Coils of the Serpent Cover
357 pages, softcover.

Front Cover
Back Cover
    Prologue: A Death
    Ch 1. Friends
    Ch 2. Agent Hall
    Ch 5: The Challenge
    Ch 23: Eden
    Suggested Reading
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        Knock, knock, knock.

        Agent Russell Hall turned away from the door and looked out to the street. Noisy children rode their tricycles down the heavily cracked sidewalk just beyond a twisted and rusty chain-link fence. He glanced at his government-issued Ford sedan parked behind a faded-blue Camaro with four flat tires. That car probably hasn’t moved for months, Hall thought.

        Hall had seen a lot in his twenty-seven-year FBI career and this light investigative work was not too exciting, but it wasn’t all that dangerous either. This easy, safe work was just what the doctor ordered, he reasoned, for a few more years until he retired anyway. Why not leave the danger of the more significant busts to the younger agents? But deep down, he still enjoyed the intensity and excitement of those busts.

        Following his usual practice, he unsnapped his concealed holster and felt the hammer of his handgun, cocked and ready to fire. He really didn’t expect any trouble, but he never let his guard down completely. His business suit may blend with the attire used in the financial district downtown, but in this rundown residential neighborhood, he might as well have worn a jacket with “FBI” clearly emblazoned on its back in eight-inch high yellow letters, perfect for urban target practice.

        A crescendo of sound alerted Hall. Someone inside approached the door, and he turned to face it. The door opened only a crack, restrained by a security chain.

        “Yessir, who’s there?” the woman asked in a thick, uneducated, southern accent.

        “Good morning, ma’am. Agent Hall, FBI.” Hall pulled out his leather badge holder, opened it, and showed his identification card and shiny badge in one well-practiced move. “Is this the Freeman residence?”

        The woman closed the door to remove the security chain, then opened it wide. “Oh, yes. Come on in. I’m Mrs. Freeman, Delia Freeman. I was told someone’d visit.”

        “Thank you; happy to meet you, Mrs. Freeman.”

        Hall shook her hand and walked into the room as she held the door.

        After he entered, she closed the door and engaged the safety chain, then darted ahead of him, clearing children’s toys from the floor and moving a stack of newspapers and magazines from the couch. “Wontcha sit down, Mr. Hall? I won’t be but a minute.” She turned to three children peering through an open door. “Younguns, you get in that room, go on, get!” She hustled them in as if they were sheep, deposited the toys and newspapers after them, and then closed the door. Her hair was tightly braided and she touched it with her hand as she walked back. “Wouldja like somethin’ to drink, Mr. Hall?”

        “Oh, no. But thank you for offering.” Hall waited for her to take a seat. He pulled out a small notebook and pen from his jacket pocket to take notes. “I’m new on this case Mrs. Freeman, so if you don’t mind, please start from the beginning. My case file didn’t tell me much.” Hall always started an interview this way, even if he had been working on the case for years.

        “It’s just terrible. I got no trace of my son William at all. He’s just up and gone.” Mrs. Freeman’s dark brown eyes glistened with worry.

        “Your son William, how old is he?”

        “Well, he’s seventeen. He’ll be eighteen in four more months, but it seems like only yesterday he was just a baby.”

        “Does he live here?”

        “Well, no, not now. Ya see, William would get in and out of trouble and was falling into them gangs that hangs around here. Ya see, our family is God-fearing. There ain’t no way we’d let William go on down that path of the devil.”

        Hall looked behind Mrs. Freeman to the large crucifix adorned with blood-red paint hanging on the wall.

        “So, we enrolls him in that program, the one at that Pacific Institute of Theology for Youth—PITY, ya know. They call it PITY ’cause they takes pity on our kids and straightens ’em up. Ya know, it’s one of them ‘youth rescue’ programs.”

        “Oh, yes. I’ve heard of that type of a program. Is that a school?”

        “Oh, my yes, it’s a boarding school, ya know. He was doing real nice, making good changes and all that. We were all happy as the dickens. He wrote me letters every single week for ’bout three months.” She looked at Hall and shook her head, tears welled up, her voice rose in pitch. “Ya know, William’s really not that bad inside. He wrote his Momma like I told him he had to. He said everything was just fine, he liked the place and all. But a few weeks back, he stopped writin’.” She paused and looked at Hall. “They say he just left—if you can believe that. I know my William would write his Momma. I’m just sick!” Mrs. Freeman sniffed and cried, fanning herself with a magazine as if she were in a heat-soaked church in Alabama.

        Hall didn’t say anything immediately. He let Mrs. Freeman wipe the tears from the corners of her eyes and relax her voice.

        “They said he just left?”

        “That’s the thing. You see, you don’t just leave that kind of place. They keep track ’round the clock. You do exactly what they say or you’re in a heap of trouble. And most kids, they don’t fight for long. William fought for a while. He just wanted to leave, but they said no. The next week, he was a bit strange. Just perfect, ya know, a perfect angel. We were surprised they got him going right straight so fast. We thought they’d give up on him. Nah, they broke ’im, and fast.”

        “I see. Do you have any of those letters he sent?”

        “Oh my, yes, I saved ’em all.” The tears started to flow again. “William’s my first baby, ya know. I missed him even if he was a royal pain in the bee-hind.” She got up and went to the other room, disciplining the kids on the way. She returned, holding a stack of letters.

        “Thank you,” he said. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to keep these for the case file.”

        “I don’t know, Mr. Hall. Those’d be the last letters I’ve got from my first boy. I don’t want to lose ’em.”

        “Okay. I’ll tell you what. I’ll make photocopies, and I’ll send them back tomorrow, okay?”

        “Well, I guess that’ll be okay, Mr. Hall. As long as I get ‘em back. I been reading ‘em every day.”

        Hall paused, then said, “What else happened?”

        Nothin’, really. I don’t know nothing more than that, I guess.”

        “How did you find out he was missing? Did the school contact you?”

        “After I didn’t receive no letters from him, I called that school. They said he was just missing, that he ran away, or something. I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe they would just lose track like that and say nothing, nothing at all!”

        Hall noticed a picture on the bookcase behind Mrs. Freeman. “Is that a picture of William?”

        “He’s only fifteen in that one, but he’s still about the same, only a bit taller.”

        “Is that a scar on his face?”

        “From a real bad burn. He was nothin’ but a baby.”

        “I see.” Hall didn’t push the questioning any further.

        “Do ya think you’ll find what happened to my William?”

        “That’s our job, ma’am. We’ll do everything we can to find him.” He reached into his pocket. “Here’s my card. Please call me right away if you hear from William or from anyone from PITY. I’ll be your primary law enforcement contact from here on out. Okay?”

        “Oh, thank you, Mr. Hall. I most definitely will call if I hear anything, anything at all. Please, please find my William—and God bless!”


Next Excerpt: Chapter 5 The Challenge


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