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Authors: Melody Carlson

Payback (14 page)

BOOK: Payback
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“That’s so creepy.”

She nods. “I’m just glad you’re on top of it.”

“I don’t feel very on top of it,” I admit. “But I hope God is.”

“I’m sure of it.”

Still, I wonder as I drive to Olivia’s house to pick her up for school. After attending two proms that fizzled, I feel a little unsure of myself. And yet I saw God do an amazing miracle just yesterday—using my dream to rescue my mom. Really, how can I doubt?

Thirteen

T
hat is so incredible,” Olivia says after I’ve filled her in on some of the details from last night’s phone conversation with my mom. “Did your mom say where she’d been shot?”

“No. Just that it wasn’t serious. I can’t wait to hear the whole story.”

“Does your mom know that Steven’s behind bars?”

“I’m guessing she does, but I haven’t talked to her yet today. She’s supposed to call me when she knows which flight she’ll be on.”

“You must be excited to see her.”

Totally.” I shake my head now. “I think I kind of took her for granted…or worse. Now I realize how much I love her. And I’m not even going to push her to come to church or to be a Christian or anything. I decided that I just need to love her unconditionally. No pressure.”

“I guess we should do that to everyone, huh?”

“Yeah. But sometimes it’s hard.” I’m thinking about Steven (or Greg) now. I don’t know if I could possibly love that jerk. Still, I know that God could do it through me. Mostly I just want to work my way through to forgiving him—with God’s help, of course. And then I’d like to forget him.

When we get to school, my friends all want to know about my mom. Thanks to the church’s prayer chain—and the school’s gossip chain—everyone seems to know something about it. After a while I get tired of repeating the story or straightening out the mixed-up details. “No, my mom wasn’t kidnapped and transported to Mexico to become a sex slave.”

By lunchtime I try to redirect the conversation at our table by asking Conrad about Katie. He’s already told me a little, but it was so overshadowed by my story that I feel I’ve missed out.

“They won’t know whether the medicine is working for at least a week,” Conrad tells everyone. “But she was in good spirits.”

“She was sure glad to see us,” Alex says.

“And sad to see us go,” adds Conrad.

Just then my phone rings, and when I realize it’s Mom, I leave the table to talk to her.

“I’m on my way to the Albuquerque airport,” she tells me. “My flight connects through Salt Lake, and I should arrive in Portland at 7:40.”

“Are you feeling okay?” I ask.

“Yes. I’m fine, Samantha. I got a good night’s sleep, and the hospital staff was very good to me.”

“And your gunshot wound?” I ask quietly, not eager for anyone to overhear me since this isn’t something I’ve made public knowledge with anyone but my closest friends.

“It’s really just a flesh wound. He clipped me on the left shoulder. It’s sore and bruised but not too serious.”

“Did you get your purse and phone back?”

“Not yet. But the FBI people have been extremely helpful. They got me some photo ID so I can board the flight and even
helped me with the tickets. I didn’t want to wait for my purse and things to be returned, assuming that will even happen. I’m just eager to get home.”

“I’ll pick you up at the airport,” I promise. “I guess you won’t have any bags. How about if I meet you in front?”

“That sounds perfect, Samantha.”

“Be safe.”

“You too.”

After school I drive to the police station. I’m curious as to whether Ebony has any news, and I want to let her know that Mom is on her way home. I park my car on a side street about a block from the precinct, and I’m just getting out and locking the door when I’m hit with a flash of light. I put my hand on the roof of my car and just close my eyes, bracing myself for whatever God is about to show me.

I can see Brandon, and it’s clear that he’s really scared — almost as if he’s in fear for his life. He’s running through an open area, like between two buildings, and several guys are chasing him, yelling threats, saying they’re going to kill him. He ducks into a doorway and runs down a hallway and finally ends up in what sort of looks like a locker room, although I don’t see any lockers. He jumps into one of those big carts that are for used towels, and for a moment I think he might’ve escaped the bullies. But they notice the cart move slightly, and they rip back the towels and haul him out. No one else is around to see as they take turns holding him and beating him so badly that his glasses are smashed, and it, looks like his nose is broken, and he is bleeding…and sobbing. He begs
them for mercy, but they just make fun of him for crying like a baby And they drop him to the floor, kicking him a few more times before they take off. Brandon lies motionless in a heap on the floor. It’s as if he’s dead.

I open my eyes and am shaking with fury. Why are those guys acting like that? How can they be so cruel, so hateful, so vicious and mean? And how are they getting away with it? From what I could see, this criminal act occurred on school grounds. Although the locker room seemed empty…Perhaps it was after school hours. Still, doesn’t Fairmont High bear some of the responsibility for these criminal actions? Shouldn’t they be held accountable if one of their students is being bullied like this?

Feeling righteously indignant for Brandon’s sake, I march into the precinct and seek out Ebony

“Something wrong?” she asks when I blast into her office.

“Brandon,” I say simply. “I just had a vision where he was viciously beaten again, nearly to death.”

She nods with a frown. “Any idea about when, where, how?”

“Well, it seemed to take place in a locker room. Now if he really goes to Fairmont, like he told me, shouldn’t the school protect him?”

“Yes. Good point. Let’s do a little research, get our facts straight, and then I’ll give them a call. For starters, I want you to verify that Brandon is a student there. Get his full name for me, and I’ll try to find out if he’s reported any violence.”

So I spend the afternoon perusing the Fairmont High annual. But I don’t see anyone who resembles Brandon. And the kids I find who are named Brandon are not him. I also look for guys named Allen since that was a name I’d heard in a
vision before, But there’s only one Allen, and he doesn’t look anything like the kid I met in the arcade last weekend. Then I decide to look through some of the other high school annuals. We have quite a stack. And in my third one—the same yearbook I looked through last week for the McKinley prom — I find a kid named Brandon Allen, who looks just like my Brandon. According to the yearbook, which is for last year, Brandon was a sophomore there. So he’d be a junior now. I wonder why he told me he went to Fairmont if he really goes to McKinley.

I take the yearbook to Ebony, who’s on the phone having what sounds like a serious conversation. Not wanting to disturb her, I stick a Post-it by the photo, make an arrow pointing at him, and write “this is the kid.” Then I leave Ebony to her phone call.

After that, I go through the Fairmont yearbook again, more carefully this time, hoping to find the girl in the pale green dress. But the truth is, so much has happened since I had the dream that her face has gotten pretty blurry in my memory. Still, I put Post-its next to photos of several girls who seem like possibilities. I definitely think the Fairmont students have more of that rich-kid image that I remember from my dream. I also make note of the girls’ names, thinking I will look them up when I stop by their school at the end of the week.

By the time I’m ready to leave the precinct, I feel I’ve made real progress. I also feel seriously tired.

“I checked with McKinley High,” Ebony tells me when I stop by her office to say good-bye. “Brandon Allen was a student there last year. But he transferred out last spring.”

“Did they say where?”

She nods. “Fairmont.”

“So he wasn’t lying. Did they say why he transferred?”

“They weren’t exactly forthcoming, but when I pushed, they did suggest he’d had some social difficulties.”

“That’s a strange way to describe bullying.”

“I don’t think any administrators want to admit that their school has bullying going on. Although I did offer to send them some information for creating an antibullying policy, and they actually seemed interested.”

“That’s something.”

“The counselor did say that Brandon is an underachieves”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“She said he has a genius IQ but performs poorly in class.”

“I’d do poorly in class too,” I say, “if I spent half my time running for my life.”

“Yes, I suggested as much. But according to her, he never lodged a complaint against the bullies.”

“You can’t really blame him for that. What happens when the bullies find out that you tattled? They turn up the heat.”

“Yes. It’s a gnarly problem.”

“So what should I do next?” I ask.

“Well, it’s too late for me to reach anyone at Fairmont, but I plan to find out what’s going on there. I’ll also check out his home situation and try to make sure he’s not at serious risk. Having his full name makes this all much easier, Samantha. Good work on finding it.”

“I might be getting warmer with the prom girl too,” I say. “I found some possibilities, and I’m looking forward to going to Fairmont on Friday.”

“Do you have any inclinations,” Ebony begins carefully, “as to whether or not Brandon might be connected to your visions about the prom?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that sometimes victims can retaliate.” Ebony looks evenly at me.

“Retaliate?” I frown. “I don’t think he’s like that. In every vision I’ve had, he doesn’t even fight back. He actually seems very nonviolent. He’s the victim, Ebony. He needs our help.”

“I agree.” She nods. “But I just wanted to know if you suspected anything else, Samantha. No stone unturned, you know.”

“I know. But I really think God just wants us to help him. And maybe when I go to Fairmont, I can talk to him again.”

“Yes. That would be good. And maybe we’ll have more information on him by then.”

“Great. It’ll be such a relief to know that he’s safe. That last vision—the beating—it was so severe it made me feel sick.”

“I understand.” Ebony frowns as she writes something down.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to work,” I say, heading to the door.

“I’m so glad your mom’s on her way home.” Ebony brightens now. “When does she get in?”

So I tell her when I’m picking Mom up. “By the way, will she get her car back?”

“Yes. The FBI will pick it up and go over it for evidence first.”

“And hopefully her purse and things will still be there.”

“Hopefully.”

“Do you think there’s any chance she’ll get her money back? I mean, what he stole from her bank account?”

“According to what the FBI told me, Greg had quite a bit of cash stashed away in a bank down there. It seems he was in the process of buying an oceanfront home where he planned to live the good life.”

“What a selfish jerk.”

“Dirty, rotten scoundrel.”

“I know that as a Christian I’m supposed to forgive him,” I say quietly. “But I think it’s going to be tough.”

“God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”

“Good thing. Because I feel pretty weak about forgiving him right now.”

“You can only do what you can do, Samantha. Ask God to help you with the rest of it.” She smiles. “I’m not worried about you. Somehow you always manage to do the right thing.”

“Thanks to God’s help,” I point out.

“Well, don’t think about it too hard. Just enjoy having your mom back. And remember, she’s been through quite an ordeal. She may need some TLC.”

“That’s not a problem. In fact, I want to go home and make sure it’s shipshape before I pick her up.”

“Your mom is a lucky—no, I mean
blessed
woman.”

I have to laugh. “Considering all the things she’s been through, I don’t think I’d describe her life quite like that.”

“No,” Ebony says, “I didn’t expect you would.”

But as I leave, I sort of figure out what Ebony meant. She was just trying to give me an offhanded compliment. And I do appreciate that. Just the same, I don’t think my mom’s been overly lucky or blessed. If anything, her life seems to have been somewhat cursed. Okay, that’s a little harsh. But when
you consider that her husband was murdered, her son became a drug addict and nearly went to prison, and most recently she was literally kidnapped and shot…Lucky and blessed? I’m not feeling it.

Fourteen

O
n the way home from the precinct, I stop to pick up some fresh flowers for my mom. Then I spend a couple of hours cleaning and straightening our house. Not that it was bad, but I want it to be very welcoming. Finally it’s nearly seven, and I head out to the airport. I cannot wait to see Mom.

Naturally, traffic is heavier than I expected, so instead of getting there before her flight lands, I find her waiting outside the terminal and looking very tired. She’s wearing a baggy blue warmup suit, one I’ve never seen before, and there’s a rainbow-striped carry-on bag next to her feet, which are shod in bright orange rubber flip-flops. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom in flip-flops. This is interesting. I pull up, jump out, and run over and gently hug her, trying not to bump her wounded shoulder.

“Oh, Samantha,” she says with tears in her eyes, “it’s so good to see you.”

“It’s fantastic to see you, Mom. Here, let me get that bag for you.” I pick up her funky striped bag and toss it into the backseat. “Where did you get this anyway?”

She sort of laughs. “The hospital folks and FBI were generous. When I arrived last night, I didn’t have much of anything.
They provided me with these sweats and some other things to help get me on my way”

“How’s your shoulder?” I ask as I open the passenger door and help her inside.

“It aches.” She groans as she reaches for the seat belt. “I should’ve taken some Advil at the end of the flight, but I thought I’d wait until I got home and take some pain meds the doctor prescribed. I was afraid they might knock me out and I’d get lost in the terminal and never find you.”

BOOK: Payback
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