Memory Games Synopsis

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Corbin Pern has spent the last several years cleaning up his act and being a contributing member of society. Until he finds himself in the middle of a serial killers games. A game that involves messing with peoples minds. When the killer threatens his loved ones, Corbin is given little choice but to play along. But why is the killer so obsessed with Corbin? Is it something from his past or is Corbin playing his own game?

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Update: Been a Long Time

I’ve been absentee for, what? Almost three months? … Yikes!

I want to say that I’m not going away. I’ve had chronic pain and fatigue for the past two years. The pain is in my entire torso and can get so bad, it’s hard to breathe. I had a bad bout for over a month not long after I finished ch 19. Even when I wasn’t in pain, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t write. On top of that, I’ve had chronic migraines for years. So bleh…

I just needed to get away from everything for awhile. I’m one of those types who will up and disappear on everyone then pop up again a little later. I get the urge and I follow; otherwise, I go crazy with this feeling of overwhelming pressure. I take some time to myself then I’m at peace again.

Oh. On the good news side of the coin, I also got a new job! It’s at a learning center that I worked at 8 years ago. That’s been keeping me busy, too.

Well, enough about me. What you really want to know is the status of the story. What’s happened to Corbin and what the hell is Matteo doing?!

Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a little longer for those answers as I don’t see myself posting the next chapter until late June-early July  I’m not saying it can’t be before then (because it can). I kinda suck at pantsing, lol. At least, I don’t think a thriller should be shown to the world before it’s finished– which is what I attempted. There’s so much you want to go back and change and improve, but I can’t go back. In light of my frustration, I’m going to go ahead and finish writing Memory Games before posting the next chapter. This will give me the chance to ensure that the whole story connects. Sigh, there are some characters and plot pieces that were supposed to be in the story already, but aren’t and now I’m figuring out how to use what’s already in it to get to the conclusion without things seeming like they came out of nowhere. I’ve got ideas that I think will work, but I need to make sure they do. Finishing the story is the best way to be certain. That’s why I need a month, for the writing. I can get a lot more done if I’m not worried about taking pictures at the same time. Also, I’m a trillion years behind everyone’s blogs! :P Not saying I’m going to catch up on anyone’s, but I am going to read a few chapters of everyone I’m following. And I like to comment so you’ll probably be hearing from me on your blogs :)

 

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Chapter 19

Please Read Previous Chapters First!:  Chapters 1-18

Because I’m posting several chapters in a short time span, I wanted to give links to what’s gone up recently in case you’ve returned to the story and don’t remember if you’ve read to this point or not. If you have not read chapters 16 or 17 with Evelyn’s and Corbin’s respective POVs in Westview Park, please click: ch 16 (Evelyn) and ch 17 (Corbin)Plus, chapter 18 with Evelyn and the shadow man in Zigby theater. Please, read them first as this is a continuation of those chapters! :) Also, the Chapters page now includes brief descriptions/titles to each chapter to make it easier to tell what’s in them and what you’ve read already. Enjoy chapter 19!

 

Chapter 19

Friday 2:20pm, Lyre’s Car

Corbin

When Evelyn had stood in front of me, I was certain there was an explanation for everything. I didn’t want to blame her without hearing what she had to say. But after she rejected that opportunity, and with time and space to think about it, I began to convince myself that there wasn’t a satisfying explanation that she could give me. All roads seemed to lead to deception. She happens to know the woman from the house? She happens to know about Reena? And she conveniently walks off when confronted?

“Why did you have to tell me that you’re pregnant?” I asked Lyre.

18.1

Not that Lyre said it because she knew Evelyn was there, but I was still pissed about the whole thing. I don’t know who I was more angry with: finding out that Evelyn knew way too much to be innocent in all this or Lyre for blurting out crap in the first place.

“To test it out.” Lyre said, braking at a four-way stop. We were driving to Reena’s school to pick her up. “Men are softer around pregnant women. When I tell that to Paul he’ll feel more sympathy toward me.”

I looked at her hoping all the you are a psycho that I felt was clearly expressed on my face.

“Are you even actually pregnant?” I asked.

“That’s none of your business.”

“Leaving you alone to be with Henry would have been the best revenge ever. Why did I have to mess that up?”

She glared at me. We drove in silence for awhile.

“So, what are you going to tell Reena?” I asked. “When she sees me, what’s the story going to be?”

She pulled into the parking lot of Pear Tree Academy. My nerves flashed like crazy. I was so close to seeing her again. I could barely catch my breath. The last time I was with Reena she was fifteen months old. I could still remember the way her little chubby arms wrapped tightly around my neck. How her bubbly giggles warmed my heart and her smile brought me to tears.

18.2

18.2b

I didn’t think I could give her the best life. I believed I wasn’t a good father. Sitting in front of the school I didn’t even know she went to confirmed all my fears.

“We don’t have to tell her who I am today,” I said. “I could be an uncle. You and Harley should break the news to her. Gently, and–”

“Oh, shut up.” Lyre parked the car. “Like Paul won’t say anything to her.”

Right. Taking her to my father would mean she would have to know the truth fairly quick.

“Do you want to call Harley, first? He could meet us there and I’ll talk to Paul while you two–”

“Harley won’t come. He left us almost a year ago. He said I messed up his life, he can’t get credit anywhere, and blah blah blah.”

“When you came to my apartment, you said Harley wanted to give the money back.”

“He did. He thought you were toying with us. Giving us the tiniest bit of help without going full blown like you could if you wanted. He didn’t want your pity charity.”

“If you wanted the money, why did you try to give it back to me?”

“I wanted you to see that I was a changed, better person so you’d feel sorry for me. It’s all part of the plan I wanted to talk with you about.”

“Your plan?” She had mentioned that she had a better plan before blurting out that she “pregnant”.

Lyre nodded happily. “The way I figure, the best situation for all of us is for me to be back in the recording studio where I belong. My reality show will get me there, but I won’t have as much time for Reena. I could leave her with one of my friends, but they already watch her a lot. And I don’t have enough for a nanny yet. So, I thought, why not you?”

18.3I blinked at her. Yesterday, she assured me she was taking the girl away from me and today she wanted to put her in my care?

“You want to give Reena to me?”

“For a few months. Just until I can get situated. After that we could figure out joint custody.”

Just Reena and me without any Lyre drama? It sounded perfect. Too perfect.

“What’s the catch?” I asked.

Lyre’s smile broadened. “That’s the best part. You tell Paul that Reena’s some other chick’s daughter. Then once he’s good and attached to her, you tell him the truth. See? He can’t do anything to me once I’m the mother of a beloved granddaughter. Brilliant, huh?”

I rolled my eyes. Yeesh. Leave it to Lyre to come up with a dramatic idea.

“What happens when my father asks Reena about her mom?”

Lyre waved her hand dismissively. “Tell him Reena doesn’t like to talk about her.”   

“What about my mom?” I asked, feeling the smugness stretch across my face. “She’ll never keep quiet about you. No one will be able to convince her to go along with it.”

She unbuckled her seat belt. “Ms Pern always puts Reena’s interests first. She would do it as long as it benefits Reena.”

“How do you know what my mom would do?”

“She tells me all the time.”

“What do you mean all the time?”

She opened her door. “Oh. I’m not supposed to say, but Reena’s known your mom since she was two.”  

She tried to jump out of the car, but I grabbed her wrist.

My mom? How?”

“I don’t want to say. Your mom scares me.” She pulled her arm out of my grasp and shut the door.

“Do you ever tell the truth?!” I yelled.

She paused, smiled and waved at me before walking up to the school. I knew it! I knew she was lying to me the other day. Now she added crazy to her insanity with this ridiculous plan. I have to make up some random baby mama for my father and take her word that my mom wouldn’t squeal on us. I had no idea what was true in anything she told me. There was one person who could confirm or deny Lyre’s words.

18.4“Cubbie?”

I hate when she calls me that and she knows it. I pressed the phone to my ear. “Hi, Mom. Have you ever met Reena?” I had to get right to the point. I didn’t know how soon Lyre would return and I had to know before I saw my daughter again.

“Yes. I visit her every time I’m in the city.” Unless it about a topic she “can’t discuss” my mom is also very direct.

“Are you serious? Every time? How often is that?”

“Several times a year, at least.”

I didn’t realize she was in the area that often. Every time I talk to her she’s overseas somewhere. “You don’t even see me that often.”

“I go where I’m wanted, Corbin. I’m not wasting my free time begging for attention from my son while he ignores me or listening to you whine about how I was a terrible mother. All I ask for is a few hours a year and you can’t even wish me a happy birthday on my actual birthday. My granddaughter, however, enjoys being in my company and that’s who I choose to be with.”

Yeesh. She always made me sound like I was the worst son ever. But I didn’t have time to rehash that old arguement. “We all agreed to leave Reena alone with Lyre and Harley until she was eight.”

“That agreement was between you and the mother. I made my own contract with that little hussy.”

“Mom, you should have told me.”

“Why? So you can talk me out of it? Just because you weren’t ready to be a father, didn’t mean I wasn’t ready to be a grandmother. Besides, I’d die before I left my Reena in the hands of that woman. Someone had to keep her in line.”

“She’s a grown woman, Mom. You can’t ‘keep her in line’.”

“Ha. Why do you think old greedy guts hasn’t asked you for one cent all these years? The only way to ensure our baby was well taken care of was to support the entire family. How else could they afford a premier private school like the one you’re standing in?”

“How do you know–”

“I can see you, Cubbie.”

18.5

I spun around. Standing next to a red sports car that pulled up next to me seconds after Lyre left was my mother. She gave me a short wave and nod. I jumped out of Lyre’s vehicle. How the heck did she know where to find me? Bigger question: why was I still surprised by my mother’s abnormal behavior?

18.6“What are you doing here?” I asked as she walked up to me.

Instead of an answer, she smacked me upside my head.

“You wished me a happy birthday months before my birthday. I took that to be code for an emergency. I got here as fast as I could.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

She smacked me again. This time on the ear.

“Don’t ‘sorry’ me.” Mom chided. “It’s much worse than I imagined.”

“It is?” I rubbed my stinging ear with my fingers.

She lifted her hand like she was going to hit me again. I ducked down, but she waited until I rose up again to get me on the other cheek.

“Stop doing that!” I covered my face with my hands.

“What’s the number one rule?” She demanded.

18.7“What?”

“The number one rule, Corbin?”

Why did I have to feel like I was a little kid every time she came around? Begrudgingly, I told her, “Pay attention.”

“To what?”

I sighed. “To every little thing at all times.”

“Have you been paying attention?”

“Yes, Mom, can you leave now?”

“No. I cannot. Because my son is casually showing his face in public when he’s wanted for murder.”

I wanted to laugh. She had to be joking, right? Mom looked up something on her phone and handed it to me. There it was. A public alert for Matteo and me on a triple homicide charge. I leaned against Lyre’s car and ran my hand through my hair.

Susanna had been right.

“What happened?” Mom asked, sliding her sunglasses off her face. “And if you say you actually killed someone, I swear I’ll take your life myself and, unlike you two idiots, I know how to get away with it!”

I gulped. It was all so stupid. She wasn’t going to like it. I gave her the condensed version. “I was going to turn myself in,” I told her. “I wanted to get Reena somewhere safe first. We were taking her to stay with father.”

“Hmm. That explains why I tracked you here of all places.” I felt her hand on my arm. “Getting Reena to safety is a good idea.”

I looked at her with a half smile. She didn’t hand out compliments like candy. It meant a lot when she gave her approval.

“Corbin, there’s something very important we need to talk about–”

“Granny!”

A child’s loud excited cry startled me. I turned to face the school. Lyre stood near the doors to the building. Running toward the parking lot straight for us was a small girl. Black pigtails bounced against her slim shoulders. Her features reminded me of Lyre. The way her face filled with light and happiness, I thought I was looking at an angel.

18.2b

18.8

Mom got down on one knee as Reena raced passed me and into her grandmother’s arms. Reena squeezed my mom’s neck so tight it’s a wonder she didn’t break it. They had the same smile, I realized, as a big one spread across both their faces. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen Mom so at peace and happy.

“Granny, Granny,” Reena bounced on her feet as they pulled away. “I didn’t know you were coming today.”

“I wanted to surprise you,” Mom said.

Reena kissed my mom’s cheek several times in a row. I watched both in fascination and agitation. I wanted to grab her up and hold her. At the same time, an almost irresistible urge to sprint down street to get far away seized my feet

18.9

Lyre came up beside me.

“Granny comes, takes her for a few days, and brings her back more spoiled than before,” Lyre whispered to me. “It’s so annoying.”

“Why don’t you tell her to get lost?” I whispered back.

Lyre straightened her shoulders and looked away from me. “I wouldn’t deny Ms Pern the right to see Reena.”

“Or the right to her money.” I muttered.

Lyre gave me a side glare. That confirmed my mom’s version of events. Not that I hadn’t believed her. Mom didn’t explain details to me, which I can’t stand, but what she did say was the truth. My mom got to her feet.

“Reena, your mother has another surprise for you.” She said. “There’s someone she wants you to formally meet.”

Lyre took a step back, her expression like a deer caught in headlights. “Oh, um, you’re much better at–”

“We don’t have time for this,” Mom said, placing her hands on Reena’s shoulders. “Tell her.”

Lyre huffed with irritation at being told what to do, but then bent at the waist to get closer to Reena’s eye level. “Right. So, sweetie, remember how mad we were when first daddy left? Well, mommy got you a new daddy!” Lyre gestured toward me. “His name’s Corbin. Mommy did a good job. Isn’t he a cute little thing?”

18.10Why was she talking about me like I was a new puppy?

“What! Why?” Reena stared up at me with tears in her bright brown eyes.

“Oh, you don’t like him?” Lyre patted Reena’s cheek. “I can take him back.”

“Lyre.” My mom said sternly.

“It’s just a joke.” Lyre said. “Fine. Reena, it’s like how your Granny is your grandmother? Well, Corbin is Granny’s son and that makes him your real daddy.”

18.11Reena looked from me to Lyre and back to me. I guessed it was my time to step forward. I wasn’t sure if I should hug her or what. I started to crouch down then decided to stand. She pushed back against my mom’s legs. Finally, I held out my hand to her.

“Hello.” That was all I could think of for a minute. “I’m Corbin.”

Reena shook her head.”No! I don’t want another daddy! I don’t like you!” She ran to Lyre’s car and pulled on the back door handle. “I want to go home. Now!”

My heart sank. I wasn’t expecting hugs and kisses, but I had hoped for a nice to meet you.

18.11b

“See? We should have went with my plan,” Lyre said, taking out her buzzing phone. “Then she’d have no choice but to accept you.”

“She’ll accept him, eventually,” Mom said. “What she accepts him as is up to you two. Isn’t that right, Corbin?”

“You’re not using your own failures as a teaching moment, are you?” I asked.

“What else are they for? I can’t change the past and there’s little I would if I could.” She said, her penetrating focus on me. “I told you what your father was, but not who he was. When you finally connected with him you had nothing to go by to assess his character against his actions.”

“You’re admitting that you were wrong?” I snickered, not because it was funny, but because this was so unbelievable I was waiting for the punchline.

“I made a mistake, yes, however, that doesn’t make me responsible for what you’re doing. You’ve tried so hard not to act like your father and me with your daughter that you’ve become us. Worse than us. We had a genuine concern for your safety. The two of you are only concerned about yourselves.”

Lyre and I exchanged accusing glances. Once I looked away, though, guilt swarmed over me. With the help of Matteo’s two older sisters, I had taken care of Reena from four months until she was sixteen months.

18.12I found a screaming infant Reena on the floor of Lyre’s apartment while she was passed out drunk. I thought I was saving this random baby. I had every intention of returning the kid so I didn’t take her to child protective services. When I’d gone back to Lyre a week later, I found out the truth. So, I’d kept her. My father’s side of the family wanted nothing to do with me making it easy to keep them in the dark about the situation.

After a year of scraping by, living with friends, trying to care for her, I just didn’t think I had what it took. When Lyre asked for a second chance, I gladly caved. Lyre feared I would change my mind. She was certain I’d bring my family into it and use their power to take Reena from her again. We’d made the deal–I’d stay away until she was eight.

18.13I figured I’d have my life together by then. I still don’t have it together. What if I never do? My parents did in some ways and didn’t in others. Maybe that perfect moment doesn’t exist.

Lyre excused herself and stepped away from us, her phone to her ear. I looked back to see Reena glaring at me. Off to a great start there.

“Straighten your face, Reena,” my mom told her. “If I hear you’re not respecting your father, I’ll be very disappointed in you.”

Disappointed? I get smacked upside the head and she merely gets disappointed? That’s unfair. I really missed out not having grandparents. I met my father’s father once before he died, and my mom says her parents are none of my concern. How can it not be my business to know who my own grandparents are? Obviously, I needed them round to slap her once in awhile.

18.14

“Corbin.” My mom tugged on my arm pulling me to the side. “Don’t go to your father’s. The police will be waiting to see if you show up there.”

“Okay.” I nodded. “One or two?”

“Never.”

There were certain things my mom didn’t like to be said out loud. For instance, should we go to safe house #1 or #2? In case someone figures out that’s what “one or two” means, she answers with either ever or never. “N” comes after “E” in the alphabet that means “go to the second safe house”.

“This whole situation smells like a setup,” she said. “The question is who and why.”

“Then you don’t think it’s Matteo?” I asked, hopefully.

“Do you?” She put the question back to me.

I couldn’t answer that and she nodded her agreement.

“You stay low while I look into it. Based off the story of the murders, I have a possible idea. I need to confirm a few things first. If my hunch is correct, this is very bad. You, Reena, and Lyre must disappear immediately.”

“What do you think? Who is it?”

“I can’t say until I’m certain, but impulsivity would be the worst move. You’ll need to pay attention and use your whole brain. I’ll join you as soon as I can.”

“But, Mom–”

18.15

She reached up a gently pulled on a lock of my hair. “There are some details about myself that I should have told you already, but you never want to talk and I don’t want you thinking worse of me than you already do. If we see each other again, I’ll tell you what I can.”

“If?”

She patted my cheek. “When. Get your girl and yourself hidden away.”

I was overcome with a desire to hug her, but we weren’t the touchy feely type and the moment passed.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” she said, backing toward her shiny red car. “If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been said about that house, you’ve already come across the name of what I fear.”

Fear? Was my mom actually afraid of something? I tried to remember what little I’d heard about the house. Nothing, really, except it was the… that’s right! The site of a previous triple homicide some years ago. A serial killer’s first victims. Was that what scared her? A serial killer? I’d always pictured my mom fearing something larger than life like an assassin, a rogue spy, a terrorist, or the mob… I don’t know, I just never really thought about a killer. Well, the ones I’d thought of were killers, usually killing many also, so one that isn’t as “professional” wasn’t really far fetched.

18.15b

“Granny!” Reena shouted out Lyre’s rolled down car window. “I want to go with you! Please!”

“Not this time, sweetie.” Mom said. “You know what to do when you need to feel me nearby?”

Reena nodded, tears filling her brown eyes. “Hold the necklace you gave me.” She clutched the black and white panda pendant that hung on the chain around her neck.

Mom stuck her head in the back of the car and kissed Reena’s forehead. “I only leave you because I have to not because I want to.”   

She used to say that to me, too, when I was young. I stopped believing her a long time ago. She left so often on her jobs that I was convinced she wanted to get away from me. But watching my mom’s soft smile and Reena’s brightening face, I wondered if I had been wrong to doubt the truthfulness of my mother’s parting words.

“Watch out for this one,” mom said to me, pointing toward Reena. “She’s a lot like you.” Mom gave me a look that said “take care of her or else” before sliding into her sports car and driving off. Standing there, I felt completely alone. Like Reena, I wished I could have gone with her, too. Not only did I want to investigate who was really behind all this, but I wanted to be with the person who seemed to know what she was doing.

Instead, I walked over the driver’s side door where Lyre already sat behind the wheel.

“Hey, I should drive,” I told Lyre not yet wanting to share where we were really headed. She’d see when we got there. “You haven’t been to my father’s house in ages.”

“True.” Lyre started up the car. “But I need to get gas anyway so I’ll drive to the station. We should get some kid friendly snacks for Reena, too.”

“Fine.” I closed the driver’s door and walked back to the passenger side.

Lyre pulled out of her parking space. We were on the road for five minutes and I noticed all the gas stations we’d driven by.

18.

“I get 10 cents off the gallon at the one near my house,” Lyre explained.

I didn’t think we should waste time on small discounts, but any time I started to raise an issue with Lyre, Reena would cut in with a concerned “Mommy?” That small voice made me feel so guilty that I shut up and let Lyre drive.

To keep myself from looking back at Reena or worrying that she still had that hard scowl on her face, I took out my phone. Garland street murders in my search popped up both what had recently happened–with little information–and the old one. There was one name that came up. A serial killer named “Trifold”. The name was linked to a slew of sites and articles. I did recall hearing about him six years ago. He terrorized the city for a few weeks then he was gone. Soon we all relaxed and life returned to normal, the fear forgotten.

He was a pretty terrible guy murdering a number of people over a couple decades usually in threes. There no real pattern based off of what I read. He picked three victims, killed them, and marked them. He was never caught. Was my mom afraid this guy Trifold was coming for us? Did she know something all these articles and blogs didn’t? Lyre, Reena, and I did make three. But there was no way this killer could magically know we were together. Right?

I felt an invisible vise tightening around my neck. He killed three women, took Matteo and Lola, sent a note to me along with the tri-disc and my phone… there was one person I knew connected to all these: Trey Parker. Maybe he was Trifold.

The car slowed down as we pulled up into the driveway of a two-story house, I realized that I should have nagged Lyre longer and harder.

18.16“This is not a gas station.” I told her.

“It’s my house.” Lyre said in a chipper tone. “Reena needs clothes, too.”

“We can buy her more clothes. Scoot over, I’m driving us to my father’s. Now.”

I opened my door and, at the same time, so did Reena. She jumped out.

“Get back inside!” I ordered.

But she was already racing up to a side door of the house. Lyre stepped out and followed her.

“This’ll only take a minute,” Lyre promised, rushing to catch up.

I stood behind the open car door. “Both of you get back here. Now! We don’t have time for this. It’s too dangerous!”

It’s too dangerous. Great, I sounded like my mom. Oh well. It was true. I didn’t want Trifold Parker finding us.

They both ignored me and entered the house. I stood there for a minute debating whether I should take the car and leave them. But Lyre had the keys, and I wouldn’t leave Reena behind, though I was tempted to do so with Lyre. With a sigh, I slammed my door shut and followed them inside. The blue grey colonial style house was very nice with two big yards. I bet my mom bought it. As desperate as she is for money, Lyre couldn’t afford this place. What did she want a career for when she had a sugar mama?

18.17

“Go upstairs and get your overnight bag,” Lyre was instructing Reena as I walked through the back door that opened into the kitchen.

“But I don’t want to go.” Reena grasped her mother’s hand in both her small ones. “I want to stay here.”

“You have to,” Lyre said. “I’ll help you pack, ok?”

Reena nodded tearfully like she was agreeing to her death. While I was waiting for them, I figured I’d help myself out. The Bridgeport police had a tipline anyone could access online anonymously. I’d report my theory on the identity of Trifold. The police would find Parker, arrest him, get a confession, and then we’d all be safe again. I knew it usually wasn’t that simple, but maybe this time it would be. No matter what, I was giving them another suspect, just like Susanna suggested, to help take the heat off Matteo and myself.

I sat down at the kitchen table and pulled up the website on my phone as Lyre  grabbed two bottles of water from the fridge.

“Thanks, Lyre.” I reached out for one.

“You can help yourself to your own water.” She said opening one and taking a sip while keeping the other tucked under her armpit.

“As soon as Reena’s ready, I’m so leaving you,” I told her. “And I’m taking all your bottled water with me.”

“Can’t. I have the keys.” She stuck out her tongue then flashed me a genuine smile. Much more dazzling than her fake one, I couldn’t help but grin back. I didn’t sleep with Lyre solely to get back at Henry. She’s always been beautiful and fun. But we were never able to stay sane together long enough for anything to work out.

I started to type out my message to the police.

Screenshot-32

“Corbin?” Her bright smile turned down as her face became serious. “Corbin, I want you to take Reena to Paul’s. Just Reena.”

“Mom says we should all go.”

She shook her head. “I can’t.”

“Lyre, I swear my father won’t bother you.”

“It’s not that.” She twisted and untwisted her bottle’s cap. “I have a once in a lifetime opportunity today. They can only shoot the promo interview for my show this afternoon. I can’t miss it.”

I stood, the phone and message to the police forgotten. My heart bounced like a yo-yo sinking into the pit of my stomach then rising into my throat. “The one with Trey Parker?!”

“I have to. This might be the only chance I have to get back in the business.”

“You won’t get anywhere with him. He’s a murderer, a kidnapper, a thief! Probably a complete psycho.”

“It’s just an interview, Corbin. I’m not going home with him.”

“You’re putting Reena in danger.”

“Reena will be with you! Corbin. Everything will be fine. The interview will take maybe an hour and then, I don’t know, I’ll stay with friends tonight if that’ll make you feel better. As soon as Reena’s ready, take her and go.” She opened her purse on the table. “Here are the car keys. Maybe we can meet up tomorrow. I can’t deal with any more of your family today.” She grabbed my hand and placed the keys in my palm.

Screenshot-30

I closed my hand around the key, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Mom made it clear that all of us needed to go to the safe house. She knew something important. I could feel it. I don’t always listen to her, but this time was different. Whatever frightened her, scared me. How could I make Lyre see that the danger extended to her? That I wasn’t being paranoid or making it all up? “Lyre, you don’t understand–”

“Mrs. Schooffer?” A male voice said from a nearby room.

Lyre and I both jumped.

“I was beginning to think you’d be a no show.” The voice continued.

Recognition filled Lyre’s face along with concern. She pointed her finger at me.

“Don’t move out of the kitchen. I’ll get Reena.” She ordered me, holding her hands up as if to halt any movement I might make. She backed out of the kitchen then quickly moved through the dining room and into the living room where the voice came from. “It’s Andrus. Lyre Andrus, I told you that. You weren’t supposed to be here for another hour.”

A man was in here? It wasn’t Harley. From what Lyre had told me earlier, I could guess who. Why did she always have to lie? Dammit! I knew we should have gone straight to my father’s.

“Yes. I’m sorry about that. My schedule had a hiccup today and I needed to rearrange a few things. It was easier for me to push the interview up. I found the house key under the doormat and let myself in, if that’s all right. I’m all set up, if you’re ready–”

“Oh. Um… ok. Well, let me get my daughter’s bag packed so she’ll be out of the way. Reena go to your room.”

18.18

Reena had reappeared, followed her, and stood in the dining room near the stairs. She craned her neck back at me with suspicion-filled eyes then turned to look into the living room again.

“Reena! Pack. Now!” Lyre ordered.

Reena raced upstairs. Once she was gone I moved down the hall.

“We need to start right away,” the man insisted, his tone harsher. “We’re behind schedule as it is. The kid stays.”

I walked around the corner. “It’s not up to you, Trey Parker.”

18.19He was a stocky man. White haired with brown streaks, khakis, and a pathetic red sweater on. His eyes widened at the sight of me. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a trembling finger.

He recognized me. That was all I needed to know. I came at him with my fist raised, slamming it down into his pudgy cheek. All the anger, fear, uncertainty of the past 24 hours filled me. Trey Parker had fallen to the floor. I jumped on top of him.

18.20

I could hear Lyre screaming at me, but I ignored her. Matteo was usually the brawn in our duo. Suddenly, I understood why he liked to fight so much back in the day. Giving it to Parker was immensely satisfying. I grabbed the collar of his sweater to hold him down then punched his ugly doughy face again and again.

18.21

My knuckles were throbbing already after only three punches and I was thinking that this would be my last hit (fighting was more exhausting than I remembered). Behind me, someone grabbed the collars of my shirt and jacket. They pulled me off Parker with a solid yank. At the same time that I felt myself flying backwards, something connected and pushed against my clavicle, forcing me back even faster. My backside smacked into the wall. I found myself being held up against the plaster with one arm. Once the room stopped spinning, I focused on the person who had me pinned.

“Matteo?” I whispered.

18.22I couldn’t find the words to express the shock, fear and anger that swirled through my chest. My jaw flopped open. He had some bruises on his face, smelled terrible, but it was him.

I smiled. “Matteo!”

A weight lifted from my heart. Excited, I pushed his hand off my chest and moved to put my arms around just to be sure he was really there. As I stepped forward, Matteo reached behind his back. Next thing I know, he had the barrel of a handgun shoved in my face.

“No!” Lyre shouted.

I could see Lyre with her hands pressed against her lips. She stood near Parker who was still on the ground holding his bleeding face. My gaze glided back to Matteo’s hardened face. His dark eyes were blacker, and there was something unstable with the way he kept blinking. I got a surreal feeling in my gut that it was Matteo, and not Matteo. Like it was less of him, or maybe him and something else? I wasn’t sure, but he felt off.

18.23“What are you doing, man?” I asked, keeping my voice light. “Put the gun away.”

“I can’t.” Matteo said. There wasn’t a hint of emotion in his voice. A robot may as well have stated a fact.

“Stop playing around,” I said, trying to hide the fear that was swirling in my belly. “Let’s get out of here. Two against one. Parker can’t win.”

“You have no idea what you’re up against,” Matteo said.

I recognized the words. The woman last night, Lola, had said that. Matteo reached up with his left hand, pulled back the slide of the semi-automatic and released, loading a round into the chamber. I raised my arms up in surrender. What the hell was he doing?! I swallowed, hard, trying to come up with something, anything to snap him out of this insanity.

A soft creak sounded on the floorboard to my left.

“Mommy?” Reena’s small voice broke the silence.  

Lyre squeaked in answer. I slid my gaze in the little girl’s direction. Her wide eyes were full of terror as she stared up at Matteo and his weapon.

18.24“Reena.” I said, slowly. “Go back to your bedroom. Pack your bag so you and mommy can leave, ok?”

“Nobody move!” Matteo ordered. “Nobody leaves.”

Reena clasped her hands over her chest and pressed herself against the frame of the archway. A small whimpering floating up from her throat.

I turned my attention back to Matteo. His eyes had never left my face as far as I could tell. The gun was still pointed at my head.

“Matteo, please,” I said, “not here. Not in front of my daughter.”

He narrowed his eyes at me. “Sorry.”

18.25Matteo was my friend, my brother. We were inseparable. Thicker than blood. In the end, he betrayed me. I should have known better. I’d been down this path before. That’s what brothers do. They betray each other.

———————————-****************———————————-

*******************

 

1995

“Where are we going, Henry?” Corbin asked, looking out at the highway they were on.

“Don’t worry.” Henry said. “It’s somewhere safe.”

They slowed down and exited onto a ramp. Corbin was quiet until they turned down a gravel road.Tall trees with huge brown trunks that held up colorful umbrellas of red, yellow, orange, and brown leaves grew on either side of it.

“Are we in the woods?” Corbin asked.

“Yeah. I used to go camping with my troop here.”

After their father hung up, Susanna and Henry had taken Corbin to one of the guest rooms in the hotel. There was a huge bed that they let Corbin jump on while watching cartoons when they went into the bathroom to talk. They were in there for a long time. Sometimes there was yelling. Finally, they both emerged with angry looks on their faces. Henry left slamming the door behind him and Susanna lay on the bed silently watching TV until she fell asleep.

Corbin wasn’t sure exactly how much time passed, but Henry returned. After making sure Susanna was asleep, he invited Corbin to get a snack with him. They left the hotel, got into a red car, and drove off. They were both quiet most of the ride.

18.26

“Are you mad at me?” Corbin asked.  

Henry didn’t answer. He looked straight ahead into the woods.

“Is dad mad at me?”

“He’s not your dad!”

Corbin shrunk back against the seat.

“Sorry.” Henry said. “Everything’s going to be fine. I’m taking you to your mom.”

Corbin perked up. “Really?”

“Dad told me to bring you. He’s going to meet up with us later.”

Corbin smiled with excitement. Henry turned off the gravel road onto what barely resembled a path. The vehicle barely made it through the close bushes and trees. Henry leaned forward straining to see ahead of him as the vegetation above them entwined tighter blocking what was left of the setting sun. The wind picked up causing branches to claw at the vehicle. They drove for what seemed a long time before Henry suddenly stopped.

“We’re here.” He announced. “Get out of the car.”

18.27

Henry stepped out into the darkening trees leaving the driver’s door wide open. Corbin looked out his window. He didn’t see anything except woods or forest or whatever the place was. Henry appeared at the passenger door and opened it.

“Where’s my mom?” Corbin asked.

“She’s nearby. We have to walk the rest of the way.”

Corbin hesitated. What was his mom doing way out here?  

“Can I wait in the car while you get her?” Corbin asked.

“No. Hurry up before it gets too dark.”

Corbin groaned, but did as he was told. Outside, the wind whipped through the trees. Corbin shivered. Henry slammed the passenger door shut.

“Follow me.” Henry ordered, turning away. “She’s in a cabin not too far from here.”

Henry moved so fast Corbin practically had to run to keep up. His heavy schoolbag held him back and he had to stop every once so often to adjust it on his shoulders before catching up with his big brother again. After walking a couple of minutes in silence, Corbin had to ask,

“How much further?”

“We’re here.” Henry said. He pointed his finger out. “There. Don’t you see it? Your mom’s waving on the porch.”

Corbin walked a little ahead of Henry to get a better view. All he saw were trees and darkness. No cabin. No mom.

“I don’t see–” Corbin had turned his head to look up at his brother, but there was no one there. “Henry?”

18.28Snap! A branch cracked ahead of him and he could just make out the sky blue of Henry’s school jacket sprinting away.

“Henry!”

Corbin took off after him. He pushed his legs as hard as he could. Henry was so much faster and he’d had a head start. Corbin’s bag slowed him down even more. He could still see Henry but his brother was too far to catch up to.

Somewhere up ahead, he heard a door slam and an engine start. The car!

“Henry! Henry wait!”

Red glow from the tail lights beamed on the trunks.

“Don’t leave me!”

The two lights began to move.

“Henry!”

Faster and faster they zoomed away.  

“Please! No, no!”

18.29

In no time, they were specks of red in the distance that vanished into the night. Corbin tried to chase after them, but the woods were completely dark now. He couldn’t tell if he were going straight or in circles. He was getting scratched by branches, running into bushes, tripping over his feet, and spooked by creepy animal noises. He kept going though. He refused to give up. Henry wouldn’t really leave him. He must not realize Corbin wasn’t in the car. He would come back for him. As more time passed, Corbin wondered if Henry did know that he wasn’t there, but was lost in the woods, too, searching for him. Corbin had to find him. Corbin was certain that it was just a little further and he’d stumble on the red car.

A little more. Keep going. Another step. He must be almost there.

18.30His breathing became labored and his mouth dry. His footsteps were unsteady. When he tripped over a hard lump, hitting his knees and hands hard on the ground, he was too exhausted to get up. He stared into the darkness, squeezing the cold earth between his fingers as tears spilled out from his eyes.

“Hennn-rrryyy!” He screamed between gasping sobs.

The wind whipped his cry up into the sky, but if it delivered the message to his brother he never knew. What he did know with stabbing heartache was that his brother had left him… and he wasn’t coming back.

 

—————————————————————————————————————————-

18 MG Title

Note: So, you may have noticed that Matteo holds a revolver in the pictures, but is described as having a semi-automatic in the story (sorry for ruining this for everyone who didn’t notice! lol). Basically, I took the pictures for a future chapter using a revolver then wrote this one. Then realized I’d taken pictures with a different gun. Then took pictures for this chapter with the revolver for continuity’s sake… Then was too lazy to change the description. But it would have went something like: “Matteo pulled back the hammer with his thumb sending a sharp click echoing across the room.” Er, I dunno know. Something like that. :P
Note II: My laptop broke right before I posted the last chapter. I had already uploaded the pics so could post it as the story is saved online instead of on my computer. However, I hadn’t gotten around to uploading the pics for this chapter at the time. But, I was able to fix my laptop myself! (yay for saving money on overpriced electronics repair shops!) Now I can continue working on the story!!! Happy Dance!

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Chapter 18

Please Read Previous Chapters First!: 1-17

If you have not read chapters 16 or 17 with Evelyn’s and Corbin’s respective POVs in Westview Park, please click whichever link you need to catch up.    ch 16 (Evelyn) and ch 17 (Corbin) and read them first as this is a continuation of those chapters! :) I know when a bunch of chapters get posted in a short time, it can be hard to remember if you’ve read up to that point. Or an earlier posted chapter gets lost in the shuffle. Since these are all directly connected, I wanted to give a heads up in case you’re like me and forget to check if there were other posts you haven’t read yet before diving into the first recent one you see! Lol! Enjoy :D

Chapter 18

Friday 2:15pm, Westview Park (across the street from Zigby Theater)

Evelyn

After giving Corbin, a sort-of good piece of her mind, Evelyn stormed off onto the hiking trail.

“Evelyn!” She could hear Corbin shouting behind her, begging her to wait a few minutes while he talked to the other woman first before he explained himself to Evelyn.  

She felt so stupid, and angry, and full of loathing for him, she could hardly walk straight. She should have kneed him in the balls when she had the chance back there. She might never get another opportunity.

She was still fuming at herself when a shadow stepped across her path. She looked up and stopped. Dressed in black from head to toe, it was the man she’d seen watching Corbin earlier. She had completely forgotten about him. She walked right passed him when she confronted Corbin.

17.1

The shadow man stood in front of her, not moving, only watching her from behind his mask. Behind her, she heard the not-too-distant sounds of laughter, conversation, dog barks, and playground equipment squeaking. Beyond him, the thin woods cleared and she could see the theater she was performing in that night on the other side of a city street where vehicles–large, small, dirty, and shiny–zoomed passed. Between the two, she stood alone with a person who had ensured that he couldn’t be identified.

Her heart pounded. The options that she had raced through her mind: she could run back in the direction she’d come. She could scream and hope someone heard. She could try calling Corbin. He had to still be near enough to get to her quickly (if he cared to). She could try to fight him, but the shadow man hadn’t tried anything. For all she knew, he was casually passing through the park.

As nonchalant as she could muster, she slipped her hand inside her purse. She was aiming to grab her phone, but her fingers brushed against a small capped cylinder. Pepper spray! She curled her fingers around the tube.

Inhaling deeply, she flashed a smile at the man. “Excuse me,” she said. “I’m in your way.”

17.2

She prayed that he wouldn’t see her as a threat. She hoped her expression reflected what she wanted. He was just another weirdo in a city full of them. Nothing out of the ordinary. No one to be remember.

Instinctively, she didn’t think it would work, but to her surprise, the black clad man stepped aside, off the path. He held out his arm in gesture that he was politely allowing her to pass.

“Thank you,” she said with a smile that was a little genuine. “Don’t you love these beautiful spring days? The light fresh air fills you with life. It makes me feel like I could live forever.” She laughed and looked up at him.

She was almost passed him and immediately wished she had kept going. She could make out the shape of eyes beyond the dark goggles. That was all. What they looked like, she couldn’t see, but she felt his gaze locked onto hers. Cold terror frosted across her skin making her hairs stand on end. She didn’t have a rational reason why, but she was certain that this was a person well acquainted with evils she couldn’t even imagine.

17.3

Somehow, she gained a miniscule bit of strength and pulled her eyes away, breaking the connection between them. She ducked her head down and began walking away. For a moment, she was sure he would grab her from behind. When nothing happened and she’d cleared the trees, she looked back.

He stood in the same spot she’d left him in. Relief washed over her with the realization that he wasn’t after her. He still watched her, and she guessed she must appear odd staring at him.

“H-ha-have a good day!” She said with a stiff wave of her hand.

She turned and made her way to the street. She barely checked traffic before crossing. A delivery truck slammed on its brakes and honked at her, but it hardly registered with her. She was too busy concentrating on breathing to notice other things going on around her.

17.4

Her foot hit the curb on the other side of the street and she made her way across the grassy lawn to the Zigby theater building. It occurred to her that the man had been watching Corbin, or maybe the woman he was with. What was the name Corbin had called her? Started with an “L”. It didn’t matter. Evelyn wondered if she should call him. Warn him that a creepy guy had been semi-stalking them.

Them. Remembering how he treated her made her angry all over again. She couldn’t call him. That would be weakness. He’d think he could manipulate her again. No. Not even if his life was in danger. She walked up the steps to the side door she normally entered. Well, maybe not that far. She didn’t want Corbin dead unless she was the one doing the killing. She decided to call Matteo, tell him what happened, and let him warn his asshole friend.

She walked to a side door on the theater building. She pulled on the door, but it didn’t budge. Locked. This was the closest door to the dressing rooms. She guessed it was too early to unlock for the cast. Actors usually came in about two hours before curtain. It was barely 2:00pm. She sighed.

Evelyn turned around to go back down. She took one step down and stopped. Maybe fifteen yards away, watching from the lawn, stood the black clad shadow man.

17.5

Her heart dropped. What was he doing here? Why had he followed her? She blinked back tears that had suddenly sprung up. There were only two horrifying reasons why he stood there.

She wished she were still in the small wood by the park. At least there was a good chance that someone would see or hear her. This place was isolated. Just the building, parking lot and lawn. The streets were too far for anyone to notice anything from their car unless someone was staring out, paying attention. She couldn’t rely on a such a slight possibility.

She had to make it back to the street. The alley behind the theater was no good to her. But where the man stood, she had to pass him to get to the street. Maybe she could fake him out. Confidence could be just as intimidating to a predator as a gun could be. Evelyn took the few steps down until she stood on the last one. She waved at the man to ensure that he knew she saw him.

“Call box doesn’t open for another three hours!” She shouted at him. “You can get your tickets then!”

Evelyn was well aware the man wasn’t an overtly excited fan of the play. She hoped that there was someone around. Maybe someone would get curious without her having to scream. She feared that making a move that showed her terror would bring out the evil she’d sensed just belong the surface.

“You may as well go home, now! No use in loitering around here until show time.” She flashed him another smile, but this time she barely held it up.

She felt her lips trembling, faltering, both with words and fake good cheer as the man made no reaction. Acting was all about eliciting a response based on actions and words then feeding off that reaction to produce your own. That’s how they created an experience. This guy gave her nothing to go off of. It was more frightening than if he had charged at her, screaming violent murder and vicious profanities.

17.6Evelyn came off the last step. As soon as her foot touched the ground, he moved toward her. She lost all composure. Going back up the stairs was a death trap. She raced along the building until she came to a rusty door. She pushed and pulled the knob. It was locked.

“Help me!” Evelyn banged her fists on the door. Dried rust flakes showered down on her head.

She looked back. He wasn’t sprinting or even running, but he was closing the gap, fast. There was another door near the end of building. After that was an empty parking lot and alley. Between the distance and her wedge shoes, she’d never out run him. She thought about kicking the shoes off, but first she had to try the door. If it was locked, her best bet was to try to loop around the building, make a run for the street.

She grabbed the latch on the last door this side of the building. Pulling hard, the heavy door released in her hands and swung open. She ducked inside a dim hall. This was not a part of the theater that she recognized. But she’d only paid attention to how to get to the dressing room and the stage, not much else. 

17.6b

The building was decades old and had many hallways as it was used for more than just a theater back in its heyday. This one was painted a peachy pink and decorated with paintings and framed posters featuring female performers who’d entertained in Zigby at some point. Any other day, and she’d have loved discovering this piece of the theater. Even with a quick glance to take in her location, she recognized a couple of well-known actresses from a by-gone era. 

At the moment, Evelyn wished she’d found herself in a familiar section. Any place where she knew where to go to be safe would have been preferable. Now, she had to hope she figure this out before the shadow man entered the building. She tried a two doors to her left. Both rattled in her hand, locked. The entrance door slammed shut. She gasped and turned around. She was still alone. Had he not made it yet? Or, was he waiting for her to come back out?

There was no way in hell Evelyn was stepping foot outside. There were stairs going up at the end of the hall. She might have better luck upstairs, but she didn’t think she could make it all the way before he entered. Worse, if there were no hiding places or escapes upstairs, she’d be trapped. She wanted to be out of sight. She tried a door on the right side of the hall. It opened. She quickly went inside, shutting the door behind her as quietly as she could. From what she’d seen before she closed the door, it was a janitor’s closet with brooms, mops, buckets; the astringent chemical smell of various cleansers in the room confirmed it. She felt the knob. There wasn’t a lock.  

17.7A rush of wind blew through the hall, creating a whipping suction sound. Evelyn crouched down, tightening her grip on the knob. If the man tried this door, she wouldn’t be able to keep him out, but holding the knob gave her a small drop of control.

The heavy entrance door, slammed shut with a clang that was just as loud and final as the toll of a bell. Once the echo dissipated, an eerie quiet descended. She covered her mouth and nose with her free hand to muffle the noise of her breathing that suddenly sounded like a train whistle in the deathly silence. She strained her ears, but heard nothing.

17.8

She didn’t move a muscle. Her legs ached from staying in the same position for a long period of time, but she held herself together. When her bent legs began to tremble against her own weight, she wondered if he had even come inside. Maybe he opened the door, peeked inside, and let it shut. She was considering taking her phone out and sending a mass text for help when she heard something.

A rubber squeak like weight coming down on the heel of a boot.

He was inside.

17.9He must be moving slow, trying to stay quiet just as much as she was. His boot tapped in front of her door. Her whole body went rigid. After a long minute, he took another step. She stayed there for what felt like eternity but was maybe ten minutes before his footfall sounded well down the hall.

Evelyn stood. She looked back at the room. Her eyes were well adjusted to the dark. Expecting a tiny broom closet, she saw tell that it was deeper than she’d thought. There was a bunch of old junk. It looked like a combination of a janitor’s closet, prop room, and antique storeroom. She crept back further into the room, checking the door every few steps (as if she wouldn’t hear him enter).

17.10She needed a weapon. Her pepper spray wouldn’t work with his mask on. If she were lucky, he’d head upstairs and she could sneak out the way she came. As she tried to maneuver in the dark, her elbow hit something causing it fall over with a crash.

“No,” she whispered.

Heavy footsteps raced from the end of the hall to her door. The knob rattled then turned. Evelyn positioned herself dead center of the door. There wasn’t much space between it and her, but all she needed was the element of surprise.

As the door swung open, Evelyn charged straight at at it, barreling her body through towards it. She slammed her shoulder against the edge and heard an “omph!” on the other side. Hopefully, the corner of the door knocked him the face. She didn’t have time to speculate because in the next second, she was knocking against the hard body of her hunter. The force knocked him clean off his feet. She couldn’t stop her momentum and toppled over with him.

All she could see was black clothes. Under her, she brushed against alternating warm body and cold pink and white floor tiles as she scrambled to regain her footing. A second after she stood, she ran. To her dismay, she found herself heading for the stairs and not the exit door. She had raced in whatever direction she’d been facing instead of looking first.

She dared to glance back over her shoulder. He was picking himself off the floor. She grabbed the stair banister. Her heels clicked against each step. Not far behind her she heard the pounding of his racing boots. He wasn’t taking his time anymore. She must have worn out his patience.

17.11

Evelyn had no idea where the stairs led. Or if there was anything at the end of them at all. With each step, she feared she was heading for her grave.

Then, from the floor above, she heard a ding and the sound of doors sliding open. An elevator! Someone was here.

“Help!” She cried out as she careened up the last steps to the second floor.

She turned into the hall almost crashing into her saving angel–Finch, the stage manager. Out of breath, she grabbed the front of his shirt.

“I thought I was the only one here,” she panted.

He pulled her hands off his clothes. “I have to be here hours before you do.”  

She tugged his arm. “We have to go. We have to move.”

“Wait a minute. Evelyn, what are you doing here so early?” Finch asked.

“We can take the elevator down to the main floor and get out of the building.” She hit the down button, but nothing happened. The button pad had a key lock on it. She remembered. There was an elevator that was kept locked to keep visitors from wandering about. Certain staff and crew had keys. Finch must have locked it after stepping off.

“Evelyn you’re sweating, short of breath, and you’re eyes… Are you feeling well?”

17.12

“There is a psycho– He chased me here–He’s coming up the stairs! We have to hurry.”

Finch frowned and shook his head. “Not you, too. The crew’s prank last night was enough. This is overkill.”

“Finch, the key!”

He sighed. “If someone were coming up the stairs, wouldn’t they be here by now?” He moved toward the stairs

“No! Don’t!” She reached an arm out in his direction as if she could will him to her side.

Finch looked around the corner. “Oh, what a surprise. There’s no one here. Hardy-har-har, you’re so funny.”

Relief burst from her chest like her first gulp of air after holding her breath underwater for too long. Like her, the masked man heard another person in the building. Finch’s presence had scared him off. She leaned her forehead against the door inhaling deep breaths to calm herself down.

“Wait.” Finch said.

Evelyn tensed. Finch stood on the landing still staring down the stairs.

Finch snickered. “Ok, you guys have got to at least try to be creative. This could almost be slightly scary if it wasn’t so cliche. A masked predator in all black– never seen that before. Unless you count every movie ever!”

17.13“Finch… ” She tried to keep her voice even afraid that too much volume or emotion would freak out the masked man. “This is not a joke.”

“No, it’s not. A joke is supposed to be funny. This is just sad.”

“He’s for real and he’s dangerous.”

Finch held his arms up in mock terror. “Oh no! Not a prop knife.”

“Please, get over here and open the elevator.”

“Seriously, who is under the mask? Tim? Gilliam? You really shouldn’t cover your eyes. It keeps you from emoting the fear you want your audience to feel. Jaime? This is Jaime, isn’t it?”

The shadow man stepped up onto the landing. Finch’s good natured smirk turned into a deep troubled frown. He glanced over at Evelyn before his gaze darted back to the man in front of him.

“What’s–”

The shadow man’s knife plunged into Finch’s side. The stage manager cried out. His wide shocked eyes taking in his assailant with a new terrified understanding. 

17.14

Evelyn held up her hands and backed away, her breath caught in her throat, as the man pulled the blade out and turned to her. She watched Finch crumble to the floor, holding his bleeding side. She ran to the floor length window at the end of the hall. Outside, the world was bright, sunny, full of joy; the complete opposite of the deep cold darkness that surrounded her. Evelyn turned away to face the man who was determined to make that blackness permanent.

“Please.” She said. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I have a quota,” he said. It was the first time he’d spoke. His voice was deep and slightly strained, like there was more he wanted to say, but held back, forcing himself to speak only those words.

17.15

“If you let me live, I won’t tell anybody anything I saw. I swear.”

“No lies.”

He flung the bloody blade out angled away from his body. Droplets of blood splattered on the pinkish peach wall.

“I won’t breathe a word!”

“Your blood will speak for you.”

17.16

Evelyn closed her eyes for a moment. Maybe it would be quick. Finch’s pained moans filled her ears. What was going to happen to him if she just gave up? She couldn’t quit; especially not after running around in these dumb shoes. Her throbbing feet told her she’d earned the right to live.

“What does that mean?” She asked, stalling, trying to figure a way out. “My blood will speak. I don’t understand.”

He paused. He tilted his head as if deciding whether or not to answer her question. “Send a message to Pern.”

“Pern? Corbin?” This was about Corbin. Dammit. She really didn’t know him at all. “How do you know Corbin? Who are you?”

He cocked his head to the side again. “They call me death and panic and mayhem. The Trifold.”

She didn’t know what that meant. She didn’t care, either. What the hell, Corbin? He told her a little about his assorted criminal past. She hadn’t imagined it might involve this sinister cartel/mob/murder ring… whatever the hell this was! This guy was trying to get to Corbin through her. Hadn’t he been paying attention while he was spying? They weren’t together anymore. Whatever trouble Corbin had gotten himself into she wasn’t going to die over it.

17.17

She had one thing in her back pocket she didn’t think he knew about. If she could surprise him with the closet door, she could get him one more time. Evelyn opened her eyes. She placed her feet shoulder width apart. Then shifted her left foot back. Balling her hands into fists, she raised them level with her chin. She’d never used any kickboxing or self defense moves outside of her workout class. This wasn’t practice or a match. She had to fight. And win.

He took note that she was trying something and moved faster. She anchored herself on her left, lifted her right leg, and flung it out in a swift sidekick. Her foot caught him square in the belly. As he bent forward, she grabbed his jacket and lifted her knee straight up into his face. The sharp sound of plastic cracking filled her ears as her bone smashed into his goggles.

17.18

The knife flew from his hand as he gave a satisfying “Omphf!” He crumbled to the floor. Evelyn saw where the knife slid by the window. She didn’t want to touch it, but couldn’t leave it out there for the man to grab. Gingerly, she picked it up holding the top of the warm handle with her fingers and thumb.

Her knee throbbed, but she couldn’t think about it. Evelyn ran to Finch. Crouching next to him, she touched his clammy face. He looked like he was about to puke.

“Can you walk?” She asked him.

Gritting his teeth, he nodded. She grabbed him under his left armpit as he slowly lifted himself off the floor.

“Come on. We’ve got to move.” She hated to force someone who was in so much obvious pain to go faster, but they didn’t have much time.

17.19b

Finch stood bent over and it would have to do. Evelyn gripped his left bicep and wrapped her right arm around his back. She flinched when her fingers buried themselves in his wet clothes. Blood had soaked the right side of his black shirt and slacks.

“Hurry,” she ordered as they took one small step forward.

She glanced back. The shadow man was getting to his knees. They weren’t going to make it. Fear gripped her heart. The desire to let go of Finch and run was so strong, she loosened her hold on him and he slammed into the wall.

“Sorry,” she said in a hushed tone as she tightened her hold on him.

 

Finch leaned against the stair rail and took the first step down. She pulled him forward to make him take the second one. He grunted, but went down the third with her. They were getting a rhythm.

Another step. Then they heard a pounding racing across the hall behind them. Finch’s breathing grew loud and heavy in her ear.

“Keep it together,” she told him.

Seconds later, sharp pain sliced through the arm she’d wrapped around Finch. She let go of him in surprise. A black form shoved into them both sending Finch and her sliding down the last three steps onto the mid level landing.

She rolled and hit the opposite wall. After a moment to catch her breath, she sat up just as Finch was scooting backward toward her.

Finch’s body smashed hers against the wall across from the stairs they’d fallen from. Her left side on the wall and her right on Finch’s back. He screamed and pushed up on her in an attempt to get away from their assailant who charged at them with knife raised. Evelyn realized that the knife she’d held was gone. It must have fell from her grasp. The weapon the shadow man now had gleamed silver and clean. He’d carried more than one the whole time.

17.20They had to get downstairs, even if they had to fall. But Finch crushed her tighter and tighter against the wall, trapping her there. She tried to kick herself free with her feet on the floor to wedge her body out to no avail. Fear had imbued him with strength and power. Using her arms, she pushed at his back.

She pulled her right leg up and added her knee to the shove. His body flung forward enough for her to scoot back.

“Ugh!” Finch gurgled.

The knife in the shadow man’s hand plunged into Finch’s shoulder. Evelyn gasped and stared. The angle was all wrong. The blade stuck in his shoulder bone. It must have hit him when she’d pushed him forward.

“Very helpful, Nantz.” Shadow man looked down at her.

Her shock that he knew her name was quickly overshadowed when she realized what she was looking at. The hood was still pulled up, but the goggles were removed. She found herself staring up not at the face and eyes of a man, but of a monster. It might have been makeup; it might have been his true features. It didn’t matter. She was peering into the eyes of the devil.

Only a small portion of the face was revealed between the hood that hung over his forehead and the mask that covered everything from the nose down. His skin was a sickly pale yellow-white with crimson red stroke marks on the side of the nose and across the forehead’s center. Black circled around the unnatural eyes–gold brown irises with a reptilian slit. Eyes that glinted with dark pleasure, enjoying the the pain she’d caused Finch, soaking in their fear.

17.21

Disgust churned in her stomach. The shadow man wiggled the handle back and forth. Finch screamed in pain. Evelyn scrambled back to get further away from them. Behind her, her hands slipped off into the air and her bottom followed. She tumbled down the flight of stairs she’d forgotten were there until she landed on her back at the bottom.

After a wave of dizziness and nausea passed, she propped herself up on her elbows. Above her, Finch tried to crawl to the stairs. The knife still protruded from his left shoulder. He reached his other arm down toward her. His eyes pleading with her to help him.

17.2217.22b

Evelyn didn’t move. She could see what he couldn’t. Whether he had found the knife she’d dropped or had a third one on him, she was unable to tell. He held one in his hand now. Finch’s face contorted into one of terror and betrayal as he looked at Evelyn, screamed at her to help him. She wanted to, but she couldn’t. They would both die. 

The shadow man sat on Finch’s back and grabbed a handful of his braids. He snapped Finch’s neck up toward him. Evelyn sensed what was coming, but she couldn’t get her body to move.

17.23

17.24

The knife blade pressed against the skin of his neck near his left ear. The shadow man’s hand moved quickly. The blade sliced Finch open. His blood spilled onto the stairs below, the liquid gathering and pouring down like a hellish waterfall.

Evelyn’s muscle finally sprang into action. She scrambled to her feet and took off. She couldn’t hear anyone behind her, but she imagined him right on her heels reaching out to grab her. She pushed herself as hard and fast as she could.

17.25a

17.25b

 

17.26

Flinging the exit door open, she raced out into the bright outdoors. She was blinded by the sun and her own tears, but that didn’t slow her down. She’d run straight to the star if that were the only safe place.

Ahead of her a figure in all black moved toward her. No! How the hell did he do that? She slid on the hard surface beneath her and fell. She could hear herself screaming as she realized there was nowhere to hide from a demon.

“Evelyn! Are you ok?” A familiar voice asked as a hand clamped down on her shoulder.

“Hey, she’s hurt. What happened?” Another asked.

She blinked and looked up as their faces came into focus.

“It’s me, Jaime,” one of them said. “It’s ok. It’s just Tim and Jaime.”

“Hey, kid, what’s wrong?” Tim asked.

Tim and Jaime, two of the crewmen that Finch mistaken the shadow man for. They wore black to remain invisible while they took care of backstage work during the show. They weren’t the shadow man.

17.27

Every bit of strength inside her disintegrated. She broke down in sobs.

Finch… Can the dead forgive?…

And what of the living dead? The nightmare? The demon?

“Send a message to Pern.” He’d said, and, “very helpful, Nantz.”

He knew them. Both. He knew them.

17.27b

My God, Corbin. What have you done?

 

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17 MG Title

 

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Chapter 17

Please Read Previous Chapters First!: 1-16

If you have not read chap 16 with both Evelyn’s POV in Westview Park, please click here and read it first as this is a continuation of that chapter! :)

Chapter 17

1:45pm, Westview Park

Corbin

I stepped out of the cab at Westview Park more confused than ever. Maybe Lyre was right and it was Susanna who’d come to Reena’s school demanding access to her niece. Why hadn’t I’d asked her about it? I had the perfect opportunity to find out what Susanna knew about my daughter and it never crossed my mind. I sighed. This was why I couldn’t cut it as a father. I had no idea what priorities should be in the running to even put them into order of importance.

When we first met, Lyre was already a has-been at 27. She was part of a girl pop group who got an opportunity with a big music company. Lyre’s parents, who never thought their music would succeed, wanted her to give it up and stay at home, finish school. She ran away and joined her group instead. She was only 16 when Gold Divas starting climbing their way up in the big times. They had a hit with the incredibly irritating overplayed dance pop song “Melt”. And then it’s near equal “Not Cold”. After that Gold Divas songs were screeching through anything with a speaker. Everyone was forced to know who they were, including those of us who didn’t care, because you couldn’t go anywhere, or watch anything without being reminded of the fabulous Gold Divas.

16.16

But the music industry is not known for its patience or kindness and Gold Divas were no exception to its fickle attitude. After a few years, their young fans either leeched on to the next big thing or their tastes matured. The group didn’t bring in the money like they used to. Fighting amongst themselves and poor management of their careers and money didn’t help. When she was 22, the group split up and the Gold Divas were no more. Lyre tried to go solo. She even had a ballad that broke the top 40 for a week. But her endeavors never gained traction.

Today, I found Lyre sitting on a bench wearing a brown trenchcoat, sunglasses, and a fedora pulled low over her forehead. It was cool enough for a jacket or a sweater, but a buttoned thick trench coat with the belt wrapped tight was too much. She looked like an old film noir detective. Ridiculous.

16.17

I sat down next to her without speaking. The only words I could think of were “you look pathetic” and I guess that wouldn’t be the best way to start the conversation. Besides, after the day I had, I felt pathetic so maybe we’re even.

It had been obvious that Lyre was with Henry for his money and status, not because she loved him. Her parents had cut her off years ago out of spite for running away. She pulled off a show of living a semi-rich girl life in public through debt and by only dating people with money who were willing to take care of her. For his part, Henry loved her and showered her with all the gifts and money she felt she deserved.

“Do you remember the first time we met?” Lyre asked me, leaning close and pulling down her glasses just enough so that her sparkling brown eyes full of promises of hot lust filled delights to come peeked out at me. “I was tanning by your father’s pool and you looked at me like you wanted to–”

“Did you ever find out if it was Susanna who came to Reena’s school?” I cut her off.

Her eyes flamed with anger. I wasn’t about to let her soften me up before she said what she came to say. She’s good at what she does–seducing the pants off men. Problem is, we were both well versed in manipulation. Her hooks only caught me if I allowed them to. I haven’t had the desire to play Lyre’s games in years.

She pushed her sunglasses back up the bridge of her nose then sat back against the bench with a huff.

16.18

“Well?” I pushed.

“Yes.”

“Yes, you found out, or yes, it was Susanna?” I asked.    

“I found out.” Was all she said.

That meant it wasn’t Susanna. Lyre would have gloated that discovery the moment she saw me.

“It’s not Susanna.” I stated. “Do you know who it is?”

“Why can’t we talk like two civil human beings? Hmm?”

“I can’t take you seriously when you’re dressed like you just stepped out of a time travel machine from the 1940s.”

Lyre pulled the brim of her hat lower. “I don’t want anyone to recognize me.” She hissed.

“No one ever does.”

If Lyre had been satisfied with money alone and a man who adored her, she would have been set for life.

16.19

Unlike the rest of us Langs who went through significant others like they were the fruit of the month, I’d only seen Henry serious with one woman: Lyre. He was really shy when it came to love and romance. (Which is why his boldness with Avie was out of nowhere.) The point is, Henry was the most likely to keep her even if she did him wrong. She was counting on that. What she didn’t understand, and what I knew all too well, was that Henry held his pride above all else.

16.19b

“Would you take off the hat and glasses?” I demanded. “You’re bringing attention to us. It’s embarrassing.”

A jogger slowed down as he passed us with a raised eyebrow and a smirk at Lyre. I felt Lyre stiffen beside me. She quickly pulled the hat and glasses off. The jogger chuckled as he sped up.

“Who was the woman at the school?” I asked again.

Lyre ran her fingers through her short dark brown hair. “It’s not anyone we know.”

“How do you know that?”

She sighed. “She came again yesterday. This time, the school called police as soon as they saw her come in and they nabbed her. I didn’t find out until after I left your place.They got her on security cameras raving about being Reena’s aunt again.”

“So she’s behind bars?” I asked, relieved.  

Lyre shook her head. “No. She made bail and was released yesterday evening. Her name’s Annette Holsworth. She’s an actress. They said she had a play or something she was late for when she got out.”

“She’s free? She’s out there? Where’s Reena?”

“At school.”

“At sch–” I stood, unable to sit still and listen to the madness that spewed from her lips. “There’s a crazy woman after our daughter and you can’t take her out one day to make sure she’s not there if it happens again?”

16.20

“The police know who she is. She isn’t going to try anything.”

“What if Annette Holsworth decides to up her game? She’s got nothing to lose. She could kidnap Reena and disappear.”

Lyre was so stupid. She didn’t think anything through. If she’d been good at gold digging she would have told Henry that his brother was hitting on her or at least told me no. I thought I would get her to flirt with me to annoy Henry. I didn’t think she’d sleep with me that easily. Not that I had any intention of stopping her.

“Reena doesn’t know anything’s going on. If I disrupt her life, I’ll have to explain why. Everyone at that building is on the lookout.” Lyre reached up and placed her hand on my cheek. “Corbin, it’s fine. School is the safest place for her to be.”

I pushed her fingers from my face, but I kept her hand in mine. I needed something to hold even if it was her. Lyre wasn’t as dumb as I made her out to be. In all honesty, choosing me over Henry was a smart move. I don’t shy away from a good time and Lyre enjoyed going out, being seen, and having fun all night whether in public or private. I would take her out when Henry was too busy or tired or simply didn’t want to. It was the perfect situation to cheat.

16.21a

Ultimately, Henry could give her half of what she wanted. With me, however, she could have it all. Money, position, parties, and a spontaneous lifestyle–I was the brother who could give her that, if she played her cards right. I was the one who might have thought her music ambitions were dumb, but would have let her do it because it was kind of cool and I could meet musicians I do like. To Henry, it was a phase of her childhood she was maturing past. He never realized how much it meant to her; how obsessed she was with climbing back to the top. She was willing to sacrifice any and everything. That’s what I saw in her. That’s what I pounced on.

16.21b

She tried to seduce me to get her claws into a better deal, but all I was looking for was a path to cut Henry’s heart. She shouldn’t have gotten greedy, trying to have it all, and I wouldn’t have had anything to leech on to. Neither of us were good people and this woman, whatever her motives, might be more like us than not. This time, we had the chance to do something right. The chance to say I did everything in my power to protect my family, those I love, was one I couldn’t pass up.

“I have to tell my father,” I told her, dropping her hand.

“No! Not yet.”

Sacrificing everything to get what we thought we wanted had not resulted in the happiness we’d envisioned. Our lives were more messed up than they were six years ago. If Reena had been Henry’s daughter, like she was supposed to be, she’d never be in this situation. Henry wouldn’t have allowed it. She’d be safe because Henry was the responsible sort even to a fault.    

“She’s not at school all day every day.” I said. “Annette Holsworth still has opportunity.”

“He’ll take her from me. I’ll never see her ever again.”

“You don’t know that, Lyre. Just because he doesn’t like you doesn’t mean he won’t understand that you’re her mother.”

“He blames me for ruining both sons. Paul said if I ever disrupt or intrude on his family again, he’ll make my life a living nightmare. He’ll take everything even the last crumb on my plate! Those are his words, Corbin.”

“You’re always telling me that, but he had to be thinking of you trying something new not something that already exists.” I stood. “Look, Lyre, I’m leaving, tonight. I’ll be gone for awhile and I need someone watching over Reena that I can trust will protect her at all costs.”

Lyre stood, too. “And you can’t trust me?”

“I’ve never trusted you, Lyre.”

“But you trust Paul now?”

I thought about it. I had hated my father for so long. While I was taking Lyre from Henry, I was also costing my father millions. I hadn’t completely ruined him like I’d planned, but I had damaged his life’s work. He had blamed Lyre, at first, believing she was the puppet master who’d orchestrated a scheme to get the Lang fortune all to herself. I still recalled the glee I’d felt when I, eventually, set the record straight.

16.22

My father responded by kicking me as much out of his life as a person can without outright disowning me. It’s only been within the last two years that we’ve attempted some sort of a relationship.

“Keeping this a secret was a mistake.” I said not answering her question. “Whether or not I trust Paul overall is irrelevant. I know without a shadow of doubt that he’d die of shame before allowing a blight on the family name.”

“Like being associated with me!”

“No, like the world finding out he had a granddaughter he didn’t take care of.” We weren’t buddies while I grew up, but my father had looked after me in his own distant way (more than I realized according to Susanna). His sudden desire to give me an inheritance is probably because if he didn’t people would search to figure out why. Whether out of love or guaranteeing that the family would keep up appearances–or both–he protected his own. That was good enough for me. I took out my phone.

“What are you doing?” Lyre tried to snatch the phone away, but I switched hands. “I have a better plan. Corbin, listen to me.”

16.22b

“Keeping quiet was your plan. It’s not working.” I pulled up my father’s private number.

“Wait! I’m pregnant!”

The line was ringing, but I was no longer paying attention. I stared at her for a confused moment while the information sunk in. Pregnant? Then it occurred to me. What the hell do I care? That was between her and Harley. She could have a billion kids; I was only worried about one. I was about to tell her so when someone else spoke before I could.

“Is this why we broke up?”

Lyre and I both snapped our heads in the direction of the voice. I recognized it, but I couldn’t believe I was hearing her at that exact moment.

“Were you sleeping with her while you were with me?” Evelyn’s grey eyes were hard as steel.

16.14b

I’d seen Evelyn angry before and, sure, usually at me. This time was like nothing before. She moved towards me with this “I’m going to kill you” expression that scared the shit out of me, but after backing away a few stumbling steps, I stood my ground so hopefully she couldn’t tell.

“Answer me!” Evelyn demanded.

“This is why I married. I don’t have to deal with crazy exes anymore.” Lyre said. She gave me a side glance. “Except for one.”

“No one is talking to you, Lyre.” I turned back to Evelyn. What she’d overheard had clearly given her the wrong idea, but I didn’t want to say it and send her on her way. I wanted to sit down and talk. I had a lot to tell her. Seeing her standing there in all her pissed off glory made me want to wrap my arms around her and be with her. This could be the last time for a long time. “Can you give us a few minutes? Then I’ll explain everything.”

Evelyn pressed her lips together for a moment. Her eyes never left my face. “I’m over it. I’m done with you and– and whatever the hell this is.” She waved a hand at Lyre and me. “Live your life however you want, I don’t care anymore. All you’ve done is lie to me with your secret life, lover and secret pregnancy and your secret daughter and… and all your secrets–”

“What did you say?” I grabbed her arm and pulled her away from where Lyre was standing near some trees on the other side of the path.

Evelyn tried to pull out of my grasp. “Let go of me!”

“How do you know about my daughter?” I hissed, praying she would say Matteo told her.

She narrowed her eyes at me. “The same way I know you’re in a Trey Parker film and shot a scene last night for, um, Ghost Slayer. It sounds stupid, by the way.”

I felt like I’d fallen through thin ice into a deep watery beyond. Shocked and chilled with darkness creeping at all sides. I gripped both her forearms.

“Why do you know that?” I asked, terrified of her answer, but so tired of the vague grey I’d been floating in.

“Corbin. You’re hurting me; let go!” She pulled her body back, trying to get away.

I responded by tightening my grip. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I couldn’t let her run off before I got some answers.

“How do you know what happened last night with Trey Parker?” I managed to keep my voice low despite the urge to scream pushing at the back of my throat.

“Is everything ok over there?” Lyre asked. She sounded like she was still standing where we’d left her which was good. She couldn’t overhear anything. We must have looked bad, though, for Lyre to ask. I didn’t give her an answer.

Evelyn stared up at me her face a mixture of shock and pain. It was so much worse than that time I made her cry.

16.24

“Tell me. Just tell me!” I demanded.

“Lola. It was Lola.”

“Lola?” I searched my mind trying to put a face to the name, but came up empty. “Who’s Lola?”

“She was in the scene you shot last night. She said it was mostly improv and you were brilliant. And Parker’s a genius.”

“Was she a– a dead body?”

“No. I don’t think so. She had lines. She said them, but I don’t remember.”

The dead body was a dumb question. Susanna had already showed me that those were real dead bodies. The only woman with “lines” was the one I’d spoken with. “Were they something like, he wants your heart and strum the strings, sing the music?”

“I don’t know, Corbin. I was too busy being pissed at you for not telling me about it to pay attention. Now get off me before I knee you in the groin!”

Evelyn took a kickboxing class twice a week. I’d never been on the receiving end of what she learned and I wasn’t about to be. I released her. She shoved me hard in the chest. I stumbled back hitting a tree trunk. I didn’t think she was lying. I hoped she wasn’t. There was still a chance that she was. While she rubbed her arms, I ran my hand through my hair and tried to figured out what all this meant.

“How do you know that woman?” I asked. “When did she tell you?”

Evelyn glared at me. “Her name is Lola. She’s a cast member in Summer’s Reminisce. We talked about it this morning at the gym.”

“Then you’re not involved? Trey Parker didn’t put you up to this?”

“What are you talking about? Involved in Trey Parker’s little film project? No.” She closed the gap between us. “And I’ll never be. I don’t want to be a part of anything you’re in!”

Lyre had walked up to us at some point. She stood just behind Evelyn, listening.

“What, Lyre?” I asked still shouting.

“Trey Parker, huh?” Lyre said. “He’s supposed to be directing a promo for my show today.”

Screenshot-496

I could feel a nerve quaking in my jaw. How is that guy everywhere in my life?

“You can’t meet with him,” I told her. “He’s dangerous. He took Matteo.”

“Stop making up stories, you liar!” Evelyn said.

“I’m not the one.” I shouted, my rising anger and confusion making it impossible to control my voice. “I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve told about my daughter and you’re not one of them. How do you know about her? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I wanted you to tell me yourself.” She sniffed. “If you told me then you trust me. I can keep your secrets, Corbin. But you won’t let anyone in your heart so you remain the only one in your world. You’ll never care about me the way I care about you. You only lie to me.”

I hadn’t lied to her. Where was she getting that from? She didn’t jump to conclusions, she was thoughtful, and always patient. She looked for the best in people while I looked for the worst. Unlike me, she wasn’t type to overhear something and not give a person a chance. Unless she already made up her mind on the matter, then she was more stubborn than I was. She turned to walk away. I grabbed her arm.

“Evelyn, whatever you’re thinking is either wrong or only part of the story. I really need to talk to you. I want to explain it all, but,” I pointed my head in Lyre’s direction, “I have to finish with her first. Please, baby.” I cupped her face in my hands. “Stay with me. I need you to stay with me.”

16.25

I meant that. With all my heart, I did. I knew what I had to do with Reena and Lyre. There was no one else on the planet that I wanted by my side, holding my hand when this happened. I’d spent more time with Evelyn over the past few months than with anyone else. I liked being with her. She made me laugh and see the world completely differently. Even now I felt calmer, like somehow everything would work out, just because she was there.  

But she scared me. A lot. Because I do trust her and I never trust anyone. If she was lying to me, keeping something from me, I was willing to hear her out. She was right. I was holding back. How could I demand her life’s story when I refused to give up mine?  

“I’m sorry.” I told her. “Everything I said and did, I’m sorry. Stay with me and afterward you can do what you feel is right. Just give me a moment.”

I could see the struggle in her eyes. She wanted to believe me, I could tell. Hope filled me as I waited for her answer. Then I felt her jaw clench beneath my palms.

“I almost fell for it.” She stepped out of my grasp. “You really are that good of an actor. Stay away from me.”

She turned and walked off. I hadn’t lied to her, but wasn’t completely up front. I had given her a good reason not to trust me the other night when I cut her out of my life. She begged me to talk and I refused. Now that I was ready to talk, she didn’t want to hear me.

“Evelyn!” I called out to try one more time.

16.26

She didn’t stop or respond. She moved between some trees and down a trail. I thought about running after her, saying what I had to say whether she listened or not, getting it out in the open. I would have pestered her until she could never say that I kept secrets from even if she still decided she wanted nothing to do with me.

I would have, but Lyre placed her fingers on my shoulder and clucked her tongue. That’s when I remembered. Reena. Trey Parker. That man couldn’t be anywhere near my daughter and that included his proximity to her mother. Evelyn wasn’t interested in Parker so she should be ok. Lyre was scheduled to meet with him that day. This had to be my priority. Besides, just because I could trust Evelyn once, didn’t mean I could trust her now. I was wrong about her.

“We need to get Reena,” I told Lyre. “Then we’re going to see my father.”

 

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1617 MG Title

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Chapter 16

Please Read Previous Chapters First!: 1-15

Chapter 16

Friday 1:30pm, Westview Park  

Evelyn  

She’d managed to do it again. She wasted time and feelings on someone who didn’t care about her at all. Usually there were signs that she simply chose to ignore– sudden busy-ness, always having a lame excuse as to why they didn’t show up, becoming more sensitive, nitpicky, and argumentative– she knew the relationship was coming to an end, and, depending on the person, she would either bow out or try harder. One way or another, the lights dimmed and the curtain fell whenever she opened her heart. And it was currently crushed under the weight of grief Corbin had dropped on her.

16.1

Why had she taken such a dangerous chance? She was perfectly fine living in unrequited love for Matteo. In some twisted way, she continued to chase after Matteo after he was in a relationship with Avie because he was unattainable. She could have all the lovey dovey feelings with a dash of drama without ever having to actually be vulnerable, share her heart, or commit to anyone. She never had to actually care about Matteo; she only had to act like she did. Of course, she really had cared for Matteo. Who wouldn’t? He was wonderful. But, she had never loved him in a way that he deserved; just the way that satisfied her in the moment.

Evelyn leaned her head back to stare up at the clear blue sky. The weather was warm and sunny today. Finally, a lovely spring day. After her workout, she’d come to Westview park which sat across the street from Zigby theater to enjoy the afternoon. Opening night always made her nauseous as frazzled nerves jittered her every breath. Add to that the constant troubling thoughts about Corbin, and Evelyn was about to fall to pieces. She had to get herself together before 4:30.  

16.2

She wanted to call him. To force him to explain himself. He was usually so sweet to her and then out of nowhere he was calling them both stupid and uncaring. She had hoped it was the night that had gotten to him. His family wasn’t pleasant to be around and he was obviously emotional torn when she’d seen him by the pool. She figured he was taking his frustrations out on her, and while she didn’t appreciate it, she understood that he didn’t mean it.

Corbin’s demons were deep and many. He did his best to hide them, but Evelyn could see them surface. When he was quiet, or when something he saw or heard took him to a place where she couldn’t follow. Guilt, anger, and pain gave his heart no rest. He wouldn’t say where they came from, but she was willing to wait until he was ready. There was so much to him and she would have to take the good with the bad.

At first glance, Corbin appeared to  have little regard for others’ feelings. They first met in September last year while Matteo and she were planning a birthday party for Avie at his apartment. Corbin had proclaimed her “Avie’s clone” that day which made Matteo laugh and Evelyn angry. She wasn’t really insulted so much as humiliated. It was true. She had tried to model herself after Avie since that was the type of woman Matteo was attracted to.  Not only did Corbin immediately see through it, but because of him Matteo knew it, too.

16.3

She was spending more time with Avie because that meant she could spend more time with Matteo, but that forced her to be around Corbin. He never called her by her name, it was always “Clone”. He teased her and the only time he seemed to respect her was when she accidentally said or did something that was “Evelyn” not “Avie”. The whole cycle made them dislike each other even more– he didn’t like that she was fake and she didn’t like him pointing it out.

In some ways, having Corbin around wasn’t as bad as she made it out to be. It was better to have a fourth person there than to be the third wheel. Since Corbin usually avoided them, it was nice when Matteo convinced him to hang out if only to not have to endure the lovebirds alone. But then Avie and Matteo would sneak off together leaving her alone with the obnoxious asshole who was just as unhappy in her company. That’s when the gloves came off, she became “Evelyn” again, and whatever they were doing morphed into fierce competition. Who could finish their meal first, who could criticize the movie they just watched the best, who could make the most origami swans out of paper napkins, how many waters they could order before the server thought it was weird, and so many other dumb things.

16.4

Whatever they did was better than going home to do nothing. Those times were fun. Loser had to do something ridiculous for the winner like sing off-key in public or find one stranger who they could convince to bow down and call them “your highness” or whatever stupid punishment they could think of.

The reality was they got along great when one took the objects of their respective affection and loathing out of the picture. She never hated him like Avie did– like Evelyn had to pretend to when her sister was around– but she disliked him… sometimes.

In the end, she couldn’t make it through Halloween as her sister. When Avie yelled at her for not putting up decorations in Matteo’s apartment the perfect way she had specified, Evelyn had enough and exploded at her. And Avie hit back, telling her she’d never be like her or have half the good things she had. She knew the “good things” Avie meant was Matteo.

16.5

They argued and Evelyn left. What hurt the most was that she knew Avie was right. She’d never get Matteo. Pretending to be someone she was not only worked in her career.

In her rush to get out, she realized that she’d left her purse in the apartment. Her keys, money, cards, phone were all in there. She lived too far to walk home. She was debating whether it was better to risk humiliation by going back for her purse or possible robbery if she walked home, when Corbin walked out with her purse in his hand. She had been so ecstatic to see that someone, anyone, cared that she’d thrown her arms around him and called him her “hero” before thinking about it.

16.6

Corbin had laughed, “Don’t expect me to come running if you’re ever kidnapped by a fire breathing dragon. However, there is the question of my payment. A hero is usually rewarded with a fair maiden’s kiss.” He’d leaned in extremely, uncomfortably close to her before continuing. “But today I need a partner in crime.”

“Crime?”

“It’s a serious job swindling as many goods out of people’s hands as possible. You’re going trick or treating with me!”

16.7

She hadn’t wanted to, but he convinced her. They made the sorriest excuse for a costume ever. They bought paper bags, cut out eye holes, and drew faces on them. Then went door to door to see how many people would actually give two adults candy. It was more than she would have thought. Maybe a fourth of the houses they tried. Afterward, they went back to her place with pizza and ice cream to pig out while watching horror movies all night. They made a joke that the stereotypical uptight character in the movies was Avie and rooted for the killer to bring about her, their, demise.

16.8a

He’d probably forgotten all about that day. It meant the world to her, however, seeing that the person she thought cared the least actually cared the most.  

After Halloween, they’d been just friends. She hung out with Corbin a lot, but they did so without Matteo and Avie’s knowledge. It was New Year’s when everything changed. She kissed Corbin at midnight. Admittedly, it lasted much longer than two platonic friends should share.

All night Matteo’d looked at her in a way that was different than how he used to. She thought that seeing her with Corbin was giving him second thoughts about his decision to be with Avie. She thought her heart beat faster because she still wasn’t over him. It might have been the alcohol and Corbin’s arm around her waist, but she didn’t consider either at the time. That’s when the idea came to her. If she were more than friends with Corbin, Matteo might realize he had real feelings for her.

He didn’t.

It hurt, but didn’t take long for her to realize that strangely she was glad. Once she was in love with a fantasy Matteo. Now she was falling for the real Corbin. That’s what she wanted to tell him by the pool at Henry’s and in the parking lot of his apartment building. She’d known for some time but the right moment never seemed to come up and when it did, she chickened out.

16.9

Sometimes she thought he felt the same, but at others she wasn’t so sure. However, after working so hard at pursuing the unattainable, she was happy to simply relax with someone. They had plenty of time to figure themselves and their relationship out.

16.10

Evelyn leaned forward resting her forehead on her hand. That was yesterday. Right now, she was slightly grateful that she’d hadn’t said anything to Corbin. He was really pissing her off. She thought he was embarrassed by his family and needed time to think. She didn’t like the way he talked to her, but she could forgive him because he was going through a lot of emotions with his crazy family at the time.

However, Lola had not so subtly hinted that he might be embarrassed by her. His family did have a lot of money. No one had been mean to her at the dinner, but they weren’t exactly welcoming her with open arms either. Not that Corbin had helped saying she was only his date. Did he really see her as a cheap escort? Just a plaything to amuse himself before he moved on to someone in his league?

16.11

Evelyn pushed herself off the bench. She needed to move around. She started to walk down the path. Children’s laughter floated on the air like music from the playground nearby. Normally a day as nice as that one would fill Evelyn with airy cheer, but not even the bright sun could shoo the shadows away this time.

Corbin hadn’t seemed like the type to pretend, but she’d been fooled before. If it had only been sex, she would have understood. Hooking up every so often was one thing. Spending all their free time together was another. When they weren’t working they were eating, or cooking, or watching TV, or talking, or going out to amuse themselves, or in each other’s arms… he was oh-so-sweet to her. She assumed he’d cared about her. He’d acted like he wanted to be with her; that he genuinely enjoyed their relationship.

She would never assume again.

The concrete path curved and she stepped right off because she wasn’t paying attention.

16.12-17.3

The jolt made her look up. There were trees in front of her with the path going around them. This was one of the few nature spots in the city. A bike trail went into the trees which didn’t stretch very far, but gave a city dweller the impression of roughing it for a mile around the park. Evelyn’s wedges weren’t made for hiking and she began to move back to the solid concrete path.

A shadow in the trees caused her to pause. The shadow was too dark and deep to be created by nature under the bright sun. As she stared, she saw it twitch slightly. Then she could make it out. It wasn’t a shadow. A man dressed in all black with a hoodie pulled over his head stood leaning on a tree.

16.13

Her satisfaction at the realization that it was a human and not a shadow quickly gave way to nervousness. A week ago and the he would have blended in with the weather still being cold. Today, her cardigan felt too warm in the sun. This man was completely covered. He even wore black gloves and his face… she craned her neck trying to make out facial features, but could only see more shadow.

He looked like a stereotypical kidnapper on the prowl. There were young children around. He could be after one of them. Or maybe he was cold in the shade? No. She knew that wasn’t it. He was staring straight ahead.  

Her gaze followed his forward position. Though the trees, across the path, to a bench. She expected to set her eyes upon a child or a nanny or jogger. Never would she have imagined that she’d be looking at Corbin. And not just Corbin, no, Corbin sitting on a bench next to a woman in deep conversation. Corbin’s face was stony serious. Evelyn couldn’t remember ever seeing him look like that. What in the world could they be talking about?

Even though she swore she’d never met this woman before, there was something vaguely familiar about her. She felt like she might have known her once a long time ago. Had she gone to high school with her? Or maybe they were on a set together once.

16.14

Instantly, she completely forgot about the watching shadow man. However she might have known this once upon a time lady in a trench coat was irrelevant as she watched the woman reach up and stroke Corbin’s cheek. Evelyn felt a pang in her stomach. To his credit, Corbin pushed the woman’s hand aside.

She didn’t know what she should do: storm off, confront him, or watch them. Well, he shouldn’t have picked such a public place. She took a few steps closer to hear them better without being seen.

Corbin jumped up to his feet and the woman followed they started to argue. He took out his phone which the woman tried to grab, but couldn’t get. Without thinking, Evelyn moved even closer.

“I’m pregnant!” The woman shouted.

Corbin stared at her with a shocked expression on his face. Evelyn felt the wind knocked out of her like she’d been punched in the gut. The woman didn’t have a belly. At least, not one that could be seen as the trench coat provided some cover. She couldn’t be too far along. Women usually told a man they were pregnant not long after they found out. Evelyn couldn’t imagine the woman being more than three months along and probably much less. That meant either Corbin had been sleeping with another woman just before getting with after he told her he hadn’t been with anyone in six months, or he was with this woman while they were together. Whether they were “officially” dating or not, he should have told her.

16.14b

She had thought that he was honest with her. It could be irritating and his bluntness sometimes hurtful, but at least he told her the truth. She had appreciated that. Tact was a quality that could be worked on.

Today, she learned that the Corbin she thought she knew didn’t exist. This man was a liar. He was never her friend. He used her to get under Avie’s skin and at the first sign that her sister might move on from Matteo, he’d dumped Evelyn to move on with his life and new found career.

The way he’d looked at and spoke to this other woman showed that he didn’t much care for her either. Evelyn didn’t know what a baby would mean to him. If the new circumstance would change his mind about his relationship with this woman. But one thing she was sure of:

This time, the whole truth was going to be out there.  

————————————————————————–

16 MG Title

Note: Thank you everyone for all your patience. Now I’m gonna drop a few chapters on ya! lol :D

 

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Update

Ugh. I was supposed to post two more chapters days ago, but I got pretty sick. Then this week I’ve had to get up at 4am for work (and not going to bed until after midnight). This update is just to say that I am going to get those chapters out. Fingers crossed for the weekend. I feel awful after saying that I was putting them out and then didn’t. I still need to organize the placement of the pictures with the words. :P Thus, why I can’t simply copy/paste right this instant. Well, it’s almost midnight where I’m at and I’m losing the ability to comprehend what I’m typing. I’ve got to wake up in 3 hours for work (an hour earlier *sigh*) so I’m off to bed. Will get to the next chapters as soon as I can! :)

<3 Sharae

 

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Chapter 15

Please Read Previous Chapters First: 1-14

Chapter 15

Friday 11:00am, Bridgeport University

Faedra

 

“We have a lot of prints,” Rick was saying, “we can’t rule out which ones are the Rosario’s until the bodies are fully thawed in a few hours and the official autopsy can begin.”

Faedra stood in the hall. Through the double doors to the lecture hall she could hear the speaker’s voice but not what he was saying.

“We ran two bloody fingerprints we found in the upstairs hall. His name’s Matteo Juarez, 30, lives in the city. Got a rap sheet going back to juvi, mostly burglary, carjacking, and an assault eight years ago that landed him in the pen for five years. Got out three years ago. Looks like he upgraded. We’re at his residence now. I was hoping to put this son of a bitch behind bars tonight, but he’s not home.”

“On the run?”

“Possibly.” Navarro admitted. “Hasn’t been seen since last night. A neighbor having a smoke in the parking lot saw him leaving at around 11:30 last night with his roommate in his girlfriend’s car. Security feed at the exterior doors of the building collaborates that timeline.”

15.1

“Did the roommate notice anything?”

“He’s not here either. Name’s … Corbin Pern. He’s seen returning home at approximately 8:03 this morning. Then he leaves again at 10. He usually carpools with Juarez’s girlfriend, Avalon Nantz. Both work at, um… they’re at, uh, NeuroCorp Research Center.”

“NeuroCorp? Really?”

“Yeah. What?”

“Nothing. It’s a coincidence. We have a guest lecturer at the university from NeuroCorp speaking at this moment. Dr Lang. I wanted to check on the case before going inside.”

“Hmm. Are you sure you want to be there? Listening to him?” Rick asked.

“Why not? Memory preservation might be ok, but extraction? The psychological effects, the repercussions on the justice system if victims wipe their memories and can’t ID a perp later, and criminals using the technology themselves to keep from confessing or to re-live the first time over and over. That’s a question of ethics and much more. So far, it’s been interesting.”

“Oh.” Rick was quiet for a moment. “You’ve been inside then? Seen the doctor, everything, and you’re fine?”

Faedra chuckled. “I don’t like it, Rick, but I’m not fainting with hysterics over dislike. Are you looking to start a protest or something?”  

15.2

“No.” Now Rick laughed. “Jury’s still out on my feelings on the whole thing. What they do there isn’t my biggest concern, not today. After we wrap up here, we’ll head over to NeuroCorp to see if we can talk with Pern or Nantz. If you get the chance, see if this Neuro guy knows anything about them, would ya?”

“Sure. What are the names again?”

She wrote all three names down on a notepad from her purse. Rick sighed.

“I’ve gotta get this guy, Rishil. It’s like I’m letting Trifold run amuck with this bastard on the streets.”

“I don’t think he’s gone far, not yet.” Faedra said. “If he’s our perp who’s copying Trifold, he’s got to strike one more time to get three sets of three.”

“If he’s merely copying, he may not bother. Getting the right number isn’t the point for him.” Rick reminded her. “I’ll let you know when we get something.”

They hung up. Faedra returned to the auditorium and slipped into an available seat near the back. On the stage stood Dr Henry Lang COO of NeuroCorp Research Center. The CEO was supposed to speak today, but Dr Lang had explained at the beginning that a family emergency had come up. A colleague sitting next to her before she’d lost her seat when she answered Rick’s call, had whispered that this was better. Dr Lang, like the old CEO, a Dr Christopher Campbell, was a founder of the nine year old company.

NeuroCorp not only researched “advances in brain function but also how to harness our brains to our advantage”. That’s what the pamphlet they’d received touted. Faedra was more interested in how NeuroCorp’s memory extraction and preservation would affect law enforcement and government in the future. There were many concerns about the technology, but none could agree on how to regulate it. Sometimes law and ethics were reactionary not based on foresight. She saw some of her students from her criminology and criminal psychology classes in the dim lecture hall. They were all supposed to attend and write a paper in exchange for no classes today and Monday. It was their grade if she got a bunch of papers with the exact same quotes and conclusions.

15.3

“Your brain is constantly rewiring its physical structure. Every experience that you have causes the connections in your brain cells to change by working together in a network. Here they organize into groups that specialize in different kinds of information processing.” Dr Lang was saying. “Your brain organizes and reorganizes itself in response to your experiences. This is how memories are formed. You remember your mother’s touch or her voice because you felt and heard them over and over. Thirty days from now you will likely have forgotten the sound of my voice, however, as there is neither training nor experience to deem it necessary for your brain to recall it. Conversely, a one-time experience may be remembered for the rest of your life, like you first crush or getting accepted to Bridgeport University. This is because memory is not only the amount of times you experience something, but the stimuli involved in that experience. The more your senses are involved, the more you’re paying attention, the stronger the connections that are being made between brain cells.”

15.4

Dr Lang’s lecture on memory was fascinating, but Rick sent her more information on Juarez while he was speaking. She couldn’t wait until this was finished to take a peek. It was his rap sheet. Faedra couldn’t help thinking back on what Rick had said when speaking of the suspected copycat. “Getting the right number isn’t the point for him.”

Eighteen years ago, over the course of six months from January to June, Trifold had murdered six sets of three. Twelve victims in all. Afterward, he’d simply vanished. Then he resurfaced twelve years later and killed three sets of three. Nine total.

A copycat was someone who admired the work and, mostly, the fame of the original killer. While the original killer was driven by needs deep within him, a desire to be recognized in the same way as the original was the initial goal of the copycat. This was a person who believed the killer’s ideology was correct and wanted to both honor the killer and continue his work.

Being driven by a different need coupled with the thrill of killing on their own, caused the copycat to deviate from the original killer’s modus operandi. It was these discrepancies that clued authorities in on which they were dealing with.

On one hand, the discrepancies were there like the elaborate staging of the Fulliam’s bodies, or putting on an act about a fake film with the Rosarios. However, after looking through the old case files this morning before attending Dr Lang’s lecture, Faedra had noticed that Trifold hadn’t been above a bit of flair. Stacking the bodies of his first triple homicide was staging. He had written several notes to police during his second spree ensuring that there was no question about his connection to the first, twelve years earlier.  Like the Fulliams, the stab wounds were very precise. He knew exactly where to wound and where to kill.

His victims were usually stabbed in the abdomen first. They suffered a few minutes before he ended their life with a slash to the throat. The Fulliam’s had been killed exactly in this way. Preliminary looks at the Rosario’s showed the same for the adults. The “shows” were more reckless, but the killings themselves were still precise and controlled. The way they were killed troubled her the most. If Juarez was the copycat killer, these families couldn’t be his first murders. The four others that had tried to walk in Trifold’s footsteps had never succeeded in getting both the body count and the wounds correct. Even the two times when there were three, and four, victims, the murders were extremely violent. One person getting to several people, without a gun, while ensuring that no one escapes or will survive, isn’t an easy feat.

Juarez may have left behind evidence, but he also managed to pull off these murders twice. Getting the right number isn’t the point. Not for the copycat. For the original Trifold though it was part of the ritual. Juarez had done it twice with little deviation even when it appeared that the timing of the Rosarios deaths were unplanned. It was still the abdomen and a slit throat. A rushed job shouldn’t have been pulled off with so little violence.

He got it right. Completely. That’s what bothered her.

When the first murders occurred, Juarez was 12. During the second round, he was in prison for assault. The first three murders that were attributed to Trifold were a bit sloppy, but he became refined with practice. Juarez, if he truly was the killer, already showed refinement and control. But he was too young to be Trifold. Prison was the perfect place to study on Trifold’s technique, yet he still needed the physical skills. So, on whom had he practiced? And why was he only now on their radar?

15.7

“The machines used at NeuroCorp look for those electric connections between synapses in the brain during memory recall. As we cannot know where in the brain the bits of memory are held and then come together, the patient must recall an event multiple times. This allows the machine to pick up on patterns that it can then follow. Each time, it stores a little more information until we have the whole picture. It is a grueling process for our patients and we have a premier staff that includes nurses, psychiatrists, medical doctors, and neurologists to help them from start to finish. A patient must first be deemed physically, mentally, and emotionally able to endure the process. It is common for a patient to be given psychological and physical help first. The health and safety of our patients is our number one priority. This is especially true in memory extractions as erasing a memory has the potential to change the patient’s personality and life outlook. The extraction process is similar to preservation except in addition to recording the memory, the next step is to lessen the connections between synapses until they are either non-existent or too miniscule to have meaning.”

Faedra paid attention to most of what was said though there were parts that she did not understand, but the majority of the presentation was catered to those with little scientific understanding. Afterward, Dr Lang invited a few questions on stage as he had finished early. Faedra hoped to privately ask him about his two employees Navarro wanted to question. By the time she made it to the stage, there was a line. Dr Lang had an assistant who kept the line moving quickly by only allowing one question per person and no repeats. Several people wanted to know about memory implantation.

15.8

“Because I keep getting this question,” Dr Lang said into a microphone, “NeuroCorp does not implant memories into patients. It’s a dangerous endeavor with risky and possibly irreversible results. For extraction patients who regret memory removal, of which we have very few, the best we can do is allow them to watch the memory, like a movie. The best way to create a new memory or rejoin an old one, is not to plant one, but to live or re-live it. Thus, NeuroCorp is currently working on Visionary Flight, new technology that will allow patients to live out new experiences or old memories in dream-like virtual setting.”

At least they drew the line somewhere, however, people wanting fake memories sounded no better than them desiring to remove the ones they didn’t like in the first place. The past was what made them stronger. They should use it to themselves stronger, not run from it. Faedra was two people from the doctor when his assistant rushed up to him with a tablet in one hand and a mobile in the other, asking him to step backstage. She followed them meaning to simply request that he take a business card and call Navarro. When they went passed the blue stage curtain she paused. She didn’t intend to eavesdrop, but she was right there.

15.9

“Dr Lang, it’s security.” The assistant said. “They’ve found pieces of the machine hidden in a custodial room.”

“Do they know who did it?” Dr Lang asked.

His assistant shook his head. “No, sir, but Greene wants to speak with you.”

Dr Lang took the phone his assistant held out and held it up to his ear.

“Philip? … Yes, I’ve just been informed.” Dr Lang said.

A student walked passed Faedra.

“Dr Lang? I have a question–” The student began.

The assistant intercepted and led the student away, back onto the stage.

“I want to know the status of my internship application,” the student was saying as they walked by.

“You’ll need to contact human resources…”

After they moved out of hearing, Faedra could focus on Dr Lang’s more interesting conversation.

15.10

“How can there be nothing for two whole hours of time on Wednesday?” Dr Lang’s strained, hushed tone seemed barely controlled. “…Someone had to manually shut off the security system in that entire hall… It has to be one of your guys, Philip. No one else has access… Why would any of the executives– I don’t care how many times you’ve been over it; go through everything a hundred times if you have to. I want this person caught. Today!”

She heard what she could only gather to be a fist smacking the wall.

“Get all that?” Dr Lang asked.

Faedra tensed. Was he speaking to her?

“I can see your feet under the curtain.” He continued.

Yep, he was talking to her. A bit embarrassing to be caught eavesdropping, but she wasn’t afraid to own up to it. Faedra moved from behind the curtain  to where Dr Lang stood backstage.

“You’d better not be a reporter,” he said.

“Not at all.” She held out her hand. “Faedra Rishil. I’m a consultant with the Bridgeport police.”

He shook her hand like he was touching a person with a disease.

“Everything you heard–” He began.

“Is completely confidential.” She finished. “However, I do have a few questions for you.”

15.11

The creases on his forehead deepened with irritation.

“Of course you do.” He said.

“We have a case with a couple of persons of interest who we believe are employed by you.”

“NeuroCorp employees hundreds. I can’t be expected to know them all.”

“I understand that, sir, but if you’ll oblige me for a moment. There’s always a possibility.” She took his huff as consent. “Corbin Pern and Avalon Nantz. Do either of those names ring a bell?”

His face slackened and his eyes shone with surprise then anger before he regained his composure and put his poker face back on. He cleared his throat.

“I don’t pay taxes to have a wanna-be mall cop ask silly questions over petty issues,” he said. “Tell the Bridgeport police department that they’ll have better luck if they send a real officer for an actual crime with a warrant for a list of names. Now if you’ll excuse me–”

He started to move around her, but she stepped to the side, blocking his way.

15.12

“Two women and a child were murdered,” she said, calmly. “Pern’s roommate, who happens to also be Nantz’s boyfriend, is a prime suspect in the case. We need to find them. Not only to see what they know, but to ensure their safety.” She took out a business card. It was hers, and she quickly wrote down Navarro’s number on the back before handing it to him. “Here is the phone number of the lead detective on case, Lt. Richard Navarro. Even if all you know is whether they are working today or not, that would be a great help.”

He took the card, slipped it into his pocket, and gave her a curt nod. He went around her.

“You know, Dr Lang,” she said, stopping him once again, “if you have a situation at your company, you can always call the police. Their service is what you pay taxes for, isn’t it?”

“Thank you, but we can handle the matter, Ms Rishil.”

15.13

She let him go this time. She had all the information she needed. He knew at least one, and if she were to bet, he knew both. No one had the reaction he did to hearing those names unless they had some kind of a relationship with each other.

***********************

 

Friday 1:00pm, Kiki’s Cafe

Faedra

15.14

Faedra sat on the rooftop patio of Kiki’s cafe. There were green plants and blooming potted flowers of every color all around them in this small nature oasis in the city. After they ordered, the young woman sitting across from her stretched and smiled.

“Are you always in a good mood?” Faedra asked.

“On a beautiful afternoon like today? Of course!” Tandy said. “I decided to wear this yellow dress to celebrate the sun’s final return.”

15.14b

Humored, Faedra chuckled. It had been a cold spring so far though it was only March. The whole city happily shed their coats and winter gear. On her way to the cafe from the university, she’d noticed many people who appeared to be out and about just to enjoy the day.

“Do you work tonight?” Faedra asked.

“Yes, ma’am, my shift starts at 4:30.”

“I’m surprised you wanted to meet so soon. We could have done this on your day off.”

Tandy nodded in agreement. “But when I get excited about something I want to do it right now. I can’t help myself.”

Her father’s daughter. No doubt about it.

“What have you been up to?” Faedra asked.

Tandy filled her in on several years worth of life while they enjoyed a late lunch.

“By then, I hope to be a federal agent. Dad says I should focus more on my current of instead of dreaming of the future. You worked at the federal level, what do you think?”

“Your dad’s right.”

Tandy’s face fell a little.

15.15

“You do need to focus on being the best officer you can be.” Faedra continued. “If you’re sloppy where you’re at because you’re waiting on the next big thing, you’re not going to make the cut. They want the best, and the best recognize that where they’re currently at is just as important as where they will be.”

“That makes sense.”

“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for the future. Part of that preparation is to plan and know what you need to do to reach your goals. Then whether you achieve it or not, you’ll have done everything you could do.”

Tandy smiled again. “Thanks.”

Faedra sipped at the giant cup of coffee she held. The server walked up to their table.

“Can I get you anything else?” He asked.

“No.” Faedra smiled. “Can I have the check, please?”

“Actually, your bill has been paid for by the gentleman at the bar.” He said.

Three men were at the bar. One redhead in a jean jacket sat on a stool while the other two, sharply dressed in business suits, stood talking to the bartender.

“Oh? Who is he?” Faedra asked, surprised.

“He wants to remain anonymous.” The server said. “But he said to send his regards.”

“Tell him we said, ‘thank you and that’s very sweet’,” Tandy smiled.

“I will if I get the chance while you’re not looking.” The server said with a wink before walking away.

Tandy wanted to interrogate the men at the bar, but Faedra talked her out of it. If he didn’t want to be known  then leave him alone. Reluctantly, Tandy dropped it and moved on to another subject.

“Faedra? Why did you leave the agency to become a professor? Dad says it was too soon and you should have waited instead of taking the fed job.”

15.16

Faedra rarely felt uncomfortable with a topic, she’d heard it all, but hearing that Rick had discussed her with his daughter did just that. She was tempted to dismiss it.

“What, exactly, did he say?” She asked instead.

“Oh.” Tandy’s cheeks reddened as if she just realized what she was actually bringing up. “I didn’t mean to offend you, or make you feel bad. I only wondered if it was the workload or the people that made you quit so I can be prepared. Sorry.”

“It’s ok, Tandy. I probably wasn’t ready. I tried my best, but after four years… I was on a case where four young children were reported to be kidnapped by their father. We looked everywhere for them, but we soon discovered that the mother was lying. She had poisoned the kids and shot her ex after inviting him over. She’d burnt the bodies and buried the remains. All because she wanted a fresh start at life. I snapped. To face someone who callously gets rid of their own flesh and blood when I see parents who’d give their lives to see their lost loves one last time… I needed some time off and the university had an opening that fit with my credentials.”

They were quiet.

“Then… it was because of them?” Tandy asked.

“Because of who?”

“Your family.” Tandy said her brown face full of surprise. “Ian and Grace? Mr Kilhany?”

Those names didn’t mean anything to Faedra. “Who?”

Now Tandy’s face twisted with confusion. Her eyebrows furrowed, her eyelids fluttered, and her lips parted then closed before she spoke again.

“Your kids. Ian and Grace! Ms Faedra, they’re your kids! Ian was five years younger than me and Grace was nine-years-old when they–”

15.17

Faedra calmly waited a few seconds after Tandy cut herself off before asking, “When they what?”

Tandy looked down at the table, her eyes full of shame and embarrassment. “When they were killed.” She whispered. “And your husband, too.”

Faedra let the idea sink in for a moment. Then she couldn’t hold back. She burst out laughing. Tandy’s head shot up. The poor girl’s face must have been exhausted from contorting into so many emotions in such a short period of time. Now the young woman was simply shocked. Faedra almost felt bad for her. Almost.

“Tell your father the next time he wants to joke around, make it believable.”

“What?” Tandy stared across the table at her.

“I’m surprised you would go along with it, Tandy. I suppose we haven’t seen each other in so long that I don’t really know you. Here’s a tip for the future: your father’s jokes are only funny half the time. Use your brain before repeating them. This one was in poor taste.”

“I would never joke about someone’s death, and neither would Dad. Ian and Grace were like a little brother and sister to me. Their murders motivated me to go into law enforcement. I want to honor them, not disrespect them!”

The young woman was near shouting causing the other patrons in the small cafe to look over at their table.

“I believe it’s very noble of you to help others in memory of your friends,” Faedra said in a gentle tone to calm her down.

Tandy slammed her hand on the table making the dishes clatter. “What is wrong with you? You’re the one being cruel acting like you don’t remember your own children.”

Now Faedra was getting upset. She was tired of playing the Navarro’s dumb game. “Stop it. This isn’t funny. I don’t have any children, Tandy. I would have liked to, but I don’t so stop!”

Tandy pushed her chair back and stood. “You stop! They’re the reason Dad wants to catch Trifold so bad and I thought it was the same for you. I thought you were being brave.”

Faedra understood. Whoever these kids were, Tandy thought Trifold had killed them. A child who’d lost friends at a young age could easily attribute their deaths to an infamous killer. “Tandy, sit down. There isn’t an Ian or a Grace in Trifold’s case files. Your dad wants him because he’s gotten away with it for so long. I have the same motivation. We want to bring justice to the victims.”

“Ian and Grace, and Mr Kilhany are the victims!” Tandy grabbed her purse. “I can’t be in the same space with you anymore.”

Bewildered, Faedra threw her hands up in the air. What was wrong with that child? She spoke as she truly believed what she was saying. Had Rick been telling her that Faedra had children to the point that Tandy believed it? She didn’t think his wife, Isabel, would go along with that. Or was she dealing with the deaths of childhood friends by imagining a completely different set of circumstances? False memories happened, after all.

15.18

As if sensing that the universe was unbalanced, or to check up on the progress of his own joke, Rick was calling her.

“Yes.” She answered not hiding the harsh tone of her voice.

“We got a hit on the handprint.” He said with excitement not seeming to notice her mood. “Corbin Pern. Juarez’s roommate. Still no sign of Juarez. His parents haven’t heard from him in several days when he told them he was proposing to his girlfriend and asked for their blessing. Did the NeuroCorp guy happen to know either Pern or Nantz?”

Faedra pushed down her feelings of disgust at her ex-partner and his daughter and tried to sound professional. “No. Well, he said we needed a warrant. Based off his body language, he probably knows of them.”

“Hmm. We’re waiting at NeuroCorp now. We showed them the arrest warrant and they’re checking to see if he came in today. Hopefully, he didn’t tip them off. What’s his name?”

“Lang. Dr Henry Lang.”

Rick was saying something to someone next to him. Faedra was sure it was his partner, Howard, but she couldn’t tell over the phone.

“They know each other, Pern and Lang,” Rick said. “They’re brothers. Same father, different mothers. Pern is the mother’s surname. The father told us to talk with his lawyers when we contacted him a minute ago, and the public number listed for the mother has been disconnected. The mother owns a cleaning business. The employee I spoke to said she’s not  in. I was hoping we’d nab Pern at work, but if his brother already knew we were looking for him hours ago, he’s long gone.”

“I’m sorry, Rick.” She really was. Instead, of thinking about Trifold, she should have done a quick search on Pern and Nantz before asking Dr Lang about them. That he was Dr Lang’s brother would be public information. Her approach should have been only in regards to Nantz. Even if they were friends, he was likely to be more forthcoming than when she’d connected the woman to Pern whom Dr Lang would have more incentive to protect.

Rick sighed. “Nah. This one’s going to be difficult no matter what. Unlike Juarez, Pern has access to enough money to flee the country and hide out for life, if he has to. Daddy sounds like he’d help him and so does big brother. His sister is a district judge so I’m not anticipating much help there either. If we’re lucky, mommy still has a bit of sense in her.”

She heard a rustling on the other line. Then talking she couldn’t decipher.

“He hasn’t shown up for work in two days.” Rick said a few minutes later. “Figures. We’re going to have to plaster the city with Juarez and Pern’s faces. I’ll keep you–”

“Rick!” She cut in before he finished. “I think you need to speak with Tandy. She’s got it in her mind that a couple of her friends were killed by Trifold. She was pretty upset when I told her otherwise.”

Faedra decided it was best to let the other part of Tandy’s imaginings come out when Rick talked with his daughter.

15.19

“Friends, huh?” Rick said, quietly. “You told her they never existed and she got mad.”

Faedra was taken aback. How’d he guess that so accurately? “It’s not that the persons didn’t exist just who she thought they were was wrong.”

“Right.” Rick was silent for a long moment. “Sorry, Fae. I know what she’s talking about. I’ll speak with her. Don’t worry. She didn’t mean any harm.”

That was a weird thing to say. And his voice–not upset or confused. He spoke with the authority of someone who knew exactly what was going on. She’d never heard him sound so apologetic.

“Is something wrong, Rick?” She asked. “Did something happen to Tandy? Is her mind…” She didn’t know how to phrase her suspicions. Was Tandy actually dreaming up people? How was she still on the force if her mental health was unstable?

He chuckled nervously. “Tandy’s fine. She won’t bring it up again. Ever. I promise.”

That was not what Faedra wanted to hear. “Rick, if she needs help, it’s your duty to–”

On the other end, she heard a muffled high pitched female scream. “He’s killing them!”

Rick hung up without another word. It was 2:20. Freeing up her whole day had been a good idea after all. Faedra sprang from the table and raced out of the cafe.

———————————————————————

15 MG Title 2

Note: I’ve really tried to get chapters out sooner than two weeks, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t be able to do it. I’d prefer to have at least one chapter out at least once a week. However, I do work on about three chapters during those two-three weeks. All the writing, editing, proofing, editing, pictures, editing… it’s happening in that time for several chapters. I just can’t focus on only one chapter at a time, lol. Thus, I can’t get any one chapter completed in one week. :P This week I’m hoping to get out four which I’ll publish throughout that time frame. This is the first. I wanted to give a heads up. Since I’m unable to shorten the time period, I can at least give you more story when I do publish. That sound fair? Hope you enjoyed this one! :)

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Chapter 14

Please Read Previous Chapters 1-13 First!

Chapter 14

Friday 12:49pm, Way of Life Health & Fitness Center

Lola

 

13.1Lola stepped out of the shower of the gym’s changing room. She was running behind schedule, a predicament she absolutely hated to be in. She had to stay on track today of all days. It was opening night of the play.

She hurried to her locker where she’d left her clothes.

“Lola?”

She turned at the familiar voice.

“Evie.” She nodded at her fellow cast member. “I didn’t know you were a member here.”

“I’m not. It’s a 30-day trial. This place is so close to the theater, I figured it’s worth trying out.”

“I’ve been a member for two years and I love it.” Lola began to dress. “They have something for every part of the person: your body, your diet, your mental and spiritual state. It’s where I come for peace.”

“I’m enjoying the kickboxing class, but it’s a bit expensive for me.”

“You can’t put a price on wholeness, Evie.” Lola snapped her bra on and grabbed her shirt. “However, you can put one on fame. What’s an extra hundred here and there to stay in the pristine condition the business desires?”

Evie leaned forward, her eyes on Lola’s left arm. “I see you’re going for a new look.”

“What?” Lola looked down at her own limb. She saw the red heart tattoo with purple butterflies on either side of it. With a chuckle, she waved her hand at Evie. “This? It’s temporary. It should wash off eventually. Fortunately, my costume for the show covers my upper arm, but I’ll mask it with foundation anyway.”

“Why do you have it? Did you get another job?”

Lola smiled at her unable to hold back her excitement. “As a matter-of-fact, I did. Wish me luck, dear, I am about to meet with Trey Parker again.”

“Trey Parker?” Evelyn leaned against the locker next to Lola’s.

“I didn’t I tell you last night? I could have sworn I did.” Maybe that conversation was all in her mind. She couldn’t remember. Shrugging her white blouse on, Lola continued. “He won several awards for his dark comedy film Downtown Sunny Lane. It launched Sil Rogers and Cyote Till into stardom. After rehearsal yesterday, I shot a scene in his new movie Ghost Slayer.”

13.2

Ghost Slayer? He went from art house to terrible titled horror?”

“It’s not just horror. It’s a commentary on the genre. Last night was fabulous. Mr Parker is a genius. He gave me a few lines to say then told me to improvise the rest.”

“What was the scene?”

“I was a henchman of a supernatural murderer who helped him to get to his targets only I didn’t know that I was soon to also be a victim myself. This was how he operated. He gets others to help pull the murders off then he kills the helper and disappears so it looks like a ghost did it. That’s why I have this tattoo. It symbolizes the taking of souls by death– the heart stolen by the two birds. Clever, huh?” She pulled on her violet skirt. “Mr Parker wanted the scene to resemble a reality TV show. There were cameras hidden all over the house we shot in. I couldn’t even see most of them. It was fairly dark, though, so I couldn’t see much.”

“That’s strange. How are the cameras supposed to pick up anything without lighting?” Evie asked.

“I don’t question genius. I’m sure there’s something he’ll do in post. There are amazing editing programs for that type of thing.” She wasn’t sure if that were true. She’d never been on a set that didn’t have excessive lighting in the daytime! It was very odd not to have any at night, but she believed in Mr Parker and his ability. She steered the conversation away from lighting. “There was another actor I’d didn’t get the chance to formally meet. Mr Parker said his name was Corbie… no, Corbin? something-or-other. Oh, Evie!” Lola pressed her hand against her chest, “when I tell you that I have not seen anyone play fear so well since I saw the late great Angela Watanabe in House of Sin, I kid you not. This man is going to be something. Remember that I was the one who told you. Corbin…” Why couldn’t she recall the last name?

“Corbin, huh?” Evie crossed her arms. “Sounds like the name of an arrogant jerk who thinks he knows everything.”

“You don’t even know him. He was a complete professional.” Taking out her brush, she went to the large mirror on the wall to fix her ugly wet hair. “He never came out of character, not for a millisecond. He had to ad lib, too. He was the murderer’s next victim and my character was realizing that they were both doomed. I had to say this line about strumming the string to his heart, I believe it was a metaphor for life. Then he was completely bewildered and crying out for a previous victim. ‘Where’s Matteo? My friend. Tell me where he is!’ I can’t repeat it exactly– it was all so organic, so in the moment– but you get the idea.”

Evie stood straight and rigid. “Wait. Are you saying a man named Corbin shot a scene with you where he ad libbed about his friend Matteo?”

13.3

“Yes. Then we ran down the stairs like a banshee was after us. And, oh, Mr Parker had put out these dummies like corpses to surprise us as we escaped. It was so thrilling to really feel a part like it was truly happening.”

“This Corbin.” Evie frowned with her thin dark eyebrows pressed together. “His name isn’t Corbin Pern, is it?”

Lola thought for a moment. “I’m not sure. That sounds close. I’ll have to ask Mr Parker who I am meeting at Lambourgh studio in–” she checked her gold bracelet watch as she put it on her wrist “–20 minutes. Maybe I’ll ask him myself. He might be there as well. After all, we did the whole scene in one take. I’m sure Mr Parker needs to record our lines, although it won’t have the same energy as the first time. You can’t duplicate that.”

Evie didn’t even appear to be listening. Why was she wasting time asking questions if she didn’t want to bother with the answer?

“Why didn’t he tell me?” Evie asked, looking across the room.

Lola looked around but there wasn’t anyone there. “Who, dear? Mr Parker?”

“No. Corbin.”

“Do you know him?”

“We’ve been… together for the past two months. He’s helped me with a couple auditions, preparing for this play, but he never expressed an interest in going into acting himself. Then he breaks up with me two days ago and now he’s doing film work?”

“Oh…” Lola clicked her tongue. “I’m sure he didn’t want to make you feel bad.”

“Feel bad?”

“Well. He is under an award winning director, and, as I said, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t go places with his talent. And you’re, well, you’re good where you’re at. I bet he didn’t want to make you jealous of his impending success. Personally, I prefer to date people who are less talented than me so we’ll never be competition. My husband is a good actor, but he’ll never be great.”

“What are you talking about?”

Lola tilted her head. “Some people like for their significant other to be equal to them. Otherwise, their pride is hurt.”

“Corbin is a moron, a sweetheart at times and an asshole at others, but he is not an actor. He’s a janitor, a custodian, whatever you want to call it. He’s not an actor!”

“Or maybe he’s just that good.” Lola slung her purse on her shoulder and closed her locker door. Poor dear. Her boyfriend was less than her and now he’s better. That would drive anyone mad. Lola knew just how to cheer her up. “I’ve had a thought. Why don’t you give me a headshot and your agent’s card. I’ll see if I can pass them along to Mr Parker’s people. You never know if he’ll need a walk-on. Corbin may have seconds thoughts when he sees that you’ve got your own connections to Mr Parker. He won’t be such the hotshot then.”

Lola followed the silent Evie to another locker where she pulled out a bag and then a folder. The girl was smart enough to carry her information around wherever she went. Lola didn’t understand people in this business who didn’t. You never knew when a networking opportunity would come up. Evie handed her what she’d asked for. But the girl’s face had dissolved from the sharp angles of anger to the sloped curves of hurt.

“Don’t be so put out, dear.” Lola said while slipping the papers into her large purse. “I’m sure the time you spent working on your career together has made you a better actor and a wiser person. At least he had the decency to call it off instead of pretending indefinitely. My husband and I have been debating whether to break up or stay together for half our marriage. These things happen.”

13.4

Evie closed her eyes. “I don’t understand. Why couldn’t he tell me? I would have been happy for him. I cared about him not about what he could do.”

Lola sighed. She knew where Evie was. She’d felt that way about a few in her time, but most of all with Johnny. It had long since worn off in the nine years of their marriage. They entertained divorce many times, however, after years of screaming and tears, Lola and Johnny realized they worked well together. Not as a romantic couple, obviously, but as career partners. Their drive to reach the top got in the way of every relationship, including their marriage, but that passion for their art was what had attracted one to the other in the first place. Acting was an obsession with little room for much else. They came to terms with their situation and figured they were no worse off staying married than separating. They helped each other with career opportunities and decisions. Moreover, neither had to deal with the burden of new beaus demanding their hearts when both had long been given to the craft. They didn’t need romance just a confidante, an arm for events, and a slap in the face when needed, and they were fine.  

Lola placed a hand on Evie’s shoulder. “Sometimes things aren’t what they appear to be, and sometimes they are, but we’re the ones casting an illusion on ourselves. Everyone says they want the truth when they actually want validation of their fantasy.  If you want to deal with reality then deal with it. If not then let it go and find someone else to pretend with.”

Johnny and she had made their choice. It was one that worked in the reality of their life at the moment. Sometimes it felt slightly looney, but at least they were honest with each other now.

“Don’t be afraid to go into the darkness and dig into the nooks and crannies of the truth.” Lola said. “Some shadows are more hideous and terrifying in the light, but knowing them will give you the power to make a decision you can live with. Maybe not a good one, but at least one where you can sleep at night.”

Evelyn nodded her dark head slowly. Lola sighed. There was nothing else she could do or say here, and now she would be late. She gave Evelyn’s arm a pat and moved toward the door of the locker room.  

13.5

“It’s like my grandfather, BaBoo, said: Love comes and goes, darling, but the stage lives forever. You must focus on what you do have. Drive, talent, brains, good looks: many in the industry have gotten by on much less. Count your blessings, Evie, and wish me luck!”

Lola turned and made her way to the locker room door.

“Actually, it’s Evelyn!” She heard Evie shout as the door swung shut.

* * * * * * * * *

 

Friday 2:15pm, Lambourgh Studio

Lola

 

“You took his mind. He wants your heart. Your heart: Strum the strings. Sing the music. Remember when death glared your way.”

“Very good, Lola. Do that one more time then add the last line and we should have it.”

“The whole part, Mr Parker?”

13.6

“Yes. Remember, you’ve survived, but you’re haunted by death to the point that your mind has fallen into confusion, believing you now are death. These are his words regurgitated by your delusional self.” She couldn’t see his face. He sat in dim light on the other side of a glass window that separated the tiny booth where she recorded a voiceover from the one he sat in monitoring and directing her. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Lola nodded and took a deep breath, going back inside her character. She leaned closer to the microphone that hung above the podium her script lay on. She let the words run through her mind, hearing how they sounded, feeling how her mouth would move to form them.

She was no longer Lola. “You still don’t know what you’re dealing with, do you? You took his mind. He wants your heart. Strum the strings. Sing the music. Remember when death glared your way. Lost me once. Lost me twice. But the third is fated. I’m coming for you. Count the hours. I will find you. I will return you.”

“Got it.” Mr Parker’s soft voice said. “That was perfect.”

13.7

Lola couldn’t have acted away the proud grin that spread across her face. She had been right. Mr Parker wanted her to record the audio in a sound studio. Lola took off the headphones she’d worn and walked out of the booth. Mr Parker sat at the soundboard. The dialogue she just recorded played back over the speakers filling the soundproof room with her voice. The purple ambient lights added to the mysterious atmosphere her words gave.

“…Count the hours. I will find you. I will return you.”

It didn’t sound like her at all. She gave herself chills.

“Lola, that was exactly what I was looking for.” Mr Parker said.

“Thank you, sir.” She grinned. “It’s been an honor working with you.”

“The pleasure has been all mine.” He swiveled in his chair to face her. His gray and brown limp hair flopped on his large forehead. He adjusted his glasses on his nose. “I believe you said you’re in a Charles Campbell play tonight?”

13.8

He remembered?! Lola kept the squeal that threatened to burst through her lips down by nodding in reply.

Mr Parker smiled. “He’s one of my favorite writers. Did you know that he started out in journalism and wrote screenplays before he retired from the scene?”

She shook her head “no” still unable to speak directly in his presence. Though there was nothing interesting to his bland features nor in his quiet demeanor, he sat in his element creating story. The passion and know-how exuded from him and made him fascinating.

“I wish he had kept writing. His work inspired me. His worlds and characters are always warped and strange, yet from that unstableness is a familiarity that you recognize though you can’t quite put your finger on it. Brilliant how he’s able to capture the intangible. More of his works should be seen by the public.”

“That’s why I’m so glad to be apart of this show.” Lola found her voice just in time to schmooze. “Introducing Campbell to a new generation.”

Mr Parker sighed. “It’s a shame he isn’t widely known. His last work was twenty years ago. I hope to remake it for my next project. I’m seriously considering casting Corbin Pern, the guy you worked with last night, as lead.”

“Really?” She remembered what she’d promised Evie. “Actually, I know his girlfriend. She’s also an actor. She’s in Summer’s Reminisce with me. Also, a Campbell fan.””

13.9

“Oh?” Mr Parker’s sky blue eyes lit up with interest. He must really like anything or anyone associated with C. Campbell’s work.

Based on his interest, though it was unsolicited and unprofessional, Lola took out the headshot and business card. “She’s almost as good as he is. If there’s a small part she could audition for, I’m sure she’d be great.”

Mr Parker took the card and photo. “Evelyn Nantz.” He read out loud. “This is Corbin Pern’s girlfriend? You’re sure about that?”

She could have told him that they broke up, but where was the fun in that? Corbin Pern would either have to suffer a bit of embarrassment explaining or go along with it. Either way was a flustered moment waiting for him as he realized that he was not rid of his ex so easily. You’re welcome, Evie.

“They’re madly in love. Practically engaged.” She couldn’t help embellishing her lie for flair. “She was simply ecstatic when I told her about your current film. We both think you’re brilliant.”

He tapped his pudgy finger on his wide chin. “I’ll give this to my assistant. I was impressed with Corbin. If his girlfriend’s half as good, I have a role in mind.” His phone rang. “Excuse me one moment, Lola.”

“Of course.”

He swiveled around, stopping when his red sweatered back was completely to her.

“Yes?” She heard him say. “Are you sure? …Now? But– That wasn’t scheduled until– Yes. …Yes…” He sighed. “I understand. …Ok.” He hung up and faced her again. “I’m sorry.”

13.10

“Don’t apologize, Mr Parker. I know you’re very busy.” Lola said. “ I should go. I need to get to the theater soon anyway.”

“Actually, if you have a few spare minutes, could I ask you a favor?”

A favor? From her? “Of course. Anything!”

He got to his feet. Standing put him in a different light that though large in girth he was short in stature. He walked over to a cabinet where he took out a blue tarp. She lifted her eyebrows in question as he handed it to her.

“Would you mind spreading this on the floor?” He asked.

“Um… sure. Where?”

“From the entrance to as wide as it will go.” He instructed.

The strange request sent off alarm bells in her head. She felt like she should give the tarp back and leave with the very real excuse of not having enough time. He could roll it out himself after all. Or he could ask someone else in the building to do it. There was a receptionist just down the hall from this studio.

“What do you need a tarp for?” She asked.

He shoved his thick fingers under his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “The producer’s on his way. He’s a messy, outdoors type always tracking mud everywhere. He’s coming straight from hunting in the woods. I’m anticipating boot prints and a possible bloody mess covering these nice hardwood floors. I’ll tell him there’s a leak.”

13.11

Lola wasn’t a starry-eyed young girl eager to get her foot in the door and thus willing to do even menial tasks for a moment of someone’s time. She wasn’t a big star, but she wasn’t unknown in this city, either. However, this was Trey Parker. He was already considering Evie for his next project and doing this should keep Lola in his mind, too. All she would do is put the tarp down. She promised herself if he brought up anything else, no matter what it was, she had to leave. As she laid out the plastic tarp, she saw Mr Parker move over to a video camera that was set up on a tripod in the far corner of the room.

“That project on Campbell’s work, I was telling you about,” he said as he messed with the camera, “I’ve been shooting film for it already. It’s loosely based off his last short story titled Memory Games. In the story, there are these kids who were kidnapped by a psycho, however, they don’t remember being taken. By the end of every day, they figure out the horrifying truth, but by the time morning comes round again, they’ve completely forgotten like the knowledge has been erased from their minds.”

13.12

“Sounds like a good thriller,” Lola tugged on the last corner of the tarp getting the whole thing spread like he’d asked. It covered half of the small room from the door to the middle of the soundboard.

“It is a glimpse of the psyche. What we recall and forget and why. How the mind shapes what we become.” He craned his head around from behind the camera to look at her. “I think this will be my masterpiece. Raw, gritty, emotional, true.”

A tiny red light shone from the front of the camera indicating that it was on. She felt another chill shiver down her spine. Was he recording her?

“In your hands there’s no doubt about this story’s success.” She picked up her purse and checked her watch. “I hate to rush, but I must–”

“Lola Anderson, you are perfect for this project.” He said now with his face obscured behind the camera that pointed at her. “Would you take a part? I’ve got a lead role for you. There’s no need for an audition. I promise this will shine a light on you like nothing else has ever done in your life.”

 

Her jaw dropped. “A-are you serious?”

“I would never joke about a job, Lola.”

“I’m sorry. I mean, yes. Yes. I’d love to!”

Tears filled her eyes. Finally! After so many years of clawing and shoving, she had made it to a level that would fling her into the eyes of the world. Oh, BaBoo, if only you were alive to see this!

13.13

“Thank you, Mr Parker. You have no idea how much this means to me. I cannot wait to work with you again.”

“Yes, well, again, I’m sorry Ms Anderson.”

“Sorry? What for?”

The rush of air caused by the door to the hall opening behind her pushed her hair forward. The strands ends brushed against her neck and cheeks. Must be the producer Mr Parker spoke of. He was the reason she’d put the tarp down (and got the gig). Meeting him would give her another connection. She heard the door close as she turned around ready to be introduced.

She didn’t even see him. Her sight was completely obscured by something large and black moving straight at her face. Moments later, her nose had burst into pain and she felt herself falling backwards from the force of the impact, landing with a loud smack on the tarp.

13.15

“You didn’t have to punch her!” Mr Parker’s voice yelled from somewhere. “She could have landed anywhere. I have the tarp there for a reason!”

Screaming, she tried to sit up, to get to her feet and run out. She never made it passed sitting before a boot smashed into her face. The kick sent her sprawling back to the ground.

She cracked her eyes open with the slow realization that she had lost consciousness for a few seconds. Between the fist that hit her, the kick, and banging the back of her skull on the wood floor twice, her entire head throbbed like it was being pounded by a blacksmith with a red hot hammer.

The fuzzy white light from the ceiling that she stared up at darkened as if the sun had been eclipsed by the moon.  Over her crouched a black mass. Her eyes couldn’t focus. She thought she saw something of a face, but it wasn’t right. No mouth, no nose, large dark empty  eyes… Like a skull, like the grim reaper, like…

“Death?” she whispered.

“Yes.” he answered in a low voice.

Death. The unseen character from Parker’s Ghost Slayer. The one whose words she had recorded– was that only minutes earlier. Such a short amount time. As her vision cleared, she could see him. He wore a black hood that hid his head in shadow. The bottom half of his face was covered with a solid black mask. The top concealed behind huge tinted ski goggles. She could make out eyes behind the goggles, but couldn’t tell if they were human or not.

13.16

Glancing away from his face, she noticed a large knife held in his gloved hand. Of course. He hadn’t struck her to steal her purse.

“Let me go. Please. I’ll do anything. Just let me live.” She slurred, maneuvering her swelling tongue around her bloody mouth.

She thought she saw Death nod in acquiescence. Could she really leave? Was it this simple?

“You can go,” he said, “after–”

“After what?” She asked.

“After you count with me, Lola.”

“What?” Her lungs may as well have clogged closed. She couldn’t get a breath in.  

Count with me. Several calls and messages had been left on her phone yesterday with that same message. That voice… it was the voice on the other line– low, careful, and unsettling.

Now the air rushed in and out of her causing her nose to hurt with each inhalation. She had to get out of there. She tilted her head back causing her vision to blur for a few seconds. Standing behind the camera in the far corner, Mr Parker had his camera focused on the scene before him. How could he watch and do nothing?

“Parker. Mr Parker. Please. Help me.”

13.17

“He won’t.” Death slid the handle of the knife between his fingers, back and forth, calmly maybe absent-mindedly, like he was merely contemplating the best section in which to cut a hunk of meat for a barbecue.

Lola realized Death hadn’t said the famed director couldn’t help. No, Mr Parker would choose not to. Her vision clouded again, but this time from tears that flowed down her temples and into her hair.

“Count.” Death ordered.

She swallowed a mixture of blood and spit. After coughing a few seconds, she took in a shaky shallow breath and began.

“One?”

She couldn’t tell if her compliance made him happy or not so she kept going.

“T-two…”

Lola had barely gotten the word out when she felt a sharp stab go through her abdomen. She gasped as searing pain spread through her stomach like an out of control wildfire. She craned her neck up just enough to look down and see a large gloved hand curled around the handle of a knife that was lodged in her belly. Wet crimson blood soaked through her white blouse. She felt it trickling over her skin down to pool under her back. He pulled the knife out sending another wave of dizzying white hot pain through her. She screamed just as much at the sight of the violence done to her as the agonizing feel of it.

13.18

Weren’t there other people somewhere in this building? “Help me! Somebody! Call the police! Help!”

“Soundproof room,” Mr Parker’s soft voice reminded her.

She tilted her head back to the floor. Staring up at the purple lit ceiling, sobs choked her throat painfully rattling every single muscle in her body. She was going to die here. This was not how she planned to go. Not that she knew how she wanted to die, but she was supposed to accomplish so much more before it happened. Murdered wasn’t so bad when one was moderately famous. People remembered tragedy. They were enamored with violent loss.

However, Lola wasn’t sure if she wouldn’t be forgotten after a week’s gossip. She only had Johnny and a couple other friends who she knew would hold to her memory. As for the rest of the fair-weather stage world, she wouldn’t be around to see if her mark was deep enough, would she?

“Why?” She asked, her voice cracking and hoarse.

There was silence for a long second.

“You wanted to be in my next film,” Mr Parker said. “This is it. This is my tribute to Campbell. A warped reality seen through the eyes of a twisted mind that normally people would shun, but on a screen they’ll except for the sake of story and entertainment.”

13.14

She blinked, the pain twisting in her torso making it had to think. Mr Parker was Lola’s only hope to stay alive. She had to convince him to see reason, to understand that he couldn’t stand back while a another human being was being slaughtered. “No, Mr Parker. This is wrong. You are an artist. You rise above reality not descend into the murk of its darkest hovels.”

“I’ve had enough with the clouds of wistful imaginings. My films could only recreate what I thought would happen, how something might feel.” He said. “This my opportunity to share with the world what it’s really like to live and die. Real life not fantasy. That’s the twist.”

 

She shivered from an icy cold that was slowly crawling through her body. How could she have not sensed that Mr Parker was evil? He was just as demented as the one wielding the knife. No, worse. Mr Parker was the willing lure who humiliated Death’s victim by trying to gain renown through their suffering.

“A snuff film is not art.” She said.

13.21

“This is a documentary.” He retorted, disgust in his tone as he had the right to be offended by her. “You’ll have to see the final cut to understand. It’s the story of Memory Games. Just as they learn to love him, they remember and they turn against him in hate. In the same amount of time their hate dissipates into love for him again. You’ve done the same with me.  We’re both playing our role without needing a script to tell us to. Can’t you see? You brought to life those beautiful haunting words and now we contrast with your ugly dismal death. I couldn’t have written it any better–”

“Crazy.” Blood spit from her mouth with the word. “You’ll burn in the chair then you’ll burn in hell.”

“I don’t care if I’m caught. As long as my project is finished and distributed beforehand. Whatever happens after, happens.”

“Enough.” Death said, interrupting their back and forth. “Her part is finished.”

He lifted the knife above his head. She wasn’t ready. Lola grabbed his jacket. Her fingers looked shockingly pale against the black cloth.

“Don’t let them forget me.” She pleaded.

13.19 Screenshot-79

She didn’t know if there was a face behind the masks he wore. Even if there were, without a heart in his chest, any semblance of human features were meaningless. The knife stayed in the air, however, then gently lowered to his side. The black mask shadowed under the dark hood appeared to stare at her face as if he were considering her request.

13.20

Finally, he gave her a deep nod.

She loosed his warm jacket from her grasp, satisfied. With no more energy to fight, her arm fell limp by her side landing in sticky liquid. She closed her eyes. She saw Johnny’s euphoric face at their wedding. She remembered receiving the local theater circuit award for best actress in Fly Me to the Moon four years ago. BaBoo’s celebration over her first starring role in a middle school play. That’s all she would take with her.

The plastic tarp rustled beside her. She felt her hair grabbed near the roots, her head lifted and jerked back. The cold blade pressed against her neck. Soon she’d join BaBoo swinging and dancing on the stars. Lola was ready.

She whispered to Death,

“Remember me.”

 

————————————————————————————————————-

13Title b

Below is the photo that I was originally going to use for the cover of this chapter, but once I got the above shot, I knew which one was right to front Lola’s last appearance.

MG 13

They both have an old feel to them. I still like both, but the first is more mysterious and crisp with a film noir style. And I’m a sucker for the lights and shadows of monotone and neo-noir.

13TitleScreenshot-49

Was going to use the original color shot until I thought, “What about no color?”

:D Hope that didn’t bore you. I’m a bit bummed by Lola’s death. She was fun. She loved the glitz & glam of old Hollywood/Broadway and I wanted photos that would capture that vibe while hinting at the darker themes of the chapter.

 

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Chapter 13

Please Read Previous Chapters 1-12 First!  

Chapter 13

1995

They were as shocked as Corbin had hoped when he broke the good news to Susanna and Henry. In their father’s office, Susanna had called the man himself. She put Paul Lang on speaker phone to prove she was telling the truth. Corbin heard his dad sigh,

“If this is one of your pranks, Susanna, I’m going to–”

His voice resonated in the room with a firm tone. Corbin was so excited to hear him that he couldn’t wait.

“It’s me, Corbin!” He shouted at the phone.

“Who?” His dad asked.

“My proof.” Susanna said.

Screenshot-132

Corbin bounced on the balls of his feet. “Corbin Pern! Your son!”

The room and the phone became quiet. At first, Corbin rejoiced in the success of his announcement, but as the silence and stares lengthened he felt awkward. Was something wrong?

“Dad. It’s me.” He said again. “I ran away so I can stay with you. Now we can be a family.”

“Susanna, this isn’t funny.” His dad said.

“I-I didn’t, I don’t…” Susanna faltered. “He does look like you and Henry.”

“That’s a lie!” Henry shouted. “He doesn’t look anything like us. He’s lying. Someone sent him here to get money. Didn’t they?” Henry glared at Corbin.

Confusion and fear made Corbin tremble. He didn’t understand. Everyone was mad, especially Henry.

“My mom doesn’t know I’m here.” Corbin said, quietly. “She said Paul Lang is my dad, but I’m not supposed to say anything about it unless there’s an emergency.”

“Your mother is a liar.” Henry said. “Whatever she told you isn’t the truth. She’s trying to scam our father.”

“Shut up, Henry.” His dad ordered. “Young man, who is your mother?”

“Audrey Pern.”

“Audrey Hia?” Susanna asked.

Pern,” Henry emphasized. “We don’t know any Perns.”

“She could have gotten remarried, duh.” Susanna said.

“She doesn’t have kids. She doesn’t even like kids!”

“That’s true.” Susanna agreed with her brother. “And we’ve seen Audrey a few times and she would have mentioned if she had a son.”

They both looked at Corbin with faces full of doubt and suspicion.

Screenshot-133

“My mom didn’t lie. She said he knows I’m his son and that I was supposed to come live with him when I’m thirteen anyway.”

“Then why are you here now?” His dad asked.

“Um… because… I don’t want to wait.”

“I’ll be there in two hours. I’ve got to wrap this meeting up first. Lock the boy in a guest room and one of you stay with him. Do not let him out of your sight.”

“He’s not really your son, dad. Let’s throw him out and be done with it!” Henry said.

“I’ll sort it out when I get there.” His dad said. “Don’t do anything stupid. I’m talking to you, Susanna.”

“I didn’t do anything!” Susanna protested.

“Henry, take care of it.”

“Yes sir.”

The phone clicked and the beep of the disconnected line filled the room.

————————-*****************************_____________________

************************

2015: Friday 12:13pm

I looked away from Susanna’s penetrating brown eyes. I knew she was right– deep down it was true. Langs always looked after ourselves first. That was our way. Having to admit it, though, to say that Lang was in the blood not the money or upbringing, was more than I wanted to acknowledge.

“I thought having another little brother would be fun.” Her tone softened. “You’re an improvement over Henry. We’re so close in age, Henry and I, it always felt like we were competing. Half the reason I went back to school and got into law after my first marriage blew up in my face was to prove to dad that I could accomplish something great like Henry ‘the genius’ did. But, it’s different with you. We’re the screw-ups. We always feel we’ve got something to prove even when there’s nothing left.” She licked her lips. “You were so young. The brother we never knew we had. All those years ago… I’ve always wished I would have done something to stop him.”

12.31

I turned my gaze back to her in time to see her dab at the corner of her eye with her pinkie finger. I sighed. She was only 18 at the time. Still a kid in many ways. She barely knew me. Keeping me alive wasn’t her responsibility.

“Susanna–”

“I do care about the victims you’re describing,” she said, her voice changing to one of authority. “But you have to realize that you, my baby brother, are smack in the middle of this mess. If this gets out no one is going to care if you’re innocent or not. All they’ll see is a rich boy who steals and murders for kicks while slumming it to cover his tracks.”

“But I didn’t–”

“How many people’s memories has he sold to murderers? Will your aging grandmother be next? Will he blackmail people who don’t want their memories broadcast to the world?”

“No!”

“They!” She pointed out the window. “They don’t care what your answer is. They will assume the worst; they hope for the worst. The worst brings ratings and distraction from mundane lives. It doesn’t matter if you’re ever found guilty of a crime or not. You will be the Memory Thief who played a sadistic game with innocent patients’ pasts and, whether it’s connected or not, led to people’s deaths.”

“I get it.” I grumbled.

Screenshot-203

“And what about his family? Maybe they’re all the same. Who cares! Henry? Company down the drain and all his employees with him. Good luck getting jobs you poor pathetic slobs. Once we see NeuroCorp on the resume, we’ll assume you’re a lying, thieving, murderer. Who wants to stay at a Lia Hotel? The beds are probably rigged with mind control devices. Me? Disgraced. Those of us who are older, like dad, we’ve lived our lives, we can muscle through, perhaps. But there’s the young Langs with their future soiled before it’s even begun.”

“I said I got it, Susanna!”

“Good.” She stood and walked over to a counter where an electric kettle was dinging. “We’ll have to stay on top of this. It could easily go away if it weren’t for your little incident in a house with dead bodies. If you left anything behind– prints, bodily fluids, hair– they’ll bury you. I’ve put people away for life on less.”

The tinkle of water pouring into a cup filled the momentary silence. Susanna brought back two cups of steaming water. “First, get rid of the tri-disc.”

“You want me to throw it away?”

“No. Give it to Henry.”

“Henry? But he’ll have me prosecuted!”

Susanna sighed with frustration. “Henry will do no such thing. He might fire you, but he won’t take you to court. How is he going to explain to his board, the investors, the public, that NeuroCorp can’t secure their patients’ privacy? Trust me. He’s left behind the science ethics and become a businessman. He’ll be pissed, but he’ll never go public.”

She stuffed dried yellow petals into two metal mesh balls. “You cannot, under any circumstances, have that disc on you while being connected to three dead bodies. Once that’s out of the way, we can devote all our attention to the investigation.”

I ran my hands through my hair. My chest squeezing tighter making it difficult to catch my breath. “I’m going to prison. I didn’t wear gloves. I was knocked out cold for who knows how long. They’ll find me all over that place.”

12.32

“You’re doomed only if there’s no one else.” She put a filled metal mesh ball into each steaming cup. “You said there was a woman and a person on the the stairs. Also, you won’t like this, but there is Matteo.”

“He didn’t do anything.” I quickly said.

“You don’t know that.”

“I know Matteo.”

“Did you see him not do anything? Can you honestly rule out the possibility that he was involved somehow? He conveniently disappeared and didn’t come to your rescue. Is it because he was ashamed, incapacitated, or because he was busy hauling your unconscious body upstairs?”

“You’re trying to make me doubt him.”

She picked up her teacup with both hands and smiled. “I’m a lawyer at heart. That’s what I do.”

I understood what she was implying made sense, but I still wasn’t ready to give in to it. “Besides Matteo, the other people there. Their presence creates doubt on what I may or may not have done, doesn’t it?”

“And if we can find one of them, get them to corraborate on some part of your story, we’ll have a good chance at deflecting blame from you.” Her phone pinged. She looked down at it.

“On to Matteo…” I muttered. I didn’t want to blame murder on Matteo simply because I was unsure.

“If Matteo’s in trouble, the sooner investigators know, the more they can do about it.  There’s nothing wrong with protecting those you love, but sometimes what appears to be the best and what is the best for someone aren’t the same.”

“Matteo’s never steered me wrong. We always look out for each other.”

“He’s been your family for so long, I know, but, honestly, Corbin, Matteo wasn’t thinking about you or your well-being.”

“He needed me to do the job.”

“He needed you to secure the tri-disc for himself. You know it’s true, Corbin. If you had come home five minutes later, Matteo would have left without you.”

I shook my head as I looked away from her. I didn’t want to think about that. I didn’t care if it were true. Matteo was the only person I’ve completely trusted for almost two decades. Without him there was no one.

“Matteo’s choice was his own. The consequences are his to bear not yours.” Susanna continued. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t believe Matteo’s intentions were to harm you whether he was apart of the slayings or not.”

I snapped my head up.

Screenshot-22

“His plan was to go alone. Then, when you tagged along, he left you in the car. He tried to protect you by giving you as little involvement as possible. But if you want to return the favor, the best thing you can do for him and yourself is to tell the police. They can’t find a person they don’t know is missing.” She stretched her arm across the table and lay her hand on top of mine. “Corbin, a person capable of violently murdering three women including one child is not someone you casually hang out with. Either Matteo knows this person well enough to trust that they won’t harm him or he didn’t leave that house of his own free will.”

She squeezed my hand. “Keeping quiet won’t do him any favors.”

Damn it, I was tearing up. I wiped at my eye. Susanna slid her phone toward me and tapped the screen.

“Those three victims are the only people involved who were completely innocent. If you care about them half as much as you say then help bring them justice.”

On her phone was the news alert headline: Confirmed! Three found murdered on Garland street

The short article basically reiterated what the news had reported all morning. Neighbors thought it was staged for a film and were shocked to learn it was real. It didn’t mention Matteo, Parker, or the strange woman.

I sighed, defeated.

“I get the tri-disc to Henry and turn myself in.”

She gave me a sad smile. “Innocent persons come forward. Only the guilty have something to hide.”

“Like the tri-disc.”

“They can’t fault you for returning the property to its owner.”

“I can’t believe I’m protecting Henry. If it were me, he’d abandon me to the wolves, again.”

“He was so very very wrong, but he was just a kid.”

I was a kid.”

12.30

She nodded, patting my hand before pulling away. “When you go down to the station, tell them you have information on the murders, but that you won’t talk until your lawyer is present.”

Changing the subject. Classic. I didn’t want to talk about Henry anyway. “I don’t have a lawyer.”

“The family has plenty to spare. The firm dad’s with is Finn and Raymon. Give them dad’s name and they’ll send whoever’s the next best if Mr Finn isn’t there.”

“You know the drill pretty well, huh?”

Her cheeks colored a deep pink. “I used their services a few times in high school and college.”

“Must have been nice.” I muttered, thinking of the times I could have used a lawyer after being caught stealing.

“Don’t look at me with accusing eyes. How do you think you beat having a public rap sheet after all your little rebellious escapades?”

“No way.”

Susanna nodded. “Your mom would call dad. He would send a lawyer and you walked. They took care of your friend, too.”

“Matteo?”

“Until the assault. That was too much. He didn’t use his own people, but dad helped the Juarez’s hire a legal team that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”

“There was always something weird between dad and Audrey. They keep secrets between each other and won’t say why. At least not to me. You know I’ve asked a million times why they never told us about you. Dad tells me the same thing: It’s not for him to say or for me to know.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure, but I think he’s saying that it’s between you and Audrey.”

Me and my mom? “They both kept it from me, from us.”

“Maybe it was more Audrey’s idea. That’s the only reason I can think of that would make dad think it wasn’t in his right to speak on it. Have you ever asked him?”

I had once. He didn’t tell me anything. Actually, I was yelling so much I didn’t give him the chance to. I’d always thought I knew why. He didn’t want me. I didn’t want to actually hear him say the words so I never gave him the chance to.

But to Susanna I said, “No.”

“Well, you should. When you do, if it’s not too much to ask, would you tell me? I’ve been dying to know for over twenty years.”

“Sure.” I agreed with a shrug. If I ever asked. A memory pricked at my mind. Words I was told a long time ago. “Mom told me that it wasn’t safe to be with my father until I was teenager. She never said why. After our spectacular first Lang-Pern family reunion I figured she was right. It wasn’t safe. I haven’t questioned her on it since.”

12.34

Susanna looked confused and perplexed all at once. I had nothing more to say on the subject. She know what happened at the end of our first meeting. I picked up the green porcelain cup in front of me and sipped it’s golden honey brown contents. Cold bitter tea.

“What is this?” I asked as I added two spoonfuls of sugar.

“Sunflower petal tea.” Susanna said, her eyes still glazed with a far off look.

I grimaced. “Sunflowers?”

She blinked, coming back to the present. “It’s very therapeutic. You can use every part of a sunflower for consumption as long as they’re grown away from toxins and pollutants. I have them shipped from a farm in Appaloosa Plains.”

Sunflowers? The word tingled at the back of my brain like there was something important attached to it, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. I took another sip.

“Not bad.” I mumbled. I was thirsty or hungry (both) and drank the whole cup. “This isn’t a funny story, but when I was kid I used to think that blowballs were called… Evelyn…”

Susanna held her cup halfway to her lips. “Evelyn?” She took a sip. “You’re right. It’s not funny.”

“No, um, I meant moonflowers… I called them moonflowers because there’s such a thing as sunflowers. So, naturally, I thought…” I rubbed the back of my neck. Evelyn had thought the story was cute, but my sister’s expression gave me the impression she thought that was silly. “I promised Evelyn I’d bring her sunflowers after her show tonight.”

12.35

“Evelyn?” The cup softly clinked against the saucer. “Isn’t that the girl you brought over the other night?”

“Yeah…” I was never going to see her again. Ever. I was going to prison and that was that.

“Kyler said she’s in some cartoon show he’s into. Is it serious? Between the two of you?”

I shrugged. “It’s a dubbed anime, and no. Not really. It’s not like we were officially dating or exclusive. Anyway, I broke up with her.”

“Really? You broke up with someone you’re not dating? When?”

I paused. Did she have to catch me on every word? Instead of explaining the first part, I answered her last question. “After the dinner fiasco. She didn’t want to be around all that drama.”

“She said that?” A tinge of guilt glimmered in Susanna’s eyes.

I thought back. “Well, no. I just figured she wouldn’t.”

Susanna leaned back in her chair. “I haven’t known you forever, Corbin, but you’re the one who freaks out when life gets serious. That’s why you’re Henry’s janitor instead of dad’s associate. That’s why you waste a creative entrepreneurial mind that can build and problem-solve on stupid things like theft and trying to ruin your entire family. You always look for the easy, temporary way out instead of simply confronting what’s in front of you.”

“Thanks, mom. But you’re forgetting that I’m going to prison. That’s not easy.”

“True, but would you even consider coming forward if you weren’t afraid of getting caught anyway?”

“What does this have to do with Evelyn?”

“You like her, Corbin. A lot.”

“No I don’t.”

“You’re not five. It’s ok to like someone.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “How would you know? You only met her once.”

“For starters, when you walked in you looked like you two had a lover’s quarrel.”

My ears warmed. “What?!”

Screenshot-222

“You appeared very concerned with how unhappy she looked. And even though you broke up with her I can tell that you were seriously considering getting her those flowers anyway. Let me guess, you hadn’t even thought about ending your relationship until you did so on an impulse and now you’re regretting it, but it’s too embarrassing for you admit that you’ve made a mistake.”

“You don’t — That’s not–”

Susanna laughed. I slumped down in my chair. My whole face felt hot.

“I’m constantly lied to in court,” she explained still smiling. “I’ve gotten good at reading people.”

“After what I said, she’ll never forgive me. Besides, I’m going to jail, remember? Why would she wait?”

“Corbin, when you respect someone you don’t control them by making decisions for them.”

“I’m not controlling anything.”

“Did you ask her what she wanted? Did you ask for her forgiveness? No. You assume what people think and then act based on what you’ve decided. It took two failed marriages for me to figure this out. We take away another person’s power when we’re too overbearing or scared to let them be their own person. They’ll never be honest with us if we don’t allow them to be by putting our own words and thoughts into their mouths and heads. Even if she never gives you an answer or doesn’t want to talk, give her the opportunity to be in control of herself and her life by being heard. Then you’ll both be free to let this chapter close or open a new one.”

Screenshot-20

My phone buzzed on the table. I looked down grateful for the interruption to this unsolicited heart-to-heart. It was a text from an unknown caller.

“Should I?” I looked at my sister for instruction.

Susanna’s expression sobered. She nodded, leaning closer. I opened it and read:

Urgent!!! MEET ME @ WESTVIEW PARK. ASAP! -lyre

“It’s Lyre… She wants to meet with me right now.”

“Lyre?” Susanna raised an eyebrow at me. “You still keep in touch with her?”

I chortled. “Not until yesterday.”

“I thought we were finished with her. Well, don’t tell Henry, and don’t strum her string.”

I froze. “What did you say?”

She gave me a half smile. Her eyes glittered with amusement. “Don’t sleep with her.”

“No.” I couldn’t shake the chill that crept down my spine. “You said ‘don’t strum her string’. Why did you use that phrase?”

Susanna shrugged. “Her name’s Lyre. Like the instrument. A lyre? It looks like a small harp.”

“And you strum the strings?”

“Yes.”

“Strum the strings. Sing the music.” I repeated the words the woman at the house had said to me. “Lyre was a singer. Remember when death glared your way… what does that mean?”

“Corbin, are you alright?”

I grabbed my phone and the tri-disc from the table. “I gotta go!”

“What time should I expect to hear from–”

The door was closing behind me before she finished her question.

12.37

Strum the strings. Sing the music. Those were the exact words the woman had said. My heart. Both the woman and the message on the sticky note mention it.

You took his mind.” The woman with the heart and butterfly tattoo had said. “He wants your heart.

Then she’d told me, “Your heart: Strum the strings. Sing the music. Remember when death glared your way.”

And now the sticky note: Keep this piece of my mind and I’ll keep a piece of your heart.  

All of this was connected. All tied together by the same person. Someone who had a thing for minds, hearts, music, and death? The mind part made sense. I had seen his memory. The heart though… did he think going after Lyre (the strings and music) was somehow messing with my heart? This “death” guy (probably Parker) and that woman might be the ones who’ve been following Lyre. They were mistaken if they thought Lyre was my heart. She was a pawn in my game of vendetta against Henry and the family six years ago not the love of my life. But I didn’t want to see her get hurt. She was still human, sort of. I hailed a taxi needing to get to Westview Park as quickly as possible.  

As we passed downtown government buildings, I couldn’t get one troubling thought out of my head. Why would Susanna use that exact phrase right after talking about that house of horrors? Was her humor that sick? Had she forgotten that the woman… wait, did I even give her the exact words of the woman? I wasn’t sure. Maybe.

What made her say it? Was it because Lyre came up and she really was thinking of a crass play on words comparing sex and an instrument? The words could have bounced in her head and she said it without remembering where she heard it from. Or, did she say it because it originated with her?

Screenshot-14

Lyre had said that the woman who tried to take Reena out of school last week resembled Susanna. I hadn’t thought my sister would need to resort to such tactics if she’d really wanted to get her niece, but now I wasn’t sure. I felt like I was wrong about everything. Lyre spoke the truth and Susanna is the liar? Susanna had made a big deal about confronting life. Maybe she was hinting at something larger. Then again, Susanna had seemed genuinely surprised that I was in contact with Lyre. If she knew, as Lyre suspected, we had a child together would it really be that big of a shocker? Wouldn’t she have used the information against me while convincing me to turn myself in? There’s no way Susanna would have passed that up.

I shouldn’t have walked out. I should have challenged her, found out exactly what she meant, and what she knew. It was almost 1:00pm. Susanna had said she had a meeting at that time. Even if we turned around immediately, it’d be too late. I’d missed my chance.

For now, I was going to squeeze every drop of information I could from Lyre. She was hiding something the other day. I was going to find out exactly what. 

 

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MG Title 13

Note: I meant to have this chapter out the same day as 12 since they go together. They started off as the same chapter, but I split it once I saw how long it was. Then when I was reading over this chapter I realized that the stuff about Matteo at the beginning repeated toward the end. I had to fix that and put more heart-to-heart & sisterly advice in to show the difference between Corbin’s relationship with his sister versus his brother. And to give Susanna some face time that’s more than just business or flashbacks. And to get Corbin to start thinking about his own shortcomings as he’s so good about pointing out everyone else’s! :P

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Chapter 12

I posted a Recap of Act 1 for everyone who’s been following the story and wants a quick refresher on the basic events leading up to now. You might also want to scan over ch 10 (where Corbin’s in the house) if you’re fuzzy on that one as the next couple of chapters refers back to those events. 

If you’re just starting out with this story Please Read Previous Chapters 1-11 First! Trust me, the recap will not be enough. There are plenty of details I didn’t include without which will make what you’re about to read confusing. Well, then, on with the story:

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Chapter 12

Friday 9:00am, Pine Bell Apartments

Corbin

I rested my head against the back of the blue couch in my apartment. The television blared in front of me, but I didn’t pay it any attention. My thoughts were far from the safety of home. I’d gone over every single detail of the last nine hours in my mind a thousand times. Where was the sense in all of this? I couldn’t find it.

We went to meet Trey Parker, but in the end there wasn’t a Trey Parker… or a Matteo for that matter.

12.21

The commercials on the television cut off abruptly and the morning news returned. The anchors smiled with glee as they ravenously recapped the big stories of last night. Among them a murder at a house on Garland street.

…Confused interviewed neighbors recount being told that a movie was being shot in the house and that this is all a show.

The on-scene reporter reminds viewers that a serial killer called Tri-fold claimed his first victims in this very house twelve years ago.

The building is said to be ripe with paranormal activity and has been used for films, pranks, seances, and pseudo-science investigations over the years giving credence to neighbors doubts about an actual murder.

Police still aren’t giving out any details on any potential victims or the circumstances, but the reporter promises to keep the public updated…

I could recite the story in my dreams if I were ever able to sleep again. They’d replayed it mercilessly since I’d gotten home three hours ago. I picked up the remote and turned the channel until I came to a 24 hour shopping network. Mindless dribble. All I needed was background noise. The silence terrified me.

After I’d escaped the house, I raced straight for Avie’s car. The keys were still in the ignition and I peeled off, speeding pass several stop signs to put as much distance between me and the nightmare. I drove around town for two hours straight. In the back of my mind, I was sure that whoever was stomping down those stairs in the house was following me. The last thing I wanted to do was lead a psycho straight to my doorstep. Every car, truck, or light that I saw behind, beside, or in front of me, I feared was a killer preparing to leap out and finish the job.

12.22

Once I was certain no one was following me, I made my way over to Cafe de los Muertos, our old rendezvous site where we agreed to meet up if Matteo and I got separated. It was about 5 in the morning and the restaurant was closed. That didn’t mean Matteo wasn’t around. He could have caught the bus, took the train, or got a taxi. Hell, all the time I wasted driving nowhere he might have walked here. I stepped out of the car, leaving the headlights on and the door open, and shouted his name several times. No one replied. He could be hiding somewhere. Maybe he didn’t know it was really me. Gathering what little courage I had left, I walked around the dark building finding nothing but a couple of rats by the dumpster. He wasn’t there. At that realization, the adrenaline that had been pumping through my veins dissipated leaving me feeling drained. I stumbled back to the car and stared out at the small parking lot, hoping that Matteo would suddenly show up. He never did.

 I don’t know if I fell asleep or became blind to all around me, but the sun crested over the horizon without my noticing it. When I became aware again, people were walking about the streets on their way to jobs, school, morning errands. Every face appeared normal, like nothing had changed in the world though it now hung upside down.

It was after 7:30am when I finally felt safe enough to return to my apartment building, parking Avie’s car with the gasoline gauge indicating it was nearly empty. Only then did I realize that my phone was on the floor of the backseat passenger side as it beeped a dying cry. I thought I’d had it in my hand when I entered the house. I remember that. I dropped it when I was hit (there’s no way I could have held on to it). I knew it wasn’t with me when I escaped. It couldn’t be. It would still be on my person if I’d had it. But there it was.

12.23

Someone put it there. Someone.

Regardless, I grabbed it, raced up four flights of stairs, and deadbolt locked my apartment door before I could even muster processing thoughts again. I searched every inch of the two-bedroom apartment– closets, shower, under the beds, under the couch, in the cabinets, behind the window blinds, but I was completely alone. That knowledge gave me relief and fresh fear all at once. There weren’t any boogeymen hiding in the shadows, but where was Matteo?

After moving the orange loveseat and wood bookshelf in front of the door, I noticed the dried red blood on my hands, smeared on my jacket, stuck on the bottom of my shoes. I stripped naked right there in the living room and raced to take a bath. The water had turned from scalding hot to freezing by the time I stepped out of my long shower, my skin red and raw from all my scrubbing.

12.24

Every single article of clothing I’d worn had to go. I got a trash bag and stuff them inside. I paused to take my wallet out of my pants before chunking them. Then I checked my jacket pockets to ensure I didn’t toss out anything important.

In the right pocket, my fingers brushed against a slip of paper and something cold to the touch. I paused trying to recall what it could be. Nothing came to mind so I grabbed it then pulled my hand out. Opening my fingers, I found that I held a small triangular disc. I immediately dropped it and jumped back like I’d held a burning coal in my palm.

The tri-disc lay on the hardwood floor, silver and cold.

Attached to its bottom was a yellow sticky note.

12.25

I couldn’t come near it for the longest time. So it just lay there while I turned on the TV to see if there was any news about what happened at that house on Garland street. Now I still sat on the couch, the disc on the other side of the room, my mind struggling to decide on what to do.

Was it really all fake like the people on TV said? Just a movie? I hadn’t noticed any cameras, lights, or a crew. There could have been hidden cameras with night lens like some kind of invasive reality show. Maybe the whole thing was a prank. They scared unsuspecting persons so others could have a laugh.

I liked that possibility. It meant no one was hurt and I’d never been in any danger. But if that was the case, why didn’t someone pop out and explain that it was a joke? Isn’t that what they always did?

And what about Matteo? Was he in on it? Was the whole tri-disc “exchange” a cruel prank by Matteo? Why? To get back at me over Avie? Would he post online so the world could laugh at me?

That didn’t make sense. Matteo couldn’t have had enough time to put something that elaborate together after Avie rejected him. And Trey Parker had first called me before Matteo and Avie’s dinner. Even if Matteo were the mastermind behind a prank it would have nothing to do with Avie and me. I think. Besides, this type of scheme is more along the lines of something I’d do for revenge or kicks, not Matteo. For him to pull this off, honestly, I couldn’t see Matteo going through that much trouble and not taking credit at the end. There’s no way he wouldn’t have met me either at the car or the apartment to gloat over his success and laugh at my fear.

If it were Matteo, though, that would explain how the tri-disc found its way back into my possession. Though the thought pissed me off, I needed the whole night to be a prank pulled off by my best friend because Matteo’s long absence had me worried. I couldn’t shake the icy tightness in my chest that something was terribly wrong.

12.26

I wanted to call the police to explain everything, but if it was nothing, wouldn’t I look stupid? Then again, the police were looking into it so they probably wouldn’t mind more information. But if Matteo really was pulling a prank then I would get him into trouble once I reported the incident. It may have started off as a hoax, but with the police involved it had become serious. Of course, Matteo could have nothing to do with this and it was all Trey Parker. That was someone I could live with being on police radar.

I picked up my phone. I tried Matteo’s number again. Straight to voicemail for the umpteenth time. I didn’t ask him to call me back anymore. I hung up. Was he unable to answer or did he not want to?

The host on the TV was rambling about a good deal on fake looking ruby earrings. I stood to my feet and crept over to where the tri-disc lay on the floor. Unfortunately, it hadn’t vanished in my absence. The yellow sticky note. I had to know what it said. It could be the key to the truth and give me the answer as to what to do next. Hopefully, it said “joke’s on you… Avie and I really are engaged and gone for the weekend… Everything yesterday was fake.”

I inhaled deeply before bending down, picking it up, and flipping the disc over in one motion. My hand shook so hard the words jumped around, but I managed to read:

Keep this piece of my mind and I’ll keep a piece of your heart.  

The disc hit the floor again.

12.27

I called the police… Apparently, leading off with “I saw into the mind of a psycho who cuts up faces and now he wants my heart” makes the dispatcher think you’re a crazy person. I never got passed the part about what I’d seen on the tri-disc and trying to explain what a tri-disc is. I tried to ask if they found Matteo Juarez at the murder house yet because he’s missing. All I got was concern that I was going to harm myself and a question of where to send an ambulance.  

I probably should have thought about what I was going to say, but the note had me focused on what was in the killer’s mind. Thinking of the disc, I called the person who knew everything there is to know about it. Now that I’d been threatened, doctor-patient confidentiality should be tossed out the window.

Henry didn’t answer any of his phones: mobile, home, work– he wasn’t in the office today and his secretary refused to reveal his whereabouts. I told her I was his brother and her job would be in jeopardy if she didn’t tell me where he was (yeah, right, Henry’ll give her a raise, and she must have known it too because she laughed and hung up). So much for brotherhood.

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* * * * * * *

1995

Corbin asked a few people on the street and the best way to get to the hotel was by bus or the underground train. He’d ridden the train with his mom before, but the thought of going down there alone was too scary so he waited at a bus stop instead. The first bus wasn’t going near the hotel. It was a ten minute wait before the next one came. It could drop him off a block away. The driver promised to tell him when they got there. 20 minutes after he boarded, he was running down the sidewalk then standing before a huge, tall building. There was a big stone sign surrounded by a reflecting pool that read Lia Bridgeport Hotel. It was the most beautiful building he’d ever seen.

Once he entered, he found the hotel was just as impressive inside. He’d have time to take it all in later. Corbin quickly moved up to the counter where a hotel clerk wearing a name tag that read Darla stood.

12.1

“Good afternoon, how may I help you?” The clerk asked.

“I’m here for the tour,” Corbin said.

“Excuse me?”

“The tour! I signed up over the phone. The lady said it starts at 2 o’clock.”

“I’m sorry. We don’t have a tour here.” She told him.

“But this is the Lia Hotel. This is where it’s at. I’m going to win a dinner with Paul Lang.”

Darla sighed. “I’m afraid that you have the wrong hotel.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Corbin asked.

“This is Lia Bridgeport. They’re giving tours of The Lia Lang Hotel.”

“Lia Lang Hotel?”

“Yes. It’s also known as Lang Hotel to differentiate it from this one. Not that it stops people from annoyingly confusing the two all the time. It’s not my problem that they can’t read.” She cocked her head to one side. “Do you know how to read?”

12.2Corbin nodded.

“Too bad. You’re young enough that could have been a legitimate excuse.” She chuckled then sobered. “As it is, I’m very sorry, sir. You could leave right away, but as the building is across town in the historical district, you won’t make it there before the tour is over.”

His eyes watered. “You mean I’m going to miss it? And dinner with my dad?!”

A confused look crossed Darla’s face. “Is your father at The Lang?”

Corbin closed his dripping eyes and nodded. He was at the wrong hotel far away from home and his mom. To top it off, now he’d never meet his dad.

“Hey…” She dropped to her knees in front of him. “Don’t cry. You’ll agitate our guests. What’s your name?”

“C-corrr-bin… Perrrrrn…” He sobbed.

“Alright, Corbin.” She said. “I’m going to call The Lang and see what I can find out. Ok? Your father is probably looking for you. Did you come by yourself?”

He nodded again, swallowing. “I took the bus.”

Darla rolled her eyes. “Parents lose all sense of responsibility on vacation. Do I look like a babysitter?” She looked up as a group in business suits rushed to the counter. “I’ve got to take care of some real business right now. You wanna do something fun while you wait?”

“Yeah.” Corbin sniffed, rubbing at his eyes.

*****************************

Corbin sat staring at two girls playing a board game on a stage. He sighed with complete boredom. Darla had taken him to this big room full of people many of whom were dressed alike in jackets. He told him is was competition of the greatest sport on earth– chess! Corbin didn’t know what chess was, but Darla said it was a matchup of the best high school chess clubs in Bridgeport. Corbin had been very excited to be at a high school game when he was only in fourth grade. He felt extremely grown up.

Until… until he realized that chess was the most boring-est sport ever.

12.3

He leaned his tired head back against his chair and huffed. What was taking so long? Darla said she had few VIP guests to attend and then she’d fetch him. That was like nine hundred years ago.

Tuh! Thunk! Two soft sounds by his right ear. Corbin looked over at the guy who sat next to him. He was dressed like some of the other people. A light blue jacket and brown pants. He stared through glasses at a book in his hand.

Tuh! Thunk! His face changed to one of irritation. There was giggling from somewhere behind them. Corbin turned around in his chair. Two rows back sat a group of high schoolers dressed similarly to the guy beside him. One of the boys in the group balled up a sheet of notebook paper and threw it. The paper ball hit the book guy sitting by Corbin in the back of the head. Tuh! Then fell to the floor with a soft Thunk!

This time the guy shut his book and turned around. He looked angry.

“What?” He hissed.

“When is this nerd infested turd puke over?” The boy who threw the paper whispered loudly. “We’re dying of old age and boredom back here!”

That was exactly how Corbin felt. The group snickered and giggled.

“Why did you even come if you didn’t want to be here?” The book guy asked.

“To get out of classes, duh!” A blond girl next to paper boy said.

“Your boredom is not my problem.” The book guy replied. “Next time use your brain to decide if something’s worth doing or not.”

12.4

“Oooo! Want some theme music with your PSA?” The paper boy said causing the ones next to him to burst out laughing.

“Silence during game play!” A frowning man who seemed to appear out of nowhere shot a nasty look at the group who slumped in their chairs before he walked away.

The book guy had turned around when the frowning man had spoken. Corbin watched  in horror as the paper ball boy crumpled another one of his weapons and chunked it at the book guy’s head. Then the blond girl pointed at Corbin. She stuck her tongue out at him.

“You’re next.” Mouthed paper boy.

Gasping, Corbin quickly turned around and sat forward. His fingers curled about the seat of his chair gripping it like that would activate a shield around him. Paper boy was really big. Those balls must hurt 10 times more than being shoved into the wall or thrown to the floor by the bad kids at his school.

“Don’t mind them.”

“Huh?” Corbin craned his neck up.

The book boy was looking down at him. “They were born without brains. They can’t help their stupidity.”

12.5

“My mom says things get better when you’re older. They’re older, but they’re just as mean as the kids at my school.” Corbin had been looking forward to growing bigger, but now he realized that meant the other kids would get bigger, and stronger, too. He was going to get beat up for the rest of his life.

“Your mom’s right.” Though the book boy smiled the blue eyes behind his glasses filled with uncertainty. “I’m sure she means it’s better when you’re an adult.”

“Aren’t they adults?” He snuck a trepid glance behind him.

“Not even close. They’re only seniors. They think they own the world.” He tucked both sides of his black hair behind his ears with his hands. “It won’t last long. They’ll be freshmen again next year.”

An adult. His sighed. He was never going to make it that far. Not with the likes of Tre White and Tinkle Finckle (who peed on people) around.

“I’m Henry by the way.” Book boy held his free hand out to him. The strands of his hair weren’t long enough to stay tucked away and they fell back against his face when he moved. 

Corbin looked at him in surprise. A big kid wanted to be friends? Reverently, he shook the older boy’s hand. “Corbin. I’m Corbin.”

“Do you like chess, Corbin?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Henry smiled. “It’s pretty exciting once you understand it. See, it’s like two kingdoms going to war. Yours and your opponent’s. You fight the other kingdom with the goal of bringing their king unto submission to you. Only, instead of using swords or guns or bombs, you battle with your mind.”

12.6

“Like psychic superpowers?!”

He chuckled. “Not exactly. I mean, instead of might, you use wit. You outsmart the enemy and strategize your way to victory.”

Corbin looked back at the two playing chess on the stage with new appreciation.

“That sounds cool.”

Henry beamed. “It is.”

“Checkmate!” The girl on stage jumped to her feet in celebration. Everyone in the room clapped and cheered. Corbin joined in. He guessed “checkmate” was the word for “win”.

“Wish me luck, Corbin,” Henry said, pushing his black hair out of his eyes. “It’s my turn.”

“You play chess? Wow.” Corbin thought of something. “Wait.” He opened his bag and shoved his arm in. His hand felt around until something sharp poked his skin. He pulled it out and looked at it to be sure before handing it over to Henry. “This is for you.”

“A toy airplane?”

Corbin nodded. “It’s good luck. Whenever you have it you it reminds you of what makes you happy so you’re not lonely and… um, that you can fly to the sky if you want and that makes you stronger so you’ll always win.” He made up that speech to fit the moment.

He gave Corbin a big smile. “Thanks. I’ll keep it close.” He slipped the small metal plane into his pants pocket.

12.7

“And now our finalists,” the frowning man announced. “Last year’s champion, Etta Akpotha of Green Hill High faces off with our challenger from Xavier Academy, Henry Lang!”

As Corbin clapped and cheered for his new friend he wondered if Henry having the same last name as his dad meant that they knew each other. He’d have to ask him once the game was over. Henry sat across the small table from the girl he was fighting against. He looked over at Corbin and gave him a thumbs up. Corbin proudly returned the gesture and settled into intently watching the match even though he still didn’t know what anything meant.

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* * * * * * * * *

   2015: Friday 9:47 am

After five minutes of ranting to myself about how useless Henry is, I realized who was even better than my big brother.

“I bet the police would listen if a judge told them about a psycho killer,” I muttered as I found her number in my contacts.

Susanna didn’t answer her mobile phone, but her assistant at the courthouse was extremely helpful (unlike someone’s employee) and set up an appointment for me during lunch at 11:30. It was after 9:30 when I called and I couldn’t wait. I dressed and made my way to the courthouse. I felt safe sitting outside Susanna’s office– nervous but safe. No one in their right mind would attack me here. Not that I was dealing with someone whose mind was anything close to right, but I didn’t think he’d chance getting caught by coming to a place crawling with bailiffs, security guards, and lawyers.

12.28

Susanna was right on time.

“I’m sorry. We won’t have much time for pleasantries,” Susanna said. “I’m presiding over a hearing and I need to meet with the attorneys at one. That gives us an hour and a half.”

“That’s fine.” I said as her office assistant brought in a lunch of salad and lasagna then motioned me over to the table it was set up on.

“We can talk while we eat,” Susanna said sitting across from me. “I’m not taking any calls or visitors so there won’t be interruptions unless there’s an emergency.”

I nodded, gathering my thoughts, while she placed a napkin over her legs. I didn’t know where to start. So, I just began talking– going back to the evening of the family dinner when I saw into a killer’s mind.

By the time I’d finished my story, Susanna had done the same with her meal. I don’t know how she listened and ate, especially during some of the gory details. I guess she’s used to hearing about the decrepit side of humanity. What little appetite I had, I lost as I recounted the last two days.

When I stopped talking, Susanna didn’t say a word. She’d interrupted me with a million questions while I talked, but now that I needed her to say something she was silent. She stared at me across the small table for the longest time with her fingers folded under her chin. I wondered if she believed me.

12.29

“I don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into,” she finally said with a glance at the tri-disc and note I’d set on the table, “but it sounds serious.”

“You believe me?”

“I have no reason not to. Your story’s specific. You didn’t falter at my questioning. And you have physical evidence to back up your claims. It’s a bit bizarre, but you aren’t lying.”

Relief washed over me. I don’t think I loved my sister more than in that moment.

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* * * * * * * *

1995

Etta Akpotha held up a big shiny gold trophy over her head and Corbin felt terrible. He shrugged his backpack onto his slim shoulders and shuffled toward the door with his head down.

“Hey! Corbin! Wait up!”

Henry jogged up to him. “What’s wrong?”

“You lost.” Corbin sniffed.

“Oh. Yeah. It’s no biggie.”

“But I gave you a my lucky airplane and it didn’t work! It’s my fault you didn’t win.”

Henry chuckled. “No one wins chess by luck, especially not against Etta. She’s been undefeated for three years. But she’s a senior so next year I have a really good chance.”

Corbin looked up at Henry’s excited face and couldn’t help but smile.

“Yeah. You’ll win next year, Henry. You’ll be the best!”

“Maybe you can come back and cheer me on?”

“You want me?”

“Sure. I don’t know about this little plane, but I think you’re my good luck charm, Corbin.”

Corbin didn’t have any words to say. He had never felt as proud as he did at that moment. Henry held his plane out to him.

“Keep it.” Corbin pushed his hand back. “I get it next year after you win.”

Henry smiled and slipped it in his pocket. “I won’t lose it. I’ll always keep it nearby and safe. I swear.”

Corbin nodded, knowing that he would.

“Hey!” The blonde girl who sat behind them during the tournament ran up and jumped halfway on Henry’s back.

Henry’s arms flailed out as he leaned forward under her weight.

“Watch it! There’s a kid here.” Henry told her.

“Sorry. I didn’t realize you were babysitting.” She said.

12.8

Corbin had had enough of her and her friends who stood nearby by giggling.

“Get off of him, you ugly fart face!” Corbin yelled. “Or… or I’m gonna take your eyes right out of your head.” He meant that he’d get Dear Fear to do it, but he sounded tougher if he used “I” instead.

The girl, her friends, and Henry all stared at him like he’d lost his mind. Then they burst out laughing. Well, Henry ducked his head.

“I like this kid,” the blonde said, putting her arm around Henry.

“I said don’t touch him, you stupid monkey!” Corbin ordered, pushing her.

12.9

“Hey! Corbin, it’s ok.” Henry said. “She’s my sister.”

Corbin blinked. “Your sister? How? You’re nice and she’s so mean.”

“I’m not mean.” She pouted then pinched Henry’s cheek, hard until he shoved her away from him. “I’m the most loving person in the world. I’m like Mother Theresa.”

The guy who threw paper balls snickered. “Right. Back in the day when she was a total bitch.”

“Shut up, Todd! There’s a kid here.” She looked back at Corbin. “I’m so nice, I’m going to treat you to an ice cream. Would you like that?”

He would, but he still didn’t trust her. She might be Henry’s sister, but she was bad. He could tell from the calculating glint in her brown eyes.

“Actually, I’m supposed to be looking for my dad.” Corbin said.

“Aww. Are you lost, little puppy?” She asked, whimpering like dog. “Let’s get ice cream and then we’ll all help you find your daddy.”

“Leave him alone, Susanna,” Henry said.

“I’m only showing him how nice and not stupid I am.” She looked down at Corbin and her syrupy smile disappeared replaced by a malicious smirk. “I have a right to prove myself against his nasty little accusation. Come on everyone!” She yelled to the room. “Ice cream for all on me!”

Henry put his hand on Corbin’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Stick by me. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

12.10

Corbin watched Susanna motion to him to follow her. He looked up at Henry.

“Promise?”

“Promise. You’ll be safe with me.”

* * * * * * *********

Corbin retched into the toilet again. His vision blurred by hot streaming tears, his nose filled with both runny snot and the smell of his own acidic vomit, and his ears assaulted by constant bickering.

“How was I supposed to know he’d get sick?”

“What kind of a person does that to a kid? What’s wrong with you?”

“He shouldn’t have called me names.”

“You’re 18, a senior, Susanna! What do you care about being called a buttface by some third grader?”

Corbin was in the fourth grade, thank you very much. But he couldn’t defend himself to the siblings as more disgusting mush pushed up and out his mouth. He was afraid he was going to puke his stomach up. He wished his mom were here. She would take care of him. He would even settle for Wicked Willow. Anything that was familiar. He never should have left home.

12.12“Cayenne pepper in his ice cream!” Henry yelled. “You’re so immature. How are you older than me?”

“I said I was sorry!”

“You’ll be sorry when I tell dad.”

“Henry! Please. One more mess up and he’ll take my driver’s license away again.”

“Maybe you should start thinking about consequences before you do dumb stuff not after.”

“I’m sorry…”

Corbin pushed away from the toilet and sat on the cold tile floor. Henry crouched beside him, gently wiping the puke, snot, and tears from his face. Susanna stood watching them with her back against the bathroom wall, arms crossed and her own tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I want my mom!” Corbin wiped at his eyes with his sleeve.

“Ok. We’ll get your mom.” Henry said. “Our dad will be able to find her really fast.”

“No!” Susanna blurted out.

“Susanna!” Henry glared at his older sister.

She turned her face away before mumbling. “Fine.”

“Our dad owns this hotel and he’s got lots of resources.” Henry continued, cheerfully. “All we need is your mom’s name and he’ll have her found in seconds. I swear.”

Corbin stared up at him, uncertainty filling his heart. “Your dad owns this hotel. I thought Paul Lang did.”

“Paul Lang is our dad, dummy.” Susanna muttered. She looked at her brother. “I mean that in the nicest way possible.”

12.13

Corbin scooted away from Henry. “That’s not possible. He can’t have another son and daughter.”

“Okkaaayyy…” Henry looked up at his sister.

“What do you mean ‘another’?” Susanna asked. “He only has two kids. Us.”

No. No. He had one kid. Corbin. That was all. Just him. Only him.

“Who’s your mom?” Corbin asked, praying it wasn’t his mom.

“Susan Seymore. I was named after her. Everyone called her Suzie. That’s where I get my blonde locks from and Henry’s blue eyes.”

Whew. If they didn’t have the same mom then maybe they didn’t have the same dad either.

“Where’s your mom at?” Corbin asked. “Can she help us?”

The siblings exchanged glances again. 

“She’s… she died. A long time ago.” Henry said, bowing his dark head.

“Oh.” He felt bad for them– not having a mom like he did. “I’m sorry about your mom.”

“It’s ok. We were really little when she died. I barely remember her.” Susanna knelt in front of him. “We’ll help you. That’s what she would have done. Well, that’s what moms do so I guess she’d do that. Unless she’s like me then she’d leave you here.”

“Susanna!”

“It’s a joke, Henry. As long as word gets back to dad that I help lost kids I’ll take you to your parents myself.”

12.14

They helped him up off the floor. Henry bent down and let Corbin ride on his back while Susanna carried his schoolbag. She led the way through the hotel. They were stopped once by a schoolmate of theirs not far from the bathroom.

“Out of the way, loser,” Susanna demanded. “We have somewhere to be.”

“Hold up.” Henry said, stopping. “Is something wrong, Beck?”

“Oh no. I’m fine.” The Beck girl said with a blush, waving her hands in front of her face. “I wanted to see if your little brother was ok. That must have been so awful throwing up all over the place like that.”

“He’s doing better,” Henry said, “but he’s not my brother.”

“Oh. Sorry. Cousin?”

“No…” Henry gave a nervous giggle. “We’re not related at all.”

12.15

Beck’s eyes widened. “Really? Wow. You two look so much alike. I thought… sorry. I’m glad you’re feeling better, little guy.”

“Thank you.” Corbin mumbled.

“We have to go,” Henry said. “See you at school tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Henry turned to leave. Susanna stared at him and Corbin. Her narrowed brown eyes moved from one face to another.

“What?” Henry asked.

“Nothing. I hope.” Susanna began walking down the hall again. “Hurry up!”

Corbin clutched Henry’s jacket as they moved down the hall. He did like Henry; and Susanna wasn’t so bad… all the time. They were both taking care of him. His dad having other kids was pretty nice. Maybe Henry would teach him how to play chess. And Susanna might help him take down his bullies seeing how she was one herself. Corbin’s stomach still hurt, but his heart filled with warmth. Once they got to his–their–dad, Corbin would tell them the good news. They were going to be so surprised. Maybe his mom would join them once she saw how happy they all were. He hoped so. Then they could be a real family.

 

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* * * * * * * * *

2015: Friday 12:00pm

“We’ll have to look into what angles we can control in the situation so that the family suffers as little collateral damage as possible.” Susanna continued.

I stared at her in disgust. After everything I’d related–three persons dead, one wounded woman, Matteo missing–all she got out of that was protect the family’s reputation?! “Of course you put the Lang’s affairs over innocent lives.”

Screenshot-22“I’m so sick of hearing you say stuff like that. All you’ve ever done is worry about yourself. The first thing you did wasn’t to go to the police to report potential murders of ‘innocent’ lives. No, you protected yourself. You’re not going to guilt-trip me for doing the same.” She leaned forward. “I know you still think of me as the blonde bitch at that dumb little chess tournament who you can’t trust, but, Corbin, I’m not the one who wanted you dead.”

 

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12 MG Title

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