The Third Call

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Chapter 6

“Look, you’ve got to give me something,” Marcus said into his cell phone as he pulled open the door to his cruiser and climbed in. He flipped open the laptop secured to the swivel mount where an armrest would typically be, glad the sheriff had insisted the county fork over the funds to bring their department up to modern times. It was another request that had been put together by Marcus behind the scenes. The laptop gave him access to databases of witness reports, paperwork, and even crime scene photos—everything at his fingertips.

“Look, Charlotte’s been riding my ass too, Marcus,” Tulli said. “All I can tell you is the facts on paper. The owner of the property is Thomas Marshall, out of Duluth, Minnesota. He owns a shipping company and has a wife, Helen, and two children, Samantha and Thomas Junior. The family appears to be well off. The daughter is married and lives in Florida, and Thomas was in the army and served four years of active duty. Trained at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, then served in the Middle East, where he was injured. Looks like he was given a dishonorable discharge.”

Marcus took in the image of Thomas Marshall, or Tommy, in his military fatigues. There was a warrant out for his arrest for attempted murder. His hair was shorter, his expression pissed. Marcus really had to look to see the resemblance to the man in the cabin now. “I’m not sure it’s him, Tulli. You have a last known address?”

“Considering the outstanding warrant? No, nothing. His parents’ place in Duluth is the only thing the army has on file for a forwarding address. I can try reaching out to them, but you have everything I do. He’s considered dangerous.”

Marcus listened to Tulli as he vaguely heard footsteps and spotted a light approaching. Lonnie had arrived and was walking with Ryan. He took in the computer screen, the officer report from Monroe County in Wisconsin. Tommy had beat a man nearly to death with a chain. The images of the victim were gruesome. He was considered dangerous? Well, that kind of went without saying. Add in the fact that he now had a gun in his possession, and Marcus had no choice but to assume the man was deadly. Boy, everything was just getting better and better.

“I don’t have anything on Reine Colbert or her daughter, Eva,” Marcus said. “See what you can find for me, because there’s nothing in the database. Could mean nothing, just that she’s never had an incident with the cops. I’m getting the feeling this isn’t the kind of story that’s going to have a happy ending, not the way this is unfolding.”

“Will do,” Tulli said. “Listen, I already alerted the sheriff’s office in Monroe County about Tommy. You got the sheriff on his way out there as well?”

The last thing Marcus wanted were questions as to where the sheriff was. That was one thing they all knew, how to cover each other’s backs.

“Marcus,” Lonnie said before he could respond, leaning on the open door. “I talked with the sheriff’s office in Laurel. They’re sending some backup.”

“Great, thanks,” Marcus said. “You hear that, Tulli? Just start digging, and get me something I can use to get this guy to stand down and defuse the situation. Better yet, get a hold of his folks. Find out for me what makes this guy tick and what’s going on here.”

He hung up his phone and closed up the laptop, taking in Lonnie and then Ryan, who was standing at the front of his cruiser, looking up the driveway to the cabin.

“Ryan just filled me in on the situation,” Lonnie said. “He’s got a gun, and he won’t let the woman and girl leave?”

Marcus could smell beer on Lonnie’s breath and wondered how incapacitated he was. “Nope, he walked back into the house, told me to get lost, and here we are. I see Charlotte tracked you down.”

He was still bothered by the fact that Reine had simply gone back inside the minute Tommy called her. Not a chance he was going in there after him with just his brother and Lonnie there, not until he found out everything he needed to know about Tommy, Reine, and Eva. Too much uncertainty and too much chance for a little girl to end up in the morgue—but then, waiting around, trying to figure out what the hell he was supposed to do wouldn’t help either.

“She did,” Lonnie said, then shrugged. “Was on a date. Phone was off.”

Marcus just stared at him, wondering what he meant by that, considering he was married, with two kids.

Maybe Lonnie could tell from the expression on his face, because he finally said, “Guess you didn’t know. Darlene and I split up. She was tired of being married to a cop.”

Right. Well, now was not the time to talk about it. Marcus just shook his head.

“Your call,” Lonnie continued. “What do you want to do here?” He pulled out his holstered gun and checked the rounds, something they all did, then re-holstered it. Marcus knew he was waiting for him to say something, but all he could do was walk around to the trunk, where he kept his shotgun and bulletproof vest, everything he needed when things went bad. He pulled the vest over his head and tossed a second one to his brother.

“Come on, vest up, both of you,” Marcus said. “Then I’m going to get Tommy back on the phone, get him talking until someone gets me something on him. That’s what I’m going to do. It seems there’s a warrant out for him in Wisconsin. He tried to beat a man to death with a chain. I think we can assume he has a temper, and he was dishonorably discharged from the army, so who knows what weapons he’s got in there? For all we know, the house could have an arsenal, a bunker. Lonnie, I want you around back. Be my eyes back there.”

He was walking toward the cabin again, and Lonnie jogged back to his car to pull his own bulletproof vest on. Ryan had said nothing. As he shone the flashlight, Marcus dialed the burner cell again. At least the light was still on inside the otherwise dark cabin.

Tommy answered on the second ring. “What do you want?” he snapped, a man on a short leash.

“It’s Deputy O’Connell again,” Marcus said. “Told you, Tommy, I can’t leave. Just want to talk, is all, and find out what’s going on in the house, make sure everyone is doing okay. You okay? How about Reine and Eva?”

“Deputy O’Connell, what are you, the kind of guy who always has to get his man?”

He had his phone on speaker so everyone could hear. “It’s not like that,” he said. “I need you to send Eva and Reine out. Just let them go.”

There was no noise in the background, but Tommy said something in a low voice before coming back on the line. “I’m not sure I can be any clearer,” he said. “I’m not holding them against their will. She even told you that. The kid shouldn’t have been playing around with my phone. This is my property, so I’m asking you to vacate it now. Leave.” He wasn’t yelling, but he was quite direct. What was it about his change in demeanor that didn’t sit right?

“How about letting me come in there and see for myself that everyone’s fine?” Marcus said.

Ryan touched his arm, shook his head. Of course, he didn’t agree.

The cabin door swung open. “You want to come in? The door’s open, but you leave your gun outside.”

Ryan gave another shake of his head and mouthed a very direct no.

“Not going to happen, Tommy,” Marcus said. “I need you to come on out and put the gun down, and we’ll talk, but I want you to send out Reine and her daughter. Do you want to tell me about what happened in the army? I see that you have a warrant out on you, as well.”

This time he heard a sigh, and he couldn’t pull his gaze from the open door when Tommy suddenly appeared, wearing a hoodie now, the gun still in his hand. He held up the phone, and Marcus heard the click as he hung up. “It’s not how you think it is,” Tommy shouted.

Marcus took a step closer to the cabin, his hand hovering over his gun. He could reach for it in a second. “It never is. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

Maybe he’d be able to reason with him, but he didn’t know where Reine and Eva were. He wanted nothing more than to get them out of the cabin. As he moved, he was well aware that his brother was behind him and Lonnie was making his way around the back.

“Thought it would be the answer, you know,” Tommy said. “Had a fight with my old man, was never good enough for him, so I walked into a recruiting office. Seems there’s one on every street corner. Signed up for the army and bought the bill of goods hook, line, and sinker. Had no fucking idea what I was walking into…you know.” He stood on the porch, barefoot, and lifted his arm, brushing his wrist over his forehead. The gun dangled in his hand.

What Marcus was hearing wasn’t the answer to his question, but maybe it was the thing he needed to hear. “People never do,” he replied. “I’ve heard it before. My brother’s in the military, so I understand what you’re saying.”

He’d seen enough young ones in trouble who’d signed up, thinking that would be the answer, and next they were AWOL, a few trying to get across the border. Joining up worked out for some, but others ended up quickly drowning, in over their heads. “So what happened? Why’d you leave? You got injured?” He let it hang, recalling the dishonorable discharge mentioned in the file.

“No one ever tells you what to expect when you sign up,” Tommy said. “I thought, hey, I’ll show my old man, but it was me who got shown instead. Training just about killed me, and then I was stationed overseas, in the Middle East, in every shithole imaginable. Humvee was hit driving over a landmine. I was thrown and lived. Lucky, I guess. Got away with a busted femur and busted head. Expected a medical discharge, but can you believe I didn’t get it? The army docs said I’d recover, and they sent me back to active duty as soon as I was on my feet, in a shitload of pain, held together by steel rods. Seems they’re short now, so medical discharges are rarer than expected.”

He didn’t know what to say. “So you returned to active duty,” he started.

Tommy laughed. “I think what you want to ask is how I got myself kicked out of the army, living on the streets, with a life as fucked up as mine.”

“There’s always a story,” Marcus said. “Everyone has one. I’m listening—”

Inside, Reine screamed.

Marcus cursed Lonnie under his breath. What the fuck was he doing? He ran toward the cabin, gun in hand, ready, and Tommy yelled something as he stepped back inside.

Marcus was almost there. One more step and he would be at the porch. Everything moved in slow motion as he heard a shot fired, and he instinctively ducked.

When Tommy reappeared, his gun was cocked against the dark hair of a little girl. It was Eva, crying as he held on to her, and Marcus froze, staring into the eyes of a man he knew was completely, one hundred percent unstable.

“Call your man back right now, Deputy,” Tommy said, and he heard the click of the safety.

His blood turned to ice, and he prayed in that second that he wouldn’t pull the trigger. If he did, he knew Eva’s eyes would forever be burned in his memory, the kind of loss he’d never get over.

“Lonnie, pull back!” Marcus shouted, furious. What had he been thinking? He held his hands up, feeling his own gun but knowing Tommy held all the cards.

Tommy lifted the gun and pointed it at Marcus. At least it was no longer on Eva. “Okay, Deputy, you got your wish. Here’s the girl. But guess what? You’re coming inside now, so drop your gun and step on up here.”

Marcus didn’t have to look over to the side of the cabin to know Lonnie had come back out. He would be alone inside. He set down his gun, lifted both his hands, and stepped up onto the porch.

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