First chapter of “Stolen Youth” – follow up to “Never A Loose End”, in editing now.


Chapter 1 – Dusty Death

The ranch house sat in silence, front door hanging open, windows broken. The smell. Rotting flesh. Ravens circled, and vultures, coming down every so often to join the feast. Curtains fluttered in the wind.

Sound approached. Motorcycles. Coming quickly down the dusty road. They rounded the bend, and the birds took off, pieces of flesh still in their beaks. The engines slowed, and the motorcycles stopped.

“Boys!” said the Mike, the father, on the big motorcycle. “Stay here.”

He put his bike back into gear and slowly rounded the bend. There were bodies in the road in front of him, rotting, exposed skin eaten in places. He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and took pictures of the dead, then heard one of his kids put their bike into gear. He turned.

“Stop right this minute, Sean!”

“But dad, I wanna see,” he said.

“No! Stay back! I mean it. There’s death here.”

“But dad!”

“Knock it off. Go to your brother and wait. I’ll be back in a minute. Stay put, or I’ll take you’re motorcycles away for a month. Do you understand?”

“All right, dad,” the kid said, looking dejected.

Mike took a few more pictures, then put his bike into gear and rode forward. The house looked worse close up. Bullet holes pockmarked the front porch. Big bullet holes. Bigger than he’d ever seen. There was a rustle and he looked to his right, seeing a vulture fly off of a body lying in the open field twenty yards out. He shut off the bike’s engine and leaned it up against a boulder in the front yard, then noticed legs pointing his direction from behind the house. What happened here?

He climbed the steps of the porch. There was a man lying near the door with half of his head gone. Mike shuddered and peeked in the door. More bodies. Blood everywhere. Three by the window. One leaning against the doorway into the kitchen. One on the floor behind the couch. A naked woman, missing the top of her head, grinning at him, parts of her lips ripped off by the birds. He couldn’t take it anymore. He ran out on the porch and threw up over the rail. Then he heard something. A vehicle. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he raced towards his bike, jumping on and kicking it to life, turning it around and racing to his boys. He got to them as two pickup trucks pulled around the bend. He motioned for his boys to take off across the field, but a man jumped out of the first truck and fired a shot into the air.

“Freeze!” said the booming voice. He was a big man, with long blonde hair and an ugly pockmarked face. An Asian man got out of the driver’s side and watched, pistol in hand.

“Okay, don’t shoot,” Mike said. “Stop, boys!”

“Shut off the bike and push it over here,” the man said. Mike nodded yes and killed his engine.

“Did you guys do this?” Mike asked, so scared he was shaking now. “I won’t tell anybody. I’ll just take my boys and leave.”

The man walked up to him, past the crying boys. “Your phone.”

Mike pulled it out of his pocket and handed it over. The big man looked at it, going straight to the pictures.

“You send these pictures anywhere?”

“No,” Mike said. “They’re just on the phone. No coverage.”

“You got bars. Don’t lie to me.”

“I didn’t send them anywhere. I swear.”

The big man deleted the pictures, and handed the phone back.

“We won’t say anything. I swear,” the man pleaded.

“I didn’t do this,” the big man said.

“Sailor Boy, we need hurry,” shouted the Asian man, still standing next to the driver’s side of the first truck. “Hurry hurry. Before somebody come.”

Sailor Boy held up his hand to shut the man up, then looked back at Mike. “Most of these people were my friends.”

“We didn’t do it,” Mike said.

Sailor Boy laughed hard, his whole body shaking. “Oh, we know who did this.”

“Oh,” Mike said, looking slightly relieved.

“Can I trust you to keep your mouths shut?”

“Of course,” Mike said.

“Okay, you and your boys are free to go. Take off, and don’t come back.”

“C’mon, boys, let’s go,” he said, still looking nervous. The boys turned their bikes around, and followed their dad away.

Sailor Boy nodded to the Asian man.

“Now,” he shouted. The men in the second truck fired AK-47s at the three, sending them flying to the ground, bike engines still running. Another man ran over and used his pistol to put a bullet in each of their helmeted heads.

“I hated to do that, Joseph,” Sailor Boy said, a grim look on his face.

“I know, boss,” he replied, not looking like it bothered him one bit.

“Let’s go get the bodies,” he said. “We’ll take those three too.”

The two trucks rolled up to the house. Sailor Boy went inside, and then stopped and wept. Joseph heard him and rushed in, seeing Walt lying on the floor, right inside the door.

“I sorry, boss,” he said, putting his hand on Sailor Boy’s shoulder as he sobbed.

Sailor Boy recovered after a few minutes, his face and eyes red, wet with tears. “Okay, let’s round up the bodies and get them into the truck,” he said. He saw Sadie’s body lying behind the couch. “So that’s the bitch that started this whole thing.” He pulled out his pistol and fired about five rounds into what was left of her head, causing all of his men except Joseph to dive for cover.

“It okay,” Joseph shouted. “Just boss. Pick up bodies and let’s go.”

The trucks were loaded in a matter of minutes.

“Where’s the redhead?” Sailor Boy asked.

“Not here, boss,” Joseph said. “Maybe around yellow van we passed?”

“Let’s you and me go back there and check,” Sailor Boy said.

“Okay, boss,” Joseph said.

The truck full of bodies did a K-turn using the house’s driveway and headed back up the road. Sailor Boy and Joseph followed, but took a different fork. The road they were on became more and more rutted, and then there was a wide spot.

“That Jim’s truck?” asked Joseph.

“Looks like it. Tires shot out.”

They drove a little further, nearing the big dirt road they drove in on.

“There van,” Joseph said.

They pulled up to it and parked.

“It locked,” Joseph said. He stood next to the driver’s side window. Sailor Boy looked down and saw a good sized rock on the ground, about the size of a softball. He picked it up and carried it to the van.

“I just found the key,” he said. “Stand back.”

Joseph moved out of the way and Sailor Boy threw the rock against the side window hard. The window cracked and bowed in, but didn’t break all the way through.

“Strike one,” Joseph said, laughing. Sailor Boy grinned and picked the rock up off the round. He did a wind-up and pitched it again. This time it crashed through, leaving a large hole. Joseph reached through and unlocked the door. “Wow, boss, look at this.” He climbed between the seats to the back, and slid open the side door. Sailor boy walked around to it and looked in.

“Looks like a mobile command center,” Sailor Boy said, laughing. “Guess my sources were right about Mister Beckler.”

“We should bring back to compound,” Joseph said.

“I don’t want to get caught with it, but I do want all of the hard drives out of this sucker. There’s probably info about Malcolm and George on them.”

“Yes yes,” Joseph said. “But no redhead.”

“Yeah, I noticed, Mister Moto,” he replied, chuckling. “Let’s follow the tire tracks and see where this thing came from. Doesn’t look like it got here from the main road. Looks like it was coming from the waterfall.”

“Okay, boss,” Joseph said. He got out of the van and slid the door shut, as Sailor Boy noted the GPS coordinates. He made a call.


“Yeah, Sailor Boy, what’s up?”

“We need to send a couple of guys with some tools out to the coordinates I just texted you. We found the van.”


“I want the hard drives from the computers.”

“Good idea,” he said. “Why don’t you just drive it here?”

“Don’t want to get caught with it. Monte phoned in that tip, remember? The cops are looking for this van after the slaughter at the motel.”

“How was the house?”

“Bad. Death. Feasting varmints. We loaded up all the bodies. We’ll burn all of them except Walt, Josh, Brian, Monte, and Jim.”

“You tell your sister about Josh and Brian yet, boss?”

“No, and I’m not looking forward to it.”

“I can imagine. I’ll take care of this right away.”

“Thanks, Juan. We’ll be back soon. We’re still looking for the redhead.”

“Be careful, boss.”

“Will do. Bye.”

He shoved his phone back into his pocket and got into the cab.

“They come?” Joseph asked.

“Yeah. Follow the road towards the waterfall, but not too fast. I need to see tire tracks.”

“Yes yes,” he said, starting the truck and driving forward.

It was slow going. Nothing but empty flat desert, but then some hills rose beside them, making a sheer wall on the left side of the road. They followed it around a bend, and suddenly there were two motor homes in front of them. Sailor Boy pulled out his pistol when he saw them.

“Stop. Let’s walk up to these,” he said.

“Okay, boss,” Joseph said. He parked and shut off the engine, then grabbed his pistol and joined Sailor Boy.

“Nobody here,” Sailor Boy said as they approached. “Way too hot to be sitting in these things without air conditioning.”

“Maybe they just turn off when they hear us,” Joseph said.

Sailor Boy walked over to the first coach and touched the generator exhaust pipe. Then he walked to the second coach and did the same. “No way, these generators haven’t run for hours.”

“What now, boss? We break in?”

“No,” he said. “Look. There’s one of our trucks, behind.”

They walked over to the old primer gray pickup truck. “It bloody mess, boss.”

“Yeah,” Sailor Boy said. He looked around. “Look at the tracks. There’s a set going off on the road to the highway there.”

“We follow?”

“No,” Sailor Boy said. “Look there, another set of tracks heading that way.” He pointed out into the wilderness.

“Nothing that way but air force range,” Joseph said.

“Yeah. Let’s follow those tracks.”

“Okay, boss.”

They got back in the truck and drove along the tracks.

“Long way back here,” Joseph said as they rode along.

“Don’t go too fast, now. I need to see those tracks at the next fork.”

They kept going for several miles. Then they saw the air force ranging targets stretching high into the sky.

“You got the binoculars in here?” Sailor Boy asked.

“Yes yes, behind seat,” Joseph said.

Sailor Boy fetched them, took off the lens covers, and looked out ahead. “Stop a minute. It’s jerking around too much.”

“Okay, boss,” Joseph said, putting on the brakes until the truck stopped. “You see something?”

“Yeah, looks like par-boiled redhead to me. Chained to the bottom of that ranging target.” He handed the binoculars to him.

“Redhead all right,” Joseph said. “Shining in sun. She alive?”

“Can’t tell from here. Let’s high tail it over there.”

Joseph hit the gas, and they took off, rear wheels spinning, throwing dust.


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