(This is an early uncorrected draft. Typoes and weirdness may still exist)

 

CHAPTER 1 – BENTON -Sunday

 

Grant paced the hospital waiting room.  His eyes fell on the upholstery of the waiting rooms chairs. Blue.  The damned chairs were blue as if the hospital wanted the concerned, nervous and even scared family members and friends to feel as though they were sitting in the middle of the sky. Grant didn't want to envision himself sitting in the middle of the sky, and he sure as hell didn't want Benton to go there.  What he wanted was a goddamned update!

Grant walked up to the information desk and waited until the woman looked at him. "I need an update on Benton Docks."

The woman hit a few keys on her keyboard.  "He's still in surgery."

"He's been in there three hours," Grant said. "I don't need the update on your computer.  I need a real update from a nurse or a doctor." He wanted a good update. A reasonable prognosis that told him Benton would live.  Grant did not want to tell Marie, L or Brian that Benton didn't make it, and it made him sick to his stomach when he thought of telling Avia. Benton's untimely death would send her into shock, then a relapse. Mentally, he was preparing himself to call residential drug rehab centers in San Antonio, except this time, he didn't think it'd be a 30-day stay.  She'd have to go to long-term residential treatment if Benton didn't make it.

"Sir, a doctor will be out to speak with you as soon as possible," the nurse said.

Grant scanned her, looking for a name tag. "Miss Georgia, that is my nephew in your operating theater. I would appreciate a real update."

Georgia looked at Grant. "Let me check.  Give me a few minutes."

"Thank you," Grant said. He remained standing until the nurse returned with another woman dressed in green scrubs.

"Mr. Bays," the second nurse said. "The doctor will be out shortly to discuss your nephew's condition and recovery prospects. However, I am happy to tell you that he's out of surgery. He lost a lot of blood, but we did a transfusion, and he's responded well.  He'll be in recovery about an hour before being transported to a room in the ICU."

Grant nodded. "Did he lose his arm?"

"No," the nurse said.  "We were able to repair the artery, and the arm is getting blood, but we'll want to keep an eye on it for a few days."

"Thank you," Grant said.

"Don't thank us. You probably saved his arm and his life when you packed gauze in the wound," the nurse said.

"That was our ranch doctor," Grant said.

"It helped tremendously.  The doctor should be out shortly to talk to you," the nurse said.

Grant watched as the woman walked back through the door.  He started to walk back to his seat when a man dressed in scrubs exited.  

"Mr. Bays?"

"That's me." He turned to face the man.

"I'm Dr. Havarty. I performed Benton Docks' surgery," he said.

"Is he going to recover?" Grant asked.

"I expect him to," Dr. Havarty said. "There was a lot of damage, and a lot of blood loss.  It wasn't a large caliber bullet, but it did a lot of bouncing. I repaired everything.  He received two units of blood, but he never coded on the table. You have a strong nephew."

"He's something else," Grant said.

"We'll keep him here for a few days to a week to monitor his progress," Havarty said. "I just want to let you know that complications aren't unheard of, and we may need to perform some revision surgeries."

"I appreciate your honesty," Grant said.

"We'll send a nurse out once we have him in his room," Havarty said.

***

It was an hour before Grant was given the number of Benton's hospital room.  He walked out of the waiting room and took the nearest elevator to the second floor. Benton's room was down the hall. Grant opened the door and walked inside to view Benton laying motionless on the hospital bed.

Grant was at a loss.  He'd never seen so many tubes, wires and electrodes connected to one individual. Grant stood by the bed.  Benton was alive, but Grant couldn't say that he looked any better than when the ambulance had picked him up. The only difference he could see was the bulge of bandages over Benton's shoulder.

Grant sat down in one of the chairs.  Then, he stood and paced the room. As the time ticked away, Grant wondered if the loss of blood had led to brain damage that was preventing Benton from opening his eyes.  He was ready to walk to the nurses station and request whatever the hell the test was that tracked electrical activity in the brain when he heard the sheets move on the bed.

Benton opened his eyes to view a white ceiling. He turned his head. He was connected to a heart monitor, oxygen and an IV. He could feel a catheter suck up his penis, draining his urine. For a second, he couldn’t remember where the hell he was. Then, he remembered Grant called for a damned ambulance. 

Benton was immediately furious at himself.  He must have passed out because he sure as hell didn't remember being transported into a hospital room. Benton cursed. He knew someone was standing at his left side, but the profile was too big to be Avy. "Where's Avy?"

"We're looking," Grant said.

"You haven't found her yet?" Benton asked. He started to say something else when he was overcome with a wave of coughing.  He mouth and throat were dry. "I need something to drink."

"I'll get it." Grant walked over to the door and opened it.  He scanned the hallway but didn't see any nurses. "I have to walk down to the nurse's station." Grant walked down to the group of nurses sitting behind a large round counter. "Benton is requesting something to drink."

"He can have ice.  I'll get some," the nurse said.

Grant returned to the room.  "The nurse is getting you some ice."

"I feel like hell," Benton said.

Grant didn't doubt it.  He hit Benton's morphine pump.  "That should help."

The nurse walked in with a cup of ice chips. "Ice chips.  Don't eat them too fast.  Your stomach and intestines are still waking up from surgery, but the doctor did say you could have ice chips tonight."

Benton started to reach for the ice cup and grimaced.

"I got it," Grant said.  He took the cup from the nurse and help the straw to Benton's mouth.

Benton took a small drink and rolled his eyes. "That's not working."

Grant removed the lid and tipped a few ice shavings into Benton's mouth. "Try that."

Benton swallowed the ice. "Better."

Grant sat the cup on the rolling hospital tray table."What time is it and how long have I been here?" Benton asked.

Grant check his watch. "Nine, and about five hours. You got out of surgery about an hour ago."

“That’s long enough. Avy needs me.” Benton braced himself with his good hand so he could sit.

Grant put a hand in the middle of Benton’s chest to stop him from sitting. "She needs you healed and alive, so just hang tight. You're in no condition to go anywhere."

Benton looked at Grant. "I've got to get out of here and look for her."

Grant reached over and hit the button to move the top of the bed to a sitting position. "You're going to be here for a few days. You're lucky you didn't lose your damned arm."

"I can't find Avy if I'm in here," Benton said. "They could be in Mexico by now."

“We haven’t seen them leave the county. My men are all over the surrounding interstates and going door to door in Pryor and Uvalde. L’s even sent men up here to look. We have it handled,” Grant said.

Benton brought his good hand to his eyes. “Damnit.”

“She’s smart, Benton. She’s not going to let them take her to Mexico,” Grant said. “She’ll call us. We’ll find her, or she’ll steal a car.”

Benton half-smiled. “Yeah, she has a penchant for stealing cars.” He grimaced a second later.

“They have you on a morphine drip.” Grant handed him the button. “You push that. I think you can hit it once every 15 minutes. I just hit it for you.”

“Thanks,” Benton said as he pressed the button. “You said L’s men are searching. Where’s L?”

“Still in McAllen,” Grant said. “But he said he’s on his way as soon as they get the house cleaned from Locke’s fucked up raid and that storm.”

"He won't come up here," Benton said. "I'd bet money on that." He reached for the cup of ice.

"So would I, but that's what he said," Grant said. He picked up the cup of ice and tipped more into Benton's mouth.

Benton swallowed it. "This is ridiculous. I can't even get my own damned water."

"Which is why you need to stay here," Grant said. "We'll find Avy. We have enough staff to evaluate any injuries she may have and get her treated."

"I think she's relapsed," Benton said.

"We're ready for that too," Grant said.  "She's going to be okay and so are you."

"Have you seen Locke?" Benton asked.

"We expect him sooner rather than later, but I haven't seen him yet," Grant said. "Speaking of that, I've got to leave here in a few and clean up my ranch in case he shows up there."

"Where's the van?" Benton asked.

"Hidden, but I think I need to get rid of it entirely," Grant said.

"That's probably best," Benton said. "The stuff inside needs to go too."

"Is there anything important?" Grant asked.

“Brian would be able to make a better determination than me,” Benton said. “I think the papers can be burned. Everything else… Technically, we’re going to need it again.”

“I’ll see what I can salvage," Grant said.

“You’ll have to do the same,” Benton said. “If you expect him up here.”

Grant furrowed a brow. Benton was right. If Locke showed up at the ranch, they’d have to hide or destroy their own computers and records. “I’m going to call Marie as soon as I get to my car,” Grant said. “She’ll make it go away.”

Benton nodded. He had no doubts that Grant’s wife would make it disappear. “What about my lawyer?”

“Mr. Brown’s down in the cafeteria eating dinner. He’ll be back up to sit with you.”

“Goddamn. What is he charging for that?” Benton asked.

“Three-hundred an hour,” Grant said. “I wrote him a check. Bought him for today and tomorrow. Just in case.”

“I’ll pay you back,” Benton said.

“We’ll talk money when you’re home with us,” Grant said. “But if you’re going to do what I think you’re going to do, we might just call it even.”

“Have you talked to Brian?” Benton asked.

“Yeah, I talked to Brian while you were in surgery. He asked if I was on-board with certain plans.  I am, and he should be here any time.”

Benton nodded.

“Get some rest. I’ll be back tomorrow,” Grant said.

“I appreciate it,” Benton said.

Grant exited the hospital room and walked down the hall towards the elevators. He pressed the down button and waited. The elevator car was empty when the doors opened. Grant stepped inside and pressed the first floor button.

When the doors opened, he saw Brian waiting. “Benton’s expecting you,” Grant said as he stepped out of the elevator.

“Is he awake?” Brian asked.

“Woke up about 30 minutes ago. I need to go to do some cleaning at the ranch.” Grant winked.

“All right. I should be at the ranch later,” Brian said. “Have they found Avy?”

“Not yet,” Grant said.

“Well shit,” Brian said. “Does Benton know?”

"He knows. First question he asked,” Grant said.

“Fuck,” Brian said. “How’s he handling that?”

“As well as he can,” Grant said and shrugged.

Brian started to take a step toward the elevator. "I'm going to look for her tonight."

"Avia?" Grant asked.

"Yeah. I want to see how Benton is doing, but I also want to catch those fuckers and bring Avy home."

"Avy?" Grant questioned. "Something going on, Brian? Benton usually calls her that."

"I call her Avy sometimes," Brian said.

"Let me know when you get into La Pryor," Grant said.

"I will," Brian said. He stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for Benton's floor.

When the doors opened, he stepped out and walked down to Benton's room. Brian half-hoped that Benton was asleep, so he could leave for La Pryor to find Avy. Instead, he found Benton sitting up and watching TV when he peered through the glass. 

Brian opened the door and walked into the room. "Sorry, I missed the party."

"We could have used you," Benton said.

"I heard they were armed to the teeth," Brian said.

"They had a few guns," Benton said. "And one of those bastards got lucky."

"I see that," Brian said. "How are you feeling?"

"I've felt better," Benton said. "But I still hope to get out of here quickly so I can find Avy."

"You need to rest and heal and let us find her," Brian said.

"Have you heard anything?" Benton asked.

"Nothing new," Brian said. "But i"m going over there to look."

"Tonight?" Benton asked.

"Yes," Brian said. "But is anyone here to sit with you?"

"My lawyer," Benton said. "He's supposedly down in the cafeteria. He should be up here in a few minutes."

"That's not ideal," Brian said. "I guess there isn't anyone else though, is there?"

"Grant and Marie are cleaning up their ranch. Avy is missing. L won't come up here. And I don't care what anyone says, and I don't want to talk to him. You're going to go look for Avy."

"I guess that's everyone that matters," Brian said. "Do you need me to stay?"

"I want you to find Avy," Benton said. "I'm going to be here regardless of who's here with me."

"I'll leave as soon as your lawyer gets back," Brian said.

"I appreciate it," Benton said.  "She means a lot to me."

"I know she does." Brian walked over and sat down in one of the hospital lounge chairs.

"How long was Locke in McAllen?" Benton asked.

"I have no idea. I never saw him," Brian said. "I can't confirm he was there. I can confirm, there were cops, and we were fucking raided. But I never saw Locke, and I never heard his voice."

"He might have had the McAllen police perform the raid for him. He's out of his jurisdiction," Benton said.

"That fucker is chasing us from Michigan," Brain said.

"He's got something against us personally," Benton said.

"I'm starting to believe it," Brian said. "Who's working on that?"

"The Vitali's," Benton said.

"I'll keep my ears open," Brian said just as the door opened.

"Brian. Benton," Mr. Brown said. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired, but I'm on a mission," Brian said.

"As good as I'm going to for right now," Benton said.

"Mr. Brown, good to see you again. I've got to get down to La Prior. Do you have my phone number?"

"Has it changed since the Grand Rapid's case?" Brown asked.

"Nope. Same number," Brian said.

"I've got it," Brian said.

"Call me if you need something. I'm the only one that's sorta available tonight," Brian said.

"Will do," Brown said.

Brian walked out of the hospital room and took the elevator down to the first floor.  He stepped off, pleased that there were no cops in the lobby.

Five minutes later, he backed out of the parking space and drove through the large lot to the exit. Brian wanted to find Avy just as badly as Benton wanted her found.

***

Grant walked towards the exit doors as Brian stepped onto the elevator. The fact that they had not found Avia yet was worrisome. He had expected her back within an hour of her abduction. With this much time having passed, Grant knew there was a possibility she was in the Sanchez hacienda in Mexico. It was something he needed to start thinking about it, but he didn’t need to tell Benton.

Once in the hospital parking lot, Grant remotely unlocked his car doors and slid into the driver’s seat. It was a two hour drive back to his ranch. He wouldn’t make it out to the hospital again tonight, but he planned to make a trip tomorrow.

Before he backed out of the lot, he texted Marie, asking if she were still awake. He received a response before he could put his phone down.

###

Grant arrived at his ranch at eleven.  It was late, and he still had a ton to do. Grant was thankful when Marie met him at the door.

“How’s Benton?” Marie asked.

“He’ll be fine,” Grant said.

“Physically, you mean,” Marie said. “Have they found Avia?”

“No,” Grant said with a frown. “And I am getting concerned.”

“So am I,” Marie said. “It’s been most of a day. You need to find her before he gets out of the hospital.”

“I’m working on it.” Grant looked at Marie. “What did they do with the van?”

“Stuck it in the barn,” Marie said.

“Unfortunately, that isn’t going to be good enough,” Grant said.

“You expect Locke,” Marie said.

“Sooner rather than later,” Grant said. “Which means we need to get the computers out. We need to light anything that’s paper on fire, and the van needs destroyed.”

Marie nodded. “Well, we need to get on it right now then. Do you know how long we have?”

“I do not,” Grant said. “So, yes, we need to do it now.”

“Do you want me to call our junkyard guy?” she asked.

“I do, and I want him here tonight,” Grant said.

“Are you going with him?” Marie asked.

"I need to watch him destroy it,” Grant said.

Grant walked into his office while Marie called their junkyard contact. He closed the door behind him and walked over to his desk. Sitting down, he picked up his phone and called his men. He should have had an update by now. The best case scenario involved hearing a vehicle pull up the drive with Avia, but Grant doubted that would happen in the next 30 seconds. However, he wanted her found before morning. The last thing he wanted to do was go back to the hospital and tell Benton he didn’t have Avia

Unfortunately, the first thing out of the man’s mouth was that they didn’t have Avia, and they hadn’t seen the car since it turned down the street in Pryor.

“Where the hell did you lose the car?” Grant questioned

“They turned a corner. When we turned about 30 seconds later, they weren’t there,” the man said.

“What street?” Grant asked then listened. “Then go door to door. If you didn’t see them leave that street, they didn’t leave that street. Do you fucking understand she's the boss's daughter?” He slammed the phone down and looked up just as Marie opened the door.

“Tow truck is on the way,” Marie said.

Grant ran a hand down his face. “How long do we have?” he asked.

“About 45 minutes,” Marie said. “Have they found Avia?”

“No, and they fucked up,” Grant said.

“How?” she asked.

“They lost the car down a street then they didn’t search the street. They kept driving,” Grant said.

Marie frowned. “You might want to consider firing them if they don’t find Avia tonight.”

“I am seriously considering it,” Grant said. “That was a dumb mistake.” He had faith in his men, but apparently they didn’t understand the importance of finding Avia.

“Well, let’s hope it’s not too late,” Marie said.

“We can hope,” Grant said as he stood. “For now, let’s get that van out of the barn and on its way to the scrap heap before Locke gets here.”

“Do we know when he’s coming?” Marie asked as she followed Grant through the house and out the back door.

“No, but I’d bet sooner rather than later,” Grant said.

The Jeep was parked a few feet beyond the door in their rear driveway. The keys were under the floor mat. He’d drive.

Grant slid into the driver’s seat just as he heard Marie slam the passenger’s side door shut. He started the engine. The drive to the barn was about 10 minutes, and grant found the white van under a massive pile of straw. All he could see was the very top of the van.

“This is impressive,” he said as he walked around the concealed van.

“I wasn’t thinking Locke would come out this far,” Marie said. “So I had them bury it in case any of the police officers from earlier came back here.”

“I like it,” Grant said. “It’s a brilliant idea, if it weren’t for Locke.”

“Locke is a son of a bitch,” Marie said.

“He'll get what’s coming to him,” Grant said.

“He better,” Marie said. “He’s really hell-bent on making Benton and Avia’s lives hell, and I’m sick of it.”

“You aren’t the only one,” Grant said. “But for now, we need to dig this out and get it ready for our junk guy.”

“How do you want to start?”

“Let’s dig the front out then I’ll drive it out. That should be good enough. Then we can get the guys to pile the straw inside the barn.”

Marie grabbed two rakes from alongside the barn wall and handed one to Grant.

It took them 20 minutes to clear the front of the van and the driver’s door.

“I can’t imagine what Benton was feeling when Jamie reached through that passenger door,” Marie said.

“Dred,” Grant said as he reached for the van keys Marie was handing him.

“Maybe it’s a good thing the van is leaving,” Marie said.

“I think so,” Grant said as he stepped inside and started the van. He put it in gear and revved the engine before hitting the gas. The van pulled free of the rest of the straw, and Granted parked it 15 feet from the barn before turning off the engine and jumping out. “Can we get to the back?”

Marie looked. “Yes.”

“Good. We need to see what Benton has back there. He said computers and possibly paper files.”

“We’ll have to burn the paper,” Marie said.

“We will, but I’m more concerned about the computers. Benton said we needed to keep as many as we could.”

Marie opened the back doors. “There’s no way. There must be 20 to 30 computers back here.”

Grant stepped behind her. “Fuck. This is not good. This must be every computer from McAllen.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Marie said. “What do you want to do?”

“How much time do we have?”

“Maybe 15 minutes,” Marie said as she looked at her watch.

“All right,” Grant said as he contemplated. “We can’t save all these. Let’s see how many harddrives we can pull out in 15 minutes. The rest are going to get crushed with the van.”

“I don’t see any paper,” Marie said.

“I don’t either, and that’s a good thing,” Grant said. He pulled the first computer out and cracked open the case. “I need scissors.”

Marie handed him a pair of scissors before pulling out a second computer. “Just cut the harddrives out?”

“They can buy new cables,” Grant said. “And destroying the cables won’t harm the harddrives.”

“What are we going to do with them?” Marie asked as she cut the harddrive from the computer and tossed it aside.

“I don’t know yet. We’ll have to hide them somewhere.”

They cut out another five harddrives in the next 12 minutes. Grant tossed the cases back into the van and slammed the doors just as he heard a diesel engine.  “That sounds like him.”

“I hope we got enough of them,” Marie said.

“It’ll have to be enough,” Grant said. “Just pile them in the corner. I’ll go talk to our guy.”

“This the van?” the guy asked as Grant approached him.

“This is the one,” Grant said.

“And you want it crushed?” he asked.

“Immediately. As in, I am going with you, and I will be watching you crush this thing,” Grant said.

“All right. Let me hook it up, and we’ll get out of here,” the guy said.

Marie stepped beside Grant. “Do you want me to follow?”“Yeah. In the Jeep is fine,” Grant said.

“I’ll start it while he loads the van,” Marie said. “Are you riding with him?”

“Yes,” Grant said.

They both watched as the man loaded the van onto the flatbed truck. When Grant moved to get into the passenger’s side of the tow truck, Marie got into the Jeep and started the engine. She followed the tow truck to the junkyard. The drive was 30 minutes. She parked the Jeep in the parking lot and walked through the gates to the back of the junkyard. Grant was standing a few feet away from the tow truck.

“Is he getting ready?”

“Yeah,” Grant said.

“How much is he charging?” Marie asked.

“Thousand,” Grant said.

“How much to keep his mouth shut?”

“Offered to invest $10,000 into his junkyard,” Grant said.

“Did he accept?” Marie asked.

“He did,” Grant said. “I told him I’d give him the cash after the car was shredded.”

“Do you have it on you?”

“I have seven on me. Do you have three?” Grant asked.

“Let me look,” Marie said as she opened an inside side pocket in her purse and pulled out a wad of hundred dollar bills. She counted as discretely as possible. “I have four.” She handed the bills to him

“That should cover it. I’ll replace that tomorrow,” Grant said as he pocketed the money.

“You don’t have to,” Marie said.

“No, that’s your mad money,” Grant said. “I can’t keep that.”

Marie shrugged. “It’s not a problem.”

“Take Avia out when we get her back,” Grant said.

“That I would be happy to do,” Marie said.

They both watched as the van was removed from the flatbed and picked up by a crane before being put on the industrial belt that led to the industrial shredding machine.

“Step back,” Grant said.

They both backed-up a few feet as the van fell into the grinding pit of no return. After a few minutes, chunks of metal started landing on the lower belt where they were funneled into a large dumpster. The entire process took about four minutes.

The junkyard guy walked over to them after he stopped the machine. “Nobody will ever see that car again.”

Grant handed him the money. “I appreciate it.”

“Not a problem. Good luck finding your grandchild.”

“Thanks. We’re working on it.”

Grant got into the driver’s side of the Jeep. Marie joined him, slamming the passenger’s side door shut.

The drive back to the ranch was another 30 minutes, and soon grant was parking the car in back. He walked with Marie inside the house.

“Do you want to go look for her?” Marie asked.

Grant looked at Marie as he poured himself a drink. “I do, but not tonight.”

“Tomorrow,” Marie said. “After you visit Benton.”

Grant thought for a moment before nodding. “I think so. If they haven’t found her.”  He took a long drink from his glass.

“You coming to bed?” Marie asked.

“Soon,” Grant said. “Give me an hour.”

“All right.” Marie turned and walked upstairs to their bedroom.

 

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