Deputy Lisewski’s stopping wasn’t any better than his driving, and I had to put both hands on the back of the seat in front of me to keep from busting my face open. He let me out the passenger side of the squad car — a nice favor given that it didn’t have internal handles in the back — and the two of us ran toward the fence for the Schaeffer graveyard. His boss, Sheriff Al Edwards, had a half dozen steps on us but stopped to allow us to catch up.
We all crouched behind the concrete pillar that signified where the gate would be. Edwards looked at me, his eyes darting from my face to drawn 1911.
“Let us handle the Schaeffer’s. You get the boy.”
“Fine, if they’ll let me,” I said.
Edwards and Lisewski moved out first, shouting orders at the devil-worshipping Schaeffer clan on the other side of the fence. I came around last and nearly stopped at the scene before me. Schaeffer men in long, dark red robes were dousing lamps and candles, with who I could only assume was their ring leader, Cheryl Ruth, standing above Jake with a wicked twisted dagger in her hands. Jake was tied down, spread eagle, and he and his attacker were naked as the day they were born. The bodies of both young women lay to either side.
After putting out most of the lights, leaving us with a little help from the moon and the flashing red and blues from the two squad cars, the five Schaeffer men advanced on the police, raising clubs and knives. No guns, which meant I might be able to get out of this without firing a shot myself.
While all Schaeffer eyes were on the cops I darted out at the slighty tubby Cheryl Ruth, holstering my firearm and grabbing her wrists with both hands. She struggled against me but my momentum was too great — the moment my shoulder hit her stomach the air escaped her lungs with an explosive, involuntary sigh. She landed on top of Jake cross-wise, knocking the wind from him as well. Both the sheriff and deputy fired, but in the confusion and adrenaline I didn’t count.
She struggled, and with more resolve than I expected. Normally my attitude toward violence against a woman would preclude what happened next but lives were on the line and that knife appeared to be quite sharp. Still holding her wrists with my left hand I slammed my right elbow down on her sternum as hard as our position allowed, and followed that up by bringing the edge of my fist into her nose.
That did it for her — Cheryl Ruth went limp, letting the knife fall against her own stomach. I wrestled her onto her back and pinned her arms behind her, using my weight to hold her still while untying Jake. I took a moment to take in the scene after getting one of his hands free.
Several Schaeffer men in cloaks lay dead on the ground, and the rest were on their faces with hands behind their heads, fingers interlocked. Edwards held a gun on them while Lisewski went along cuffing them together. Movement caught my eye, just inside my peripheral vision, and I whipped my head around, reaching for my gun.
A man had just jumped the fence to leave the graveyard. He looked in the fence at me and held a single finger to his lips for silence, then winked. It took a long time for me to recognize him, to recall the face — but I remembered: the man named Anderson, who offered me a ride one day. I watched as he walked away into the darkness.
“We can cuff her now, Ron,” Lisewski said.
I got off Cheryl Ruth Schaeffer’s back. She tried to crawl away, but Lisewski had her. Jake Creel crawled away from her and lay against a headstone, curled up and covering himself. It was then that I noticed several crude, wide-spaced stitches connecting his top and bottom lips.
“You’re always naked when I find you,” I said. “Let’s stop that, hey?”
Jake nodded. Then, after a pause, through the stitches holding his mouth shut, he tried to speak. It sounded like: “Thanks for saving my life.”
“Maybe not your life. They might have just needed a cock and balls for their ceremony,” I said.
A few moments later a few Schaeffer trucks pulled up outside the graveyard. Only Donna Leigh stepped out, and she walked right up to me.
“Thank ya,” she said. “We ain’t got nah room fer devil worshup.”
“I agree,” I said. “I didn’t ever come here with ill intent. Truce?”
“Ya got a truce — fer now.” She didn’t shake on it, but she said it.
That was enough. I still didn’t have answers to all my questions, I still didn’t know why Cheryl Ruth focused in on the women in Jake’s life, or how Chris Martin connected, just what was going on with Fairbanks, and who the hell Anderson really was. Maybe I’d never know. But for now, everything was all right. The real killer, caught and bound, which meant the charges against Audrey would be dropped. Jake Creel alive. The world a little safer.
That was definitely enough. And I reminded myself that getting ahead of events was a necessary part of the job, because acting is always stronger than reacting.