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The nightmare always began the same way.
Outside, the monotonous drone of cicadas would drift through the sultry midnight air. There would be faint light from the single bare yellow bulb that hung outside, over the front door, and cast a small pale spot of illumination within. Cheap handmade curtains, pulled back tightly to one side to permit the maximum amount of still air, hung on windows screened against mosquitoes and all those other things that flew about at night.
She lay upon her cot, her light brown hair tousled around her child's face, curled in sleep that had been long coming. She'd been willful that day, sneaking off during morning meditation to pick flowers to take to her older sister who'd been confined in the camp's infirmary with another of the recurring headaches that had plagued her that summer. One of the counselors had reported the girl's transgression to Brother Michael, and he'd chastised her though not by name before the entire camp at the end of evening prayers, rambling on and on about how some little camper's spirit needed purification. She'd been standing near the back of the group that gathered in the prayer circle, and hadn't been able to see him she'd gone just about all summer without seeing his face but she knew he'd been talking about her. Just about everyone knew that she'd been the one who'd made a forbidden raid on the flower garden that afternoon.
She'd been surprised at having been let off with nothing more than a public berating. It had been well worth a few moments embarrassment to see her sister smile at the offer of a few daisies and the handful of pretty stones, stones that could be rubbed for luck and hidden under the pillow while she waited for her headache to wane.
Only the sympathetic glances from some of the older girls as she'd passed them on her way to her cabin had disturbed her. She'd lain awake that night for a long time after lights out, trying to decipher what exactly it was that she'd read in their faces. After several hours of trying to define what she did not understand, she'd finally fallen into a sleep so deep that she hadn't heard the cabin door open.
Hadn't felt the thin blanket being drawn down, nor the hands that had, with practiced deliberation, lifted her from her bed and carried her with measured steps out of the cabin and into the night.
It wasn't until he stumbled on the path, jolting her, that she'd awakened, disoriented and confused.
"What...?" she muttered.
"Hush," he'd whispered gruffly.
"But where are you..." She attempted to twist away from him, but his arms only tightened around her.
"Hush, I said."
"But I don't want..."
Damp grass tickled her bare feet as she was lowered to the ground in one quick motion. One strong arm tightened around her neck, the hand clasped over her mouth.
He dragged her along, the light of the moon dimly illuminating the path into the dense woods before them and playing off the gauzy white robe that hid all but his hands.
She struggled, fear surging through her thin limbs with every step that he forced her to take.
"I've been watching you, Genevieve. You are headstrong and disobedient and in need of purification," he said in a low voice, not quite a whisper, now that they were on the path leading down through the woods toward the playing fields below, far away from the cabins. "It is my duty to consecrate your body and drive away the impiety that infects your spirit."
"Let me go." She kicked blindly backward, catching his right knee with the sole of her foot.
He grunted as her small foot hit its mark, then punished her with a blow to the back of her head with his fist.
"I can see that you will require more than the usual hallowing." He spoke softly, calmly, directly into her right ear.
"Help! Hel "
The hand clasped over her mouth again, and he dragged her farther into the woods, her heart racing frantically as she struggled against his strong arms.
Everyone knew that something bad lived deep in the forest, back beyond the pines. It was whispered among the younger girls that the woods were haunted, and sometimes late at night, she had thought she'd heard hushed cries carried on the sultry night wind. She, like the others, had sworn to never go past the dense wall of pines that bordered the end of the soccer field. She squeezed her eyes tightly closed. If one of the dreaded specters lurked about, she was pretty sure she didn't want to see it.
Finally, they reached a clearing where white candles set upon the ground glowed in the shape of an arc and where, with one swift movement of a foot, he took her legs out from under her and dropped her, flat on her back, onto the ground.
Falling on top of her, he closed his eyes those dark eyes that burned with an unnatural fire from within the frame of the hooded garment and began to pray, even as he ripped her nightgown from the neckline to the hem.
The last thing he'd expected was a well-aimed foot, powered as much by fury as by fear, to land squarely in his scrotum.
Howling with pain, he fell back and to one side, just long enough for her to scramble onto her knees, onto her feet, and to disappear into the night.
Clutching the halves of the torn nightgown, she ran along the dark path, swallowing back her cries as jagged stones and thorns, burrs and sticks, tormented the soles of her feet. But she never stopped running, and she never looked back. She simply ran and ran and ran, through the deepest part of the woods, her heart beating like the wings of a tiny bird within her chest, her breath coming in anxious puffs from her tired, tortured lungs in spite of her best efforts to make no sound, lest he hear and find her. Beneath her feet, unseen things crackled, and overhead, something called to the night. And still she ran, with no thought but to escape from Brother Michael while at the same time avoiding whatever other demons inhabited the dark places.
At the edge of the woods, just a stone's throw from the shoulder of the road, she paused. Crouching behind a large oak and straining her ears to listen, she gathered her tattered nightgown around her so that it would not flutter in the slight breeze that had picked up. As the pounding in her chest and in her head began to subside, she realized that no footsteps followed behind her on the path. Was it possible that he'd given up trying to find her? Afraid to believe that he or something else equally evil wasn't just beyond the last bend in the path, she did her best to blend into the shadows, alternately watching the road and watching the path.
Headlights from an approaching car lit up the night suddenly, then just as suddenly disappeared.
Somewhere nearby, she knew, was a lake. And around the lake, there were cottages. That would surely be her best bet to find a safe place to hide. But which way was the lake?
She leaned back against the tree, trying to get her bearings, trying to remember what Mrs. Allen, her teacher, had told the class to do when you are lost. This was the same Mrs. Allen who had taught them that when someone tried to touch you in places where you knew they shouldn't, that you needed to get away by any means possible and get help. Mrs. Allen's advice had already come in handy once that night.
When you're lost, retrace your steps.
Well, she couldn't very well do that. Not with Brother Michael and who knows what else back there someplace.
She concentrated really hard, forcing herself to think, trying to take that journey again in her mind.
Brother Michael had taken her down past the tennis courts. Across the soccer field. She remembered seeing the goalposts in the moonlight. Then down a path slightly to the right, far into the woods, to the clearing where the candles had flickered and glowed. From there, it seemed she'd run downhill a lot.
She remembered that once she had stood on the top bleacher at the soccer field, and she had seen the lake straight ahead. There was a narrow stretch of beach there, but nothing else, a cyclone fence closing it off to the rest of the world. Somewhere off to the right, however, beyond the fences, there had been small houses. And, she reasoned, since she'd run to the right through the woods, the lake and its cabins should be just ahead, on the other side of the road.
She rose quietly, cautiously, then as quickly as she could, ran from the shelter of the trees to cross the road. Slipping furtively as a wraith into the small grove of wild roses, she waited, still listening for the sounds of a pursuit that did not come. When she was convinced, finally, that she had not been followed, she picked her way through the thorny bushes, and keeping to the shadows, walked toward the lake and the small community of summer cottages she knew awaited just around that curve in the narrow road.
All she wanted was a place to hide, a place to rest for a few hours. What she would do after the sun rose the next day...well, she'd have to figure that out in the morning.
Exhausted, she leaned against the mailbox at the end of the short driveway of the first house. The dog barking from the screened porch frightened her, and she skittered away in the dark, on feet too painful to think about, to the next house.
A dim light over the front steps cast just enough of a glow that she could find her way to the back of the small cottage, which had a deck overlooking a long expanse of grass that led down to the lake. Hugging the shadows, she crept up the three wooden steps and settled into the farthest corner, her back to the wall, her knees drawn up to her chest. She was cold all of a sudden, despite the night's heat and humidity, and she began to shiver. Pulling the torn nightgown tightly around her small form, she tried to keep sleep at bay by singing, in the tiniest of whispers.
"Jesus loves me, this I know..."
Over and over, until finally, even this comforting assurance could no longer keep her awake.
She was barely nine years old.
Genna Snow awoke in a sweat, shaking and disoriented, her fingers twisted tautly in the sheets. She slammed herself upright, her back against the wooden headboard, and drew the soft, lightweight blanket up to her neck. And there she sat, shivering with the deep chill that invaded her entire body, her heart racing, while she tried to will her erratic breathing under control.
Eventually, her heart slowed to its regular beat, the sweating stopped, and her hands loosened their grip on the blanket. She stretched her legs out in front of her, the muscles aching from having been clenched so tightly in the same position for...how long?
From the next street, church bells chimed one, the only sound in her oh-so-quiet apartment.
One o'clock in the morning. The dream had come just past midnight.
No great mystery there, she thought as she swung her legs over the side of the bed where she sat for another moment or two, taking deep breaths. The dream had always come around the same time, though it had been so long since she'd had it that she had almost convinced herself that her demons might be gone forever. Disconcerted to discover she'd been wrong, Genna lowered her feet to the soft carpeting and trudged into the bathroom where she snapped on the light and without confronting her image in the mirror, turned on the faucet and splashed water on her face, over and over again, as if to wash away any last remnants of the dream. It wasn't until she lifted her head to dry herself with a soft blue towel that she caught her reflection.
Damp hair the color of rich, dense honey, more brown than gold and mussed from sleep, curled around a face that watched the world from a wary vantage. Pallid skin, devoid of its usual natural blush, set off by dark hazel eyes that were wide-set and haunted.
"Hardly the face of a self-assured FBI agent," Genna muttered, dispassionately assessing the woman before her.
Turning off the bathroom light, she returned to her bed, where she straightened the summer weight blanket before getting beneath it. Punching the pillow to slightly elevate her head, she stared at the ceiling, trying to figure out why the dream had come back now. She'd done her best to keep certain old memories where she believed they belonged in the past and wasn't pleased that through the dream, they had surfaced to disturb her now, when she had more than enough on her mind.
That must be it, she assured herself as she turned over in the dark. It must be just that there's so much going on at work right now so many cases to deal with. And that situation being compounded by the fact that Steven Decker, the Special Agent in Charge, or SAC, of the field office to which she'd been reassigned earlier in the year, had called her late in the previous afternoon to tell her that she needed to be in his office at ten the next morning. It wouldn't have done any good to have asked why. Decker liked his little moments of suspense, liked to keep his people guessing. It was just one of the little games he liked to play with the agents under his command.
Maybe he's come up with a new report form he wants us to start using, she almost smiled, relaxing finally for the first time in hours. Decker loved his forms....
Genna reached one arm out from under the covers and smacked the alarm clock into submission when it taunted her at six the next morning. She smacked it again at six fifteen, then once more at six thirty. At six forty-five, she rose reluctantly and headed for the shower, annoyed with herself for having overslept.
Her disposition hadn't improved much by the time she arrived at her office just before eight A.M. and clicked on the harsh overhead light. Stepping over the piles of files that littered her floor, she dropped her briefcase onto her chair, turned on her computer, and sought coffee. Next she checked her e-mail and found responses from two law enforcement agencies in upstate New York that she'd queried about the arrests of alleged child pornographers suspected of being part of a larger network along the eastern seaboard. As a member of the Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Program, Genna's assignments were mainly kidnapping cases or cases involving the sexual exploitation of children.
The case she was working on at that moment was giving her major headaches. One step forward and three steps back. She shook her head, wondering when she'd get the break she needed. So far, she'd received nothing but shadows where she needed substance. She printed out the information sketchy though it was before forwarding the notes via e-mail to several other agents in her office, then read the hard copy again as she sipped at her coffee and wondered if the respective police departments would be able to keep the suspects under lock and key until someone from her unit preferably her was able to get there and have a chat with all involved parties.
Three follow-up phone calls to the sending agencies later, she had memos of her own to share internally before refilling her coffee cup and rising to straighten her gray linen skirt and head for Decker's office, five minutes early, as was her style. She'd been taught that punctuality was a virtue, and that early was infinitely better than late.
Sharon, Decker's secretary, was on the phone when Genna reached the end of the hallway that dead-ended where the SAC's office began.
"He said you'd be early and that you should just go on in," Sharon covered the mouthpiece with one hand and waved Genna onward.
Genna knocked lightly on the half-opened door, then stepped in without waiting to be acknowledged.
"Good morning, Genna." Steven Decker stood at the windows, looking out, greeting her without turning around.
"'Morning, sir." Genna took a seat in the chair at the right corner of her superior's walnut desk and slid an unused coaster over to place under her coffee mug, waiting for him to begin with his usual line. I guess you wondered why I called you in this morning....
"I guess you wondered why I called you in this morning," he said, turning now and walking toward her across a well-worn carpet.
Genna suppressed a smile and nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Do I recall correctly that you spent considerable time out in the western part of Pennsylvania while you were growing up? Near Erie, was it?"
"Yes." Genna's smile began to fade, and she wondered where this would lead.
"And your foster mother still lives in that area?"
"Patsy lives outside of Pittsburgh, though she does still own a summer cottage on Bricker's Lake, maybe twenty miles southeast of Erie."
"Would you say you know the area well, Agent Snow?"
Whenever Decker switched from first name to title, something official was in the air. Genna's heart sank. The last thing she wanted now was to be taken off her current case.
"Yes. I know the area well."
"Growing Amish population in the area, I understand."
"The Amish have been in that area for decades. Certainly for as long as I can remember."
Decker walked around from behind his desk and sat on the left corner, opposite from where Genna sat. It was the most casual gesture she'd ever seen him make, and a sign that he was getting to the point.
"Have much contact with them the Amish when you were growing up?" He asked.
"Very little. Most of the Amish kept to themselves. I did get to know a few kids very slightly when I was thirteen or fourteen. Patsy knew their grandmother. She bought eggs and produce from Mrs. Frick Granny Frick, they call her every week. Still does. I usually went with her, but I always felt pretty awkward there, you know. I was the odd one, the outsider."
Genna leaned against the hard chair back and watched Decker pace a few steps in either direction, his hands shoved into the pockets of his trimly fit jacket, his face showing no small amount of concern. Finally his lanky frame found its way around the desk and lowered itself into his chair.
"We have a situation there..." he began, causing Genna to lean forward and ask, "At Bricker's Lake?"
"Close enough. Wick's Grove. You know the town, of course."
"Of course. It's the only town for several miles from the lake. I always think of it as the town that never changes. It still has the same grocery store, the same gas station with the same little newsstand, run by the same families as when I was a kid." Genna smiled. "Wick's Grove is the only place I've ever been where there's no dry cleaner, no pizza place, and no place to rent a video."
"The Amish influence, I take it?"
"They own the greater part of the land in the area by far, have, for generations." Genna nodded. "Wick's Grove is little more than a crossroads on the way from Erie. It's one of those places that time hasn't seemed to touch."
"Well, time's catching up to it, I'm afraid."
"What do you mean?"
"It appears that three young Amish men cousins, we think are suspected of being involved in laundering some of the money that's coming in from Canada."
"WHAT?" Genna almost fell forward from her chair. "That's too preposterous..."
"Preposterous, maybe, but the information we're getting indicates that there's a connection within the Amish community and a local bikers' club that calls itself JYD. Junk Yard Dogs."
Decker tossed an envelope across the desk to a mute and stunned Genna, who caught it with both hands and opened it. A stack of black-and-white photos slid out. Decker watched her face as she thumbed through the pictures, occasionally raising an eyebrow in surprise.
"Who exactly are these bikers?" She waved several of the photos.
"A few Canadians, a few Americans. All ex cons mostly drugs, weapons offenses, assaults. Nothing surprising there. And the fact that they're involved in drug trafficking isn't anything new. What is new is the fact that they've managed to tangle a few of these Amish kids in their net."
Genna shook her head. "It defies belief. You're talking about people who don't have electricity or modern farm equipment. To visit one of their farms is like going back in time a hundred years or so."
"That's pretty much what I'd like you to do. I'd like you to visit a farm. This farm." He picked up a second, larger envelope, and held up a photograph. "I believe you've been there before."
Genna turned sharply in her seat, swiveling around to look up at her boss.
"The Frick farm?" Her eyes widened with disbelief. "You can't be serious."
"I'm afraid I am."
"But...the Fricks...they're the backbone of the Amish community out there. My foster mother has known Granny Frick for, oh, Lord, since Patsy was a child..." Genna's voice trailed off.
"That's why I'd like to send you out there for a few days to check into it."
"But, sir," she tucked a loose strand of hair behind one ear and tried to figure out how to remind her boss that she was not a member of OCDP Organized Crime/Drug Program "right now I'm working on the child pornography..."
He held up a hand to stop her in midsentence. "We have reason to believe it's all run by the same organization."
"But the Amish have never been involved in such things. They rarely associate with the English, even on a legitimate basis. I simply can't conceive of anyone coming from that background particularly a member of the Frick family being involved in such things."
"Every chain has its weak link, Genna, even the Amish community." Decker sat back down on the edge of the desk and said, "I doubt greatly that the three young men we've been watching have any idea of just what they're involved with. I suspect that one of them got suckered in by the organization and drew in the other two."
"You think these kids are selling?"
He shook his head. "Using."
Genna sat silent, digesting this, before asking skeptically, "You know this for a fact?"
"It's the most likely scenario."
Genna laughed out loud, shaking her head. "It's the most unlikely scenario. I'm sorry, but I just can't imagine it."
"The photos speak for themselves."
She picked up the photographs and went through them again. "With all due respect, sir, these photos of a couple of bikers making purchases from a roadside produce stand aren't very conclusive."
"Three times a week, same days, same times, same guys on the same bikes. Notice the large leather bags on the backs of each of the bikes."
"Which they appear to be packing with tomatoes and peppers." She tossed the photo onto the desk. "Maybe they're making salsa."
"Maybe they're making change. We think they're dropping off cash and the boys are moving it for them and getting paid in drugs. We thought maybe we'd send you out there for a few weeks just to nose around and maybe see what you could do to help out the state police."
"Did they ask for our help?"
"I got a call a few days ago from Lt. Mallon, who's been in charge of the ongoing operation. They know that there's something going on but at the moment, they have no probable cause for a warrant. The locals just can't get close enough to see what's going on back there."
"The Frick place is huge, and set back from the road by at least a quarter of a mile. The biggest farm in the area, by far. There are at least four, maybe five, generations of the same family living there. They've built onto the original house over the years, and the last time I was there, they were building a new place for one of the sons one of Granny Frick's great-grandsons, that is who'd just gotten married. Their land covers a lot of acreage."
"You think you can get back there without raising any suspicion?"
"I can probably get back to the farmhouse," Genna nodded, "but I can't very well start poking through their barns. What would I be looking for, anyway?"
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "But being the good investigator that you are, and having known these people over the years, I guess I'm just hoping that if there's something obviously amiss, that you'll pick up on it and at least help the locals obtain their warrant."
Genna tapped her fingers on the desk, trying to decide just how much a waste of her time this venture would be.
"How long has it been since you've had a vacation?" Decker asked.
"A while," she conceded. Since the trip she'd taken to Mexico two years earlier with the man she'd been in love with at the time. Genna snapped off the memory before she had time to think about how wonderful those ten days had been.
"And your mother that is, your foster mother still spends her summers up there at the lake?"
"Patsy's been summering on Bricker's Lake for more than half a century. She always says she'll die on that lake, and she wants her ashes flung from the back of a powerboat so that she never has to leave."
"I imagine she'd be happy to have you there with her for a week or so."
"She'd be ecstatic," Genna admitted with a nod. "So when do I leave?"
Decker held his hands up, a gesture of finality. "You can leave as soon as you can get packed."
"But what about the case I've been working on? We just got our first really decent leads."
"Liddy will take over while you're gone. Fill him in before you leave."
"Fine," she said, though it wasn't really. "I'll just finish up the paperwork I started this morning for the file, then I'll go over everything with Liddy." Genna stood and smiled halfheartedly. "Thanks for the unexpected vacation."
"You're welcome." Decker stood as well. "I'll let Lt. Mallon know that you'll be there by tomorrow afternoon."
"I seriously doubt that these Amish kids have any idea of what or who they're involved with," Decker said as he walked Genna to the door. "And no one's been able to get close enough to them to figure out just what their role is in all this."
"I don't know that I'll be able to find anything that will be helpful."
"All we're asking is that you scope it out." Decker opened the door. "You never know where it will lead."
Genna chewed on her bottom lip as she walked back to her office. On the one hand, she hated putting her ongoing case on ice, even for a week or so. On the other, thinking about how pleased Patsy would be to hear that Genna would be joining her at Bricker's Lake for a surprise visit put a smile on her face. Of course, Patsy wouldn't need to know any of the details or the reason for the trip. After all, what she didn't know couldn't hurt her.
Genna buzzed Paul Liddy and let him know he'd been tapped to fill in for her for a week. After briefing him and kicking a few ideas around for the better part of an hour, she packed up a few files she'd been needing to find time to read, and tried her best to ignore the calendar that insisted upon reminding her that today was her sister's thirtieth birthday. They hadn't seen or spoken to each other in eighteen years.
Pushing aside the images that threatened to crowd her, Genna snapped the lid of her briefcase and flicked off the light in her office, and headed out into the heat of a summer day.
Copyright © 2000 by Mariah Stewart