Authors: Brett Battles
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Kidnapping, #Thriller, #Thrillers
Copyright © 2011 by Brett Battles
Cover art copyright © 2011 by Jeroen ten Berge
All rights reserved.
LITTLE GIRL GONE is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For more information about the author, please visit www.brettbattles.com.
For more information about the artist, please visit www.jeroentenberge.com.
“Get the girl,” the voice whispered once more.
Slowly, Logan Harper opened his eyes. It had been the dream again, always the dream.
Get the girl.
He knew the words wouldn’t completely go away. They defined him now. He’d come to accept that. The best he could hope for was to force them to the back of his mind, and make them a distant whisper he could almost ignore.
He reached for his cell phone a second before its alarm started softly beeping. 4:05 a.m. It was time to get up, and start pushing the words away.
Creating habits had been the key. He’d developed a strict schedule that allowed him to go from one task to the next to the next. In the two years since he moved back to his hometown of Cambria, California, he’d basically done the same things everyday. In the mornings this meant a six-mile run, a shower, twenty minutes reading, then out the door to work.
The reading had been the hardest part. In the first few months, it had been almost impossible to concentrate on the words. His mind would drift back. He’d see things he didn’t want to see. Hear things he didn’t want to hear. But he kept at it, finally training himself to focus on the page and not on the past.
At 5:55 a.m., he would close whatever book he was reading, and head out. That Tuesday morning was no different.
Cambria was located on the Central Coast of California, almost exactly at the midpoint between Los Angeles in the south and San Francisco in the north. It had been a good place to grow up, but like most teenagers in small towns, Logan had seen it as confining. He couldn’t wait until he turned eighteen and could leave, and that was exactly what he did—Army, college, a great job at a defense contractor based in D.C. He was gone fifteen years before everything changed, and the only place that made sense for him to go was home.
Now, instead of small and confining, he would have said Cambria felt right. But that wasn’t really the truth. Nothing felt right to him. What Cambria was for Logan was a place where he could just be, and not worry if it was right or confining or safe or any of those kinds of things.
It was a way station between what was and…what he had no idea.
At his normal walking pace, it was eleven minutes from the front door of his apartment above Adams Art Gallery to Dunn Right Auto Service and Repair where he worked as a mechanic, but only if he was heading straight there. His routine included a stop at Coffee Time Café for a large cup of French roast, black, and a toasted bagel with a light smear of cream cheese.
Tun Myat had owned Coffee Time for nearly two decades. He was a seventy-something year-old Burmese man who moved to the U.S. in the 1980s, and was a close friend of Logan’s dad, Neal “Harp” Harper, for nearly as long. He was always smiling, and never had a problem if a regular was a little short on cash. No one called him Tun, though. He was Tooney, even if you’d just met him.
As usual, the lights inside Coffee Time were all blazing when Logan arrived. He pushed on the door, but had to pull up short to keep from slamming into it when it didn’t open. He took a step back and looked at the sign propped in the front window. CLOSED still faced out.
Logan was pretty much Coffee Time’s first customer everyday, and Tooney almost always made sure the door was unlocked before he showed up. Peering inside, Logan looked through the dining area, past the glass cabinet that housed the pastries, and into the visible section of the kitchen. He couldn’t see anybody, but Tooney had to be there somewhere. When Logan had run by an hour earlier, the lights had been off.
Chances were, Tooney was just running a little behind, and scrambling to get everything ready. If that were the case, he could probably use a little help, Logan thought. He decided to go around back and see.
Coffee Time was the second-to-last unit in a row of tourist-focused shops on Main Street. Logan headed around the last of the units, then toward the back. Just as he reached the end of the building, he heard a raised voice. He paused, worried he’d almost walked into something that was none of his business, then took a peek around the corner to gauge the situation.
Tooney had parked his old Ford Bronco directly behind the café like he always did, but this morning there was an unfamiliar Lexus sedan sitting beside it. That didn’t necessarily mean anything. People had been known to leave their cars back there on occasion.
The door to the café was open, spilling light onto the cracked asphalt. But whatever voice Logan had heard was silent now. It dawned on him that it could very possibly have been a radio with its volume set too loud when it had been turned on.
He rounded the corner, thinking that must have been it, but he only made it a couple of steps before he heard a heavy thud and a short, muffled yell.
Not a radio.
Tooney. There was no mistaking the voice.
Keeping as tight to the wall as possible, Logan moved to within ten feet of the open door.
The voice from moments earlier spoke out again, a man’s voice. Logan was close enough now to make out what he was saying. “Nod your head and tell me you understand,” the voice ordered. Logan had never heard it before. “Good. Now sit up.”
It was clear whatever was going on inside was not just a friendly visit. Logan’s first thought was that Tooney was being robbed.
He glanced at the Lexus, automatically memorizing its license number. He knew the car could hold several people, which meant it was very possible the speaker wasn’t alone.
Crime in Cambria was rare even at the worst times. For law enforcement, the town relied on the Sherriff’s Department stationed out of Morro Bay nearly twenty minutes away. Logan pulled out his phone and started to dial 911, knowing they would never make it in time, but the sooner they were en route, the better.
He’d barely punched in the first number when Tooney’s voice drifted out from inside. “Please. Just don’t hurt—”
There was a hard slap.
Logan shoved his phone back in his pocket, knowing he couldn’t waste time making the call, then glanced around, looking for something he could use as a weapon.
“You open your mouth again, and it’ll be the last time. Understand?”
“Good,” the voice said.
Logan spotted two three-foot long metal rods, in a small pile of wood along the back of the building. Both had double lines of slots running down one side. Screw them to a wall, then insert hangers in the slots, and, bingo, instant shelving unit. Or grab one in each hand, swing them around, instant clubs.
He chose option two.
As he moved toward the door, he heard the sound of something moving, or sliding inside.
“…too much, and apparently doesn’t…” the man with Tooney said, the first part covered up by the noise, while the last seemed to just fade out. This was followed by a solid, metallic click and everything went silent.
Logan stepped into the doorway, and looked quickly around the room, ready to help his friend. Prep table, food storage racks, sink, dishwasher, stove, walk-in refrigerator, a stack of empty milk crates, Tooney’s small desk.
But no Tooney, and no man. No anyone.
As silently as possible, he walked to the doorless opening that separated the kitchen from the front of the café. But there was no one there either.
Where the hell—
He heard a voice, muffled and indistinct, to his left. He whirled around, his arms cocked, ready to strike. But there was no one there.
As the voice spoke again, Logan realized it was coming from
the walk-in refrigerator.
He raced over and yanked the door open. A flood of chilled air poured over him, but he barely noticed it. Three feet inside, Tooney was kneeling on the floor, facing him. Between them was a man in a dark suit, pointing a gun at Tooney’s head.
Before the man could turn all the way around, Logan wacked him hard in the arm with one of his improvised clubs. The man let out a groan of pain as he sidestepped past Tooney, and moved further into the refrigerator, away from Logan.
Logan slashed at him again, hitting the man’s shoulder, and scraping the end of the metal rod across the man’s neck.
“Son of a bitch!” the guy yelled. He twisted to the right so he could bring the hand holding the gun around toward Logan.
In a quick, double motion, Logan swung the rod in his left hand at the man’s head, then struck downward with the one in his right at the gun. The man leaned quickly back to avoid being gashed across his cheek, but doing so caused his gun hand to drift upward a few inches, right into the area Logan had aimed at.
Just as the rod hit the gun, the man pulled the trigger. A bullet raced by Logan’s hip, then slapped into the wall of the refrigerator. Logan struck at the man’s hand again until the pistol, a Glock, tumbled to the floor.
Unarmed now, the man staggered back, bleeding from both his neck and his hand.
Logan stood in front of him, ready to strike again. “Tooney,” he called out. “Can you get up?”
“I think…” Logan heard a foot scrape across the floor. “Yes…I can.”
“Go call nine-one-one,” Logan told him.
The would be attacker laughed. “You’re not going to do that. Are you,
Logan sensed the café owner hesitate. “Tooney, now.”
That seemed to break the trance, and Tooney shuffled out the door.
“Who the hell are you?” Logan asked the intruder.
“Why don’t you ask Tooney?”
Logan stared at him for a second. “Get comfortable. It takes the Sheriff a little while to get out here, and you’re going to be pretty damn cold by then.”
The guy began to smile. “I can handle a little cold. Can you?”
The last word was barely of out of the man’s mouth when he charged. Logan whipped a rod through the air, smacking the man in the side of the head, but it didn’t stop him. With another step, the guy had moved inside the range of the clubs.
Logan quickly let go of them, then grabbed the man by the shoulders and tried to guide the attacker’s momentum passed him, not through him. He was only partially successful, though, deflecting the man away from his chest, and into his shoulder.
The man staggered, then started to go down. Reaching out, he latched onto one of Logan’s belt loops, and they both ended up tumbling to the floor.
Logan found himself on his back, with the man on top of him. He threw a quick punch into the man’s ribs. But instead of responding in kind, the man shoved Logan in the shoulders, and pushed himself up.
As soon as he was on his feet, he started searching the floor, obviously looking for the gun, but Logan spotted it first. He kicked the man in the hip, knocking him sideways into a stack of egg crates, then got his foot on the gun, and kicked it toward the open door.
The moment it passed through the opening, Logan realized that was a mistake. He jumped to his feet, but the man raced outside first.
Almost immediately the door began to swing shut. The guy was doing to Logan what Logan had been planning to do to him.
Logan pressed his hands and arms against the door, trying to stop it from shutting. But the man had the leverage, and the door kept getting closer and closer to sealing Logan in. Then, with just a few inches to go, it suddenly jammed to a halt. For several moments, the man continued pushing, trying to close the remaining gap, but the door wouldn’t budge.
There was a grunt of frustration, then the pressure from the other side ceased. Logan pushed the door open just in time to see the man grab Tooney and throw him into one of the storage racks, then race outside.
Stepping quickly out of the refrigerator, Logan spotted what had kept the door from closing. The Glock had caught between the door’s lower lip and the refrigerator frame. He scooped it up, and started for the rear exit, but a moan stopped him before he could get there.
Tooney was trying to get off the floor, but wasn’t having much luck. There was blood on the side of his head, and a dazed look in his eyes.
“Stay down,” Logan said as he knelt beside him. “I’ll call for an ambulance and let the Sheriff know what’s going on.”
Tooney jerked under Logan’s hand. “No,” he said. The look in his eyes wasn’t fear. It was terror. “No police. No ambulance. I be okay.”