Marcus flicked off his headlights, taking in the GPS. He was close, but all he could see were trees along the dirt road. To him, this was just another place in the middle of the woods. His cell phone was mounted on the dash, and when it rang again, he tapped the green button to answer. “What do you got, Charlotte?”
“Tulli is still working on who owns the house. He got the number of the burner, and I’ve sent it to you. Called Lonnie, too, but he’s not answering. Colby called in, said he can come out if you need him to instead of stopping into the station. Or what about the sheriff? May be time to bring him in.”
He just shook his head, not able to see shit because of how dark it was. “Sheriff’s out for the night. You know that.” He knew he didn’t have to explain more. She’d know. They all did. He was passed out and in no shape to help anyone. Maybe by morning, but morning was a long way off. “Nope, tell Colby to finish up, and get him to pop into the station. I’ll call back if I need him.”
He’d just as soon not have the kid anywhere out here, where he’d need to worry about him, too. He took in his dash, seeing the cell phone number, which was like gold, but he knew he couldn’t call it no matter what. The ring alone would give Eva away, and he didn’t have a clue what was going on inside the house. He hated being in the dark.
“Do you want me to try to get Eva on the line?” Charlotte said.
“And let whoever that dirtbag is hear her? No, absolutely not, but at the same time, if Eva calls, do whatever you can to keep her on the line, to keep that telephone line open…”
“You know I will, Marcus.” There was just something about her soft voice, how much she cared. He was glad she was the one on the other end of the phone, getting what he needed. As he took in how rural this place was, heavily treed, an awful sick feeling grew in the pit of his stomach. He dialed his cell phone and let it ring.
“This had better be good,” his brother growled on the second ring.
“Wouldn’t call otherwise. Listen, I’ve got a problem, and it would really help me to have you out here. I’m tracking down a call out in the middle of nowhere, north of the Calhoun place on River Road. There’s tons of terrain and not much else. You know where I’m talking about? Kind of place where if it can go wrong, it will.”
He could hear a squeak in the background, likely Ryan climbing from bed. He could hear his partner, Jenny, too. Maybe they had been asleep.
“Doesn’t sound good,” Ryan said. “Yeah, I know that area well, nothing but trouble and everything else. Where exactly are you, again?”
Marcus rattled off the address as he pulled over and turned off his engine, taking in how black it was outside. There was just something about this. He wanted to know more about this house and who was there. Worse, he didn’t have any information about the guy Eva was scared of.
“You have any backup coming?” Ryan asked. Marcus could hear what sounded like clothes being thrown on.
“Just you. Listen, I’ll watch for you. I’ve parked a ways back so whoever it is can’t see me, so be as quiet as you can, please.”
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Ryan said before hanging up.
Marcus would have laughed at the smartass comment if the situation weren’t so dire. He climbed out of his cruiser, then reached for his cell phone as it rang again. In the dark of night, the crickets in the silence were creepy, making him feel like anything could be lurking in the shadows.
“What do you have?” was all he said. He had answered on the first ring.
“Marcus, Eva is on the line again,” Charlotte said, her voice urgent. “I’ve patched her right through.”
“Deputy O’Connell, I’m really scared. Are you coming to get me?”
He wanted to say he’d be right there. “I’m outside now, Eva. Listen, are you still hiding in the back of the house where you told me?”
“I’m still here, but I’m over behind the boxes now.”
He wanted to nod, but there was no point, considering she couldn’t see him. “You didn’t tell me who the man is. Is your mom or dad there, or is it just the man? Anyone else?” He needed to know what he was walking into.
“I can’t hear Mommy anymore. She and Tommy were fighting. She told me to hide, so I ran. I took Tommy’s phone. I’m not supposed to use the phone…”
“It’s okay, Eva. You can use the phone. You have my permission, and that is the only permission that matters. You hear me? Is your mommy hurt?”
It was sounding like a domestic disturbance—a boyfriend with a temper? He didn’t know. All kinds of things could go sideways at this point.
“I don’t know if she is. Can you help my mommy?”
“Yes, I will help your mom, but you tell me about her. What’s your mommy’s name?”
He wanted to laugh and would have if the situation weren’t so dire. “I know you call her mommy, but listen to me, Eva. Tell me, what do other people call your mommy, her name? Mine is Marcus, yours is Eva…”
“Reine, her name is Reine.”
He flicked on his flashlight and hurried down the dark path, seeing that it was a driveway that led to a couple different places. Which path to take? “Reine…that’s a nice name. What is your last name, Reine and Eva what?”
Come on, please know your last name. He had to think of what he had known at that age. Of course he had known that he was named Marcus Finnigan O’Connell, and his address, his phone number, his parents’ names. He’d known that Suzanne had been a crying baby, and he had a mother and a father, brothers and sisters, a red bike with a bell that he’d ridden everywhere, and a teacher he believed had never liked him.
“Colbert,” she said. “My name is Eva Colbert. My mom is Reine Colbert.”
Great, they were getting somewhere. He knew Charlotte was in the background, picking up on all this, and she would be giving everything to Tulli.
“This is great, Eva. Just, whatever happens, don’t hang up the phone. If you hear him coming, just stop talking. As long as the phone is on, I can hear what’s going on in the house.”
“Okay, but you promise you’re coming?” The plea was there in her voice, an innocent child who was looking to him to save her.
“I’m coming. I’m outside now, but I can’t walk in the house just yet. I need you to be my eyes. Can you do that for me, Eva?”
“I can do that, but can’t you just come and tell Tommy to let you in?”
He wished it were that simple. “Not just yet. I need you to be brave for me for just a little bit longer. You just stay hidden and quiet as a mouse, okay? You said his name is Tommy. Is there anyone else in the house other than you and your mommy and Tommy?”
“No, uh-uh, just Tommy and Mommy. He brought us here. We were cold.”
“So is Tommy your mommy’s boyfriend?”
“No, he was helping us. We just met him when we were cold, and he said he knew a place. It was his. He brought us here.”
As he stepped around a bend in the narrow dirt driveway, thick with brush, Marcus could see a light and hoped this was the right place. He flicked off his flashlight, seeing what looked like a small cabin. He thought there was an old pickup off to the side, and a shed. In the dark, it looked as if the entire place had been there forever.
“So this is Tommy’s place. What is Tommy’s last name?”
There was just something about watching the old cabin. He thought the light had to be coming from the main room, but it was darkened by the curtains. He didn’t have a sense of what was going on inside.
“Just Tommy. I don’t know his last name.”
“Okay, listen. Does Tommy have any weapons, any guns on him?” For all Marcus knew, he could have an entire arsenal back there, something else he didn’t want to walk into.
“He had a gun. He held it at Mommy, and she told me to hide. He was angry.”
An angry man and a gun, not a good combination.
“Any other guns there? Do you see any others in the house, in the room you’re in, where Tommy is?”
“I didn’t see any. I don’t know…maybe.”
Didn’t help, but best to assume he had more than one. That assumption might at least keep him alive. The dumbasses who didn’t assess all the risks were the ones who ended up dead. Just something Bert had drilled into him.
“Okay, Eva, that’s really good and really helpful. So how did you and your mommy get here with Tommy?”
“Some stranger gave us a ride, and then we walked from the road. It was a long ways, but Mommy said it would be okay once we got here. But it’s not. My mommy’s scared. I’m scared.”
“So you don’t know Tommy? Tommy didn’t have a car?” He was trying to piece it all together, a mom and her little girl and some guy who had brought her way out here. None of this sounded good.
“No, he was a stranger, but he was nice. He brought us a blanket where we were sleeping. He didn’t have a car, but he said he’d find us a ride, and then Mommy said we were leaving. It was cold at night, really cold. We used to live with these nice people, but we had to move, and we met Tommy… Oh, he’s coming! He’s calling me. Deputy O’Connell, he’s coming…” Her voice was high pitched with fear.
He could hear a man’s deep voice, yelling, calling her name, and he started around the bush to the cabin. Truth time. This was it.
“Eva, do not hang up! You stay on the phone with me…”
He heard her scream. The man had found her. He yelled something at her, and Marcus feared the worst.
“Who the hell is this?” a deep voice barked over the phone.
Marcus could only hope Eva was okay. “This is Deputy Marcus O’Connell with the Livingston sheriff’s office. Is this Tommy?” He knew authority was in his voice, but everything about this situation was taking a turn he didn’t like.
“What the hell do you want?” Tommy snapped. He wasn’t sure what else he heard in the background.
“I’m outside your place right now, Tommy. You have Reine and Eva Colbert inside the house. Is anyone hurt inside?”
Did he even have the right place? The curtain swayed, so there was his answer. He thought someone looked out, and then the line went dead. He stepped over to the truck, which was closer to the cabin and likely hadn’t been driven in decades, and shoved his cell phone in his pocket. He moved to unholster his gun.
The front door opened, and a man stepped out, bare chested, with longish dark hair and a pistol in his hand. He held it up and fired in the air. “Get the hell out of here!” he yelled.
Someone shrieked from inside. At the same time, Marcus spotted headlights and thought he heard his brother’s pickup in the distance.
“Who the hell is that?” Tommy snapped.
Marcus held his gun, ready to fire. “Just back up,” he said. “Told you, Tommy, no one wants anyone hurt. Just let the girl go, and her mother, and then we can talk.”
Instead of saying anything, Tommy looked right his way and lifted the gun. Marcus hit the ground just as he fired two more shots.