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Authors: Sara Vinduska

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BOOK: The Drowning Man
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Their time together was coming to an end. She wasn't yet sure how she felt about that. She was good, but there would come a time when even she wasn't able to bring him back. What would she do when he was gone? She briefly felt a surge of panic that she'd have nothing to live for then. Forcing the thoughts aside, she smiled. No, then she'd be free. The suffering would be over. She'd have revenge. Her son's death would have meaning and she'd be free. Trent would give her what she wanted. He'd give her peace. He had to. She refused to consider the alternative.

 

Trent felt like shit. He was weak and dehydrated. His head swam whenever he moved. His empty stomach hurt. His chest ached from the bouts of coughing. Maybe, just maybe, it would be enough for her not to be able to bring him back the next time.

He'd been unable to engage Simon in any kind of conversation. Nothing he said evoked any response from the big man. He was out of options. Nearly out of time.

Was this really what his life had come down to? Waiting to die. Hoping to die. He envied Eddie and what must have been a quick death.

He wished he could have died in the line of duty, saving people, died amongst his fellow firefighters. Now he’d die in this damned house at the hands of a crazy woman. He wondered how long it would be before his body would be found. And what
would
Caroline and Simon do with his body? Bury him in her back yard? Would anyone ever know what happened to him or would Caroline go right on living her life a free woman while Nate and his brothers in the firehouse never knew what became of him? He was so tired of fighting. Tired of opening his eyes and the first thing he saw when he realized he was alive was her face. Whether it was real or not didn’t matter anymore.

Delirious thoughts ran through his mind continuously. Were they just dreams or reality? It was so hard to tell the difference now.

 

Heat.

Sweat was running down his back, dripping off his nose. That was what woke him. Unbearable heat. Trent’s eyes snapped open.

Flames.

He was in the middle of a fire. It surrounded him, the flames lapping towards him from every angle. God, she wasn’t going to kill him with the water. She was going to do the exact opposite.

He commanded his body to action but his movements were sluggish. He threw the blanket and his sheets over the fire. The flames marched on. Towards him. Christ. He was going to die in a fire. She was going to burn him alive. There was nowhere for him to go. He tugged at the bars on the window, shouted and coughed in the thick smoke as his back hit the wall. His legs wouldn’t hold him up anymore.

Movement to his right caught his attention. He turned. And saw a figure coming towards him out of the flames. The figure shimmered in the heat. Trent blinked. The figure came into focus, raising a hand towards him.

His father

His
dead
father.

“Am I dead?” Trent asked the apparition.

The figure wavered then evaporated.

If he was dead, then he was surely in hell because that was the only place his father would be.

 

He couldn’t breathe. Trent’s body jerked and he gulped in air. He was breathing. That meant he was still alive.

The fire.

He sat up too fast. Dizziness washed over him and he dropped his head into his hands. When it passed, he sat back up and looked around. The room was exactly as he remembered it. Plain bare walls, beige carpet, the one barred window. But that didn’t make any sense. Everything had burned.

Hadn’t it?

The image of his father came back to him.

Not real.

The door opened. Trent started laughing.

 

Trent stumbled along behind Caroline and Simon, his legs like leaden weights. He let them drag him to the bottom of the tank. He didn't fight it this time, just opened his mouth and let the water flow down into his lungs. Maybe this time would be the last. He opened his eyes, watching her watching him. Caroline had taken so much. She'd already taken a part of his mind. Yet it wasn't enough. Not for her. She wouldn't stop until he was completely insane. He smiled at her just before he let the darkness take him.

When he opened his eyes next, she was breathing hard and sitting cross-legged next to him, the paddles on either side of his chest. She'd had to work hard to save him this time. He couldn’t move, couldn't get up. His head ached. His heart hurt with each labored beat. His lungs burned. Trent tried to sit up but collapsed back down to the ground. Too exhausted and weak to keep his eyes open, he rolled onto his side and passed out.

When he woke up, he couldn't move his arms or legs. Simon must have carried him back to his room. With a great effort, he opened his eyes and looked at his body. He was tied to the bed this time. But that wasn't the only thing different. He was also attached to an IV line.
No
. He struggled in vain against his restraints. She was keeping him alive only to kill him over and over and over again.

Maybe he already was dead.

He was just in hell.

But hell wasn’t fire and burning flames.

It was calm still water.

Chapter 10

Lora did not want to go to the museum’s annual Arts Council ball, even if it was for a good cause. She’d never really given a shit about art and dreaded events like this. Hated dressing up. Hated pretending she belonged. But as long as her grandfather was alive, she would go. For him.

There weren't a lot of memories from her childhood that were pleasant, and that included being pawned off on her grandfather every Saturday while her mom went to the spa and her father was working. The days had been filled with endless hours of boredom as her grandfather explored every room, every nook in the museum.

But afterward, he'd take her for ice cream and a walk in the park. Those quiet walks together, her sticky fingers clasped in her grandfather's strong rough hand, became the highlight of her week. And as much as she didn't want to acknowledge it, age was catching up with him and she didn't know how many more moments they'd have together.

So she sucked it up. She took her one formal black dress out of the drycleaner’s plastic, took her diamond necklace out of her nearly empty jewelry box, and strapped on her dreaded black heels. A quick swipe of lip-gloss and she was ready.

She climbed into her midnight blue, year old Volkswagen Jetta and took the long way from her condo to downtown. The flowing traffic and hum of the engine soothed her. Too soon, the ornate, hulking building of the museum appeared on her right.

Handing her keys to the valet, Lora slowly walked up the entrance stairs and into the Kansas City Museum of Art. It was times like these that she wished she drank. She could use something to steady her nerves but her stomach felt too acidic for even her beloved coffee. Okay, deep breath. She forced the corners of her mouth up and met the eyes of every person she came into contact with.

She knew she didn’t belong. The only reason she had to be there was to appease her grandfather, who hadn't quite given up on finding a suitable society man for her. She made her way through the crowd, fighting the urge to shove snotty, anorexic socialites tottering on their high heels out of the way, along with the married men who screwed them. She found her grandfather and kissed the paper-thin skin of his cheek.

“I'm so glad you're here,” he said in a brittle voice, affection brightening his dull eyes. He took a long drink of Scotch.

“How are you, Pops?” Lora asked.

“Stanley Dixon is getting divorced. He’s always admired you.”

Lora struggled not to roll her eyes and once again tried to break the news to him that she was happy and didn’t need a man to lead a fulfilling life.

She stopped mid-sentence, feeling a sudden chill as her gaze fixed on the woman in the doorway. Even at sixty, Caroline Newberry was still a beautiful woman whose regal presence commanded attention when she entered a room. She was also at ease talking to the city's elite. She belonged amongst them. Lora, on the other hand, might as well have had reject stamped on her forehead. She ran a hand over her hair to smooth it. Stop it. Focus.

“What do you know about her?” she asked her grandfather.

He launched into a lengthy history of Caroline Newberry’s family tree and social standing.

She squeezed his arm and gave him another kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be back.” No longer concerned about what direction the corners of her mouth were going, she crossed the room, homing in on her prey.

The conversation was civil, probably even appeared pleasant to anyone who felt the need to watch. And Caroline said all the right things, of course.

“Nathan Barlow came by the station this week,” Lora said.

“Oh?” Caroline asked, complete indifference on her face. No surprise.

“I actually feel sorry for him. He still thinks his brother is alive. I wish I could agree with him.”

“Thank you for keeping me informed, detective, but I try not to dwell in the past.” She finally looked at Lora. Caroline’s eyes looked tired, like she hadn't slept well in a very long time, and that was something Lora intimately knew the look of. God knows she'd seen it enough times staring back at her in the mirror.

Lora watched Caroline walk away all poise and grace, her head held high. Lora had dealt with enough sociopaths and the like over her career to know when she was face-to-face with one. Despite saying all the right things, Caroline Newberry was not right. It was her eyes. Even when she smiled, there was no emotion there.

She called Woods on her way home. “Something's off about her. I can't put my finger on it, but she scares me.”

Woods sighed. He’d seen this one coming. Tatum hadn’t seemed to be able to let this case go. And she didn’t scare easily. If she was spooked, there was something there. “We have to be very careful with this, Tate,” he said.

“Got it.”

Knowing Tate, she was already headed to the station. “You want me to come in?”

“No, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Woods hung up the phone. When Tate had a hold of something, she would not let it go. He respected the hell out of her for it. It was part of what made her such a good cop. He’d had his doubts at first about her, but the truth was, they made one hell of a team. A true pair of opposites, the big black man and the rich white girl, they somehow brought out the best of each other’s abilities. Truth was, he’d do anything for her.

He sighed, figured he should get some sleep. He had a feeling he would need it over the next few days.

 

Seated at her desk at the station, the smell of coffee brewing filling the nearly empty room, Lora settled in for a long night at her desk. She’d started keeping a change of clothing in her car years earlier, a habit that came in handy now. Tight dresses and heels were not conducive to her productivity. She went over old notes from the interviews right after Trent Barlow’s disappearance. Then read through them again. And again. Were Caroline’s anger and accusations against the young Trent Barlow just a mother's grief or something more? Did she blame Trent for her son's death after all these years?

She was still at her desk when Woods came in at 8 a.m. the next morning. As soon as he sat down, she put the Barlow files aside and spent the day working on her “official” cases and duties.

At 7 p.m., Woods handed her her jacket. “Quitting time,” he said.

Lora eyed the files on the corner of her desk. “I’m going to stay for a bit.”

He scowled. He knew her too damn well.

“Go home to your family. I'll call you if something pops.”

She watched her partner walk out the door. She knew she was losing it. Too much caffeine and not enough food or sleep. But she couldn’t stop. She was close. She could break this case. Every good cop she knew listened to their gut even if that was the only thing they had to go on. Hers was screaming at her.

Caroline Newberry was a prominent member of the community. If Lora was wrong and went after her with no evidence, there would be serious consequences to pay, mainly in the form of her career going up in smoke. She had no solid proof that Ms. Newberry had done anything wrong. Just her impression of the woman’s state of mind. Just a feeling of time running out. Just the fact that Ms. Newberry hadn’t been to work in three weeks.

Her pen drummed a steady rhythm on the desk. She picked up the phone, dialed her partner. “I’m going to have a word with her,” she said.

“Not alone you’re not. I’ll be there in 15,” Woods said.

 

“I’m going to regret this, aren't I?” Woods asked as he steered the battered department sedan out of town.

“You shouldn’t even be here. The boss will either be commending us or firing us tomorrow.”

He shrugged, shot a quick glance at her, and kept driving smoothly and steadily.

The rest of the drive was quiet, but alive with the kind of silence that crackled with keyed up energy.

Woods let her take the lead as they made their way up the sidewalk to the front door. Lora ignored the doorbell and pounded on the massive wooden door instead.

The heavy door creaked open and they flashed their badges. A big muscular man filled the doorway. “Ms. Newberry’s not here,” he said.

“Mind if we take a look around?” Lora asked, hand ready to draw her weapon.

He motioned them inside.

The tall blond man never said a word as his big body blocked the dim hallway, just reached behind a small antique table, whirled around and fired the shotgun he'd kept hidden. Woods grunted and dropped to the floor. Lora dove to the ground, firing on her way down. The blond man clutched his chest then crumpled to the floor, his blood soaking the Oriental rug that covered the polished wood.

“Woods?” Lora called out. He was on the floor, a hand clamped down on his lower leg.

“Clean shot through the calf. I'll be fine. Go get her. I’ll call for backup.”

Lora was already on her feet and running for the closed door at the end of the hallway.

 

This was it, Caroline thought hearing the gunshots in the hallway. She pictured Simon's face, knew she'd never see him alive again. They were coming for her. She put a hand on the tank as she watched Trent die for the last time. She closed her eyes. And waited.

BOOK: The Drowning Man
13.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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