15 June 2024

10 – Taking the ranch

Hope County jail was bustling with activity. Resistance fighters were busy with a variety of activities and chasing each other through the halls. Dana hurried to find Tracey to find out what was causing the resistance to be in such a state.

— Hey deputy ! So, finally that asshole Joseph wasn’t at the tower the other day ?
— Hi Tracey. No, no sign of him, but I decided to stay around just in case.
— I would like to know who put us on the wrong track and why. I hope it didn’t give Eden’s Gate the opportunity to prepare another mess while they had you out of the way.
— Speaking of preparation, what’s going on here ? What’s all the fuss ?
— Ah, Hudson has taken command in your absence. She’s decided to seize the Seed Ranch.
— Why that sudden idea?
— I suspect she’s trying to wage a little personal vendetta against John Seed. Anyway, we plan to take his ranch, and him with it, first thing in the morning. If we get this outpost, not only will we get the bastard, but we’ll also have a clear strategic advantage. This weirdo has his own airstrip and several small planes. Are you all right, deputy ? You seem out of it…
— No… no I’m fine. Thanks for the briefing.
— We’ll be counting on you in the morning. Wheels up at 0400, we’ll surprise him before daylight.
— All right. See you later.

As she strolled through the prison corridors, she thought about what had just been reported to her. Hudson was indeed very upset with Seed and she would certainly give him a hard time if he found himself at her mercy. She felt a chill down her spine as she imagined the worst. She understood Joey’s feeling. He had tortured her and she had no reason to feel sorry for him, but she didn’t see John the same way she used to. It was hard for her to be impartial now.

Even if it was betrayal, she had to warn him somehow. She stepped out of the stone enclosure to go behind the hill and discreetly make a radio call. He didn’t answer. She tried to reach him several times during the day, in vain. She had to succeed in contacting him at all costs.

The only solution was to go directly to the ranch, but that meant making the trip quickly to be back by the time they were scheduled to leave the prison. She had to avoid any suspicion towards her. This story is starting to smell a little fishy. I really hope this is the first and last time I have to do this kind of betrayal. But I have no choice. I can’t do that to John.

She borrowed a station wagon and headed west as the sun was already beginning to sink behind the mountains. By the time she parked near the property, it was pitch black. She slipped quietly through the thicket to get closer to the main building. A dozen men were sharing the ranch, some chatting quietly while others made an organized watch. She grabbed her radio again and tried to reach Seed.

Still no answer, she had no other choice but to infiltrate the property to talk to him. She located his bedroom window and placed herself under it. She started throwing small pebbles against the glass, hoping that this would be enough to attract his attention. If he was indeed there.

Bad luck was chasing her. He must not be in his room. She carefully climbed the facade to find herself on the eaves from which she had tumbled when he had tried to attack her. She sighed at this bad memory. She gently pushed the window : it was open. Her luck was finally changing. She snuck into the Baptist’s room and froze when she heard voices from the floor below. Once again, she crept up to the door to see what was happening on the first floor.

Joseph Seed, Killian and John were in the middle of a discussion. That explains his absence from the radio. The three of them were sipping a drink, comfortably seated on the sofa.

The Father spoke up.

— Don’t get me wrong. You are welcome to join us. I just don’t want your position with the FBI to affect your friendship with Jacob. It would be unfortunate if the Project was delayed by your colleagues. Time is running out and we must make sure that everything is ready for the Collapse.
— Rest assured, I have no intention of interfering in this conflict which does not concern me. To be perfectly honest with you, I came on my own initiative. I wasn’t sent by my employer.

Dana frowned. I knew it ! Her gaze shifted to John, who was raising a glass of lemonade to his lips. Joseph continued.

— Why did you come here, then ?
— I thought Jacob had told you. I came to get Dana.
— Who is Dana ?
— She’s my wife.

Oh shit !

The Baptist almost choked and promptly put his drink down. His eyes flashed. She was sure that if he could have killed Killian on the spot, he would have. She wondered how he managed to contain himself, given the recurring control problem he was desperately trying to cope with. Unexpectedly, he replied in a very calm manner.

— Well, if we run into your wife, we’ll be sure to let you know.

She had seen and heard enough. She quickly closed the door and turned the key in the lock. This time I’m in deep shit ! She dreaded the moment when the guests would take leave of their host. She would have to face his wrath. Would she be able to ?

The interview lasted only about thirty minutes, which seemed like ten seconds. Then she heard his footsteps on the stairs, inexorably approaching the bedroom door.

When the Baptist tried to open it and she resisted him, she heard him grunt in surprise. He tried again to turn the handle, this time with force. I must say something, before this gets out of hand.

— John…
— Holy shit, is that you, wrath ?
— Listen to me please…
— Open the door ! Open up now !

His voice was loud and scary.

— No !
— Open up, or you’ll regret it !
— Are you going to hurt me ?
— No, no, I won’t. I’ll kill you !

His voice softened. He continued.

— Please open up, Dana. We need to talk.

She hesitated for a second. That sweet way of calling me by my name… it’s too good to be true !

— No, you’re scaring me.

Even more enraged, Seed smashed his fists into the wood, shaking the whole frame.

— Open up, damn it ! Or I’ll break the door down !

He lunged, ready to throw his shoulder against the oak, when she finally opened it for him. He stared at her for a moment.

Silent tears ran down her cheeks, she looked like a frightened animal. This vision destabilized him. However, the rage had not left him and, perhaps by habit, he put both hands on her throat, ready to squeeze.

— What are you doing here, little pest ?

She mentally prepared herself for him to strangle her in the next few seconds.

— I came to warn you. The resistance is going to take your ranch first thing in the morning. I wanted to make sure you weren’t there.
— Don’t worry about me, I’ll be able to accommodate your little friends. Is that all you have to say to me ?

He glared at her. She felt that he was ready to compress her trachea in case of bad answer. Tetanized, she did not answer. He insisted.

— So you’re married ?
— No, I’m not !
— No ? Then who is this asshole who claims you’re his wife and who came to the woodshed just to get you back ?
— He’s my ex-husband. He probably came looking for me to sign his damn papers.
— What papers ?
— The sale contract for the house.

She believed to read relief in the Baptist’s eyes. Still, his fingers and jaw remained clenched.

— So you’re not together anymore ?
— No. There’s only you.

He released her throat. Slowly, he walked around her to sit on the bed, letting out an annoyed sigh. She joined him there and ventured to put her hand on his cheek. He threw her a lost glance. The suffering was read in his stormy eyes. A combat seemed to take place in his mind. She hesitated a few moments. Tell him. Forget about your self-esteem. He needs to hear it.

— There’s only you, John.

He stared at her stubbornly, as if waiting for a follow-up to her statement.

— You’re the only man I care about. There it is.

His features relaxed instantly. He seemed appeased, but remained thoughtful. He seemed to digest what he had just heard. As if to support her words, she moved closer to him and grabbed his head with both hands, facing him.

— You mean so much to me.

She slowly brought her face closer to his. He remained motionless. Very delicately, she put her lips on John’s. He murmured against her mouth, without however trying to release himself.

— Kisses are for lovers.
— I know.
— Then what are you trying to do, sinner ?
— I’m not trying to do anything. I just really want to kiss you, sinner.

She felt his lips spread between hers. He was smiling.

 Ah, his good mood is back. I like that better.

— Oh yes, that’s what you made me. And I fucking love it !

He grabbed her forcefully to throw her on the bed and dominate her with all his weight.

— You’re mine, Dana.
— All yours, John.
— All mine. If that asshole comes near you again, I’ll kill him.
— I don’t want anybody to touch me but you. Kiss me, please.
— I’m not your lover, wrath.
— I know that. I’m not asking you for anything. I just want to experience the taste of your mouth.

He threw his lips against hers to gratify her of a burning kiss. Their teeth clashed, their tongues mingling with passion. Fucking shit, why did I wait so long to do that ?

He undid her blouse buttons while she pulled his shirt out of the jeans to caress his sides. They quickly found themselves skin against skin. Breathless, the Baptist paused for a moment, drowning his eyes in Dana’s, before whispering.

— Hold me close.

It was the first time he’d ever asked her for such a thing. Oh, my God. He looks so vulnerable.

— Anything you want.

Once trapped in the comforting warmth of her arms, he gently pushed himself into her. She moaned his name.

— Oh John…
— Is that good ?
— Yes.
— Not as much as you.

He stood still.

— What are you doing ?
— I am enjoying the moment.
— Please… continue…

He penetrated her again, even more slowly.

— John ! Please, John !
— Please what ?
— You’ll kill me. Please !
— Do not tempt me. You know how much I’d love to…
— Damn it, fuck me, now !

Hearing such words coming out of her pretty and prude mouth drove him crazy. He gave in and took her violently, causing her to moan and cry out in pleasure.

Their lovemaking reminded Dana of the first night they spent together in that same bed. But this time she wasn’t going to hold back. She wanted him to know how much she loved fucking him. She screamed his name until the ecstasy took her breath away, which delighted the vain Baptist.

After accompanying her in orgasm, he collapsed on her chest, exhausted.

— Fuck, deputy, you’re going to kill me.
— I thought it was the opposite ?

She was as breathless as he was. She smiled against his hair that was tickling her nose. That perfume, his perfume. I’ll never get enough of it.

— Why did you and the FBI asshole get divorced ?

The sudden question, dropped like a hair on the soup, surprised her. Nevertheless, she had no objection to answering it. She had nothing to hide.

— For several reasons. But in essence, he spent more time working on his business and watching his free fight matches than he did caring about me.

He remained silent for a moment, before resuming.

— The house, do you want it back ? I can help you with that.
— No, I don’t care. Let him keep the house and all the money. I don’t want it.
— At least we can’t list greed and envy on the long list of your sins.
— What about lust ?

He straightened up to look at her face, a wry smile stretching across his lips.

— Unfortunately, wrath, I’m afraid you can’t deny that one.
— If I plead guilty, will my lawyer defend me ?
— That depends, how much are you willing to put down ? My firm is one of the best in Atlanta. You’ll have to pay a certain amount…
— I don’t have a dime.

A mischievous smile spread across his face.

— You’ll have to pay with your body, then.

He lay down against her to kiss her again on the mouth. Does he have feelings for me ? No, stupid girl ! Forget about it, now.

While she let herself be caught by tiredness and as her eyelids closed, he whispered in her ear.

— What about me ? Do I care enough for you ? If you marry me, I’ll do everything to avoid a divorce.

She stupidly smiled before sinking into a deep sleep, tightening the Baptist against her.

* * *

She woke up with a jolt. Phew, it’s still dark. We still have some time before the resistance arrives. The almost full moon flooded the room with a pale light, giving it a strange, almost mystical atmosphere.

John, lying on his side, seemed deeply asleep. The blanket stopped at his hips, giving her a tantalizing view of his bare back. He is so calm and serene when he sleeps. She gently placed her fingers on the back of his neck, and slowly began to run them down the line of his spine. He has such a beautiful skin. A roughness under her index finger caught her attention. She squinted and moved closer to better distinguish what was calling out to her. Oh, that’s a small scar.

She continued her exploration by following the line of the mark, until she came across a new blister, perpendicular to the first. Well, another one ? She frowned. Taken of a sudden apprehension, she put all her palm against him, and brought her second hand in reinforcement.

Damn, his back is covered in marks ! What’s that ? She could now clearly make out long, thin lines, some reddish, some whitish, that lacerated the entire surface from his shoulder blades to his lower back. There was no way he could have done this to himself. Someone had tortured him. The scars looked long healed, so it wasn’t recent. Who did this to him ? And why ?

The answer quickly came to her mind. She remembered the words he had spoken to her and Hudson when they were both his captives. “My parents were the first ones to teach me about the Power of Yes. One night, they took me into the kitchen and they threw me on the ground. And I experienced pain after pain after pain after pain“.

Oh my God. These horrible people had picked on him when he was just a child, forcing him to confess faults he had not committed. No one deserves to go through that. When her hand came to rest on John’s forearm, she felt one more time the relief under his tattoos, the one that had called out to her at the watchtower. And she understood.

The vision of a little boy kneeling on a gloomy kitchen cold tile floor popped into her mind. He had put his arms over his face to protect himself. She silently suppressed a sob and put her arm around the sleeping man to hold him close to her heart.

* * *

They were startled awake by clamors outside. Shit, the resistance ! She had fallen asleep again and it was too late to deny her presence there. Panicked, she threw herself out of bed and put on her clothes in a hurry. The Baptist followed her lead.

— You have to leave, John, now !
— How will you justify your presence here ?

She thought for a few seconds.

— I’ll go out the window. If possible without hurting myself this time. I’ll meet them downstairs and say I just got here on my own. They’re used to me going it alone, so no one will wonder. What about you ?
— I’ll take one of my planes.

She seemed to hesitate before answering him.

— Be careful.

She went over to him and ran her hands through his hair. She felt his whole body stiffen and his features harden as his gaze pierced her. He grabbed her wrists, but she didn’t let him.

— I am not her. I won’t disappear from your life without warning.

Clamors outside forced them both to let go and leave the room, one through the door, the other through the window.

Once in the courtyard, she waited a few minutes, watching from a distance as the resistance fought John’s henchmen. She walked around the building and came face to face with Hudson at the main entrance.

— Ah, here you are ! We looked for you everywhere ! Come on, let’s finally catch this bastard and give him the correction he deserves !

They rushed inside, followed by a group of enraged resistance fighters. As expected, they found no one. The building was hopelessly empty. Tracey, who had stayed outside, began to scream furiously.

— Look ! There he is, running towards the airplane hangar ! Get him !

Shit, shit, shit ! I hope he gets there in time !

The entire resistance force was now on his tail, including Dana. Please don’t let us catch him. Cries of victory rang out from the front of the group. Damn it.

The two deputies and Tracey were getting close to the warehouse when five men emerged, Seed handcuffed between them. Dana didn’t dare look at him, fearing of giving herself away. Hudson walked over to the group and addressed John.

— So, you bastard, were you expecting this ?

She slapped him hard. The deputy was startled and had to repress her visceral desire to hit her in turn. Whitehorse, who had just joined the lead group, put his hand on Joey’s shoulder.

— Stop it, kid. Book him.

He turned to Dana.

— Deputy, I’m assigning you to watch him all the way to the jail. Do you have a vehicle ?

She nodded. Grace had stayed back so far, but she insistently interjected.

— I’m riding with her.

Dana gave her an icy look, to which the young woman smirked and added.

— I’d rather make sure he gets where he should be.

Earl seemed satisfied with her involvement and turned to go back to his pickup, taking Tracey and Hudson with him.

The five resistance fighters walked with Seed and the two young women to the station wagon and waved at them. Grace got behind the wheel while Dana sat in the back next to the captive. The vehicle set off for Henbane River jail.

* * *

The atmosphere was heavy. The deputy’s gaze met the markswoman’s in the center mirror. She didn’t dare look at John, who was staring at her with a smirk. Grace launched the hostilities.

— How long have you been doing him ?
— What ???
— Don’t play me for a fool. Where were you this morning ?
— I had to go get ammo and supplies last night. I thought I’d meet you there.
— So you got to the ranch the same time we did ?
— Yeah.
— You’re lying. The hood of that car was just now colder than a corpse. The engine didn’t run today.

Dana looked away, pretending to observe the scenery as it passed by. The young woman continued.

— Did you spend the night together ?

The deputy blushed with shame. How the fuck did she know ?

— No.

John’s voice rose beside her, he answered simultaneously.

— Yeah !

She glared at him, outraged. He stupidly grinned as he was staring at her. Why is he doing that ? She retorted aggressively.

— Shut up, Seed, no one asked you !

Grace intervened.

— I’d like to hear his version of events.
— Are you kidding ? He has every interest in lying to drive a wedge between us !
— Maybe, but I’d like you to let him talk. Then I’ll decide.
— But…
— Shut up, deputy. I’m listening, Seed.

John gave Dana another smile, then complied with Grace’s order, keeping his eyes on the deputy.

— She spent the night at the ranch. I banged her.

Dana’s face was now on fire, ranting. He continued.

— It was divinely good. Like every time I’ve fucked her for several months now. Funny, how she was quick to say yes to me. She always says yes. To everything. Sometimes she even shouts it.

This time she couldn’t contain herself.

— I think it’s okay, you can shut up now ! We’ve heard enough !
— Don’t get so upset, sweetheart, you know what I want to do to you when you’re in this state. Note, with the handcuffs it might be interesting. Last time, you were the one who wore them, we could exchange.

Grace finally intervened.

— Stop it, Seed. I get it, no need to add more.

Her gaze sought Dana’s in the rearview mirror.

— Is that the truth ?

She was about to deny it, when a sudden shock threw her toward John. She didn’t immediately understand what was happening as the car spun around. After two rolls, it came to rest at the bottom of the road. The vehicle had run aground on its right side. Dana and Grace, restrained by their seatbelts, seemed to be hanging in mid-air. Seed lay stunned against the right window.

When she realized an accident had occurred, the deputy groped the driver’s shoulder.

— Grace ? Are you okay ?
— Yeah. I’m a little shaken up, but I don’t think I’m hurt.

Her gaze then shifted to the prisoner. She couldn’t reach him, held back by her seatbelt. He seemed to have lost consciousness.

— John ! John ! Answer me ! Why can’t I unbuckle this fucking belt ?

The door suddenly opened to reveal two peggies who poked their heads into the car to see what was going on. One of them started to bawl, ignoring the two women.

— Mr. Seed ? John ! Damn it, he’s on the other side. He’s passed out. Help me !
— How do we proceed ?
— Let’s get the sinner out first to get to John.

When they put their filthy hands on her, Dana struggled with all her might, screaming at them not to touch her. Still, they managed to unbuckle her belt and pull her out of the vehicle. One of the men held her against him while the other pulled the Baptist out of the carcass.

Dana struggled so hard that she managed to escape the stunned henchman. She ran to the Baptist, which the other man had laid on the ground. She nervously stroked his hair and cheeks.

— John… please… please John, wake up !

The two men looked at each other in surprise. Seed slowly opened his eyelids.

— Dana… is that you ?
— Oh, my God. You scared me so much. You scared the hell out of me ! Are you okay ? Are you hurt in some way ?
— No, no. I just feel a little dizzy.

One of the henchmen intervened.

— Mr. Seed, we saw the sinners take you away. We followed the vehicle and rammed it to release you. Come on, let’s get you to a doctor. What shall we do with these ?

Dana gave John a concerned look.

— Put the deputy in the van. We’ll take her with us.
— What about the other one ?
— Leave her here.

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