The Third Call

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Chapter 3

“You know what?” Marcus said, turning from the street toward Colby, the youngest deputy in the department. “Finish up this report at the stationhouse, and tell Charlotte, if she’s still there, to go on home and turn the phones over to the main after-hours service. They’ll pick up any calls coming in tonight.”

He took in the flashing lights of the tow truck just pulling in to retrieve the pickup that had blindsided a Ford Escape at a four-way stop. Apparently, both drivers were confused on who had been there first, and they were still arguing. The scuffle had turned a minor traffic incident into a pain in the ass, with just another asshole he had to write up.

Then there was “the kid,” who was working a piece of gum, trying to appear as if he wasn’t in over his head. Colby appeared barely old enough to shave, which was likely why he’d forever carry the nickname. He surveyed the scene, trying not to appear scared shitless, doing his best to fill out the deputy uniform with his tall, lanky, boyish frame, as if he had some kind of authority to shut down both these assholes. In the end, Marcus had been forced to step in.

“What about him?” The kid gestured to the asshole with the bloody nose, the owner of the pickup. He seemed to have a history with the other guy, who was still carrying on about the huge dent in the back end of his rusted-out Escape.

“Give them both a ride home. I’ll have Wally tow these vehicles out of here, and—” His cell phone rang again. He pulled it from his pocket and took in the office phone number. “Hold that thought,” he said to the kid. “Charlotte, you’re still at the office? Thought you would’ve left by now.”

“Marcus, that kid called again,” Charlotte said. “I’ve still got her on the line.” It was there in her voice, the urgency. The knot in his stomach was so tight as he realized this was the third time the girl had called. “I’ll patch her through. Her name is Eva.”

“Shit—yes,” Marcus said, “and anything else you find out about her, too, like where she is…” he started before he heard the click and knew she was now on the line.

“Eva, this is Charlotte again. Listen, I have Deputy O’Connell on the line, and he’s going to help you. You tell him everything…”

“Is he going to come and get me?” Eva said.

Yeah, she was really young—and scared shitless, from what he could tell.

He didn’t know why his heart was pounding the way it was. “Eva, are you there? This is Deputy O’Connell. Yes, I’m going to come to you. I just need to know where you are. I need you to tell me everything. Are you hurt? What happened? Where are you?”

Marcus found himself walking toward his cruiser. In an afterthought, he turned to the kid, who had a confused look on his face, and gestured for him to finish up and take care of things.

“I’m scared…” Eva said. She was breathing heavy.

He leaned against the top of his cruiser. The lights were still flashing, and he stared at the houses around them, at the few people looking over to the accident. “Okay, Eva, I know you’re scared, but I need you to listen to my voice. I need to know first if you’re safe. Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

“Yes, uh-huh, I’m hiding…” she said. She had such a sweet voice, but she wasn’t telling him very much.

“Okay, Eva, how old are you?”

“I’m six, six years old. Are you a sheriff?”

His heart squeezed at her innocence. “I’m a deputy, which is like a sheriff. Eva, can you tell me where you live? Do you know your address? Where’re your mom and dad?”

Okay, maybe he was asking too much. It could be hard to get any information out of a child.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Can you come and help? I’m scared. I don’t want him to hear me.”

He could hear Charlotte still patched in. “I’m going to come there,” he said, “but I need to find you first. Eva, do you live in town?”

“I don’t know.”

He shut his eyes as he pulled open the door of his cruiser. “Do you see other houses beside you or buildings? Is it a house or an apartment?” He flicked off the flashing lights and climbed in behind the wheel, vaguely hearing the commotion in the background as he set his cell phone down and connected it to the Bluetooth speaker.

“It’s a house,” she said. “There’s a front door and a big yard.”

Oh, great. This would be like finding a needle in a haystack. “Charlotte, get Tulli to locate this call,” he started.

“Already on it,” she said. “He’s tracing it now. Just keep talking, Eva, and don’t hang up this time so we can find you.”

“But I have to be quiet,” Eva said. “I’m scared of him…”

So the problem was a man?

“Who are you scared of, Eva?” Marcus said. “Is it your dad? Are you at home?”

She whimpered. “No, he’s not my dad. This isn’t my home. I don’t know where I am. It’s big and woody.”

He silently willed Charlotte to hurry up and for Tulli to do something. “Okay, I just need you to calm down, Eva. I’m going to come and get you, and I’m going to help you. We’re looking for you right now. Can you tell me whose phone you’re calling me from?”

“It was in his pocket,” she said. “He put it on the table. Will I get in trouble for taking it?”

He shut his eyes, wishing he were right there to reassure her. “No, you did the right thing. You are not in trouble. That was really good thinking on your part, calling me, calling for help. Tell me where you are in the house.”

“I’m hiding in a back room where there’s a bunch of old stuff, but there’s just trees outside. It’s dark, and I don’t remember. I don’t know where I am…”

“That’s fine, don’t worry. I just need you to tell me anything. Do you see any houses around you? You said there’s trees. How about a car or truck? Do you hear sounds outside, maybe of cars? Is it close to a road?”

It was her breathing that bothered him, the fact that it was so panicked. She was so damn young, and whoever this guy was, he didn’t want him to figure out that she was on the phone with the police.

“Come on, Eva, really listen. Close your eyes and tell me what you hear.”

“There’s creaking,” she said. “I can hear him. He’s talking. I can’t see anything. Do you want me to look out the window?”

In that second, he realized that moving might put her in danger. “No, don’t move,” he said. “You said you’re in a back room. Is this a bedroom? Are you hiding? Where are you in the house? First things first, I want to make sure you’re safe.”

“He can’t see me. I’m a hiding in the back of the house where the coats are hanging. There’s a big table and boxes, and it’s dusty. I don’t want him to find me.”

Okay, it sounded as if she’d found the ideal hiding spot.

“Is there a window there or a door you can see out of?” He was gunning the engine, driving blind, passing a car on the highway who pulled over as he flicked on his light to get around him.

“Over there, but there are curtains,” she said. “Do you want me to go over there? I can’t reach. It’s really tall.”

Likely not a great idea.

“No, Eva, you just stay where you are, right where you are. You said this is a man. He’s not your dad. Do you know him, or is he a stranger?” Marcus gunned the engine again, wanting Tulli to hurry the fuck up. He was blind on a highway without a clue which way to go, which direction. For all he knew, he could be going the wrong way. He took in the clock on his dash and the minutes that had passed.

“He’s a bad man. He scares me. Oh no, I can hear him! He’s coming…”

“No, you stay on the line with me, Eva. Don’t hang up. You stay right where you are.”

The line went dead.

“Fuck, shit!” He slapped the steering wheel, willing this kid to be okay, wishing he wasn’t feeling so damn helpless. “Charlotte, tell me you have something, that Tulli has something.”

“Just give it a second, Marcus. I’ve got Tulli here on the other line…” There was a pause. “He’s got it! I’ve got it. Shit, I’m sending the address to you now. It’s in the middle of nowhere, Marcus.”

His phone dinged, and he saw the address and knew exactly where that was, likely a cabin. “Okay, I’m on my way. If she calls back, you patch her right through to me.”

“You got it, Marcus. Listen, you want me to send Colby out?

He was already shaking his head. “No, the kid’s got to run two idiots home, and I don’t need to worry about babysitting his ass out here. Call Lonnie, give him the address, and tell him to meet me out here—and for God’s sake, Charlotte, if she calls back in, patch her right through.”

He hung up as he pulled a U-turn right in the middle of the highway, going back the way he had come, gunning it, knowing he didn’t have to tell Charlotte to stay at the office. It was just something she’d do.

At the same time, he couldn’t shake this sick feeling, all because of a call from a kid. Worse, this was the one thing cops all knew, that dreaded third call. When it came, they knew it wasn’t going to be anything simple. He didn’t have a clue what kind of danger this little girl was in.

“Damn it! Please let her be okay.”

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