Enoch stroked the kinky gray beard as if it were a treasured appendage, yet his squinted narrow eyes never departed from the note held tightly in his pale hands. A
huff of stale air exited his chapped lips. He brought his hairy fingers together and entwined them like rope until his knuckles whitened. Enoch bowed, closed his
eyes, and moved his mouth without uttering a sound. Why must it be so hard, Lord? Can we not achieve Your purpose without the loss of our own? I will heed Your
word, but please, not another fallen angel.
Except for the hum of the desk fan and the tap, tap, tap of the pull chain bouncing against the base of the brass lamp; the room remained silent. He straightened his
shoulders and opened the curtain to the desolate landscape beyond the window of his sparsely furnished office. The swiveled chair creaked and moaned as he
leaned back; part from his weight, part from its many years serving as his favorite seat. The shifting palette of twilight colors reflected against the thin clouds
forming pink swirls and stationary waves across the desert sky. The silhouette of a majestic saguaro cactus stood guard over the serene shadows cast by the thorny
vegetation capable of drawing sustenance from hard-packed caliche.
Thirty yards from the community boundary, something streaked in and out between the arid plant life, followed close behind by a larger outline. Through the open
screen window, a distant squeal signaled the end of the chase. A scraggly white pawed coyote appeared from behind a bundle of scrub brush. It paused for a
moment and repositioned a kicking jackrabbit in its jaws as if it were an inanimate slab of meat of no consequence. Then it paced out of sight to reap the rewards of
victory over those intended as fodder for the beast that roam His domain and harvest the weak for their purpose.
A soft tap-tap sounded against the door. “Come in.” Enoch’s thoughts returned to the office as he greeted his second in command. “Yes, Joshua? Have our
suspicions been confirmed?”
“Yes, Elder Prime, but it’s worse then your associates reported.”
Enoch stared at his black shoe tapping against the tile floor. “Go ahead.”
Joshua hesitated, as if he feared the wrath that would surely burst from his senior once given the unexpected news. Finally, “The beast has again entered our midst
and contaminated another of our flock.”
Enoch grabbed the edge of his desk and prepared for the name. “Go ahead. Who is it?”
Joshua moved backward two steps. “Abby.”
There was no explosion, no burst of strong words. Instead, Enoch remained motionless, except for the slight tremor in his forearms and the quivering of his beard.
“No, not…Dear, God. Not little Abby. So much spirit, such promise.”
Joshua appeared confused, unsure how to respond. Enoch drug his large hands across his eyes and uttered a series of mumbled words. He worked his stubby
tongue across his lips and, as if in a gesture of denial, he uncovered his face and demanded, “Are you absolutely sure of this? We must be positive.”
The subordinate focused directly on Enoch’s pleading eyes, “Yes, Elder Prime. It’s been validated by chatter. Not one single voice of descent. There can be no
mistake. It’s always unfortunate when the purging does not fully take and the gifted ones are not fully awakened. Maybe it’s a sign we should adjust our ritual,
move away from the ascension and…”
“No! The gift is too important if we are to achieve His purpose. It has protected our flock from the wolves again and again. I will not let the unholy threaten our
community like before.”
“Perhaps Abby was another carryover from the first generation. Something happened in that pod, but no records survived to pass on their history. She might have
been one of the residual...”
“No. I have followed her progress from the moment of her indoctrination. Abby was a Freel but could not have been interrupted like the others. Something else
interfered with her training, her awakening. We may never know. If the test returns her to the flock, she might help us understand more, but I refuse to toy with the
gift, as if we did not trust His will.”
“As you wish Elder Prime. It’s just; there have been so many to go early.”
“I know, brother. Each one jabs another thorn in my heart, but it’s the cost we must bear to counter the devil’s repeated attempts to thwart our mission. We will
prevail. Whatever it takes, we must prevail. Failure will doom the Children of God to the plague of evil spreading through His kingdom.”
Enoch’s posture shifted from empathy to determination. “The truth must be tested. Prepare the circle. We will lay witness after this eve’s prayers.”
“What about the viper outside our flock?”
“Have you contacted the clan responsible?”
With a mask edging on defiance, “They’re your associates, not…” The attempt to push back hovered between them. Enoch conveyed an expression of dominance
to reestablish his supreme rule.
Joshua hesitated, as if pondering something, then capitulated to his master. “Yes. They say the traitor is on the run. Their sources report he’s seeking asylum with
the unholy ones.”
Enoch frowned. “Has he given witness to us, to our operation?”
“No sir, not yet. He transitions to Washington tomorrow morning. I’ve asked – ”
“Asked? My God, man. You want them hounding us again. Call the clan head back now. Tell them everyone he’s come in contact with must be rectified,
His second in command acted uncertain. No, it was as if the implications of the last order were more than he could stomach.
Enoch removed any doubt from the equation. “I understand your reluctance. I regret that our course may encompass the innocent, but nothing can deter us. The
serpent must be flushed and beheaded. All touched by its tongue must be cleansed. There is no alternative. Now go, quickly, before it’s too late!”
Enoch returned his attention to the new darkness outside his window. The pock-marked moon dominated the horizon and formed a backdrop to the outline of the
distant mountains. Your will is exact and hard, oh Lord, but we heed Your word.
He prayed for continued guidance until the wall clock chimed eight times. Elder Prime raised his head and took a deep breath. “It’s time.”
Enoch waited by the door of the community hall until evening prayers were offered, and then he made his way to the center of the expansive hall. “Thank you Elder
Joshua for leading the service in my absence.” He scanned the circle of waiting eyes in those of his flock posed around the perimeter of the large room. Some were
inquisitive for his next words, some confused by the rare event of their leader not participating in their daily ritual. He projected a strange visage; half smile, half
sadness. “My apologies for missing our communion, my children. I was in solitude, searching for His guidance and the strength to do what must be done.”
Their expressions morphed. The young became confused, while the rest, especially the women, displayed apprehension. A few tried to tuck in behind the male at
their side in the futile hope that doing so would offer a shield. It was as if they knew what came next, like watching the mechanical handle being turned ever so
slowly on the side of a metal box waiting for the Jack to spring out and point directly at one of them.
Enoch tugged downward on the lapel of his black coat. “Our community is small, but blessed with His true word. Only we have been given the reward of Ecstasy’s
Gate and the ensuing knowledge. With that gift comes enormous responsibility for each of us. Sometimes that burden can cause great pain and sorrow to our
families. But we most protect the secret with our lives if His will is to be done. We can only be His shepherds and the extension of His way if we all work together,
if we all are willing to sacrifice.”
He cleared his throat and pressed his hands together beneath his chin. One by one, Enoch studied each face in the room, searching for some sign, a chink in the
mask the guilty use to cover misdeeds, or the intent to escape. “My children, we each know the consequences of abandoning our laws. There is only one path, and
it is His divine guidance.” His voice quivered ever so slightly, and he sighed. “We again have a traitor in our flock.”
A wave of creaking sounds rippled around the room as the occupants shifted in their wooden chairs, broadcasting their reaction to his life and death proclamation.
Some sat erect, some studied their simple shoes, while a few covered their eyes, jerked their heads and whimpered.
Enoch twitched his nose and inhaled the scent of change in the room. Like a coyote sniffing for a rabbit’s musk the moment before it decides to flee its hole, he
nodded his head twice. “I know. I feel it, too. One of our own, turning against us, trying to destroy everything we’ve done. It cuts to my heart, but we have no
choice. His will must be done. There is but one hope for this lost soul. Pray for her as she is tested. Beg forgiveness for straying from His path. Only His
intervention can prove her spirit pure so she may return to our flock.”
He motioned toward the rear door, but no one moved. The figures standing at the edge of the light cast down the hallway pulled further back into the shadows.
Enoch’s face burned, his eyes scorching through the reluctant expressions of the followers. He snorted like an antiquated buffalo and jammed his right foot hard
against the floor. The men resisted, but were too cowardly to refuse their master. Finally, the pair led a young woman into the center of the hall. As they removed
the hood from her black robe, the whimpering females in the room cried out.
“Silence!” Elder Prime stood eye to eye with the accused. “Child, you have broken our covenants, our trust.” His vision blurred and his voice cracked. “I feel as if
the beast has reached up and slashed my throat. Why, Abby? What caused you to go astray? You knew our rules. You’ve been taught His will. If you were unhappy
with your husband, we could have made arrangements. Any of us elders, including me, would have gladly absorbed you into his family. But to abandon our
traditions, run into the lair of the unholy; you have spit on your vows to honor our elders, our men, our community. Now, for your violation, we have but one
recourse. You must be tested for absolution. He will decide your fate.”
Enoch motioned to the two male guardians. “Disrobe her wickedness and present Abby to his test in the purity with which she came into His world.”
The guardians obeyed and exposed her nude form. Tears raced down her face and converged between her tiny breasts. Her eyes darted around the room, pleading
for a savior, someone brave enough to end this insane nightmare, but no one stepped forward. Her sisters of the flock covered their faces and wept; her brothers
clenched their fists, struggled in their chairs, then squeezed their eyelids shut.
“Secure her in the pit as each of us prays for His hand, a sign that her spirit has been purged of its sins.”
Again, they submitted to his command. She tried to resist, but it was useless; she was too small, too weak. They drug her trembling body across the floor as if it
were something inanimate, of no consequence. While they tied Abby to the staked restraints in the floor of the foot-deep pit muffled sounds, like screams from a
child, emanated from the gag around her mouth.
“Bring the swords of the Lord.”
Another Elder reentered the room bearing a large, roughly-woven gunny sack and extended it to Enoch. He held the cloth bag above his head and raised his eyes.
“Lord, we beg you to show mercy for this child. Flush out the evil inside so she can once again return to our flock. We know Your will is hard, but it is just. Tell us
Your intent. Give us a sign and provide her free passage from Your test, or take her soul into Your dominion now.”
He untied the bag and dumped its contents into the pit. The cries from the crowd deafened the hall. “Silence and do not look away! Witness His hand.”
Even through the gag, the blood curdling whine of a frightened soul dominated the background hum of the flock. Finally, He issued His verdict and even Enoch
began to whimper. “Your will be served, oh Lord. May you find peace with your maker, Abby. Goodbye, my child.”
The men shouldered their weapons with pride. Raucous laughter and raunchy jokes accompanied their gestures as they pointed to the bodies on the ground. They
were mere trophies to these assassins. Arrogant smiles depicted the assurance their deed would go unpunished.
Kelly’s confused face was the last thing he saw before her head exploded and his screams crashed against the car.
“No!” Drake jerked upward. His breathing ceased, his ears burned from the heat rushing through his veins. He shook his head violently but the images bounced off
the dresser mirror. He forced his nails deep into his temple but the visions remained. Drake rubbed one palm then another against his eyelid to wipe away the
carnage playing havoc in his mind until the memories were replaced by a curtain of stars and bursts of white light.
He tried not to inhale, fought the drive to survive, but the instinct to breathe was too strong. His body overpowered the desire to end everything. He gasped for air,
like a man drowning in a river of sweat. Then he pulled his bad leg across the bed and down on the floor, buried his face in his hands, and questioned the insanity of
One nightmare wasn’t enough? What did I do to deserve this punishment? I risked everything to hold them to account, and for what? Wasn’t my career enough?
Did you have to take the only woman I even…
Drake cleared his throat, again and again, until the sound converted to a growl. He tried to rub the moisture from his face, but there was too much. He picked up the
sweat-soaked pillow and used it as a towel. He dropped the cushion to the floor and refocused his vision on the night stand. He ripped the drawer out so fast, the
solution to his torment tumbled once and landed on the pillow. He reached down, lifted the black object, exchanged it into his right hand and studied its shape, the
finality of its form. He pressed it against his temple. The cold steel sucked the heat from his skin as he closed his eyes. Drake tightened his finger and waited for the
answer to his pain. He opened his lids one last time to sample what he was about to leave behind. He heard the actuator spring click at the same moment a photo
came into clear focus.
Soon, my love, I’ll be with you.
As he lowered his eyes, the curly hair of the second figure in the picture caught his sight. “Eddie.”
What would happen to his son if he…who would care for his special needs? The reality of his plight burst into his head like the bullet still chambered in his gun. No
one but me.
The cowardly path might vanquish his nightmares, his sorrow, but what of his son? Slowly, cautiously he released the trigger and removed the barrel from his head.
No. I can’t let them take his father, too. They must be the ones that pay, not Eddie. He’s suffered enough. I promise Son, I won’t fail this time. These bastards will
be held to account.
He picked up the drawer and fed it back into the night table, holstered his .357 revolver, and limped through the darkness into the bathroom.
Micki jabbed her elbow back into her assailant’s midsection and was rewarded with a muffled cry of pain. A pronounced thump behind her head made Ethan
suddenly release his tenacious hold on her throat. There was another loud noise; only this time it sounded like the crack of wood splitting in two. She felt another
hand on her shoulder and twisted her face to sink teeth into flesh, while poking the sharp point of her elbow backward blindly.
“Ouch! Damn it, girl, I’m on your side.” It was that soothing gravelly voice she couldn’t get out of her mind.
“Drake?” Micki realized belatedly she had just wounded the man who rescued her from something she never wanted to experience again.
“Oh, shit.” She pivoted, relieved to find his handsome face. “I’m sorry.”
“My fault. Should have worn gloves, you little badger.”
Behind Drake, she could see the limp body of her attacker lying in the dirt alongside her Jeep. Micki shuddered. She wanted to laugh and cry, both at the same time.
She used the heel of her hand to angrily swipe at the tears welling at the corner of one eye.
Drake’s eyes shifted uncomfortably, away from her face. “You realize that’s three, right?”
“Three times I’ve saved your ass, only this time I saved it literally.”
Micki hated to show her vulnerability. She struggled to dredge up a glib response instead of bursting into tears. “Are you implying my ass isn’t worth saving?”
In the reflection of his pickup’s headlights, he grinned slightly and focused on the curve of her hips revealed by her pulled-down pants. “No, I would never say
Micki looked down at the scratched and bruised flesh and made haste to refasten her jeans. Her trembling fingers made fitting the buttons into the holes difficult.
“Besides, I didn’t need your help.”
Drake actually snorted. “Right. Anything else you’d like to say to me?”
Micki crossed her arms, running her hands up and down the goose bumps there. “Thanks for saving my ass.”
“That was hard, wasn’t it?”
“You’ll never know how hard.” Micki bit her lip to keep from blubbering. The danger was past, but the clear evidence of Drake’s empathy made keeping her
emotions in check extremely difficult. She jammed a palm into her eye socket and twisted, then wiped the wetness on her jeans.
“Damn.” Drake muttered the oath softly, took a limping step forward and gripped her wrist.
That was all it took for Micki to close the distance between them. She turned, clung to his broad shoulders, and buried her face in the heavy fabric of his shirt to
sob silently. His arm encircled her back; his hand gently rubbed the skin of her arm exposed by the sleeveless blouse.
They stood in silence, a woman unaccustomed to revealing her emotions gaining comfort from a man who cared enough to let her get them out in her own way, in
her own time.
Micki finally exhausted her tears. She wiped her face across his shirt then raised her eyes to his. In the moonlight, the scar running across his cheek appeared
almost metallic, highlighted by the shell woman’s silvery rays. She reached a tentative finger upward to trace its outline.
Drake shuddered slightly. He remained frozen in place, as if unsure how to react.
“I’m sorry about that. It’s been a long time since…” Her words dropped off as quickly as her hand from his face.
“No need to be sorry.”
“Your shirt is wet.”
“I hate to cry.”
“You do it well.” Micki raised an eyebrow and Drake elaborated, “You don’t make a sound.”
“I learned not to.” If anything, Micki was even more embarrassed. She took a step backward and sought to change the subject before Drake could ask for an
explanation. “What happens now?”
Drake reached down and picked up both pieces of his cane. “Damn. That asshole has a thick skull. I really liked this one.” Then he addressed her question. “We call
it in and wait till the sheriff’s office gets here.”
“I don’t want to do that. I don’t need the exposure right now.”
“We have no choice.”
Micki let go of her arms and reached out a hand to grasp his injured one, pressing her fingers into his palm. “You think you could help me out here? I can’t blow
my cover, not now.”
“Are you asking for my help now?”
She took a ragged breath and swallowed the thickness of emotion left over from the encounter. She was spent, both physically and emotionally. “Yes.”
Drake’s right eyebrow lifted as he contemplated her request. “Fine. I’ll try to keep your name out of it.”
“I said try.”
She nodded. “I heard you.”
He reached into his front pocket for his phone. “You better get out of here, before I change my mind.”
Micki took three steps toward her Jeep, then paused.
“Thanks. I really appreciate you being there for me. I owe you big time.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“I’m serious, Drake.”
“Hell, I’d be happy if you just didn’t take chunks out of my old hide anymore.”
Micki sighed as she headed into her Jeep. She revved the motor and the vehicle shot backward, turning with a groan of dented metal and damaged parts back onto
the highway. In her rearview mirror, she watched Drake kick the unconscious body of her assailant toward his truck.
Drake fixed on the distinctive high-pitched whine and small tail lights of the Jeep until they both disappeared against the distant wall of darkness.
Why was she so upset? I stopped them, nothing really happened. I don’t get it.
He had jested about her ass, the fact that he actually did save her, and that as a woman she did need him to…
The answer blared out against the vacuum of night on the isolated landscape. To him, she hadn’t been physically assaulted, he had seen to that. But to her, she had
still been raped, emotionally, mentally. The control we each cherish of independence, the ability to decide what we choose to do, that right had been stolen from
Micki. No matter how strong she was on the outside, she was a still a woman at risk of losing her rights at the whim of someone bigger, more physically powerful.
The ability to give of herself, the gift of her beauty, charm, and passion; they had raped part of her mind, taken away her control to decide when and whom she…
Jesus. How could I have been so damn blind?
Drake sensed a shift in his foundation, his construct of the woman he had just met. She wasn’t what he had perceived, a modern aggressive self-focused female
hell bent on remaining unattached and on her own. Well, maybe on the surface, but underneath, she was a reflection of what he cherished in Kelly. Micki was an
icon of the feminine mystique he called out for in the middle of the night, needed as a man to survive, to be complete again.
He thought about her comment at the restaurant – about wishing away her feminine attributes, thought about her need for control. What had happened to make her
feel that way?
Copyright 2010 by Michael W. Davis
|Border violence; corpses abandoned in the desert. Trafficking in a previously unknown drug. A dangerous religious cult in an isolated community.
Sounds like headlines ripped straight from today’s newspaper but it’s the reality of the romantic suspense, Whispers of Innocence. Enoch Smith,
an intelligent, yet psychotic cult leader, uses more than his flock to execute God’s wrath on a sinful nation and evil government. Drake Elliot, a
former US Marshal underestimates the power of the cartel that injures his son and maims himself. Under the guise of protecting his brain-
damaged son, Drake seeks revenge and returns to Arizona to find the cold and calculating people responsible for this tragedy. Micki Lewis, an
investigative journalist in Tucson, receives a tip regarding the origins of the latest drug to hit the streets and returns to Alta Vista, home of Enoch’
s Children of God community in which she was once a member. Drake and Micki join forces to uncover the secrets behind the cult and its success
helping children like Drake’s son recover normalcy. What they find is far worse than drugs coming across the border. Their discovery provides
answers to the shadows that haunt their dreams and the hidden connection into their past; and their lives will never be the same.
Publisher Best Seller
|Things are not always what they seem
"The opening scenes suck you in
and never let you go. For me,
portrayal of life in a cult is
always fascinating...we get
glimpses of both the bad and
the good. Both Micki's and
Drake's characters are well
developed and believable. This
is a page turner. I highly
recommend this intriguing
story.” Top reviewer pick, 5 stars