A Warrior’s Journey, Chapters 20-21

Chapter Twenty

After dinner, L.L. and Shaun joined the family in the den where Melissa and Julie played with Marley and Samson. Samson was getting up in age yet playing with the puppy brought out the puppy in him. Marley chased the girls around the room nipping at their heels. The girls laughed until they lost their breath and their eyes watered. Bonnie found an old, squeaky dog toy of Samson’s in the laundry room. She tossed it at Marley’s feet who immediately grabbed it. Samson bolted to Marley biting the end in a tug of war. Melissa and Julie howled as did the rest of the family. Cindy returned home with Nicole and met Marley. After spending time with the girls and their new puppy, L.L., Nicole and Cindy met in the kitchen to discuss a double wedding shower.

“We are in the first week of February. What about the last week of this month or the first week in March?” asked L.L.

“Three weeks is enough time to send invitations and choose items for our wedding registry. L.L., I have my mother’s silver so I will not make a silver selection.”

“I have my mother’s too so will do the same.” Bonnie joined them at the small table.

“L.L., please take down the big calendar by the refrigerator. Y’all should write the dates on it so everyone here will know, too.”

Bonnie wrote in the large square on the first Saturday in March as they moved the conversation to the weddings. April was the month chosen. Bonnie walked to her cookbook library to check the Farmer’s Almanac. Eyes rolled as they read the cover. Bonnie handled the book as if it were Holy Scripture.

“I know what y’all are thinking! I really don’t care. Jake and I read this thing and it is always right. Now keep your opinions to yourself and let me see what the weather will be. What weekend do y’all want, Nicole, L.L.?”

“I believe in the Almanac, Bonnie. I have watched Daddy plant crops by it as far back as I can remember. Just tell us which weekend will provide blue skies.”

L.L. smiled and did not say a word.

Bonnie’s big fingers scrolled down the pages. “Here, it’s going to be the first weekend in April. It will rain on Friday morning and clear by noon. On Saturday, the skies will be clear and the temperature will be in the low 60’s, perfect for us. I hate standing hours in the sun wearing makeup and a dress.”

Bonnie took the calendar and wrote the words, “Wedding Day!”

“Done. Now, Nicole, tell us about the house James is building for you as a wedding present. Do you have a drawing yet?”

“No, not yet. I wanted to talk to all of you about it first.”

“Good. Let me get some paper and we’ll start kicking ideas around the table. I am only interested in three rooms, the kitchen, master bedroom and master bath. Those are the most vital rooms in any house. The rest are just boxes.”

The women kept the doors closed to the kitchen while they held their design conference. Cindy left for a few minutes to help Melissa and Julie bathe and get in bed. The girls placed a little bed made of an old quilt on the floor between their beds for Marley. They said their prayers and Cindy tucked them in. She hurried back to the kitchen to rejoin the fun.

It was after midnight before the drawing drafts were finished. The final version pleased them all.

When Cindy finished her shower and bent down to kiss Melissa and Julie once more, she found Marley nuzzled in a ball beside Julie. She pecked Marley with a little kiss too before turning off the light on the nightstand. She laid in bed counting her blessings, her babies, her job, car, freedom, family and Ray. He was now so important to her. As she closed her eyes, she wondered where her life would take her. Would Ray be in her life? I think so. I hope so.

Nicole fell asleep with her night light on and the drawings in her lap. James somehow knew Bonnie left the kitchen door unlocked for him. All the lights in the house except the one over the stove were out. He used the tiny light on his cell phone to find his way up the stairs. Slowly he stepped along the route in stocking feet with his cell in one hand and shoes in the other. As he cracked open the door to her room, Shaun’s door opened. Shaun looked up and down the hallway to see if the coast was clear. He froze when he spotted James. Once again James’ heart skipped a beat. Shaun took a deep breath and padded to where James silently stood. He smiled as he turned to L.L.’s door and winked at James before he disappeared behind her door.

James relaxed and began to breathe once again. He wiped the sweat from his forehead as he closed the door. He saw her drawings and his heart swelled. He gently laid them on her nightstand, flicked off the light and set his cell alarm to vibrate at four AM. He did not want another encounter with Shaun, his soon to be brother-in-law, the next morning.

He heard the soft clicking of Samson’s claws treading across the old, wooden floor of the master bedroom. Samson laid his head on his arm.

“I know, buddy. It’s alright. He’s family now. We have to accept him because Nicole loves him. Soon there will be no more sneaking around. Bonnie unlocked the door after I locked it. I checked after she went to her room. See you in the morning, Sam.”

Things at the McVeigh plantation were never what one would call normal but they were routine. L.L. worked hard with Nicole, Cindy and Bonnie preparing for the shower and upcoming weddings. Dresses, flowers, caterers, tables, chairs, bandstand, dance floors, transportation were addressed. The reception would be held in the hangar. The guest list grew to a couple of hundred people and was still growing. The house did not have a room large enough to handle more than 50 so the hangar was the chosen location.

Nicole gave her drawings to James to give to the architect. He was determined to have the foundation staked out in the grove before their wedding day. He was excited to break ground to build their new home. James pushed the architect to produce the footprint of the home and workshop.

Four, burly looking carpenters got out of the crew cab truck. They stood waiting as James pulled in behind. They set the transit and the first steps of the foundation was underway. It took the crew several hours to layout the home and shop. James stood back and studied the outline of their new home. It fit perfectly in the wide opening surrounded by senior, grafted pecan trees. Only one, old tree needed to be removed. It sat directly in the  driveway intended to access the large doors to the hangar. James would send the tree to the lumber yard for milling. He could visualize a large slab of the tree as their main mantel on the giant fireplace in the den. Large sections of limbs would stand on both sides of the firebox to serve as columns to support the large mantel. The look was rustic and heavy but tasteful.

While the double wedding shower was at full tilt, Shaun and all the other men on the plantation spent the afternoon at the lake fishing in pirogues. The water temperature forced the large bass to deeper waters. They used tiny, black, artificial lizards as lures. The casting and retrieving process for the semi lethargic large-mouths was slow. They nibbled easily in the depths. They returned to the hangar with the ice chest overflowing with fish and assembled the cleaning line. They cut the mess in filets preparing for the cookout. Bonnie joined them with a large bowl of seasoned hush puppy meal. Tables were set up in the hangar as the cold wind began to blow outside. Portable heaters warmed the large space. The indoor fish fry was well under way when the shower ended and the ladies joined the men for supper.

L.L.’s cell phone chimed indicating she received a new text message.

“L.L., my source told me they are preparing for a cattle run. I hear they are heading back to your neck of the woods. Looks like they will be using a few pickups and at least one, large 18 wheeler. They have done their homework and scoped out a cattle farm somewhere in the Northwestern portion of Louisiana. I will keep you posted. It may be days or even a couple weeks before they hit.”

She pulled Shaun to the side to walk with her. They headed for the back porch to sit in the old swing.

“I received this text.” She handed her phone to him and watched him read the message.

“This is good news. We need a strategy to catch them if they come back to our state.”

“I agree. What if they go to a parish outside our jurisdiction?”

“We need to be ready to bring other agencies into the operation.”

“I will give my commander a call and see what he thinks.”

On Monday morning, the electricians installed a temporary electrical service for construction as the plumbers started digging trenches inside the foundation perimeter. By the end of the day, the new electrical pole with a service panel was operating. The plumbing was roughed in and James’ crew was ready to pour the foundation the following morning.

It was still dark when the concrete pumper truck arrived. Soon the driveway to the plantation was overflowing with a lengthy line of freshly loaded concrete trucks. By noon, both foundations were poured with power trowels working out the finish.

Shaun and Jake followed James around the layout as he pointed to each future room. “Tomorrow morning we can walk on it. I will take y’all on the very first house tour,” he told them.

“Man, this is going to be a great home, James! I can’t wait to see the walls come up. When do you think that will happen?” Jake asked.

“My framing materials and crew will be here day after tomorrow. Once they kick off framing, it will be completed in three days. By the end of the weekend, framing will be finished, the roof decked and felted and the plywood skin and house wrap installed.”

Shaun asked, “What is house wrap?”

“It’s the white, plastic sheeting you see on new homes. It is tacked to the plywood to serve as a moisture barrier.”

“What will the exterior look like, James?” Shaun asked.

“It’s going to look much like the plantation house. Instead of using painted cypress planks, we’re using Hardy planks. It is basically a long board of concrete. The overlapped planks are approximately six inches wide. I ordered pre-finished that never need painting. They mix paint or color when they are manufactured. From 50 feet away, it will look like the old home built in the same period.”

Shaun spent the morning helping James and Jake with the foundation while L.L. reported to her office to brief her commander.

“L.L., I have a contact with our State Police. He was a local officer before becoming a Trooper. He’s now the regional commander responsible for all troopers in the northern portion of the state. Let me touch base with him to have an investigator assigned to your case. You will remain in charge of the investigation. If it leads us to another part of the state, the trooper on the case will provide your team with jurisdictional authority. He will likely attempt to take control if the deal goes down outside our parish. Stand your ground and don’t let him run over you.”

“I guarantee I won’t let him take over.”

“Good, I will get back with you.”

After dinner, Shaun took L.L. for a ride in his truck. They drove along the gravel road by the swamp. He parked on the high riverbank.

“Let’s get out. I have a little surprise for you.”

Shaun walked to the back of the truck and lowered the tailgate. He carried several cut logs of firewood to a hole in the ground near the bank. He used his knife to cut sage grass gathering a small bundle to start the fire. As the stars were coming out, the fire caught. He pulled an old saddle blanket from behind the back seat and laid it near the fire.

“Let’s talk about the cattle guys. What did your commander say?”

“We have a new trooper joining us tomorrow. He will report to my office at nine in the morning to bring him up to speed. If they hit again, I hope it’s in Caddo and not another parish. My commander warned me, if that happens, I need to be prepared for the trooper to try to take over the case.”

“I want to sit in on this meeting, if you don’t mind. I will size him up. See if he will help or hurt us if this thing goes down.”

“Great, you know you’re welcome. Keeping you in the loop is important. I will have Detective Mark Johnson on the speaker phone while we meet. You or the trooper may want to ask him a few questions.”

Shaun pulled L.L. in his lap holding her until the last embers died. When the heat was gone from the fire, he started the engine to warm the truck. Before leaving, he kicked sand on the fire until completely smothered.

“L.L., we should get the team together and begin special training for this. When I was a SEAL, we did mockups on missions. We studied every aspect in great detail before we hit the target. We do not know where these guys will hit but we do know how they do it. They do recons and I’m sure they have an action plan in place if things go south. We need to anticipate this and counter their plan. I’ll go over things with Glenn tonight at his house. Want to go with me?”

“No, I need to write a report tonight about the message from Johnson. If I’m asleep when you get home, wake me and tell me what y’all came up with. OK?”

She kissed him quickly and went to her room.

 

All the lights were off in the house as he approached the old home where Glenn lived. He pulled around to the back and saw the barn lights on. As he walked to the door, he heard music blasting from within. He opened the large, rolling door and stepped inside. Glenn and Debbie were dancing. He watched as the 1940’s music set a quick beat. Shaun recognized they were doing the Jitterbug and doing it well. Glenn was a big guy but on the dance floor he was quick and nimble. This was clearly not their first time.

When the song ended, Shaun clapped from the back of the barn.

“Hey, Shaun! We didn’t hear you come in.”

“How could you with that old music blasting! You guys are great! I wish I could learn to dance like that.”

“Well, I can teach you in no time,” Debbie said. “Come here, Shaun. Follow me.” He took her hand as Glenn leaned against an old restored Harley.

“Now, stand like this. That’s the way. Here, watch my feet and follow what I do. That’s it, Shaun. You catch on fast. Now let’s go through it again. Very good! Glenn, can you turn the music on for us?”

Shaun was a little slow the first run through. By the time the song played the second time, he was in step with her.

“Very good, Shaun. That was the basic Jitterbug or what some call the East Coast Swing. Now watch us and you will see a few more moves.”

Shaun took the seat on the Harley watching Glenn and Debbie go for it. They were spinning and kicking high all over the floor. They did not miss a beat during the dance.

“Shaun, you should bring L.L. to practice with us. We compete each month at the Lake Club and practice here every Monday night. Love to have y’all!”

“I would love it, Glenn. I bet L.L. would, too. Thanks for the lesson, Debbie. Glenn, I need to talk to you a few minutes about the cattle guys. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.”

“I’ll head back to the house, honey. I need to check my email. Good to see you, Shaun. Hope to see you next Monday.”

“Thanks, Debbie. We will be here but you may want to wear your steel-toed shoes.”

“Nah, You’ll be fine. Good night.”

“What’s up, man? You have some news about those guys?”

“Yes, I do. L.L. located a deputy in Tyler who arrested them a couple of years ago. He has an informant inside the gang with them who thinks they are getting ready to hit again. If these are the ones who stole cattle around here, we need to be prepared. I will call the Sheriff tomorrow to get the team on full alert. We need to train daily for this. Can you work with us for a couple of weeks?”

“I own my truck and work for myself. Sure, I can and will take off.”

Shaun told Glenn everything he knew about the guys in Texas and how they operated before heading home.

“I will call as soon as I get word from the Sheriff.”

“OK, buddy. Be safe. Looking forward to this.”

 

When he opened her door, she was sound asleep with her nightlight on. He eased the door closed and went to shower. He flicked off the light and slid in the bed next to her. She pulled him into her arms.

“Were you not going to tell me how it went with Glenn?”

“Sorry. baby. I thought it best not to wake you. I could tell you during our run in the morning but since you’re awake, I will.”

 

Shaun gained the support of the Sheriff for his special request. The team needed at least two pickup trucks with 4-wheelers in the beds. With the Sheriff’s approval, Shaun called his team leader to bring them to the barn the next morning. He and L.L. met with the trooper and made the call to Mark Johnson.

The trooper was a tall, lanky blonde in his 30’s who had spent several years on the road. He had little investigative experience but did have the wisdom and education to know his limitations. He had served as a Marine before joining the State but never in actual combat. He was a good listener with a laid back personality. He asked questions and appeared willing and able to do his part.

L.L. placed the call to Johnson and learned the suspects had altered their plan. They had already scoped a farm in north Caddo parish near Caddo Lake. They were planning to steal a single bull this time. Johnson did not know where the ranch was located but the thieves were only using two trucks this time. It would take place in the early morning hours. If his C.I. was allowed on the trip, he would know where they were heading. If he learned anything else, he would let them know right away.

“There’s no way we can set up on them unless his C.I. is on-board when this goes down. There are hundreds of back roads leading into this part of the parish from Texas. It’s impossible for us to cover them.”

“You’re right, L.L. All we can do is sit tight and wait for the call.”

Shaun contacted the Fireside family about the recent cattle thefts. He asked if his team could practice on their farm for a few days. They were well received.

After three days of practice responses to the farm, Shaun threw a curve to the team.

“We roll up on them and they start firing. We get in a chase and set up a road block. I want two units a mile down the road. I want it to be real. When you see the suspects heading your way, block them. I want the pursuing units led by the two person units so the officer riding shotgun can return fire. Now let’s do it!”

They spent the afternoon repeatedly running through the scenario until Shaun was pleased with the team’s reaction. Every time the suspects were blocked, they fled into the nearby woods for safety. Shaun taught the team how to quickly cordon off the area and wait for backups to arrive.

“Once we have them on foot in the woods, we only need to set up around them. Someone once said, ‘Time and tear gas are on our side and we have all we need’. This means, we don’t go running after them. They will be without food, water and shelter. We will wait them out.”

Shaun released the team instructing them to be at the plantation the following morning for PT. Every night when her work was complete, L.L. met in the kitchen with her female family members to work on the details of the rehearsal and wedding. It was now only three weeks away. The worst part of winter in the South was over.

Bonnie read the Almanac in silence for a while. “Looks like we will see temperatures rising next week. It will continue up to and beyond the wedding. Next week will be in the 50’s during the day.”

“That’s good, Bonnie. I must confess, I tried to trust that thing but I couldn’t. Last night I read over the last couple of weeks comparing it to the actual weather. It was spot on. I have a good feeling about its predictions now,” said L.L.

With the ringer off, her cell vibrated on the nightstand. She rolled over to answer it. She glanced at her alarm clock which read 3:30 A.M.

“Jackson”.

“Hey, L.L., Mark Johnson. Sorry to bother you but I have news. My C.I. wasn’t asked to go with them. Two of the suspects went to Louisiana last night. They were gone a few hours before they returned knocking on my guy’s door with a very expensive Charolais Bull in his barn this time. They plan to come back mid-morning and take the bull to the guy in Avinger. After the suspects left his house, he looked the Bull over. He found a serial number tattooed in the ear. I will text it to you when we finish the call. I am meeting with deputies in Avinger to apprise them. I’m leaving my house soon.”

“OK, Mark. Thanks for the heads up. I’m heading to my office right away and will watch for your text. Talk later.”

She turned on the lamp and started dressing. Shaun went to the kitchen to make her some coffee.

“Want me to tag along?”

“No, I am going in to wait on more information. I want to make a few calls to ranchers that may point me in the right direction of the owner. The Charolais breed is not plentiful in this part of the state. I bet I can find out who owns them. Not sure I can run the tattoo serial number in the national computer like I can a license plate or a V.I.N. but I will try. I will call if I come up with anything.”

As she drove to the station, she asked the radio dispatcher if any calls were received reporting a stolen bull overnight.

The dispatcher told her negative.

“I’ll be in my office shortly. Alert me if you get a report of one.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

L.L. hit a zero on the Charolais Bull after calling several ranchers early that morning. The serial number was a flop also.

At 6:00 A.M., L.L.’s office phone rang.

“Jackson.”

“Detective, we received a call from a man out by Caddo Lake. States someone stole his prize Charolais Bull last night. I emailed you his information.”

“Shaun, can you come to my office ASAP? We have a lead on the stolen bull.”

“Be right there.”

He walked in her office wearing BDU’s and his Glock in his leg holster.

“We received a call from a cattle rancher near Caddo Lake. He lost his blue ribbon Charolais Bull last night. Sounds like the one sitting in a barn outside of Tyler, TX. Let’s visit this guy.”

The cattle farm sat on 200 rolling hill acres east of the lake. They drove under the painted, arched gateway leading to the home. The sign read “Irish Luck” with four leaf clovers on both sides.

“We need to check on this guy, Shaun. He may be one of your Irish kinsmen.”

“If he is really Irish, we are all related somehow.”

They pulled up to the rambling, ranch style home and walked to the front door as it opened. The short, elderly gentleman greeted them with a frown but a firm handshake.

“Good morning. I am Michael McGraw. I go by Mickey. Glad you came so quickly. Come on in. No need to go to the barn since Sylvester is gone. I’m sure you know what an empty stall looks like.”

They introduced themselves as he pointed to the old kitchen table and chairs. “Have a seat please. Margo is changing clothes and will join us in a moment. Care for a cup of coffee?”

“Yes,” they both responded.

Mickey opened the cabinet and pulled out four mugs which he filled with fresh coffee. He opened the pantry and reached for a bottle of Johnny Walker Scotch pouring a dash in his.

“I know y’all are on duty and can’t drink. I hope you don’t mind if I have a nip?”

“Not at all, Mickey! If I were not on duty, I would join you. Tell us about Sylvester.”

 

Margo walked in her kitchen wearing a plaid flannel shirt, boots and jeans. She too was short and petite. Her long salt and auburn hair was braided in pigtails that reached her waist. L.L. estimated she was a few years younger than her 70 something year old husband. Somewhere in her 60’s she thought. She had bright green eyes, almost the same color as Shaun’s, and a lovely, unblemished milky complexion.

“Good morning to you officers! Margo McGraw and welcome to Irish Luck.”

Her strong Irish accent was clear as a bell. Shaun stood and took her small hand. “Shaun McVeigh, ma’am. Pleased to meet you. This is my partner and fiancée, Deputy L.L. Jackson.”

Margo’s smile grew. “When you came through the gate, I saw you through the window. I knew you two were much more than partners as you walked to the door. When is the wedding?”

L.L. took her hand as she said, “The first weekend in April, ma’am. You are quite observant!”

“L.L, one would be blind to not see you two are deeply in love. Mickey and I have been together for over 30 years. He still looks at me the way Shaun looks at you. Please be seated. I have hot biscuits in the oven and homemade blackberry jelly. I bet neither of you had breakfast. I need help disposing of them or Mickey and I will finish them and gain weight.”

“Sounds great, Mrs. McGraw,” Shaun whispered low.

“Now please dispense with the formal last name, Shaun, I expect an Irish gentleman to call me by Margo.”

“I will then with your permission, Margo.”

L.L. stood and walked to the large picture window looking across the frosted hayfields to an old, two story barn painted bright red with white trim.

“What’s the story about your Sylvester, Mickey?”

“I have only had him for a week. I raise mixed breeds here, half Angus and half Brahma. For years, I’ve wanted to cross them with the rich blood of the Charolais. I searched every cattle ranch in this state until I ended up in Henderson near Lafayette in south Louisiana. The owner did not want to sell him but I persisted. I paid a premium to get him.”

“Can you tell me the premium you paid?”

“I gladly gave $40,000 for him. He has royal blood and would produce valuable calves. Now our dreams are dashed. Some bastard, sorry Miss, some crooks robbed us. It breaks my heart.”

“I’m sure it does, Mickey, but I have good news. We have been investigating the cattle thefts in these parts for a few weeks. We know where Sylvester is at this very moment.”

“You do? Praise the Lord! Where?”

“He is in a barn near Tyler, Texas. I am working with the Sheriff’s office there. Two years ago, they arrested some men for stealing cattle. They got off easy and began crossing the state line committing thefts. We have someone inside the clan who alerted us last night. Authorities there are keeping an eye on Sylvester as we speak. The suspects plan to take him to an auction in a nearby, small town to sell him to the owner. We will take the lot of them down. Sylvester is safe. He will be returned to you soon in good condition.”

“I want to get my hands on those two guys! If I was 20 years younger, I would beat the living daylights out of them!”

“How do you know it was two men?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. I gave up deer hunting years ago but I still have a battery powered game camera. It has a chip I can plug in my computer. The camera has a motion trigger. When something moves in front of it, the camera takes pictures. After I bought Sylvester, I was concerned something might happen to him. I set up my camera near the barn. Last night, two men apparently parked their truck and trailer near the gate by the road. I have photos of them walking to the barn. A short time later, they walk by again with Sylvester on a rope. He is a big baby. Anyone can handle him. They led him to the trailer and off they went.”

“Can you make copies of the photos?”

“I already did. Just a minute.”

“Here, I made double sets. These are the men that took Sylvester.”

L.L. and Shaun looked at the glossy, 8×10 black and whites. It was taken with a night lens but clearly showed two men in their late 30’s. The shots were clear enough to identify the men.

“These photos will convict these two in court. We want to send them down the river. Also, we need the man they sell stolen cattle  to at the auction as well. Our source tells us Sylvester has a serial number tattooed in his right ear. Were you aware of this?”

“I am. The seller had him registered. I have documentation with his papers. Let me dig them out.”

On the way back to the office, L.L. called Johnson in Tyler to give him a complete briefing on the Louisiana developments.

“L.L., we are set up on the bull. We have our plane in the air and men on the ground out of sight within response distance. Can you scan and email the photos and serial number information to me today?”

“As soon as I get to my office, you will have them in your inbox. Keep me posted. Are you planning to let the sale of the bull go down? Do you plan to let the buyer keep him for a while?”

“Yes, I will let the transaction go down. We will try to buy the bull from the guy at the auction unless he plans to keep the bull for himself. This should give enough time for the group to make another run for cattle while we have an eye on the bull. I don’t want to just arrest the two men and the buyer and all the others are off the hook again. I want to take all of them down.”

“So do we. Keep in touch.”

“You got it.”

 

Chapter Twenty One

 

Over the next few days, Mark Johnson and his men followed Sylvester to the auction. The owner of the business bought him to keep him on his ranch for breeding with his stock. L.L. stayed in contact with Johnson and the McGraw’s. Johnson matched the serial number paperwork to the number on Sylvester and identified the two suspects in the photos as part of the theft ring based in Tyler. Shaun and the team continued to work out and practice at the firing range as they waited for the heads-up from Texas.

When Friday night rolled around, the pending case was at a standstill. After a hard week of work, Shaun invited the entire team and their families to attend a bonfire party at the plantation. The family worked hard transporting tables, chairs, food and firewood to the sandy banks of the Red River. Camp was set up near the sandbar that once was the loading area for Steamboats using slave labor to carry large cotton bales. Tonight, two descendants of those slaves joined the bonfire party. Bonnie and John sat by the giant fire on large pine logs sipping drinks and staying warm. Jake set up a portable sound system blasting Cajun music across the surface of the dark river.

L.L. was dancing with Shaun when her cell phone chimed. They walked away from the fire to the water’s edge as she scrolled down the message from Mark Johnson.

“L.L., I secured arrest warrants for the two suspects that took the bull and a warrant for the owner of the auction. I also received court orders allowing us to place tracking devices on all of the gang’s vehicles. We use bird dog devices that give off strong signals. We will install them after midnight. I will keep you posted.”

Shaun was standing behind her with his arms wrapped tightly around her. She shoved the phone in the back pocket of her jeans and turned to him.

“Are you familiar with the term, bird dog?”

“Not the name but I am aware of the technology. We used similar devices overseas to track suspected enemies. They would go home thinking everything was safe and secure. Early in the mornings, around three or four o’clock, we would strike. This device will give us real time information about their locations. I suspect the devices can be tracked from ground vehicles and from their plane. Mark will have units a short distance away waiting for them to move. I like this Johnson guy even though I have yet to meet him.”

She turned into him and hugged him tightly.

“I love you, Shaun! I can’t imagine my life without you in it! Promise me something.”

“Anything.”

“Promise me you will not get yourself hurt, or killed, on this!”

“I will promise you if you’ll do the same!”

“Deal. Now kiss me, Shaun!” And he did.

Jake and Marie sat side by side next to Bonnie and John. He looked at his large family. Nicole and James danced and laughed at something he whispered in her ear. Sam and Jimmy sat on the tailgate of a pickup truck sipping whiskey and  watching the crowd. Cindy had Melissa and Julie sitting on old paint buckets near the fire roasting marshmallows in front of her and Ray. Shaun and L.L. walked by the river for some time alone. Jake’s smile grew as he lifted up a silent prayer of thanks. He closed his eyes for a moment at the end as he prayed for Martha and the rest of his family in heaven. Marie bumped her elbow sharply into his ribs as she spoke, “Jake, are you getting sleepy on me?”

“No, my dear. I just wanted to give the Lord a little thanks. I am so blessed with great people in my life. I know God doesn’t put people in our paths by accident. Everyone is here tonight because of His plan, you included.”

She leaned over and gently kissed his cheek taking both of his hands lacing her fingers with his.

“I feel the same way, Jake. It makes my head light thinking about it. A few weeks ago, all I had in my life was my little café and tiny apartment in the back. Now every time I turn around, you and I are doing something fun together. Thank you for coming into my life, Jake McVeigh!”

“Thank you, Marie!”

 

He beat her to the shower quickly using up the hot water when the curtain flew open and she joined him. She took the soap from his hands and began to wash him. His breath was lost for a moment as her warm soapy hands wandered over his rigid body. She snickered as he shivered when she touched him in certain places. He could not endure it any longer as he spun around and took the soap from her. She was like warm, wet silk as he slowly explored every inch of her body. She was so aroused her skin was aching for him. He seemed to know what she was going through and was more determined to taunt and tease her.

As her legs weakened and her body called out to him, she took the soap and placed it in the dish.

“Baby, please, Let’s rinse off and go to bed. I can’t wait for you any longer.”

It was three in the morning when she awoke from a dream. It was not a pleasant dream. It was confusing, too. She lay still listening to Shaun breathe softly next to her. Slowly she eased from under the old, fleece sheets and handmade quilts. He needed his rest and she needed to think. She slipped on her workout clothes and went down to the kitchen. The coffee pot was set. She flipped the switch and let it begin to brew.

She walked in the den and took down the McVeigh family photo album. She returned to the kitchen listening to the coffee pot gurgle as she slowly studied every photograph spanning almost 100 years. Their blood is strong. They all favor in one way or another. Her mind drifted as she looked at Shaun when he was about three years old. I wonder what they will look like. She closed her eyes to visualize their children. First, she knew it would be a boy. Their Irish bloodline would give her a beautiful, redheaded son with cypress green eyes like Shaun’s. What would be his name? She saw a beautiful little girl playing with her older brother. She had light blue eyes as clear as the summer skies. Her long, wavy blonde hair reached below her lower back. She chased her brother down the pathway leading to the barn. She was wearing a cotton summer dress holding a handful of flowers. She could almost hear their laughter as a soft hand came upon her shoulder. With a start, she sat up straight and looked to see who was there.

“Oh, good morning, Bonnie. I did not hear you.”

“I’m sorry, L.L., if I disturbed you. I see you couldn’t sleep either. I am glad you turned on the pot. I sure could use a cup of hot coffee right now.”

L.L. patted the hand still on her shoulder. It reminded her of the way her own mother use to touch her. Such love and tenderness from a single, light touch.

“Why can’t you sleep, Bonnie?”

“Well, honey, sometimes we get glimpses of things that are to come. I’ve had them before. Like just before I lost John’s Daddy. I loved him so much. When he left us, he took my heart. I have never been able to find it since. I thought I could love again but when I met someone, nothing ever happened. Many men have asked for my hand. I just could not find the way to give it to any of them. Tonight, I had an uneasy feeling. Not sure what this means but something is not right. Something is going to happen. I know it’s not going to be good. All I can do is pray whatever it is, he will give us the strength to deal with it. I believe in the feelings I have. My people have always believed in such things. Not sure where all of this comes from but I have no doubt they are real. What caused you not to be able to sleep, dear?”

“I’m not really sure. I was tired and sleeping as well. Then I started having this dream. I can’t remember it clearly but it was not good. I became restless. I love this picture of Shaun and Ray holding the fish on the stringer.”

“Me, too. I remember that day like yesterday. It was the first day Jake and Martha let them go to the lake without supervision. Martha, I miss that girl so. I can still see her smile on that pretty face. At times, Shaun and Ray look just like her. Other times they look like ole Jake. Bless him.”

“Tell me about Martha, Bonnie.”

“Well, honey, she was something. A little spitfire if there ever was one. She had ole Jake wrapped around her little finger as soon as they met. They were married two weeks after their first date. I was working here in the kitchen with my Momma then and had just started dating big John. I was so in love. He was all I could think about. When Jake and Martha married and she moved in here with us, I found the sister I always wanted. We would go shopping together. When we bought something, the store clerks always handed the bags to me instead of Martha. She would go off on them in a heartbeat. She told them I was not her handmaid. She carried things for me not the other way around. Folks back then talked but she didn’t give a flip. I loved Martha. I married John’s father a month after Jake married Martha.”

“We got with child about the same time. When she had Ray, she did not have breast milk but wanted him to nurse. I had John Junior and was blessed like a milk cow. I nursed both boys. I think that is where I really bonded with Martha and this family. When Shaun was born, I had just lost my little girl in birth, bless her heart. I was so sad and ready to lose my mind. Martha needed my milk again. With little Ray always underfoot, she needed my help there, too. We mothered our boys together. It drove folks crazy around here. Jake straightened out several rednecks, I’m told. So, I nursed Shaun, too. This thing between me and these three boys runs very deep. John says they are his blood brothers because our DNA is in their blood. Not sure what that means, but as a doctor, I think he knows what he’s talking ’bout.”

A warm feeling came across L.L. She hugged Bonnie as tears ran down her face. “I love you, Bonnie Whyte! Now I know why. You have the biggest heart I have ever seen. God Bless you!”

“May He bless you, L.L. I sure hope you have milk when you and that boy have children because I ain’t going to have another in my life! By the way, L.L. I love you too!”

Bonnie kissed her forehead as she stood pulling L.L. to her feet. They stood there wiping the tears from each other’s face.

“Now, let’s get to cooking, girl. I will teach you my secret recipe for buttermilk biscuits cause those McVeigh’s will come downstairs hungry. We ain’t going to let them down ’cause we love ’em too.”

It took them an hour to prepare breakfast. L.L. mastered the secret of Bonnie’s biscuits. She kept thinking about Shaun upstairs in her warm bed.

“I’m going upstairs to wake Shaun and take my shower. We will be down for breakfast soon.”

“Take your time, honey. No need to rush,” she said with a little grin on her pretty face.

L.L. blushed as she returned the smile.

“I bet you will have no problems nursing your babies. I’m going to be your stand in grandmother.”

I wouldn’t want anyone else in the world but you, Bonnie!”

 

He rolled over to her side of the bed reaching for her. She slipped out of her clothes and nuzzled in next to him. He rolled into her waiting arms and sighed a deep breath.

They made love with so much passion and tenderness she was weak as they headed to the shower.

“What are your plans today?”

“The team is coming here to practice unloading the 4-wheelers in a simulated response. I want these guys smooth and steady when things go down. This should be second nature to them. Then we will go to the swamp to set up perimeters around the suspects. After that, we will do hand to hand training in the hay field by the lake. How about you?”

“I’m going to call Johnson to check if they still have eyes on Sylvester and placed the bird dogs on the vehicles. I will text you when I leave the house. Text me back where you want me to join you. By the way, we have two weeks until our wedding day. We will be married in less than 14 days?”

“I can tell you how many days, hours and minutes if you wish!”

“You know how to please your soon to be wife. Don’t ever change, Shaun!”

“Never. You have my heart in your hands, L.L. You know, I never asked what L.L. stands for. No one seems to know. Some say it stands for Long Legged Jackson. I agree with the description. Before we are a married couple, I insist on knowing your full name!”

“I hate my name and have never told anyone. Even my departmental records list me as L.L.”

“Promise me you will tell me before we wed.”

“I promise, Shaun. But you have to promise me something in return.”

“And what am I promising?”

“Two things. First, when I tell you my full name you promise not to laugh. OK?”

“I promise I will never laugh at your name. I love you!”

“Second, promise to never tell anyone what it is!”

“I promise. Now tell me.”

“Nope, not until our wedding day!”

“OK, sweetie. I can wait. I love you L.L. Jackson and can’t wait to call you Mrs. L.L. McVeigh!”

“Me either, sweetheart! Me either!”

 

“Hey, Mark! How goes it?”

“Things are all set up here, L.L. We still have eyes on the bull and we tagged six of their vehicles without a problem. One close call trying to tag one of the pickups parked beside the house. A dog chained to a pipe in the backyard started barking when my deputy was under the vehicle. The owner came out on the back porch and flipped on the lights. After looking around, he fed the dog and went back inside. My guy tagged the truck and slipped away while the mutt ate.”

“Wow, that was a close call.”

“I know. I was in the woods. If the suspect had scanned the area with a flashlight, we would have been busted. The plan, if the suspect encountered my deputy, was another deputy in the woods would fire his handgun in the air a couple of times to distract the suspect while the officer tagging the vehicle ran into the woods. I’m glad things went our way and all six of their vehicles are now giving off signals. We have two small airplanes in our department, both equipped with tracking units. If they cross into Louisiana, I will be in constant contact with you. If they do, I have permission from my boss to join your team, if you want us, or we can send our planes to follow them.”

“Let’s do this, Mark. Shaun and I will drive over this evening while they are bedded down. We will meet with you and your team to formulate a plan that works well for both of our departments. How’s that?”

“That’s great, L.L. Call or text before you leave so I can have the team at my house. I want to keep a low profile and stay away from my office so the word doesn’t get out. I suspect we have a leak. Someone may be passing information to the suspects so my house is best place to meet.”

“I agree. Text me your address and I will load it in my GPS. We will be in Shaun’s Ford truck instead of a semi marked unit.”

“Good. I’ll be in touch. You do the same.”

“Gotcha.”

 

The meeting that night with L.L., Shaun, Johnson and his team of 10 went well. They agreed to L.L.’s plan of action. If the suspects crossed into Louisiana, the Texas guys would continue to track from the air and ground. L.L.’s team would take up the primary positions and the Texas team would set up between the suspects and the state line. If the suspects eluded L.L.’s team and headed back toward Texas, they would encounter Johnson’s team.

It was well after midnight before they were home and in bed. Though tired, L.L. tossed and turned unable to fall asleep. Finally, sleep came and she drifted off. She saw the little red hair boy sitting at the end of the dock with a bream pole in his hand. He had just learned to whistle and was doing his best rendition of Jingle Bells. She stood quietly watching while holding Shaun’s hand.

Through the fog, she heard a bell ringing in the distance as the vision of the little boy faded into darkness. Someone touched her as the ringing grew louder. She pushed away as she realized Shaun was saying something to her in the darkness.

“L.L., your phone is ringing. Do you want me to answer it or let it go to voicemail?”

“What? What did you say?” Her phone chimed and went silent as a new voice message was received.

“Are you OK, honey?”

“Uh, yeah. Yes, I’m fine. What time is it?”

“2:30, baby.”

She sat up slowly wiping her eyes and focused on the alarm clock.

“Damn! I missed a call! I bet it’s Johnson.” She grabbed the phone and pressed call back. As soon as the signal was sent, she saw it was Johnson on her caller ID. There was a lot of background noise and movement on the other end.

“L.L., they’re rolling, all of them. We’re tracking six vehicles heading east out of Tyler on I-20. We are about a mile out of town. Can y’all get set up? Looks like they’re heading your way?”

“Yes, Mark. We’re rolling or will be in a moment. Let me get dressed.” She snapped her finger as she flipped on the lamp for Shaun to dress and alert the team. He grabbed his cell to notify the Sheriff’s radio dispatcher to instruct the team to be on the air with their radios for further instructions.

“Mark, how much time do we have?”

“They are obeying the speed limit. If they continue toward Louisiana, it will be an hour before they make the state line.”

“Good. We will be ready for them near Greenwood and I-20. I will call you from the car.”

“OK.”

“They are moving this way I take it?”

“Yes, a little over a mile east of Tyler on I-20 rolling this way, six trucks.”

“Good. The team is being activated and will be ready for instructions.”

Shaun grabbed his equipment bag filled with his special gear and weapons as he headed for the door.

“I’m going to the unit. I will be at the back door when you come out. Hurry!”

“I will. Be right there.”

Every team member was notified and in their units running hot toward the rally point. Shaun designated the State rest area just west of Greenwood, Louisiana as the meeting point. Just over 20 minutes later, all units were clustered and listening to Shaun and L.L. brief them. James was assigned to partner with Glenn Schach as the driver of their unit. Glenn was free to fire his weapons, if necessary, from the front passenger seat. L.L. was in constant communication with Johnson.

“OK, they just passed Marshall, Texas still on I-20. We should get off I-20 and stage in Greenwood behind the truck stop. We stick out like a sore thumb here in the open. They will spot us a half mile away. There are two exits and on ramps in Greenwood. If they hit Highway 169, they can go north or south. Greenwood offers us the ability to follow at a safe distance.”

“OK, people, you heard her! Load up and get to the truck stop ASAP!”

At L.L.’s direction, Shaun led the team across the truck stop parking lot to the rear. A gravel, single lane road connected the lot to a small cluster of pine trees perfect for their stealth needs. The area was secluded and not illuminated with security lights. After turning around, they parked their units at the end of the road facing the truck stop. They gathered at Shaun’s unit to listen to L.L.’s side of the conversation with Johnson.

“Right. We are set up out of sight at the truck stop.”

“Yes, we can.”

“OK, you’re about 10 minutes out. Gotcha!”

“Are your planes in the air?”

“Good, that will work. How far back from them are you? How many officers do you have?”

“Good. It’s going to be tricky when we join you. We will fall in behind them staying back at least a half mile. Give me exact directions, speed and distance at all times so we don’t run over them.”

“That’s right. Now give me the descriptions of their vehicles?”

“OK, a black cab attached to a silver cattle hauler, an 18 wheeler, a white half ton Ford pickup, a navy blue Dodge pickup, two black G.M.C. half tons and a red Chevy one ton flatbed. Right, we have 10 officers here. OK, got it.”

“They are passing through Waskom, five minutes from this exit.”

She nodded to Shaun.

“OK, people, load up, lights off, feet off the brake pedals. Roll when I tell you.”

All the units were loaded and running. Adrenalin flowed as the suspects crossed into Louisiana. L.L. gave the information to Shaun who passed it to the team.

“OK. Looks like they are getting off on 169. OK, they are heading south, standby. They are turning east on Hwy 80. All suspect vehicles in a convoy with the red one ton leading and the 18 wheeler picking up the rear.”

“There they go!” L.L. said as the convoy drove east on Hwy 80 into the small town of Greenwood.

“Yes, we saw them.”

“OK, we’re rolling.”

L.L. called out directions, distance and speed to Shaun who relayed the information to the other units.

He instructed them to follow him out of the truck stop parking lot.

“They are turning south on 169 doing 35 miles an hour.”

The team followed Shaun and L.L. as they made their way through town then south on 169. The suspects were now being followed by 20 officers and the airplanes.

“OK, we are a mile behind them. Speed up a little.”

“Slow down. We are a half mile now.”

Shaun obeyed and the team followed his lead.

“They are approaching the town of Spring Ridge still going south on 169.”

“Mark, does your GPS show the town of Spring Ridge?”

“OK, send a couple of your units back to Greenwood and have them set up in town. Have two more units go back to Greenwood and turn south toward Bethany. Keep them parallel to the suspects. That’s right.”

“Gotcha! They are pulling into Spring Ridge, standby.”

“They are stopping at the small truck stop on the southwest corner, all of them. They parked with their lights out. We will pull over just north of town. Let us know what they are doing.”

“Thanks. Got it. They are all out of their vehicles talking in a group. The guys in the plane have a night scope and can see them clearly. Some are wearing camo with handguns in hip holsters. Got it! They are clearly armed. Yes, we passed it on.”

The suspects met for five minutes before one guy went to his truck.

“OK, one just turned on his lights and is moving through the lot. He’s heading south on 169. Have your plane stay with him. Keep us posted on the others. Got it. They are all back in their trucks with lights still out. Yes, the single truck is still south on 169, the red one ton. Others still stationary. OK, he is slowing to a crawl looking to his right. There is a large wooded tract to his left and a sizable pasture to his right. He drove past the pasture. Others still at the truck stop. He’s stopped on a dirt road now with lights out. No other traffic on the road at this time. Others still at truck stop. Now he’s out of the truck. OK, got it. He is relieving himself. Standby. His lights are on again going back north on 169.”

“Just flipped off his lights approaching the large pasture. Slowing, stopped at an iron gate. Sitting there, lights out. He’s out of the truck getting something from the truck bed. Looks like a long gun. Standby. He is aiming at the gate. No, he has bolt cutters to cut the lock on the chain to the gate. The pasture is about 20 acres with a large pond, woods to the south and west, a dirt road runs on the north side. He opened the gate, standby.”

“Walking back to the truck. Backing out on 169. Rolling north, lights out. Turning west on dirt road to his left. Got it. He is stopped at another gate on the north fence line. Same thing, cutting the lock. Yes, about 40 Black Angus in the pasture. He pulled through the gate.”

“OK, Mark. This is the hit. Leave two men in Greenwood. Send the rest to Bethany to set up. Let me know what’s happening.”

Moments passed with silence.

“OK, the guys at the truck stop are rolling south on 169 with lights on. We’re rolling, too. Shaun, if they pull into the pasture, have two unmarked cars drive by them continuing south on 169, Hopefully, they will not know they are the law.”

Shaun gave the order.

“OK, they are all pulling into the pasture. The cows are following the red one ton. The driver is hanging a bucket of something out his window. The cows think they are being fed.”

“Mark, do you see that dirt road on your GPS? No, I don’t know the name. Can you tell if it leads to Bethany?”

“OK, good. Come from that direction to set up to block them.”

“OK, the trucks are fanning out behind the cows. They are using the trucks to herd the cows to the northwest corner near the woods. The 18 wheeler is sitting inside the 169 gate to block it. OK, Shaun, send the units by them. They are all busy herding cows except the big truck.”

Shaun gave the order for the units to travel 30 seconds apart.

“OK, Shaun, notify headquarters this is going down. Have all available units in the area head this way staying one mile out. They are not to engage but monitor our frequency. Only if they get by us are they to get involved. Tell them about the Texas officers on the dirt road west of the pasture.”

“OK, they are still trying to herd the cattle to the corner of the pasture. They are now parking the trucks end to end to make a corral. The guy in the red one ton is at the back of his truck pulling something off the bed. OK, he has portable fence sections. He is now helping the others connect the fencing.”

“Are you set up, Mark?”

“OK, Mark is set up with his men on the dirt road about a mile west of the pasture. Shaun, we should unload our 4-wheelers here and drive through the woods toward the dirt road to cover their north side.”

Shaun agreed and ordered the men into action.

“OK, we have a few minutes before they call in the 18 wheeler. Their trucks and the other fences have the cows trapped. We cannot allow them to load those cows!”

Shaun passed the word. Instead of headlights, the men on the 4 wheelers used handheld flashlights with dark red lenses pointed at the ground. They worked their way close enough to see the headlights of the suspects’ vehicles.

“OK, L.L., they are in position on the north side.”

“OK, Mark, listen up. Shaun wants to tell you something.”

“Mark, can you hear me?”

“OK, first I want your plane to come in as close as the pilot is comfortable circling out of sight of the suspects. When I give the word, we will roll at high speed toward the suspects. We need them to be distracted by the plane so we have the upper hand. Have the pilot drop down low over the tree tops flying directly over the suspects from the north to the south. I want the suspects looking at the plane when we make our approach. Have the pilot pull the throttle back then to full several times. The suspects will think he’s having engine trouble and about to crash. Have him shoot a couple of flares in the sky signaling his location. Got it?”

“Good, here’s L.L.”

“OK, Shaun, the 18 wheeler is rolling to the cow pen. Standby.”

With two units going south on 169 and two men on 4-wheelers on the north side, this left Shaun with L.L. in a unit, Glenn and James in a unit and one more two man unit to make the approach. The state trooper was assigned to the last unit with Donald Dean.

“The 18 wheeler is turning around to back up. When the driver stops, gets out and lowers the ramp, we need to roll.”

With two miles to cover, Shaun pulled off.

“Tell Mark we are rolling. Have the plane close near the north of the pasture.”

Shaun blasted through the small town of Spring Ridge at 80 miles per hour with emergency lights flashing followed by the other two man units.

When he was a mile from the pasture, he advised L.L. to have the plane to fly over the suspects. As the plane fired his second flare, Shaun instructed Donald Dean and the Trooper to block the north gate with their unit. Shaun and L.L., followed by Glenn and James, blocked the gate on 169.

With lights flashing, James and Glenn exited their unit. Shaun grabbed the mic to the PA system.

“Caddo Sheriff’s Department! You are under arrest! Walk this way with your hands on your heads!”

The suspects froze as they looked across the field. The men shouted to one another as a few ran for their trucks while the others ran west to the woods crossing the fence disappearing into the darkness.

Shaun saw the driver of the 18 wheeler hurriedly climb in the cab. He saw black smoke shoot upwards from the twin exhaust stacks into the night sky followed by the roar of the big diesel engine. The truck lunged forward gaining speed as it turned in their direction. Shaun and L.L. took cover behind their unit as shots rang out from the cab of the truck and from behind the other parked pickups. Rounds shattered their front windshield and blasted the hood and grill. The truck picked up speed aiming directly for them to ram their units. The red one ton was barreling along straight behind it. At the last moment, Glenn, James, Shaun and L.L. dove into the ditches on both sides of the pasture road for safety from the trucks screaming down on them.

Shaun and his partners returned fire with their handguns. They saw the windshield shatter as the driver of the 18 wheeler slowed enough to knock the units off the road while making the sharp turn onto 169. When the truck collided with the units, Shaun was crouched on his left knee firing 10 quick shots into the driver’s door. The impact with the truck knocked the two units in the ditches.

Shaun dove shoving L.L. deeper into the ditch as their unit flew in the air toward them. As she was going down, the right rear tire rolled over them. Both were hit by the car driving them deeper into the shallow ditch. The unit continued on spinning in a half circle before stopping in the field. The 18 wheeler plowed directly across 169 through a barb wire fence coming to a halt 100 feet into the woods on the east side of 169.

Shaun pulled L.L. to her feet. When she placed weight on her left foot, she cried out in pain. She held on to Shaun to not fall down. Glenn and James hurried to the truck to check on the driver.

“Here, baby. Sit down.” ordered Shaun as he glanced back to see what was happening in the pasture. He caught the flash of the red one ton as it struck the front of Dean’s unit. Shots were exchanged. A second suspect was shooting from the passenger window. Shaun saw Dean go down. The red truck turned west on the dirt road heading toward Bethany. Because their firepower was directed at the 18 wheeler, the driver of the red one ton tried the other exit to not be blasted like his buddy. The state trooper stood in the middle of the dirt road emptying his 18 shots into the rear of the fleeing truck.

The shooters in the woods and behind the parked trucks stopped firing. The ones in the woods fled while the two behind the trucks surrendered with their hands over their heads. The trooper cuffed the two suspects as he sat them on the ground near the crumpled unit.

“I think my ankle is broken, Shaun.”

Glenn and James returned breathing heavily.

“Shaun, the driver is dead. Took several to the head and chest.”

Shaun pulled out his small flashlight to shine light on L.L.’s left ankle.

“I need to take your boot off, baby. It’s already swelling.”

“Shaun! You’re bleeding!” She placed her hand on his right cheek to stop the flow.

James began to treat the wound on Shaun’s face as Shaun continued to unlace L.L.’s boot.

“Let him take care of you first, Shaun. You’re losing a lot of blood!”

“I don’t feel a thing, honey. Let me get this boot off. Glenn, check on Dean. I saw him go down”

“Looks like the driver hit you before you took him out. It’s a deep graze. The bullet must have struck your cheek bone but did not go in. Sit still a minute, man! Let me clean it and put on a bandage.”

L.L. draped her left arm over Shaun’s shoulder as they walked to check on Dean. Glenn and James were talking to him as they approached.

“You’re going to be alright, Dean. Ambulance is on the way. They were just down the road on standby. You were hit twice, once in the lower leg and once in your vest knocking the breath out of you. You have a big, red bruise in the center of your chest and possibly a cracked rib or two but you will be alright.”

Shaun called the trooper over. “How many are in the woods?”

“Two or three I think. Let me ask the ones we have in custody.” He came back a moment later. “Three of them on foot in the woods plus the two in the red truck.”

Shaun used his talkie to order the men on 169 and the two on 4-wheelers to roll quickly down the dirt road. He notified headquarters to have all available units converge on the wooded area west of the pasture to set up a perimeter along all roads connecting the woods.

James and Glenn applied first aid to Dean as they waited for the ambulance. One of the attendants gave L.L. an aluminum walking cane with instructions to go to the hospital with Dean.

“No way, man. Get him to the hospital! When this is over, I will see a doctor.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Shots sounded about a mile west down the dirt road.

“That’s Mark and his team, must be. I hope they take out that truck!” she growled.

“I’m sure he has it under control. We need to deal with sealing up the wooded area.”

“I can handle that.” Using her talkie, she called for the patrol supervisor.

Soon a middle aged Captain arrived and approached L.L.

“What’s the word, L.L?”

“We have three armed suspects on foot in those woods. We also have 10 deputies working with us from Tyler, Texas. They are about a mile west on this dirt road. Please alert your men. Have some of our people link up with Detective Mark Johnson. He’s in charge of the Tyler team. Once we arrest those at large, we need the crime scene techs to process all of this. Find out who owns this land and the cattle. We also need units blocking the gates so none stray off and to keep the scene secure.”

The captain shook L.L.’s hand.

“Good job, Detective Jackson! I will handle everything you need.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Shaun and Glenn went to the remaining trucks, turned off the engines and pocketed the keys.

“Glenn, take the trooper and go south on 169 to that dirt road where the guy turned around earlier. When the backup units arrive, send them down that road to park their units leaving their lights on and flashing. Have them stand back in the dark out of their units. Stage them no more than 50 feet apart.”

“Shaun, our units are totaled. We need transportation,” observed Glenn.

“Take one of these trucks. Park at 169 and that dirt road to the south of the pasture. Leave your lights on with flashers going. L.L. will have marked units there in two minutes.”

L.L. requested the Captain to send as many units as he could spare to the dirt road.

Shaun led L.L. to one of the suspect pickups and lowered the tailgate. “Here, sit down and get off that foot.”

“Your bandage is leaking. Let me take a closer look.”

She redid the bandage and wiped off the blood running down his cheek and neck.

“You promised me you wouldn’t get hurt, Shaun.”

“I did, baby. You promised me the same. We got a little nicked up but we are still alive. That is all that matters. Your department is flooding this area now. Once we have them sealed in, it’s just a waiting game.”

L.L.’s cell phone rang and she answered, “Mark, what’s the status?”

“Good. That is wonderful. Great work! Is that so? Yes, I will tell him. Do you need anything, more men? OK, stay in touch.”

“Mark said the big, red truck came screaming over a hill at a high rate of speed. His team had six units stacked together blocking the entire roadway. The suspects rammed the units. Before impact, the passenger and driver fired at the officers on the ground. Mark’s people returned fire with shotguns and AR-15’s taking them both out instantly before the crash. Two Texas units were totaled along with the red truck. Mark requested we send the Coroner to his location to pronounce the two suspects dead. His side of the perimeter is flooded with units and sealed air tight. He is aware we still have three armed suspects on foot in the woods The plane was running low on fuel and landed in Marshall to refuel. It will be back in the air with us in about 30 minutes.”

L.L. saw the unit blocking the gate at 169 move to allow a white, Ford Dully to pass. “The truck belongs to the Sheriff,” she whispered to Shaun.

He parked next to them and got out of his truck.

“I hear you were hurt, L.L. How bad is it?”

“I’m fine, Sheriff. Banged up ankle slowing me down a little but I’m still on the job.”

“How about you, Shaun?”

“Just a scratch, don’t even hurt.”

The Sheriff studied him with a frown on his face as he saw the blood running down his neck.

With his talkie, he ordered another ambulance to the scene.

“I want our medics to see you both now that things are settling down. We need to stop the bleeding. Jackson, give me a rundown from beginning to end. The media is ganging up on our guys at the roadblock. I have to give them something or they will sneak around our perimeter.”

By the time she finished her report to the Sheriff, she and Shaun had been treated by the medics. Shaun had a fresh bandage on his face and the bleeding had stopped. Her ankle was wrapped with a thick, Ace bandage. She still could not put much weight on it.

“Great job, you two! I checked on Dean before I drove out here. He is doing well. The shot to his leg was an in and out, no major damage. The one to the vest broke two ribs. They are keeping him for a couple of days. When we shut this thing down, text me you are heading to the hospital to be treated. Got it?”

“Yes, sir. I will.”

“Good! Call me when y’all get the ones in the woods. They will probably hold out. I have two catering trucks on the way. Send them where you want. Give our people all the food and coffee they want. This could take a while.” He shook their hands and got back in his big, white truck. He flipped on the interior light to write something on a tablet. He then made a call on his cell phone. When he finished, he reached in the console. Shaun and L.L. watched as he opened the door and climbed out once again.

He walked to them carrying two small, blue boxes in his hand.

“Can you stand, L.L.?”

“I think so.”

“Give it a try. This won’t take long.”

She grimaced as she slid off the tailgate to stand next to Shaun.

“Raise your right hands,” the Sheriff commanded.

“By the powers invested in me as the Sheriff of Caddo Parish, Louisiana, I hereby certify you are duly sworn Captains of the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Department. With this field promotion hereby bestowed are all the powers and privileges of the rank of Captains.” He opened the cases and pinned their new, gold badges on their vests. Once again, he shook their hands as he said, “Congratulations, Captain Jackson and Captain McVeigh. It is an honor to work with you!”

“Sheriff, I just made Sergeant last month. You are skipping the rank of Lieutenant.”

“I know what your rank was Captain Jackson. I also know, as Sheriff in this state, I have the authority to promote whomever and whenever I choose. These two badges have been in my truck for over a week. I cannot think of a better time and place to promote you. When I was Chief of the City police department, I obeyed State Civil Service laws. As Sheriff, I am not restrained by the unions or Civil Service. I choose to promote you here and now!”

L.L. hugged him tightly. “I can’t believe this!”

“From this moment on, you are a senior staff officer. I am proud of you!”

“Now, I must deal with the news folks. By the way, when this case is put to bed, you two and your team will be placed on administrative leave until I.A.D. and the Grand Jury review the shootings. After that, you will be placed on medical leave. That should take you through your wedding date unless I am mistaken. Now, get back to work! I will be expecting my invitation.” He shook Shaun’s hand once more and off he drove.

Standing there dazed, they looked at one another until the dispatcher called.

“Headquarters to Captain Jackson. Come in.” She hesitated a moment before answering.

“Captain Jackson, go ahead.”

“Captain, we received a call from a neighbor to your location. He heard the gunshots and knows the owner of the property. We will text you this information shortly.”

“Thank you, headquarters. I’ll standby for it.” A moment later, she received the contact information on the owner. She called and it was answered on the first ring.

“Hello.”

“Hello, sir. I am, uh, Captain Jackson with the Sheriff’s office. We are in a pasture located on the west side of highway 169 about a mile south of Spring Ridge. Do you happen to own this land?”

“I own 30 acres near there. It has a pond and two gates. I have 40 Black Angus on my land.”

“OK, sir. We are on your land. Can you meet us here?”

“Yes, ma’am. Be there in a minute. My son called to say something happened down there. I was about to head that way when you called.”

“I will tell the officers at the roadblocks you are on your way. What is your name and mode of travel?”

“My name is Henry Dunn. I will be driving a White Yukon.”

“The officers will let you through after you show your driver license. We will meet you at the gate on 169. Things are still in process because three suspects are in the woods west of your property. It will be safer for us on 169.”

“I will be there shortly.”

L.L. put out the information to the officers manning the roadblocks. Mr. Dunn was admitted into the crime scene.

“Good to meet you, Mr. Dunn. This is Captain McVeigh and I am L.L. Jackson. I need to ask you a couple of questions. Some may seem strange but I must ask for court purposes.”

“Alright, Captain.”

“Do you see the 18 wheeler over there?”

“Yes.”

“Do you recognize it or the line of pickup trucks on the other side of your pasture?”

“No, I do not.”

“Have you sold your cows to anyone from Texas or given anyone from Texas permission to come on your property and collect your cattle?”

“No, no way in hell! I have not sold them. This is private property. No one was given permission to set foot on it, let alone, come here to load my cattle!”

“Thank you, Mr. Dunn. None of your cows were harmed during this event. As you can see, they are gathered at the pond. Your gates are blocked with our units. Here is my card. Please call if you have any questions. Let me see your driver license, please.”

L.L. took down his information for her report and handed it back.

“Mr. Dunn, I need you to leave your property until we apprehend the remaining suspects. Once that is accomplished, we will be here a few hours with our crime scene tech taking photos and collecting evidence. I will call, or one of our officers will, to let you return to install new locks on your gates. Thank you for your cooperation.”

“You’re welcome, Captain Jackson. Thank you for catching these guys trying to steal my cattle.”

“One more thing, Mr. Dunn, I need to see ownership documentation for your cattle and a total value based on the current cattle market.”

“I have this information at my home. Send one of your officers by. I will provide them copies.”

“Talk to you soon, Mr. Dunn.”

“Thanks again, Captain.”

 

The bright, winter sun had been up for hours. Officers on the picket lines were given food and drinks while they watched and waited. Just past noon, Shaun and L.L. heard over the radio an officer announce the suspects were coming out of the woods laying down their guns at the south dirt road location. They were handcuffed, placed in the rear seats of three separate units and brought back to the crime scene.

Mark Johnson and his team met with the Caddo team to debrief. L.L. instructed officers to read the suspects their Miranda warnings and transport them to the parish jail.

When the crime scene techs finished processing the scene, all the suspects’ vehicles were impounded and taken to the storage lot at the north substation. The coroner pronounced the three deceased suspects at the scene noting their time of death. The bodies were collected by attendants and taken to the parish morgue.

The patrol Captain sent officers back to the station to shuttle three, undamaged detective units back to the crime scene. The three totaled units from the SWAT were impounded pending further investigation.

Late that afternoon, L.L. and Shaun watched Mr. Dunn lock his two gates. They then headed to the hospital in their new unit as the Sheriff had ordered. X-rays showed a hairline fracture on her left ankle. The doctor placed her in a walking cast. Shaun received 15 stitches below his right eye. He convinced the attending physician he was current on tetanus.

By the time they reached the plantation, the McVeigh family had watched the noon and evening news stories about them.

Everyone had eaten and was eagerly waiting for them to return home. Bonnie served them at the small, kitchen table while the rest of the family stood and asked numerous questions.

James made it home an hour earlier. He had just finished being interrogated when L.L. and Shaun arrived.

After a few minutes of questions, Bonnie had heard enough. She raised both hands in the air. Everyone stopped talking to look at her. In a low voice she said, “Now, y’all listen to me. You can see they are here at home with us. Both are going to live even though they are a little banged up. They have been up for two days, fighting, shooting and arresting bad guys. They need to eat, take a bath and go to bed. Now get out of my kitchen unless you want a real whooping. Now, get I say!”

 

 

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