Thursday, September 1, 2016
Coming This Fall: The Killing Zone, a Jim Buchanan Novel - The day revenge, mayhem, & murder overwhelms Montana
ather Peter Bongiorno, drove his black Ford sedan south along Montana State Highway 56 toward Taylor. It was Friday, June 13, 1997 one day after a Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena meeting with Cardinal Sanchez. An overnight stop in Libby to give moral support to an old friend coping with substance abuse gave the priest great joy. Admiring the peaks of the Cabinet Mountains and engrossed in reciting the rosary, he nearly failed to notice the naked and bloodied teenager staggering alongside the two-lane, coniferous-lined road.
Father Bongiorno’s head swiveled as he drove past the young woman. Slamming on the brakes he came to a stop on the narrow shoulder. Grabbing his olive army blanket from the backseat, he jumped out. As he advanced, she fell and disappeared into the high grass that populated the space between the road and the trees.
He waded into the grass and stumbled upon her. “Lynn, is that you… my dear child, what happened?” The priest spotted the imprints on her bloody ankles and wrists screaming of metal restraints. Her knees and feet were covered in cuts and abrasions and her filthy body was drenched in blood, sweat, and grease. He covered the trembling young girl with the blanket and led her to his car.
After Father Bongiorno buckled her in the passenger seat, she said, “RAPED!” Then she sputtered through swollen and bloodied lips, “BIKERS!”
Father Bongiorno recognized the sound of revving engines from the direction of Keeler Mountain. Not the screams of dirt bikes but the throaty howl of big bore Harleys. The girl screamed, unbuckled the seatbelt and dropped to the floor.
The priest slammed shut the passenger door. “I’ll bring you to the hospital.”
He ran to the driver’s side, jumped in the car, pulled onto the road and drove off. Father Bongiorno watched his speedometer inch its way past 80 mph as he speed-dialed the familiar number on his cellphone.
“Martha, is Sheriff Buchanan there? Then call him and explain that I found Lynn Corbett naked and injured on Route 56. I’m bringing her to Taylor University Medical Center. Better call her parents. She says she was raped... a patrol car to accompany us… thank you.”
Father Bongiorno squinted in the rearview mirror and spotted five motorcycles rushing toward them. A teenage dirt track driver before he left for the seminary, Father Bongiorno stomped on the gas pedal. Reflective roadside posts and mile markers flashed by in a blur. Glancing down at his passenger he noticed her left eye sealed shut and swollen a deep shade of purple. Visible bruises and welts populated her face, neck, and shoulders.
“Do you know who did this to you?”
He watched Lynn look up at him. She moved her lips as if to speak but only a few trickles of blood dribbled from one side of her mouth and tears flowed from her eyes.
Realizing that she was in shock aggravated by the bikers’ pursuit, Father Bongiorno drove his car at breakneck speeds and threw on his emergency flashers. He passed three cars, one of which blasted their horn at him. The relentless bikers raced past the clutter. One approaching car in the other lane swerved to his left as the priest veered around the vehicle. He skirted the shoulder of the road kicking up dust and debris and flushing an Eastern Kingbird from a roadside tree. The bikers continued their pursuit.
A shot rang out, then another as they passed the eastern shore of Bull Lake. A bullet tore through the back window and ricocheted out the side window just above Lynn, still huddled on the floor of the car. A second bullet shattered the rear window and exited through the windshield. A third bullet grazed Father Borngiorno in the right shoulder and embedded itself in the dashboard. The priest held onto the steering wheel with his left hand as his right arm, weakened by the gunshot wound, slid to the bench seat and settled on his rosary beads. He feebly grasped them and spied Lynn clutching the blanket close to her face and shrieking aloud as they zoomed toward the city of Taylor.
He then heard the wail of a siren and sighted the flashing blue and red lights of an approaching Cedar County Sheriff’s Office patrol car. He again stared in the rearview mirror and saw the motorcycles break off the chase and pull a 180 in what seemed an instant. Father Bongiorno slowed his sedan and allowed the patrol car to make a U-turn and then slip in alongside him. Undersheriff Rocky Salentino waved for him to follow and the two-car detail rushed to the hospital nearly 25 miles away.