A Free Woman
“Say it. I am a free woman, in charge of my own future and destiny.”
Kelli Duncan took a deep breath, used a tissue to dry her tears, and repeated the words. “I am a free woman in charge of my own future and destiny.”
Diana sat back and appraised her patient. “Now, try saying it like you believe it.”
Kelli smiled, but there was no joy in it. She fought against the tears threatening to spill over again. “It’s hard. I don’t believe it. I don’t feel like I’m in control. If Edward gets out, I’m afraid he’ll come for me. For me and Cole.”
“You have a restraining order,” Diana said. “If he comes into the county, he’ll be arrested again. You’ve got two friends on the police force.”
Kelli knew a restraining order was just a piece of paper.
“You can’t control his actions,” Diana said. “You can only control your own. What kind of person you choose to be. What kind of mother you want to be.”
Kelli’s breathe hitched as the waterworks kicked back in. “I’ve failed as a mother. I should have left that bastard years ago, the moment he first raised his hand to me. But I stayed. I was terrified of him. I’m still terrified of him.”
Dianna nodded. “You had every reason to be, but it was more than just terror. It’s the pattern of your life. Your father was an abusive drunk, to you and your siblings.”
“He was always so angry,” Kelli explained. “More so after Mom died.”
“Then your first boyfriend used and abused you. Left you when you were pregnant with his son.”
Kelli shrugged. “Rodger didn’t hit me much. He mostly stole from me. And he cheated. But he gave me Cole.”
“And then there was Edward Hunter,” Diana said. “He isolated you from your family and friends. Beat you in front of your son. You’ve been conditioned to take it. But you broke away. You left.”
Kelli nodded. “He came after me. He was going to kill me and take Cole.”
“He has no claim over your son,” Diana said. “He never adopted him or even accepted him as his own. Cole doesn’t call him ‘Dad’ does he?”
Ripping the tissue into tiny pieces, Kelli shook her head. “No. Edward never wanted him to.”
“How is Cole adjusting to life in Ember Falls?”
Kelli sighed heavily. “I’m not sure. He’s quiet. Sullen. He hasn’t made any friends. I know he’s worried about Edward returning.”
Kelli threw away the remains of the tissue, reaching forward and pulled out another one. “He likes living in Lilly’s house. And the bookstore. Cole always liked books.”
“How is he dealing with your friend and sister?”
Kelli smiled and there was a hint of joy in her eyes. “He likes his crazy Aunt Ashley and she adores him. Lilly is so patient. It was so good of her to take us in. If Edward comes there…”
Kelli closed her eyes, imagining her ex hurting her friend or sister. If it happened, it would be her fault.
“If he does, call the police. Your sister is friends with a cop.”
Kelli nodded. “Ollie’s a good man. He’s been trying to spend time with Cole. I think Cole likes him, but he won’t say it. He’s frightened of men, but Ollie’s got a way about him. Cole needs that. He needs to be around good men.”
She dabbed her eyes with the tissue. “I contacted my brother.”
Diana’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “Oh? Do you think that’s a good idea? Are you sure that’s not you, falling into that same pattern again?”
Kelli shook her head. “I don’t care what everyone says. My brother didn’t hurt anyone. He always tried to protect me and Ashley. Dad was always the hardest on him. I think when Dad looked at me or Ashley, he saw a bit of Mom. So we got knocked around a little, but he’d go to town on Drew. Mostly because Drew put himself between us and Dad.”
“I haven’t seen him since I snuck into the hospital. They wouldn’t let me into his room, had a police officer stationed at the door. I saw him as a nurse went in. They had him cuffed to the bed.”
Diana nodded. “What does your sister think?”
Kelli folded her arms. “Ashley refuses to even talk about him. He wrote to us.” She looked up. “For some time, he wrote letters and emails. Ashley refused to read them and sent them back, but she saved the ones that came for me. I believe in him. And I’ve been poking around a little. I owe it to him.”
“You don’t owe him anything,” Diana said. “You owe it to your son to be safe. Is your brother coming back to Ember Falls?”
Kelli shook her head. “I didn’t actually ask him. But I want him to. I know he hates this town, but I want my brother back. I think he’d be good for Cole. If I ask him, he’ll come.”
“You’re sure that’s a good idea?”
Kelli smiled. “There’s a lot of things I’m not sure about, but my brother being a part of my son’s life? That’s not one of them.”
Diana was hardly convinced.
Diana instructed Kelli to repeat that phrase in her head, each day, until it started to sink in. ‘I am a free woman, in charge of my own future and destiny.’ It sounded good.
Kelli stepped outside, the cool night air refreshing her entire body. She was a free woman, and she intended to stay that way. Kelli had failed Cole as a mother, because she had allowed fear to dominate her. She had to do better for him. Cole would heal. He had to. He was all that mattered to her.
Yes, life was going to get better. Kelli would make sure of it. She was through being a victim.
She smiled to herself as she reached for the car handle. The promise still ringing in her mind when his reflection in the car window caught her attention. She had no time to panic before he grabbed her from behind, whispered, “Bitch,” in her ear as a sharp blade slit her throat.
Her scream drowned in a bloody gurgle as he dragged her to a nearby car, used a key fob to remotely open the trunk and throw her inside like a bag of garbage. She barely registered the fact the trunk was lined with plastic as he glared down at her with scorn and stabbed the knife into her chest. She prayed that her sister, brother and best friend would deliver the promise of a better life for her son. Kelli Duncan died before he slammed the trunk closed, but she died a free woman.
“Concentrate,” The General snapped, “or you’re going to be sorry.”
Drew Duncan didn’t look up right away. His eyes remained on his cell phone, the picture of a little boy with sad eyes who refused to look into the camera captivated him.
“What the hell are you staring at anyway? Aren’t you a little old to be looking at pictures of girls with their boobs out?”
Drew stared at the General. Frank McAlister, aka the General, was a tall and sturdy man with gray hair and a square jaw. His old and stern face was offset by sharp blue eyes. He stood with his arms crossed as he waited for an answer, and the General wasn’t one to wait.
“If I ever get too old to look at boobs,” Drew said. “Shoot me.”
“Count on it.” The General folded his arms and scowled. “So tell me what has you’re undivided attention.”
Drew handed the phone to the General. “I have a nephew.”
The General took the phone, expecting to see the picture of a little baby boy tucked up in a little blue hospital blanket. Instead the kid displayed looked like he was ten. And he didn’t look happy.
“I thought you said you haven’t spoken to either of your sisters since that business from your home town.”
“I haven’t,” Drew said, doing his best to ignore the urge to reach for his pack of cigarettes and light up. “I tried to write and email both of them for a while. Never heard back. Ashley returned my letters, ripped up into little pieces. Kelli never responded to hers. Now I know why. She got married to some asshole. She doesn’t go into detail, but it sounds like he was no better than my father. She’s left him. Fucker better steer clear of her.”
The General nodded. “You plan on going to see her?”
Drew’s mouth went dry at the thought of returning to Ember Falls. It held nothing but old nightmares and bad memories. “She didn’t ask me, but she wants me to. I can read between the lines.”
God, going back to Ember Falls was the last thing he wanted to do, but he wanted his sisters back. Both of them, including the pain in the ass known as Ashley. Plus, he wanted to meet his nephew. Maybe he could convince them to come out to him?
Scowling, the General held out Drew’s phone. “Alright, enough with the Brady Bunch routine. We’re here to do a job. I need you focused.”
Drew took his phone back, took one last look at the young boy identified as Cole and then shut it down. “Yes, sir.”
The two of them moved across the room to a small table. There was a briefcase, which the General opened. Inside were stacks of hundred dollar bills.
“It’s all there?”
The General sighed. “You want to count it son? It’s there. One cool million. You remember the plan?”
Drew started to examine the brief case. “I do. It’s not what I’d call a difficult plan.”
The General nodded. “It doesn’t need to be difficult for it to get fucked up and I don’t want it fucked up. Neither do our clients. You stick to the plan. You’re there to make a simple exchange. You show them the cash, make the trade, and get out. Clear?”
Drew shut the briefcase, snapped the locks into place, and grabbed the handle. “Crystal. What could go wrong?”
With a sigh, the General headed toward the door. “I’m too old for this shit.”
The sun was just breaking into the morning sky, bathing the horizon in a deadly, red hue. Rolling, turbulent clouds blanketed the distance as deep shadows covered the landscape.
Alone, in a black SUV, Drew drove out to the rendezvous point. He didn’t play any music, making sure to obey all speed limits. He needed to be in control.
Drew struggled to put aside any thoughts of Ember Falls. He was about to face people who wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in his brain. It wasn’t the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last. Just another day at the office.
So, why did the idea of going back to his home town and facing his sisters have his palms sweaty?
Put it away, Drew, put it away. You can’t afford to worry about this. Not now. This wouldn’t take long and then you can get nice and drunk, and worry then. Right now, concentrate. Get the job done.
He followed the GPS to an old, abandoned drive-in Movie Theater, the giant screen ripped, and most of the poles bare and rusted. Drew got out and placed the briefcase on the driver’s seat. He was dressed in black slacks, a matching jacket and tie, and a white shirt. He hated ties, but needed to project a certain image here. Despite that, and knowing he had a few minutes, Drew reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Marlboros. He hadn’t taken his first drag before the General’s voice sounded in his ear.
“I ought to shoot that thing right out of your mouth, son.”
Drew laughed. He knew the General had a strong dislike for cigarettes. He’d promised himself he was going to quit one day, but he hadn’t gotten to that day yet.
“Just killing time until the fun starts.” Drew blew out smoke.
“Just killing yourself, one lung-full at a time.”
“Nah, I’m indestructible,” Drew said. He coughed twice and pounded his chest like a ninety year old man on an iron lung.
“You’re just dumb enough to believe that, aren’t you?”
Drew took one last drag on the cigarette before tossing it away. “Not really.”
He heard a chuckle in his ear. “Good, because you’re no good to me if you do. Heads up, I see a dust trail. North West, coming fast. They’re almost there.”
Drew looked up. The General was right. It was time.
Grabbing the briefcase, Drew headed to the front of the SUV. He placed it on the hood and leaned against the grill, making sure to have his hands in sight.
“No surprises,” the General said. “It’s a simple exchange.”
Two cars pulled up. One was a black sedan, the other a matching van. Both very nondescript. They slowed down while still several feet away and came to an abrupt stop. Two men got out from the passenger side of each vehicle, each with a semi-automatic gun in their hand. They stepped forward and stopped.
They were extraordinarily large men without any trace of a neck. One was white, covered in tattoos with a clean shaven head, and several piercings, including a nose ring. The other was Hispanic, had long, black hair pulled back in a ponytail and a Fu Manchu moustache. Each one looked as solid as a brick wall, and probably just as dumb. Drew studied them while keeping a casual expression on his face. ‘Tattoo’ stared blankly ahead, wearing what Drew considered a good poker face. ‘Ponytail’ smirked. It was the smirk that worried Drew.
The back door to the sedan opened and slowly a man got out. Only slightly smaller in stature, he wore a finely tailored black suit that hid the bulk of his muscles with a neatly trimmed goatee, his eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses.
Here was the guy in charge. His name, learned through their sources, was John Samson. As he got out, he was joined by two other men, each big and brutal looking. They also carried semiautomatic weapons, strung over their shoulders.
They reminded Drew of a prison gang, only better dressed and armed.
“Careful, Drew,” the General said. “I don’t like the feel of this.”
Drew’s gut instinct agreed with the General.
This is wrong. Exchange my ass. This was going to be a bloodbath.
Samson stopped a decent distance from Drew. He was the only one not holding a weapon, although Drew could tell he had one under his jacket from the way he walked. “You got the money?”
Casually, Drew nodded. He stepped aside and placed his hand on the briefcase.
“Show me,” Samson ordered.
Hesitating for only a moment, Drew pulled the briefcase off the hood. Without ever taking his eyes off of the men in front of him, Drew opened up the case, turned it around and lifted up the lid and held it for Samson to see. Then he flipped the lid closed, locked it and placed it on the ground.
Samson smiled. “Bring it to me.”
Drew shook his head. “No. I showed you mine. You show me yours.”
For a moment, Samson did nothing, as if Drew was going to suddenly change his mind and hand over a million dollars if he glared hard enough. Realizing that wasn’t going to happen, he snapped his fingers towards the van.
The side panel of the white van opened up and another man stepped out, this one larger than the others put together. He took a moment to straighten his jacket before reaching into the vehicle.
Roughly, he yanked a young, teen girl out into the morning air. She was crying hysterically, terrified she was about to be killed. A tiny, wisp of a thing, with long, blonde, hair, dirty and unkempt. Wearing filthy clothes and sporting a black eye and swollen lip.
Something about her reminded Drew of his sister, Kelli, when she was thirteen. Or perhaps he just had Kelli on his mind. Either way, it took every ounce of restraint not to act on his urge to attack these bastards.
The girl’s name was Jenifer Ward. Drew had wanted to know who he was risking life for. She had just celebrated her thirteenth birthday not three weeks ago. Her friends called her Jen, and she was a big fan of pop music, romantic comedies, and books with sad endings. She had a dog named Ralph, and a bunny named Whiskers. Her parents were John and Elizabeth Ward, and she had two younger brother, Jake and James, both eight.
It was Drew’s responsibility to make sure this girl got home to see them again.
Her parents were rich. Not stupid, stinking, filthy rich, but rich enough that the kidnappers knew they’d be able to raise a million dollars, which they had. They relied on the General and his team to use that million to get their daughter back.
The huge, tank of a man dragged Jen to Samson, who grabbed her by the hair. “Give us the money and we’ll give you the girl.”
Drew smiled and shook his head. “Isn’t it a shame that in today’s day and age, you just can’t feel comfortable trusting anyone. Including kidnappers. You bring the girl to the half way mark. I’ll meet you there with the money.”
Samson tilted his head. “How do I know you won’t try something?”
“You don’t,” Drew said with a shrug. “Why would I? It’s not my money. It belongs to her parents. They made it clear all they care about is getting their daughter back, alive and unhurt. I’ve got no reason to try anything. You do.”
The fact was, Drew hadn’t talked to the parents. He had no idea how they felt about parting with the money. The General hadn’t said anything, one way or another, but the line sounded good. At least, Drew hoped it did.
Samson let go of Jen’s hair, snapped his fingers and handed the girl off to the ‘Tank’. He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her forward. Jen winced in pain. When she started to trip, he pulled her back up roughly. She was lucky he didn’t dislocate her shoulder.
Drew wanted to demolish him, but that wouldn’t be smart and he needed to be smart. Get Jen out; that was his job. These sons of bitches would get theirs. The General would see to that.
Drew stepped forward, brief case in hand, and went to get a scared, young girl. The ‘Tank’ held out his hand for the briefcase. Drew held it out and reached for the girl. The moment his fingers grasped the handle, he shoved Jen straight into Drew’s arms.
Quickly, Drew put his arm around the girl and guided her back to the SUV. He kept his eyes on the men with the guns as he closed the distance to his car in seconds. “Come on, Jen. I’m taking you home.”
“I’m afraid I can’t have that,” Samson said. With another snap of his fingers, all the men had guns trained on them.
Jen started to weep as Drew shoved her behind him. She shook and buried her face on his chest, sobbing, convinced she was about to die. “You’ve got what you came for. I just want to bring the girl home to her family.”
Samson shook his head and grinned, pulling the shades off of his face for the first time. “No, no, no. I’m afraid she’s seen our faces. So have you. Really, despite your earlier warning, you are far too trusting.”
Drew sent Samson his most wicked grin. “No. I’m not.”
As the smile faded from Samson’s face, the briefcase exploded, scattering the one million dollars, now on fire, billowing through the air. The briefcase itself launched straight up and only when it started to fall did the arm detach. The rest of the ‘Tanks’ body blown in various directions.
Before Samson or his thugs could register the fact their million dollars had gone boom, shots rang out. ‘Pony Tails’ head exploded, followed by one of the men behind him. Bodies started to hit the ground as Drew grabbed the screaming Jen and ran her to the back of the car. He’d almost got to the end when something smashed into him from behind.
Jen screamed louder as someone grabbed her.
His shades gone, his eyes narrow and wild, like an uncaged animal, Samson raised his gun. Drew kicked him square in the chest, making him stumble back and drop the gun to the ground, which Drew promptly kicked away.
Stumbling back a few feet, Samson reached to the small of his back and pulled out a long hunting knife. Brandishing the blade, he grinned as he lunged forward.
In a lightning fast motion, Drew lashed out, grabbing Samson’s arm. He turned and twisted it sharply. A savage snap mixed with a cry of pain. Drew shifted his weight, smashing his elbow into Samson’s face and breaking his nose before turning to face him.
Seizing Samson, Drew launched him forward through the driver’s side window of the SUV. Drew repeated the same move, obliterating the backseat window and Samson’s face.
Jen peeked out from the corner of the car. Once again, Drew saw his sister in Jen’s face, and his father in Samson’s.
Drew’s fists pummeled the face, trying to erase it from existence. All measure of control gone. Blood gushed out of Samson’s nose and mouth. Bones cracked as Drew pounded out his fury.
Drew never heard the General yelling in his ear, or the cars racing up behind him. He would have kept going if someone’s hand hadn’t grabbed his arm.
“That’s enough, Marine.”
Drew stopped, shocked to see the General holding his arm, his eyes grim and concerned.
“He’s out and you’re not doing anything but scaring the girl.” The General nodded towards Jen who stared at him with eyes wide with fear.
With an incredible amount of effort, Drew released Samson, who toppled to the ground in a bloody heap. He moved towards Jen, who backed away from him, where she was whisked into the back of a SUV matching the one Drew smashed up using Samson as a battering ram.
“Let’s go,” the General said. “Now.”
The General herded Drew into the back of a black Humvee. Without word, he held a medical kit and bottle of water. He opened the water and handed it to Drew before going to work on his bloody knuckles.
“Drink,” the General said. “Or, I’ll pour it down your throat.”
Drew drank nearly the entire bottle at once.
“Why’d you lose control?”
“Bastard deserved it and more. She was terrified down to the bone, and he was going to kill her even after he had his money.”
The General paused a moment. “Yes, he was, but that girl didn’t deserve to witness you erasing his face.” He waited a moment, and went back to tending to Drew’s hands. “This have to do with your sister?”
Drew closed his eyes and nodded. “We were all targets for our father growing up. I tried to protect them, but I was useless in prison. By the time I got out, they’d left him. I thought they were safe. I thought all this time, they simply didn’t want anything to do with me. Believed I’d…” Drew finished the rest of the water.
“I’m know what you were accused of,” the General said. “I never believed it. If I had, you wouldn’t be here. Neither did my grandson.”
Drew winced. Matthew McAlister. Another person he was supposed to protect.
“I fucked up, and because of it, my sister ended up with some asshole just as bad, if not worse than our father.”
The General finished with Drew’s hands. “We all fuck up in life. Nothing you can do about the past. Just don’t keep doing it. Now, I asked you earlier today and you never answered me. You going to go see your sister?”
Going back to Ember Falls was more terrifying than the shootout he’d just survived, but Drew didn’t hesitate. “Yes, sir. I think I have some vacation left.”
The General nodded. “Son, I don’t think you’ve ever taken a vacation. As soon as we wrap up the legal details from today, consider yourself on leave.”
The car pulled to a stop and they got out in the parking lot of the small hotel they’d set up for the op. Drew exited the Humvee just in time to see the parents come out. The husband was holding his wife as they scanned the cars, looking for their daughter.
With the help of another of the General’s agents, Jen slid out of the third SUV. Her parent’s reaction was immediate as their eyes filled with tears. They both called her name as they raced to her.
Jen did the same, calling out for her mommy and daddy like she had probably done when she was a little girl and had woke from a nightmare. They collided in an embrace filled with love.
Drew watched them. The girl would have plenty of nightmares ahead of her, but she’d be okay.
Slowly, he and the General walked over. The family didn’t notice them at first. When they did, the mother launched herself at the General and hugged him.
“Thank you for getting our baby back.”
The General smiled. “Our pleasure,” he said as the father shook his hand. “I’m afraid things didn’t go smoothly. We had to sacrifice the money.”
Drew watched their reactions, or rather lack thereof. Their smiles never faltered an inch. The money was a non-issue with them. They had their daughter back. Nothing else mattered.
There were a lot of questions to be answered by the local police. It took a little time for Drew to extract himself and head back to the hotel room. He needed a shower, a cigarette and a stiff drink.
Before heading into the bathroom, Drew opened his sister’s email again. He scanned it quickly, pulling out the important details. She’d never gotten his letters until she’d returned to Ember Falls. Ashley was still angry, but Kelli was confident she’d come around. Kelli’s mention of her ex was brief, but telling. She never came out and said he’d hit her, but her meaning was clear.
‘He was far more of a monster than Dad ever was.’
Finally, Drew’s eyes found the picture of his nephew, Cole. There was no joy in his eyes. It was as if Drew stared into a mirror to his past.
Whatever Cole’s life had been up until now, it was over. Kelli said as much, and Drew swore he’d do whatever was needed to help his sister keep that promise. It was time he stepped up.
Drew hit reply on the email and began to type a response. Moments later, he erased it and started again, and again. When he finally managed to finish, Drew quickly hit send before he had a chance to rethink it too much.
There. It was done. He’d included his cell phone, so Kelli could call him if she wanted. The thought of his sister’s voice made Drew grin as he headed into the bathroom.
As Drew stripped down and climbed into the tiny shower, he realized there was something else stirring within him—joy.
He was an uncle. Wasn’t that a kick?
After the shower, Drew dressed and grabbed his phone to see if anyone in the group was up for a drink. That’s when he saw he had a voicemail. He didn’t recognize the number, but the area code he knew—Ember Falls.
Hitting the speaker button, Drew dialed his voicemail access number, keyed in his password, and smiled as he waited to hear his sister’s voice.
“Drew? This is Lilly. I don’t know if you remember me from high school.” Drew did. Who could forget her? Little Lilly, small but mighty. She was like an unofficial Duncan. “I’m sorry. Drew something happened to Kelli. They found her today. She’s dead. I’m so sorry. I know she emailed you. She talked to me about it. Please give me a call. I’m so sorry.”
She rattled off a number, but Drew didn’t hear it. Instead, he fumbled with the phone and replayed the message. He heard wrong. There was no way Kelli could be dead. Not his sister. Not her.
This had to be a joke. A cruel, sadistic joke. Or a mistake. A horrible mistake.
But it wasn’t. He remembered Lilly. She wasn’t just a beautiful girl, she was smart and kind and would never make this kind of mistake or do anything this cruel. Which meant there was only one possibility.
Kelli, one of the two siblings he’d shared a womb with for seven and a half months and a house with for nearly eighteen years, was dead.
Cell Phones Can’t Swim
Paul McAlister was a man who trusted his instincts. From the first time he’d met Drew Duncan, his grandson’s buddy while he visited them on base, he’d decided he’d liked him. More so because he’d learned that Drew saved his grandson’s life at great personal risk on three separate occasions. From the first time the General had shaken hands with him, he thought about having Drew come to work for him when his tour was over. Drew didn’t strike him as a career Marine. Again, instinct told him Drew hadn’t quite found his place in the world.
He’d done his homework. The General had his resources and used them. Drew came from a rough family situation. His mother had died when Drew and his sisters were young. The father was a cop in the small town of Ember Falls. He was also a drunk and a philanderer and although there was no official report to confirm, the General read between the lines.
The General recognized the signs in Drew. The anger beneath the surface. The self-loathing behind his eyes. He knew what someone looked like when they grew up as someone’s personal punching bag, since he’d seen that same look as a teenager whenever he’d looked in the mirror.
Because they both came from ugliness, he understood Drew Duncan from that first handshake. He’d always been able to read Drew before Drew said a word. That’s how the General knew his best man was scared shitless about going to his hometown. That’s how he knew Drew was going back to Ember Falls and not coming back before Drew came to the conclusion himself.
And that’s why he understood the grief in Drew’s eyes when he found him pounding on his door.
“I need to borrow a car.”
Drew’s jaw tightened, his fists clenched and his eyes closed against tears. “I just got a message. My sister’s dead. I don’t know anything more than that. I need to get to the airport and get home.”
The General reached out, placed his left hand on the young man’s shoulder, reached into his jacket pocket with his right hand and pulled out his cell.
“Get the plane ready for immediate take off, I’ll be there in twenty minutes. We’re going to Ember Falls, New York. Make it happen.”
Drew trembled and filled with gratitude.
“Go get your things. Meet me out front in five minutes.”
Drew nodded and did as he was ordered.
In less than a half hour, they were air born. Drew wanted to talk to his sister Ashley, but he didn’t have her cell number. That fact alone was humiliating. How had he let this happen? How had he left his sisters to fend for themselves? He sat there, staring at his phone as if it would suddenly ring.
The General slid Drew a glass of brandy. “Drink it.”
Drew downed the contents. “I don’t have… Ashley, my other sister. We haven’t spoken since…”
“Do you have that other girl’s number? Lilly?”
Drew looked up, nodded.
Drew looked back down at his phone.
“Call it, now,” the General ordered. There was no softness in his voice, just authority and command.
It snapped Drew out of his trance. He dialed Lilly’s number and waited.
“Yeah.” Drew forced himself to breathe. “What the hell happened? Please tell me it’s a mistake. Please.”
The silence on the other end was all the answer he needed.
“What happened? Was it an accident? It wasn’t, was it?”
“No.” Lilly said. The anguish in her voice made it clear she’d been crying. “She was killed. We don’t know much right now.”
Drew’s face flushed with anger. He wanted to pound something or someone.
He gritted his teeth. “Is that bastard in jail?”
Lilly sighed. “It’s not that simple. The police don’t know who did it.”
“How hard is it to guess? Kelli wrote to me. A long, detailed email about what happened to her. Where is he? Where is the son of a bitch?”