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 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.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Roberts,” he said. “Do you recognize this?”
It was as if he’d designed the moment to be as traumatic as possible. He held up Brenna’s phone—it had to be Brenna’s, I gave her the Black Flag phone case. The screen was covered with spiderweb cracks.
Erin staggered back, a gasp turning into a wail. I grabbed her before she fell down. Hunt came in the room with another man we hadn’t met.
“Mr and Mrs Roberts—my name’s Stan Wilcox. I’m with the FBI’s Child Abduction Response Deployment program.”
At those words, my chest seized in some kind of a painful spasm. I winced, and I watched as Erin raised her fist to her mouth and bit, hard.
Wilcox continued. “About an hour ago, local police in Winchester discovered a VW Beetle parked behind a pawn shop. It’s your daughter’s car—the phone was on the ground beside it.”
As soon as they got out the door, Erin turned on Sam. “Sam! Why didn’t you tell me Brenna said that about going away? Are you keeping her secrets? Why didn’t you tell me?” Her voice sounded strained, high-pitched like wind blowing through reeds.
Sam recoiled. Shock spread across his still-childlike features. “I didn’t know… I didn’t…” With that, he sobbed and buried his face in his hands.
“Erin,” I said. “It’s not Sam’s fault.”
Erin turned on me. “No, damn it! It’s your fault. She wasn’t running around with twenty-year-olds before you screwed our family up. She wasn’t getting in trouble in school before then. She wasn’t—”
“Stop!” Sam cried out, tears running down his cheeks. “Why do you think she always wanted to be out of the house? Because you two never stop fighting!”…