SPOILER WARNING: This preview contains a major story development. I don’t recommend reading unless you’ve been following all the previous preview chapters!!!
“Mrs. Roberts? It’s Agent Wilcox.”
“Yes,” I choked out.
“I’ve got some news.”
Time froze. In less than a second, my mind ran past all the incidents where Wilcox had given us news. When they found her car, with the broken phone. When they found the bracelet Lori gave her in Chase’s apartment. The weekly calls for a year, then less often since then. But he still called, and he almost always prefaced those calls with the statement, “I don’t have any news, I’m just checking in.”
Today he’d said, I’ve got some news.
“It’s her birthday,” I said.
I swear to God I wasn’t going to say anything. I wasn’t going to mention it. I wasn’t going to do this.
His face clouded, and he looked to the floor. “I know,” he said in a rasping voice. “Eighteen.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. It was too much to think he’d come over and hug me. And I didn’t know how to approach him. Not anymore. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.
“Do you think she’s still alive?” I asked.
I swallowed. There was some safety in the anonymity of being online. And I didwant to talk about it. I don’t know why, but I hadn’t told Mrs. Mullins or Hayley that it was Brenna’s birthday. Finally I responded: It’s my sister’s birthday. She turns eighteen today.
Gemini: And this is a problem because…
Tamara: She went missing two years ago, and we haven’t seen her since. …
I swallowed. True enough. It would be my second double shift in two days: this was a race weekend at Talladega, and our business was way up. Plus, today of all days, I did not want to go home.
It was September 14.
Today was Brenna’s eighteenth birthday.
I’ve been trying to articulate for days how deeply upset I am about the prospect of the President systematically pardoning people who have been convicted or are being tried for committing war crimes. I think…
I gasped. Three or four years? How was that possible? How could I possibly do three or four years in prison?
My next words came out in a rasp. “What are my options?”
Brent shrugged. “We can offer to plea bargain to a lesser charge. You’ll still almost certainly get a felony conviction, but we might be able to get them down to vanilla assault. With luck you’ll be out within a year. That’s really the best-case … if you go before a jury and they wheel Chase Morton into the courtroom, you don’t stand a chance.”
Hayley leaned forward, her eyes wide. “I’d never tell anyone anything. I swear to God.” As she said the last words, she made the sign of the cross over her shoulders.
That exposed yet another set of bruises on her forearm. I’d seen them earlier that day in class but hadn’t said anything at the time. Now I had to. “What happened to your arm?”
She scrunched her eyes together. “What are you talking about?”
As gently as I could, I touched her forearm with the tip of my index finger. “That’s what I’m talking about. Those are new ones … the last set of bruises were just starting to heal. Hayley, who did that?”
She was petite, maybe five feet two. She wore a red silk blouse with matching lipstick, and a green skirt that was inappropriately short for any kind of business function. The skirt revealed long shapely legs, propped up by three-inch heels. She had brown eyes and dark brown hair, and a too-large nose. Her clothes looked a size too small, showing off a waist that demonstrated half-starvation underneath augmented breasts. At first glance, I thought she was twenty years old and an intern.
From the second I saw her, I didn’t like the way she looked at my husband.
She began to blather on. “It’s nice to meet you too, Mrs. Roberts. Cole talks a lot about you.”
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.
It was late Tuesday afternoon when Lori called me to the phone. I’d slept briefly and fitfully the night before, and by this time I was running on empty. Cole was asleep, sprawled on the couch, exhaustion on his face.
“Erin? It’s Agent Wilcox.”
I flew to the phone, panic rising to my throat.. “Agent Wilcox? Did you hear something?”
He sighed. “No, ma’am. Nothing yet. I was actually calling because you’ll certainly hear on the news soon, Chase was released by the Fairfax County Police.”
“What?” I cried. “Why?”…
I thought of Brenna, somewhere out there possibly in danger. If it could help her, I would tell him anything he needed to know. I took a deep breath, then said, “It’s not just lately, it’s the past couple of years. They’ve never told us what it was about, but there was a lot of fighting and screaming.”
I felt a twist in my stomach. I wasn’t going to say it. But then I thought—what if there was something important? What if there was something that I didn’t know, some tiny detail they needed to find my sister and bring her back to me. I took a deep breath. “I’m pretty sure Dad had an affair.”