The Lucky Winner

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Chapter 28

“Kyle had your bank account login info written down on a piece of paper hidden in his room.”

On the way home from Sophia’s house, I’d debated with myself longer than ever. Despite my previous theory, I’d suddenly had an irresistible urge to tell Mom about Kyle.

So I did, after making sure he wasn’t home yet.

Mom just stared at me as though English had ceased to be her mother language and she didn’t understand a word of what I just said.

“Also, he sneaks out of the house at night. Like spies who lead double lives would do.” I probably should have worded that part in a different way, but oh well.

I was convinced that I certainly should have, when her whole face started twitching like a patient suffering from a severe case of psychosis.

“What on earth are you talking about…?”

At least she could speak. That was a good sign.

“Mom, I want you to listen without freaking out. Okay? Because your freaked-out face freaks me out.”

She didn’t say anything.

“Mom?”

She nodded hesitantly.

Dropping my backpack on the floor, I sat down in the dining room chair. I looked out the window, making sure Kyle wasn’t on his way home. “Last night, when he went to his room after saying he wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t even in there. He snuck out of the room. He was gone. Pretty much all night.”

“Where? How…?” her voice came out as a whisper.

“He climbed out of his bedroom window. The screen comes off. He unscrewed it.”

“But why? Where did he go?”

“I don’t know. All I know is he’s acting flat-out suspicious.”

Mom’s unblinking eyes stared.

“I snuck into his room to look for any signs or clues,” I bit my nail—my bad habit from childhood. My nails were ugly and short when I was a kid because of my oral fixation with them. Upon maturing to the age that I wanted to start coloring my nails, I’d forced myself to quit that vulgar habit. Since then, my nails always remained nice and long. I’d punch myself in the face if I ever went back to that disgusting habit.

I wasn’t ready for a punch in the face, so I pried my hands away from my mouth and cracked my knuckles instead.

“Then I found this,” I pulled out my phone and showed her a picture of his handwritten note.

Her eyes got as wide as owl’s as she stared at the picture.

“I put it back where I found it so he won’t suspect anybody knows,” I closed the picture. “Do you think we should talk to him or tell Detective Lake?” I looked around. “Where’s Dad?”

“He went out to do some errands…” she muttered as she stared at the phone in my hand.

Almost instantaneously, I heard the door unlocking. I spun around and saw Dad’s hand.

“Wow, I must be psychic,” I exclaimed, although in the next moment, I had to stop dead in my tracks, staring at him as he staggered into the house.

“What—” my mouth dropped open, unable to formulate a sentence.

He was covered in dirt from head to toe like a homeless man. His face was swollen and his lip was cut, bleeding all over his chin.

Mom stood stock-still, looking petrified.

“What happened to you?” I finally managed to say.

He hesitated to answer my question.

“He was attacked,” another voice came from behind him. It belonged to Detective Lake.

“Detective Lake!”

Crap.

My voice came out louder than I intended. I hoped he didn’t think I was delighted to see him. Hopefully, he thought it was because I was so concerned about my father and desperate to find out what happened to him. Which was true. But the former was also true.

“Ella,” he gave me a curt nod, then looked at Mom. “Mrs. Marcus, Mr. Marcus was attacked by two men.” There was a pause as he glanced over at Dad. “Random violence. According to Mr. Marcus.”

I didn’t know what was going on with me. I should have been horribly worried about Dad, but instead, I started blushing. It seemed, I really liked it—more than I realized—when Detective Lake called my name. Luckily, nobody was looking at me at that moment. The last thing I wanted was to get caught blushing.

“Are you… Are you okay?” Mom’s trembling hands supported him as she led Dad inside. “Random violence?” she repeated to Detective Lake, sounding incredulous.

“Yes… it was. Never seen any of them before,” Dad’s voice came out feebly.

“Are you sure?” Mom’s hand reached over to his bloodied lip but she let it hover there, without touching it.

“When I approached, they ran away after seeing my badge,” said Detective Lake.

Mom kept her eyes on Dad as she took his dirty jacket off carefully.

“I was going to take him to the hospital, but he refused, saying he was okay.”

“Are you…? Are you sure you’re okay?” Mom asked.

“Yes, I am…” said Dad as he sat down on the floor. “I just need to lie down.”

“Okay. Here, let me,” Mom threw her arms around him and started to help him into bed. Then she turned around to look at Detective Lake. “Thank you, Detective, for bringing him home.”

I didn’t doubt that there had to be a ton of questions floating in Mom’s head, but at that moment, it appeared all she could worry about was Dad.

It couldn’t have been random violence. And I was certain Detective Lake knew that, too. I wondered how Detective Lake happened to be at the scene when it occurred. Was Detective Lake following Dad? Does he follow me, too?

When Mom disappeared into the bedroom with Dad, Detective Lake turned around to leave.

“Detective Lake!”

Why in the Sam Hill do I keep doing that?

All I needed to do was call his name coolly. I didn’t need to shriek his name like a cat in heat.

“Yes?” he stopped as he turned around. “Ella?”

God, I beg you, please stop him from calling my name! I pleaded aloud in my head—meaning the opposite of course.

I turned around, so he didn’t see me brushing like a beet-root. Now I knew, for a fact, that I was putty in his hands whenever he said my name.

“Are you all right?” Hearing his voice from behind me, I knew I had to turn around. Before I dared risk hearing him call my name again!

I turned around, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. “Yes, I’m okay. I had something in my eye.” I rubbed it for dramatic effect.

Detective Lake waited patiently for me to say something. Perhaps he thought I was crying.

What was I planning to say? Should I tell him about Kyle’s handwritten note? Or ask why he’d been following Dad? Or if all of us were suspects in Misty’s murder? Was I his suspect?

Ooh.

I didn’t know why that last thought sent strange shivers down my spine.

“You want to know if I think it was a random attack or not,” Detective Lake tightened his jaw. “Is that right?”

“Yes.” I nodded.

His charming eyes stared into mine. “I don’t. But unfortunately, there’s nothing more I can tell you at this point.”

“Okay,” I gathered my hair and put it to one side, twirling it, like I didn’t know what else to do with my hands.

“You have a good evening,” he said politely before opening the door to exit. Then he said over his shoulder, “Ella.”

It was official.

I had a huge crush on Detective Lake.

Mom came out of the bedroom.

“Let’s order pizza,” I said out of the blue.

I could tell from her expression that my voice was a tad more cheerful than it should have been, given the circumstances.

I instantly felt the need to make sure she didn’t think I was acting inappropriately. “Because I don’t think you feel like cooking tonight. That’s why. And you need to eat. All of us do.”

“Sure, order whatever you want.”

“Does Dad remember the attackers now?”

“No.”

Were the attackers part of the conspiracy? Did they work with Misty? And the cyber criminal group?

Most likely. Otherwise, what were the odds of someone like Dad getting assaulted like that? It was just too strange to be a random act of violence. Did that mean they were after the rest of us as well? But really, what could they possibly get by assaulting us? Unless they intended to take one of us hostage and demand a ransom. Although, if that were the case, wouldn’t it be a lot easier for them to abduct me or Mom? Or even Kyle, who had zero muscles? Dad was six-feet tall with a rather bulky frame. He was basically the last of the four of us that anybody would have chosen to take hostage.

In any case, it seemed it was far from being over, despite what Dad had said the other day.

I opened a kitchen drawer to look for a pizza delivery menu. I noticed myself being overly conscious about putting my hand inside it, as if a little creature were lurking there to bite me. I hoped I wouldn’t have to live like that forever.

The pizza delivery arrived, and Mom and I sat at the table. Dad was fast asleep in bed and Kyle wasn’t home yet.

“We shouldn’t wait for Kyle, right? I mean, he isn’t here,” I said carefully as I examined her face. I worried every time I said the name, Kyle, like a bomb might go off.

“Yeah, just eat.”

It didn’t look like she wanted to eat with me. I didn’t blame her for losing her appetite.

“I’ll tell Dad about what you found in his room,” she said as she stared at the pizza, as if the pizza were telling her that was the right thing to do.

“Okay,” I put my mouth under the hot slice of pizza to catch the melting cheese.

There was a phone call.

Mom answered it. It didn’t take longer than two seconds before I knew it was about Kyle. And it had to be bad news.

She hung up the phone and didn’t move, as if she were suddenly paralyzed from head to toe.

I gave her a moment to regain her bearings.

“Kyle’s in police custody. He…” She let out a deep, trembling sigh. “He killed Jerry…” Then she added, “Sophia’s in custody, too.”

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