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Authors: CJ Lyons

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BOOK: Black Sheep
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Now he had a chance to live his dreams. First, God had sent him the animals to rescue
and care for.

Then, last night, He’d sent the girl. She was perfect: smart and pretty and a woman
of faith. A few times he’d leaned against the door and just stood there, listening
to her praying, tears slipping down his face. He couldn’t say why he wept; guess he
finally knew what folks meant when they said the Spirit moved them. She moved him
like no one else ever had.

Dad would never approve.

The law would lock him up for good.

If the Reapers ever found out they’d kill him.

 

CHAPTER SIX

Caitlyn drove past the yellow-and-neon glow of slumbering bedroom communities that
dotted Route 28, not worrying about speed limits or flashing amber stoplights. Her
phone rang. Paul. She put it on speaker, although usually she hated to talk while
driving.

“Baby,” he drawled in his best Barry White impression, “I miss you. Come on home before
your side of the bed gets cold.”

She laughed. Paul was the first man she’d ever been with who could always make her
laugh. She was crazy, even thinking of leaving him. But she also couldn’t envision
a life with him—at least not on his terms. Doubt left her feeling unbalanced. She
resorted to a weak attempt at humor. “I told you what I’d do to you if you ever called
me ‘baby’ again.”

“Oh yeah, baby, come show me what a bad boy I am.” He gave up the impression, too
hard to maintain when he was cracking up himself. “Seriously, Caitlyn, come back home
so we can talk about it.”

Talking with Paul about the future of their relationship. Or chatting up the man responsible
for her father’s death. Easy choice. “I really do have to be in Raleigh first thing
in the morning. I’ll call you as soon as I’m back.”

“You’ll be back for the weekend?”

He sounded anxious. God, he wasn’t planning anything stupid involving a ring, was
he? It would be just like him to orchestrate an elaborate surprise. Part of her wanted
to be that girl, the one who had a man eager to delight and surprise her. Most of
her was simply too scared to even think about it. “I’m not sure.”

His sigh filled the distance between them. “Okay. Drive carefully. Call me.”

“I will.” She hung up, her attention focused on the lonely highway ahead of her.

*   *   *

When she made it home, she parked the Impreza in front of the restored Victorian and
climbed the creaky outside stairs leading to her apartment on the second floor as
quietly as possible. Like Caitlyn, her landlady was a chronic insomniac and prone
to stop by for a chat if she heard Caitlyn up and about.

Leaving her apartment would be the second-hardest thing when she eventually was given
a new assignment. She loved this place, with its big drafty windows and high ceilings.
It was the first time she’d actually turned what started out as temporary quarters
into something that felt like a sanctuary.

It wasn’t fancy. The sofa shared the living room with her treadmill. She ate standing
at the kitchen counter because she’d never found time to buy a proper table or chairs.
But every time she walked through the door she felt a weight lift, she could let her
guard down. Really relax. Whether it was curling up and reading a good book or working
out while watching reruns of
Dr. Who.
Or just sitting on the couch and cleaning her guns.

The focal piece of the room stood in the corner: a small, upright gun safe lovingly
crafted from cherry, with an old-fashioned dial lock embedded into the door. It was
about the size of a footlocker only half as deep, heavy enough to stand on its own,
but small enough to easily fit into the trunk of a car. It was the one piece of furniture
she’d taken with her every time she’d moved. The only thing she had left of her dad.

She took a quick shower and changed into working clothes: navy slacks, off-white blouse.
Then she crouched down before the gun safe and twirled the knob to unlock it. She
loved the way the tumblers clicked as the knob spun—it felt like opening a bank vault.
As a kid, she’d press her ear to the door, pretend she was Willie Sutton cracking
a safe. Of course she never succeeded. But it was fun trying.

The smell of gun bluing greeted her as she opened the door, a scent she associated
with her dad more than any cologne or aftershave. She slid her fingers over the safe’s
satiny finish, remembered helping him sand its door and walls, sawdust tickling her
nose, his smile as they moved together, with the grain, always with the grain.

She selected the backup piece she wanted from the shelves lining the back of the door,
a Glock 27. Forty-caliber yet small enough to fit into an ankle holster or wear at
the small of her back. The main space was designed to hold long guns: Dad’s old deer
rifle and her Remington 870 shotgun stood side by side, waiting like old friends.

Not today. Probably didn’t need the Baby Glock, much less the ASP extension baton
or the Gerber folding knife she carried, but Caitlyn liked to be prepared when she
hit the road. Never knew what might be out there.

After grabbing enough clothing for a few days—just in case, she told herself—and leaving
a message on LaSovage’s voicemail that she was taking a leave day—not that anyone
would miss her playing a spare bad guy in training simulations—Caitlyn took off again.
She was far enough south of DC and it was early enough in the day that the interstate
wasn’t crowded, leaving her the left-hand lane mostly to herself. Past Richmond, I-85
through southern Virginia was a monotonous stretch of highway but she didn’t worry
about falling asleep at the wheel. Too many ghosts to keep her awake.

Her father’s face, blood matting his red hair—hair the same red as hers, setting them
apart from the rest of the family. The dull film that made his eyes, always before
sparking with intelligence and kindness and a hint of laughter, appear fogged, like
the mists that clung to the river on cloudy mornings. His skin was still warm when
she reached a hand to touch his cheek, unable to believe what her eyes told her. But
not warm enough. She knelt there, on the floor of their living room, the room she’d
sit and watch cartoons in after school, listening for his boots clacking against the
porch steps, waiting for him to open the door and scoop her into his arms, reminding
her that the world might be a big, dangerous place but he was there to keep her safe.

A truck driver honked as Caitlyn drifted across the centerline. She yanked the wheel
back, blamed it on a lack of coffee even as she wiped her tears with a knuckled fist.

She never blamed her father. Twenty-six years and she’d never blamed him.

Her mom had. The rest of the family. The people at church, in town, at school. Evergreen,
North Carolina, was a small town on the edge of the Cherokee Reservation. The kind
of town where everyone knew everyone’s business and wasn’t afraid to pass judgment.

Weak, they pronounced Sean Tierney. Coward.

She’d gotten into so many fistfights, cursed and shouted down so many adults—including
their minister—that her mom confined Caitlyn to her room. Of course, Jessalyn didn’t
realize Caitlyn could hear everything said in the kitchen and living room through
the ventilation duct. That’s when she heard the truth: Her dad killed himself because
of what Eli Hale had done. He’d been about to lose his job because he was still defending
Eli, trying to prove his innocence, saying Eli was with him at the time of the murder,
even after Eli confessed to hitting a Cherokee tribal elder with a hammer then burning
down the man’s house to cover it up.

No, she didn’t blame her father for abandoning her all those years ago. For taking
a coward’s way out. For ripping her world apart.

She didn’t blame her father. She blamed Eli Hale.

*   *   *

By the time she drove onto the Butner campus her anger had coalesced into a perfectly
foul mood, more suited for a rain-soaked day than the sun-filled, crisp January morning
the world presented to her. FCI Butner One, one of several medium-security facilities
on the campus, was gorgeous. If you ignored the double ring of twelve-foot fences
topped with razor wire, you’d think you were driving up to the corporate headquarters
of an environmentally conscious manufacturer.

Trees and ornamental bushes surrounded the courtyard behind the administration building,
each bush trimmed into a neat green ball. Large green spaces separated the housing
units, named after Atlantic Coast Conference universities. The rec yard boasted a
bocce court, running track, baseball diamond, and a sweat lodge for the large Native
American population housed here. The only thing separating it from an elite athletic
resort was the overhead wire preventing helicopters being used to break out prisoners.

She parked in front of the admin building and wondered if the Native Americans ever
gave Eli Hale a hard time. After all, he was a black man who’d killed an Eastern Band
Cherokee tribal elder in a particularly brutal manner, bludgeoning the man to death
and burning his house down. Maybe life here wasn’t the country-club existence the
pretty shrubbery and gently curving pathways suggested. Part of her—the nine-year-old
part of her—hoped so.

The other part wondered how anyone stayed sane locked up for life, no matter how nice
the surroundings. Even after twenty-five years, Hale would only be in his late fifties,
still plenty of time left. Time to think about what he’d lost. About how he’d betrayed
his best friend. About what he’d taken from Caitlyn and her mom.

Jessalyn had never recovered from her husband’s death. Never dated again—at least
not as far as Caitlyn knew. Had given up her childhood home to take Caitlyn far away
from the bad memories. Had given up everything to offer Caitlyn a new life.

All because of Eli Hale. Caitlyn took a deep breath, trying to choke off the bitterness
surging into her veins like a shot of cheap tequila. Another breath followed as she
reminded herself she was a federal law enforcement officer here to interview a prisoner.
Nothing more, nothing less.

She placed her credentials into her blazer pocket, her gun in a holster on her waist,
and secured everything else in the trunk where she had a lockbox bolted to the car
frame. Not as nice as her dad’s gun safe, but it added a layer of theft deterrence.
No cell phones were allowed inside, so that stayed in the car along with her wallet,
leather car coat, backup weapons, and overnight bag.

It was still early, just past ten, but she knew it would take time to process her.
Since actual visiting hours didn’t begin until later in the day, they’d need to pull
guards to escort Hale to her, which would take more time. Probably why the warden
scheduled the visit to coincide with Hale’s transfer from the medical center back
to his unit. Efficient use of manpower.

The guard manning the reception desk didn’t seem to think so. He grunted without making
eye contact after Caitlyn filled out the requisite forms and showed her ID. His entire
world seemed to consist of the computer screen and keyboard in front of him.

“We’re at almost double our capacity and short-staffed.” He answered her unasked question
with a defensive tone as if she should just beg forgiveness and leave him the hell
alone. “You’ll have to wait.”

“For how long?” Caitlyn asked. The reception hall was already filling with families
queuing for visitation.

“Look, lady, you either wait here or sit in an interview room.”

“I’ll take the interview room.” Better than standing here being scrutinized by resentful
women and risk being contaminated by snotty-nosed kids. Another strike against Paul—he
wanted a family, would make the perfect father, while she’d be Mommy Dearest at best.

Growing up, her friends all loved her mother because Jessalyn Tierney treated them
like adults, the same way she treated her daughter. No coddling, although plenty of
hugs and kisses, but mostly a determination that her daughter would be strong.
Stronger than her father
was the unspoken refrain that colored every moment of their life together.

Watching her mom stand so strong against her grief, while also being treated like
an adult, expected to fend for herself since the age of nine, hadn’t cultivated any
maternal instincts in Caitlyn. Just the opposite: To her kids were miniature aliens
from a strange planet invading her world.

“Suit yourself.” He waved to another guard, who made her fill out more forms as he
took her weapon and locked it into a drawer, then ushered her through the metal detector.

The second guard, Smith was his name, seemed in a better mood than the first. They
walked to the visitation area, passing through several layers of doors. Once they
were inside he led her down a hallway, nodding to two inmates mopping the floor and
a guard juggling a cup of coffee while turning a key in a door leading to the monitoring
room.

“So this is why I’m starting my shift early,” the second guard said to Smith, eyeing
Caitlyn. “Guess it’s worth it.”

The two inmates looked sideways at her and she stared right back. One, a black man
with short dreadlocks, smiled a hopeful smile. Caitlyn arched an eyebrow at him in
incredulity. His partner laughed and elbowed him back to work.

Smith led her past the three of them to an entrance to a corridor. Inside there were
interview rooms along one side, ringing the main visitation area. The interview room
was empty except for two vinyl chairs, too light to be used as weapons, and a table
bolted to the floor. Two walls were solid, white cinder block, while the two with
doors were made of reinforced glass, floor-to-ceiling, thick enough that as soon as
the door closed behind her, all noises of the prison block died.

Smart design, Caitlyn thought. Privacy but without the need for additional staff to
monitor them. The single man operating the video feeds and watching out the observation
window above them could handle it all.

BOOK: Black Sheep
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