Authors: W.C. Hoffman
So life went on quietly and peacefully with no hunters, intruders or even many flyovers, which was unusual. They had figured that eventually a search party would have come looking for the two “lost” hunters. Having worked out their back story if someone came to their camp, both could easily deny any knowledge of the hunters. Both boys planned on helping in the search efforts if need be in order to cast away any light that may draw suspicions their way. It was a peaceful winter. They figured the daily snowfalls and ice rain mix had kept the search parties away from their section of woods. Not a single hunter, trapper or even plane was seen in their area until spring and that’s the way they liked it.
The snow came quickly and heavily that year. By the end of November they were completely buried in more than three feet. December came and went. The only reminder of Uncle’s death was the fried bluegill fillets they dined on that night. It was his favorite meal. Soon they began to hear the daily cracking of the ice floes in the river. Only the first eight-foot portion of each side of the 60-foot-wide waterway froze solid enough to support the boys' weight. Tomek and Drake could always count on open water and cold fishing if need be.
Spring came just as it did every year with the breaking up of the river ice. It was quite a powerful and magical thing to see. Every ice chunk that came from upstream would eventually pile up into huge ice jams along the front of their bend in the river. The jams would stick around every year for about a week and then slowly make their way downstream. Leaving behind plenty of fresh gouges in the riverbank and shorelines, much like a glacier carving out an entire continent. The ice floes were so heavy this year that the path of the river had changed and now the whale rock was completely underwater. The ice floes would also leave items behind that the boys found useful. Logs for building or burning, random eating utensils, hand tools, fishing rods and even camp stoves often would wash down stream and not make it past their bend.
The river often had a way of bringing them what they needed in terms of food and supplies. It also disposed of what they didn’t need, such as the bones of a hunter or two. It was what they did not need that would soon matter to them the most. Many months after the fact and thirteen miles downriver in Pine Run, a small lumber mill town, what they thought they did not need showed up on top on an ice floe.
A child playing on the ice floes that had come ashore had grabbed it having no idea exactly what it was and took it right to her father. The girl’s father, being the local sheriff, knew exactly what it was and had a good idea on who it might have belonged to. The sheriff’s notions were confirmed the minute he read the label on the back:
Property of the United States Department of Justice.
Tomek had no clue that the waterproof satellite phone would have made it this far. He had no clue the batteries would have survived through the winter in the river. There was no way for either Tomek or Drake to know that the hunters were the sons of a high-ranking government official. There was no way for them to know that the hunters were promising college star athletes. Most of all, Tomek could not have known that the phone tracked its coordinates via GPS.
The hunters' disappearance was a national news story. Both from a political standpoint with a powerful father, as well as on the athletic front. Multiple rescue parties were dispatched. Only they were 15 miles to the west of the where the hunters took their last breaths. The snow and ice conditions of the following winter had stopped the search parties from getting any closer. With the discovery of the phone and its data now downloaded, the parties could resume their search efforts utilizing the GPS tracking software. This in effect would put them in the twins' orchard. The track would continue down the hill and then into the river. It was out of pure luck that Tomek never took the phone directly to the cabin.
Not only did the phone give insight to the last known locations of the lost hunters, there also were four photos saved to its internal memory card. The sheriff, an outdoorsman himself, knew the hunters could not have survived that hard of a winter, but he still was shocked as he flipped through the stored images. The first picture featured the hunters together in their camp and then a picture of the dead buck lying below on the river bed.
The sheriff then looked in horror at the third image, which clearly showed hunter number one’s naked body in a pile of brush with an arrow through his head and chest. The sheriff now knew that the government official’s sons were not just “lost.”
The last photograph on the memory card confirmed his suspicions. The same sheriff who had investigated the disappearance of two three-year-old twins 13 years ago was now looking at the picture of a 16-year-old dark skinned wild-eyed killer. Tomek had given them his face without even knowing it. The twins were about to get some company.
he sheriff sat at his desk pondering his next move. The small town of Pine Run where he was born and raised had just settled back into normalcy as the attention drawn to it from the missing hunters had hardly subsided over time. The twins that died at the hands of Tomek and Drake were the sons of a United States Congressman. Not only adding political flair to the case, but both hunters also happened to be star athletes on their respective collegiate baseball teams. Both expected to be taken in the next season’s Major League draft. Their disappearance was national news and it thrust Pine Run into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
The sheriff was not looking forward to pushing the residents back into the national news with a now confirmed single—and possibly double—homicide case. Turning the information he had over to the Department of Justice or even the state troopers meant he would not be involved in the investigation or be given any credit in regards to capturing the killer. That was something the sheriff’s ego would not let happen.
Pine Run was usually a quiet town where the locals relied on the logging and milling industries as well as a handful of artisan shops to drive the small economy. One grocery store and one general hardware store were all that was needed. Both let customers run tabs and pay their bills at the end of the month. It was a small and trusting town. The hospital was just as small, but served the area well. Although, history had showed they did lose a child patient about 8 years ago.
Pine Run had another bustling dark economy hidden away from the general public’s eyes. Narcotics. Due to its heavily wooded trails, river access to the Great Lakes and its proximity to the Canadian borders Pine Run was a central hub for prescription drug runners coming in from abroad and working their way down through Saginaw toward Flint and Detroit. Having a police force that was almost completely in on the take and paid off by the dealers did not help the situation one bit.
The day Drake snuck away under his watch was the day the town had lost faith in the sheriff. He remained on the job but the town residents generally had little need for him. Only his ego and the large amount of drug money in his bank accounts kept him in the small town. When it came down to actual law enforcement, if there was a problem in Pine Run, his deputies handled it and normally handled it well.
The residents’ views on the sheriff were based on the fact that he had not solved the only two big cases in Pine Run’s last 16 years. The original disappearance of the twins and their mother, combined with the hospital losing Drake were both situations that loomed over his career reputation. To the town the sheriff was a joke, not only as an investigator but as a law enforcement official in general. The story of how the sheriff was high on pain medication, hit an elk in his patrol car and then drove it right into the middle of the closed laundromat is a town favorite when discussing the man in charge of keeping them all safe.
With all this weighing on his mind, the answer to his dilemma was clear. The sheriff and his deputies must be the ones to find the bodies of the hunters. He took it upon himself and his men to hunt down the killer and bring him to justice. Only then did he feel that the respect due to him would finally be granted.
With his decision made all that was left to do was pack up his gear and inform his rag tag group of four deputies that they were headed to the woods for a week of survival training. Two of them being ex-military and the other two experienced in the outdoors, the sheriff knew they wouldn’t mind a week or so to get out of the town and into the woods. The sheriff knew that he would eventually have to tell them what they were hunting for. Not wanting any leaks he decided to hold that info until they were away from Pine Run. None of them had a clue or even dreamed that it would be for a teenage killer.
Deputy Jack Coleman, who knew nothing about the dirty drug dealings was in charge of rounding up the weapons, gear and rations they would need. Though he was a clean cop when it came to the law, Coleman was a complete chauvinist and overall disrespectful person. A former Army infantry second lieutenant, Coleman had seen his fair share of action off the grid in the Middle East. Standing tall at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Deputy Coleman was a force to be reckoned with. His broad shoulders, sandy blonde hair, blue eyes and block-shaped head would have made Coleman the model of a professional football linebacker. The sheriff often said that Coleman could break up a bar fight by walking in the door.
Deputy Magee, while being not nearly the size of Coleman was twice as experienced. Magee had come from the bustling collegiate areas of down state after serving as a Chief of Police. Having served as a federal agent prior to that around the globe, Magee was by far over qualified to be working in Pine Run. Yet the small town is where he retired to. Eventually the boredom grew and he joined the Sheriff’s Department for something to do. Magee quickly became the sheriff's right hand man and he was also the group’s top marksman. Deputy Ken Magee was at his best when he was aiming down the barrel or scope of a gun. The often soft spoken Magee could be worked up into frenzy with a simple ribbing if the topic of his sister came up. Being that she was married to the sheriff, the guys had plenty of ammunition when it came to ragging on Magee. However, none of them ever questioned his shooting abilities or situational judgment.
One night, after his shift had ended, Deputy Coleman was ambushed and knocked unconscious while walking out to his car in the small parking lot behind the station. The attacker was a known small-time drug dealer out of Flint, Michigan, who did not appreciate Coleman arresting him previously while working his way down from the Canadian border with load of prescription drugs.
The dealer was able to pattern Coleman with inside information provided to him by the sheriff after his arraignment. Having been arrested, the sheriff was worried he might start talking and turn states evidence against the Pine Run Police. The dealer knew way to much as far as the sheriff was concerned. The sheriff had figured Coleman would easily take out the dealer upon being attacked, however that is not what happened.
Coleman awoke confused and dreary to the sight of Magee with his pistol drawn and aiming directly at him from 25 feet away. Struggling, it was only then that Coleman realized he was being used as a human shield and his assailant had a gun to his head.
“Take on more step, pig, and I’ll blow his head off, man,” the strung-out dealer threatened.
Magee continued talking while stepping forward. Talking to both Coleman and the gunman at the same time. Working his way in closer and closer. Speaking calmly in a low conversational tone the entire time. Magee knew situations like this all too well. Magee knew that the gunman would not fire while he was speaking to him. His training had made it clear that the gunman will only shoot to make a point and will do it at the end of a sentence. Magee took one last step forward and in the middle of his sentence, he pulled the trigger.
It was over as soon as it began for Coleman. He recalled seeing the flash and then suddenly standing alone. Magee had fired and killed the man holding Coleman captive from a distance of 17 feet with one shot. Coleman turned to see the drug dealer dead on the ground with a bullet entry wound directly in the center of his forehead. The Army veteran knew instantly at that moment that Magee’s round was less than two inches from killing him. He was never so glad that Ken Magee was who he had pulling the trigger and Magee was glad that the dealer was dead.
The title of biggest hunter in the group would belong to the only female deputy in the history of the Pine Run Sheriff’s Department.
Deputy Annette Henderson was born to hunt, trap and fish. Henderson, the other clean cop, also served as the department’s detective and unlike her male counterparts she was able to defuse situations and solve investigations by just talking with people. Deputy Henderson utilized these skills and never failed to get a job for which she applied. She excelled not only at being interviewed but also interviewing people. Every suspect Henderson arrested personally thanked her. The sheriff often jokingly attributed it to Henderson using hypnosis, to which Henderson would reply with her personal motto, “It is not what you ask, it is how you ask it.”
Deputy Henderson used not only her skills as a hunter and investigator but also her womanly charm and good looks to become a master of manipulation.
Having moved away from Pine Run as a child this place was the first home she knew. Her mother being a drug addict led to a bitter divorce and her father moved downstate years ago. Taking her with him, she only visited Pine Run in the summers when school was out. Only a few visits ever happened because of a fight between her parents in regards to her mother being high and not caring for Henderson. Henderson’s father never allowed her to visit Pine Run again and she lost contact with her mother for many years. Upon graduation from college she knew Pine Run was the place she wanted to live in an attempt to straighten out a big piece of her life that was missing all those years.
Anthony Ravizza a K-9 Deputy rounded out the group. Other than Coleman, Ravizza was the only one with actual military experience. He was never in combat like his deputy brethren but was directly responsible for getting many warriors out of hostile zones and home safe. Having originally been in the Air Force, he was quickly promoted up to Special Forces as a orienteering instructor. Ravizza taught all the Special Forces units in every branch of the government how to operate off the grid. Ravizza specialized in using nothing but the stars and sun as a guide. Adding a map and compass to his arsenal effectively made him a human GPS. For a man who was never lost, Ravizza ended up in Pine Run for just that reason.