The Third Call

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Chapter 7

Inside the cabin were a small living room with a woodstove, a dated kitchen with a bank of curtained cupboards, and a hallway he suspected led down to where the bedrooms would be. As he stepped in, he heard the door close behind him. He wondered if there was just an outhouse out back or if there was actually plumbing. He doubted very much the place was winterized for the cold that would soon be coming.

“Reine, get his cuffs and bring that chair over here,” Tommy said.

Marcus took a second to assess everything. Eva was dark haired, tiny, staring at him in fear. Of course, she was terrified. “You okay, Eva? You listen to me: Everything is going to be fine.”

Tommy set his hand on her shoulder, and Eva looked up to him, maybe to see if it was okay to answer. Her shirt was dirty, long sleeved, and she wore red pants and sneakers.

Reine dragged an old wooden kitchen chair over to the middle of the living room, which also held a sofa and chair so old they must have come with the place.

“Deputy O’Connell, are you going to take us away?” Eva said.

“No, he’s not taking anyone anywhere, Eva,” Tommy jumped in, giving her a gentle tap on the shoulders, a motion that had her stepping away from him. “Sit on down, Deputy. Reine, get his cuffs.”

Marcus took his time sitting in that wooden chair as he took in Reine. Her hair was a mix of red and blond, and she was slender, with a small bust—a little on the too-thin side, he figured, from the way her shirt and jeans hung loosely on her frame. Her eyes were a soft shade of blue, different from Eva’s. He couldn’t decide whether she was scared of him or Tommy, maybe both. She did, though, reach for the cuffs on his belt.

“I wouldn’t do that, Reine,” he said.

She swallowed hard and then lifted her gaze to Tommy, who was pointing his gun right at Marcus.

“Don’t listen to him,” Tommy said. “Deputy, hands behind your back. Reine, cuff his hands to the back of the chair.”

“Sorry,” she said in a low voice as he put his hands behind him. The cuffs bit into his wrists, and he felt bulked out with the bulletproof vest, which he was grateful he’d had the foresight to pull on. He thought of his gun, lying in the dirt outside, and then he watched Reine as she walked over to the sofa and sat down next to Eva, her arm around her shoulders. They were both shaking, and Marcus took in an old backpack with clothes pulled out next to them and a sleeping bag underneath them.

He knew his brother was likely calling him every name in the book, considering he was exactly where he shouldn’t be right now.

“That was quite the low blow there, Deputy,” Tommy said. “You wanted one of your men to sneak around to the back and, what, take me by surprise? Maybe you planned for him to shoot me in the head when we were having a nice, polite conversation. Dishonest, dishonorable. Good thing there’s no back door. You just showed me who you really are. I don’t like it when I’m lied to.” He flicked the safety back on the gun and tucked it in the front of his jeans, which were too loose and baggy on him.

Marcus wondered exactly what had happened, considering he’d heard a scream. He turned to Reine. “That was you who screamed?” he said, though of course it had to have been.

She flicked her gaze from him to Tommy. “I did. Just saw a man sneaking around out back. He had the window open and was coming in, gun in hand. He scared me. He pointed his gun at me. Why would he do that? I told you we were fine. Look, Tommy just offered us a place to stay, is all. He was just doing something no one else would, helping us out.”

He wasn’t sure what to make of what she said. “You know, this is going from bad to worse,” he replied. “This isn’t solving anything. Right now, Tommy, you have an open warrant out for your arrest, so don’t start making this worse by pointing a gun at a police officer, not to mention a little girl. Now you’re adding unlawful imprisonment. And, Reine, you mean to tell me you’re not part of this? You have a little girl to think of. What would she do without you?” He allowed his gaze to fall back to Reine, then watched Tommy stride into the kitchen. On the counter were a few open cans—soup, maybe.

“I, uh…I told you outside we were fine,” Reine said. “I’m not sure I understand why you’re still here. Eva, I can’t believe you called the police! This is all escalating too fast.” She gave everything to the little girl sitting so quietly on the sofa. Eva looked so damn scared.

“Reine, he just had a gun to your daughter’s head,” Marcus said.

There it was, something in her expression that she couldn’t hide. A flicker of anger? Maybe. “He crossed a line,” she said, though Marcus could see she was still on the fence. “Tommy, don’t you ever touch my daughter again. But you…you’re not much better, Deputy. Would that other cop have shot me or my daughter? Both of you…”

Yeah, she was angry at him, as well. Damn Lonnie! What the hell had he been thinking?

“I wouldn’t have hurt her,” Tommy said. “You know that.”

Marcus recognized the shame. He knew when a man felt like shit over something.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with me sometimes,” Tommy continued. “I’m sorry, Eva, for scaring you. I just reacted. The gun went off as I grabbed Eva. I was just trying to get him to stop and keep that other cop out of here.” He gestured over to Marcus, who said nothing, staring at the gun Tommy had tucked in the front of his pants. He could snap at a moment’s notice.

“Mom, you were scared,” Eva said. “You told me to hide when he pulled out the gun…”

He took in how close the little girl sat to her mother now, and he still couldn’t figure out what to make of the two. Reine looked over to Tommy, who was behind them now, dumping a can into a pot on the old stove.

“I’ll heat up the soup, Reine,” Tommy said, “and then you and Eva can eat. There’s only a few cans of food, some beans, soups, oysters. Not sure how long to make it last, but we’ll figure the rest out in the morning.”

It seemed Tommy thought Marcus was no longer an issue.

“That’s fine, Tommy,” Reine said. “Thank you, but I’m not sure how long we’ll stay now.” She dragged her gaze back over to Marcus, still cuffed to the chair. His cell phone was buzzing, but of course he couldn’t answer it.

Tommy only glanced his way. “Persistent, aren’t they?” he said. So he understood what was happening outside.

“It would be best if I answered,” Marcus said. “Things tend to go sideways when you’re holding a cop at gunpoint. You should know that, Tommy.”

Reine stood up, looking shaky. “Look, stop this, Deputy! Tommy isn’t a bad man. I didn’t handle it right. He’s done everything to help us, bringing us here. Tommy, you were confused. You pulled the gun when Eva dropped that jar, when it shattered…”

Tommy seemed to pull into himself, and Marcus wondered if he knew what he’d done. “Look, I’m sorry, it happens,” he said. “Caught me off guard. I forgot where I was for a second, is all. Reine, you know I didn’t mean anything by it.”

She inclined her head and crossed her arms. “Seems we have a situation here, Tommy. I know you didn’t mean anything when you grabbed me and threw me down.” She dragged her gaze over to Marcus and stepped closer, lowering her voice. “He thought we were under attack and was just trying to protect me. I panicked until I saw his eyes, heard his confusion, you know…”

Over at the stove, Tommy was no longer listening.

“Reine, listen to me,” Marcus whispered. “The keys to the cuffs are in my right pants pocket. I need you to pull them out…”

But all she did was walk over to Tommy and rest her hand on his shoulder before she continued. “Tommy found me and my daughter. We were sleeping in a camp under a bridge in Missoula, in a tent, hungry and cold. Tommy saw us when he showed up with food for the thirty of us who were there. We hadn’t been kicked out by the cops yet. It wasn’t all that safe. My shoes were stolen our first night there, and so was my only winter coat, but we had a tent, at least, some sort of shelter. It had a hole in the top, but if you stayed to the left side, you’d be fine if it rained. We’d been there only about a week…” She crossed her arms, and he was sure her slight stature was from all kinds of hunger. Even her cheekbones were too pronounced She glanced over to Tommy, who was watching her now in a way that showed he cared.

“You were homeless,” Marcus said.

Reine shrugged. “Lived the American dream once. If you’d told me, growing up, and even before I married Eva’s father, that I’d be living on the streets one day with a six-year-old, I’d have called you crazy. The American dream bit me in the ass. My husband was a firefighter. We had a house in Missoula, small, modest. Eva was six months old when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He fought it for one valiant year, and then the insurance started denying medical coverage here and there, especially for any experimental treatments. He smoked when he was fifteen, so they called it a pre-existing condition, found a loophole, you know. As a fireman, he was in and out of burning buildings, breathing in all kinds of toxic chemicals. He died five days before Eva’s second birthday.

“Then the bills started coming in, a thousand here and there, a second mortgage before my husband died, a third a few weeks after. I had a job, but when you add in paying for daycare for Eva, there wasn’t enough. I started selling things off, the furniture, the TV, which we didn’t need anyway, as the cable was the first to go. When they shut off the power, I knew things were dire. Four years it seemed I was underwater. Couldn’t make enough to feed us, pay the mortgages, and pay back the medical bills for my husband. You know, I even went to the chief, swallowed my pride, sat in the chair across from him and begged him to help and do something about the insurance company. They had denied my husband medical care because they wouldn’t wait for their money, and now the hospital had to be paid. But there was nothing he could do.

“We lost the house. The bank came in one day and took it all. I had sold my car long before, as I couldn’t afford the insurance payments, anyway, yet I still owed money on it, and then there were taxes I still had to pay. We rented a small suite in the basement of a house, from nice people. Then the hospital managed to get my salary garnished. Do you know by law it’s limited to twenty-five percent so you can still pay rent and live? But they made a mistake and took it all. Who was to blame, the courts, my employer, the hospital? It didn’t matter. Try getting money back when you have nothing to make them give it. So I went to my employer, T&L, the huge department store chain. HR said they’d look into it.

“When it came time to pay rent, the couple were nice enough the first time, but the second, not so much. I stopped sleeping from the stress of it, and then I screwed up at work because I was so damn tired. I cost the company a lot of money, and they weren’t as forgiving. I lost my job. A few days later, we lost the suite. That was the first time in my life that I found myself homeless, wondering how in the hell I had got there. I was one of those people who had locked my car door in parts of town where the homeless lived. I thought they’d done something to deserve such a fate. I saw them as less than people, as drug dealers, addicts, drunks, the lowest of the low. Boy, did I have that wrong.”

He didn’t know what to say. He took in the mother standing there and realized Tommy was giving her everything, giving her sympathy. He could tell he cared. He knew well that her story was not unique in this country. “I’m sorry, Reine. That’s a shitty thing to happen.”

She shrugged again. On the couch, Eva was looking to her mom for help. His heart went out to both of them.

“But this here…” he said. “What’s happening now isn’t the answer and isn’t going to fix this situation. In fact, Reine, this could end up going badly for you two. You have a little girl over there who needs you, and yet here you are, acting as an accomplice.”

She glanced over to Tommy again, now with fear.

“Then there’s the matter of Tommy and the warrant out for his arrest,” he continued, and he didn’t miss the alarm in her expression. She didn’t have to say anything. He could see she hadn’t known.

“Is this true?” she said.

Tommy ran his hand over his brow, over his face, then rested both on the counter, his head hanging. He shook his head.

As Marcus waited in silence, hearing the stove tick and the pot boiling, Reine dragged her gaze back over to him. There it was, the minute she realized she was in way over her head.

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