The Cougars had met at the jail to devise a plan. It was decided that the deputy, assisted by the faithful Boomer, Holland Valley’s local mascot dog, would go to the border road between Holland Valley and the Whitetail Mountains to assess the situation before the militia attacked Jacob’s troops.
She was now crouching behind the fence of an old abandoned shed, her dog sitting quietly beside her. She took out her binoculars to get a better look. At least fifteen fanatics were busy with bliss barrels, accompanied by a few judges, most of them in cages. Good. I’ll come back tomorrow with a handful of men to clean the area. She was about to get up when her radio crackled.
— Deputy… how’s that observation going ?
John Seed… that son of a bitch always comes at the wrong time. He obviously knew where she was and what she was doing.
— That dear Baptist ! Do you like your tattoo ?
The silence on the other end of the line confirmed that she had hit the nail on the head. The idea that she had offended or irritated him made her smile. She called Boomer, who happily followed her to the station wagon she’d borrowed from the militia, then put him in the trunk. The good old mutt was used to running alongside the car. But this time, she wanted to spare him the trouble.
She reached out to grab the handle of her door when she was pressed up against the car.
— Hey miss devil, were you going to leave without even saying hello ?
Holy shit ! How had he managed to spot her and get to her without Boomer even noticing ? He’d tricked her like a rookie and that pissed her off. She felt him push as hard as he could against her back to crush her onto the car. She saw out of the corner of her eye Seed’s tattooed fingers grabbing a lock of her hair and tucking it behind her ear. He put his second hand on her hip, as if to establish his hold on her.
He brought his face close to her ear, so close that she could feel his breath, to whisper something that made her shiver.
— Everything in this area belongs to me. Including you. What do you think I should do with you ?
She turned pale. Dirty bastard ! She held her composure and tried to look calm despite the dull thumps of her racing heart in her chest.
— Let go of me, Seed !
— I’m not holding you back, deputy. You’re staying of your own free will.
She realized that, although he had tackled her against the car, he was indeed not holding her. She turned to face him. The Baptist’s steel-blue eyes stared at her intensely, as if to pierce her soul. She thought she saw something in them and feared that he could see it in her own eyes. Her cheeks flushed as she remembered the taste of his lips, and at the thought that he might guess her mind. She pulled herself together. How can I get out of this awkward situation ?
She quickly assessed the context. He had placed both hands on the door frame to prevent her from running away, but he wasn’t physically restraining her.
When dealing with this kind of psychopath, one could expect anything. The best strategy seemed to be as unpredictable as he was. Gathering all her bravery, she suddenly rushed to hit him in the face. In a fraction of a second, he raised his hands to deflect her fist from its trajectory. Caught off guard, she toppled forward and fell heavily against Seed. Shit ! He wove his arms around her to hold her. Uneasy, she clutched his shirt to straighten up. Their glances crossed in an intense way.
The herald’s hand seized the tied-up hair of the deputy and pulled strongly on it, forcing her to lift her chin.
She was at his mercy, but for once this idea did not displease her. Her fingers slipped up to his collar, which she gripped firmly. They stared at each other, the blue eyes of the Baptist in the green prunes of the policewoman.
Shots rang out near them, forcing them to let go. Sharky Boshaw, followed by his degenerate cousin Hurk Drubman Jr., was firing at the peggies while shouting insanities.
The Baptist did a quick about-face and ran toward the scene of the battle, aiming his rifle at the two idiots. He turned briefly to give the deputy a look and a smirk.
— We’ll meet again, wrath !
She rushed into the station wagon and sped off. She was too overwhelmed to fight. A feeling of shame overcame her as soon as she came to her senses. What was I thinking ? She didn’t recognize herself anymore.
She hated the Seed more than anything and wanted not only to stop them, but to make them pay for all the evil they had inflicted on Hope County. Still, she had lacked self-control in the presence of the younger Seed. Every time she thought about him, a strange tingling sensation came over her stomach. The feelings increased with the time spent in his contact, and, these last days, it had happened that she imagined his face when she fell asleep. Why do I feel this way when he’s around ?
John immediately called for backup and left the place after firing a few rounds into the middle of the two jerks that were causing panic among his and Jacob’s men. He had to flee wrath at all costs, she was driving him crazy and awakening his old demons. He knew that he would lose his head if he did not do what was necessary. Joseph would prevent him from crossing Eden’s gate if his unhealthy thoughts were perceived. He had to capture her and get rid of her. No mercy this time ! He would strangle her with his own hands. He could always plead self-defense to the Father.
The deputy joined the rest of the militia at the jail and debriefed her mission, being careful not to share her encounter with the Baptist. Fortunately, Sharky and Hurk had not even noticed Seed’s presence among the cultists they were shooting at.
Once the meeting was over, she retreated to the cell that served as her room to think. She had to get rid of John Seed. His contact was unhealthy and prevented her from thinking clearly. She had to catch him and take him to the Cougars so that they could solve the problem themselves and she wouldn’t have to face his damned blue eyes. And his stupid, beautiful smirk !
* * *
The next week, she was driving to the Seed ranch. She had decided to drive straight to the source of the problem, only to run into the younger Seed by surprise. As she approached the fence that marked the boundary of the Baptist’s huge yard, a loud bang startled her. Damn, a blown tire ! She pulled over to the side of the road to check the damage.
No sooner had she leaned over the left front wheel than she felt a slight sting in her neck. She reached in and pulled out a small dart. She realized too late what was happening to her, as her vision blurred and the surrounding sounds became a dull din. She could just make out the silhouettes of the two guys bending over her and pulling her to the ground before she lost consciousness. I’m screwed !
When she opened her eyelids, the situation seemed strangely familiar. She was tightly tied to a metal seat in a dark room she knew well : one of the interrogation cells in John Seed’s bunker. Damn.
He’d gotten to her first. He was always one step ahead and it was hard for her to admit that he was once again in control. As soon as her vision was clear, she made him out. He was standing in front of her.
— Hi, deputy.
She felt a twinge of sadness when he used her title to refer to her. No more wrath ? Seed continued.
— To what do I owe the honor of your presence ?
— You, tell me. You are the one who captured me.
— Help me to understand. Why would a policewoman come alone, without any reinforcement, to throw herself into the lion’s den by attacking my house directly ?
The question destabilized her. She hurriedly looked for a satisfactory answer.
— Maybe I want to finish with you once and for all.
The Baptist approached her and crouched down to look her straight in the eye.
— I don’t think so, wrath. Tell me what you want.
She swallowed hard. He was so close to her. Her heart was pounding, and she felt sweat beading at her temple.
The door burst open, causing John to jump to his feet and face the man standing in the doorway. He yelled in his face.
— Uh… Jacob’s men are here, they want to know if the Greenbusch factory can be used for the transit of judges.
Visibly annoyed, the younger Seed nervously ran his hand through his hair.
— Do as you like, I don’t care. And don’t come and bother me unnecessarily anymore !
— As you wish. I’m sorry.
The man left. Seed approached the deputy again. The interlude had allowed her to regain composure and calm her heart rate. She was not comfortable, however.
— Where were we on, wrath ? Ah, yes. When you were confessing and explaining to me the reasons for your presence on my property. So ?
She remained silent. He bent down to be at her level again.
— I’m listening to you. You have my full attention.
— I have nothing to say to you, you psychopath !
— I think you do. I think I was wrong. I think what it says here…
He put his finger on the deputy’s sternum, over her Whistling Beaver Brewery T-shirt.
— … is actually not your main sin.
She flinched at his touch. The Baptist continued.
— You and I both know what you want.
He crouched down to be right in front of her. Her eyes strayed on the indentation of Seed’s shirt, whose first buttons were undone. In this position, she had a good view on his chest. She could guess part of her name, written in black ink. The letters seemed to shine. She bit her lower lip at the idea that he had taken care of the tattoo. She could just imagine Seed’s fingers gently gliding over each letter to apply moisturizer.
Noticing her intrusive gaze, he grabbed the key attached to his neck by a leather cord.
— Is that what you’re interested in ? Next time you escape from here, try to remember to get it back.
— Remind me when I walk out the front door, with you handcuffed behind me.
A sneer stretched across his lips. He put his hand on the cheek of the policewoman and brought his face closer of hers to whisper.
— I know what you want.
She murmured in response.
— What do you think I want ?
He pulled away again.
— I want to hear you say it. A sin must be confessed to be absolved.
— In that case, untie me.
— Why should I ?
— I’m not used to talking while tied to a chair.
He seemed to think for a moment. He slid his hand over the deputy’s waist, who flinched at his touch.
— Stop fidgeting.
He grabbed the pair of handcuffs she wore on her belt, then fastened them around one of her wrists. He grabbed a small dagger from the shelf and cut the ties that held her hand to the seat. After cuffing her two hands together, he finally cut the last link holding her to the chair. She wiggled her shoulders and arms to get her blood flowing again.
— I did what you asked. Now it’s your turn.
— What will happen to me if I confess something to you ?
— I will release you from the burden you are carrying.
— By tattooing me another horror?
— Depends on what you will confess to me.
She remained motionless and silent, in incomprehension.
In a sudden rage, Seed swept everything off the shelf at his level with a violent gesture. The clatter of heavy tools and objects falling on the floor made her jump violently on her chair. He grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her to stand up and face him.
— You want me to torture you ? Is that your thing ?
— Don’t touch me, or you’ll regret it !
— You’re in no position to give me orders.
He grabbed her shoulders again. She could feel his fingers inserted in her flesh, despite the thickness of the t-shirt and jacket she was wearing. He pushed her, forcing her back until her lower back hit the workbench. She raised her cuffed hands in front of her to make a barrier between Seed and herself. He grabbed them and pressed them against his torso, over the tattoo.
— Look at your work.
Her heart raced at the sensation of the Baptist’s banging loudly under her fingers. He let go of her still clutching his shirt hands to undo more buttons and give her a wider view of her entire first name.
— Does it excite you to see your name on me ?
— How about you, does it turn you on to know you have my name on ?
— You know what gets me hard ? The way you stubbornly stay silent, while your whole body speaks for you and tells me what I want to hear. You don’t even have to open your mouth, I know exactly what you want. You’re dying for me to…
He moved his lips against her ear, until they brushed it.
— … fuck you !
She jumped at the violence of his words. She nervously laughed, before retorting.
— You’re not my type. Psychopaths are not my thing !
— So why do you get short of breath when I approach you ? Why do you keep looking for me ? Why do you shiver at my touch ? Explain to me, I want to understand.
She was stunned. How did he notice all this ? He slid his hands behind the deputy’s thighs to raise her up and sit her on the workbench.
— Let it go, wrath. You don’t have to pretend. It’s just you and me here. Tell me what I want to hear.
She gasped once more. He had put his wet lips to her throat. She could not hold back a groan. She felt him smile on her neck.
— Do you like it ?
Shit. She had dropped the forbidden word. The one she’d sworn never to give him, no matter the reason or the situation. She had pulled the trigger without meaning to, opened the Pandora’s box.
Released by her agreement, Seed precipitated his hands under her t-shirt, gripping firmly her ribs and back, sinking his tongue in the delicate flesh of her neck. Carried away by euphoria, she pushed back the Baptist with her two hands, still handcuffed. He released her to look her in the eyes.
— You want me to stop ?
She remained silent but slipped her arms around his neck to attract him to her, offering him her lips. He ignored her invitation and seized the neckline of her t-shirt with both hands. He pulled violently on each side, tearing it in its center, as he had already done the first time he had wanted to tattoo her.
— Is this one of your hobbies, tearing the clothes of the people you torture ?
— Let me see it. I want to see it. Wrath.
He threw his mouth over the engraved letters, running his hot tongue over them. The deputy ran her fingers through his hair, undoing the Baptist’s perfectly controlled haircut.
He was about to protest, not wanting his hair to be touched, when the door suddenly opened again.
The man in the frame seemed stunned by the scene offered to him. He remained silent, as if struck by lightning. The deputy quickly removed her arms from Seed’s neck, who had straightened up at the sound of the door handle. He barked at his henchman.
— What is it now ?
— The resistance has blown up three new silos…
— So what ?
— I thought you’d want to know…
— I asked not to be disturbed ! Is it too hard to take in ?
— No, John. I’m… sorry…
— Get out of my sight !
The man quickly withdrew , closing the door behind him. Seed was fuming. He ran his hand through his hair, looking for a solution.
— Bring it on !
He violently pulled the deputy to put her upright, fingers inserted in the skin of her arm.
— Ouch !
— Shut up !
The fright seized her. I’m going to pay for the insubordination of his men, he’s gonna spend his rage on me. The Baptist’s temples were beating of irritation, she could see the extreme contraction of his jaw from where she stood.
— Move !
He pushed her to the door, which he opened. They walked through the dark corridors and began to climb the many iron stairs of the bunker. She immediately recognized the place. He was leading her towards the exit, under the astonished eyes of his men who contemplated the scene with amazement. One of them ventured to ask.
— Where are you taking her ?
Still upset, the Baptist replied curtly.
— It’s none of your business. Go back to your tasks, immediately !
The cultists did not insist. Seed inspired fear among them. It was not uncommon for him to explode and strike out at anyone who got in his way.
Once at the top of the complex, he put the key in the electronic lock, without even bothering to remove it from his neck. The heavy door opened to a radiant sun, which dazzled the deputy’s eyes for a few seconds. He pushed her over to the huge black Ford Ranger Raptor parked in the building, which seemed to be waiting for its owner. He opened the door and waved his chin at her.
— Get in.
— Where are we going ?
— You’ll know soon enough.
He slammed the door and climbed into the vehicle, before turning the key in the ignition and starting off with a bang, releasing a huge dust cloud.