Authors: R.D. Brady
Scottish Seoul Publishing
Scottish Seoul Publishing.
Copyright © 2015 by R.D. Brady
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All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
Printed in the United States of America.
This book is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and events herein are a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to real individuals, situations or events are purely coincidental.
Ten Years Ago
Upstate New York
ixteen-year-old Steve Kane’s breath came out in quick pants. His palms were sweaty and the white dress shirt his grandmother had bought him was sticking to his back underneath his brother’s navy blazer. He snuck a glance at the jurors from the corner of his eye. He’d heard that if jurors looked at the defendant when the verdict came in it meant they had voted not guilty.
Not a single juror looked at him.
Steve’s heart pounded, and he gripped his damp hands together. His attorney, Mr. Hadley, reached over with a liver-spotted hand and clasped his. Steve held on to it for dear life, as if somehow Mr. Hadley could save him from what was coming.
Mr. Herbert, the jury foreman, stood. Steve had known Mr. Herbert since he was a kid. He remembered him coming to his third-grade class and telling them all about being a high school football coach. The talk had been dry, but the cookies he’d brought had been awesome. And Mr. Herbert had been on the sidelines of every football game Steve had ever attended. But he’d never seen him in a suit. And he’d never seen him nervous. Right now, the slip of paper in Mr. Herbert’s trembling hands shook.
The judge peered over her glasses at the jury. “Has the jury reached a verdict?”
“We have, Your Honor.” There was a wobble in Mr. Herbert’s voice, and he cleared his throat. “Not guilty of murder in the first degree.”
An angry shout went up from the gallery, followed by a rumble of voices. Steve stared straight ahead, and spots began to appear around the edges of his vision.
This can’t be happening. It’s not real.
The judge banged her gavel, glaring at the crowd over her glasses. “There will be quiet or I will clear the courtroom.” She turned back to the jury. “On the charge of murder in the second degree, how say you?”
The paper in Mr. Herbert’s hand shook even more now. He cleared his throat again. “Guilty, Your Honor.”
All the air left Steve’s lungs. He felt as if the strings that had been holding him up had been snipped. He stumbled. Mr. Hadley’s surprisingly strong arm wrapped around him, keeping him upright.
Stars appeared in front of Steve’s eyes. He sat, stunned, unable to process any of it. Behind him, the courtroom gallery exploded with gasps and shouts. People Steve had known his whole life screamed at him. Everyone seemed to have leapt to their feet. Some reporters scribbled furiously, while others rushed from the room to be the first to get the news out; the judge had declared all phones off limits in the courtroom.
The jury had gone for the lesser count of second-degree murder, not premeditated murder, which could have carried the death penalty. Steve supposed he should be grateful for that small break, but somehow he couldn’t work past the shock to get to grateful.
His lawyer whispered into his ear. “Steve, they’re going to take you now.”
Steve stared up into Mr. Hadley’s face. He didn’t know if his lawyer had believed him, but Mr. Hadley had certainly fought for him, and he couldn’t mistake the concern in the older man’s eyes now.
“Steve, how do you feel?” “Steve—are you worried about prison?” Reporters yelled their questions at him from the front row, trying to get one last quote before he was whisked away from the courtroom and out of their reach.
Flashbulbs exploded in front of him and he blinked. Apparently, once the trial was concluded, the reporters weren’t worried about the wrath of the judge—not when weighed against getting one final shot of the baby-faced killer. Steve stood at only five foot six, with deep brown eyes and light brown hair. He was so skinny he’d been called “scarecrow” by some kids at school. He was not the typical murder defendant.
Bailiffs surged toward the front row, trying to block the reporters. More uniforms streamed in the doors as people rushed toward the courtroom gate. Steve flinched, stumbling back, covering his eyes. But then he forced himself to step forward, straining to see past the chaos in front of him.
His eyes latched on to his grandmother in the second row. Her yellow church suit stood out in the sea of dark colors. She collapsed against Steve’s brother, sobs wracking her frame. Steve choked back his own tears, willing her to look at him. He needed to see her face one last time. But she was too overcome.
His brother, though, caught his gaze. Jack gave Steve a nod as he held their grandmother—a promise to take care of her.
Two officers pulled Steve away from the table. Their faces were blank masks: no compassion, no uncertainty. They turned him around, pulling his arms behind his back.
Fear tore through Steve.
I didn’t do this. This can’t be happening.
He started to shake. He looked around wildly. His eyes locked on the dark-haired twenty-nine-year-old man pushing through the crowds to get to the front of the courtroom.
“Let me through. Let me through, damn it,” Declan Reed yelled at the reporters as he shoved past them.
Declan flashed his state badge and pushed through the swinging doors. “Give me a minute,” he said to the correction officers.
“Sir, we have to—”
me a minute,” Declan ordered through gritted teeth.
“You’ve got one minute. That’s it.” The officers stepped back.
Declan dropped to his knees in front of Steve. “Steve, you have to remember what I told you. You stay tough inside. You don’t let them see that you’re scared.”
Tears choked Steve’s throat. “I didn’t do it, Declan. I didn’t do it.”
“I know. But that doesn’t matter now. Now you have to protect yourself. You shut all that away. You hear me?”
Steve looked out into the gallery, where Mr. Granger, the man who had taken him and his best friend Julie for ice cream cones once a month since he was five, glared back at him.
Declan grabbed Steve’s arms. “Steve.”
Declan’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. Steve could feel Declan’s fear for him. But there was nothing Declan could do. There was nothing anyone could do. It was up to Steve now.
Steve nodded jerkily, pulling back his emotions. “I know.”
Declan pulled him into a hug. “Rely on yourself. Stay strong. And remember, there are people out here who care about you—who love you.”
One of the officers stepped forward. “We have to take him now.”
Declan gave a nod and stepped away. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll be there, okay?”
Steve just stared at him and swallowed hard, swallowing it all down.
The officers placed the cuffs on Steve and led him through the back door of the court. They made their way down a short hall, and then one of the officers pushed open the door to the outside.
Immediately, noise assaulted Steve’s ears. Even here, the crowds had gathered. They lined the sides of the makeshift pathway blocked off by wooden sawhorses and police officers.
As they passed through the pressing crowd toward the waiting police van, one spectator tried to break through. Officers pushed the man back, but it was like a starting pistol had gone off. The crowd surged.
“Get him out of here!” one of the officers yelled. Steve was shoved forward. His knee slammed into the frame of the open van door as he was all but thrown into the white corrections van.
An officer followed him in. Steve sat on the one chair that sat in the middle of the cavernous space. Chains were connected to its legs and along its arms. It looked like something you would put a serial killer in.
Steve sat down, his legs weak.
Or just a regular killer.
As Steve’s hands and feet were attached to the chains, panic rolled through him. He couldn’t move. He took short breaths, trying to calm his pounding heart. He watched the officer strapping him in. The officer gave the chains a tug. He was young, maybe a little younger than Declan. He didn’t meet Steve’s eyes. He offered no reassuring words or even sympathetic gazes.
Not for the killer of Simone Ganger.
Flashes went off outside the van as reporters clamored to get the money shot of Steve in chains.
One last tug on the chains and the officer stepped out, closing the van doors behind him before climbing into the passenger seat.
Steve told himself to look straight ahead. But he couldn’t help turning to look out the window as the driver took them past the front of the courthouse. The crowds that had gathered for the trial had only grown more agitated with the verdict. They yelled angrily at the cops that held them back. Some wave placards above their heads.
Death to the Murderer.
Justice for Simone.
God will Punish His Sins.
Declan’s words floated through Steve’s mind.
And remember, there are people out here who care about you. Who love you.
Steve looked out the window, recognizing at least half of the people angrily yelling.
Yeah, but there are a lot more who hate me.
“It’s Monday, folks! This is Billy the Kid on KLNQ serving upstate New York. Today is going to be the last good day for a while, so get out there and enjoy it. For those of you who haven’t heard, and that can only be those literally living under a rock, we have one heck of a storm heading our way. It’s going to hit in the next two days, and flooding is not just predicted, it’s a given. So if you haven’t stocked up yet, now is the time!”
Auburn, New York
teve Kane walked down the hall, his gray Converse sneakers making no noise on the institutional tile. He watched the pale yellow concrete walls as he passed, knowing it would be the last time he would see them. He was never coming back.
“You got a ride?” Heath, the guard walking next to him, asked.
Steve shook his head. “Nah. Figured I’d take the bus. Didn’t want anyone going to any trouble.”
Heath nodded his big round head. Some of the inmates called him pumpkin head, although never to his face. None of them were that stupid.
The barred door at the end of the hall buzzed as they reached it. A tightness started in Steve’s chest.
Heath pulled the door open. “Just keep your nose clean. You’ve done real good here. Don’t come back.”
Steve stepped through, the tightening in his chest increasing, along with a little panic. “Don’t plan to.” He took a step, then turned to look back at Heath.
When he’d arrived at Auburn Penitentiary, Heath had scared the hell out of him. Standing at six foot four, Heath had been six inches taller than Steve but had easily outweighed him by a good seventy-five pounds of muscle. Steve had been all bone. But now, the height gap was only two inches, and the muscle gap only about ten.
Heath held out his hand. “Take care, kid.”
Steve almost smiled at the nickname. After being transferred from a secure juvenile detention facility in Albany due to overcrowding seven years ago, he’d been a kid in every way when he’d arrived. Heath had looked out for him, helped show him the ropes. Even warned him not to let other inmates see him speaking with him too often. Being friends with a guard could have negative consequences.
Steve shook his hand. “You too, Heath. And thanks. For everything.”
Steve turned and walked quickly down the hall, surprised at the emotion he felt. It was foreign. He thought he’d shut all that down ten years ago.
But by the time he pushed his way through the heavy doors outside, he was back in control. He walked along the path beside the chain link fence, focused on the gate at the end. When he pushed through, he stood still, hands shoved in his jeans, breathing deep, his eyes closed, his heart pounding.
He opened his eyes and looked both ways. Most prisons were located on the outskirts of town, but Auburn penitentiary was situated right in the middle of the city. He was pretty sure there was a bus stop down the street to the left. And even if there wasn’t a bus, he had no problem just walking for a while until he found one.
He flipped a mental coin and was about to head to the left when a whistle drew his attention to the right.
Stepping out of a blue Toyota Prius was man with wavy dark hair and the build of a cycling enthusiast. Nothing about the man, from his appearance to his car, suggested he was law enforcement, but that’s exactly what he was—Investigator Declan Reed, New York State Police.
Declan waved, a smile on his face.
Steve shook his head. He should have known. He walked over. “Hey, Declan.”
Declan smiled, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “Thought you’d just sneak out, huh?”
“Hop in, I’ll give you a lift.”
Steve took a step back. “Thanks, but I don’t think arriving with a cop is how I want to go. Bad enough I left with one.”
Declan gave a little laugh. “All right, but I’m buying you breakfast. Then I’ll drop you at the bus station.”
Steve’s stomach gave a growl. For the last week, he’d been planning his first meal. And the idea of it had kept him awake at nights. He didn’t care that it was still morning. New York couldn’t have changed that much. There must a diner around here somewhere serving burgers. “Cheeseburger? Fries?”
“You got it.”
Steve smiled. “Well, all right then.” He walked around and climbed into the passenger seat, pushing aside some of Declan’s papers and wrappers. He raised an eyebrow. “Junk food? You?”
Declan shrugged. “Been a little crazy at work lately. Hasn’t been much time to eat right.”
Steve knew from Declan’s weekly visits and emails that his promotion to state police liaison with the local police, along with his regular investigator duties, was running him ragged. But the promotion had also allowed Declan to move back to Millners Kill.
Steve pulled on his seatbelt and stared at the dashboard. It looked like something out of a spaceship. I mean, he’d seen cars on TV, but the last car he’d been in, besides the corrections vans, had been an old Lincoln with dials and knobs.
Steve felt the panic rise in his chest again. Everything was different out here. The world had moved on while Steve was still stuck in yesterday.
“You all right?” Declan asked.
Steve nodded. “Yup. Just a—just a little culture shock, I guess.”
“It’ll take a little time to adjust. But you will.” Declan put the car in gear and pulled out.
Steve didn’t comment. He just glanced behind him. The sun glinted off the barbed wire at the top of the fifteen-foot fence ringing the prison. The place looked ominous.
Built in 1816, Auburn Correctional Facility was one of the oldest in the United States. A maximum-security prison, Auburn was rimmed by multiple barbed wire barriers and armed guard posts. It was a cement monster that towered over the landscape, alone and desolate.
And my home for the last seven years.
Steve turned around and faced forward.
But not anymore.
Declan pulled into traffic. A Hyundai cut in front of them, its oblivious driver chatting on a cell phone. Steve gripped the side of the car.
Declan glanced over at him. “Welcome back to the real world.”
Steve settled back into the passenger seat, prying his fingers from the car door. After a few minutes, some of the tension that had filled him had drained out, and he found himself enjoying the ride. He recognized a couple of chain restaurants and store names. Cars drove by them and no one glanced over or gave them a second look.
It’s all so ordinary
, Steve thought with surprise. It had been so horrible when they’d locked him up. Screaming protesters at the court, then yet more crowds when he’d arrived at the juvenile detention center.
Yet now, when he got out, no one was here to protest his release. He’d been sent away for a decade, and it looked like the world had forgotten about him.
He didn’t know what he had expected.
Maybe everyone on the street to stop and stare at the ex-con as he left the prison?
Feeling eyes on him, he turned. Two teenage girls were driving a bright red sports car next to him. The blonde behind the wheel nudged her friend, who glanced over at him. The friend leaned over and blew him a kiss before turning at the next corner.
Steve smiled. Maybe this was going to work out after all.