight finding Curt's trembling body, bathing it in an almost spectral white glow, as the wind wash from the churning blades tore unrelentingly at his clothes.
Curt gazed, nearly blinded by the light, trying to see past its beam, where he could vaguely make out the sleek, streamlined shape of the helicopter behind. His eyes fell once more to the blackness below. He couldn't see the water—certainly there beyond the mist and darkness—but he could just barely hear its waves lapping at the bridge's massive support columns, waiting for him.
Yet what he heard next wasn't the waves, and it sent a violent shiver through him, as though someone had just poured ice water down the length of his spine. It was a mere whisper, set upon the wind and delivered only to his ears. An eerie voice, that rose above all the others, was spoken with such softness it might have come from his very own mind. He knew its origin, though. He knew it was not his. It was them ... it was him ... The Fifth Seed. They had found him, just as he had anticipated, just as he had known all along they would. It was why he was here in the first place tonight, wasn't it?
Instinctively he glanced over his shoulder to see who could have gotten so close to speak this single word. So close he could almost feel the puff of breath tickling the short hairs on his neck. But he knew even before he saw—no one had come within twenty feet of his precarious perch.
Now Curt knew he had no choice. If there was a part of him that would prevent him from tossing himself to the waves, it was now gone. His self-preservation instincts had suddenly been shoved aside by the wicked and foreboding voice that goaded him in a one-word whisper. "Jump."
Gathering himself, he breathed his last words, "Goodbye, Anna. I love you. I'm so sorry." With that Curt heaved himself out into the air, his body seemingly hanging there momentarily before plummeting in a terrifying descent to the murky black of the turbulent water below.
As the crowd looked on aghast—screaming out in combined shock and horror—a lone dark figure observed from a safe distance, finding immense pleasure at the sight. And riding on the connection that was just made, he offered his own parting words to the wind. "I'm coming for you, Anna," he whispered, before fading away once more into the thick, hanging mist.
Half a continent away, in a townhouse set in a sprawling Minneapolis suburb, the connection was completed, and Anna Jenkins woke with a terrible shiver. The white cotton tank top she wore to bed was soaked with sweat and her hands trembled uncontrollably. Glancing at the clock on the nightstand she saw the neon display flash over to 12:01 a.m. Dashing across the floor she flicked on the wall switch, hoping the bright light would wash away the sick and frightened feeling she had. She crawled back into bed and curled up in the fetal position, hugging a thick floral comforter to her like a massive security blanket. There she began to weep softly.
In her mind, she had experienced the same events, like a horrible nightmare, yet she knew it was not a dream at all. After all, she was the connection. Horrified, she could feel Curt falling through the black void, the terror he felt and the presence that had pushed him literally over the edge. She knew this, to her utter horror and revulsion, like a twin might sense something terrible had happened to a sibling—only ten times more vivid. She knew what her mind told her to be true: Curt was lost, and The Fifth Seed was coming for her. Now there were only three.
Grady Hamilton watched patiently from the soft leather bucket seat of his 1999 metallic-blue Ford Explorer. As he did, a light winked on in the front room of the townhouse, number 3345—the home he had been watching for the last five hours. On a yellow pad on the empty seat beside him, Grady scribbled the following: "12:03 a.m.... light on ... front upstairs window." The entry followed a whole host of observations he had strung together, but as of yet, they offered no solid clues.
From under the pad, Grady pulled a large legal-size leather folio in which he had been keeping information he had gathered on the case. With one eye on the townhouse Grady dug into the file's contents. It had been nearly two weeks now since Bruce, Anna's father, had stormed to Grady's front door, threatening to leave. Yet the overwrought father had eventually settled down and handed Grady the case.
At the time, Mr. Jenkins had unequivocally stated that he had never abused his daughter. Still, Grady wasn't so sure—there was obviously something traumatic in this young girl's life. But the issue had been dropped for the time being. Right now Grady had other things to worry about, like what was going on behind the windows of 3345. Was Anna inside? He wasn't sure, but so far it was the best lead he had.
From the file Grady pulled out a photo of Anna. He had looked at it many times before, so he set it aside. He couldn't look at her anymore, finding it hard to imagine this young lady had so many problems. In Grady's mind's eye she seemed too well put together ... too self-assured. Yet the information he had received from Northwoods, through Mr. Jenkins, was unmistakable. She had a history of drugs, had been released to halfway houses four times—each and every time returning to drug abuse within a month of supervised release. The file also indicated Anna had attempted suicide twice, and nearly overdosed another four times. Still, the question Grady had was why?
Momentarily pushing those disturbing thoughts from his mind, he returned to his file, retrieving a stack of papers nearly a half-inch thick. This was the fully typed transcript of Grady and Mr. Jenkins' conversation, along with observations he had inserted after the fact. Grady always recorded his sessions with clients, but rarely offered that tidbit of information to his customers. It was probably a legal issue, but if they never found out, what was the harm? Ultimately he was amazed at how much he could discover by referring back to the conversations once he was further along in his investigations—especially inconsistencies that arose in people's stories over time. But he had read the transcript dozens of times, so it too was quickly set aside.
Next, Grady removed brief bios and photos of the other three escapees, tossing them into a stack with the other items, before finally retrieving four photocopied newspaper articles fastened together with a paper clip. Absent-mindedly, Grady thumbed through the news clippings, catching their headlines and little else. He had read and reread each many times over. The first was the most recent, a story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's regional section. It was short, and the headline simply read: "Four escape from Northwoods."
The second article was longer, but covered the same topic—though this one had been retrieved from Grady's local library and had run in Bemidji's own weekly rag. Both articles detailed a lapse in security at Northwoods caused by a series of suspect errors that ultimately led to the escape of four of its troubled patients.
Excerpted from THE FIFTH SEED by JOHN SHEEHAN. Copyright © 2013 John Sheehan. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.