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Authors: Danielle Girard

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Literary

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BOOK: Chasing Darkness
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Nick
thought about Molly Walters. She had been one of Sam’s cases. Sam had
prosecuted Sandi on charges of child abuse but had failed to get them to stick.
He’d heard her voice her frustration about the judge more than once during the
case. Despite X-rays showing multiple fractures in Molly’s right arm, despite
the girl’s own tearful testimony, the judge had sent Molly back to live with
her mother. Sam’s insistent appeals to the judge had gotten her kicked out of
court.

It
wasn’t strange that Sam had been involved with the case against Sandi Walters.
As a special agent with the Department of Justice, Sam’s workload was mostly
abuse cases. So what was it about this case that was bothering him so much?

Nick
stopped pacing as the other coach left the field. Rob approached the plate and
raised his arm to the ump to signal time out while he scraped the dirt in the
batter’s box with his cleats and planted his back foot comfortably. After
settling into his stance, he swung his bat in slow motions, finishing each
swing with the bat pointed at the pitcher in an attempt at intimidation.

The
other team’s pitcher had the best arm in the league. With a full windup, the
first pitch came fast and straight. Rob swung and connected for a hard line
drive down the left field line, but the ball hooked left and landed in foul
territory.

“Strike
one.”

“Come
on. They’re coming straight and hard,” Nick said under his breath. “Consistent
pitch. Just straighten it out, Austin.”

The
next throw was a high fastball, and Rob swung a moment too late. Nick heard the
ball smack the catcher’s mitt.

“Strike
two.”

“Come
on,” Nick whispered again.

Rob
steadied his arm and furrowed his brow as he set his eyes on the pitcher’s
hand. He had to make contact and keep the ball in play.

The
ball came, again straight and hard. Rob swung, making clean contact. The hit
was a long fly ball that sent the left fielder backpedaling. Then, realizing
the ball was going too far, the player spun around and ran. Both benches jumped
up screaming. Rob was running the bases, legs pumping as he watched over his
shoulder for the ball to come back.

Nick
screamed at Rob to make the turn and run for home. The shortstop threw hard and
fast to the catcher, who was poised at home for the play, his mask thrown off
to the side.

Nick
cringed as the ball neared home plate. “Come on!”

Rob
instinctively dropped into a hook slide, his left leg extended, and scraped the
surface of home plate just as the catcher fielded the ball and swept his mitt
home, missing him by inches. With a horizontal wave of his arms, the umpire
called Rob safe.

“Yes!”
Nick screamed, jumping up.

The
kids piled off the bench and ran for the players crossing home plate. Nick
leaned back and watched them hoist Rob victoriously onto their shoulders. He
laughed.

“Nice
game, coach.”

Nick
turned to see Sam smiling at him. He touched her shoulder, relieved when she
didn’t flinch. “Glad you’re here.”

“Any
progress on the case?”

He
shook his head. “Sandi’s mother wasn’t much help.”

Sam
nodded. “I remember her from the pretrial hearing in Molly’s case. Not a real
easy woman.”

“Are
any women easy?”

With
a warning look, half play, half serious, Sam gave him a little shove. “Watch
it.”

“How
about you? Find anything from the old case?” he asked.

Sam
shook her head. “I got a complete list of involved parties to the sheriff’s
department by about noon today. The clerk I talked to recognized a few of the
names from the list who are still in the area, a couple in the department and
one working local security. He’s running the other names through the computer.
Once we locate everyone, we can pick out the people we need to talk to. I’ve also
got someone following up on anyone Charlie Sloan knew in prison who was
recently released.”

Nick
watched the boys celebrate as a thought circled his brain like a stallion
gaining speed. “Sloan could probably have paid someone pretty generously to get
him off by making it look like he wasn’t the killer. Be hard to prove he
committed another murder from death row. Maybe he was hoping to get a stay of
execution.”

“It’d
be a little late for that now.”

Nick
shrugged. “Maybe he had it planned earlier.”

“But
why go through with it now? Why bother if Sloan’s been dead more than a year?”
She shook her head. It didn’t make sense. “Maybe the family would want to try
to clear his name, but I checked around to locate members of Sloan’s family
still in the area and didn’t find any. His wife declared bankruptcy, leaving
upwards of a hundred and fifty thou in unpaid legal fees, and then left the
country. She’s originally from France.”

Nick
pictured Charlie Sloan’s smiling face, his starched white shirts with his
initials on the left cuff, a Hermes tie and a dark suit. He looked more like
Michael Milken than Charles Manson. “I can’t make sense of it.”

Derek
reached the group and they cut the shoptalk.

“I
found the
Exile on Main Street
album at Adobe Records,” Nick told him.

Derek’s
eyes widened. “That’s the only Stones one I’m missing.”

Nick
shook his head. “Not anymore.”

“Really?”

Nick
nodded.

“Wow.
That’s so cool!”

Rob
came running up and threw an arm around Nick. Nick returned the embrace. “Nice
playing, kid.”

“Yeah.
Good game,” Sam added.

Rob
was panting. “Man, I thought I was going to strike out and lose the game.”

“So
did the kid in left field. You sure showed him. Nice going.”

Rob
gave him a grin.

“Good
game,” Derek agreed.

“Thanks,
Der,” Rob said.

Trying
not to stare, Nick watched the boy move as they all headed to the car. Despite
the weekly physical therapy and the shoes to correct the two-inch disparity in
his legs, Derek seemed to be limping worse than ever. They crossed the street
and headed up the small hill to the parking lot. Nick waved to several of the
parents.

Rob
turned to Sam. “What’d you think?”

Sam
nodded. “Thought it was great.”

Nick
watched Rob search her face. He could tell Rob was disappointed with her
reaction. He sensed the tension between them and knew immediately that they
hadn’t addressed the previous night’s missed curfew. Sam was angry. And rightly
so. He just would have handled it a little more openly.

He
made a fist to gain control. It wasn’t his to deal with. This was between them.
Sam’s family, not his.

“She’s
right, Rob. It was great,” he added, hoping to distract Rob from Sam’s less
than boisterous reaction.

“Thanks.”
He turned back to Sam. “Can we go to Chevy’s to celebrate? I’m starved.”

“I
don’t think—” she started to say.

“My
treat,” Nick suggested.

Sam
shot him a look, but Nick winked in response. “Give me a chance to bug your
aunt here about some business,” he added.

Sam
looked at Nick and then at Rob. “I don’t know. Maybe we should just head home.
It’s pretty late and after last night, Rob, I’m not sure you deserve—”

Rob
stopped and spun around, his eyes narrow. “I was half an hour late.”

Sam
watched him with a sour face. “Curfew is curfew. It means home by midnight.
That’s plenty late, Rob. You’re only sixteen.”

“It’s
summer.”

“It
doesn’t matter. Midnight is the rule.”

Rob
looked to Nick for backup.

Nick
shook his head and turned away. He couldn’t intervene. It wasn’t his place.
Still, every bit of teenage friction around him made him wish he’d had a chance
at parenthood.

“That’s
ridiculous,” Rob snapped.

Sam
grabbed Rob’s shoulder as he started to turn away from her. Her voice low, her
face inches from his, she was nothing if not intimidating. “It’s not
ridiculous. It’s a rule. You’ve got to be home by curfew. You hear me?”

Rob
pulled away.

“She’s
right, Rob,” Nick added. “It’s important to obey your aunt.”

Sam
didn’t even look at him. Her eyes were set on Rob, waiting for his agreement.
He didn’t give it. She straightened her spine and turned toward the car. “I
think we should go home.”

“I
was half an hour late,” Rob repeated. “Jesus Christ, I’m not one of your damn
prisoners.”

Several
people passed them and Sam remained silent.

Nick
felt his cheeks burn as he awaited her reaction.

Sam
lowered her voice and aimed her glare at Rob. “I don’t care if it’s a minute or
an hour. I set a curfew and you’re home. Don’t you dare make a scene about it,
Rob. This isn’t my fault. It’s yours.”

“Bullshit.
It’s always about you! You and your goddamn rules.”

Sam’s
jaw set at the tone of his voice. “That’s it, Rob. For the next week, you go to
work and practice and that’s all. You’re grounded. Any more of that language
and it’ll be longer. Another slipup and I’ll sell that damn bike. Are we
clear?”

Rob
waved her off. “That’s not fair. I don’t have to live by your rules.”

Derek
slumped back. If Nick didn’t know better, he would have thought Derek was
afraid.

“Rob,”
Nick warned.

“No,
it’s true,” Rob insisted. “She runs the place like it’s the military.”

Sam
stared at Rob as though he had turned into an alien. “Why are you so angry?”

He
shrugged in a hard motion. “You don’t know crap.”

“Watch
it,” Sam warned.

“Crap
is not a swear word.”

“It’s
getting close.”

“Jesus,
it’s like I’m in jail. You don’t know anything about me, you don’t care.”

“I
do care and I’d like to understand, Rob,” Sam said, clearly frustrated.

“You
don’t give a damn.”

She
snapped back. “That’s not true, Rob. I do care—I care a lot. I’m here busting
my butt trying to help you, so don’t try to twist this around. You’re at fault
here, not me.”

“Of
course your aunt cares,” Nick interjected.

Sam
threw him a look that told him to stay out of it. Then turning to the boys, she
said, “That’s it. We’re going home. We’ve got leftovers.”

“I’m
not going with you,” Rob screamed. “You’re a bitch!”

Nick
grabbed the boy’s arm. “Rob!”

Rob
pulled away. “She doesn’t give a shit about me.”

“That’s
not true.”

Rob
pointed to his aunt, who had turned her back and was walking to the car. “Look
at her.”

“Sam,”
Nick called after her. “Let’s talk about this.”

“You’re
out of line, Rob,” she called back. “We’re going home now. And you’re grounded
for a month. One more tirade and the bike is gone. I’m done with this acting
out.”

Rob
didn’t move.

“You
shouldn’t have said that to your aunt,” Nick chastised. “It wasn’t fair and you
didn’t mean it.”

“Yes,
I did. I hate her.”

Nick
shook his head, wishing he could do more. “You don’t hate her. You’d better go
on, Rob.”

Rob
started to stomp toward the car.

“And
apologize,” Nick called after him.

Derek
followed them in silence, and Nick could tell all three were miserable.

He
watched as they moved toward Sam’s Caprice, trying to think of a way to make
amends. He knew it would do no good, though. Sam didn’t want his advice on
parenting, and Rob didn’t have control over his own emotions. They needed to
work things out on their own. And as much as he had started to care more than
he should, it wasn’t his business. He watched the few stragglers head to their
cars, then sat on the curb under the darkening sky and rubbed his hands over
his face.

He
should concentrate on things he
could
fix, things he had control over.
Concentrate on work, he told himself. It’s a lot less exhausting. He thought
back to Sandi Walters’ death and how little he had learned from her mother. He
knew his captain would want better answers than he could provide. Captain
Cintrello was reporting directly to the undersheriff. A screw up on this case
could put a hitch in both of their careers.

The
undersheriff hadn’t hesitated to call in the Department of Justice. With
departments usually battling to keep others out of cases, the undersheriff’s
quick decision to open the case to another department let Nick know exactly how
concerned he was about Sandi Walters’ murder. The fact that someone had
strangled this victim and left her with eucalyptus leaves behind each ear had
made them all uneasy.

If
Charlie Sloan didn’t have a partner, it meant someone with inside information
was the killer—D.A., the M.E.’s office, or a cop. If that wasn’t the case, then
someone sure as hell wanted it to look like it was an inside job.

Chapter
Three

Sam
hovered over the chocolate cake, smoothing the last bits of chocolate and
peanut butter frosting over the spots of dark cake still visible. She could
hear the thump of feet coming toward the kitchen. “Not quite yet,” she yelled
back, shaking her head.

“Ah,
Sam. Come on. It smells so good.”

She
shook her head. “Two minutes. And get Derek, too.” When she heard the steps
retreating, she pulled the candles out of the drawer and carefully made a
circle of eight candles. Eight years since the boys had come to live with her,
she thought, remembering how stressful that first day had been. Her sister’s
instructions in her will giving Sam custody had been clear—keep them away from
the South and their families. Their father’s as well as hers.

Sam
had never questioned that request. Nor had the boys. It was as though leaving
it all behind was as much a relief to them as it was to her. Polly had told Sam
that she’d been given custody because she was the one who had gotten away. Or
that’s what Polly had thought. But the idea of having no one to turn to, not
even her estranged family, was more than a little overwhelming to Sam on that
first day.

BOOK: Chasing Darkness
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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