top of page


Book 3

Friday, January 15th

A light flashed, and the incessant metallic ringtone brought Pete Walter out of a deep sleep. “Walter,” he answered the call, his Boston accent hoarse from a sleepy, dry throat.

“This is Chase Communications Operator 5, Epsilon Alert. Report to Washington Dulles Airport’s private charter area to board Chase Security Jet 2. Destination: Missoula Montana. Mr. Walter, you are Chief Medical Officer/Operator for Mission 424-22, Team Leader Michael Johnson. Recall time ninety minutes. Cold Weather Advisory,” the woman read him the basic details.

“Roger, Walter out.” Pete ended the call knowing she could give him no more information. After sitting up, he swung his feet over the side of the bed with a deep breath.

“Epsilon,” he muttered and headed to the shower. It meant someone’s life was in danger. He’d get the details on the flight. He’d have roughly four hours to make his plan.

The shower washed away any leftover sleep. Montana. It equaled one memory: Rowena Andersen.

Pete dressed in long johns and his black Chase Security jumpsuit. Reaching into his closet, he pulled out a large overstuffed duffel bag marked with his name and a blue tag. It wasn’t his first rodeo; it was packed and prepared for the cold.

A jog took him down a flight of steps in his Georgian-style home. A large Ragdoll cat meowed loudly. With one hand, he scooped her up, and the other flipped on his pod coffeemaker. He held her in the air and nuzzled her. “Behave for Mrs. Jason.”

He dropped her to the floor and wrote a quick note. Beside it, he left his white Mastercard. His housekeeper would be able to take care of anything that needed to be done.

A brewed cup of black espresso in a traveler and two protein bars in his pocket, he was out the door in fifteen minutes. At 0200, the ride to Dulles would be a fast half hour. Inside his Tahoe, he enabled his Bluetooth. “Call Tuck.”

“Hey,” Tuck croaked.

“Heading out. You’re up to warm my seat,” Pete chuckled.

Tuck yawned. “Where?” Tucker Hanlon was the Clinical Facility Director for the Washington, DC branch of Chase Medical.

Pete answered flatly, “Montana.”

“Oh boy, flash from the past?” he teased.

“Montana is a big state. Who knows if she lives there anymore?” Pete grumbled.

“The fact you knew who I was thinking about tells me all I need to know. Watch your six.” Tuck told him to be careful.

He grunted, “Hu-A,” Air Force-speak for heard, understood, and acknowledged. He ended the call. He’d served with Tuck as a pararescue jumper years earlier.


Snowflakes dusted the Montana roadways. Guardian Hospital, nursing home and medical clinic stood in an oasis on the outskirts of Elk Hoof Mountains. Staff readied to plow a helipad and short airstrip.

Rowena Andersen turned to look over her shoulder as the motorized whoosh of the doors to the hospital’s entrance welcomed her. Behind her, her mother and two sons followed wearing backpacks and carrying two enormous pots with a box of cupcakes atop each one.

The smell of lemon and hand sanitizer competed with the fresh scent of pine from the new hand-built furniture decorating the lobby. “Hey, Earl,” she called to the elderly security guard.

“Hi, Dr. Ro, are you ready for this storm?” he asked.

“No choice.” Rowena herded her family forward.

Nurse Practitioner Nakoma Culstee walked in behind her, carrying a large tray of cornbread. “I guess we all have the same idea. Supposed to be a bad one.” She stared at nothing for a long period before she continued walking.

They headed toward the cafeteria to the left of the lobby. Patient visitors sat eating in one corner, while staff for the forty-nine-bed rural hospital gathered for change of shift in another area.

“Mom, boys, bring the food into the kitchen,” Rowena asked them.

“Follow me, gang.” Nakoma lifted her chin toward a swinging door.

The hospital cook, Bonny, met them at the door. “Smells delicious. Good to see you, Caroline,” she greeted Rowena’s mother.

Rowena surveyed the room. At first glance she didn’t see another physician.

“Ro, it’s insanity. They knew this storm was coming for days. No one bothered to call in extra staff for the nursing home. And it’s Friday—the clinic closed early, and everyone left before the staffing mess was noticed,” Bianca Valentine said. The young nurse anesthetist tucked a long blonde braid beneath a floral scrub cap.

Gas bubbles popped in Rowena’s belly. She closed her eyes, inhaled, held her breath for a count to three and exhaled. “I’m the only doctor in the hospital?” She opened her eyes, not quite believing the gravity of the situation.

Bianca wrapped her arms around herself. “The nursing home has a PA for sixty-five patients. You’re it for the whole hospital. We are at two hundred percent capacity.”

Rowena put on her fake smile. Why didn’t anyone call me? She had her answer when she spotted Nurse Administrator Mary-Jo Ritter charging toward her like a bull approaching a cow in heat.

“Rowena, Rowena…” she called across the room, wringing her hands.

“Mary-Jo?” She planted her feet and pressed her shoulders back. Embrace the suck, she warned herself.

The first time she heard the phrase, it came out of PJ Peter Walter’s mouth with a Bastin accent. “Doc, for every five seconds of jumping out of a helicopter, there are fifty-five seconds of justifying why you did it. Get used to it,” he told her one miserable day in Afghanistan.

“Rowena, I don’t know how it happened, but administration cancelled staff instead of bringing staff in. It was a computer glitch. I’ve been trying to reach people,” Mary-Jo said, looking down her nose at her. “No one is answering their phone.”

“Thank you for trying.” Rowena knew it wouldn’t matter what she said. “Do you have a roster of what staff we have? And can I make a recommendation we hold over the staff that’s already here?”

“Already done.” Mary-Jo turned on her high heel and walked away.

Rowena pursed her lips. A blizzard and she’s wearing heels. She conjured a memory of Peter Walter again: “Remember, it’s not your emergency.”

“God, Peter, I wish you were here.” Rowena hung her coat up. It’s not my emergency.


Silas Goff walked into one of the small cabins on the edge of his ranch property. The Goff family ran an event hotel: part spa, hunting lodge and wedding locale. He made the family’s money running guns and distributing methamphetamine across the Northwest. Locked inside the eight-hundred-square-feet cottage was Ariane Fuentes and her five-year-old daughter, Linde.

“You must not be that important to your husband; he’s not answering my calls. Call him and tell him if my money isn’t deposited by close of business tomorrow, I start sending him pieces of you and that pretty little girl of yours.” He ran his fingers through Linde’s hair.

The child recoiled.

Ariane cried out, “Don’t touch her!”

“You don’t tell me what to do, whore.” Still holding on to Linde’s hair, Silas punched her mother in the face. Blood poured from her nose.

Choking on her own blood, Ariane tried to push Linde away. “Baby girl, hide.” Her Spanish came out garbled.

Linde tried to escape from Silas, but he held her up by her ponytail, swinging her in the air. The little girl screeched in pain. “Mama!”

“Call.” Silas forced the phone into Ariane’s hands.

The phone shook between her fingers as she pleaded with her husband, “Baby, please… He’s going to hurt us. Pay him.”

“Good girl. I’ll be back.” Silas looked longingly at little Linde. “Such a pretty girl.” He scooped the crying girl into his arms and walked away with her.

bottom of page