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  • Finding Sheila

    • The Morelville Mysteries – Book 11

Anne Hagan

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Jug Run Press, USA

Copyright © 2018

All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.

  • Chapter 1 - Taking a Prisoner

Thursday morning, November 19th

Tennessee Prison for Women

Nashville, Tennessee

Dana shuddered. It had been a long time since she’d been inside the gates of a prison and so deep in its bowels.

“Any weapons Deputy?” the CO in front of her asked, his voice deep and no nonsense.

“Of course. My service weapon.” She patted the pistol strapped to her side, a remnant from her days with Customs and Border Protection. “Do you need to see it? The guards at the gate already had me take it off once and let them look it over.”

He ignored her tone and eyed her up and down. “Anything else?”

“Like a back-up? No, not this trip.” She was already frustrated with their process. She wanted to pick up her charge and be on her way.

“Initial here and sign here,” the warden said as he pointed at the transfer form. He handed Dana the clipboard.

She skimmed down through the transfer instructions and then initialed and signed where he’d told her too. As she handed the clipboard back, she asked, “How much longer is it going to be?”

“We were expecting you. We’ve already moved her into pre-release holding and the transport squad was on standby at their station about ten minutes away. We called them when you were processing through, so they should be enroute. You can be on the road within a half hour.”

“Great. Can you point me to where this ambulance will arrive? I want to check things over before you bring her out.”

“No can do,” the Warden said. “Once she’s brought in here, you’re responsible for her. If you go out there, we can’t let you back in here without transporting you half way around the building and going through all of the entry procedures again.”

“Okay, fine,” Dana said. I don’t feel fine. Not comfortable with this at all

Fifteen minutes later, Sheila Ford was wheeled into the release area in a prison wheelchair.

The warden pointed at the chair, “That stays here,” he informed both of them, before Dana could even address the woman sitting in it.

“Can you wheel me out in it, at least?” Sheila pleaded, looking between the man who’d been her jailer for nearly a year and Dana. “I’m too weak to walk more than a few steps at a time.”

“Can the ambulance crew bring a gurney in here?” Dana asked.

“No, that would require all of the same processing you had to go through, but,” he conceded, “I’ll let you take the chair outside as long as you agree to leave it.” He waved a hand toward the monitors a corrections officer was keeping an eye on. “We’ll be watching. I’ll have the maintenance staff retrieve it as soon as we ascertain that you’ve passed through the gates.”

All this fuss over a cheap wheelchair, Dana thought. You’d think the damn thing was made of gold.

She introduced herself to Sheila Ford. “I’m Dana Rossi, Ms. Ford. You may remember me.”

With the question of the wheelchair settled, Ford took the time to look her up and down, like everyone else she’d encountered since entering the prison walls had. “I remember you all right, but I thought your name was ‘Crane’ now?”

Her body may be breaking down but there’s nothing wrong with her mind or her mouth. “It’s Rossi-Crane. Professionally, I use Rossi.”

“I see. And what profession are you in, these days? Still snooping around in other people’s business?”

Dana bristled at that, but before she could frame a response, the warden interrupted. “Ladies, I hate to break this up but, I have other matters to attend to. How about you get going and continue your discussion on the way to Ohio?”

“Sure,” Dana replied. She really wanted to smack the arrogance right out of the man.

“We’ll express her files up there today so you don’t have to take those with you,” he went on, oblivious to her irritation.

She gave him a nod then, to Sheila, she asked, “Ready?” Without waiting for an answer, Dana scooted around behind the wheelchair to push her out of the release area.

They were buzzed through two sets of steel doors. After the second, they entered a small courtyard. An ambulance moved toward them, through a series of sally port gates in the perimeter fencing.

Perfect timing. Dana smiled to herself.

As the last gate slid back and the vehicle came closer, she stopped smiling and became concerned. She could see a driver but no one else. There better be an EMT or a paramedic in the back!

Both women watched as the driver got out and approached them. No one else did. He looks barely legal, Dana thought.

“Officer Rossi? Mrs. Ford?” the young man read their names off a form and then nodded toward them. “I’m Caleb Lighty. I’ll be your driver today.” He glanced over Sheila in her orange prison jumpsuit and then looked quickly away from her.

“And who else is with you Caleb?” Dana asked. “Tell them to show themselves.”

He shook his head and toed the dirt a little. “No one ma’am. We are, uh…shorthanded, I guess you could say, today. Theo, the paramedic that was supposed to go with us, called in sick, then there was a big pileup out on I-24. Our units were the closest so everyone available responded to that.”

What the hell? “You’re not even a paramedic?”

“EMT ma’am. I’m working on getting my fire card and I’m going to school for my paramedic too, so I can get on full-time with Nashville.”

Fat lot of good it does us right now. “Look, Caleb, this isn’t going to work. Ms. Ford needs attended to all along the way. I’m just the escort. I have no medical training other than basic first aid. Your company needs to get a trained paramedic, an RN…someone licensed, over here pronto.”

His eyes grew wide. “Here?”

“No, down the street a half mile! Of course, here!”

“I’m sorry ma’am but it’s…it’s a bit of work to get through all the security and such here. I don’t think they’re going to let anyone else through there.” He jerked a finger over his shoulder toward the gates he’d passed through. “Not without a whole lotta’ paperwork.”

“It’ll be fine,” Sheila interrupted. “You two can just help me up in there and then strap me to a gurney. I’ll probably sleep the whole way, anyway.”

Ignoring the suggestion for the moment, Dana turned back toward the building and looked up along the walls until she spotted a camera. With both arms raised over her head, she waved at it and called out, “We need some assistance out here.” After a couple of long minutes of silence, she tried again and then waited a few more minutes. There was still no response. She thought about taking out her cell phone and calling Mel but then she remembered they’d made her turn her phone off and they’d said calls would be jammed from inside the prison compound.

“It’s chilly out here,” Sheila complained, despite the sixty-five-degree temperature. It hadn’t been much warmer in the building. “Can we at least get in the ambulance?”

Dana gave in and began to wheel Sheila toward the back of the vehicle. Caleb rushed ahead of them to unlock and open the doors.

“Once we’re through these gates,” Dana told him, “I want you on your radio to your dispatcher. Tell them we’re coming in to pick up a paramedic. This,” she waggled a finger between the two of them, “isn’t going to work.”

  • Chapter 2 - All Fouled Up

“What do I do, Mel? They’re insisting they’ve got no one else available today that can go on a long trip,” Dana whispered into her cell from just outside the ambulance. “And, because she’s a prisoner, they won’t even let me bring her inside.”

“That’s B.S.”

“Tell me about it!”

“And that warden just let her go?”

“Well, that’s the thing. He didn’t exactly know the way they had it set up, or,” Dana started thinking out loud, “maybe he did know, and he wanted to be done with her so bad, he set me up.”

Mel sighed and rubbed at her temples. “It sounds like she’s our problem now. Man, it’s going to be a hell of a day.”

“What else is going on?”

“They’re arraigning Dale Walters this afternoon, but we just got an avalanche of phone records in that may…well, you know.”

“Prove something different?” Dana asked and then answered her own question. “Yeah, I get that.”

“Do you want me to try and make some calls? Maybe the Tennessee Department of Corrections will step up.”

Dana tried to stifle a scoffing sound and ended up coughing into her phone. “I don’t know what to do. This Caleb guy says he’s authorized to drive, stay overnight in Ohio and then drive back down here tomorrow but he isn’t even a paramedic; he’s just an EMT. What if something happens to her on the way up there, Mel? What did they tell you was really wrong with her? I mean, I was under the impression it wasn’t just a mobility issue.”

“I admit, I didn’t ask for details. I’m sorry.”

Dana couldn’t be mad. She knew Mel had a lot on her plate.

Mel continued, “It’s your call. I can call Tennessee and ask them where they want you to drop her off or you can go ahead and bring her up here with just the driver. If you do that, just make sure you take the Interstates, so you can get to hospitals quickly and so State Patrol in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio can get to you as fast as possible.”

“Yeah. You’re right. We’re not going to get anywhere with the Tennessee folks. That chance passed us by when we rolled through the last sally port.”

“Well, now that that’s settled, I hate to cut you short, but I want to help my folks go through this stuff and then get over to the courthouse. I’ll stay here tonight until you get here with her, so I can see her settled in. Please be careful.”

“I will.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too Mel.” With that, she hung up, walked around to the driver’s side door and said to Caleb, “Let’s get a move on. We’re wasting daylight.” It was something her father-in-law Jesse said all the time. She smiled to herself and climbed in the back.

At least I can sit in the chair the paramedic would have used

  • Chapter 3 - Break Time

Dana felt the squad slowing. She looked through the window between the back and the cab, at Caleb. He was headed down a ramp, off the interstate. She figured they were in Kentucky, but she didn’t know where.

She glanced at her watch. 1:55. They’d been on the road for nearly three hours. Caleb probably needs a break.

She looked over at Sheila as she stretched her own legs out in front of her. The older woman was still asleep. She had been for at least an hour. Once they were on their way, she hadn’t needed any assistance or made any demands. She’d said, before she drifted off, “First decent bed I’ve had in eight months.” Her lack of medical need was a relief to Dana.

When the vehicle lurched to a stop, she peeked up front again. They were at the bottom of a ramp.

Caleb’s voice came over the intercom. “I need a quick break…use the facilities.”

She pressed the button and replied. “No problem. Me too.”

“The Pilot Center up here will have handicapped access. Do you think she’ll need to…ah, to go?”

“Just a minute.”

Dana let go of the button and called softly to Sheila. “Rest stop, Ms. Ford.” There was no response. She touched her shoulder lightly and called to her again, “Ms. Ford? We’re stopping at a rest stop.”

Sheila stirred and muttered she was fine then seemed to settle right back into slumber.

As Caleb turned off the ramp and then into the travel center lot, Dana thought about what to do. She was glad Ford didn’t need to exit the vehicle, but she wasn’t sure if she should leave her either. She felt for her cuffs at the small of her back.

“Hate to do this, but nature calls,” she said in a low tone, close to the other woman’s ear. She picked up Sheila’s left wrist and snapped a cuff around it then snapped the other around the frame of the gurney. Sheila tugged lightly at the restraint once and then stopped. She didn’t bother to open her eyes.

“Where are we?” Dana asked Caleb.

He ran a hand through his high and tight haircut. “Just off of I-65; the Sonora Exit is what the sign said. We’re just south of Elizabethtown, according to the map on the GPS.”

Dana wrinkled her nose. “We lost a lot of time working out around the back-up from that pile-up in Nashville.” Mel’s not going to be happy.

“I…I was hoping to get north of Louisville before…well, before I needed to stop. That’s about half way. Sorry. Couldn’t…ah, wait.”

Dana realized what he meant. “Go…go. I’m sorry. I’ll wait back here with her and go myself when you get back.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. Go.”

Caleb tipped his head in her direction then locked the back of the ambulance. “We can both go. She can’t get out of there.” He turned and went on his way.

Dana debated what to do, but now that she was up and moving around, she realized she really did need to use the facilities herself. She tested the door. Locked. Nodding to herself she set off to find the ladies room.

Dana regained consciousness on the floor, in a handicapped stall. Her head throbbed. A goose egg had already formed at the back, above the nape of her neck.

She felt for her pistol. It was still in the holster.

She tried to stand but couldn’t. The floor was wet, and she was still weak from her fall. Shuddering at the thought, she put her hands down on the toilet seat and levered herself off the floor. She reached out for the handrail on the other side of the commode and hung onto it until the dizziness passed.

She took a couple of deep breaths and instantly regretted it. The smells of industrial strength sanitizer mixed with the expected scents of a public bathroom overwhelmed her in her barely functioning state. A wave of nausea washed over her.

After pulling the collar of her shirt up over her nose, she took a few more shallow breaths. Feeling a bit steadier, she lowered the shirt again, drew her pistol and exited the stall, being careful to look around before stepping out into the open.

The restroom appeared vacant. She checked the other stalls to be sure and then went as quickly as she could manage, to the door.

When she stepped out into the hallway, she found Caleb standing there, waiting for her.

“Where’s Ms. Ford?”

“What do you mean? She’s in the back of the ambulance.”

“No.” He shook his head. “She’s not. I thought maybe she had to go after all and you…”

Dana’s head spun. She brushed past him and staggered toward the lot and the vehicle.

“Are you all right? What about Ms. Ford?” He called after her. “She’s really not in the restroom?”

Dana reached the back of the ambulance and pulled the door handle. The door opened. She shuddered as she looked inside. The gurney was empty. One cuff was still attached to the side rail. The other, previously around Sheila’s left wrist, hung empty.

Whirling, almost losing her balance in her still addled state, she called to Caleb who was still several yards away, “Who unlocked this?”

He stopped and spread his hands and called back, “I thought you did.”

“I don’t have a key. You locked it once I was out!” She moved away from the ambulance toward him, leaving the door hanging open.

The driver stopped walking and leaned back away from her as she drew closer to him, fuming. “We have to find her! We have to find her now!”

Other people were stopping and staring.

Caleb’s face was ashen. His lip trembled as he asked, “She escaped?”

Dana stepped away from him and scanned the lot and all that she could see beyond it. “Go back in the building and find the Pilot manager. Get him or her to call 911 and then get him out here now!”

“What…what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to get on your radio up there and get the highway patrol out here, the State Police…whatever Kentucky has. Hell, the FBI. Everybody.” She waved an arm around. “We have to block off this lot. We can’t let any of these people leave. Someone here had to see something!”

The words were no sooner out than Dana realized the near impossibility of that task. A car pulled into the empty slot to the right of the ambulance and two people climbed into the one parked on the other side at the same time. She jumped out toward the passenger side of the car when she heard it start and called to the woman sitting on that side and the man in the driver’s seat, begging them not to leave.

“Please,” she began, when the woman cracked open her window, “did you see a woman dressed in orange scrubs around here? She would have gotten out of this ambulance.”

The woman shook her head no, as the male driver leaned across her and said, “She didn’t see nothin’ and she ain’t getting involved.” Dana peered into their tiny car. Two small overnight bags and a coat were all that were there.

The driver sat upright and gunned the engine. “She’s a prisoner,” Dana yelled, over the noise. “If you saw something and don’t report it, you could be charged for obstructing justice or…” She had to jump back as he put the car in gear and pulled away.

The first trooper with the Kentucky State Police was on the scene within minutes of her radioed distress call. He immediately called in reinforcements, then had a local Sheriff’s deputy block the main exit so no one could leave.

More State Troopers responded from several miles around and began a canvass of the area around the rest stop.

Dana continued trying to question people. Most, she found, had arrived at the rest stop after they did, and no one claimed to have seen anything. Exasperated, she walked toward the last 18-wheeler in a long row, one she hadn’t yet seen a Trooper approach.

A man opened the cab door on the driver’s side and climbed down. “Saw you coming. What’s going on? Why is everyone being held here?”

Dana pointed toward the ambulance more than a hundred yards away. “We were transporting a prisoner from Tennessee to Ohio, a woman in her fifties in an orange prison jumpsuit. She’s gone missing from the back of the ambulance. Have you seen anyone come out of it besides me and the driver?”

The truck driver stared off at the squad for several seconds and slowly shook his head. “Driver a woman?”

“No, male.”

“I saw a woman over that way in dark pants, light shirt with a jacket on that was navy blue…pretty dark blue.” He flung a hand in the general direction of the squad. “Thought she came out of the Pilot building though.”

Dana rubbed the tender spot at the back of her head. She had a sketchy memory of someone she passed as she went into the Pilot Center that was dressed like that. The woman had smiled at Dana but didn’t speak. “What did she look like?”

“A little overweight, I’d guess you’d say. Short hair, from what I could tell at this distance. Not very tall. Couldn’t tell you her age, though.”

Dana controlled another shudder. “Did you see where she went?”

“Up the row here, toward another semi. Dark blue cab, silver trailer.”

“She got in?”

He nodded. “On the passenger side, I’m pretty sure.”

“Any markings at all on it?”

“Sorry. Not that I noticed and, before you ask, I didn’t catch any kind of a plate number on it either.”

She glanced out toward the freeway. She could see the northbound ramp but not the southbound one. She pointed toward the ramp that was in view. “Did you see if they went north?”

“Nope. Didn’t watch them that long.”

Dana glanced around. Troopers were starting to mill about, out of places to search. She worried what he’d told her was a dead end, but since it was her only lead, she hustled back to the squad.

Caleb stood by the driver’s side door, using a cell phone to talk to his dispatcher. She reached around him and yanked the door open then commanded him to give her the keys.

He lowered the phone and pulled the keys out of his pocket as he asked, “What for?”

“I’m going after Sheila!”

“You can’t drive this ma’am.”

“Watch me!” She snatched the keys away. “If you’re coming along, you better get in.”

Moments later, as the squad rumbled to life and he was only half way in on the passenger side, she told him, “Give me lights and sirens so I can get past the local yokel blocking the exit up there.”

“Won’t he know that we’re the ones that lost the lady and…”

“Just do it!”

Caleb did as he was told. His phone was still in his hand. He realized he’d never hung up with his dispatcher and raised it to his ear. ‘What’s going on? Are you rolling? Who’s that talking to you?’ she was asking. Scared, he disconnected the call and dropped the phone into the center console.

Dana squeezed the ambulance through the space behind the patrol car blocking most of the exit from the travel center. She was a couple of feet into the grass and prayed that the ground was firm.

She took a wild stab and turned down the northbound on ramp. On the highway, she laid on the gas. The sound in the cab with the siren screaming overhead was deafening. “You can turn that thing off now!”

When it was quiet, she told him, “Radio your dispatcher if you feel like you need to, and tell her whatever you want to tell her.”

He reached toward it but then drew his hand back again. “I don’t know what to say to her that won’t get me in any more trouble than I already am.”

Dana sped around a car that wasn’t paying attention to her lights.

Caleb grabbed one of the ‘Oh Shit’ handles. “Slow down. You’re breaking the law, driving this thing over the speed limit!”

She shot him a look. “Seriously? We’re in pursuit of an escaped felon.”

He gave in. “Maybe we need to turn the siren back on then, so people just get out of the way.”

  • Chapter 4 - Gone

“I’m ordering you to stop your pursuit and stand down,” a lieutenant with the Kentucky State Police called out over the radio. “We have officers northbound and southbound looking for the truck Thomas Harrington gave a description of.”

Harrington? Must be the truck driver. It took them another fifteen minutes to get to him? “She’s my prisoner Lieutenant. What would you do, in my situation?”

“I’d do as I’m told Deputy, so stand down. Go back to the Pilot Center and let us handle the manhunt. I have a forensics team on the way there to go over that vehicle you’re in with a fine-tooth comb. Do I have to remind you that it’s a crime scene?”

“Something just doesn’t add up, Caleb. Help me out here.” Dana said to the EMT as she got off at an exit, went across the bridge, and waited to make the turn for the ramp to the southbound lanes.

“What do you mean?”

“You seem nervous.”

“You…you…we lost Ms. Ford, and now you’re driving when you’re not supposed to be and…”

Dana waved him off. “That’s not what I mean. Let’s talk about the chain of events.”

He wrinkled his nose and gave her an odd look.

“You locked the back door, right? And then you went to the restroom, right?”

“Yes…yes ma’am.”

“What happened after that?”

“You know what happened. I was waiting for you in the hallway and you said…”

She shook her head. “No, before that?”

“I…I went back to the squad, but you weren’t back there yet.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I…I waited for you.”


“I was in the front seat, at first.”

“And then where?”

“You…you were gone so long, I got out and checked the back.”

“Did you unlock it?”

“No…I…I tried to look in, but you can’t see in that window too well when the lights aren’t on back there. I rapped on the glass, thinking maybe you were back in there.”

But you locked it… She decided not to pursue that line of attack just then. “And then what did you do?”

“I uh, I tried the door. It was unlocked. It was. And, when I looked in there, you and Ms. Ford were both gone.”

“Can the door be unlocked from inside Caleb?”

“By Ms. Ford?”

“Yes, by Sheila Ford, or by anyone else back there!”

“No…you have to have a key from inside and outside. It’s for safety.” He braced his hands against the dashboard. “You’re going too fast in this thing again. Please slow down. You’re going to get me in so much trouble.”

“I hate to break it to you pal, but you’re already in a world of trouble here.”

“I didn’t do anything! I swear to you!”

“A convicted felon got up out of a locked ambulance and walked away. You had the only key.”

“I…I didn’t open it; I swear!” He glanced at her and then looked quickly away. “I thought you came back and she had to use the restroom or something and you took her, that’s all. I waited around, like ten minutes. When you didn’t come back, I got worried.”

But I had no key. “And you came looking for me?”

“Both of you.”

But you insist that Ford pulled a Houdini

Dana spotted the Petro Center at the next exit, slowed and got off the freeway. The Sheriff’s deputy that had been blocking the main entry and exit was gone. A couple of State Police cruisers remained, parked in front of the station but she could see none in the larger lot that extended out behind it for trucks, the lot where they had parked. In a half hour, everything completely changed.

She pulled up next to one of the cruisers and handed the keys to the squad to the first trooper to approach her.

“What are you doing?” Caleb demanded. “Those are mine.”

She pointed at the trooper. “You heard his lieutenant. The vehicle is a crime scene.”

Caleb’s eyes grew wide. “They’re going to take it?”

Trooper Michalchuk nodded. “Tow truck’s on the way.” He turned to Dana, “You shouldn’t have taken off with it.”

“I know…I know. Heat of the moment.” She changed the subject. “Find any other witnesses here?”

“No. We’ve got some blockades out, a chopper is up and we’ve got the locals turning Sonora upside down. It’s mostly farm fields around here. If she’s on foot, we’ll find her.”

“Are we going back to your post, with you?” Dana asked him.

The trooper nodded. “We’ll need your statements.”

“Statement?” Caleb asked in a tone that bordered on panic to Dana’s ear.

The trooper caught it too and gave him the eye, but he didn’t respond to his question.

Dana thought about Mel, waiting back at the station in Ohio for the first time. “I’m going to have to call my…my Sheriff.”

Michalchuk spotted the tow truck coming off the freeway ramp. “Go ahead but make it quick.”

  • Chapter 5 - Mel

Muskingum County Sheriff’s Department

Zanesville, Ohio

Holly poked her head around the door frame. “I’m heading out Sheriff, unless you really need me to stay?”

“No. You go on home. I’ve got it.”

Her assistant gave her a thumbs up. “I set line one to roll to you, just in case Dana calls. Everything else will go to the duty officer.”

Andrea Anderson, the Deputy DA, raised an eyebrow but waited until Holly disappeared to say anything. When she was sure the Sergeant was gone, she turned to Mel, “I thought you told me you had to be around for a prisoner transfer?”

“I did. I do.” She didn’t want to say anything else, but Andrea didn’t budge. “It’s…it’s a long story.”

“I have all night.”

“It doesn’t really concern the DA’s office…” Her line buzzed. Saved by the bell!

She punched the button for line one. “Sheriff Crane.”

“Mel, it’s Dana. We have a problem.”

“Now what? Flat tire?”

“I wish! No Mel, Sheila’s gone.”

“What do you mean, gone?” Mel tried to whisper into the phone. She shot a look at Andrea who stood stock still, taking in every word.

“Not here. Gone. Disappeared! We stopped at a rest stop near Elizabethtown Kentucky about an hour or so ago, so we could use the restroom and the driver, Caleb, could stretch his legs. We left Sheila locked in the back, and I know what you’re going to say…I shouldn’t have left her. I know.”

Mel was silent, just trying to wrap her head around what she was hearing.

“Mel? Are you still there?”

“I’m here. Go on…how could that happen? How’d she get out?”

“Someone knocked me out in the restroom, Mel. When I came too and came out of there, Caleb was waiting for me.”

“Let me guess? He got cold-cocked or something too, and when the two of you got back, she was gone?”

“No, no. It’s a little more complicated than that. He thought I came back for her…long story.”

“Dana, first of all, are you okay?”

“Fine…fine…a little goose egg on the head but I’m fine.” Anyway, we don’t see a trace of her anywhere around here.”

“Call the Kentucky State Police. I’ll start alerting the Ohio Highway Patrol.”

“Both are already done…as soon as we realized she was gone. The Tennessee Patrol was alerted too. Everybody I could think of. They’ve got all the troopers from the local post out, searching, a chopper up…everything they could think of. Oh Mel, I’m so sorry!”

“If you got knocked in the head, she had help Dana. This was planned. She’s not on foot somewhere. She’s long gone. Were you followed?”

“Not that I could tell.”

“Where’s your driver?”

“Outside with the troopers. They’re towing the squad as evidence and they’re going to run us both to their post for statements.”

“The hell with that. Have him…this Caleb guy, have him arrested. This all smacks of a set up to me. Get the FBI on the line as soon as you get to that post. It’s their jurisdiction now. They can deal with…with…”

“Caleb Lighty,” Dana supplied.

“Whoever! He’s the key to this on that end. Him and probably that damn daughter of Sheila’s, Jennifer Coventry. Once you’re sitting down with the FBI, you’re probably going to have to patch me in, so I can fill them in from my end.”

  • Chapter 6 - Arrested

“You’re under arrest.” The trooper took Dana’s arm and turned her to cuff her.

“Me? What the hell?”

“You have the right to remain silent…”

“Listen to me!” She jerked in his hold, trying to twist around to face him.

He bent her arm back further and tightened his grip, holding her in place.

“Ouch! That hurts! Easy pal! We’re on the same team here.” He ignored her and finished reciting her Miranda rights then turned her to face him.

“Are you done?” When he nodded, Dana went on, “Good. You’ve got this all fouled up but we’ll get it sorted. These,” she half twisted sideways and wiggled her cuffed hands, “are completely unnecessary.” She glanced around then, realizing something was amiss.

“Where’s Caleb? Caleb Lighty, the EMT that was the driver?”

“He’s already been taken to the post ma’am.”

“In cuffs?”

“There’s an escaped con on the loose. You two were the last ones to have contact. What do you think?” The trooper clammed up after that, no doubt thinking he’d already said too much.

“Look, do what you think you have to do, but get with your powers that be and get an APB out for an escaped convict and clue the FBI in ASAP. The longer we wait, the worse it’s going to be for all of us.”

His look was smug. “Not for me.”

Dana scoffed at him. “Why not you? What if she’s been kidnapped in some grand plan or conspiracy and she’s out there, left for dead somewhere over some prison transgression or something while you’re messing around me instead of trying to trail her?”

Dana stewed, steaming mad, in an interview room at the Elizabethtown Post. She hadn’t caught so much as a glimpse of Caleb. If he was here, they were keeping them separated.

She flashed back to the last time she’d been in an interrogation room; the day she met Mel.

After cooling my heels but not my temper for half an hour, Sheriff ‘Walks On Water’ herself appeared. She was now in full uniform and she was all business.

She sat down carefully opposite of me and then sized me up. I looked her square in the eye. I wasn’t about to give an inch.

So why are you hanging out in Morelville Ms. Rossi?”

I told you. I work special investigations for Customs.”

And the designer knockoff stuff in your trunk is…”

Part of a case.”

I watched her closely too. The smile was long gone. She now looked stressed beyond anything that I might be doing in her jurisdiction. Still, I wasn’t inclined to help her, and she’d just have to deal with that.

How long have you been coming around?”

Today was my first and last day in the village.”

She wasn’t amused. “Not staying around for the Mushroom Festival then?” She got up and leaned against the wall near me.

I didn’t favor her with a response to her sarcasm. I slumped back in my chair, tilted my chin in what I hoped was a way that signified my boredom with her questions and said again, “You need to let me make a phone call.”

I never saw her move. She went from ‘good cop’ to ‘bad cop’ in the blink of an eye as she uncoiled and hauled me by the shirt collar out of my chair. She quickly pinned me face first to the wall she'd been leaning against only a split second before. She had me by nearly eight inches of height and a solid 50 pounds at least, as she leaned into me. I was no match for her and she knew it.

“We don’t play in Hardin County,” Michalchuk was saying later. “The feds don’t either. This post area includes Fort Knox and the Gold Repository, both federal installations, yes, but we certainly assist in keeping an eye on things. If there’s an escaped con on the loose…”

“Or kidnapped,” Dana put in.

“Fine. Or kidnapped, we’ll find her.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Not sitting here with me, you won’t. I hope to God that someone more competent than you is questioning that EMT…if he even is an EMT. In fact, I hope you’ve just put him on ice until the FBI gets here, because you guys obviously are in way over your heads.”

I yelped my surprise at Mel’s sudden roughness but, then, my body betrayed me. My pulse quickened, my nipples hardened, and my crotch grew moist. I felt the heat of my desire burning my neck and cheeks. She took my embarrassment at my physical reaction to her as rage and she leaned in harder.

Whoa! Ease up. We're on the same team here!” I tried to sound like her equal and not the sex starved lunatic I was currently channeling.

She spun me around to face her. We were so close; I could feel her warm breath on my face as she looked down at me. I was breathing hard, but she was the picture of calm resolve.

Are you going to cooperate now?”

“I’ve spoken with your Sheriff, briefly,” the Agent across the table from of Dana was saying. “If you cooperate, we’ll get you on your way pretty quickly.”

“Sure…sure, Agent?”

“Bennett. Jacob Bennett. I’m the Agent in Charge of the Louisville Office.”

“Okay Bennett. I get that you want to talk to everybody involved, but you need to start with that EMT, Caleb Lighty. How many times do I have to say it?”

He raised a hand to stop her tirade. “I’ve got two of my best people working him over right now. Give them a half hour with him, they’ll know everything he knows. I want to know everything you know.”

Bennett’s manner was almost cordial, but Dana knew she wasn’t out of hot water by miles. While he took notes, she lurched through her version of the events of the day starting with only being on the road with Lighty to drive in the first place.

“So, who picked the rest stop location?” he asked, when she got to that point.


“What protocol did you follow for watching the prisoner while you were stopped?”

“That’s where I screwed up…but honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered. If he’s in on it, as soon as I left the squad…You know what I mean.” It wasn’t a question. “Anyway, Ford was handcuffed to the gurney when I got out. I had the key to the cuffs and I took it with me. The trooper that arrested me took it and my gun from me. Whoever knocked me out, didn’t need my key to free her and they had no interest in taking my service weapon. They knew what they were doing, and they did it quickly.”

“And the ambulance? Who locked it?”

“Caleb did, and I watched him do it.”

“He had the only keys?”

“That’s what he claimed to me. I certainly wasn’t given any keys.”

“Did you test the lock?”

She hung her head briefly then looked back up at him. “No. I blew that too, okay? I’ve been in investigations for a long time. I think like a detective, not a street cop.”

“When did you find it unlocked?”

“Me or when did Caleb say he did?”


“Caleb told me in the hallway outside the restrooms that Sheila was gone. I got back to the squad first and opened the door. It wasn’t locked then.”

“You’re positive he locked it?”

“Not a doubt in my mind. I saw him put the key in and turn it.”

“A team is going over the vehicle now. I need a list from you of what Ford had with her. Did you get an inventory from corrections?”

Dana knitted her brows but didn’t speak.


“Sorry. That’s just it. Now that I think about it, she had nothing at all but what she was wearing.”

“No personal items? A toothbrush, comb?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. Nothing was turned over to me.”

He made a note on his pad.

She was extradited in civilian clothes. Those should have followed her around too.

“Did she have any visitors today? Someone the Tennessee Department of Corrections might have passed her things along to?”

“No. At least, not that I’m aware of. Look, it was a transfer, not a release.”

“Right,” he said. “Her stuff should have followed her.”

Dana shrugged it off. “We’re probably making too much out of it. Maybe her daughter took what few things she had figuring she was going to be incarcerated for a while. Maybe it was just the clothes on her back and she didn’t care to get them back.”

Dana looked up, hopeful when Bennett re-entered the room.

“The Kentucky state police found your truck. Shook it down when it went through a weigh station in Rowan County.”

“Rowan? Where’s that?”

“East. It was headed East on I-64. Has Virginia plates.”

“Pretty far from here?”

“Couple of hours.”

“So, let me guess; no Sheila Ford?”

“The woman in the passenger seat fit the description the trooper got from Thomas Harrington. It isn’t Ford. The semi is operated by a husband and wife driving team, Randall and Lynnette Willard, of Roanoke, Virginia. They’re being questioned but it looks like a dead end. They’ve got proper ID. Cab’s clean and the trailer is empty.”

Ford is from Virginia. “What were they doing out there?”

“Look Deputy, they’re independent truckers. They own their truck outright. That checks out. It has valid Virginia plates on it that also check out. We went through their logs. They were on a regular, twice a week run with goods for convenience stores that takes them west across Virginia, West Virginia and southwest through most of Kentucky. They were on their return leg home to Roanoke. Like I said, the trailer was empty save for a couple of pallets.” He held out his phone and showed her a picture of the woman’s driver’s license. She bore a similar facial structure to Sheila and had nearly the same hair color, probably dye.

“What else do you have? Something? Anything?”

“There’s a manhunt going on in three states. We’ll find her.”

Yeah, but which three?

  • Chapter 7 - It’s All On Dana

Friday, November 20th

“They released Lighty, Mel”

“To who?”

Dana ran a hand through her hair, tugging through some tangles. “His own recognizance, I guess. Someone from his company did show up here, though.”

“In Kentucky?”

“Yes. I’m at the FBI Field Office now in Louisville. They brought him and the squad here too. Told me they were going to hold him as long as they could. They seem to think now that the guy really doesn’t know anything.”

Mel shook her head on the other end of the line in disbelief. “She had nothing with her Dana, right? Not one thing?”


“Then she didn’t get out of your cuffs and out of that squad by herself. Someone helped her. He’s the most obvious suspect!”

“I agree but they seem to think differently.” She sighed. “He’s pretty new at his company but not so new as to be suspicious and he’s fairly young. Hardly a hardened criminal. He’s riding back to Nashville with the guy the company sent to reclaim the squad.”

“Are they at least watching him? Tailing him?”

“They haven’t shared that information with me.”

Mel bristled and threw up a hand on her end of the line, but she couldn’t take her frustration out on Dana. “This whole thing smacks of a grand conspiracy from the word go. Hell, Coventry is probably in on it, the jail. Every damn body!”

“What if it’s not an escape Mel? What if she was kidnapped?”

“What are you talking about?”

“These guys really believe Caleb had nothing to do with this. That doesn’t leave us with much for an escape, but what if she was kidnapped?”

Mel gave that some thought. After a long pause, she asked, what does Bennett have to say about that?”

“I don’t know,” Dana admitted. “He’s pretty tight lipped about their process. He’s only told me there’s been no sight of her and nothing at all suspicious. She either escaped with help, Mel, or she was kidnapped by someone who knew when and where to find her.”

“Which means, it was an inside job, either way we look at it. Think about a kidnapping though. There’s usually a ransom demand or it’s for some sort of revenge and the kidnappers make their reasons known.”

“Usually. Either way, my gut feeling is, it was all part of a plan from the start.”

Mel considered that. “Have you heard anything about them moving their investigation into Tennessee, to the prison?”

“Nothing. I told you, Bennett’s tight lipped. He’s not giving anything up. If he was going to say anything to anyone, I would think he’d tell you before he’d tell me.”

“He mentioned having me run down Sheila’s daughter but that’s been a dead end, so far.”


“You aren’t kidding. She’s dropped off the map.”

“Do you think it’s related?” It almost has to be

Mel sat back in her chair and gave that some thought too. “I don’t know,” she finally conceded. “She seemed genuinely worried about her mother’s health, but I find it odd that she wasn’t breaking down my door when the arrangements were made for the transfer and you were underway to Ohio. She’s completely out of the loop now.”

“Then, she has to be involved somehow, Mel.”

“Part of the plot? I don’t get that from her.”

“Maybe a victim too, then” Dana said.

Changing the subject, Mel asked, “When are you free to go?”

“Anytime. They’re not holding me here anymore. Hell, they let Caleb go. They can’t hold me.”

Mel didn’t respond. Dana was quiet for a minute too.

They both started talking at once.

“I can’t help but think,” Mel began.

“By the time I get home,” Dana started off. When she realized Mel still had the investigation on her mind she let her thought go and said, “You were saying?”

“I was thinking that, no matter what the FBI thinks, that driver is still a key to this in some way, maybe a very small way. If you weren’t being followed, someone had to know where he was going to stop and be there waiting. Maybe he radioed dispatch…”

“We were well out of that range, Mel. Frankly, he didn’t strike me as smart enough to work through relays and such.”

“Just thinking out loud here.”

A thought occurred to Dana. “There were supposed to be two guys Mel. What if the one who called in sick set him up?”

Mel pulled a note pad closer and picked up a pen. “What was his name?”

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