Read My Sister's Keeper Online

Authors: Bill Benners

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #General

My Sister's Keeper (40 page)

BOOK: My Sister's Keeper
7.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Looking at her leaning against the carved headboard of her bed holding a sheet to her breasts, I felt I was looking more
her than
her. I wanted her heart more than I wanted air to breathe.

Come home with me,” I said. “Have dinner with me. Have breakfast with me. Bring a plant if you like. I don’t care, just—come home with me.” I couldn’t help myself. I
her and I was afraid if I didn’t say so then, I might not get another chance.

Thirty seconds is all it took. For thirty seconds, she thought it over. After thirty seconds, she flipped the sheet off, gathered the things she’d need, and packed an overnight bag.

As I slipped back into my clothes, those thousand voices rose in pitch and intensity—the voices of angels.

I took her hand on the drive back to my house and held it, afraid that if I let go, I’d turn and find her gone. As we slowed near my house, the headlights spotlighted a woman moving toward a parked car up the street.

Instead of turning into my drive, I continued forward. “That looks like…” As I approached her, the woman turned her back and as she struggled to get a key into a car door, I passed within a few feet of her.

My God,” Sydney whispered. “Isn’t that Ashleigh?”

I slammed on the brakes. “Yes. It is.”

Sydney rolled her window down and leaned out. “Ash?”

The woman jerked her door open, dived in, started the engine, and backed the car away without even closing her door, then whipped the car around and headed up the road to her right.

I swerved into a driveway, turned that heavy wagon around, and floored the gas pedal. “Reach behind your seat and get that black bag. There’s a camera in it,” I told Sydney.

Sydney grabbed my arm. “She has a gun. I saw it.”

I handed her my cell phone. “Call Sam. The number’s in the directory. Tell him who we’ve just seen and that we’re following her.”

I turned my lights off and rounded the corner after Ashleigh. Her car had a section of red lens broken out of the right-rear taillight that made it easy to follow from a distance. After a few turns, I switched my lights back on and stayed well back. She drove fast and erratically, but I managed to keep her in sight. Sam’s voice-mail picked up and Sydney handed me the phone.

Sam, Richard Baimbridge. Sydney Deagan and I have just seen Ashleigh Matthews. She was parked just up the street from her house and we’re following her now. I’m hoping to get a few photos of her so I can prove she’s alive. She knows we saw her and she’s running pretty hard. I’ll let you know how it turns out and where she goes…if I can keep up with her.”

Ashleigh turned onto US 17 North and headed toward Jacksonville for about eight miles, then doubled back and meandered aimlessly about Wilmington for another half-hour. With that taillight out, I was able to keep a great distance between us and pick her back up if I lost her. Once when I
lose her, I looked to my left at a stoplight and realized we were sitting right next to her. She was engaged in a frantic telephone conversation and didn’t notice us, but the light changed before I could get the camera ready.

Shortly afterward, she headed south on US 17, crossed the Cape Fear River, and turned southeast on NC 133 toward Southport. We kept our distance, following down the narrow two-lane road past intermittent patches of farms and forests until she slowed well below the speed limit and used her brakes often.

There was little traffic along the road and I feared that if I continued to follow at her slow speed, she’d realize she was being tailed. I let her get out of my sight briefly on a curve, turned my headlights off, and followed as best I could in the dark avoiding any use of the brakes. A minute later, she turned left onto a narrow overgrown trail that threaded back into the trees. Coasting toward the turnoff, we watched her headlights as she drove deeper into the forest.

What do we do now?” Sydney asked as we rolled to a stop just beyond the turnoff.

Hit redial and let Sam know where we are. Tell him to look for my car and that she went up a dirt road across from it.” I dropped the strap to the camera bag over my head. “I’m going in on foot. You wait in the car.”

You just hold on,” she said punching the redial key on the phone. “You’re not leaving me out here alone.”

And I didn’t.

As we stepped into the trail Ashleigh had taken, darkness engulfed us as though we’d walked into a mine. The air was pungent with the scent of earth, pine needles, and decaying plants and my swollen ankle throbbed with each step. Sydney took hold of the back of my belt and held on tightly. Well up the dirt path, Ashleigh’s car appeared to be moving through a tunnel lit by her headlights. It gave us a heading as well as a look at the path in the distance. We used her lights to avoid trees until she turned sharply to the left and headed toward the only other light we could see—a faint glow far in the distance. Without light, following the path became nearly impossible so we opted for the shortest route. Stepping over a soft, decaying log into thick brush, we waded through swishing leaves in the direction of the faint glow.

Briars and sticks tore at our clothes and skin. Fallen trees lay in the darkness waiting to trip us. Three quarters of a mile in, Ashleigh’s lights stopped moving and went out leaving us blind except for the faint glow. With that as our compass, we stumbled through the wilderness brushing away spider webs, slapping at insects, and pausing for an occasional animal to rustle from our path.

Pushing branches away from our faces, we emerged from the trees, crossed a shallow ditch, and came upon a freshly turned field. A break in the clouds gave us a sliver of moonlight by which to see. The field would take us most of the way to a house and barn a half mile in the distance, but the ground was soft. Disked into high mounds and deep furrows, it was as difficult to walk on as sand dunes—but was far better than the briars, insects, and sticks in our eyes.

I shifted the camera on my shoulder and took hold of Sydney’s hand marveling at how tiny it was, and how well it fit into mine. Holding her hand was like taking hold of her heart. There was something there that coursed back and forth between us. I was certainly getting something from Sydney. I hoped she was getting something back.

What we were doing was crazy. Chasing a girl with a gun. Running across a field blind and defenseless. Sneaking up on God knows what. It was stupid. Like holding a flame over a bucket of gasoline. And it was
. I hung suspended between hysteria and devastation in a world turned on its side.

As we panted to a stop midway the field, another car turned into the lane and snaked through the trees.

Do you think that’s Sam?” Sydney asked, catching her breath.

I bent low and massaged my ankle. “Let’s hope.”

Come on,” she grunted dragging me behind her. The vehicle wound its way along the length of the path finally stopping short of Ashleigh’s car. After a moment, the driver’s door opened and a man stepped out silhouetted against the light of his headlamps. He shined a flashlight around him—even pointed it our way. I waved a hand high over my head and shouted, “Sam!” But we were too far away and there was a fawn grazing at the edge of the field between us that raised its head as he shone the light on him. The man neither heard us nor saw us in the distance. The flashlight turned away, the headlights went off, and the light inside the car went out.

Stumbling over mound after mound, we hurried forward as the beam from the flashlight moved toward the barn and eventually disappeared.

As we approached the far side of the field, a shotgun blast lit the front of the barn like a camera flash, scattering a buck and three does grazing at the edge of the trees. The booming echoes rolling back from distant forests turned the deer in flight and brought them galloping back toward us, the buck leaping right over our heads.

Dropping into the dirt, we held our breath and listened, but heard only the wind flittering lightly through the trees, and mosquitoes buzzing around our ears. Seeing nothing, we advanced to the edge of the trees, then to the cars, and up a lane bordered by giant pecan trees. To our left we saw the silhouette of a sagging two-story farm house—dark, heavy with the sorrow of a century of tears, a porch stretching across its front.

Straight ahead, there was a wide barn, easily forty feet high at its peek, its roof sloping nearly to the ground on each side. The light we’d followed came from a tiny square window in the lower left corner of the barn.

Feeling the first gnawing of fear, I tightened my grip on Sydney’s hand and ran with her swooshing through high weeds to the left of the house where we squatted in deep grass. I took her by the shoulders and whispered. “I want you to wait here no matter what happens.”

She clutched my arms. “What are you going to do?”

I could hear the fear in her voice and tried to conceal it in mine. “I’m going to look in that window, try to find Sam, and maybe get a picture of Ashleigh.” In an instant of fleeting moonlight I saw both love and fear in Sydney’s eyes. It was a look I’d never seen on any face other than my mother’s. I kissed her and turned quickly, her hands pulling at my shirt as I slipped away before she could change my mind. I negotiated the creaking porch with its rotting cavities and spongy boards stopping at the other end to remove my Nikon from the bag. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Sydney watching, motioned for her to get down, then dashed across the open yard to the barn. With camera in hand, I crept to the lighted window and looked inside.

A kerosene lamp hung from a nail on a post amid a storehouse of rusty tools, tractor parts, bags of fertilizer, large opaque polyethylene drums, and a stack of empty burlap sacks. Ashleigh lay motionless on the dirt floor, her right shoulder a bloody mass. By her hand, a western-style pistol. At the back of the barn, wide doors stood open.

I turned off the flash and raised the camera, steadying it against the milky glass. Pressing the shutter, I made a one-second time exposure. The camera beeped and stored the image. I made a second exposure, this one for three seconds then, moving to my right, crossed the front of the barn to a shed at the other end where round wooden posts and rolls of fencing had been stacked.

Something heavy hit the ground inside the building. Stepping over coils of barbed wire and fence posts, I crept to the right rear corner of the barn to a stack of dried firewood split decades ago for a wintry night that never came.

There, a man, barely visible in the light from the doorway, was bent over one of the polyethylene drums struggling to roll it away from the barn. Beyond the man there was a wide gap in the trees and I could see the silhouette of a sailboat at the end of a tall pier with the lights of Wilmington twinkling behind it. To the right of the pier, a rectangular canal had been cut in from the river to within fifty feet of the barn with a short pier jutting out into it.

Laying against the tank, he pushed with his feet slowly rolling it through thick sand to the edge of the canal where he lifted it onto the short pier one end at a time, then maneuvered it down the dock, its contents thumping with each revolution. At the end, he shoved it with his foot and the drum splashed into the canal, bobbed, and floated with a third of it above water. Pulling a pistol from his belt, the man fired five rounds into the tank; two above the waterline and three below. As hot lead thumped holes into the hard plastic, the container began to sink.

When the man turned and started back toward the barn, I dropped behind the dried firewood and watched as he lumbered back toward the lighted door breathing heavily with gun in hand. I gently eased my foot to the left and had risen slightly to get a better look at his face when a terrified creature pierced the silence with a heart-stopping screech just above my head. Dropping to the ground behind the woodpile with my heart hammering in my chest, I looked up into the face of a long-eared owl bobbing on a low-hanging branch above me, its enormous yellow eyes blinking independently. In its talons it clutched a young rabbit screaming, fighting to get free, pumping its feet uselessly against the air beneath it.

The owl turned its head backward, leapt from the branch, spread its enormous wings, and carried its screeching prey off. A few seconds later the screeches ended in a shrill squeal, but the pounding in my chest remained. Shaking violently, I looked around the edge of the logs and saw the man’s face more clearly now.

It was Scott McGillikin!

As he stared in the direction of the owl, more adrenalin flooded into my bloodstream. My muscles flexed. My heart raced. My mind became the puppeteer seeking to force my body to do its will.

Kill him! Kill the bastard!






N MY MIND, I SAW MYSELF LEAP from the shadows and lock my hands around his neck. I saw the shock in his blood-streaked eyes as I choked the life out of him with my bare hands. I felt panic ripple through his body as he realized that he was going to die and there was nothing he could do to stop it. In one glorious flicker of thought, I watched him die in my hands.
But death would be too good for Scott—or Dane Bonner—or whoever the hell he was.
I wanted him to suffer as my sister had, to know her pain, to curse my name every time his cell door closed for the rest of his tortured life.

BOOK: My Sister's Keeper
7.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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