The waiting room was nearly deserted when Special Agent Ian Callaghan arrived. After his girlfriend, Lana, had called him, it had taken him almost four hours to drive from the FBI Field Office in Louisville to Pinewood, a small town at the Appalachian Mountains. When he entered the room, he spotted Lana talking to a young officer in a quiet corner, far away from the elderly couple who sat by the doors. Ian walked over and cleared his throat. “Lana.”
“Ian. Thank God you’re here.”
“I got in the car as soon as I got your message. What happened? Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. But I need your help.” Lana glanced at the young officer. “We need your help.”
“Ok. What’s wrong?” Ian asked, and the young officer glanced nervously around the room.
“Can we talk somewhere private?” he finally asked, and Lana nodded.
“We can go to the break room.”
Without another word, Ian followed the cop and his girlfriend out of the room and down a hallway. Lana only stopped once to let her colleague know where they were going. After they went into the break room, she closed the door behind her and leaned against it. Worried, Ian frowned. “Lana, what’s going on?” It was the officer who answered, his voice shaking.
“I was on patrol when I passed the gas station three miles out of Pinewood. I saw a fight and stopped my car. I got out, and…realized that it wasn’t just a fight between two men. It was one beating the other. I called for backup when I saw who those two were. Then I called an ambulance. Lana was the first nurse in the ER when they brought him in, and when I told her what had happened, she called you.”
“Who are we talking about, and why have you called me, when the police were already on it?” Ian asked his girlfriend.
“Because we can’t trust them,” Lana snarled. “They’re all good ole’ country boys.”
“Have you ever heard of the Altmann Compound?” the officer asked, and Ian thought about it. It took him a second to recognize the name.
“As in Richard Altmann? The leader of that white supremacy cult?”
“Yes, that’s the one,” Lana spat. Ian could understand her hatred against this group, as she was a dark-skinned woman. “The child currently in the OR with severe internal injuries is his fourteen-year-old son.”
“You fear that someone attacked him because of who his father is?” Ian asked the officer, but to his surprise, Lana glared at him and balled her hands into fists.
“No. It was his older brother who nearly beat him to death.”
“What?” Blinking, Ian looked from his furious girlfriend to the officer who’d paled even more.
“When I got out of the car, I could hear him scream, I’m going to kill you, little fag.” The officer said quietly, “He was going to kill his brother, just because he’s gay.”
“Jesus.” This was bad. Like really bad.
“Ian, we need to help this child. If he survives the surgery, they’re going to kill him.” Lana started to cry, and Ian just watched her for a moment, frozen in place. “You’re with the FBI. You need to do something.”
“What about the local police?” Ian asked the young officer. “You sure that you can’t trust them?”
“Not all of them, no. I know of a couple of cops who look the other way when it comes to the Altmanns and others from the compound. I wouldn’t trust them with the life of this child.”
“I need to make some calls.” Ian rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Lana, can you get a status on the child?” Lana nodded and was already out of the room when Ian looked at the officer. “I need you to make a list with all the cops you think you can trust, and of those involved with Altmann. And call an officer you trust and find out what happened to the brother.”
Ian called his supervisor, and the more he heard, the more he realized how right Lana had been to get him. The Altmann cult was on the FBI’s watchlist, but so far, there had been nothing to investigate further. The FBI suspected local cops of covering up for criminal acts committed by members, but there was not enough evidence to investigate. And his supervisor confirmed what Lana was afraid of. If the kid was gay, he was dead as soon as he left the hospital. Promising his supervisor an update on the situation, he ended the call and left the room to look for Lana. Ian found her in front of the double doors to the OR, talking to a doctor.
“You must be Agent Callaghan. Nice to meet you. I’m Doctor Lewis Hayworth. I was just updating Lana.”
“Fill me in, please.”
“If Robert wanted to kill him, he did a pretty good job.”
“Robert?” Ian asked, confused before his words got through to him. “Wait. Did he die?”
“Robert Altmann, the eldest of the Altmann brothers. And no, Michael is not dead. At least not yet.”
“It looks bad, Ian,” Lana said quietly, tears streaming down her face. “He has severe internal injuries. Bruised lungs, ruptured spleen, one ruptured kidney, bruised liver, and a severely damaged bladder. There’s internal bleeding, and both of his cochleae are broken.”
“We’re doing all we can. We’ll have to remove the spleen and possibly one kidney. His lungs and liver will heal over time. We are repairing what we can. We won’t be able to save his hearing.”
“Will he make it?”
“If he’s a fighter. But it will be a long road to recovery,” the doctor said with an apologetic smile. “That’s all I can say right now.”
“Can you give me a second? I need to inform my supervisor.” The doctor nodded, and Ian stepped away to call Adam Langley again. His supervisor listened and filled him in on what was happening in Louisville. Robert Altmann was still in the precinct, and the FBI intended to keep him there. Blinking, Ian listened and finally took a deep breath. “I’ll have to talk to the doctor about that.”
“Do it. I’ll wait,” Adam Langley said while people were talking in the background. Half of the field office in Louisville was already on this. Ian walked back to Lana and Doctor Hayworth.
“Doctor Hayworth, can you get him stable enough to be transported?”
“What? You mean like…now?” The tall, dark-skinned man blinked at Ian.
“Ian, what…” Lana asked, but Ian stopped her with a shake of his head. She kept quiet but frowned at him.
“Can you get him stable enough to be transported? Now. For a five-hour flight.”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Then go and ask, please.” The doctor rushed through the doors, and Ian held up his phone again. “You think this is a good idea?”
“I think it’s the only way to help Michael Altmann,” his supervisor said on the other end of the line. “If we do this, we need to act now.”
It took Dr. Lewis Hayworth five minutes to return with another doctor, dressed in sterile clothes. “You must be kidding me, Agent. You want to take him on a five-hour flight?”
“Is it possible or not?”
“We stopped the internal bleeding, but his spleen and one kidney are severely damaged. We could stabilize him enough to give you a window of maybe seven hours before his organs will start failing. Also, it’s a huge risk.”
“I’m aware of the risk, Doctor.” Ian took a deep breath and prayed that they made the right call. “Do it. The FBI helicopter is already on its way. We’re leaving in two hours, and the hospital is already informed. They’re waiting for us.”
“Which hospital?” the doctor asked immediately, but Ian shook his head.
“A good one. That’s all I can tell you.”
“I’ll go with you,” Doctor Hayworth suddenly said, and Ian wanted to repeat his warning, but Hayworth shook his head. “No. This kid needs to live, and I’m going to make sure that he survives this flight.”
“I’ll fly, too.”
“I’m going, Ian.”
“Fine.” Ian sighed and closed his eyes for a second before he looked from his girlfriend to Doctor Hayworth. “Ok, people. Time for Michael Altmann to die.”