I gave our computer forensics guy, Murray, a call and asked if they had any luck tracking the movements of either of the girls online. He told me that they were chasing down a few IP addresses from some of the guys who had corresponded with Janelle but that they weren’t looking very promising. After spending a few hours on the couch in the break room, I decided to go home. It would be nice to be home before Braelynn for a change. I thought about cooking dinner as well. Keaton had been working so hard on this new menu for the restaurant that I was sure he would be relieved to not have to cook when he got home too. Braelynn loved my lasagna so I decided to make a quick stop by the grocery store on the way home. I hated going to the grocery store because I usually ran into someone I knew who wanted to stand around and chit-chat with me about things I could have honestly cared less about. I had never been good with small talk and it seemed like the older I got, the worse I got. I never knew what to say to people to get them to shut up without being rude. I only needed a few things from the store so I figured if I kept my head down and didn’t make eye contact with anyone I could be in and out of the store in less than twenty minutes. I was halfway to the checkout line when someone hit me with their buggy.
“Son of a bitch!” I mumbled in case my grandmother, her old biddy friends, or their preacher happened to be in earshot. I turned around to see who had hit me and came face to face with the one person I would consider my worst enemy. Audrey Sawyer.
“Oh, dear. I’m so sorry, Brodie. I was coming around this corner here and I didn’t see you.”
“It’s okay, Audrey. Unlike you I don’t have to worry about breaking a hip anytime soon.”
“Brodie Barrett, would it kill you to have some damn manners?” She whispered through gritted teeth. Audrey Sawyer would never let anyone in public hear her utter a cuss word. Of course, I’d never heard her say a cuss word unless it was hurled in my direction.
“You know what, Audrey? You’re right. Please forgive me for being so rude,” I smiled at her. For once I think I had rendered Audrey speechless. She was staring at me with her mouth halfway open as if she was going to say something but couldn’t find the right words. This woman, who was the president of the local chapter of the Junior League, made her name by her gift of gab. I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone talk as much as she did so to see her standing in front of me without a thing to say was comical to say the least.
“Actually, Audrey, come to think of it, I believe I owe you a thank you.”
“Thank you. For lunch the other day. If you hadn’t been such a bitch, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave. And if I hadn’t wanted to leave I wouldn’t have begged Keaton to take me home. If he hadn’t taken me home that day I wouldn’t be wearing this.” I wiggled my ring finger at her, making sure that the stone on my finger caught the florescent light above us in such a way that it would sparkle right in her eye. She gently grabbed my hand and pulled it to her eye level. I watched her as she turned my hand this way and that to get a good look at my ring. And then she laughed. Not exactly the response I was expecting.
“Oh, my stars, Brodie! It’s about time!” she giggled as she reached out and hugged me. This woman, who threw icy daggered stares at me every single time she saw me, didn’t just hug me. She pulled me to her and squeezed me with a force that I thought could only come from four hundred pound linebackers. I had obviously entered the Twilight Zone when I stepped through the motorized doors of the grocery store. I didn’t even know what to do with myself so I just stood there and let her hug me.
“Lord, girl. That man has been pining over you day in and day out. Sugar, he talked about you so much I thought I was starting to fall in love with you. Every single time I went to that restaurant to try and help him with the decor and whatever else he needed, he always seemed to bring the conversation around to you. Even when he started seeing that silly bar wench. Ugh. I’m glad to see that one going.” She shivered at the mention of Kailee and I did too. All while chuckling at hearing someone refer to her as a bar wench. But, I was still in shock at Audrey’s sudden change in attitude. If I had known that a ring would make her be nice to me, I’d have gotten engaged the day I met her. But come to think of it, she wasn’t like this when I married Gray. Something was weird. Really weird.
“Yeah, she’s still working at the restaurant. It’s a long story but she’s basically dead set on making Keaton’s life a living hell until this baby gets here.”
“And how are you feeling about this baby?”
“I’m not happy about it. I can’t lie about that but if this is Keaton’s child I will support whatever decision he makes. If that means paying her child support and dealing with her for the next eighteen years, then that is what we will do. If he decides to fight her for custody, then that’s what we will do. I just want him to be happy and he hasn’t said it but I know there is a part of him that wants this kid to be his. Not because of her but just because of the possibility of him being a father. And I understand that. I can’t take that away from him.”
“I see. So, did he give you the ring the day he took you home?”
“No. He came over the next day to see Braelynn and after she went to bed we stayed up and talked about some things and decided —” I stopped talking when I noticed the look on Audrey’s face. She had her signature cat-ate-the-canary grin on her face which meant she knew something I didn’t. I had been around her enough to recognize that look. She already knew about the ring. She already knew he was planning on trying to give it to me again.
“You knew, didn’t you?”
“Knew what? I’m not a mind reader, Brodie. Be more clear about your nonsense” And the Audrey I knew was back.
“Don’t play that game with me, Audrey. You know exactly what I’m talking about! You knew that he was going to try to give me this ring again. That’s the whole reason you planned that lunch the other day. Chelsea and Walker could have asked me to be in their wedding at any time. Hell, she texts me at least twelve times a day. They didn’t need you. You set me up.”
“Looks like it worked, didn’t it?”
“Holy hell! You did! You set me up! Why?”
“Because, Brodie, that man is head over heels in love with you and it was starting to affect his business. And that affects my business, you know. I own half of that restaurant. Most days he wouldn’t even come in until after twelve. And on the days he did come in early he still smelled like the bottom of the bottle he’d been nursing the night before. The man was a mess.”
‘What the hell do you care, though? You hate me so wouldn’t you do everything you could to help him forget about me and move on with his life? Why help him get me back?”
“Listen here, you pig-headed, foul-mouthed, pain in my rear!” Audrey was so close to me that the finger she was pointing was poking me in the chest. “I don’t hate you. Far from it. Honey, I have loved you since the first time you walked through my door. But I keep you at a distance and give you a hard time to keep you away from Walker.”
I looked around to see if anyone else in the grocery store was paying attention to one of their most elite members of society working a bruise into my sternum. No one else in the store seemed to even notice we were there. Hearing what she said really started to make me question my intelligence and my sanity. I couldn’t seem to make heads or tails of any of the things going on in my life right now and now I couldn’t even process what she was saying to me. She didn’t hate me but she was trying to keep me away from Walker. What did that even mean? And if she didn’t hate me then why would she try to keep me away from Walker? I decided that this was a conversation we needed to have outside where no one else could hear us instead of standing next to the chip aisle where anyone looking for a good afternoon snack was bound to overhear what she had to say.
“Can we talk outside?”
“Yes, let’s pay for our stuff and then I’ll walk with you to your car. I’m sorry, Brodie. I wasn’t expecting to see you today and it’s caught me off guard. I’ve been wanting to talk to you by myself but I know I’m so ugly to you that I knew it would be hard to convince you to sit down and have a conversation with me.”
I just nodded. I didn’t even know what to say. Audrey went ahead of me and paid for her groceries. I stood there staring at the tabloids next to the register trying to get lost in someone else’s drama. The cashier rang up my items. I paid her, gathered my bags, and then silently followed Audrey outside. I placed my bags in the backseat of my truck while Audrey put her items in her car. I sat down in the driver’s seat with the door open waiting on her to walk back over to me. As she walked up and leaned on the side of my truck, I saw a look on her face I’d never seen before. She was worried about something.
“Okay, Audrey, what the hell are you talking about?”
“I see the way he looks at you. He’s looked at you like that since you were thirteen years old. I love my boy but you deserve a far better man than him and if he thinks I don’t like you he’ll never give pursuing you a serious thought.”
“Wait, are you trying to say Walker is in love with me?”
“Brodie, you can’t be that dense. You have to know. Everyone else does. Even Keaton. He and I have talked about it before.”
“I don’t get it, Audrey. Walker isn’t a bad guy. If he really was in love with me, why discourage it? Wouldn’t you want your son to be happy?”
“Honey, I would do anything in this world within my power to make my son happy. He’s the only one I’ve got. But he’s not normal. You and I both know that. I think you block stuff out and make excuses for some of the things he does and says because you don’t want to admit to yourself that something is wrong with him but something is. I don’t know what but I care about you just as much as I care about him and I don’t want you to ever get caught up in whatever his problem is. I do thank the good lord above that he’s had you as a friend. I think it’s kept him somewhat normal for this long but I can see him unraveling. I can see it in his eyes.”
“What aren’t you telling me? What makes you think he’s not normal?”
“Whatever I tell you has to stay between us. I don’t want to embarrass him and I honestly don’t know what he would do if he found out I told you any of this. He’s been in trouble for stalking girls before.”
“What?” I nearly fell out of the seat of my truck. Walker and I had been together almost every single day of our lives since the seventh grade. Yes, there had been times where he’d been grounded and couldn’t hang out but he told me it was over stupid stuff like not cleaning his room. I had never once heard about him stalking any girls or ever gotten the impression that he was someone who would do such a thing. In the line of work that I’m in, you would think I’d be better at picking these sort of people out.
“That summer before y’all started tenth grade, when you went to the beach and stayed with your aunt and uncle? That was the first time the two of you had actually been apart for more than a few days since becoming friends. At first he was kind of depressed and didn’t want to hang out with any of the neighborhood boys. He just sat in his room listening to music and watching TV. One Saturday Gunner Hayes had come by and had convinced him to finally leave his room. They went to the mall. He came home and Brodie, I thought he was high. He was acting so strange. He seemed so happy. He was hyper and so completely different from the depressed boy that had left my house four hours before. He started hanging out with Gunner more and more and seemed to be really happy so I quit worrying about him as much. I thought he finally got over missing you and decided to enjoy his summer.”
“So what happened?”
“One weekend he told me he wanted to go camping with Gunner on Gunner’s grandfather’s hunting property. I knew Gunner’s parents’ house wasn’t far from the property so I didn’t see a problem with it and I let him go. While he was gone I decided to clean his room for him so that he could enjoy his summer and not worry about his dad and me riding his case so much. It just looked like a messy room at first. But once I got all of the clothes out of the floor, I started noticing pictures lying all over the place. They were pictures of a girl but they weren’t pictures of a girl who knew her picture was being taken. These were from far away or from angles that someone who was with the girl wouldn’t have been in. She looked just like you. And then I found a stack of notebooks full of awful stuff. Drawings and poems and just ramblings. I know that people say this as a joke but I am dead serious when I say that I thought the devil had control of my child. I was so scared, Brodie. I showed the pictures and the notebooks to his father and we decided that he needed to come home so that we could talk to him and figure out what was going on. When we called Gunner’s parents they told us that they hadn’t seen Walker in two weeks. All this time he was telling us he was going to hang out with Gunner he was sneaking off to go spy on this girl.”
The hair on my arms and the back of my neck was standing up. Why had Audrey not pulled me aside and mentioned this earlier? And why was she telling me this now. I knew Walker was into some weird stuff when it came to women and yeah he made crude comments to me sometimes but I honestly thought he was just joking. I never thought he was serious about anything he said when it came to that kind of stuff. And I damn sure never thought that he was in love with me. Audrey opened the back door of my truck and climbed in so she could sit down in the seat behind me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw up or cry. Or both.
“Where was he?”
“We don’t know. His father went looking for him and I stayed home just in case he came home. Gunner and his father went looking for him as well. We called the police once it got late and we still couldn’t find him. They wouldn’t do anything because he hadn’t been missing for twenty four hours. The next morning, I was cooking breakfast and he came walking in the door like everything was fine. He had a big smile on his face and was in a great mood. I was so sick I couldn’t even look at him. I can’t even describe it. I was so worried about him but I was also so incredibly pissed at him too because of him lying to me and the stuff that I had found. His father was in a worse way than I was. I cut him off before he could get up the stairs to his room and I told him that I’d cleaned his room for him. The look on his face when he realized that I’d seen the pictures scared me, Brodie. It wasn’t fear or anger. It was — it was almost as if he was proud that I’d seen what he’d done. He had no remorse about it. We sat down and talked to him about the whole thing and he assured us that he’d never actually made contact with the girl. He thought she was really pretty and wanted to talk to her but didn’t know how to approach her so he’d been watching her to try and figure out what she liked. I didn’t believe him but I didn’t want to think of a worse alternative. I burned all of the pictures and the notebooks and his father grounded him. And mandated that his butt be in church every time the doors were open. That might not have been the best solution but we honestly didn’t know what else to do.”
“Do you know who the girl was?”
“No. He wouldn’t tell us anything. The only thing we did know is that he’d seen her at the mall that first day he went off with Gunner. Gunner had told us that.”
“Is that the only time?”
“That’s the only time I’ve caught him stalking a girl. It’s not the only time I’ve found strange things in his room.”
“What else?” “I probably shouldn’t be telling you all of this. You already have enough on you as it is.”
“Audrey, you may not understand this, but I need you to tell me everything. I need to know.”
“You remember that girlfriend he had that was in college when y’all were like sixteen?”
“Yes. I hated that girl. Anyway, I caught them having sex one time. Only it wasn’t just regular like teenage boy, clumsy sex. I thought I heard a scream so I thought something was wrong and opened his door and it was — oh, heavens, it was disgusting. I’m not even really a prude, Brodie, but seeing your son like that it was just —” She had her hands on her chest and I could see her skin turning a tinge green. Whatever she had seen was apparently still so vivid in her memory that she was really getting sick. “I’m sorry, it’s just difficult to even say out loud.”
“It’s okay. If it makes you that sick, then you don’t have to tell me.”
“He had her tied up. But not like, oh, let me tie your hands to the bed post and pretend like you’re really trapped. He had her hog tied like a wild animal with her feet and her arms tied together above her back. And a rope in her mouth, wrapped around her head. He was behind her, pulling on that rope in her mouth like she was a horse. I’ve never in my life seen anything like it and I damn sure didn’t expect to see it going on in my sixteen year old son’s bedroom!”
“Oh, my —”
“The worst part is that neither one of them looked embarrassed. They just looked annoyed because I had interrupted. Walker’s dad walked upstairs when he heard me screaming. He told that vile girl she was never allowed back at our house and to stay away from our son. Walker got so mad that he packed a bag and left. He didn’t even tell us where he was going. A few hours later, Gunner’s mother called to let me know that he was staying at their house. I didn’t give her the gory details of course but I did tell her that he was really upset with us and she offered to let him stay for a few more days in order to let things settle down. When he came home he acted like nothing ever happened. He never brought it up and I couldn’t bear to think about it so it was just never discussed. I found several magazines in his room over the years dedicated to torture and what do they call it? BDSM? To each their own as a consenting adult but he was my teenage son. It really scared me.”
“I don’t even know what to say right now, Audrey.”
“I’m sorry I even told you this. I guess I’ve just been holding it all in and now with you engaged, I’m not sure how he’ll handle it. He liked you and Keaton not being together. Any time I mentioned trying to get the two of you back together he would quickly shoot it down. He’s the culprit behind Keaton and Kailee. And I feel so bad for poor Chelsea. She’s a sweetheart but she’s dumb as dirt. She has no clue that Walker is cheating on her. And he doesn’t even sneak around anymore. Hell, he brought one of his whores to Sunday dinner one night and told Chelsea that he was thinking about hiring her as a secretary and since we’re such a close knit family and always together he wanted to make sure he hired someone who got along with the family. She fell for it.”
“He’s cheating on her?”
“Well, of course. He’s cheated on every girl he’s been with. He can’t stay with just one girl. He’s disgusting, Brodie. Sometimes it makes me sick to look at him. You know he caught crabs one time?”
“Yes, in Panama City. I was with him. And actually tried to talk him out of sleeping with that girl. If he was really in love with me, then why was he always blowing me off for other girls?”
“He thought it would make you jealous. He spent so much time doting on you and doing everything you wanted and that didn’t work so he thought if he focused his attention on other girls that you would finally get a clue and be with him. He’s violent, too. With girls. Chelsea hasn’t mentioned it but I’ve seen bruises on her. And the way he talks about women. Ugh! His father and I did not raise him to be like that.”
“You think it’s because of me?”
“No, dear. I don’t know what caused this. I honestly don’t know. Maybe he really is the spawn of Satan. Don’t you see it in his eyes? You work with people like this all the time.” The more Audrey talked the more memories started flooding my brain. I started thinking about all of our times together. All the times I’d seen him kissing other girls, catching him looking at me while his tongue was shoved down her throat. I’d always been one of the guys as a kid and thought that maybe he was just watching me to see if I was cheering him on. It never crossed my mind that he might have been doing it to make me jealous. I knew, as soon as Audrey started telling me Walker’s secrets that he was my killer. It was the only thing that made sense. The stalking, the rough sex, way he treats other women but is so good to me. Walker had done this. My heart felt like it was going to explode at any minute. I had figured out who the killer was all thanks to being run over by his mother’s grocery cart. But how did I prove it?
“I — I mean, I’ve noticed some weird things before but I — I guess I’ve just tried to ignore them. I work with so many creeps that I just thought maybe I was reading more into things than what it was. Audrey, I have to ask you something that I really don’t want to ask you. Do you think he would ever kill anyone?” Audrey looked up at me with watery eyes. Her flawless, beautiful face suddenly showed her age. I could see the muscles in her jaws twitching as she was trying to keep herself from crying.
“I used to think he would grow out of whatever this was. I used to think that he may have been into some really strange things but that he was relatively harmless. But I don’t anymore. Not lately. Do I think he would ever kill anyone? Without a doubt.” She didn’t cry. She blinked and the watery look in her eyes was gone. The look of weariness and shame had been replaced with a mask of the Audrey that everyone else saw. Audrey would not be a woman that revealed her weaknesses to the world. She smoothed her dress and climbed down out of my truck. Like a true Southern woman, she would not be airing her dirty laundry out in public.
“I know about the dead girls. He’s talked to me about them. Nothing specific, just mentioning it in passing. I don’t know if what I told you can help you. I don’t know if he did it or not but I do know that he’s spiraling out of control. If he hasn’t hurt anyone, yet, it won’t be long before he does. And I’m scared, Brodie. For him and whoever he takes down with him. If you need me, you know how to get in touch.”
I sat there in my truck watching Audrey walk back to her car and then drive away. The stories she had told me seemed too fantastic to be made up. And Audrey was not one to bring any negative attention to her family. This was not the story of some attention seeking crazy woman. This was a plea for help from a worried mother. If Gunner knew about the stalking in Walker’s past, why had he not mentioned it? And who was the girl he’d been stalking? I had no doubt in my mind after hearing what Audrey had said that Walker was the killer. I just had to figure out now why he’d killed Chloe and Janelle. Had Gunner been in on it? I dialed Gunner’s number and waited for him to answer.
“Hello gorgeous!” I could hear the smile in his voice. It made me want to throw up.
“Are you busy?”
“Never for you. What’s up? More interrogation?”
“I’m going to send you directions to my house. Can you be there in thirty minutes?”
“Sure. Are you okay? You don’t sound too good.”
“Just be there in thirty minutes.” At home while I was waiting for Gunner to get there I pulled out my copies of the case files and tried to go back over everything in them with Walker in mind. He obviously knew Chloe. I could easily tie him to her through Gunner and Chelsea. Chelsea knew Janelle somehow but I wasn’t sure how and I wasn’t sure how to tie Janelle to Walker. Chelsea was the last person to see Chloe alive. Chelsea lived with Walker and it was entirely possible that Chloe had gone over to his house that Tuesday night. Walker knew Gunner, had known Gunner for a very long time, so it was easy for him to exploit Gunner’s weaknesses, including his issues with Chloe in order to frame him for her murder. Offering to represent Gunner was Walker’s sick way of staying close to the case. He wanted to get caught but he wanted to get caught when he was ready. That meant he’d be making sure to keep things pointed in Gunner’s direction if I got too close too fast. The picture of Keaton and Kailee fit into Walker’s habits if he was a stalker. And if he’d been stalking women since the tenth grade then he was already well-educated in how to do it and not get caught. I thought about what Keaton said about the killer wanting to get me by myself so that I was forced to turn to him. Walker had been doing something similar the whole time we were friends. He would always find some reason why the guy I was dating was a bad guy and would run the guy off. Then I was left as the third wheel to him and his flavor of the week. Walker also had a very bad habit of comparing his latest girlfriends to me. I thought he was doing it to insult me but apparently it was the other way around. He was doing it to humiliate them. He wanted them to see what kind of woman he wanted and what kind of woman they would never be. I was still reading through Janelle’s file when I heard my doorbell ring. I walked to the door, peeked through the side window, and saw Gunner standing on the doorstep with his hands in his pockets, waiting for someone to open up.
“Hey, come on in.”
“I got here as quick as I could. Nice house. Oh, the mail man was outside as I was pulling up and so I got your mail for you. I didn’t look at it, I promise.” He handed me the stack of mail and I started sorting through it as he followed me to the kitchen.
“Want a drink?”
“Sure.” I poured him a glass and passed it to him. I went back to sorting the mail while I watched him out of the corner of my eye. “I had an interesting conversation with Walker’s mother today at the grocery store.”
“Oh, yeah? About what?”
“Too much to explain really but I did want to ask you about something. Did you know about the girl he stalked when we were teenagers? When he told his parents that he was hanging out with you?” Gunner dropped the glass in his hand and it shattered all over my kitchen counter. He didn’t move to clean it up. He just stood there and stared at me, a look of fear on his face.
“Why did she tell you about that? What did she tell you about that?”
“What was the girl’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know or you won’t tell me?”
“I — really don’t know. She had a nickname. Snake. She had a pet snake. She was buying mice for it the day we met her at the mall.”
“What happened to her?”
“What do you mean?”
“Audrey said that Walker promised them he wouldn’t stalk her anymore after she and his father confronted him about it. He may have promised but I don’t believe he followed through. What happened to that girl?”
“I — I —” he started scooping glass and whiskey into his hands and throwing it all in my garbage can.
“Brodie, I — I don’t want to know. I haven’t thought about any of that in fifteen years. Walker is my friend. He’s been there for me through a lot of shit. Hell, he’s trying to keep me from going to jail for murder. We were just dumb kids. I don’t know what happened to that girl and I don’t want to know.”
“She disappeared. She didn’t have a good home life. Maybe she ran away? Why are you even asking me any of this?”
“Because, I —” before I could say anything else I spotted the black and white envelope peeking out from between an Us magazine and a Smith and Wesson catalog. I didn’t wait to see who it was addressed to. I tore open the side of the envelope and shook out its contents. The only thing that fell out was a picture of Braelynn and Keaton. It had been taken from far away like the other picture. There was no date on this picture but I could tell it was recently because Keaton had the beginnings of a beard on his chin. He hadn’t shaved since last Friday. I turned the picture over and the only thing written on the back was a set of coordinates. Walker was ready. He was ready to be caught. But he was going to use my daughter to do it. Without saying a word to Gunner I ran into my office and typed in the coordinates on Google Earth to figure out where in the hell he had taken my daughter. The results brought up an aerial picture of my house. I typed the coordinates in three more times and each time it was the same thing. He was here. With Braelynn. And Keaton?
“Brodie, are you okay?”
“Walker. He has Braelynn.”
“What? What the hell are you talking about?”
“I don’t have time to explain it,” I said as I opened my gun safe and started shoving pistols in my waistband, bra, and boots. I was more than prepared to take him out in order to save my daughter. I could no longer look at him as my friend. He was a sick killer and he had my child.
“Walker is the killer. He killed Chloe and Janelle and tried to set you up for it in some sick, twisted attempt to get me to be with him.”
“What the fuck?”
“There’s no time to have a long conversation about this. He has my daughter somewhere on my property and I have to find her.” I ran out of the office and into the yard. Woods surrounded half of my property. The other half was water. He could be anywhere in these woods or somewhere down the river. I heard Gunner come up behind me as I was walking around the side of the house. How had he gotten them here if his car wasn’t here? I got sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and ran to my truck to use the garage opener. I heard barking behind the garage door and I hit the button to raise it. Roscoe shot out from under the door as soon as it started lifting from the ground and took off. Walker must have trapped him down here. I saw Keaton’s jeep parked inside. I walked around to the driver’s side of the Jeep looking for any kind of clue that might tell me what had happened or where he had taken them. There was blood on the inside of the driver door and on the steering wheel. Braelynn’s book bag was in the backseat along with her jacket and mp3 player. I turned around and ran back outside to the backyard hoping to see something. That’s when I saw the blood. Drops of blood littered the rocks that lead out to the grill and Braelynn’s playhouse.
“Look, Brodie! Blood! It’s going out this way.” Gunner took off running, following the blood trail. I followed the blood out to Gunner, getting closer and closer to the boathouse. Gunner stopped at the edge of the water and was looking down at the ground.
“What is it?”
“Looks like Keaton’s shoe?” A noise inside the boathouse gave Walker up. I knew before I got to the door that he was in there with my baby girl and Keaton. As scared as I was for Keaton, I was terrified beyond belief for Braelynn. She trusted Walker. She’d called him Uncle Wally all of her life. He must have used that to his advantage to get her and Keaton in a position to overpower them. I ran through the door and saw Braelynn and Keaton tied together in the corner of the boathouse. Keaton’s face was swollen and bloody from where Walker had obviously beat him. The blood trail I had followed had probably come from his broken nose. Before I could run to them and untie them I felt someone grab me. He had his strong arm wrapped around my throat and was pulling the gun out of my waistband.
“It’s about time you got here. I was starting to get worried that you weren’t coming.” Gunner ran through the door about this time, knocking into Walker and sending me flying across the floor. I almost fell into the water where the boat was docked.
“I see you brought a friend to join us.” Walker said as he punched Gunner in the face. Gunner took a step back and then tackled Walker against the wall. While they were fighting I tried to crawl my way around them to untie Keaton and Braelynn. Right as I was reaching out to untie the knot on the rope I heard a loud crack and felt fire underneath my right shoulder blade. I spun around to see what had happened and I saw Walker aiming a gun at me. He’d shot me. I stood up as best I could and started walking towards him. I was hoping that if I could walk my way around the boathouse I could get away from Keaton and Braelynn and keep them from getting hit by stray bullets.
“What are you doing, Walker? You don’t want to do this.”
“You’re right, I don’t. But you gave me no choice. I gave you evidence that he was cheating on you and you still stayed with him! I gave you all the evidence you needed that he wasn’t being faithful to you and you didn’t care. You still wanted to be with him. You’re not ever going to be with me until I get him out of your life.”
“What were you planning to do with Braelynn?”
“Brodie, you should know me better than that. You know I would never hurt that sweet girl. I love her like she’s my own. But, I knew that she was going to have to be what I used to finally get you to wake up. Nothing else was working. I got desperate. She’s the only thing I knew you absolutely couldn’t live without. I knew you would come and find her.”
“Why didn’t you just tell me how you felt, Walker?”
“Would it have helped? Would you have even listened to me? You don’t look at me like you do other men. You don’t even look at me like a man. I’m just a substitute for the girl friends you don’t have in your life.”
“It may have worked in the past. I had feelings for you once, Walker. I was madly in love with you but you were more worried about all these other girls that were running around. And then Gunner came into the picture. Is that why you used him? Is that why you killed Chloe and tried to frame him for it?”I saw Gunner slumped against the wall behind Walker. Walker couldn’t see Gunner from where he was standing. Gunner was clutching his chest and trying to slowly and quietly get to Braelynn and Keaton. I could hear Braelynn behind me crying. I wanted to go to her and wrap her up in my arms so bad. I just wanted to tell her that everything would be okay. Keaton was whispering to her. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but she eventually stopped crying.
“You’re lying. You never had feelings for me!”
“Yes, I did! That day we went to the Alabama Theater? I kept asking you to ride the Wurlitzer with me because I was scared. I was scared but a bigger part of me just wanted to ride that thing down into the dark stage with you and have you wrap your arm around me and keep me safe. You had your chance then but you decided to choose another girl over me. You make this seem like I’ve just been so awful to you and ignored all of your advances but you’re the one that kept us apart. This is your own fault, Walker.” I walked closer to him, talking with my hands out so that he could see them. It was hard to hold up my right arm because of the pain from where he’d shot me. I could feel blood running down my side and into the waistband of my pants.
“Stop, Brodie. Just stand still.”
“Okay. I’m still. How do you expect this to end, Walker? Hmm? You’re going to kill Gunner and Keaton? Braelynn and I are just supposed to run off into the sunset with you? Is that how this works? What about your mother? What about Chelsea? I thought you were really in love with her.”
“Chelsea is a worthless bitch. I don’t love her. The only person I’ve ever loved is you. And yes, we can just run away. I bought a house on an island in the Bahamas. It’s beautiful. I’ve even decorated Braelynn’s room for her, there’s a huge kitchen, a living room, there’s even an office so that you can work on that writing career you always wanted. We can have it all, Brodie. I’ve got plenty of money. You’d never have to work again.”
“But Braelynn and I don’t get a choice, do we? It’s either your way or no way, right?”
“Don’t be like this, Brodie! You know I’d be good to you and Braelynn!”
“What happened to the girl you stalked? The one that looked like me?” Walker flinched at the mention of this girl. His eyes narrowed but the arm holding up the gun never moved. I had obviously hit a nerve. He didn’t like hearing that girl mentioned.
“Who told you about her? Did you? Did you fucking tell her?” He spun around and kicked Gunner hard in the ribs. He kept kicking as Gunner was holding his hands in front of him trying to fight him off. Walker had lost it. He was beyond reach at this point. Watching him kicking Gunner, I already knew how this was going to end. I was going to lose the person I had called my best friend.
“He didn’t tell me. Your mother did.”
“My mother? She hates you. Why would she tell you anything?”
“According to her, she doesn’t hate me. Actually, she cares a great deal about me but knew early on that you were dangerous and treated me the way she did to keep me at a distance and to make you think that she wouldn’t approve. And we all know how much mommy’s approval means to you. Tell me what happened to the girl.”
“I’m not telling you shit! You shut up! I killed Chloe and Janelle because they were whores. They deserved to die.”
“Whores who wouldn’t have you?” “They acted like they were better than me. That fucking redhead fucked me but wanted me to pay her. I wasn’t going to pay her. Look at me! I don’t pay women to fuck me. Women throw themselves at me all the time.”
“Just not the ones you want, right?”
“Were you going to kill me, too?”
“What? No, damnit. Brodie, I love you I just want you to be with me. I just want you to give me a chance to make you happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“Did you kill Grayson?” He dropped the arm holding the gun. Gunner was halfway to Keaton and Braelynn so I had to keep Walker talking to me. I had to keep his attention focused on me. I watched him stick the gun in his waist and then rub his face with his hands. When he pulled his hands from his face he was smiling at me. It was a sick, maniacal smile that you only see on villains in the movies.
“No. Griffin killed him. I just paid for it.” I heard Braelynn screaming behind me but it sounded like she was miles away. I felt like I was being sucked into a vortex. Nothing felt real. The whole world was spinning under my feet and I felt sick. I wanted to be the hero who saved everyone but I had a feeling I was about to pass out.
“See, Brodie, I thought that maybe with Grayson dead, you would come running to me for sympathy. I thought for sure that I would be the one to wipe away your tears and mend your broken heart. That had been the plan and then here came Keaton. He’s a smooth guy. It took me a long time to try to find something wrong with him. By the time I found a weakness you had already sabotaged the relationship yourself. And then when I finally thought this was it, you spent all your fucking time whining about missing him and Grayson. I had to compete with a dead guy and an ex. It was exhausting. You just looked right through me. This seemed like my only option.”
Gunner was now out of my eyesight which told me that he was closer to Braelynn and Keaton than he had been. But if he was behind me then Walker would be able to see him. I started walking towards the boat floating in the water. I kept enough distance between Walker and I so that he couldn’t grab me. As I got closer to the boat, he turned his back on Keaton and Braelynn. I could barely make them out in the corner of my eye. Keaton was whispering to Braelynn who was crying again.
“This ruined it for you, Walker. Why would you think I would ever want to be with you after this?”
“Because you’ll either be with me and be alive or you’ll die. It’s that simple.”
“If you can’t have me no one can, huh?”
“You catch on pretty quick, detective.”
“Tell me this, how did you manage to get the girls bodies where you dumped them?”
“My sweet momma has keys to both places. She’s on the beautification board and preservation board of both places. She also donates a lot of money which allows her to have a key. That was all I needed.”
“Did you kill Janelle first?”
“No. But I did kidnap her first. She died watching me strangle Chloe.”
“I’ve got to sit down.” I made my way over to the wall by the door of the boathouse and slid down it, facing Walker the whole time. Gunner had gotten Keaton and Braelynn untied and they were sneaking back around Walker. The only way out was the door that he was blocking. He had taken the gun in my waistband and bra but had missed the one in my boot. From the way I was sitting, I could reach into my boot and pull it out without him noticing. I wanted to wait until Braelynn, Keaton and Gunner were out of the way.
“I’m sorry I shot you. I just didn’t want you to untie them.”
“I’ll live. Unfortunately for you. Who are you? What happened to my best friend?” I huffed as I slid my hand down into my boot. I never broke eye contact with him. I didn’t want him to notice my arm moving down the side of my leg.
“Who am I? I am your best friend. And a man madly in love with you.”Walker walked closer to me. I scooted back as close as I could to the wall. He squatted down in front of me and reached out his hand but I wouldn’t take it. He dropped his hand and stood back up.
“Brodie, I really am sorry. I’m sorry for all of this. This is your fault, though. You know that. And I won’t kill Keaton. All you have to do is tell him it’s over and that you never want to see him again. That’s it. We’ll pack up yours and Braelynn’s stuff and we’ll move to our new house and never think about him again.”
“No. I can’t fucking trust you. There’s no way I’m going to leave him alive so that you can pine for him and sneak love notes to him in hopes that one day he’ll come rescue you from me. Hell no. All of this would be for nothing.”
“It already is for nothing.” I pulled the trigger as I was coming up off of the floor. The first bullet hit him in the chest. I wasn’t taking any chances and shot again, hitting him in the head. He stumbled backwards, slipping on the side of the dock, and fell into the water next to the boat. I stood over the water, watching, waiting for him to move again. When he didn’t I ran over to Braelynn and pulled her up into my arms. I squeezed her so hard I thought I heard her ribs crack. Keaton came up behind us and was holding us both. I heard Gunner talking to someone and spun around to see Captain Stephens and Beau coming through the door.
“Barrett, you okay?”
“I’ll live, Cap’n. How did you know we were here?”
“Your friend here called us a few minutes ago. We got here as fast as we could. Apparently, not fast enough. There’s an ambulance in the driveway. Go get yourself and Braelynn in it and get yourself to the hospital. I’ll call in CSU and take care of this. You take care of yourself and your family.”
“Yes, sir.” Beau walked up to me with tears in his eyes. He didn’t say a word. He just wrapped an arm around me and hugged me. Keaton picked up Braelynn and we walked to the ambulance. I made sure that Gunner rode with us to get checked out, too. That was technically breaking the rules but right now I didn’t care. He’d helped me save my family and for that I would be eternally grateful.