John opened the door on Joseph, accompanied by Jacob and a stranger. The Baptist stared at him for a moment. The man was tall and rather athletic. Long, thick eyelashes highlighted his piercing brown eyes. His short, black hair reinforced the impression of authority he gave off. His brothers, whose features appealed to women, looked bland and insignificant next to him.
He invited the three men in.
Dana silently opened the door to look down the stairs. Jacob, Joseph, and a man whose face she couldn’t see because his back was to her were engaged in a lively discussion around the large living room table. The elder Seed was speaking.
— We met on a mission in Afghanistan. We served together.
— Well, it’s an honor to meet you. Welcome to Hope County.
— May I ask what brings you to this remote area ?
— No offense, but I’m on a mission and can’t tell you more. I’m sure Jacob will understand that.
She frowned at the sound of his voice. Killian. Holy shit. What the hell is he doing here ?
As Jacob nodded, the man continued.
— In the course of my duties, I was made aware of the current situation in this region.
Joseph smiled strangely, then interrupted him.
— The current situation? What do you mean ?
— I am aware that there is a civil war going on, and that some sect has taken control of the region. I’m grateful to you for saving me from a confrontation with those weirdos earlier.
Oh my God. He’s mistaking the resistance for the cult, and those crazy Seed are pretending to be the good guys.
After clearing his throat, the stranger continued.
— Gentlemen, it’s getting late. I don’t want to overstay my welcome. I will find a hotel for tonight. If I can be of any help to you in any way, please do not hesitate. It has been a great pleasure to meet you again, Jacob, and I look forward to our next collaboration.
He rose to shake hands with the three brothers in turn and headed for the front door, accompanied by Jacob who also left. Joseph remained to address his younger brother.
— No one has seen you for two days. You didn’t come to my sermon tonight either, brother. That doesn’t sound like you.
— Joseph… sorry, I fell asleep. I had a shitty night.
— So I heard. Where is she ?
He directed his gaze to the second floor. Shit ! The deputy moved away from the door to avoid being seen.
— Who are you talking about ?
— You know who I’m talking about ! Is she still here ?
The Baptist’s gaze dropped to his bare feet as a chill ran down his spine.
— Don’t lie to me, John.
— No. She walked away while I was trying to get a confession out of her. I thought she was weakened enough by Jacob’s training. I’m sorry, Joseph.
She approached the door again, just in time to observe the Father leaning his forehead against his younger brother’s.
— Don’t worry. Everything is happening as God planned. We will find her at the right time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to. I just came to make sure your weaknesses hadn’t caught up with you. And to introduce you to this former colleague of Jacob’s who will be useful to us. He’s an FBI agent. Be on time for the cleansing tomorrow. Good night, John.
The Baptist quietly closed the door and stood pensive for a few moments, his eyes blank. When enough time had passed for his brother to leave, he violently threw his fist into the case in the hallway, shattering the glass door. Holy shit ! I’m not a child !
Dana tensed up in fright.
Mad with rage, John turned and grabbed one of the copies of Joseph’s Book from the mahogany table in the living room. He threw it hard into another display case, also smashing the glass doors. She saw the hatred and fury in his eyes, which terrified her. He had the look of a mad dog. He punched one more frame on the wall.
He was looking disoriented, spinning around and tearing his hair, muttering incoherent words. He suddenly looked up at the stairs. It’s all because of her !
She hurriedly closed the door and leaned against it, her heart pounding. The Baptist’s fast and furious footsteps quickly echoed up the stairs. It was enough for her mind to switch to survival mode. Shit, he’s after me !
She ran to the window and opened it. She hesitated for a second. From the second floor, the fall could be painful, if not fatal. When she heard the doorknob turn, her blood ran cold and she threw herself out the window.
She landed on an eaves. Once again, her body broke her and she heavily crashed onto the tiles, rolling to the edge of the gutter to which she tried desperately to cling, in vain. The fall, although cushioned by grass and soil, was painful. She held back a scream. Holy shit !!! Shut the fuck up, if his men catch you, you’re finished !
She crawled for a few meters and managed to get up with superhuman efforts. Damn, I think I broke a rib ! Despite the pain and the lack of strength, she started to run, staggering, towards the road, one hand on her wounded side. What the hell have I done ? What have I gotten myself into ?
* * *
She saw a station wagon driving in her direction and waved to it with a weak hand gesture. The driving woman rolled down the window, concerned about her condition.
— Oh my God, are you hurt ?
— Yes. Can you give me a ride to Fall’s End, please ?
— Sure, get in !
She struggled to get into the vehicle. She spent the few minutes before reaching her destination rehashing the latest events. That John Seed is really insane. Why does he change his behavior so quickly ? What is it that makes him so easily upset ? And why was he suddenly angry with me when he had spent the day taking care of me ? But the thing that bothered her the most was why that asshole Killian was in Hope County. She sincerely hoped that he had really been sent as part of his duties. Reinforcements would not be too much.
When she got to town, she thanked the driver and went straight to the Spread Eagle. She hoped to find a doctor among the clientele. But only Grace and Mary May were there, sharing a beer. The markswoman rushed to the deputy as soon as she staggered across the threshold.
— Jesus, are you hurt ?
— I think I broke a rib.
— Sit down. Mary, get some ice !
The barmaid complied and crouched down next to the policewoman, examining her summarily.
— What happened to you ? We’ve been looking for you for days !
— Jacob Seed held me up.
— In one of those fucking cages ?
— Oh shit ! You must be starving. I’ll have Casey cook you something.
— Thanks, Mary May. Oh wait !
— Yes ?
— No meat, please.
As the hostess left for the kitchen, Grace continued the questions.
— How did you get here ?
— A woman dropped me off.
— What happened to your outfit ?
— My clothes were covered in mud. And blood. The driver gave me this track suit. You’re a liar.
— Well, you’re lucky to be alive. Jacob Seed’s not known for his leniency.
— I know. And I don’t understand why he let me go.
— Wait, you mean he deliberately released you into the wild ?
The young woman frowned. She gently palmed Dana’s sides, causing her to cry out in pain.
— Sorry, I’m trying to figure out if anything is broken.
— You’re not a doctor !
— No, but I served in the Middle East. In that kind of environment you learn to cope and give first aid pretty quickly. I don’t think it’s serious. If one of your ribs is broken, there’s nothing we can do about it, unfortunately, so you should avoid moving as much as possible. Once you’ve had something to eat, I’ll help you get back to your house and get changed. You need to rest for a few days.
The deputy pecked at the meal Casey had prepared for her, but she couldn’t finish the plate. Mary May stared at her inquisitively. Intercepting her gaze, Grace cut off any questioning.
— It’s normal for her to have trouble eating. Her stomach has adapted to the lack of food. It will come back gradually, she doesn’t have to force herself.
Dana inwardly thanked her comrade for having taken the initiative of the explanation. She did not want to have to justify herself at this moment, not after the painful days she had just undergone.
As promised, Grace accompanied her to her home and supported her as she changed. She made sure she had everything she needed and then offered to come back and check on her the next day. Over the next few days, a routine was established : every morning, Grace would come by to make sure she was okay. Around noon and in the evenings, Mary May would visit Dana to deliver a meal carefully prepared by Casey.
* * *
Gradually, her condition improved and her appetite returned. But as the days passed, she felt more and more guilty. These people were doing everything to help her, at least some of them. Her approach to the younger Seed was kind of a betrayal.
She remembered hearing a rumor when she arrived at Fall’s End. It said that John Seed had once been fixated on Mary May, never letting her out of his sight and doing anything to get in her way. She clenched her fists at the thought that he might have had the same kind of relationship with the bartender as he did with herself. Really, stupid girl ? You’re out of your mind. Why would this get to you? This guy is completely crazy, you know he’s using you, and you’re using him, nothing more. He could fuck the whole world, I wouldn’t care.
But she wanted to know the end of the story. When she was able to get around without suffering, she went to the Spread Eagle. Sheriff Whitehorse was sitting at the bar, as was deputy Hudson. Earl opened his arms wide to her.
— Great to have you back, miss !
— I’m glad too.
— Mary told us about your troubles. I’m pleased you’re feeling better.
— Thank you, Sheriff.
— By the way, what happened the day I contacted you and you turned off your radio ?
Shit. I wasn’t expecting that one ! Her cheeks flushed but she kept her composure.
— I think I told you, I was struggling with a wolverine. Then my radio fell off the cliff, I didn’t want to risk breaking my neck to get it back.
Whitehorse raised his eyebrows, apparently satisfied with the answer. A short time passed before all the customers left, leaving her alone with Mary May. She ordered a beer to cheer herself up, then finally broached the delicate subject.
— What do you know about John Seed ?
— He’s a huge asshole who wants to control everything and everyone. He thinks he owns Holland Valley and its people. Why do you ask ?
— I think the basis of an offensive is knowing who you’re attacking.
— Right on. Well, you’re going after a fucker like you’ve never seen before.
— Good word choice. Have you ever dealt with him ?
The barmaid seemed to hesitate for a moment, then answered, her eyes in the dark.
— Yeah, I have. A long time ago, long before Joseph went crazy and everything got that bad.
— Did he hurt you ?
— He tattooed one of his shits under my collarbones…
Oh ! Oh, her too… I wonder what sin he wrote.
— Did you have an affair ?
— What the fuck kind of question is that ??? Of course I didn’t ! What do you take me for ?
— Sorry, I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything. It’s just that others seem to imply that he had some sort of… crush on you.
— It’s not a crush, it’s what he does it with every one of his preys. This asshole uses his pretty face and promising words to lure the weak-minded. He tried that with me but I didn’t take it. Wrong victim.
— Oh, you weren’t the only one then ?
— No, far from it. That’s his pattern. He uses his charm to get what he wants, and then he gets rid of his subject.
Dana was stunned. Of course, she’d always known Seed was using her, but she’d secretly hoped she was the only one he’d gotten this far with, cared for, and allowed to fall asleep with him.
— Are you okay, deputy ? You look pale.
— Yes, thank you.
The door opened to reveal Pastor Jeffries. He greeted the two women in a friendly manner as Mary May served him a cup of tea.
— Deputy. It’s good to have you back. I heard that Jacob had you locked up.
She nodded silently.
The man of faith understood immediately that she did not want to talk about it. Nevertheless, he addressed her again.
— Would you accompany me to my church ?
She needed to stretch her legs and get a breath of fresh air. She welcomed the offer with relief and nodded again.
* * *
Fall’s End Church stood only about 300 feet from the bar, on the same street. Besides, the town consisted of only one street along which a few old shacks lined up. The only general store had been run by the same man for ages. Everyone knew everyone here. It was no wonder that the residents were united against the Seed family, and especially against John, who had taken over the entire Holland Valley area.
They walked side by side on the parched asphalt, as if alone in the world.
— What were you two talking about ?
— Mary May was explaining John Seed’s modus operandi to me. I feel that she hates him with all her being.
— It’s not always possible to forgive, especially when it comes to the loss of a loved one.
— Loss of a loved one ?
— I guess she didn’t tell you. A few years ago, Mary underwent “cleansing” and “confession” from the self-proclaimed “Baptist” impostor. But she didn’t give in. She didn’t admit anything to him, and he couldn’t get his hands on her again to make her “atone.” The cult had managed to attract several local young people. Among them was Drew Fairgrave, her brother.
Dana’s eyes widened. Jeffries continued.
— The young man was trying to make sense of his life. Joseph Seed’s words convinced him to join them. But Mary is a fighter. She couldn’t stand by and watch. Unfortunately, when she found him, he had already been brainwashed and refused to listen to reason. John Seed was present when she had no choice but to pull the trigger. This demon relished the scene, a smile on his face.
Oh my God. How awful.
— Perhaps now you understand better the reason for her hatred.
They had reached the front steps of the chapel. Jerome took Dana’s hands in his.
— Take care, deputy. No one comes away completely unscathed from an encounter with one of the Seed. Your help is invaluable, and I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done. However, the war has just begun and there are other people who need you. Go to Eli and his Whitetails. They have been fighting bravely for too long. They could use a hand.
She watched the clergyman silently. The brown of his skin and eyes contrasted with the white of his collar. She had only been in contact with him for a short time, but he nevertheless seemed to be unfailingly supportive. His words seemed wise and as neutral as possible. She had not detected any hatred in his speech, despite the harm that John Seed had done to him. He had also carved a sin on his chest. She didn’t know what it was, because the Baptist had already torn it off by the time she realized it. No one could be spared.
She gave him a bitter smile. Yes. I must help the militia. I want to finish off that freak Jacob once and for all. He has to pay for what he did. For what he did to me. As she walked away, he called out to her.
— God bless you, deputy.
She hurried back to the house to gather her things. She borrowed a Jeep from the Fall’s End garage and headed for the Whitetail Mountains.