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Authors: Melody Carlson

Payback (13 page)

BOOK: Payback
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“Would it help if we went down there,” I say suddenly, “like we did with Kayla in Arizona?”

“I’m hoping they’ll find her much sooner than that,” says Ebony in a serious tone. The best bet is for them to get there…and get there fast.”

“I know…” I choke back a sob. “I just can’t stand this…this waiting and not knowing. Why does God show me these things when there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it?”

“Oh, Samantha.” She sits beside me and puts an arm around me. “You are not doing
absolutely nothing.
What we’ve just given the FBI is a really big something. It’s enough for them to find your mom—and to arrest him.”

“But this waiting…”

“Let’s just pray, Samantha. That’s really all we can do now.”

And so we pray. We take turns, but Ebony prays the most. And her words wash over me like a smooth, cool blanket of comfort, and just as I’m beginning to feel hopeful that Mom will be found alive and okay, my phone rings.

I quickly answer, hoping beyond hope that it will be Mom’s voice on the other end, but it’s my brother. “Oh, Zach!”

“What’s up, Sam? Is something wrong?”

So I tell him the whole ugly story of how Mom is missing, how Steven is involved, and finally my vision in New Mexico, although I leave out the part about the gun. Somehow I don’t think Zach needs to hear that just yet. I don’t want to upset him too much.

“So what’s next?” he demands. “How do we help her?”

I explain that they’re already looking for her. “I’m at Ebony’s now. I’ll stay with her until Mom gets home.” Even as I say this, I feel my faith shrinking slightly. What if she never comes home? Still, I need to be strong—for Zach’s sake.

“So you think she’s okay?” I hear the fear in my brother’s voice.

“Oh, sure,” I say, trying to sound light and easy. “I think Steven just wanted a quick ride out of town, and he decided
that Mom’s car would make a good shuttle service. He wouldn’t hurt her.”

“Poor Mom.”

Yeah…”

We talk awhile longer, and I try to reassure him. Zach already has a lot on his plate…As much as I want to tell him everything, I don’t want to give him any reason to mess up his rehab time. I know Mom wouldn’t want that either.

“Well, keep me posted,” he says. “I’ll let them know that you’ll be calling here and that it’s a family emergency.”

“Give them Ebony’s name and number if they need verification.”

“Okay.”

“And remember, Zach,” I finally say, “the best thing we can do right now is to pray.”

“I’ll definitely be doing that.”

“I love you, Zach.”

“I love you too, Sam. And”—his voice cracks—“I want to be a better brother to you. And a better son to Mom too. This time I’m gonna do it right. You guys will see. We’ll be a family again. With God’s help, I promise, we will.”

I try to hold on to that promise as we say good-bye and hang up. We’re going to be a family again. Mom and Zach and me. A family. With God’s help…we will.

But as the minutes slowly tick by, doubts creep in. I try to keep praying, and then, to distract ourselves, Ebony and I make chili. It was her mom’s recipe, and as she talks about her mom and what a great cook she was, all I can think about is my own mom. She might not be the best cook, but I love her. Will I ever see her again?

Twelve

E
bony and I are both fairly quiet during dinner. At times like this, there is only so much small talk a person can make. Fortunately, Ebony seems to understand this. I try to act like I’m enjoying the homemade chili, but the truth is, my stomach feels like I’ve already swallowed a brick. We’re just cleaning up the dinner things when Olivia calls me on my cell phone. I quickly tell her the latest news.

“Oh, Sam,” she exclaims. “I’m so sorry. That’s horrible. You must be totally freaking.”

“Yeah, pretty much.” I glance at the clock. It’s nearly six thirty now, and we haven’t heard anything for close to an hour. “And maybe I should keep my phone line clear,” I say suddenly. “In case Mom tries to call me.”

“Definitely. I’ll be praying, Sam. Keep me posted.”

After I hang up, I turn to Ebony. “Do you think it would hurt to call the FBI again? Just in case…I mean, maybe they found her but forgot to call us.”

“I don’t think it’d hurt anything,” she says, reaching for her phone-.

Barely breathing, I listen as Ebony makes an inquiry. “But you think maybe you’ve located the road?” She pauses. ‘Yes,
that sounds right. A search party? Good. What time does the sun set down there? Oh…” She nods as if processing this. “Please let us know as soon as you find out anything…Yes. We appreciate it.” Then she hangs up. “What?” I demand.

“They think they located the road, and they found a sign that fits your description.”

“And?”

“They sent out a search party to comb that area just beyond the Las Cruces road sign you saw. They hope to find her before dark.”

“When does it get dark in New Mexico?”

She frowns. “They say the sun sets around 6:45 this time of year.”

“That’s in minutes!”

“Actually, it was an hour ago. Remember, New Mexico is a different time zone. It’s 7:40 right now.”

“Did they quit looking when it got dark?”

“I don’t know. But it probably didn’t get dark right when the sun set. I’m sure there was at least an hour of dusk…maybe more.”

“I wish I could go down there.”

“I know you do, Samantha. But by the time we got a flight, if we could even get one tonight, and by the time we got down there, probably not until morning, your mom could be on her way home.”

“I hope you’re right…”

“We just need to be patient…and keep praying.”

“I know.” I look out the window, out over the river where I can still see the sun through the trees. “It looks like the sun
won’t be going down here for a While,” I point out. “Why does it set so early in New Mexico?”

“Remember, living up here in the north, we get more daylight hours this time of year.”

“Oh…”

I think this has been the longest day of my life. By eight o’clock, I am frantic. I beg Ebony to call again. “Just see if they have an update.”

She agrees, and I listen as she grills them. I can’t detect a thing from her vague responses. Still, she doesn’t seem pleased with what she finds out. Her forehead is deeply creased by the time she hangs up the phone.

“What?” I demand impatiently.

“The good news is that the search is continuing after dark.”

“Is there bad news?”

“They feel certain they’ve located the site…and they’ve collected some evidence.”

“Evidence?”

She nods, putting a hand on my shoulder. “A shell casing…”

“From the Glock?”

“Most likely.”

I take in a sharp breath. “Anything else?”

“And some blood.”

Tears are coming now. “My mom’s blood?”

“They can’t be sure.”

“But where is she?”

“They don’t know, but right now someone is on the way with dogs…to track her. If she’s out there, they should find her very soon.”

I sink into a chair by the window and attempt to assimilate this information. My mother has possibly been shot. She’s out in the desert. Dogs will be tracking her. “What about Steven?” I ask. “And the car?”

“They think he’s made it into Mexico. But all the local authorities have been notified down there. Hopefully someone will pick him up soon.”

I feel like I hate that man, like I could kill him if I needed to. But I know that’s not a Christian attitude. Still, I’m not sure I care.

“How could they find blood,” I persist, “but not find Mom?”

Ebony nods. “I was wondering the same thing. My first guess is that she’s been wounded, but not too badly, and that she was able to get away…or…” Then she stops.

“Or what?”

“Or…maybe he forced her back into the car.”

“Why would he do that?”

“I’m not sure…To be honest, it wouldn’t make much sense. But it doesn’t make sense that the searchers wouldn’t have found her either. If that was her blood.”

“Maybe it’s Steven’s blood,” I say hopefully. “Maybe Mom got the gun from him, shot him, and drove off.”

Ebony nods, but I can tell by her eyes she believes this is hopeful thinking on my part. “Maybe…Time will tell.”

And so my long night continues. I tell Ebony there’s no way I’ll be able to go to sleep until I know Mom’s okay. She understands.

By ten o’clock my hopes are dwindling fast. “Go ahead and go to bed,” I tell Ebony. “I know you have to work tomorrow.”

She simply shakes her head. “Not a chance. I am not going to bed until we hear something.”

“Do you think that no news is bad news?”

“I’m not sure what to think.”

Just then the phone rings, and my heart jolts. I stand by Ebony as she answers it. My pulse is pounding in my ears, and I am so afraid that I can barely breathe. It’s like someone has wrapped ice-cold hands around my neck and is squeezing tightly.

“Samantha,” says Ebony with brightly shining eyes as she hands me the phone, “it’s your mother!”

I feel slightly faint as I reach for the phone. “Mom?” I cry. “Is it really you?”

“Yes, Samantha, it’s me.” Her voice sounds hoarse and very tired.

“Are you okay?”

“I am now, sweetie. I am now.”

Tears stream down my cheeks again. “I’m so glad you’re okay, Mom. I’ve been so freaked. I’ve been praying and praying.”

“And I heard…you’re the reason they found me.”

“They told you that?”

“Not all the details, just something about a girl in Oregon, a girl who had a dream. They don’t even know you’re my daughter.”

“I love you, Mom! I don’t know what I’d do without you. Are you really okay?”

“I am.”

“Did Steven shoot you?”

“Yes, but fortunately, he’s not a very good shot.”

“So you’re really okay?”

“I am. Right now they’re transporting me to a hospital to check me out…but don’t worry. I’m in good hands.”

“When will you come home?”

“Probably tomorrow. Right now I just need a good night’s sleep.”

“I know.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“I told Zach. He’s pretty freaked too.”

“I’ll call him from the hospital.”

“Good.”

“And I’ll call you in the morning, Samantha. Are you at Olivia’s?”

“No, I’m with Ebony”

“Good. Thank her for me.”

“Yes. Definitely.”

“I love you, Samantha.”

“I love you too, Mom.” Then we hang up, and I’m still crying. I throw my arms around Ebony and hug her tightly. “She’s okay. She said Steven was a bad shot. She’s just tired. She’ll be home tomorrow.”

“That’s wonderful,” Ebony says when I finally let her go.

“And she said to thank you.”

Ebony nods. “That’s nice.”

“I need to call Zach and Olivia,” I say suddenly.

“I think I’ll go to bed,” she says.

“Me too,” I say, “as soon as I tell them the good news.”

After I finish my phone calls, I get down on my knees and thank God. I know He’s the only reason Mom is safe tonight. He gave me the dream. And He helped the searchers locate her. Without God, my mom would probably still be out there. I wonder if she knows that.

———

I wake to the sound of a phone ringing. But then I hear Ebony’s voice, and I realize once again where I am. And why. And I remember that Mom is okay now. And she’ll be coming home today. I quickly shower and dress, and when I find Ebony, she is grinning.

“Good news!”

“Yeah?”

“They picked up Steven, a.k.a. Greg Hampton, just outside of Chihuahua, Mexico, early this morning. He still had your mom’s car, but it had broken down outside the city limits, and a policeman came along and ran the plates and discovered it was stolen. He’s being held in the Chihuahua city jail until the FBI arrives. After that he’ll be extradited to the States.”

“Cool.”

“Very cool.” Ebony takes out a carton of eggs. “I don’t know about you, but I think this calls for a real breakfast. You game for my famous cheese omelet?”

“Sounds fantastic. I’m starved.”

“You’ve had a rough weekend, Samantha. Do you feel up to going to school this morning? I could probably write you an excuse.”

“That’s okay” I situate myself on a barstool at her breakfast counter and watch as she cracks eggs into a bowl. “I’m looking forward to going to school.”

“Back to a normal routine?”

“Yeah. I know it sounds crazy, but it seems like a long time since I’ve seen my friends.” Then I tell her about Conrad’s
little sister and his trip to Seattle. “I’m eager to hear how that went too.”

“Lots going on in your life.” She pours the eggs into a hot buttered pan, and I listen to them sizzle. “I hope it’s not too much for you. And we have that prom situation to solve next weekend. Are you still good to go with that?”

“You bet. I’m so glad Mom’s okay that I feel totally energized this morning.” I let out a happy sigh. “And next weekend sounds like a long way off.”

“It’ll come quickly,” she warns me as she grates cheese onto the eggs.

“I hope this will be it,” I say. “Not that I want anyone at Fairmont to get hurt. I just want us to catch the creeps—to put an end to it.” I suddenly remember my dream again, the students who’d been shot…dying on the white marble floor. “I don’t see why a terrorist has an interest in doing something like that at a prom.”

“I’ve given that a fair amount of thought myself. I’ve come up with a theory of sorts.”

“What?” I listen closely now.

“Well, it’s not that different from the original threat. Remember, I read you parts of it?”

“Yes. But it mostly sounded crazy and mean. Kind of senseless and extreme, really.”

“I was trying to understand an extremist point of view. A prom might represent all the things about American culture that are abhorred by jihadi or Islamic terrorists. Think about it — things like materialism, immodesty, immorality. That’s not to say all kids who go to proms are like that, but it could be a wrong perception someone has put together out of ignorance.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

“So perhaps they decided that a prom is a good place to hit us. It’s so unexpected. And proms have never been known for having high security. Not like a ball game or other kinds of community events where police and security guards are abundant. Also, the idea of killing innocent young people, well, that’s a real attention getter. It would make world news within the hour. And that’s just what they want.”

BOOK: Payback
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