I still don’t know if I regret what happened next. Given the same information, given the same circumstances, I’d probably do the same thing, no matter how awful it was.
It was Wednesday morning. Brenna had been gone since Sunday, and Chase was free. I couldn’t wrap my mind around either of those things.
“What can I do you for?” asked the man behind the counter in a thick southern Virginia accent. He wore a camouflage cap emblazoned with a large logo: a red field with a white pistol on the left, American flag on the right, a cross in the center. The words embroidered beneath read Guns, God and Glory.
I walked up to the counter, looking through the glass at the pistols beneath. Revolvers. Automatics from Smith & Wesson, Colt, Glock. Two dozen or more were under the glass. Behind the man, rifles were mounted on the wall.
I hadn’t fired a gun since shooting at cans with my cousin Lucas back when we were in high school. That’d been with his Dad’s old M1911 Colt. I swallowed, then said in as casual a tone as I could muster, “Looking for a pistol. A .45 I think.”
The man nodded, then opened up the back of the case and reached in. “Got a Colt model, it’s used. And a Glock 17 here, perfect condition.”
“Let me see the Colt?” I didn’t care if it was new, long as it worked. And the Colt was more familiar.
He lifted the pistol out of the case and set it on the counter. Its blue metal housing and the wooden pistol grips were near enough identical to Uncle Bill’s .45. I carefully picked up the weapon, removed the magazine and pulled the slide back, checking for a chambered round. Daddy taught me a million times to always assume a weapon was loaded until you verified otherwise.
Daddy, Lucas, Uncle Bill. The purveyors of violence from my childhood. Not that Daddy abused me or anything, but after all, his profession was to dispense violence—to kill people. It was something I never forgot. That contrasted vividly with Uncle Bill, whose drunken rages rained down chaos and violence on everyone around him. I struggled sometimes with the memories of that violence, the stink of the beer on his breath, the engorged blood in his face as he attacked his wife and son. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t be like my family, and especially, I wouldn’t be like him.
But this was different.
The weapon felt comfortable in my hand. It even smelled right. I lifted it to the back of the store, raising it to a firing grip with my left hand gripping the pistol, my right hand supporting the left.
“I’ll take this one.”
The man nodded. “That’ll be four hundred. Got some paperwork to fill out,” he said.
I started filling out the instant background check paperwork. Once completed, I slid it and my drivers license across the counter. Then I opened my wallet and counted out four one-hundred dollar bills and laid them on the counter.
Twenty minutes later I was back in the car, headed to Route 7.
Chase lived in a crappy apartment complex on Leesburg Pike not far from Bailey’s Crossroads, a mixed urban area bordering Arlington and Alexandria. That stretch of highway was lined with dirty apartments, run-down shopping centers, and partially-vacant strip malls. Perfect place for a sleazebag.
I drove past the townhouse once, scanning for movement. I didn’t see anyone; nor did I see Chase’s car, an early 1980s Plymouth held together with Bondo and duct tape. Once again rage filled me that the police had let him go.
I backed my car in across the parking lot from the townhouse, under the shade of a tree. I had no idea when, or even if, Chase was going to return. But he’d done something to Brenna, and I was going to find out what. I’d wait as long as it took.
I slumped down into my seat. The phone rang. Damn it. I took it out—it was Teagan. I shuddered. I didn’t have time to talk with her right now. I didn’t have time to talk with her ever again. I declined the call and continued waiting.
I tried to imagine what it must be like for cops on a stakeout. They must get exhausted. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open. But then again, I’d hardly slept in days.
The sound of a cracked muffler was unmistakable. I slumped down further into my seat. Would Chase recognize my car and just keep going? Maybe he’d run, and maybe he’d lead me all the way to Brenna.
The Plymouth came into view as Chase turned too fast into the parking space directly across from me. Even with my door and windows closed, I could hear the music pounding out of his car, some unrecognizable rap. I reached across to the passenger seat and gripped the pistol in my right hand.
Chase’s car door opened. I opened mine at the same time. I slipped out as quietly as I could, then bolted across the parking lot. His back to me, he reached back into the car for something.
Without hesitation I reached out and slammed the door as hard as I could, catching his left leg below the knee. He crumpled, half in and half out of the car, and screamed. “Fuck!”
As he tried to whip around, I kicked him hard in the balls and he screamed again. While his mouth was open, I shoved the barrel of the pistol in it, grabbing his shirt in my left hand, holding the pistol in the right.
He went instantly silent, his eyes growing wide. He started to speak and I shoved the pistol harder, causing him to gag. I could feel the trigger under my finger. I loosened my grip. If I killed him, he wouldn’t be able to tell me anything.
“Where’s my daughter?”
I pulled the pistol back a little, enough to let him talk. Tears ran down his face. “I don’t know. Mr. Roberts, believe me, I don’t know where she is.”
“You fucking tell me!” I screamed. He slid down slowly, his ass on the concrete, his back and head against the side of the car. I kept the gun aimed directly at his face.
“I don’t know where she is, believe me I don’t!” His denial was a wail. Fucking coward. His eyes were rolling around, searching for help. There wasn’t going to be any fucking help for him.
“Tell me, you fucking child molester! Where IS SHE?” I snarled.
“I don’t know—” he shouted back, starting to try to lift himself up, one hand pressing against the concrete, the other lifting against the inside frame of the car door.
“Liar!” I screamed. Pistol still in his face, I grabbed the car door with my left hand and slammed it.
He screamed, eyes bugging, face turning red. The door didn’t close all the way. I pushed a foot against his arm, then jerked it back and slammed the door on his arm again, crushing bones. His screams turn high pitched now, shrieking, and tears and snot run down his face.
I leaned close, pushing the pistol against his temple. My vision had narrowed in, I couldn’t see anything else but Chase and my rage.
“Where. Is. She?” I screamed.
In my peripheral vision I saw a car screech to a stop, blue lights flashing on its roof.
“Drop it! Police! Drop the weapon!”
“Answer me!” I screamed.
“I don’t know!” Chase wailed.
I looked up. Blue lights. One police car. Two. A cop crouched behind one of the cars and shouted, “Drop the weapon!”
I raged at the injustice. I didn’t get an answer! “Arrest him!” I cried out. “He kidnapped my daughter. He hurt her!”
The officer behind the car shouted, “Drop. The. Weapon. Now!”
I closed my eyes, crouched, and set the pistol down.
Then I stood, hands in the air.
One second later, massive hands slammed me to the ground, my face bouncing off the blacktop.
Note: This is an unedited preview of my upcoming novel Winter Flower, releasing June 22, 2019. Pre-orders are available at all major retailers.