The Third Call

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Chapter 5

His phone was to his ear, and he kissed the dirt. He was pretty sure Tommy had walked back into the cabin and slammed the door. In that second, Marcus felt as if he was holding the fate of everyone in the palm of his hands. He hadn’t fired back when he knew anyone else in his position likely would have.

Ryan answered on the first ring. “What the fuck was that, Marcus? Is he shooting at you?”

“Yeah, he’s got a pistol. Listen, don’t drive in here. He saw your lights. You see my cruiser, where I’m parked? Stay on back there.”

“I parked. What kind of nutjob you got in there? What the hell are you walking in on, Marcus? What’s this guy’s story?”

Marcus made his way to his feet, crouching down, taking in the cabin, which was dark except for the little light he could see through the curtains. “Just trying to find out. All I know is there’s a little girl inside who called 911 for help. Where are you right now? I’ll make my way back to you.” He was still behind the truck, feeling the bite of the bushes against him.

“Don’t bother. I’m already here.”

He spotted the flick of a flashlight in the bushes behind him, about ten feet away, and pocketed his phone. Ryan cut through an opening from a path he hadn’t known was there. His brother wore a ball cap and his ranger coat.

“What’s going on here?” Ryan said.

Marcus holstered his gun, which he’d somehow reached for again instinctively. He could feel his adrenaline pumping as he tried to pull this situation together. “Not sure,” he said. Just then, his phone rang with the sheriff’s office number. “Charlotte.”

“Marcus, are you okay? I heard a gunshot and the line went dead. I think he found Eva in the house. Is anyone hurt?”

“I don’t know. My brother’s here now. It appears Tommy has gone back into the house. I don’t know what’s going on inside, but keep trying to reach Lonnie, because I want him out here. I’m going to try getting this guy back on the line and find out what the story is, at least see if I can somehow get the mom and daughter out of the house and out of harm’s way. I don’t know if this is a kidnapping, a domestic dispute of some kind, or something else, but what I do know is there’s a scared little girl in there. Right now, I want you to get Tulli to pull records on this place and find out who owns it, who Tommy is, everything and anything.”

“Will do, Marcus. I’ll call you right back.”

He pocketed his phone and took in his brother, who had picked the perfect spot to eyeball the cabin.

“Well, this isn’t sounding good,” Ryan said. “You have no idea who this guy is?”

Marcus shook his head, knowing the properties out this way had changed hands a time or two over the last number of years. They were so spread out and isolated. He didn’t know what to say. “No, no idea at all. The little girl is only able to tell me that his name is Tommy, and her mom is inside. It sounds like he brought them here. Don’t think the mom really knows him. Something has gone wrong, and now they’re both fucked. You familiar with anyone out here?”

He pulled out his cell phone again and pulled up the number for the burner cell. He hadn’t wanted to call before because it would give Eva away, but now it was a moot point, considering it was the only way to talk to the guy inside.

Ryan looked around and gave his head a shake. “None whatsoever. Can’t remember coming out here for any problems, either, but that doesn’t really help you does it? A lot of these properties aren’t locals, you know. They’re summer folks. But some cabins have been in the family forever and such.”

Marcus knew that much, which also didn’t help. He dialed the number of the burner cell and put it to his ear. “Guess there’s only one way to deal with this: get him back on the phone and talking and find out his story.”

His brother said nothing, but Marcus knew he had his back. He listened to the phone ring a second time, then a third.

“What!” Tommy snapped, his deep voice filled with anger and amped-up energy. He was well on his way to ensuring someone ended up dead.

“Tommy, don’t hang up. This is Deputy O’Connell. I’m outside and just want to talk. Is everyone okay inside?”

“Did you not get the message? Get the fuck out of here, cop. You’re not wanted. You’re not welcome.”

Okay, so he didn’t like cops. That wasn’t the first time he’d heard that.

“I can’t do that, Tommy. You got a scared little girl in there. Is Eva okay?” He stared at the front door from where he was on the path. Ryan had stepped out a little farther and was watching the cabin as well.

“You think I would hurt a kid?” Tommy snapped.

Marcus wished he’d come outside. He wished Lonnie would answer the damn phone and get out there as well to back him up. More and more as of late, he’d been feeling as if he was the only one running the sheriff’s department in a place where it was impossible to be a one-man show.

“Didn’t say that, Tommy. I just want to talk to you. Is Eva okay?”

“She’s fine, although the little shit took my phone and was playing around with it. She knows better.”

He knew his brother could hear what Tommy was saying by the way he dragged his gaze over to him. Marcus couldn’t hear anything or anyone in the background. “Look, she’s scared. I don’t want Eva hurt. I just want to know if she’s okay, and her mother. How about you send them both out? The last thing anyone wants is for anyone to get shot or hurt in any way.”

“No, I’m not sending them out,” Tommy said. “It’s late. She should be in bed, asleep. Her mother can put her to bed. Everything’s fine here. They’re fine. You can go.” There it was again, the dismissal.

“Afraid I can’t do that, Tommy. You see, as soon as someone calls 911, we have to come out and make sure everyone is okay. How about you let me in the house and let me see that everyone is okay, and we’ll all sit down and talk and find out what the problem is, and if it’s the case that everyone is fine, then I’ll be on my way.”

There was also the matter of the gun he’d fired off, though. Marcus didn’t think he was getting anywhere near the story he needed.

“Hey, I’m telling you everyone’s fine here,” Tommy said. “Reine, what the hell? You keep that little shit in line, you hear me?”

Now he thought he heard a woman’s voice in the background.

“Hey, hey, Tommy, how about this?” he said. “You come outside and talk to me and tell me what the problem is in there. Let’s talk face to face.” He wanted to step out, but Ryan had his hand on his arm and shook his head.

“No, I’m not coming outside. For all I know, you’ve got someone out there just waiting to take me out with a single shot as soon as I step out, just because. I told you everything is fine here, the girl, her mother. They’re fine. They wanted a place to stay. I gave her a place to stay.”

He still didn’t know anything about the situation, and he wasn’t getting any direct answers. “So this is your place, Tommy? What’s your last name? We ever met before?” Namely, he wanted to know if he’d ever arrested him, if he’d ever done time. He’d have remembered.

All the man did was laugh, and it wasn’t reassuring. “Yeah, I know what you’re doing, trying to find out anything you can about me. I did my time, served my country, and this is what I get? I’ll tell you what, Deputy. I pay my taxes. I gave everything, but what did I get in return? Nothing. I was just another idealistic, wet-behind-the-ears kid. Didn’t understand what the hell I signed up for. But I’m not that way anymore. Now I just want you to leave me the fuck alone.”

So he had served—in the military, army, marines, navy? It was a start.

“You were in the military? What branch? My brother’s in the military. Sounds like it didn’t work out for you?” For a minute, he thought Tommy was going to hang up, but he didn’t.

“You want to talk to the girl?” he finally said instead. “She’s right here.”

He felt that knot in his stomach again as he pictured the phone being passed over to Eva. There was definitely something more to the military angle.

“Deputy O’Connell?” she said.

“Yeah, Eva, I’m right here. I’m right outside. Are you okay?” He shut his eyes for a second and felt his knees weaken.

“I’m okay, but I’m scared.”

He wasn’t sure what to say. “Is your mom there? Is she okay?”

He pictured Eva nodding, but he could hear Tommy saying something to her.

“You’ve talked to her, and now you hear she’s fine,” he said, back on the line. His voice had softened, but he still seemed to be fighting an urgency that Marcus couldn’t put his finger on “Now go.”

“I can’t do that, Tommy. Told you before. She’s scared. You keeping a little girl and her mother here when they don’t want to be here is a problem. It’s called kidnapping,” he added, not wanting to push his buttons but also not knowing where the hell his head was.

“Who said anything about kidnapping? I didn’t kidnap anyone.”

He heard him say something else, but he couldn’t make out what it was. Just then, the front door opened, and light spilled out. A woman stepped outside, and the line went dead. He pocketed his phone and moved into the open, closer to the cabin, taking her in. She was slender, with shoulder-length hair, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt. Tommy was in the doorway, one hand on the frame, the other loosely holding the gun.

“Reine Colbert?” Marcus called out and stopped by the truck just in case he needed to take cover.

“Yes, that’s me,” she said. “Look, I’m sorry about all this. Eva shouldn’t have bothered you. We’re fine, though.”

Something about the way she said it rang false. He wondered what Tommy had said to get her to step out there. Had he threatened her?

“Reine, are you being held against your will, you and your daughter?”

She was shaking her head and rubbed her arms in the cold. He should have been cold, too, but the adrenaline pumping through his body numbed him to it.

“No, we are not,” she said. “Tommy here has helped us. It’s fine. We’re fine, as you can see.”

He tried to see into the cabin, to see Eva. Tommy glanced back inside. His brown hair was long and kind of a mess, and he was unshaven.

“Your daughter called me and is scared,” Marcus said. “Did you tell her to hide?”

Why was Reine just standing there? Was it to protect her daughter?

“My mistake,” she said. “Yes, I did, but she misunderstood. Look, we just needed a place to stay. Tommy brought us here. Everything’s fine. This is all just a misunderstanding.”

“You heard her,” Tommy said. “It’s fine. They’re fine. Now go on.” He flicked his hand and the gun, a motion to leave, but Marcus still couldn’t see the little girl.

“Well, see, here’s the problem,” he said. “I have a 911 caller, a little girl who called in terrified, scared of you, Tommy. Reine, you’re trying to say everything is fine, yet here you are, Tommy, holding a gun. You’re telling me this is all some sort of misunderstanding? Well, I’m telling you I’m not leaving. One, you shot off that gun, Tommy. Reine, you’re telling me you’re fine, but I don’t see your daughter. Now, this is the last time I’m going to tell you. Reine, you call Eva outside, and both of you come on down here now, because I’m not leaving when I know a little girl is afraid inside. Tommy, what you’re doing right now isn’t reassuring me in any way that anyone here is fine. So how about this? You drop your gun, and keep your hands where I can see them. Then the three of us will sit down and talk about what’s really going on here,” he said.

And what did the man do but laugh?

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