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Dana Seles placed her grade book into the top drawer of her teacher's desk, then locked it up for the evening.
Hastiin Sani, as Kevin Cohoe's grandfather was known by the tribe, stood near the door waiting for her. Although she'd been scheduled to meet with Kevin's parents, they'd been called away on an emergency. Hastiin Sani had volunteered to attend the conference on their behalf. Things had gone smoothly and they'd discussed arrangements for Kevin to transfer to a more advanced math class.
"It seems like only yesterday you were the age of my grandson," he said. "Your mother would always bring you along when she came to my home to visit."
Dana smiled, straightening up her desk, then looking around the room one more time to make sure everything was in order. "I liked going to visit you," she said, remembering how self-conscious she'd been back then. Unlike her, Nancy Seles had been a free spirit who'd thrived on chaos. Nothing had ever been routine at home. "But I hated some of the other places she took me."
"I never approved of her bringing you along to those backroom card games, you know. I told her more than once.
But your incredible memory was too much of a temptation, especially when your mom was falling on hard times."
Dana sighed softly. From the day Nancy Seles had discovered that her own daughter had a photographic memory, things had gone totally crazyand that was saying a lot, since their lives had never been anything even remotely close to normal. "We'd only stay until she'd won enough hands to pay for the rent or groceries, then leave," Dana said, surprised to hear herself defending her mother.
"She wasn't always like that," Hastiin Sani said. "She changed after your father's death. She'd depended completely on him and when he wasn't around anymore, she fell apart."
"I was too young when my dad passed away to remember much about him. What I know is mostly from stories I've heardthat he was a good cop, and would never have allowed Mom to raise me the way she did," she said, and shrugged. "But all that's ancient history."
Dana picked up her tote bag, then joined him by the door. "Are you sure you won't let me give you a ride home? I'd be more than happy to do that."
"No, it's not necessary. A friend drove me here, and another will swing by shortly to pick me up."
Hastiin Sani knew almost everyone on the reservation. Although calling him by his Navajo name, "Old Man," might have seemed disrespectful in some cultures, here on the rez, it was the opposite. She looked at him fondly. He was almost like family. She remembered her mother telling her not to be taken in by his easygoing personality, that Hastiin Sani was far more than he appeared to be . Then again, her mother had never had a firm grip on reality.
Dana locked the door behind them, then walked with Hastiin Sani down the hall and out the side door of the building. All the students and most of the teachers were gone now, so the parking lot was nearly empty.
"I wish I could have done more to help you and your mother," he said softly, falling into step beside her.
She stopped and met his gaze. "You did more than you realize. The art patrons you sent us put food on our table more often than not."
He smiled and nodded. "I have always been your friend. I'm very proud of you, did you know that?"
Dana stared at her shoes, and cleared her throat. She'd never really known how to take compliments.
"Here's my ride now," he said, pointing with his lips, Navajo style.
She saw the shiny blue pickup pull up just beyond her own white VW bug. A second later, a long-legged, tall and lean Navajo man stepped down off the running board. Some men were made to wear jeans, and the way this man fit into his would have made any sane woman drool.
His dark eyes fastened on her as he walked toward them with long strides that spoke of confidence and purpose. She nearly sighed as she watched him, but she caught herself in time and quickly pretended to cough.
Hastiin Sani smiled at her. "His Anglo name is Ranger, Ranger Blueeyes. Stay and meet him."
"Er, no, I really should be going." She'd worked hard to have a sane life, one without complications. Though her experience with men was extremely limited, she knew one thing. A man who looked and walked like Ranger Blueeyes was serious trouble.
She and Hastiin Sani were walking by an old van when Ranger joined them. He had a smile that could melt hearts, she decided on the spot.
Ranger nodded to her companion, then turned back to her. "Hello," he said.
She smiled and was about to respond when she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Two men had raised up from the open windows of the van, not six feet away, aiming something in their direction. A heartbeat later she heard two dull thuds, and felt something like a bee stinging her neck.
"Ow!" Dana reached up and pulled out the odd object imbedded in her skin. As she stared at the small dart in confusion, the world started spinning. Her legs were suddenly so weak she could barely stand. Though her vision became blurry, she saw that Hastiin Sani had also been hit and had collapsed to his knees. Before she could help him, two men came out from behind the van and grabbed him by the arms.
Kidnappers, she realized. Though disoriented, Dana fought back hard, kicking at the men who were taking her friend. She clawed at the face of the one who had Hastiin Sani, and heard him spit out an oath as her nails raked across his cheek. His voice seemed miles and miles away.
Ahead of her she could see Ranger, the man who'd come to pick up Hastiin Sani. He was still on his feet and fighting hard, making her wonder if he'd somehow managed to avoid the darts. As she watched, he kicked one man in the chest, bouncing him off the side of the van. Then two more men rushed forward, tackling Ranger to the pavement.
There were just too many and it was all becoming confusing. Through the fog clouding her brain, she felt someone pulling her roughly into the van, which was open at the side.
In one last desperate attempt to help Hastiin Sani, she turned her head and attacked the man holding her. He yelped as she bit him on the forearm. Then someone hit her from behind, and everything faded to black.
DANA WOKE UP lying on her back, with a pounding headache. Her arms hurt, and she slowly realized it was because her hands had been tied behind her back, and she ached everywhere.
As her thoughts cleared, she began to remember, and her heart began to pound frantically. She looked around and tried to get her bearings. She was in a small room, but it was almost too dark to see much of anything. The only illumination came from the gap at the bottom of the only door.
She heard faint grunts and thumps coming from the other room. Dana's stomach sank when she realized she was hearing the sound of fists striking flesh. As her eyes got used to the gloom, she discovered she was alone in a small room with wide plank walls and two boarded-up windows. There was no ceiling, just the rafters and a steeply sloped roof. It was probably a mountain cabin, judging from the construction.
Mercifully, the beating taking place in the other room stopped. A minute went by, then she heard Hastiin Sani's voice. His speech was slow and thick, as if the drug from the dart was still in his system. Or perhaps he'd been given something else. The medicine man was reciting names she didn't recognize. After a few minutes, his voice drifted off. Her heart almost stopped as she heard the sound of fists on flesh again but, this time, they stopped quickly. Shortly afterward, Hastiin Sani began reciting a litany of names again.
Dana swallowed the bitterness that touched the back of her throat. She knew Hastiin Sani was in the other room, but what about his brave friend who'd fought so hardRanger Blueeyes? Was he dead? The possibility made her start trembling.
Dana took a deep unsteady breath. She needed a plan. But, first, she needed to free herself. Trying to ignore the way the tough fibers bit into her wrists, she pulled, then relaxed in a persistent cycle as she attempted to create some slack in the rope.
It was tedious, painful work but she gained ground slowly. Suddenly the door burst open. Hastiin Sani was thrown into the room and landed hard, facedown, on the floor five feet away from her.
"You finally got smart, medicine man."
The light from the adjacent room gave Dana the chance to make out the features of the man standing between them and freedom. There was no hope of her knocking him out of the way. Their kidnapper was tall and well-muscled.
His gaze was sharp but expressionless as he looked over at her, then back to Hastiin Sani. "You were smart to cooperate, old man. You'll live to see the sunrise, and the woman, too. But if the list you gave us is a phony, the schoolteacher will pay. Once you get tired of her screams, maybe you'll be more inclined to do as you're told," he said. He looked at Dana again, this time with a leer that left no doubt he'd enjoy carrying that threat through. She tried not to let her fear show, but failed. He laughed, then stepped back and closed the door, locking it behind him.
Dana inched across the floor toward Hastiin Sani, uncertain of how she could help him. She was still trying to slip her wrists free of the ropes binding her. Blood from where she'd rubbed her skin raw was running into her palms now. She reached his side then stopped and waited. She called his name softly but he didn't reply.
Then someone in the other room said something about cigarettes. There was the sound of another door closing, then silence. After a quiet two minutes, Hastiin Sani rolled over in the other direction and struggled to a sitting position. "I'm glad you're awake," he whispered through swollen lips. "We've got a lot of work to do, and not much time."
Dana could tell that Hastiin Sani was doing his best to fight the aftereffects of the drug. Although his speech was thick because of the bruises and cuts around his mouth, his mind was becoming clearer.
"We need to find a way out of here and, to do that, we have to work together," he whispered quickly.
"I've been trying to get loose since I woke up." With one final, painful tug, she managed to slip one hand free. Dana cast aside the rope that had held her hands then went to untie him. As she worked she noticed he was holding a scrap of paper tightly in his fist.
"We need to pry some boards away from that window as quickly and quietly as possible," he said, pointing. "And while we work you'll need to listen to me carefully and remember everything I'm going to tell you."
Together, they began the arduous task of trying to force the boards loose. He pried them with his belt buckle while she used a large nail she'd found on the floor. "These men have no intention of letting me live," he said. "I know too much about their plans and they know I'll do everything in my power to stop them. Your own future is in question as well, particularly now."
"The list of names the man said you gave him was a fake?"
"No, but I wish it had been. There was no way I could stop myself. All my training, wasted What I have to do now is destroy the list and hope they won't be able to remember very many names. The man who took the list also dragged me back into this room so I managed to pick his pocket. But the paper tore, and I only got half. I'll have to get the other part that's still in his pocket," he added, shaking his head.
"First, we get out of here. Then we'll find a phone and call the police. They can handle these men," she said in a whisper.
He shook his head. "Listen and remember," he whispered urgently. "A man named Ignacio Trujillo is behind what's happened to us. His name was mentioned in front of me, something they wouldn't have done unless they'd already planned on killing me. We were kidnapped because Trujillo wanted that list of names they forced out of me. He intends to murder those people."
"But what can we do?"
"I belong to a circle of Navajo warriors," he said in a very soft voice. "We exist in the shadowsavailable on call from our tribal leader to protect the Diné when our police and public servants aren't able to do so. No outsider has ever been given the information I'm entrusting to you."
"You belong to a group that works like undercover officers or spies?"
He paused for a moment. "Not spies, no more like a proactive defense force. But it's more personal than that and more secretive. Our warriors are hand-selected and trained. Their loyalty to our tribe is without questiontheir anonymity, absolute. I'm their leader and the only one in the Brotherhood of Warriors who knows the identities of all our members. Those are the names these men wanted."
"But you've got most of the list back, right?" she asked, working to pull out a nail she'd managed to wiggle until it was loose. Seeing him nod, she continued. "Once we get out of here"
He shook his head. "We can't count on both of us escaping.You're young and unhurt, and less of a danger to themthey think.Your chances are better than mine. This is a time of crisis for the brotherhood and it's crucial that the information on the list reach my second in command as soon as possible.Your photographic memory is the best shot we've got. But first I'll need your word of honor that you'll guard the names on the list from everyone else, including other members of the tribe or even law enforcement officers. The information won't be completely safe with anyone except the one man who has already sworn to protect it with his life. The brotherhood has many enemies."
"You have my word, but it isn't going to be necessary. You'll get out of here, too. We have to make it," she said, desperation coloring her words. She pulled the board up and to the side, unblocking a six-inch-wide section of window. Light from the full moon above came in, making their work easier.
"Nothing is certain, but I won't force this on you. I ask only as a favor. The second you memorize this list, you'll be in even greater danger. If you say no, I'll understand."
Dana thought back to her childhood. She would have been a lot lonelier and gone to bed hungry more often than not if it hadn't been for Hastiin Sani. "Show me the list."