24 July 2024

24 – The others

Huddled together on the sofa, watching the flames dance in the hearth, John and Dana jumped at the sound of the knock on the door. They exchanged surprised looks.

—  Are you expecting someone ?
—  No… who could be coming so late ?

The policewoman got up to open the door. Seed called out to her from the living room.

—  Hey, Dana ! Be careful !

She nodded with a knowing look and walked briskly towards the entrance. As she passed, she picked up her service weapon from the dresser and tucked it into the back of her jeans. She opened the door only a few centimeters, throwing a worried glance towards the outside.

Nick Rye gave her an embarrassed smile, noting her wariness at the limited opening of the door.

—  Hey. You let me in ?

Deputy hesitated before opening the door wide, resting her free hand on the gun. Once inside, Rye shook off the raindrops that had accumulated on his old leather jacket. He removed his cap, holding it in his hands.

—  Hell of a weather !

Dana silently nodded, unsure of what to do. The visitor stuck his head out toward the living room, seemingly looking for someone or something.

—  Is he here ?

He ran an embarrassed hand through his hair. Noticing the doubt of his interlocutor, he added.

—  I just wanna speak to him. Came as a friend.

The policewoman’s jaw slightly relaxed. Her fingers remained firmly clutched to her gun’s grip. She motioned for Rye to move in front of her and snuck up behind him, ready to hold him at gunpoint at the slightest suspicious movement.

When he saw Nick, John jumped to his feet, ignoring his wound. The two men stared at each other silently. The family man passed a stressed hand in his hair in disorder before addressing the Baptist with hesitation.

—  Hi.

Seed looked surprised. Nevertheless, he returned the courtesy.

—  Hi. What brings you here ?
—  I… I’m sorry.

John’s eyes widened. He remained silent. Nick continued.

—  I’m sorry for my inappropriate behavior the other day when you came to my house.

Dana let out a cry of astonishment that surprised all three of them. John kept his composure as he addressed Rye.

—  Good. Thank you for coming, and for your apology. I accept it. Please sit down. Would you like something to drink ?
—  No. To be honest, came here on a whim. Wasn’t planning on it. I don’t intend to stay. I just wanted to make that clear between us. We’re not buddies. We never will be. I’m mad at you for all the things you’ve done, and that’s never gonna change. You screwed up big time, and nothing you do will ever fix that. But we all need to move on. Can’t keep dwelling on the negative, we have to move on. So I’ll tolerate your presence among us, as long as you don’t bother people of Fall’s End, especially my family.

He discreetly glanced at Dana out of the corner of his eye.

— I want you to promise to take good care of her.

He continued, this time addressing her directly.

— You’re not perfect either, but I know you’ve done everything you could to help us. I appreciate the risk you took for my family and for the people of the county. It’s not your fault that he used his powers of persuasion on you, or… or that he’s a good shot. Whatever the reason, I don’t even wanna know. Anyway, it’s late, I won’t bother you any further.

John gave Dana a knowing look and she silently nodded. He held out his hand to Rye, who stared back at him. He seemed lost for a moment, then reached out to the Baptist to exchange a frank handshake signifying abandonment of grievances.

He slipped the worn and soggy cap back on his head and headed for the front door, Dana at his heels. John followed at a distance. Rye held out his hand to the policewoman, who immediately took it.

— Thanks for everything… Dana. Kim and I would be delighted if you would reconsider our offer to be Carmina’s godmother.

John couldn’t help but intervene.

— And I’d be her godfather ?

With an angry tone, Nick answered him without missing a beat.

— You gotta be kidding me ! Don’t push it too far !

Dana put a hand over her mouth to hold back a chuckle. From the look on John’s face, she knew right away that he was in a teasing mood and his remark was simply meant to lighten the mood. She grabbed Rye’s wrist and answered, before the situation could escalate.

—  He was joking, Nick. It’s his way of calming tensions.

Rye didn’t seem to find the joke to his liking. He opened the front door with a bang and hurried to his car, giving a general “bye” without even turning around.

Dana calmly closed the door and leaned against it. She stared at John, who was also gazing at her, arms crossed over his chest.

—  Well, what a turnaround ! If anyone had told me, I would never have believed it !

* * *

Eyes closed, Dana enjoyed John’s fingers sliding through her hair, dutifully parting each strand and subtly massaging her scalp. She had always enjoyed his caresses, but even more so the ones that were so naively gentle. The delicate smell of pine branches bursting under the heat of the hearth added even more comfort to this privileged moment.

The Baptist, comfortably reclining on the sofa, was juggling thoughtful stroking of his fiancée’s hair with careful study of legal grounds for returning Eden’s Gate properties from the Harvest whose contracts of sale had been lost to their owners.

The moment was interrupted by knocks on the door.

— Again ? What’s wrong with everyone tonight ?

Dana shrugged and slowly straightened up, stretching her arms as far as she could, as John went into the entryway to greet the unexpected visitor.

Killian entered the room smiling, vigorously rubbing his hands together.

— Hi ! Well, it’s warmer in here than out there !

Visibly annoyed, John retorted with a grating air.

— Please, make yourself at home ! Do you want the safe combination while we’re at it ?

Without missing a beat, Riley replied in the same tone.

— You do have a safe ? Interesting ! I hope what’s in there was legally acquired !

John hissed through his teeth as the FBI agent walked over to his ex-wife to greet her.

— Hi sweetheart, how are you ?

Shit. Dana winced as he placed a friendly kiss on her cheek. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the Baptist’s murderous stare. Still, she answered politely.

— I’m well, thank you. What brings you here ?
— I’ve come for Mary. Apparently, Seed passed an ordinance banning all sales of alcohol in the county. The great thing is that this order was passed legally, which I can’t explain.

He turned to address the Baptist, while removing his thick jacket and nonchalantly tossing it on the sofa. Damn, he’s going to make John mad !

— Anyway, I’d like you to give me back this paper, or burn it in front of witnesses.

Seed gave a mocking laugh before putting his arm around Dana’s shoulders, as if to signal to the intruder that she belonged to him.

— Can’t Fairgrave come herself ? Is she sending her minion to deal for her ?

Riley’s features and tone instantly hardened.

— She doesn’t want to see you. Which I can totally understand, considering the ambiguous relationship you’ve had, plus the crap you’ve put the entire Fall’s End community through.

This time it was Dana’s turn to glare at the Baptist as every muscle in her body twitched. John paid no attention to her annoyance.

— Let’s not waste any more time with idle chatter. I’ll get your paper. In the meantime, make yourself at home, but I don’t think I need to tell you that.

He took a step toward the bedroom but quickly gave up and returned to embrace Dana and place an indecent kiss on her mouth, inserting his tongue and surprising her to the point of making her flinch. He added to the FBI agent’s attention.

— Don’t you dare touch my wife again.

He finally walked away, leaving the ex-spouses alone in the middle of the living room. A certain uneasiness was palpable, each one avoiding meeting the glance of other and remaining silent.

Fortunately, the Baptist returned only after a few seconds, breaking the ambient tension. He promptly handed Killian a document consisting of several stapled pages.

— Here it is, your paper. Do what you want with it.

Riley snatched it out of his hands and read through its contents. He handed it back to John.

— Burn it. Dana will be a witness.

The Baptist shrugged with a sigh, crumpled up the order before tossing it into the hearth. The three of them silently watched as the paper twisted under the fiery bite of the flame, until the last of the confetti had dissolved. When it was over, Seed called out to Killian.

— Can I get you something to drink ?

Dana was pleasantly surprised by the offer. Even though she didn’t particularly want her ex-husband to stay any longer, she was pleasantly disappointed by the friendliness of her future husband. She grabbed his arm and pulled him close to her to show her contentment.

— No. I have things to do, reports to fill out and send in. Thanks for not complicating things.

He offered a hand to the Baptist who shook it frankly before accompanying the visitor to the door, collecting and giving him back his jacket in passing. He curtly closed the door.

— What a pain in the ass this guy is ! How could you marry him and live with him for years ?
— Shall we talk about your own ex ?

Her tone was colder than the temperature outside. John stiffened. Damn it.

Crossing her arms over her chest, Dana turned her back to him to gaze at the flames dancing in the hearth. Sensing the discomfort, Seed reached out and embraced her, resting her back against his chest and placing an innocent kiss on her shoulder.

— Are you jealous ? About Fairgrave ?

She didn’t answer but made a step forward to escape her lover’s embrace, who found himself stunned. He insisted, his voice trembling.

— Dana, please ! You don’t have to be jealous of her !

She sharply turned to face him and questioned him aggressively, her fists clenched.

— What ambiguous relationship did you have with her exactly ?
— None, sweetheart !

The lovers stared at each other with anger. The situation might seem laughable from the outside, but given their respective temperaments, the conflict was likely to escalate at any moment. Dana continued in an annoyed tone.

— Where did you fuck her ? In your bed ?
— No.
— On the kitchen counter ?
— No.
— On the sofa ?
— No ! Are you going to list every single room on the ranch ?
— Why not ? You’re so perverse, I’ll eventually get answers !
— Stop it, Dana, that’s enough.

He grabbed her shoulders, digging his fingers into the tender flesh around her collarbones. The policewoman continued, tears in her eyes.

— Where did you do it ? Tell me !
— Nowhere. I didn’t sleep with her. She only came into the living room once. And all we did was talk.
— Why ?
— What do you mean ?
— Why didn’t you fuck her ? Did she refuse ?
— Because I didn’t want to. I wasn’t attracted to her. She’s a loudmouth, but beyond that, her personality is pretty banal and bland.

Tears had welled up in the corner of Dana’s eyes and were slowly rolling down her rosy cheeks. John took a tentative step in her direction, gauging her mood. Seeing she wasn’t trying to escape him, he put his arms around her to pull her against him and hold her to his chest. She let him do so. In a soft voice, he tried to reassure her.

— You must believe me, Dana. I know I’ve lied in the past, but I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t want to hurt you anymore. There was never anything between Mary May Faigrave and me. Yes, I lustfully looked at her when we first came to Hope County, as I did with all young women. Yes, I was attracted to her and yes, I invited her to the ranch with the intention of going further. But I swear to you, it didn’t happen. I quickly changed my mind when I talked to her.

The policewoman passed in her turn her arms around her future husband to tighten him against her, fingers clutching the back of his shirt until it completely crumpled. John continued.

— You’re the only one who has slept in my bed. And the only one who has gone beyond talking in the living room.

She gave a nervous laugh. He gently stroked her scalp, nestling her head against him.

— You’ll always be the only one. You’re the only woman who ever mattered in my life.

Dana stepped back from his embrace. A shy smile and a mischievous look lit up her sodden eyes.

— Will you promise me ?

John placed a gentle kiss on the tip of her nose before whispering.

— I swear to you. The one and only. Forever.

Dana threw herself energetically into his arms, hugging him with all her might. The Baptist returned her embrace, breathless.

— You’re smothering me, though ! Please tighten it less !

She shyly chuckled and grabbed Seed’s hand to drag him towards the room.

— Hey, where are you going ?
— Where do you think ?

She turned to give him a knowing wink.

— Pillow talk ? I like that idea. But these two visits have really delayed my research. I must finish studying these files, I have to find the legal loophole quickly if I want to stop Joseph.
— John Seed turning down the favors of a red-hot sinner ? What have you done with my fiancé ?

The Baptist seemed really challenged. He gave a smile and a shrug. Dana continued.

— Okay, no problem. I can understand. You have to be serious about your work.

While articulating her sentence, she unbuttoned her shirt with slow movements, making sure that John did not miss a crumb. He unconsciously ran his tongue over his lips. Dana smiled. I have his full attention. The policewoman’s blouse nonchalantly slid to the floor as she now reached for the zipper of her jeans. She continued commenting.

— Too bad, I’m really wet. I think I’m going to have to take a cold shower to fight this fire that’s eating me up inside and that no one wants to blow out.

She could feel the sweat beading on Seed’s temples, who was now staring at her with his mouth agape. She slid her pants to the floor in a calculated and prudish gesture, taking each ankle in turn out of the blue canvas prison. She carefully stretched her arm to place her hand on her lover’s swollen crotch.

— Do you allow me to lean on you while I undress ?

Completely losing control, John violently rushed on her. He had not enough lips to kiss her and not enough hands to palpate her so desirable body. She immediately returned all his attentions.

— Watch out, you devil. I’ll take care of you as you deserve. I hope you had nothing planned these next days, because it’s going to be difficult for you to move after what I’m going to do to you.

She smiled between kisses.

— I can’t wait to find out.

* * *

The atmosphere was warm in the Henbane River cabin living room. Faith was jumping for joy and Jacob had smiled at the announcement.

Nevertheless, a touch of bitterness mixed with sadness haunted John’s mind. If only things had happened differently. Joseph would have been with them, celebrating the ceremony. But he had chosen to ignore his siblings since the accident.

Almost two months had passed since the tragic day, and since then, he had not taken or given any news. The Baptist was heartbroken that his brother, who had always been his role model and the only person he trusted, had completely forgotten him.

Worse, he had also abandoned Faith, who found herself totally helpless and without guidance. Fortunately, the rest of the siblings had come together and united to face the youngest’s worrying state of health.

John was undoubtedly staring at the fire dancing in the hearth, completely absorbed in his thoughts. Jacob’s friendly but honest hand on his shoulder snapped him out of his reverie.

— What are you thinking about ?

The Baptist gave him a sad look.

— I wish Joseph were here with us. I wish he could have celebrated my wedding and been proud of me. At least once.

— Don’t be sad, it’s better this way. He has consciously chosen not to be part of our lives. If he doesn’t care about us, then we don’t have to worry about him either. Besides, I’m sure he’s doing just fine. A good number of devotees still follow him and remain loyal to him. You should be proud of yourself, John. You’ve done everything in your power to make up for his mistakes, and I think most of Holland Valley understands that and has forgiven you.

Dana smiled back at Rachel, who kept asking her questions.

— Is it for sure this time ?
— Of course it is ! And it’s always been ! It’s just that damn accident that messed it up and pushed the date back.
— I’m so happy for you ! John deserves to be happy and to have someone who loves and cares for him. And you deserve that too.

She hugged the policewoman like a true sister.

— Where will the ceremony take place ?

Dana frowned.

— That’s a good question, one I don’t have an answer for. I have no idea how many people will be there.

Faith answered in a singing voice.

— Lots of people ! I’m sure everyone wants to attend your wedding. Besides, it’s a good opportunity to bring all the inhabitants together in a positive way and show them that we have changed.
— Maybe. Anyway, Virgil Minkler agreed to marry us. It was no small task to convince him.
— What if we held this at the greenhouse ?
— I’d rather not. I don’t want our wedding to be associated with Eden’s Gate. Besides, John wants it to be in Holland Valley.
— We’ll figure it out eventually. There’s an array of abandoned barns in the area.

The siblings stayed together until late in the evening, chatting happily around the fireplace. It was perhaps the first time that the Seed family had ever shared a normal family moment.

* * *

John put his arms around Dana as she was brushing her hair in front of the bathroom mirror.

— Ready ?
— Yes.
— This will be the first time we’re officially together. Aren’t you scared ?

She searched for his gaze in the mirror.

— What should I be afraid of ?
— Of how people will look at you. Of their judgment when they see you on my arm. I don’t want you to be ashamed.

She sharply turned to look into his eyes and put both hands on the Baptist’s face.

— John, I am not ashamed. I never have been, and I never will be ashamed of you. Why should I be ?
— Because of what I have done in the past…

She placed a stern index finger on her future husband’s lips.

— Shhh. Don’t talk nonsense. I’ve heard enough.

She hesitated a few moments before continuing. She was about to confess the thing she had never allowed herself to say until now. The secret was heavy and delicious at the same time. She recalled their entire history, from the beginning. Not once had she mentioned this feeling to John. Nor with anybody else. Not even to herself. She took a deep breath and let it out in one breath.

— I love you, John.

The Baptist remained unmoved. Despite his apparent stoicism, Dana had seen the astonishment in his eyes when she had confessed. She regretted her candor. The last thing she wanted was for him to feel uncomfortable and compelled to respond to this heavy statement. She put again her finger on his mouth to prevent him from speaking. With a soft voice, she specified.

— Do not say anything. You don’t have to answer. I don’t expect anything in return. I simply love you, freely, for what you are, as you are. You don’t owe me anything. If one day you feel the same way about me and you want to tell me, you can. But I beg you, don’t force anything.

John grabbed her wrist to take her hand away from his mouth and force Dana’s arm around him. He pressed his free palm against her shoulder blades to hold her close and kissed her wildly and full. When he needed too much air, he pulled his lips away and took a deep breath, immediately followed by an explanation.

— Shut up, you little fool. Are you purposely not realizing ? Don’t you see how much I need you every second ? Do you enjoy torturing me like this for months ? Do you like to see me dying of desire for you ? Since we’ve been dating, I can’t stop wondering what you’re doing to me. Why I’m so weak and strong at the same time when I’m around you. Why life suddenly seems so beautiful and easy. Why I feel alive. I’ll tell you, wrath.

He brought his face closer until their noses touched, looking into the policewoman’s eyes.

— Because I love you, Dana.

She smiled at him as tears of joy welled in the corners of her eyes.

* * *

Jerome was divided. All the way from his home, in the bitter cold of a March morning, he had been rehashing the latest events.

The fact that John Seed had made a public apology to the inhabitants of Fall’s End and declared not to be in solidarity with Eden’s Gate delighted him. Paradoxically, this distancing would certainly generate new friction with the part of the cult that remained faithful to Joseph. It was conceivable that the latter wished to rally his brother to his cause and put the necessary means there.

When he arrived at Fall’s End, he was surprised by the small crowd gathered in front of the chapel. The onlookers were staring at him with round eyes. What’s going on now ?

Pretending to ignore them, he climbed the few steps covered with morning frost and pushed open the door to his church. He was startled to see a figure standing at the back of the nave on the platform. As soon as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness of the room, he recognized him. John Seed. He stood still for a moment, trying to understand why he was there.

A noise from the confessional caught his attention. Deputy Riley came out of the confessional like a devil from a box, holding out an object to Seed.

— Here, I found this ! Not quite a hammer, but it should do the trick.

The Baptist grabbed the object she was handing him — a candlestick — and thanked her. Jeffries suddenly understood. Seed was replacing the wood veneer on the damaged wall during the “atonement ceremony.” That day, gunfire had been exchanged in Fall’s End church, destroying much of the furniture and the structure itself. He interrupted her as the man was about to hit a nail on the head with the candelabra.

— Thanks, but I’d rather have a proper tool !

John and Dana turned as one, surprised by his intervention. They hadn’t seemed to notice his presence until then.

The young woman rushed to him.

— Father, I’m sorry ! We didn’t hear you come in. The door was open, so…
— No need to explain, deputy. I get it.

He walked toward John, Dana in tow. He gently grabbed the Baptist’s wrist to put the candlestick down.

— We’ll deal with that later. For now, I think it’s more important that we talk about the future. Sit down, both of you.

John and Dana sat down on the front row bench, while Jerome grabbed a groceries crate to use as a makeshift seat. He stood facing them.

— Do people know about the ceremony I conducted in secret a few months ago ?

John glanced at Dana before answering.

— Not yet. But they will soon.

Dana gently grabbed his arm before stepping in.

— John, I think they’ve got it right. Did you see the look on their faces when we walked down the steps of that church hand in hand earlier ?

The pastor interrupted them.

— Very well. You must understand that while I have long since guessed the nature of the feelings between you and accepted this strange union, not everyone does. Many resent you, John, for all the bad things Eden’s Gate has done, and you, Dana, for your betrayal of them.

— I didn’t “betray” them !
— I know. But we don’t all have the same interpretation of the facts. And then, many fear that John’s reversal will draw the wrath of Joseph and his followers. We can expect retaliation on his part.

The Baptist swelled his chest before speaking up, a hint of sadness in his voice.

— You don’t need to worry about that. Joseph doesn’t care that I’m not with him anymore. In fact, he doesn’t seem to care that Faith and Jacob followed me either. There’s nothing to worry about, he won’t come to claim my presence or to take revenge for my mutiny.

Jerome seemed relieved.

— Good. If you say so, I guess you’re the best person to know your brother’s reactions. Still, I don’t think the others will buy into this idea so easily. It’s going to take some convincing.

— If I knew how to do it, I would. I’ve already tried to explain myself publicly, to pay back damage done by Eden’s Gate, and to fix what I could. I’ve done all I can, but not everyone seems ready to accept me among them, which I can understand. In any case, we wanted to let you know that we will soon officially unite. Of course, you are welcome to attend the ceremony, as are all the people of Fall’s End.

Dana clutched his arm and gently stroked his bicep through his shirt. The clergyman sighed.

— I’m going to put in a good word for you in my next few sermons. I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll do everything I can to help you.

Noticing the dejected look on the policewoman’s face, he turned the conversation away.

— Come with me, I want to show you something.

He stood up and held out his hand, inviting her to follow him. She glanced at John, who shrugged before getting up to follow them. Jeffries opened a door to a reasonably sized closet. The room was cluttered with various materials piled in disorderly piles and clothes hanging on dusty hangers. The man of faith continued.

— Here’s an interesting fact : a lot of couples cancel their weddings at the last minute.

At Dana’s dismayed look, he hurried on.

— The interesting thing in our case is that most women don’t want to keep the dress they had planned for this important event that didn’t happen. That’s why I have a small stock of outfits left by these ex-future wives. I’m sure there’s one that will look great on you.

Dana looked flabbergasted, remaining silent. Her fried whiting look amused Jerome, who continued.

— You can try on any of these that you like. In the meantime, John and I will have a little chat.

He left the deputy in the doorway, still shocked, to grab John by the shoulder and guide him to the confessional.

— Come on, boy. We have a lot to talk about.

* * *

Burke stood behind Whitehorse as he knocked on the hotel room door. It took the FBI agent only a few seconds to open it.

— Sheriff ? What are you doing here ?
— Hi, Officer Riley. Can we come in for a few seconds ?

Killian opened the door a little wider to see who we was referring to. His eyes widened as he spotted Cameron Burke.

— Come in, please.

He motioned for them to take a seat in the two chairs in the office corner, while he himself sat on the bed to face them.

— Marshal, I’m surprised to see you here.
— What’s the shock ? I’m just doing my job.
— Yes, you are. But last time we met, you weren’t exactly in your right mind.

Burke leaned forward, leaning on his knee with his elbow, as if to make himself look superior.

— Remind me who you are again ?
— Agent Killian Riley, FBI.
— Weird, I wasn’t briefed on any other federal presence but my own. Who exactly did send you ?
— That’s none of your concern. Just do your job properly.

Burke raised an eyebrow and aggressively snapped.

— What are you implying ?
— I’m not implying anything. I’m just saying you came here to fix Eden’s Gate problem, and since you’ve been here, things have only gotten worse.

Cameron rose to his feet in a rush, swinging the chair back. He grabbed Riley’s collar and brought his face to his until they were almost touching.

— Listen to me, you little prick. I’m doing the job I’ve been given. That is, to stop that psycho Joseph Seed, no matter what it takes.

Whitehorse tried to come between them to separate them. He managed to increase the distance between the two men, but the marshal did not loosen his grip. Earl tempered the tension.

— Stop it, marshal. All three of us want the same thing : to bring peace to the area and arrest culprits. Let’s try to help each other instead of tearing each other apart.

Burke glared at him before releasing Killian’s collar. The FBI agent calmly untucked his shirt top. Cameron resumed in a vindictive tone.

— Let’s cut to the chase : in addition to the weirdoes, your girlfriend is causing us a substantial problem by condoning their actions. I expect you to reason with her immediately and put her in her place.
— What exactly do you want me to do about it ? You, poor fellow, were completely stoned throughout the events, you don’t know anything about what’s going on here.
— I know the rookie went crazy and had a crush on little Johnny. No need to know more.
— What you don’t know is that other than Joseph Seed, other leading cult members have recanted and released their hostages.
— I know that too. And I don’t give a shit. I want their heads, all of them.

Killian gave the sheriff a look of incomprehension.

— Is this guy stupid or is he crazy ?

Burke lunged at Riley again to grab him, but the FBI agent violently pushed him back and held him against the wall, crushing his forearm to his throat.

— That’s enough now, marshal. You’ve done enough screwing around. The way you’re trying to solve problems won’t get us anywhere. Random violence never pays.
— Random ? What about all those disappeared people ? All those families who lost one or more members ? Think about it, instead of covering a booty call that has no future.
— It’s all thought out. Dana loves him. And since they planned to get married, everything has calmed down in the area. That’s all I can see, with my own eyes.

Burke burst out with a cynical laugh.

— She loves him ? They planned to get married ? That’s the best part ! Worst joke I’ve heard in a long time.

The marshal extricated himself from Riley’s grasp and purposefully strode to the front door, jostling Whitehorse as he went. Killian called out to him.

— Hey, where are you going ?

Burke turned and gave him a bitter smile.

— I’m going to take care of this problem myself, since I can’t count on the other law enforcement officials.
— How ?
— How we should have done a long time ago : put a bullet in all those lunatics’ heads, starting with that ruling Holland Valley scumbag.

Earl tried to hold him back as he came through the door, but Killian told him to let him out. Whitehorse looked at him sadly.

— I don’t understand. Why are you letting him do this ? He’s going to go after Seed, then her…
— Don’t worry, Sheriff. I’ll make sure he doesn’t get near any of them.
— How ?

Riley held up an index finger, telling him to wait, then reached for the radio on the dresser.

— Jacob, I have a problem. Burke is about to try to hurt Dana and your brother. He’s just coming out of my hotel room. If you could take him out of commission momentarily, you’d be doing us all a great favor.

A thunderous laugh echoed on the other end of the line. Whitehorse shuddered. The radio crackled, then the soldier answered in a calm tone.

— No problem, Riley. I’ve got a couple of bliss bullets just waiting to be used. My men will take care of him.

Killian smiled at Earl, who sighed with relief. At least Burke will be temporarily out of the picture. But we’ll have to find a solution soon. Riley seemed to guess what the sheriff was worried about.

— We’ll stop them, Earl. But not right away. Let’s give Dana a break. I know you love her as much as I do, and I thank you for your kindness to her. I promise we will find a solution that satisfies everyone. In the meantime, let’s not rush things. Let’s think about what to do next. Let’s let them get married and then we’ll think about it, it won’t change the problem.

Whitehorse gave a sincere smile to the young man, obviously satisfied with the proposal.

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