"I swear this is the last time I come running when she calls," Dave said.
"Yeah. I think I've heard you say that before," I replied.
Dave had called me a few hours ago and asked for my help. I didn't ask for details; I owed him.
"I know. I know. I can't help myself when it comes to her."
"Tell me again - what she said."
"She thought she was being followed. She was going to stop in Lena at a gas station and wait for me. But, the call ended abruptly. You know how crappy the reception is out this way."
We were driving west on highway 20. He was right. Cell phone service was spotty out here at best, as was security. There just wasn't enough money out in the rural areas to make it worthwhile. It was dark. The trees were thick, overhanging the road in many places. A light from one of the few farmhouses would occasionally break through the dense growth. It had been a long time since anyone had trimmed back the trees and bushes alongside this road.
"Is that her car?" I spotted a Chevy on the side of the road. Something didn't look right about it, but I couldn't tell exactly what from this distance, this late at night.
"Crap, I think it is. It's the right color and model," Dave said.
I pulled up behind it. It was Dana's car. Dave dove out the passenger side, leaving the door open. I reached behind my seat and took the Mossberg pump action out of its case. I reached over and closed Dave's door. We didn't need the van's interior light drawing attention. I got out and shut my door quietly. I approached Dana's car, flashlight shining the way.
"How did this happen? How does a car burn like this?" I asked. The car's interior was a burned steel skeleton, but the outside of the car appeared almost perfect. "It was an intense, but very controlled, fire. Someone knew what they were doing. They wanted to destroy the inside, but not burn the whole car and draw attention. But, why?"
"Footprints," Dave said "They lead into the woods over here."
We followed the prints and saw a faint trail. Dave was in the lead making enough noise to warn anyone ahead. But, I knew he was not going to slow down or quiet down and be more cautious. We came to a clearing.
"No" Dave started moaning. Dana was in the middle of the clearing, tied to a cross. Dave walked slowly toward her. Her naked body hung from the cross. Her torso and legs were crisscrossed with deep, ragged cuts. Blood streaked down her stomach and thighs and way more blood than you would think possible lay pooled beneath her. Dave stared at her, crying uncontrollably. I understood his feelings for her, perhaps better than he did. But, he was making too much noise.
"DAVE." He turned toward me.
"Go get a body bag from my van." Dave turned toward the woods, still crying, and walked to the van. I looked around the clearing, straining for a glimpse, a scent, a sound - anything that would tell me I wasn't alone. Satisfied, I set the Mossberg down and gently cut Dana down from the cross.
There was no one to call. No CSI team was going to be working the crime scene. Illinois government and most county governments had collapsed in the great tax revolt of 2012. Only the populated areas had services like that anymore, where there was enough people for some company to make a profit providing it. Dave showed up with a body bag. We carried her to the van.
"Dave, talk to me," I said.
"What I'd give for just one more time. One more time to hear her voice on the phone asking me for another favor. I always thought I'd have a lifetime of last times."
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