The alarm clock blinked its amber eyes before emitting the high pitched whine that woke John Stohlman from sleep before being choked off by a calloused hand. Shuddering, he sat up, flipped the TV on and clicked on the window air conditioner. CNN filled the screen as he stumbled to the bathroom, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and the sweat from his brow. Summer had so far not been kind to the Minnesota north woods, plunging the region into a soaking humidity.

Outside, the morning sun filtered through the pines in the forest behind his cabin. Heavy trucks rumbled down the dirt road a half mile down his driveway, making their way to the work site that had heavy security, or at least enough to keep the citizens of Kent, MN guessing. A coffeepot clicked on in the kitchen, filling the house with the scent of hot coffee.

John emerged from the master bedroom having showered and dressed. His heavy flannel shirt and worn jeans had seen better days, making an odd juxtaposition with the granite counter, stainless steel kitchen appliances and giant flat screen in the living room. He lumbered towards the refrigerator, pulled out a beer and sat heavily on a chair. Cracking the top, he tilted his head back to take a deep draught, stopping only when a sound outside caught his attention. It sounded like the crushing of a soda can, only amplified and it seemed to last for an interminable length of time.

He set the beer on the counter as he walked past, making a beeline for his boots which rested on a rack near the back door. Opening the door, he looked out and saw the source of the noise. An unladen flatbed semi had collided with what looked vaguely like a small passenger car.

John walked to his truck, got in and reversed, turning it around to head towards the road. As he bumped down the rutted driveway towards the accident, his eyes flicked briefly towards the dirt road to the north, seeing a plume of dust that registered in his mind but was disregarded as he arrived at the accident. Pulling up alongside to park beyond the wreck, he peered through the splintered glass of what he now could tell was a late model compact. He saw the Asian driver cast nervous glances at him while speaking into a cell phone. A noise from around the curve up the road made him automatically turn his head, which probably saved his life. John threw his vehicle into reverse, his tires spitting gravel as they propelled his truck into the ditch just as a black Suburban, all four wheels locked up, slid past his front bumper. Two more black Suburbans slid to similar stops on the other side of the accident as a man in a suit stepped confidently from the passenger door and stood in front of his truck.

“Sir, we’re all set here. Go ahead and take off; is this your home?” He motioned towards the cabin.

“Yeah, it’s mine. You guys need to call 911, that woman looks bad.”

The suited man took a menacing step towards John’s side of the truck. Pulling aside his suit coat, he displayed a blacked out handgun holstered at his waist. “Best move on.”

“Hey, you got it.” John reached down and grabbed the shift lever to put the truck in four wheel drive. He pulled out of the ditch and lit a cigarette as he drove back up to his house. As he entered, he locked the door behind him. Pulling his .45 from his concealed holster, he set it on the table next to him as he sat down to finish his beer, debating whether to call 911 to report the accident. Reason won out. John pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“Yeah, I need to report an accident, happened out front of my place about five minutes ago. I’m on the old Ridge Road north of Elk River.” John cast a glance towards the clock.

“Sir, I need you to stay on the line until emergency vehicles arrive – what is your name, sir?” The dispatcher was trembling with excitement – being new at his job gave him the jitters which, combined with the caffeine in half a pot of coffee had his nerves at a fever pitch.

“No name.” John flipped his phone shut, got up and started making a light breakfast. As he sat down to eat, there was a heavy pounding on his door. Grimacing, he holstered his pistol, muted his TV and walked towards the door, opening it to find two cruisers idling outside and two officers standing on his deck.

The younger officer spoke first.