[Author’s Note: Apologies for the format, I will correct 12/26]
How long had I been asleep? And when had I realized that I wasn’t anymore?
I watched the ceiling fan circle slowly above me, doing nothing to dissipate the clouds of cigarette smoke that had drifted above my room for years. I started most mornings this way. But no…it wasn’t morning, was it? I turned my head toward the bedroom window and confirmed the sky was dark outside of it. The last thing I recalled was being in the bathroom and then… silence…and sweet darkness. Seth.
I sat up and chugged an old bottle of water sitting on the floor next to the bed and then threw the empty bottle at my closet door. I lit a cigarette and took a long drag, releasing a cloud of smoke up into the apathetic fan. It floated idly above me.
Pulling on an old hoodie, I walked out into the small living room of the apartment I shared with my roommate.
“Evening, Princess.” Seth was reclining on the end of couch, fingers flying across the keyboard of a notebook sitting on his lap. A confusing, yet edgy indie movie played on the TV in front of him. This was pretty much Seth’s life on any given day and it perfectly summed up all of my interactions with him since I’d moved in. Well, all of my sober interactions with him, anyway. I pulled down on my sleeves to subconsciously hide my arms like it made any sort of difference. But of course it didn’t – Seth already knew.
He noticed what I was doing and his smile fell into a sobering look. “Found you passed out in the bathroom again.”
“Sorry”. I rasped, and reached for a half can of Mountain Dew that had been sitting on the counter for God only knows how long.
“You do realize how difficult it is for me to drag a 6’3” dude out of the bathtub and down the hall to his room.”
“Next time just leave me there, man.”
“Hardly. You would have choked on your own vomit.”
I shrugged. I knew this was the death lurking in my future anyway. But heroin afforded me one convenience that I refused to part with: a dreamless sleep. I’d die before I surrendered that. Besides, if the nightmares came back I’d probably just kill myself anyway.
“You had some visitors today while you were passed out. Dretti stopped by.”
“Yep. He left you more drugs. Said you could pay him when you had the money. You know, he must be the sweetest, most generous drug dealer in all of Chicago.”
“Where is it?”
“You were sleeping like a baby in the tub so I just left it next to you.” Seth said.
“In the toilet.”
“Look man, if you die I don’t get your half of the rent. And if I don’t get your half of the rent, I have to get a real job. It’s just business, not personal.”
Of course that wasn’t true. Seth and I had met at a darker time in both our lives and shared the sort of bond that is only forged in such circumstances.
“Who was the other?” I asked.
“The other what?”
“The other visitor.”
“Ah – a girl actually. I told her you were out. Figured you’d prefer I tell her that over the truth.”
“Did she say what she wanted?” I asked.
I swore. That was never good. It was probably just some girl coming over to beg for free drugs, which I didn’t currently have because Seth had flushed them down the toilet. And I would never let her touch my private stash. That had to be it. What the fuck else could she want?
“Great. So some chick either wants a hook up or is coming over to tell me she’s pregnant.”
Seth scoffed. “You wish. This chick was way beyond anything you could ever get.”
“Really? Because she did come asking around for me, didn’t she?”
“Sure. But I’m the one who got her number.”
“No you fucking didn’t.” I laughed as I walked into the kitchen and took one of our three glasses out of the cupboard.
“Oh, I did,” Seth held up a torn shard of white paper. “She gave it to me and asked me to call her when you came home.” He used air quotes on the last two words.
“Yeah, well don’t. I don’t want anything to do with-”
There was a knock at door. I shot Seth a poisonous look.
“What?” He threw up his hands and stood up. “She’s really hot and you can’t stand in the way of true love.”
“Don’t open it,” I warned as he walked over to the door.
“Sorry, Sam, but you know I have a thing for redheads.”
“Redheads?” What? Do I know any redheads? I couldn’t place one for the life of me. And then Seth opened the door to reveal Kimber Destaro standing on the other side. I suddenly felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped on my soul.
I had a few seconds to study her before her eyes found me leaning against the counter in the kitchen. She was still very short but her hair was longer, halfway down her back it looked like. And she was, of course, almost ten years older than the last time I’d seen her. Looking at her after all these years was physically crippling. I had to make a concentrated effort to stay on my feet while my knees tried to buckle underneath me. Just seeing her face brought back painful memories I thought long buried. She was like a mirage long dead – returning to torture me.
Kimber’s eyes finally found me as she nervously clutched her cell phone in her hands, turning it over and over against her chest.
“Hi, Sam.” She said with more confidence than she clearly felt.
Since Kimber had actually spoken to me I could probably confirm that this wasn’t a nightmare: she was really here. And if she was real, that meant that it was all real, too. A shudder racked through my body and I wound my white-knuckled fingers around the edge of the counter top.
“Why are you here?” I hadn’t meant to sound so angry. My words seemed to rattle Kimber and she took a step back.
Seth watched the exchange with interest but didn’t intervene.
“You shouldn’t be here, Kimber.” I said. I just wanted her to leave – this needed to end before I lost it. After she was gone I could pretend she was just a nightmare seeping through the veil.
Kimber hesitated. I saw her calculating in her mind as she watched me, her lips moving only slightly as she organized all the variables in her head. It was such a Kimber thing to do and it made me realize how much I missed her.
I saw the exact moment Kimber found in her mind what she was looking for.
“Did you get my letter?” She asked.
“And…I threw it away.” Lies.
She faltered for only a moment. “Did you read it?”
I didn’t say anything but I knew she could read the answer on my face. When neither of us spoke, an awkward tension began to bleed into the room.
“So, I’m Seth.” My roommate said, still casually leaning against the door.
Kimber held my stare for a moment longer and then broke it to finally walk into the room. Seth let the door close behind her.
“Kimber.” She said to him.
“And how do you know Sam?”
“We grew up together.”
“Neat. Sam and I were cellmates in prison.”
“Seth!” I snapped.
“I was in for a super, sexy felony: Computer Crimes. Sam was in for…”
“I swear to God, Seth…” I warned.
“Harder stuff. Goodnight all.” He said cheerfully and left the room. I kept my eyes on him as he made his way down the hall to his room, cursing his every step.
When Seth’s door had finally closed behind him, I reluctantly let my gaze drift back into the room. Kimber was watching me with an expression I couldn’t read – but I didn’t like it.
“The letter.” She repeated.
“Yes, I read it.”
Kimber continued to stare at me, waiting for more. And she cracked me just that easily.
“I don’t what to say.” I ran my hands through my mess of dark, unwashed hair. “I’m sorry that we couldn’t- that we didn’t-“
“Sam, stop. I’m not here for apologies. I don’t need one – you guys got me out.”
“Kyle got you out.” His name seemed to impale her. I wondered how long it had been since she’d heard it.
“Well, that’s kind of why I’m here. There are others, Sam. Women who never escaped that place.”
“I want to help them.”
“I want Drisking to be exposed. I want what they’ve done to be known to the world.”
“Yeah, so do I. So do a lot of people. But the majority of us aren’t in a position to do anything about it.” I needed a drink.
I pulled a plastic bottle of cheap vodka from the freezer and poured it into the glass.
“Do you want some?” I asked, almost as an afterthought.
“God, yes.” Kimber said, and I took another glass down from cupboard, filled it, and handed it to her. She drank half of it in one sip which seemed to steady her.
“So what do you want from me, Kimber?” I asked as she set the glass down.
“I want you to come back to Drisking with me.”
I laughed and then tipped my glass back, allowing the hot sting of the alcohol to unfurl down my throat.
“I’m serious, Sam.”
“Yeah, the answer is no. We’d never leave that place alive.”
“We did once.”
“We’re not going back.”
“I have a contact. You know, some- someone on the inside.”
“The inside of what? Drisking? Borrasca? The sheriff’s office?”
“They know stuff, okay? And they’re willing to help us, that’s all we need to know.”
“No, we’d need a lot more information than that.”
“And you’ll get it – later. After we get there.”
“Did you really come all the way from California to ask me this? After nine years?”
“Actually, I wasn’t asking.” Kimber looked at me coolly and crossed her arms in front of her with ironclad conviction. This wasn’t the Kimber I remembered. I didn’t know this woman.
“So somebody told you that they were going to help you take down a very highly connected and protected crime syndicate and you believed them.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“So you don’t trust them.”
“I didn’t say that either.”
“Yeah, well, this isn’t happening. We’d be dead the minute we crossed the county line.”
“Are you saying you won’t go?”
“Fuck no, I won’t go.” I said, pouring myself more vodka.
“Alright,” Kimber said, and set her glass on the table beside her. “Well, thank you for the drink, but I have to go.”
Something lurched inside of me. I couldn’t let her leave, not when I’d just gotten her back. So why was I being such a dick?
“Wait,” I took a step toward her before I realized what I’d done. “Where are you going?”
“I told you,” she snapped as she started toward the door. “I’m going to Drisking.”
I was on her before she’d finished her sentence and yanked her away from the door. “The hell you are!”
“I told you I was going, Sam, and I fucking meant it!”
“I didn’t know you intended to go alone. That’s goddamn suicide!”
“I don’t care. It needs to end.”
“Why does it have to be you?” I pled desperately. My heart began to sink as I realized I did know this Kimber. Her mind was made up and there would be no stopping her.
“Who else, Sam? Who else but us? There’s no one.”
The thought of my best friend back at that place seared through my brain like a hot iron. I had to make Kimber see reason, even if I had to hurt her. There was no other way.
“So, after what Killian Clery did to you there, after all you suffered at Borrasca, you want to go back.”
She snatched her arm back from my grasp. “Yes. Because there are other people still suffering as we stand here arguing about this. We shouldn’t have even waited this long to try and help them.”
“No, wait, we can think this through. I’ll try again with the FBI. The cops. INTERPOL. I don’t know, whoever will listen.”
“Did that work before?” She asked.
“Sam, if I try to report the ra…what happened to me, I’ll show up on their radar immediately and be dead by morning.”
No more pretentions, no more manipulations. I had to bare my soul to this girl if I wanted to stop her. “Please.” I said desperately. “Please, Kimber, I’m begging you not to make me do this.”
“I’m sorry…but, I’m going.”
I was panicking, unable to control my breathing or the pounding of my heart which was racing to a finish line that lay somewhere in the immediate future.
“Fuck!” I screamed and swept Kimber’s vodka glass off the table to where it shattered against the wall. This didn’t seem to surprise her and Kimber kept her composure while I raged. “Fuuuuuuck!”
It was over. I was going back to Drisking.
I watched the vodka drip down the wall where I’d hurled it. If I wasn’t so terrified I would have been embarrassed by my outburst, but I couldn’t stop the shaking. Deep breaths, one problem at a time. I need to wipe off the wall, pick up the glass, and then I could go die in Missouri. I let out a pathetic sob.
“Sam, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
I gave her a ludicrous look. How could such a tiny person stop anything from happening to me? Kimber had always been a little fireball, but this was madness. She raised her chin defiantly when she saw me assessing her.
“When are we leaving?” I asked, trying to keep my voice as composed as possible. All I wanted to do was retreat into my room where I could let the fear overtake me.
“In the morning.” She said.
“That’s fucking crazy, Kimber, we need time to plan. And I need the contact number for this ‘source’ of yours. We can’t just go waltzing into town after a decade.”
“I’ve had a lot of time to prepare for this – years in fact. Look, tomorrow, let’s just get in the car and go and I’ll have the entire 8 hour drive to convince you that I have a good plan.”
“What the fuck is the rush, Kimber? You trying to be dead by Christmas?”
“Just trust me. I’ll explain everything in the car tomorrow.”
“You know it’s already midnight.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve been driving all day – I’m tired as hell.” She sighed.
“You just got in today.”
“Jesus Christ, woman. Do you have a hotel?”
“Not yet.” She shrugged.
“You can stay here, then. With you talking so much crazy I don’t trust your lunacy out in the city.”
Kimber narrowed her eyes at me and then shrugged. “Fine by me.”
“Okay, you can take my room. Give me a minute.” Shattered whiskey glass forgotten, I left Kimber standing where she was and went back to my room. I flipped the light on and glanced around – my heart plummeted. The room was disgusting. I hadn’t really looked at it in years; it was really just a place to watch TV or pass out. I couldn’t remember the last time I had changed the sheets…or done any laundry. The girls who usually stayed over didn’t care much what they were sleeping on. But this was no place for a girl like Kimber.
I stripped the bed as fast as I could and herded bottles, discarded needles, and empty cigarette boxes into the closet. I realized too late that I didn’t actually have anything to replace the dirty sheets. I was so overwhelmed by the last 40 minutes that I felt tears start to well in my eyes. Get a hold of yourself, you pussy.
I jumped at a sudden knock on the door. Seth stuck his head in.
“Here.” He handed me a stack of clean, folded sheets on top of a blue quilt. I wanted to hug him but I was still attempting to get my emotions under control.
“Hey, so listen,” he said slowly. “Does this mean, I mean, is all that stuff about Drisking true?”
I had never told Seth – or anyone else besides the feds – anything about Drisking. “What stuff?”
“Oh come on, man, I hear you talk in your sleep all the time. You say all sorts of fucked up stuff. That’s why I’d heard your friend’s name before – you’ve talked about her in your sleep.”
“What are you talking about?” I said. “I don’t even dream when I sleep.”
“Yeah you do. You may not remember it but trust me, you do.”
I didn’t say anything and Seth started to leave. “Oh, one more thing. If you need anything while you’re back home, just call me.”
Home. Fucking Drisking was home.
Since I lived in a shitty neighborhood I walked Kimber down to her car to get her bag out of the backseat. She dropped her duffel on the thankfully dark carpet of my freshly cleaned room – which was still barely passable. At the very least I’d know she was here and safe. I’d always wondered if Clery and Prescott were having me watched. If they were, Kimber was in danger by just being in Chicago. It probably was a good idea to leave in the morning.
I settled down on the couch and pulled out my personal stash, which I’d pocketed while kicking garbage into my closet earlier. I needed it tonight of all nights and if it was going to be one of my last then I would make it count.
Thirty minutes later I floated down the familiar river of dark, dreamless sleep.
I didn’t remember dreaming but I knew I had. I woke up feeling like I’d run thirty miles; drenched in sweat and fighting to draw in air with raw, ragged breaths. I sat up on the couch and rubbed my face. What time was it? Why was I in the living room? Why did I feel a malicious black cloud looming over me like some sort of comic strip character? And then it all came back, crashing like waves over my head. Holy shit, Kimber was here. And she wanted something. I felt the fear shower me like ice cold rain as I recalled pieces of the night before. We were going back.
Kimber’s bag was next to the door and she was sitting at the table reading one of Seth’s look-how-smart-I-am philosophy books. As I sat up I slid the evidence of my addiction under the couch with my foot, praying she hadn’t already seen it.
“Morning, Sam,” Kimber smiled, without looking up from the book.
“Why in the fuck are you so chipper. You remember where we’re going right?”
“Yes.” She put the book down and looked over at me, beaming. “I’ve just missed you so much.”
It was a genuine statement and my mouth twitched into a little smile at her words. Goddamn it, I was happy to see her, too. Buried underneath all the fear and numbing pain was a glowing euphoria. I had never been happier than when I was with Kimber and Kyle. And one of them had actually come back from the void of the past.
I stood up. “Just let me shower and pack and then we can get on the road…that is, if you’re still planning on going.”
“Yes, I am,” she said. “Are you?”
“Yeah, it appears that I am.” I had run out of arguments.
Seth had already left for the day so I locked the apartment as we headed down to Kimber’s car – a 10-year-old Mazda sedan. She took my bag and threw it into the backseat next to hers and then climbed in.
“So, eight hours, huh?” I asked as she started the engine.
“Yep. But I can probably do it in seven.”
“Fuck me, don’t rush on my account.”
Kimber pulled her sunglasses down and pulled out of the apartment complex. I looked back and wondered if I’d ever see it’s crumbling, graffiti-covered walls again. Or if I even wanted to.
“Stop staring at me.”
“You’re not as sly as you think you are,” Kimber muttered.
“Sorry, it’s just…I never thought I’d see you again.”
“Neither did I.” She sighed.
“You look good. Pretty. You know, like healthy.” I stumbled all over my compliment.
Kimber raised an eyebrow. “Thanks, I think.”
I laughed nervously. “You know what I mean. You look like you’ve done well from yourself the last ten years.”
Kimber frowned and remained quiet for a minute as if debating whether to tell me something. “I never told anyone where I came from.” She said finally. “My mom said she had family in Anaheim but I couldn’t find them. Everyone thought I was just a runaway. Cops picked me up almost immediately and put me in a halfway house. Sorry about your car, by the way. They impounded it. I don’t suppose you ever got it back.”
I shrugged. “No, but who cares. It was just an old Honda.”
Kimber threw me a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry. Anyway, the halfway house kept trying to identify me so I ran away from there, too. Eventually I got a job. Southern California is a great place to live if you don’t have an ID, by the way.”
“I’m sure,” I said.
“After that I went to community college and yeah…I’ve just been sort of biding my time.”
“Are you sure you want to just throw all of that away to expose your rapist?”
Kimber winced at my words and I immediately regretted them. “No, him I want dead. And throw all what away? I’ve been planning this for an entire decade.”
“Well…you’ve still done better than me. I’m a- I have…my life’s a mess.”
“Were you really in prison?” Kimber asked.
“Yeah.” She didn’t say anything. “Felony possession,” I volunteered.
Kimber nodded. “And you’re still…” I knew what she was asking.
“Yes.” I said. “So what’s your plan?”
“Well…first we’re going to rent a room just outside of town. Remember that one motel off exit 113? Prince Ridge Inn or something.”
“Outside of town, I like it.”
“And then I’m going to meet with my contact sometime tomorrow.”
“And then we just…go from there.”
“Go from there?’”
“Yep.” Kimber nodded but wouldn’t look at me.
“Please don’t tell me this is your plan.”
“Our contact will give us more direction.”
“Do I know this guy?” I asked.
“I didn’t say it was a guy, and it doesn’t matter.”
“Why wouldn’t it matter?”
“Because this person has told me stuff that can only mean they are on our side.”
“Yeah, like what?” I asked.
“Like the sheriff’s schedule.”
“Yeah. He’s…he’s still sheriff in Drisking.”
I hadn’t doubted that. “What else?” I asked.
“Okay, well they also told me that they know where all the records are.”
“You know, all the data for the Borrasca operation – the incriminating stuff.”
“And…well…um…they told me things about Kyle.”
“Yeah? I can tell you things about Kyle, too.”
“No, he isn’t.”
“No? Actually yeah, because I saw him with my own eyes before I left town. I talked to him, too. He’s empty, Kimber. There’s no one there.”
“He’s a total vegetable.”
“You’re wrong, that’s wrong. My source told me he’s just sedated.”
“Sedated? Sedated for nine years, Kimber?”
“Yes,” She said with false conviction.
“So your source is just telling you things you want to hear.”
“I believe it’s true.”
“Kimber, I saw what they did to Kyle. They straight up beat the death into him. The only part of Kyle left on this earth is his mangled body.”
“I’m sorry, I just, I can’t go through this again. Not with Kyle. I’ve already mourned him and you should, too.”
“We need to know for sure.”
“Hold up, wait, so this little trip isn’t actually about getting the records or killing the asshole who hurt you or helping those people. This is some sort of ill-conceived rescue mission, isn’t it?”
“So that’s your rush, then. You got some bad info that Kyle is alive and you’re running off halfcocked to get him.”
“Why don’t we just go straight to his house and pick him up then, huh? We can be back on the road by dawn.”
“I don’t know where he is. The Landy’s moved him.”
“Then what are we doing? If I’m going to die for this, Kimber, I deserve to know why.”
She jerked the wheel to the side of the highway and slammed on her brakes. “Fuck, Kimber!” I yelled. My head cracked against the window and I was still seeing stars when I realized that Kimber was out of the car. I rubbed my head until the throbbing stopped and then followed her to the back where she was standing over the open trunk.
Inside were dozens of guns, at least 30 of them. There were rifles, handguns, a shotgun, and boxes upon boxes of ammo. “Are you planning to storm the Alamo?”
“Does this look like Kyle is all I’m after?”
“I’m actually a little scared of you right now.”
“I want all of this to end. I want Kyle back, yes, and it’s true that that’s why I showed up so suddenly. But I want more than that, Sam. I want him dead.”
I understood her hatred for Clery but if we were going to murder people I wanted Jimmy Prescott dead, as well. And when the time came – and if I was certain he was culpable – my father, too. “How did you get all these?”
Kimber shrugged. “It’s taken me a few years, lots of traveling around the southwest to gun shows and stuff.”
“Okay, well close the truck before somebody driving by sees your fucking arsenal. This is Illinois, for fuck’s sake.”
She slammed it shut and we got back into the car where I sat rubbing my head and lamenting at the bump that was already forming there. When I realized Kimber hadn’t started the car I looked up to find her gripping the steering wheel tightly and staring straight out the windshield. She was fighting back tears.
“Kimber, I’m sorry.” I said. She blinked a few times to clear her eyes. “I’m being a total asshole, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” But I did know. My mind was cloudy from years of drug use, I had no filter, and I had problems controlling my emotions – which swung back and forth like the pendulum on a clock, and changed just as often.
“No, I…I never should have asked you to come. It was wrong.” She breathed the last word and she dropped her hands from the steering wheel.
“Asked?” I said.
She covered her face. “You’re right, I manipulated you. You don’t even know me anymore; you shouldn’t be here.”
I leaned over the center console and hugged her. Kimber recoiled at my touch like I’d delivered her an electric shock. “I’m sorry! Shit, I’m sorry.” I said.
“No, it’s okay, I just, I don’t like to be touched.”
This was new Kimber. I pulled out my pack of Marlboro’s and lit a cigarette without asking if it was okay. “Fuck, Kimber, I’m a piece of shit. I’ve always been a piece of shit. I probably should be here, honestly. You’ve given the opportunity to do…something with my life. But I’m fucking scared and it’s making me a dick.”
Kimber leaned back and wiped her eyes. “You really don’t have that much to worry about, Sam. You’re still the son of the sheriff and he won’t hurt you.” I had considered this too and it made my skin crawl. Son of the sheriff. If what I suspected was true, then that would make me heir to Borrasca. My stomach lurched in revulsion.
“Maybe. Let’s just get to the hotel and we’ll decide what to do. We probably want to make as little noise as possible while we figure out where Clery and Prescott are. We do not want anybody to know we’re back in town.”
Kimber nodded. “And the sheriff.”
“And…and the sheriff.” I didn’t want to think about it. I had buried the assumptions about my father’s guilt years ago, under enough black tar heroin to kill a horse. I guess it was time to remember.
We spent the rest of the drive avoiding the topic of Drisking. We talked about people we knew, movies we’d seen; hell, we even made a few jokes that didn’t fall totally flat. It reminded me of those days when we would sit in my car in the Drisking High parking lot, listening to music and getting stoned. It made me miss Kyle…and weed. I’d given it up for the harder stuff years ago. Or to put it more eloquently: if pot was a gateway drug, I’d left it at the gate.
The closer we got to Drisking, the quieter the car became and by the time we hit the Missouri border, we were in complete silence. It had started to snow and Kimber was completely focused on the drive. I stared out the window until the dread of familiar things passing by made me look away. We were almost there.
Kimber pulled into the Prince Ridge within the hour and got out to check us in. I stayed in the car, eyeing the other vehicles in the parking lot. Nothing I recognized, but seeing as how it had been almost a decade since I’d been home, I wasn’t sure that mattered. The first exit for Drisking – and there were only the two – was only four miles down the highway. If Kimber considered this safe then there was no reason to worry, right? She’d always been the smart one.
I jumped as Kimber jerked the car door open and got in. She noticed. “You know I’m traveling with you, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “Pardon me for being a little on edge.”
“209,” she said, pointing up to the second floor. “I’ll drive around; you look for it.”
The room was at the front of the property facing the highway. I brought our bags upstairs and then stood shivering outside in the cold while I smoked a cigarette. When I was finished I flicked the cigarette over the railing and watched it fall into the bed of a maroon Dodge Ram. Oops. I followed Kimber inside and was relieved to see that there were 2 beds and 3 locks on the door. So far not a complete disaster.
Since it was around six Kimber wanted to go grab some dinner.
“Fairtoli’s? Christian’s?” She suggested. “They’re both only a few miles away.”
“Prescott Artisan Sandwiches then?” She winked at me.
“No,” I said again, ignoring her joke. “I mean we shouldn’t leave. We should order delivery or something.”
Kimber’s casual smile fell off of her face. “You’re worried for no reason.”
“And you’re homesick.”
Kimber’s eyes slid to the floor and she sat down on the end of the bed. “Probably.”
“I just…I think we need to lay low as much as possible right now.”
“No, you’re right,” Kimber said, and tucked her feet up underneath her. She turned to watch the snow fall through the window.
I rubbed my temples as an ache began to ebb in like the tide around my eyeballs. I needed a fix. Soon.
“It doesn’t snow in Riverside, where I live. I miss the snow.” Kimber said.
“Move to Chicago,” I said in-between deep, measured breaths. “It snows five months out of the year.”
Kimber was silent and I prayed she was studying a menu. The sooner she got on the phone for delivery the sooner I could excuse myself to the bathroom and take the edge off.
“I miss Kyle.”
I looked up to see Kimber still watching the snow, her head leaning against the wall. “Me too,” I said after a minute. Her eyes snapped to mine as if she’d forgotten I was there.
“You look hungry. I’ll order pizza from Dominoes. I remember what you like on it.” She said, before glancing at a menu next to her on the nightstand. She picked up the phone and began dialing the number.
I got up to use the bathroom and took my entire duffel bag with me. If Kimber noticed, she didn’t say anything.
I forced a slice of pizza down for Kimber’s sake, though I wasn’t hungry in the least. “So tomorrow,” I said, taking the bed nearest the door. “What time are we meeting this person?”
“Um, well it’s just going to be me this time.”
“Yeah, Kimber, there’s no way am I letting you meet with some random Drisking fuckwit by yourself.”
“I have to go alone or they won’t talk to me.”
“Who the fuck is this guy, Kimber?”
“I can’t tell you that yet.”
“Is it a woman or a man?” I asked. She shook her head at me. “And just what is he giving you tomorrow? The files on Borrasca?”
“I…don’t actually know.”
“Kimber, this is crazy.”
“I have- “
“I can’t let you go into town alone.”
“Stop being in such a fucking hurry to die!” I snapped at her. Kimber’s face paled and she moved further away from me on her bed.
“We’ll talk about it in the morning.” She whispered, and then turned off the lamp.
“Fine.” I laid in the dark for a while and when I was sure she was asleep; I went back into the bathroom for another hit. By the time I woke up the next morning, Kimber was gone.
I called Kimber 34 times in five minutes. It was ten in the morning and I hadn’t heard her leave, hadn’t even woken up when she did. I cursed her and my dope in the same breath. If she didn’t answer soon I would be forced to walk the three and a half miles to downtown Drisking and start asking around for her – a course of action that would get me noticed real fucking quick. I paced the patio for half an hour and smoked cigarette after cigarette, thankful I’d packed an entire carton.
Just as I was pulling on my boots to leave my phone rang. I was relieved to see Kimber’s number pop up – a new edition to my phonebook that would have unfurled a comforting warmth in my stomach if I weren’t so irate.
I answered. “What the fuck, Kimber.”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry Sam, I had to. He wasn’t going to meet with me otherwise.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in the car, I’m almost back. They haven’t plowed yet in town.”
“Really? In bucolic, perfect, little Drisking, they haven’t plowed the roads by 10 on a Friday morning?”
“I thought it was weird, too. There’s more; I’ll tell you when I get there.”
“Don’t get off the phone with me until you pull into the parking lot.”
I opened the door and went to wait out in the cold for Kimber’s car. My heart didn’t slow to a normal rate until I finally saw it driving into the parking lot. She pulled into the space below our door and ran up the stairs.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I had to, don’t be mad.”
“Are you fucking kidding me with this, Kimber? I’m already on edge, I can- I can barely fucking breath.”
“Okay, okay, just sit down.” She pushed me into the room and sat me down onto the edge of the bed, pulling off her gloves. Then she crouched in front of me and took me by the shoulders, looking me in the eye.
“The sheriff and most of his deputies are engaged today, which I was told means that they are up at Borrasca.”
“And that means that: A. they don’t know we’re here, and B. we can go into town and start discreetly looking around.”
“As opposed to driving up to Borrasca and killing them now?”
Kimber stood up. “I want them dead, Sam, more than anything. But you know what else I want? I want their crimes to be known to the world. They don’t get to die with their “good names”. They don’t get to be martyrs.”
“You want the records.” I said.
“What do you plan to do with them if you get them?”
“Upload them onto the internet or something. Send them to the FBI.”
“The FBI doesn’t care.”
“We need the records, Sam. I want everyone to know what happened to us.” Kimber’s voice had risen an octave and she seemed on the verge of an anxiety attack.
“Okay, okay.” I stood up. “Maybe Seth can help.”
“Your roommate? How?” she asked.
“He does some pretty illegal stuff online. Maybe he can break into a mainframe or whatever and download the files.”
“So he’s a hacker.”
“He yells at me when I call him that.”
“Is he any good?”
I shrugged. “He’s well known in certain circles.”
She nodded. “Well, we need those files. I just need to find out where they keep them.”
“Are we sure they even really keep records on Borrasca? Seems like a huge liability.”
“An operation that size has to have records. And my source told me they exist.”
“Great, your source.” I rolled my eyes. “Okay, so you want to go into town and, what, ask around about them?”
Kimber narrowed her eyes at me. “That’s idiotic. I was thinking more maybe we find out where the Clery house is and like…get the information out of Grace Clery.”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “You want to torture an old lady?”
Kimber fucking exploded. “An old lady that helped to rape, torture, and murder hundreds of women over 50 years, fuck yeah I want to torture that old lady!”
“Alright! Alright. Look I may know someone who might be…sympathetic. And I’m reasonable sure that – unlike your contact – she’s innocent of any knowledge of Borrasca. In fact, she’s the one who helped me and Kyle find you. At the very least she’ll know where the Clery’s live now.”
The drive into town took twice as long as it should have due to the snow. “Why haven’t they plowed these roads?” I asked idly.
“It’s not just the roads. It’s everything.” Kimber said grimly. “A lot of stores have closed in town, buildings are in disrepair, everything looks like shit. They don’t even have any Christmas lights up. It’s bizarre.”
“That’s fuckin’ weird. Are we even sure that Borrasca is still running? The town looks pretty…destitute.”
“I am.” Kimber said and pointed to a bulletin board on the corner of 2nd and Osborn which had six different, and seemingly recent, missing persons’ posters.
“What the fuck is going on.” I murmured as we turned onto Main and into the downtown market place. Everything in town was as Kimber had described: run down and ostensibly poor. “What happened to this place?”
“I don’t know, but lucky for us the antiquities shop is still in business.” Kimber said, pointing across the road. As we parked I zipped my parka up to my neck and lowered my hat down to my eyes. Kimber did the same. The most important thing right now was not being recognized.
Mr. Dranger was still behind the antiquities counter after all these years but gone was his air of haughtiness and pretentious stare. He regarded us coolly but professionally until it was clear we were only traveling through his shop to get to Kathryn Scanlon’s office at the back. He mumbled something under his breath and though I didn’t catch it I was reasonably sure there had been no sign of recognition in his face nor his words.
When we arrived at the office door of the Historic Preservation Society of Drisking I knocked softly and listened for Kathryn’s voice. Instead the door was yanked violently open by a man I’d never seen before.
“May I help you?” He asked, as he eyed us up and down.
“Yeah…ah, yes you can.” I said.
“Alright then, come on in. I’m Don Wheeler; and you are?”
Kimber and I exchanged a careful look and entered the room cautiously.
“Actually we’re looking for Kathryn Scanlan.” I said. I didn’t like the way he was staring at Kimber.
“Oh, Miss Scanlan.” He said, not taking his eyes from her. “You haven’t heard then?” My stomach retched.
“We haven’t.” Kimber said, pulling her jacket around her more tightly.
“Sad business, truly. Disappeared, oh, nine years ago now? Ten? Most people assume she didn’t take Wyatt’s death well and just walked out into the woods to…” Don Wheeler suddenly looked up and seemed to remember his audience. “I’m so sorry, were you all friends?”
I ignored his question and asked one of my own. “Did she ever surface again? Maybe in another state?”
“No. I’m afraid she’s dead.” Don Wheeler shook his head. “She was such a young thing, too.”
“And her…remains?” Kimber asked.
“Nothing was ever found, I’m afraid.”
I was starting to feel ill. “Well then, we’d better- “
“Do you happen to know where the Clery’s live?” Kimber interrupted.
“Grace and Killian? Of course, old friends of mine.” Fuck. “But you must have heard- “
“Thank you for your time, we really have to go. Come on, Allison.” I yanked Kimber out of the room and shut the door behind us. Before I could get a harsh word out I’d fallen against the wall, trying to quell the building panic and nausea. He knew.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked,” Kimber said quickly. “I just thought maybe- “
I held a finger up as I leaned against the wall with my head between my knees trying to compose myself. Kimber rubbed my back as I swallowed down the bile and waited for the dizziness to pass. Finally, I stood up.
“We have to go.” I didn’t even look at Dranger as we made our way out of the shop, but I could feel him watching us. My mind briefly wandered into the past and I wondered where his daughter was now. I’d never liked Phoebe but I hoped she’d escaped this town. Prayed she had.
The streets were busier than they had been several minutes before when we’d entered the antiquities shop. There were several dozen people trudging through the snow down Main. I wasn’t sure where they were heading since half the stores were closed and the city hadn’t bothered to put up their tree this year.
Kimber walked around to the driver side door of her car. I stared over her head at the people walking by across the street. I hoped my height, beard, and skeleton-like frame disguised me well enough because people were starting to look back. I almost hoped one of them was Clery, Prescott, or the fucking sheriff. We had a trunk full of guns and I wanted this all over with. I needed to go back to the motel and bury myself in smack – and this time I didn’t even want to wake up again.
And then suddenly, just as Kimber sat down into the driver’s seat, I did recognize someone. It was Meera Grady. And she was holding a little boy’s hand. And as I stared I realized who that little boy was. And then I saw nothing but red.
My body was moving but I wasn’t in control of it. I was suddenly walking across the street with the most intense rage I had ever felt. How dare she? How DARE she? I was in front of Meera before I could get back in control.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
She jumped and her eyes snapped up to my face in fear. “Ex-excuse me?” She pushed the kid behind her.
“Let go of my nephew.”
“What- who are you? This is my son!” She yelled. People were stopping to watch.
“That is Whitney Walker’s son and you know it, you cold-blooded, callous bitch.”
Meera’s face had gone white. “S- Sam?”
“Give me my fucking nephew, Meera.”
The boy started quietly crying and whispering “Mommy” in distress.
“What are you doing? Stop it!” Kimber was pulling at my arm, trying to turn me back towards the car but I wasn’t moving. I was seething with a fury I had suppressed for nine years.
“Owen!” Meera started screaming. “Owen, please!” Grady came sprinting out of the doorway of the stop next door. He took one look at the situation and pushed his wife and the boy behind him and raised his fist to hit me. But there was fear in his eyes.
“Let’s go, Sam!” I heard Kimber yell.
“Give me my nephew!” I screamed at Owen in a spitting, red rage and suddenly I felt a slap across my face. The strike served its purpose. Reality began to bleed back in to the world and I realized exactly where I was and what I was doing.
Kimber was standing in front of me in-between Owen and I. Her hood had fallen down in the commotion and her hair was spilling out of her beanie and down her back in a wild, bright waterfall of crimson. She looked scared. We were exposed.
Owen Grady lowered his fist and seemed to realize who I was. He began screaming at the top of his lungs. “Get the cops! Get the sheriff! Get him now!”
I was already moving, climbing into the driver’s seat of Kimber’s car leaving her no choice but to get in on the other side. She handed me the keys and I turned the car on and hit the gas, giving no regard to the slippery roads. Kimber screamed as I fishtailed trying to get off Main and then at every corner after – desperate to escape the scene I’d caused. The car slid into a snow drift just outside of town. I rocked the car in and out of drive and reverse until the tires finally found purchase on the road and then we were speeding out of town again. There were no other options; I’d blown it. I knew exactly where I needed to go now.
“Stop! Stop, and get out of the car, Sam – you’re high! You’ll kill us both! Don’t do their work for them!”
“That was Whitney’s son. That was my nephew.”
“Why would you think that, Sam?!”
“Because I know. I put it together years ago. You want me to trust you and your mysterious source? Well trust me when I say that that kid was my nephew.”
“Okay, just slow down please. Where are you taking us?”
“Where we should have gone in the first place.”
“No,” Kimber was shaking her head wildly. “Sam, no. We can’t go there, not yet.”
“Yeah, well I have to go. They know we’re here now, the sheriff will be hunting us by nightfall. It’s now or never.”
“But the car will never make it up that road!”
“Oh, I’m willing to bet that road is plowed.”
“Going all the way up to…to…”
I was right. Less than two miles away, we found that road. It was one I had used only once and by all logic I should only barely remember it. But I had seen that dirt road in my nightmares for years. It was the road I had sped down trying to save my best friend. I’d failed then. I wouldn’t now.
We drove up the side of the mountain in Kimber’s Mazda at an unmanageable speed. I needed to get to Borrasca before the adrenaline wore off. I needed to kill them all – Clery, Prescott, my father, all the deputies, the local cops, everyone involved – and I needed to die doing it. I wanted to. But then where did that leave Kimber?
The higher we got up the mountain the clearer the air and the clearer my mind. The uncontrollable madness that had puppeted my every action for the last thirty minutes was draining away. I chanced a glance over at Kimber; her face was as pale as a moonbeam but her jaw was set in resolve. She was with me 100% even though we were on a suicide mission. My heart lurched. My death was inevitable, even acceptable, but Kimber had already suffered so much. I couldn’t bring her back to Borrasca, could I?
I slowed the car to a stop when I realized that I couldn’t remember why we were headed up to Borrasca in the first place. They knew we were here, right? No. Or did they? What had I done? I couldn’t remember what had happened in town but I didn’t want to admit it.
“Will you drive us back to the hotel?” I asked as my heart slowed and the strength begin to drain from my body.
“No,” Kimber said softly, staring into the trees next to us. She turned to look at me. “We’re already here.”
The road kept winding up the mountain but – subconsciously or not – I had stopped right at the proverbial gates of the north central mine, known as Hell on Earth to many, and Borrasca to the rest. I felt paralyzed, unable to move or speak or even think. I listened intently for the sounds that had scored my nightmares, but all was as silent as death. They would know we were here – they would have heard us coming. It was now or never.
“Stay in the car, Kimber.” I told her and she gave me a look I couldn’t read as I opened the door.
I walked to back of the car, popped the trunk, and pulled out a 9mm Beretta I had seen when she’d showed me the guns on the highway. Checking to make sure the clip was loaded, I chambered a round. I knocked gently on Kimber’s window and she rolled it down, her eyes glued to the gun in my hand.
“Stay here,” I whispered. “And if you hear any gunfire, bolt.”
She gave me an appraising look. “I don’t think you’re in any space to do this right now.” I knelt down in the snow so that I was eye level with her. “I agree with you. But this is the only chance we have, right?” It wasn’t a rhetorical question but she didn’t know that.
“Because of your fucking antics in town,” Kimber said icily. She opened the car door. “I’ll go with you.”
“No!” I hissed into the cold, mountain air. But she was already walking to the back of the car and opening the trunk. I knew any confrontation with her at this point would be loud so I had to weigh my options carefully. Kimber pulled out the pump-action shotgun.
“Do you even know how to use that?” I asked.
Kimber racked the shotgun with one hand as she walked past me toward the mine. “Don’t mock me, Sam, you’d be very surprised what I know about guns.”
Her point taken, I ran to catch up. “You know if we do this now, we’ll never get the records. They’ll be dead, we’ll be dead, but Borrasca will just continue. Maybe we should just wait.”
“It was your idea to come here now.”
“I’m…. I’m having second thoughts.”
“But isn’t that your life, Sam? A series of second thoughts and regrets?” She snapped.
“Shhh! Jesus, Kimber! This is just recon, okay? Don’t get spotted and don’t make a fucking sound.” I whispered.
The snow this far up the mountain was almost a foot deep – there would be no hiding that we had been here if we somehow got out alive. We made our way into the camp using the trees as cover, and as we moved I noticed that the driveway into Borrasca showed no signs of tire tracks in the new snowfall. Were they sleeping up here? Were there sentries on duty, even now watching us? I turned around to find Kimber but she was now more than ten yards to my left and further away than I could hope to whisper.
The closer we got to camp the more I began to feel it. Something was wrong – very wrong. I could see the dorms through the trees, still standing exactly as I had remembered them, however the SKIN ND MIN sign had lost a support and was buckling precariously in the middle. The large building that housed the Shiny Gentleman was also still standing and the door had been left slightly ajar so that I could see the conveyor belt feeding into the machine. My blood, like everything else around me, froze to ice.
Kimber was suddenly beside me, her hand clenched around the shotgun which hung at her side.
“It’s gone,” she said, louder than I would have liked. She was right. It was too quiet.
“It looks that way,” I croaked, and bent over at the waist to quiet a sudden dizziness.
She turned to look at me, wide eyed and panicked. Tears began to well at the corners of her eyes. I stood up to give her a hug band she pushed me away. “It’s gone, it’s all gone.”
I took a few deep breaths. “Let me look around. We should check the dorms.”
Kimber tried to swallow a sob and I glanced over at her. Had I really just suggested she walk back into the dorms after what had happened to her there? Was I that fucking cruel? I was a fucking mess.
I gently pushed the shotgun up and closer to her chest. “Stay here.”
I stepped out into the clearing in no particular hurry. If I was going to get shot, I sure as hell wasn’t going to die cramped and tired. But the air in camp was still and no bullets came out to meet me. I wanted to get in and out of the dorm as fast as possible. This was a terrible place; so much suffering, so much pain and death. If there was no enemy to kill, then I wanted to step off the hallowed grounds as quickly as I could and get the fuck out of there.
I opened the same door that Kyle and I had first gone into almost ten years before. The stench still lingered, drifting in the stale air and mingling with the fear and tension that had yet to dissipate after a decade.
But the beds were gone.
I went quickly from room to room and verified that the building was completely empty. Kimber saw me emerge from the other door and I gave her a shake of my head. I was only a few steps away from the building when I began to feel dizzy again. My vision narrowed and I started to lose control. The last thing I heard was Kimber’s voice as she screamed my name and then came the familiar, welcoming darkness.
I could feel I was moving before I even opened my eyes. It was the gentle, swaying cadence of a car on the highway. Instead of coming awake slowly like I preferred I bolted upright in a panic. Kimber was driving and she didn’t look away from the road.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“I was…“ I was starting to remember what had happened on the mountain. “I’m- I’m sorry.”
Kimber didn’t respond.
“Did I walk to the car?” I was sure I knew the answer, but hoped I was wrong.
“No. You were dragged to the car.” It was actually impressive that she could drag a full grown man through 200 yards of snow. I was constantly underestimating Kimber.
“Look…” I rubbed my face and realized my hands were like ice. I laid them over the heaters on the dashboard. “I mean, the good news is that Borrasca is gone and no one is suffering anymore.”
“No one?” She yelled. “Me. Me, Sam, I’m suffering!” Her voice was scratchy; it was obvious she had been crying, and judging by the current time, probably for hours.
“I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant.” I said.
“You don’t fucking get it. If Borrasca is gone than that means my source lied. He lied. Not just about Borrasca, but about everything.”
“Yeah, K, but we knew that was always a possibility.”
“A possibility, yes, but I still had hope. Hope that he was right about everything. Hope that there was a chance Kyle would come back!”
“Look, we need to accept the facts, okay? Borrasca is gone, dismantled. It clearly hasn’t been there for years. So either your source doesn’t know actually know anything or he’s trying to trick you for some reason. But either way, Kimber: he’s lying to you.”
She slammed her hands on the steering wheel and openly sobbed.
“I’m sorry, K.” I said quietly. “I should have realized Borrasca was gone, with the town gone to shit and everything. Why did he even want us here, this guy? Who is he?”
“It doesn’t matter anymore.” Kimber’s voice cracked.
“Yes it does; it sure as fuck matters to me. Who was your source, Kimber?”
She shook her head but said nothing.
“Goddamn it, Kimber why don’t you trust me? I was fully prepared to die at your side today but you still don’t trust me!”
“I trust you, Sam. I do. I know you would never intentionally hurt me. But you have completely given up on everything – your life, yourself, and on me. You’re irrational and unpredictable. If it was just my life at risk, I would tell you everything he told me. But this is about Kyle, too.”
“And what else did he tell you, Kimber? What other promises did he make?”
She shrugged and wiped the tears away from her face. “He said he had seen some medical records and that he could get them for me. Medical information for some of the Borrasca born babies in town, and my mom, and- and Kyle.”
“Kyle.” I snapped. “Always back to Kyle.”
“He was our friend, Sam.”
“Yeah, he was my best friend. And I watched him get beaten to death and I saw the aftermath. You’re being fooled, Kimber. Stop torturing yourself, he’s gone.” I didn’t want to pick at my motivations for believing it so adamantly, but I saw in the ether of my mind the raw truth of it. I knew that the real reason I was so sure Kyle was braindead was because I couldn’t bear the thought that I had been wrong, and that I had left my best friend alone in this den of monsters. I couldn’t handle any more guilt in this life.
“I know that now.” Kimber said, the sobs racking her body. “I know he’s gone.”
But I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I was a monster now, too, driven by the unseen.
“And what would you have done if Kyle was just sedated, K? No, I really want to know.”
“What do you mean? I would get him out of here!” She cried.
“And then? When you told him the truth about who he is? About who you are? You read the same letter I did; things can never be the same between you.”
“I would never tell him any of that.” Kimber spat. Her eyes were red from crying and her fair skin was already so pale. She seemed so delicate, but I knew she wasn’t, I knew she could take more. I wanted to push her buttons. I wanted her to hit me, scream at me, push me out of the car on the interstate. I needed the pain, I deserved all of it and more.
“Then I would tell him.” I said. “Because it would be cruel to lie to him.”
“No!” She screamed. “It would be cruel to tell him the truth! He can never know, Sam! Never!”
“You have to tell him, Kimber.” I said bitterly. “He’s your brother.”
“No!” Kimber was beginning to shudder. “Stop, no, please!”
“If this was really your plan all along, then Kyle is lucky he’s dead.”
“No!” Kimber was now shaking so badly it looked like she was about to have a seizure. She was beginning to lose control of the car. What the fuck was I doing? And why? I pushed my fingers into my temples. I wanted to die but I didn’t want her to die. I had to get her to stop the car.
“Pull over.” I said quietly. I had to get her to calm down.
“Fuck you!” She yelled.
“Pull over, Kimber!” I reached over to grab the wheel but Kimber slammed on the brakes and we were suddenly skidding to the side of the road. This time I didn’t hit my head, as it turned out Kimber had buckled me in to her car. The Mazda bumped up against the metal gate that lined this side of the highway and Kimber threw the car in park. She laid her head and arms on the steering wheel and balled like I hadn’t seen since her mother died. I sat next to her and watched her pain, stunned by my own callousness and cruelty. I loved this girl like a sister, more than I had even loved my own. Why was I trying to hurt her? I was so out of control. It wasn’t me. It didn’t feel like me. The monster inside me begged for a fix and if I didn’t feed it soon it would continue to control me. And I would get us both killed.
“What do you want from me, Sam.” Kimber whimpered.
I held up my hand to touch her back but remembered that Kimber didn’t like being touched. Least of all by me.
“They took everything from me,” She said quietly. “My mom. You. My- my body. My ability to ever have babies. I can’t let them take Kyle, too, Sam. If there’s even a chance.” She looked up at me then. “Do I not deserve a sliver of happiness? Even just a little before I die? What did I do that was so wrong? Why does God hate me?”
I shook my head. I had no words.
“Why do you hate me?” She whispered.
“I don’t. Oh God, I don’t, Kimber. I’m so fucking sorry. I’m a piece of shit.” I felt like I had apologized to her every hour or so since she’d come to Chicago. She deserved better than me. She deserved Kyle. But I knew she’d never get him. “Why don’t you let me drive back to the hotel.”
“The hotel? Why would we go back there? They know we’re here. We’re almost to the border, let’s just get out of Missouri.”
“But…what about our stuff?” My heroin.
Kimber wiped her eyes. “Buy new stuff, it’s not worth your life.” But we were seven hours from Chicago and I knew I was less than half an hour away from a meltdown if I didn’t get back to the hotel.
“Look, we’ll just go back real quick and I’ll run up and get our stuff. I’m poor, Kimber, I need my stuff.”
I could tell by the thinly veiled look of pain she gave me that she knew the real reason I wanted to backtrack to the Prince Ridge.
And then her eyes sort of dulled over like her soul was melting away. “Sure. I don’t fucking care anymore. The person I came here for is gone. I’m going to sleep.” Kimber crawled into the backseat and curled up into a ball.
“I’ll make it quick.” I said, and moved over into the driver’s seat. I could hear Kimber crying all the way back to Drisking.
The hotel was quiet – no police presence, no note on our door, no blinking light on the phone, nothing to confirm that we had indeed been outed. Kimber tiredly climbed the stairs to the room and laid down on the bed as I loaded everything into the car. I let her lie there while I locked myself in the bathroom to get high. When I came out she seemed to be asleep.
“Kimber, come on, we’ve gotta go.”
“Kimber.” I walked over and shook her.
“No. I’m not going anywhere.” She answered. “You can go. Take me car. Just leave me here.”
I wanted to argue with her but my eyes were already heavy as the H breathed sweet euphoria into my body. I laid down on the other bed and enjoyed the high for a while. If we were going to be killed in our sleep that night, I wanted it to be like this.
I dreamt of nothing but blackness, which is what the dope bought me. But slowly I became awake in the darkness to the sound of piercing metal screams floating down from the mountains. Echoes of a beast already slain, but still haunting me, hunting me. The nightmares were back.
I turned my head toward the window and watched the snowflakes that were falling through the florescent light over our door. No one had come in the night to kill us yet. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of heaven still coursing through me. It was a feeling I loved, waking up high, enjoying it for a few minutes and trusting that it’ll cradle me back to sleep and make me whole in the night. It was a monster I never wanted to kill. It encompassed me.
The metal whirling started up again. I opened my eyes to the window, as if expecting to see the Shiny Gentleman sitting outside of it, covered in snow. Was it real? It was so hard to tell… I began nodding off again.
And then I heard it a third time. The Shiny Gentleman was quieter than it had been nine years before but it was still there, still alive, floating down through the black mountains to my door. I concentrated. My head tried to wander but I focused on the noise again and again until I was sure. It was real.
When I opened my eyes sunlight was peeking through the curtains. I turned over to look at Kimber’s bed. She had her back to me and was still curled into a ball above the covers. It didn’t look like she had moved since the night before.
“Kimber.” She didn’t respond.
“What do you want, Sam?” I heard the quiet reply.
“I heard it last night. The Shiny Gentleman.” I took a deep breath. “Borrasca is still there.”
She was silent a moment and then slowly rolled over to look at me. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“I did. I swear. It’s quieter, like it’s farther away but it was there.”
Kimber sighed and then sat up. She looked at the clock. 7:53am. “I don’t think you heard anything at all.”
I furrowed my eyebrows. “I know what I heard, K.”
She shrugged and got out of bed. “I’m sure you believe it.” She said as she shrugged off her parka.
“Kimber.” I said, leaning up on one elbow.
“You saw it yourself, Sam. They’re gone. It’s over. I haven’t heard the- the-…I haven’t heard that sound once in the three days we’ve been here.”
“But I did!”
“I think you probably dreamt it.” She said emotionlessly. “Sam.”
“What?” I snapped my head up.
“You fucking drifted off again. I’m sick of this shit from you. Your fucking addiction has turned you into a different person.” She pointed at my bag and I knew that she knew exactly how often I had been getting high.
“Of course I’m a different person.” I said defensively. “You haven’t seen me in a decade.”
“You know that’s not what I meant, I’m talking about the heroin. You’re killing yourself, Sam, you look like a ghost already.” Kimber threw the parka on a chair and wound a scarf around her neck. She sat cross-legged on the tattered chair in the corner of the room.
“Is this an intervention?” I asked. “Because better friends have tried.” Liar.
“Fuck off, Sam. This isn’t even about the drugs anymore. I can’t rely on you. You make yourself a fucking liability. Nodding off, passing out, not at all in control of yourself, always needing a fucking fix…and you’re mean. Vicious, even. You forget things that happened hours or even minutes before. I needed you here, Sam. And you fucking let me down.”
“I didn’t ask to come on this little mission of yours.” I said hotly. “I told you no back in Chicago.”
“No one put a gun to your head.”
“Well you may as well have. I wasn’t going to let you go alone and get yourself killed.”
“So you come with me and put my life in danger every chance you get?”
“Just forget it. This was all for nothing anyway. They know we’re here. They haven’t even attempted to stop us because they know how powerless we are. We can’t do anything because there is nothing left to expose. We got outsmarted.”
“I heard the mill last night. They just moved it is all.”
“You didn’t hear anything. You were unconscious.”
“I know what I fucking heard!”
“You don’t know shit. You’re too high to even realize where we are half the time.”
“That is bullshit.”
“You haven’t been sober in days. Maybe weeks. Maybe even years.”
She was right. I haven’t been sober since prison. And even when I was in I was usually high on something. It had been so long. “What do you want from me, Kimber.”
For most of the conversation Kimber had been staring out the window. But now she turned her head and looked straight into my soul as if this was the question she had been waiting for. “I want you to give me Sam back. My Sam.”
Her words cut deep, so I laughed at them.
“I want to be able to trust what you say and be able to tell you things, too. I know you would never lie to me Sam, but when you’re high I can never tell if what you’re seeing and hearing is real. I’m not even totally sure that it was Meera that you were screaming at yesterday.”
“It was.” Wasn’t it?
“I wanted to tell you who my contact was in Drisking. I wanted you to talk to him. He wants to talk to you. And there are things I wanted to tell you. Things I may as well tell you now since it’s over anyway.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Killian Clery is dead, Sam.”
“Eight years ago.”
“I- I don’t know.” My heart broke for Kimber. Clery was fucking dead and she had known it. Kimber should have been able to confront her abuser. Cut his dick off, kill him if she felt the need to. And now she would never have that chance. And she’d known it all along.
“Just fucking stop, Sam, there’s more. You know Ambercot Fort and the Triple Tree? They’re gone. Someone burned that shit to the fucking ground years ago. There’s unrest in Drisking. We could have used that.”
“But that’s not even remotely the worst thing. The worst truth of all is this: I didn’t come out here to expose that fucking baby farm. I should have, but I didn’t. I didn’t even come out here to kill my- my-“ She was tripping over her words as she tried to breath in-between them. “-the man who hurt me. But I really, really wanted to. The reason I came out here was to find out the truth about Kyle or die trying. And I couldn’t even do either of those things. I don’t know where Kyle is and I’m still alive to live with that pain. So I knew I could never fight all of this.” I wanted to hug Kimber so badly but I knew she wouldn’t want it.
“But you could have,” Kimber continued. “That’s the worst thing, you could have. I brought you out here to do what I can’t. Expose them. Kill them. Help all those women we left here nine years ago. I’m too weak to do it, too broken. The only person I could have helped was Kyle. I thought you could handle…everything else.” Kimber let out a spiteful laugh. “It sounds fucking stupid now.”
“No, it doesn’t. But you’re stronger than you think, Kimber.” I said.
“So are you.”
I didn’t know if she was right. I had monsters I couldn’t kill and she was stronger than I would ever be. But she was hurting and I inflicting so much of that pain. Kimber had been buried under all of these burdens alone. She was trying to carry all the weight of Borrasca and Kyle by herself and I had just made her burdens heavier. She couldn’t afford my weakness on this campaign but still she bore it. Just like when we were kids, Kimber was the glue that held everything together – she was even holding me together. But the glue was cracking, and Kimber was about to shatter. And I was the one making the final swings of the hammer.
I had to listen to her now. She was telling me that she needed me. She needed me, not who I had become. It had been so long since anyone had needed me for anything. And those women, all those years ago. What was it that I had promised them?
I will come back and help you all, I promise. As soon as I find Kimber.
Well, Kimber was here, and so was I. And so were they. Despite it all, I was sure of what I’d heard. I needed to do better. I needed to be better. For her. And Kyle. And all of those I’d left behind. If Borrasca was still there, it meant that maybe, maybe, Kimber’s source was telling the truth about Kyle. And that meant there was hope. But not if I remained the sickly, unpredictable heroin addict that I had let myself become.
“Kimber. In my bag. The side pocket there, rolled up in a pair of pants. There’s a…there’s tinfoil. Dump everything inside of it in the toilet.” I swallowed. “And, and flush it.”
Kimber’s dark expression lightened a fraction and she stood up uncertainly, then went to my bag and found the heroin where I’d told her it would be. She unwrapped the tinfoil and I watched the sadness cross her face when she saw the size of the brick.
“It takes a lot for me.”
“Are you sure about this?” She asked.
Was I? No. I hated almost everything about the idea and my body was already recoiling at the thought. “Yes.”
Kimber came back from the bathroom and sat down on the edge of her bed. “What- what do I do now?”
“I’ve actually only done this once and only for a few days. The next 72 hours are going to suck for us both. I can go sleep in the car for a few days if- “
“No. No, Sam, I’m going to be here.”
“Okay. Well, here’s what you can expect: I’m going to be a total asshole.”
Kimber rolled her eyes. “Check.”
“I’m going to feel cold all the time.”
She looked over at the thermostat which was currently set at 84. “Check.”
“I’m going to be in pain. A lot of it. And I’m going to sleep like shit.”
She gave me a sympathetic look. “Check.”
“And…I’m probably going to ask you to find me dope.”
“I…I wouldn’t even know where…”
“And I’ll know that but I’ll ask anyway. This will probably start in a few hours and peak sometime tomorrow but I’m a heavy user so it could be…a few days. How long are we checked into this hotel?”
“It’s open ended.”
Kimber crawled over the bed to where I was sitting and for the first time since we were kids she put her arm around me and lay her head on mine. “You’re going to be okay, Sam. You’re stronger than you know.”
I believed her. But the question for me wasn’t whether I could do it – with Kimber by my side I knew I could – the real controversy was who would appear on the other side? I hadn’t been sober since I was a teenager, and I had no idea who I was going to be in three days.
I glanced over at the thermostat and pulled the quilt up higher on my body. I was already feeling a chill.
I was true to my word, much to Kimber’s distress. By that evening I was clawing at the walls and I didn’t shut my eyes even once that night due to the pain in my back. Kimber tried to sooth me, put on movies she thought I would like, and curled up next to me at night. But the real comfort was just her presence, even in spite of her insistence that I drink water every hour that I couldn’t keep down
I refused food through the next day but she finally got me to swallow something in the evening. That night I slept, and I lived in dreams so real they were almost lucid. More than once Kimber woke me up because I was crying or shouting.
The day after that I laid in bed all day and didn’t move other than to limp to the bathroom. My back was still in burning pain, though the rest of my body was freezing. Kimber, not knowing what else to do, turned the heater all the way up to 95 degrees. She was down to a tank-top and underwear but still I shivered.
The following morning, I woke with no memory of the night before. Kimber told me she had only woken me up only once from my nightmares. It was the fourth day I had been clean and though I was still aching and going through heavy withdrawals my mind felt more clear. Reality was painfully bright and raw and my actions over the last week were agonizing to remember. I apologized to Kimber about what I had said and done so often that it went from amusing her to downright annoying. I had smoked half a carton in the days I’d been detoxing and my throat felt like the smokestack on a coal train.
With my new clarity came some raw realizations. I started to notice Kimber on her phone throughout the day, her expression dubious and worried. I wanted to ask but I couldn’t focus on too much intricacy yet. We ate more pizza that day – I kept down an entire two slices – and Kimber made me drink liters of water which also stayed down.
As we neared the week mark Kimber started sleeping in her own bed again. I was remembering some of my dreams and while most of them were nightmares from the years before I also had some pleasant dreams. Of Whitney, and my mother. I was feeling again, and though it hurt more often than not I realized that not all feelings are bad. It was something I had forgotten during my many years of numbness.
The dreams of my family awakened in me an unrelenting ache that I couldn’t ignore. I wanted to see them again: my sister and my mother. One was impossible – the other maybe not entirely. The fact that I was less than ten miles away from my mother at any given time warmed me during the cold nights.
And then finally I felt my physical strength begin to return. I was allowing myself to take ibuprofen for the pain (which was not unlike hurling a dart at an elephant). I was getting out of bed, sleeping through the night, and my mind was as crystal clear as ice. The more I thought about our situation the angrier I became; but it wasn’t the festival of rage that had been my life up until that moment – it was a simmering, controlled ire that I was able to reign in and compartmentalize, ready to execute at my leisure.
With the mental clarity I became even more convinced that what I had heard that night was real. They – whoever they were now – had simply moved their operation. I told Kimber my belief but as much as she wanted to believe her source was legit, I knew she was afraid of hoping again.
Nine days after the incident on the mountain I came out of the shower to find Kimber pacing and sliding worried glances my way.
“What’s the matter?” I asked as I towel dried my hair. “Hey, do you think the front desk here sells razors?”
“I don’t know, I’ll ask.” I could tell she wanted to say more but hesitated.
“What is it?” I asked again.
“Yeah, what about him?”
“He’s on his way here.”
“What? How…you told him where we were?”
“No, he already knew. It’s no secret, I guess,” she said. Well, that’s comforting.
“Why is he coming here?”
“Because he wants to know what the hold-up is.”
“What hold-up? What does he want from us?”
“Uh…from you actually.”
“I thought this guy was just giving us hospital records and pointing us toward whatever server the Borrasca database is sitting on.”
I made a wild gesture with my hands begging her to continue.
“We’re never gonna get those records from him, Sam.”
She glanced out the window and crossed her arms. “I’m sorry, we never were. He’s offering something different. And he’s here.”
“I don’t fucking like this, Kimber.” I said as I stood up from the bed. I heard someone climbing the stairs outside. Heavy footfalls indicated a large man or possibly someone who just walked like a Neanderthal. Kimber opened the door before he could knock and Jimmy-fucking-Prescott walked in.
“Fuck!” I’d been keeping the 9mm next to the bed but had moved it during my withdrawals in case I wanted to fucking shoot myself in the head. It was currently in the bathroom – completely out of reach.
“Holy shit, look at you. Fuckin’ Sam Walker! Did you know you look exactly like your dad?”
“What the fuck is he doing here, Kimber?” I seethed. She was standing in the corner next to the door, arms crossed and a grim expression on her face.
“Oh, don’t be mad at her, Walker, she was just conductin’ business. You want something, I want something. It doesn’t need to be personal, right sweetheart?” He turned and gave her an oily smile that made my still delicate stomach churn in revulsion.
“Just talk.” Kimber ordered.
“Alright, well you want to give the men some privacy then, Princess?” Jimmy asked, sitting down on the sofa by the door.
“I’m not leaving you alone with him.” She told Jimmy. He shrugged and before I even realized what he was holding he had shot Kimber with some sort of Taser. She fell on the floor immediately and convulsed a few times before going limp.
“Women, right?” Jimmy laughed.
My heart dropped to my feet and I lunged toward Prescott. He casually swung the Taser around to point at me.
“Settle down, Prince Charming, she’s fine. We’ve been trying out some non-lethal stuff up at the stables.” He rolled it around in his hand and smiled. “I think I like this thing.”
Fuck. Think, Sam. What do you do next? Get him to talk, buy yourself some time.
“Why would Kimber want to talk to you? What did you tell her?”
“Nothing, really,” he shrugged. “Threw her a bone on that Landy kid we stomped to death way back when – well you remember, you were there. Shit I almost forgot about that! Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah. I told her I could give her information on that kid’s condition, you know, gave her some hope. Gave her some information about the sheriff, too.”
“All the information you have given her is useless or total bullshit.”
Jimmy smiled. “She played her part, I’m done with her now. But I am willing to fulfill my end of the bargain with you.”
“We’ll get to that.” Jimmy said as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it with a red zippo.
“Fine. You told Kimber that Killian Clery is dead. Is that true?”
Jimmy laughed. “As a doornail.”
“Why did you kill him?”
“You think I killed him? He was a useful and loyal business partner. Why would I kill him?”
“Because you’re a fucking hot head, that’s why.”
Jimmy reclined back in his chair and took a long draw on his cigarette. “You really don’t know anything, do you? The mine is under new management.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“It means there’s a new sheriff in town, kid.”
I swallowed the bile that rose in my throat. “Sheriff Walker? What reason would he have to murder Clery?”
“Because Killian gave the orders to send Walker’s daughter to meet the Shiny Gentleman.”
I shook my head. “I can’t fucking believe she was working with you.”
“Believe it, kid.”
“You’re not going to give us the files you keep on Borrasca, are you?”
“Fuck no, son, that would incriminate me and my entire family!”
“And the medical records for Kyle and Anne Destaro?”
“Trust me, there’s nothing in there that would help you.”
“So what are you offering us?”
Jimmy put his cigarette out directly on the glass coffee table next to him and leaned forward. “The chance to take down your father.”
I scoffed. “Why would you want that?”
“Look around, kid. This town is a piece of shit, white trash, poor, filthy shadow of what it once was. When Walker took over he changed the whole business model! We used to provide a service. It was fucked up the way we did it, I’ll admit that, but in the end people got to live in a rich town and raise families like they did before the water got all fucked. Drisking was a nice little place people could be proud of! Even you have to admit it.”
“Drisking was a fucking facade. None of that was real.”
“It was real to them. To your teachers. Your friends. Even Meera and Owen Grady. I heard you scared the shit out of them a couple weeks ago! Man, when I heard that story I was laughing so hard. Didn’t think you’d give up your anonymity so quick, seeing as that’s the only thing you had going for you – other than me, of course.”
Jimmy Prescott was off his fucking rocker. I felt like my skull was going to crack from the audacity of it all. Working with Jimmy Prescott was the definition of suicidal insanity.
“Anyway, kid, so yeah, your dad comes in – big dick on campus – and flips the whole system on its head. Suddenly we’re running a sex trade operation. The higher ups are happy because now they get girls and more money than before. Walker don’t really care about money long as they keep supporting him so every dollar we make from the stables go right into the pockets of the upper echelons. No more money for the town, no more babies for the families. The Prescott legacy is in ruins! It’s all straight up sex trafficking now. It’s just unseemly if you ask me.”
“And you’re sure the Sheriff is involved in all of this.”
“Involved? He’s fucking running it, kid, did you listen to anything I said?”
“And you want me to kill him.”
Jimmy tipped his hat in my direction. “I’d be much obliged.”
“Why can’t you do it?” I said, watching Kimber out of the corner of my eye. She still hadn’t moved.
“Because you’re the only person on earth who has a prayer of killing your daddy.”
I laughed. “If you really believe that, you’re dumber than I thought. You’ve got the wrong kid, Prescott. My dad would kill me without thinking twice, it’s Whitney he loved.” A shudder ran down my spine. Loved was not the right word.
“Nah, I don’t believe that. He could have had you killed already, spoutin’ off in town like you did about stolen babies. He’s left you alone out here, hasn’t he? He’s knows where you are, the whole sheriff’s office does. But they’re prohibited from moving on you – on his orders.”
“That doesn’t make any fucking sense. I mean, why?”
Prescott shrugged. “No idea. I think it’s probably just a game. You don’t play until you cross the city limits. Walker had a thing about playing sick games with his kids. It’s disgusting if you ask me.”
“We have very different ideas about what’s disgusting.” I said.
“I think you’ll change your mind on that before you leave town.” Jimmy drawled.
“You actually think the sheriff would let me get close to him knowing I had a gun and intended to kill him?”
“I think there’s a chance; he likes his games. And anyway, I’m certain he’d hesitate to kill you. You’re his only son and all that.”
“I think we both know that’s bullshit.” I said.
Jimmy raised an eyebrow at me. “Holy shit, Walker, I’m impressed you knew about that kid. I don’t even think he knows about his bastard.”
“And let’s say I do manage to kill him; wouldn’t his deputies just shoot me?”
“Nah, I’ve got a promising coup in the works. Been planning this for years. A fair number of his people are loyal to me.”
“Even if that’s true you’d just kill me once it’s over.”
“Nah, I wouldn’t do that.”
“Why not? You’d be in charge so why keep me alive? I want Borrasca exposed. I want all you sick fucks in jail.”
“Kid, I don’t wanna be in charge. I don’t wanna do paperwork or give a shit about how the money is handled or where it goes. You could do that, though. I say we take down the sheriff and install you as big dick on campus. Pussy for miles, son! And you can’t be getting a lot these days walking around looking like you do.”
“Fuck you. I would never be interested in this deal and I don’t understand why Kimber thought I would be.”
“Well…I never actually told her the part about putting you in charge.”
“Well then what part did you tell her?”
“I promised her I’d tell her where her boyfriend was. And I told her she’d have a shot at killing her rapist.”
“Her rapist is already dead.”
“Nah,” Jimmy leaned back and put his arms behind his head. “He isn’t.”
My brain ran into a brick wall. I couldn’t understand what the fuck he was trying to tell me.
“Don’t look at me, kid, she wasn’t assigned to me.”
And then it clicked. I threw up before I could stop myself and the vomit ran down my pants to the floor.
“You tell…” I croaked. “You tell the sheriff I’m fucking coming for him.”
“I like your fury, son, harness that shit. But you’re gonna need a lot more than blinding rage. Here,” Jimmy dropped a folded piece of white paper onto the coffee table next to his pile of cigarette ash. “These are the coordinates of the new operation. Use your phone or something.”
Jimmy stood up and moved Kimber’s leg out of his way with the toe of his boot. “I can’t wait to see what you cook up. Just remember I need him dead, not incapacitated.” He opened the door and walked out, then stopped abruptly on the other side of the threshold. “Oh and ah, the sheriff always wears a bulletproof vest. Always. Probably even when he’s fucking his wife.” He laughed at his own joke and then shut the door behind him.
As soon as it clicked I stumbled over to the door and locked it with both deadbolts. Then I collapsed against it and crawled over to Kimber who hadn’t so much as moved since she’d been tased. I was worried he’d had it on too high of a setting for her small frame.
I rolled Kimber onto her side – a lifesaving maneuver that an addict like me would need to know – and when I was satisfied that she was still breathing I dragged a pillow down from the bed and shoved it underneath Kimber’s head.
I wanted to punch something. Or break something. Or beat someone to death. Not just anyone: my father. The man Kimber had known since she was nine years old. The man who had watched her grow up with his own son. Why was I fucking surprised after what he had done to Whitney? I had killed my monsters. I would kill him, too.
And perhaps worst of all, Kimber hadn’t told me. She had kept it all to herself to protect me from the pain. I was the spitting image of my father – I had known it and Prescott had confirmed it. But she never recoiled from me in disgust or looked at me with fear.
I knew the sheriff had to die. Jimmy Prescott – sick, twisted fuck that he was – was about to get exactly what he wanted. But I knew I couldn’t let him live, either. Prescott couldn’t keep me alive, I was a liability. He knew that. He knew that I knew that. He was simply gifting me a lie that I could use to comfort myself while I prepared to go through with it all. Because I knew – if Jimmy Prescott was coming to me for help that meant that he had completely lost control of the situation. And if Jimmy – with all of his money and influence – couldn’t have the sheriff killed, no one could. Except maybe me, on the longshot bet that my father harbored any remaining paternal feelings for me.
I only had the beginning tethers of a strategy but soon I would have a full plan. And I knew for damn sure that it couldn’t involve Kimber. I wasn’t going to bring her to the mine with me; I’d put her in too much danger already. I had to figure out how to execute this perfectly because perfectly was the only way it was going to work. But for now I would just lie on the floor as the throbbing body ache ate at my coherence.
A sharp pain began to push into my back between my shoulder blades. Fuck…I only had days left to live, and I didn’t want to die sober. I didn’t want to feel everything that you feel when you die. I wanted to be high as the fucking stars when my time came. I’d earned that at least, hadn’t I? The sheriff knew I was here, Prescott was getting impatient, time was running out. I pulled my phone out of my vomit soaked jeans and dialed a familiar number.
“Yo, man. I need a favor.”
Kimber stirred next to me. Before I could stop her she rolled onto her back and started to sit up.
“Whoa, slow down! Easy, easy.”
“What happened?” She looked down at her sweater in a panic. “Did I get shot?”
“Yes, with a Taser. You can thank Jimmy Prescott for that one.”
“Oh my God. Oh my God, Sam. Are you okay? Did he… What happened?”
Kimber stood up and looked around the room. “He’s gone?”
“Okay… Listen, Sam, I- “
I waved my hand dismissively. “I know why you did what you did, Kimber. Prescott is a key player and it’s smart to listen to someone that high who wants to flip informer.”
“Yeah…but was it worth it? Did he give you any good information?”
“He gave us the location of the new camp they’re using.”
“So it’s true…” Kimber said excitedly. “Do you trust him?”
“No. But I trust these coordinates are correct and I trust that he really does want the sheriff out.”
“Did he tell you anything else?” She asked.
I couldn’t admit to her that after everything she had done to protect me from it, I’d found out the truth anyway. “No. Just a lot of bullshit and random tangents. You know Jimmy.”
“So what’s the plan? We go in there, guns blazing?”
“Yes.” Liar. She wouldn’t be coming on this particular suicide mission.
As soon as I get my package from Chicago.
As soon as I get you somewhere safe.
“As soon as we have a plan.”
“Okay. And…did he say anything about Kyle?”
I didn’t have the heart to say it out loud. I simply shook my head.
Kimber nodded and was quiet for a few minutes. I watched her inner struggle. I remembered Kimber well enough to recognize that she was searching for something inside, something to fight for. It was such a Kimber thing to do.
“Okay.” She finally nodded. “Okay, what do we do now?”
“We need to inventory what’s in the trunk so I know what I’m working with.”
“We.” Kimber corrected.
“Okay, what else?” she asked.
“Well, I don’t think Prescott is the only person who knows what room we’re in at this motel. Let’s go down to the front desk and see if they’ll swap us to a room at the back of the building. On the first floor, if possible, in case a quick escape is needed. We’ll keep parking in the front, though.”
“Yes, right.” Kimber was nodding. “Very clever, Sam. I’m almost impressed.”
“Yeah, I guess I’m smarter than I look.”
“That’s not what I meant. You’re different when you’re you, you know. Without the drugs you’re cunning. Strategic. It’s going to make all the difference in the end.”
I shrugged. I really didn’t know who I was, yet. I was cold a lot, and very stiff. My movements felt unnatural. The sunlight that covered the walls of the room from dawn until dusk everyday was garish and off-putting to me. Everything felt very raw and sharp and unfamiliar. But for the first time in so long I was able to remember every minute of my day. My motivations were also much clearer and more coherent. Keep the monsters dead. Kill my father. And above all maintain Kimber’s safety at all costs.
We pulled the car around the back of the building and inventoried Kimber’s arsenal that afternoon. There were two bulletproof vests and 27 guns in total: seven rifles, two shotguns, and 18 handguns including the Beretta I always kept on me. Kimber had 460 rounds of assorted cartridges.
I spent most of the following two days pretending to plan with her and waiting for my package to arrive from Chicago. I was beginning to feel so guilty for planning to leave her behind that I wondered if maybe it was even cruel. She wanted vengeance. She deserved it. But Kimber had already suffered so much; she shouldn’t have to die for revenge, not when I could do it for her. The death I would receive at Borrasca was a death I didn’t deserve: an honorable one. I could live with that.
And then one day Kimber got a call from the front desk while I was in the shower. The package had arrived and I wasn’t there to intercept the front desk from letting her know. I hated hiding anything from Kimber, especially now, but I knew that if she found out about the mysterious package she may realize that I was planning something without her.
When I came out of the bathroom the package was sitting on my bed, unopened. Kimber was draped casually over the arm chair, watching something on TV as if nothing were wrong. I could only be so lucky. I didn’t comment and gently moved the box to the area between the bed and the wall where I kept my duffel bag. I took a deep breath. I’d almost been dreading this day because now that the package was here, things were going to start moving very quickly.
“Two days.” I said out loud.
“Two days?” Kimber asked without taking her eyes from the screen.
“We do this shit on Wednesday.” I couldn’t believe I actually knew it was a Monday. It was the little things that continued to impress me.
Kimber kicked her feet off the bed and sat up in the armchair. “Are we really ready?” She asked.
“We’ll have to be. Our plan is solid and we’re running out of money. We need to make a move; we can’t just wait for them to forget we’re here.”
“Do you think we should drive a few towns over and pick up more ammo?”
“No. If we can’t do it with 500 rounds, we can’t do it at all. I need Prescott’s number so I can ask him when the sheriff will be on the mountain. I’ve mapped the coordinates he gave us and it’ll take just under 40 minutes to get there.”
“I’ll find out.” She said and pulled out her phone.
“No. I don’t want him having access to you anymore. Once was bad enough.”
“Sam, I can handle this. I got us this far, didn’t I?”
“Kimber…you know what that man has done.”
“Yes. Better than you do, Sam.” She said bitterly
“Give me the number.”
We stared each other down for a few minutes, both refusing to back off.
“Why are you trying to take me out of the equation?” She asked finally.
“I’m not.” I lied.
Kimber glared at me angrily and then threw her phone at my head. “Get it yourself.”
She sat back in her chair and watched me as I picked her phone up from the floor and imported the number into my own. “I know you wouldn’t leave me at this fucking hotel, Sam.” She said.
“Of course not, I wouldn’t go without you.” Liar!
“Fine. Then I need to tell you that before we kill Jimmy I want him to tell us where they’re keeping Kyle.”
“What?” I sent the text to Prescott and then pulled the 9mm out of from under my pillow where I kept it and checked the clip for the hundredth time, counting the bullets. “What do you mean, ‘where they’re keeping Kyle’?”
“I told you about this but I’m not surprised you don’t remember. Kyle isn’t at the Landy’s; he- he hasn’t been for years. Otherwise I would have gone and got him when we first came into town.”
“Jimmy told you this?” I asked.
“Yeah. He said he- he’s either in a home, or a care center, or a hospital, or…or something. Maybe not even in Drisking at all, Prescott wouldn’t tell me. But I know he knows and he promised to tell me if we could kill the sheriff. I assume you plan to kill Jimmy, too, and I want to know where Kyle is before you do.”
I nodded. I had to give her this. I would give her this. I’d make sure to beat it out of Prescott before I killed him. How to get that information to Kimber before I was gunned down, I didn’t know. And I had precious little time to figure it out.
My phone chimed. It was Jimmy.
JP: Who the fuck is this?
Me: Sam Walker.
JP: Where’s the Destaro girl?
Me: You talk to me now.
JP: Hey, it really is you
Me: When will the sheriff be at Borrasca?
JP: Nobody calls it that, prick.
Me: When the fuck will he be there, Jimmy?
JP: Your daddy is heading up to the stables tomorrow morning. I assume he’ll stay awhile. Has a couple girls he really likes up there right now. You know how it is when you get a new piece.
“The sheriff is going up to the mine tomorrow morning and he’ll probably be there a few days.” I told Kimber.
“Perfect.” She said, but her tone betrayed her. I could hear uncertainness in her voice. And fear. I wished I could tell her that she was safe and that nothing was going to happen to her. But she couldn’t know that yet.
“We’ll make our move Wednesday morning, just before dawn.” I said. “It should be dark enough to see yet still maintain decent cover.”
Kimber nodded then stood up and began to pace around. “We need to do a lot of prep tomorrow. Figure out how many guns we can carry and how much ammunition we can fit in our pockets. Reloading takes time when you aren’t trained. Maybe tomorrow we can go over the firearms you’ll be carrying and I can familiarize you with how to quickly reload clips. We’ll want to prep those early. Maybe tomorrow night.”
“Good idea.” I said as impassively as I could. I knew that by tomorrow night I would be gone.
But I needed to do something first, something I had been thinking about ever since the dreams I’d had in the throes of withdrawal: I needed to see my mom. I wanted to let her know that I was still alive and I needed to know if she knew what her husband was doing to people. I just couldn’t accept that she did. And even if that were true, I believed that my mom would never hand me over to the sheriff if she thought he could hurt me. She loved her kids too much.
I looked over at Kimber and realized that today was the last day I was ever going to have with her. I needed to get her out of town but not now…not yet. It was our last day together and I didn’t want to spend it arguing. There would be enough of that tomorrow.
My phone chimed again and I looked down to see another text from Jimmy.
JP: you finally makin a move, kid?
I slept very little that night awakening well after 11am, groggy and aching. Kimber didn’t say a word to me as I brewed pot after pot of stale, motel coffee. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon in a stretched, uncomfortable silence. I thought maybe she was nervous or scared and today was just the silence before the storm. But as the afternoon wore on I caught her sliding calculated, angry glances across the room as she pretended to read book after book. And that’s when I realized she knew.
“What?” I said, finally ending the charade. I hadn’t wanted to say it. I’d hoped to spend a few more hours with her before the end because I knew that from this point onward Kimber’s last memories of me would be betrayal and deceit. I braced myself for the coming fight.
“You left the room last night. You were gone for hours.” She said. I didn’t reply. There was no point in denying it.
“And that package you got yesterday from Chicago,” she continued. “More fucking heroin?” My heart cracked at the pain in her voice. Kimber was starting to understand what I was doing to her.
“Are you going to deny it?” Kimber asked. And though her voice was angry I heard the plea underneath. Please deny it! Please!
“It was drugs, wasn’t it? What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you doing this, Sam?!” Kimber screamed, flinging her book across the room where it hit the wall behind my head. “You couldn’t fucking handle it, could you? You couldn’t be there for me when it mattered more than anything in the world. You’re weak, Sam. You’re fucking weak!”
“I’m sorry.” I whispered.
“Where did you go? Where did you go last night, huh? Did you park down the street where I couldn’t see? So I couldn’t stop you?”
“You’re a piece of shit and I wish it had been you instead of Kyle! It should have been you!” I had often thought the very same but hearing it from her hurt so much more.
My quiet admission seemed to sober her. Kimber squeezed her hands together to still the anger and fear that were spawning wild electrical currents throughout her body that manifested as violent shudders. She knew this was the end, and for the first time since we’d crossed into Missouri both Kimber and I were well and truly alone – we didn’t even have each other anymore. We didn’t have anything.
“Prescott won’t talk to me anymore.” She said, more calmly this time as she tried to compose herself. “Does that mean what I think it does?”
“Yes.” I answered.
“So you’re planning to leave me behind, Sam?”
I took a deep breath and then answered her honestly. “Yes.”
“Well that is not going to happen. I need to be there when he dies. I deserve to be there.” Her voice was still dripping in acid but she seemed to be steady.
I knew Kimber was right – she did deserve to be there. In a better world she would see him slain and watch the light leave his eyes. But I refused to risk her safety. I couldn’t watch Kimber die; she had suffered so much already.
“I need to be there to choke the truth about Kyle out of Jimmy Prescott. And I fucking will be.” She stood up and whipped her long hair out of her face. “When are we leaving for the mine?”
“You’ll die if you go.” I said quietly.
“I don’t give a fuck, Sam.”
We stared at each other. There was no point in challenging Kimber – she never backed down. Never. “3am.” I said finally.
“Fine. Perfect. I’m going to shower and you are going to sleep since you were gone all fucking night. Later you can shoot up the rest of your heroin so that you’re useless up there. But hey, at least you’ll die high.” Kimber gathered her clothes and threw a contemptuous look back at me as she stomped down the little hallway to the bathroom. I studied her, hoping to remember all the details. This was the last time I would ever see my best friend because even if I somehow lived Kimber would never forgive me for this. But I would slay her demons for her just as I had slain mine in this very room days before. I prayed she would turn around just once before shutting the door. I just wanted to see her face one last time. But she never did.
I had hurt her again, this time mercilessly. Everything that was left of what could have been called my soul was scorched to cinders. Thank God I didn’t have much longer to live because I’d be limping across the finish line as it was – my heart and soul burned out.
I stood up and placed the Beretta onto the bedside table. Using the cheap motel stationary I wrote Kimber a last letter, just like her mother had 10 years before.
I took the car. There is a red pickup that’s been parked next to us for a week. I swiped the keys, they’re in the drawer. I programmed Seth’s number into your phone. Call him when you hit the border and he’ll tell you where to go. He knows the plan and he’ll take care of you.
I placed the note under the gun and prayed Kimber would heed it. I could taste salt and ash as I let the motel door click shut behind me and I realized that I knew the feeling well: regret. I walked around the building and climbed into Kimber’s old Mazda. I’d wanted to leave her her own car but it would have been too risky to transfer the guns from the Mazda to the red pickup, especially when the Dodge’s methed out owner could sober up at any time. I pulled out of the parking lot and merged onto the highway going west. There was just one more errand to run before I made my final trip up the mountain.
My heart sunk lower with every passing mile – and there were precious few between the Prince Ridge and my old house. And before I’d even decided if going home was a good idea after all I was pulling into the driveway of my old home.
The house was very different than I remembered. My parents had built an addition onto the dining room and had widened the windows into bays on the bottom floor. Why they felt they needed extra room when their children were dead or as good as was beyond me.
It was odd to climb the familiar patio stairs and ring the bell as if I were a stranger. The chime inside was different, too; more lilting and melodic. I waited a few minutes, rocking foot to foot, wondering what I would say to the woman who had raised me when she opened the door. If she opened the door. I was beginning to doubt that anyone was home.
Since I had nothing left to lose anyway I decided to try the front door – it was locked. I knocked hard on the window next to it.
“Mom?” I said through the door. “It’s Sam.”
Nothing. Was she home? Asleep? Still locked in Whitney’s room wailing away her grief after all these years? I jumped over the patio railing and walked into the backyard. My parents’ had built a giant wooden deck where the back porch had been, complete with hot-tub and wet bar. They’re certainly living it up without us, eh? I felt ire and indignation seething just below the surface but I held it in check – a superpower I had only just recently acquired.
Walking up the deck, I tried the sliding glass door to the kitchen. It caught on something but with a hard yank I was able to free it and the door slid open, allowing me access to the house. There were more upgrades inside including mahogany floors and top of the line kitchen appliances. And why not? What else was he going to do with his kids’ college fund? I thought bitterly.
“Mom?” I called again and stepped over the threshold. As I waited for a response my eyes began to wander around the room. Most of the walls hosted art of some kind but now and again I found beautifully framed photos hung reverently among them. I went room to room studying the framed pictures – all of which were hung on the most propitious part of the wall as if in worship. And, of course, all of the pictures were of Whitney. He will never leave her be. Never. I wanted to hit something.
As I wandered through the house I began to realize that some of the pictures were duplicates, as if my father hadn’t had enough photos of Whitney to cover the entire house. There were no photos of my parents – or me.
I walked upstairs and it was more of the same. My old room housed only a flat screen TV and a tanning bed, while Whitney’s was exactly the way she’d left it. I couldn’t bear to go into my parents’ room. Everywhere I looked, I saw Whitney. No. I will not let this happen.
I collected the photos from every room, foyer, and hallway, and then dumped the pictures – including glass and frame – into the deep, marble sink in the kitchen. I then pulled a bottle of whiskey from the outside bar and poured it liberally over the sheriff’s shrine. I took out a cigarette, lit it, and brought the lighter down to the alcohol-soaked pyre where it erupted into a pyramid of hungry flame. I would burn it all. I would burn him, too.
While I smoked the Marlboro and waited for the smoke alarm to trigger I heard a familiar sound from down the hallway across the room – someone was opening the garage. I didn’t know what I would say to her but she needed to answer for all of this. I had to know what she knew – about her daughter’s death and her husband’s crimes.
I heard the door open and then she was walking down the hallway toward the kitchen. I flicked my cigarette into the dying blaze and started toward her. But it wasn’t my mother who emerged from the darkness.
“Emmaline?” It had taken only seconds to recognize her. Emma hadn’t aged very much since we were teenagers and she looked absolutely gorgeous. But I couldn’t figure out what the fuck she was doing in my house.
Emmaline immediately dropped the bags she was carrying in shock and slunk back against the wall.
“Who are you? What are you doing in my house?” She said quickly, her eyes drawn to the fire quietly burning behind me.
“I was going to ask you the same thing. Why are you here?”
“What are you burning?” Her voice had risen to high pitched hysteria. “What’s in the sink?”
“What are you doing in my house, Emma?” Her eyes finally slid up to my face at the familiar use of her name. I watched hesitant recognition dawn there.
“Yeah. Now answer my question. Why are you in my house? Where’s my mom?”
“Your…mom?” She repeated.
“Yes, she lives here…you know: tall, brunette, always trying to feed everyone, married to the sheriff?”
Emmaline finally seemed to regain her composure. She straitening up against the wall but refused to move away from it.
“Actually, I’m married to the sheriff. He did mention you were in town, come to think of it.” She said.
“You’re married to my dad?” My stomach heaved.
“Yes. For about seven years now.” She crossed her arms in front on her and smirked. What had he done to her? Emmaline was never like this when I’d known her; she had been sweet and friendly and shy – it was the reason I had crushed on her so hard.
With a sinking feeling I remembered that my dad had known all that because we’d spoken about it my feelings for Emmaline at length. Jimmy’s words came back to me unbidden from days before: Walker has a thing about playing sick games with his kids.
I turned and threw up in the sink, dousing what little fire now remained in the pile of ash and twisted glass.
“That’s revolting. What were you burning in my sink?” She asked again.
“Where is my mother?” I asked, spitting out the last of the bile.
“She died years ago. Less than a year after you were run out of town.” Emma said. She was beginning to sound annoyed…and bored.
“My mother is dead?”
“Yes. Dead.” Emma clipped.
It was almost a relief. If my mom had been gone for so long it meant that she hadn’t been a part of any of this. But the pain was lurking there, too. I could only hope that her death had been natural because if it hadn’t been all I had was the prayer that the sheriff had shown mercy to his wife of 22 years.
“I am his wife now.” Emma’s shrill voice cut through the fog of grief that had surrounded me.
“How did she die?” I asked.
“I don’t remember,” Emmaline rolled her eyes. “It was so long ago, but it’s not like you were here so what do you care?”
“You need to get out of here, Emma. He’s dangerous.”
She scoffed. “My husband would never hurt me. I’m the mother of his child. He loves me.”
“You have a kid? With my dad?”
“Yes.” She smiled. “She’s at daycare right now. And she’s his whole world. No one else compares. Not even you.”
“Oh really? No one else compares? What’s her name, Emma?” I asked. Emmaline faltered and the smile on her face turned snide.
“I’m not telling you that.”
“What is her name?”
She shrugged. “What did you burn in my sink?”
“I burned every picture of Whitney Walker that was in this house.”
Emmaline’s eyes widened and her face paled almost immediately. “You can’t- you didn’t-“ She stuttered.
“Yes. Every picture of Whitney is gone.”
“He doesn’t have backups of those photos,” she breathed. “He’ll come after you. He’ll kill you.”
“Not if I kill him first.”
Emmaline pulled a phone out from her back pocket and began scrolling through the numbers. She laughed, but it was disingenuous – high pitched and nervous. “He’ll kill you. He’ll kill you when I tell him what you’ve done.”
“You tell the sheriff I’m coming for him.” I nodded at her as she dialed.
Emmaline put the phone up to her ear. I didn’t try to stop her; it was too late now, anyway. My eyes flicked back to the sink – I couldn’t hide this. The sheriff knew I was in town; he probably even knew what I was here for. But – if Jimmy Prescott could be believed – he didn’t know that I knew where to find him. And that was the only thing I had going for me. That and the prayer that the sheriff wouldn’t come tearing down out of the mountains when he found out what I did. I needed him there, where it had all begun.
Emma was moving slowly toward the backdoor, no doubt ready to bolt as soon as she reached it. The line suddenly connected and Emmaline began speaking very quickly. “Send everyone to the house. He’s-”
Before she could get another word out Emma was suddenly on her back on the ground, her phone spinning across the floor toward my foot. Kimber had come through the sliding door so fast I didn’t even realize what had happened until I saw the mess of red hair on top of a screaming Emma. The line was still connected so I smashed the phone under the heel of my boot.
By the time I looked back toward Emmaline, Kimber already had the Beretta jammed under Emma’s jaw. “Say another word, Addler, and I’ll put a bullet through your skull.”
“Where is Sam’s mom?”
My throat tightened. “She’s- “
“I wasn’t talking to you!” Kimber yelled at me. “Addler?”
“She’s…she’s dead.” Emma whispered.
“How?” Kimber asked.
“I don’t know. It was…a car accident, I think. Or something with a car. I’m sorry, I don’t remember! I’m a- I’m a victim like you.”
Kimber let go of Emma and she scrambled back against the wall. Her disposition changed as soon she was freed. Gone was the scared, wilting flower from moments before – Emma was once again mistress of the house. She smiled coolly.
“But, of course, I’m a survivor. And it’s Walker now.” Emma cooed. “You both are so dead when my husband finds you.”
Kimber turned and cracked Emma over the head with the butt of the gun. She fell face first onto the rug she was kneeling on.
“We gotta go.” I said, taking Kimber’s arm.
“Get off of me!” She screamed, and jerked away from my grasp. Kimber gave me a fiery look and then held out her hand. “Keys.”
“No. You need to get out of town immediately, Kimber.” I said.
She pointed the Beretta at my chest. “Now.”
I hesitantly handed them over to her and she whirled out the door. I followed her to the Mazda where she tore open the driver’s side door and got in. The red pickup was parked haphazardly on the front yard, grass torn up under it’s tires and driver door hanging open. I walked up to the Mazda as Kimber scowled at me but didn’t get in.
“Kimber, I’d rather be dead than take you with me up to the mine.” I told her through the open window. Her hands flexed white-knuckled on the steering wheel.
“Don’t make me leave you here.” She said, as the far off sirens of police cruisers began to creep into the neighborhood.
“Fuck!” I yelled. Did Kimber always get her way? Before my door was even shut Kimber was screeching out of the driveway. She made record time back to the highway but the sirens continued to grow louder behind us.
“They’re chasing us, Kimber, where the fuck are you going?”
“You know where Borrasca is and I don’t. You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
“No.” I said in a low voice.
“Then there’s only one place to go.” She said and before I realized where she was going we were already there. She pulled into the back lot of the Prince Ridge, parked, and walked straight into our hotel room, which she hadn’t even bothered to lock on her way out. I ran after her, locking the hotel door behind me.
“They knew we’re here! We have to get out now.”
Kimber fell into the armchair and began spinning the car keys on her finger. “I knew you would go to your mother’s. Even when you’re high you’re not stupid enough to make a run at Borrasca in the daylight.”
“I’m not high.” I said.
Kimber shrugged. “You hide it well. And anyway how can I believe anything you say? You’ve lied to me at every turn.”
“I’ve lied? You kept everything from me!”
“Only what I didn’t trust you with.”
“And I agree that you were right. I was a liability and I’m so sorry for that. It kills me to even think about the danger I put you in. But you need to admit the reason you’re really here. Let me take care of the rest. I can do that now and I want to – I know what my life is buying.”
“I want to help, Sam.” She pleaded. “I wanted Borrasca gone and those men dead.”
“I know you do but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here because of Kyle. I’m not saying that’s wrong, Kimber, but-”
“I am here for Kyle, okay? I never pretended I wasn’t. But I want to see Borrasca exposed, too.” The sirens were getting nearer and we were no closer to getting out of this room. Kimber sighed. “It’s clear that that’s never going to happen. I thought we might be able to get the records but I don’t know how to find them. These fuckers are going to die with their good names. But at least they’ll die, right?”
“Yes. They will die.” We had finally agreed on something.
“And you’re not going up there alone for some suicidal showdown. Got it?” She demanded.
I clenched my teeth. The time for lies was over but I couldn’t agree to this. The sirens suddenly cut off. They were here.
“Kimber.” I warned.
“Come on out, son. We know you and your girlfriend are holed up in that room.” The megaphone was coming from the other side of the building.
“They think we’re still in 209.” Kimber whispered as if they could hear her. It was the break we needed.
“Get your shit. And get in the car.” I said. Kimber gave me a wary look. “We can argue later, let’s just get the fuck out of here. Kimber, if they catch us no one makes a run at Borrasca.” She nodded, still looking distrustful, but slung her bag over her shoulder and quietly opened the door. I prayed they had yet to surround the whole building.
I grabbed my duffel bag and followed Kimber out, quietly closing the door behind me.
“Come on now, Samuel, don’t make us come into this crack den after you. Come out real nice and obedient so we can bring you to your daddy. He’s really looking forward to seeing you. Wants to spend some quality father and son time.”
We threw our bags into the backseat and climbed into the car. I waited to hear the megaphone again before I risked turning the engine over. This time a different voice was spoke.
“Samuel Walker, you are a wanted suspect in the felony assault of Kyle Landy. If you resist arrest, we may have to hurt you. The sheriff really wouldn’t like that so don’t make our jobs more difficult.”
“Where are we going?” Kimber asked.
“Just away from here. We have to lose them.” Knowing that they would spot the Mazda immediately I decided our only hope was to gun it and light up the highway. The tires screeched as we shot out of the parking lot, headed straight for the freeway onramp. There were few places to hide and I realized our best shot was one of the forest roads we knew so well.
I risked a glance in the rearview mirror as we hit on the onramp. The deputies had been caught off guard by our sudden appearance from the back of the building and were only just taking their cruisers out of park as we merged onto the highway.
The pedal was on the floor and it was taking all of my concentration to keep the car stable in the gently falling snow. I knew there was a strong possibility that they would catch us since their cars were a lot faster than ours. “Kimber, hand me the gun.”
“No.” She said without looking away from the side mirror. “I’m a better shot than you.” She was probably right. I hadn’t shot a gun since before I went to prison.
The highway began to curve and I knew this would be my only blind spot for miles – the one chance to make a move they couldn’t see. Instead of pulling off to the right and heading up a gently inclining forest inlet, I cut the wheel and careened over the snow-covered highway divider, across oncoming traffic, and up the steeper, more challenging access road to my left. I prayed our tire tracks wouldn’t be visible to them with the moderate, holiday traffic kicking up slush over them. The snow was falling softly through the trees as we climbed the mountain road and I knew that if we were going to make it to somewhere less vulnerable we couldn’t stop. The snowfall would only get heavier.
Kimber remained focused on the road behind us throughout our ascent. It was slow-going at times and we got stuck every mile or two. I wondered if Kimber could even get the car back down in the morning. There seemed to be no fear in her: no anxiety in her voice, no agitation in her movements. Kimber knew as well as I did that this was the end. And she didn’t hesitate to meet it.
Finally, I saw what I was looking for: a turnoff to a more level road that would move us laterally around the mountain. I took the corner and drove a mile and a half down the road before finally putting the car in park. Kimber turned around in her seat and stared out the back window.
“They’re not following us.” I said.
“How do you know?”
“Because I’ve been followed before.”
Kimber turned back around in her seat and chewed on her thumbnail.
“But just because we’re not being followed doesn’t mean we can go back,” I said. “They’re not gonna let us off this mountain.” I choked on a deep breath of thin mountain air hoping to calm my racing heart.
Kimber patted my back. “Breathe, Sam.” She leaned forward and popped her glove compartment open, then took out a large, folded paper target.
“Why do you keep that in your car?” I asked.
Kimber shrugged. “Practice.” She opened the door and stepped out into the snow. I followed her.
“You think they’re following us and you want to shoot a gun out here?” I said.
“You said we weren’t being followed. I trust you.” She gave me a small smile as if she hadn’t said anything significant. Kimber trusted me. It was a bittersweet victory that wouldn’t last long.
“Come on,” she said. “You need to learn how to shoot. Use the Beretta since you favor it so much.”
“Honestly I just thought it looked cool.” I admitted.
“It does. And it sounds cool, too. Have you ever shot a firearm before?”
“Once. But I didn’t hit anything.”
“Well, that’s not going to be acceptable up here. We have a lot of ammunition but it’s not going to help us if you can’t hit anything.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
“Now the sheriff is probably going to be wearing a vest so you can’t aim for body mass – you’ll need to hit him in the head. Same with Jimmy and anyone else that shoots at you.”
“Okay.” I said, as if we weren’t discussing murdering cops.
Kimber walked twenty yards away and pinned the target to a tree branch. “Now the Beretta is a semi-automatic gun so you won’t need to chamber every cartridge. Just point and shoot in succession.”
“Right,” I said.
“You don’t need to rack the slide because there’s already a bullet in the firing chamber. Your left foot should be in front of your right, about shoulder length apart. Hold the gun with both hands. Good. Now align the sights and fix on the target. Squeeze the trigger when you’re ready.”
The shot was louder than I’d expected, and echoed through the mountains for almost 3 seconds. “Well, if they didn’t know we were here already, they do now.”
“Not bad.” Kimber said, as she walked up to the target. “You hit the very outside circle. Let me correct your stance a little.”
We worked through the afternoon in similar form, taking a lot of time between each shot. I would fire the gun, Kimber would adjust me or give me advice and then I would try again. With each progressive squeeze of the trigger I got a little closer to the center of the target. She worked with me until the sun had sunk far into the horizon and the shadows were too long to decipher from each other. I was beginning to shiver in the sunless cold.
“I know you’re freezing but this is the perfect amount of light to practice in. You’re still leaving at 3am, right?”
“Yes. But Kimber, I can’t have you out there. You know that, right?”
“Why do you think I’m teaching you to shoot?”
“You’re going to let me go alone?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Kimber shrugged. “Then I guess I have to.”
It was too easy. Deceptively easy. We both knew she didn’t mean it but I didn’t want to argue.
“Okay, get low like I taught you and try to hit the birch tree again. I’m going to go get the SIG so I can show you how to use a rifle.”
I eyed the white bark of the far off birch through the sights. I was determined to hit the trunk this time. Even though I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of taking time to line up my shots at the mine, I needed to learn how to use them properly if I was going to have any kind of chance at success. I exhaled slowly and brought my finger down to wrap around the trigger.
I turned around so see Kimber standing at the trunk of the car. Her face, which had been flush from the cold for the last hour, had gone white as the snow she was standing in.
“What’s gone?” I asked in confusion.
“All of it.”
“What?” I walked over next to Kimber and stared into the trunk. All that remained was one bullet proof vest and a scribbled piece of yellow legal paper.
We know all you have on you is one semiautomatic handgun. We’re leaving you this ballistic vest to show you that we play fair. Your daddy wants to see you. Come to us before we come to you. Coordinates below.
– The Good Guys
P.S. Your vehicle has been LoJacked curtesy of the Butler County Sheriff’s Department.
“They just won.” Kimber said in a defeated sort of bewilderment. And she was right – we were absolutely fucked.
“No.” I said. “Maybe we can still- “
Kimber slapped my face. She seemed to immediately regret it as if she had surprised herself, but she carried on anyway.
“Don’t be an idiot, Sam!” Kimber jerked the 9mm out of my hand and ejected the clip. It was empty.
“You don’t have anything on you? Nothing?” I asked in cold fear. I could work with very little, but I couldn’t work with nothing at all.
“Nothing- “said Kimber as she racked the slide. “-except this.” A bullet sprung out of the chamber and fell into the thin layer of snow below where it sunk. I fell to my knees to retrieve it. One bullet? One bullet? We would probably have failed with a thousand bullets. But with only one I might as well just put it into my head.
“When could they have done this?” I was beginning to panic.
“I don’t know. After we did our inventory. Days ago.”
“Fuck. Fuck! But how did they know what we were carrying on us?”
“They’ve probably been watching us.” Kimber said. “Or Jimmy told them.”
I shook my head wildly, unable or unwilling to comprehend our current situation. I couldn’t get control of my fear. We needed to sit. We needed to thin. “Get in the car.” I said finally. “We need to get in the car.”
We shut the doors and I turned on the engine, blasting the hot air into the cab. We ran it for twenty minutes but nothing seemed to dissipate the cold.
“Maybe we should just leave,” Kimber’s voice wobbled when she finally spoke. Her shock was melting into hopelessness. “Come back in another ten years.”
I didn’t want to tell her that we couldn’t leave. They were tracking the car; they knew exactly where we were. They always had. All roads down the mountain were already blocked. All roads now led to Borrasca.
I pulled off my jacket and shoved it behind my lower back which was beginning to throb in pain. Kimber was in and out of sleep and I occasionally turned off the car to conserve gas, making sure to cover her with all the clothes I could find in our duffel bags. It was midnight. The woods were quiet and there was no moonlight to reveal what surrounded the car. We were enveloped by empty, black, ice cold air.
I was cold and tired and in pain. I needed to wait until a few hours before dawn to start my trek to the mine and the walk to Borrasca would be around two and a half hours from where we were.
I had to make I left Kimber enough gas to get down the mountain and out of town. Because as soon as the sheriff was dead – or I was – they would be looking for her. I watched her sleep and wondered at the madness of the world. We should all have lived normal lives: graduated together, went to college, been roommates, backpacked Europe. But none of that could ever happen now. And what cruel irony it was that Kimber was more of a sister to me than she had ever been to Kyle. The universe was just a big fucking asshole.
I rubbed my eyes and debated braving cold outside for a cigarette. I had fourteen left and I planned to smoke them all before I reached the mine.
“I didn’t mean what I said.”
I jumped a little and Kimber laughed softly.
“I didn’t know you were awake.”
“Who can sleep?” She groaned.
“Good fuckin’ point.”
Kimber sat up and pushed twenty pounds of clothes off of her. I noted the time and started the car. “I didn’t mean it. What I said about…about wishing it had been you instead of Kyle.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I said, shifting uncomfortably in my seat. “I wish the same thing.”
“No, Sam.” Kimber grabbed me by the sides of my head and pulled me to her where she rested her forehead against mine. “There is no one I would rather have by my side tomorrow. And I know you don’t want me there. But I will be. To the very end.”
With Kimber holding me the way she was there was no way for me to hide my wet eyes. I pulled my head back and wiped my face with a ratty flannel sleeve. Emotions were so much more overwhelming when you felt all of them. Without responding to her I opened the door and stepped out into the piercing mountain air. I closed the door, leaned against it, and dug into my pocket with a shaking hand. I’d left my parka in the car in my haste to get out of it, but I wasn’t going back now. My new mantra echoed through my mind again: One bullet.
I heard the passenger door open and turned in time to catch the parka Kimber had thrown at me. “You idiot.” She said.
“Get back in the car, it’s freezing.”
“You think?” She said sarcastically.
I took a long drag off my cigarette and felt the nicotine begin to work its magic. I needed to stay calm.
“One bullet, Kimber.” I pulled my parka around my shoulders.
“And a bullet-proof vest.” She added.
“Well actually, it’s more bullet resistant depending on what you get shot with, nothing is really bullet proof, am I right?”
I gave her an icy glare. “Well, I didn’t know that but thanks.”
“Sorry.” She said with chattering teeth.
“It’s fine, it doesn’t matter. They’ll probably just shoot me in the head anyway.”
“Are you almost done? Because it’s fucking freezing out here. Don’t you want to get some sleep?”
I’ll sleep plenty soon enough. I thought morbidly. “Not really.” I flicked the cigarette away and followed its amber glow to where it settled in the fresh, still falling snow. We climbed back into the car and I checked the time. Four more minutes and I would have to shut the engine off again.
“I know you think I should stay. So tell me: what would I do after you leave?” Kimber asked as she laid both of her hands over the air vents.
“Wait until you hear gunfire. As soon as you do, get the hell off this mountain. If you haven’t heard anything by 6am, leave anyway. Ditch the car about three miles down and walk out. Do not follow the road. Just keep going downhill. Call Seth as soon as you get signal.”
Kimber nodded. “Interesting. And how will I know what happened to you?”
“I’ll contact you. Or…. or I won’t.” We both knew it would likely be the latter. The chances that I could get a shot off – especially one that my father was expecting – were less than 1%. But I knew they wouldn’t let us off the mountain until one of us was dead. I just hoped it would be the sheriff.
I checked the time and turned off the car.
“How far is Borrasca from here?” She asked.
“A couple of hours.”
“Ah.” Kimber buried herself under half the errant clothing and threw the other half over me. “You know I could just follow you, right?”
“I know.” I could already see my breath and the car hadn’t been off for ten seconds.
“And unless you tell me an acceptable plan, unless I truly believe you can live through this without me, I’m going to follow you.”
“You can’t. Kimber, I need to stop being a selfish little shit and sacrifice something for once in my life. And you- you’ve lost too much already.”
“But I need to do this, Sam.”
“I won’t watch you die. I fucking won’t let that happen.”
“Don’t you think you’re being selfish right freakin’ now? My death isn’t yours to decide. I’ve gotten us this far and I’ve been preparing for this for so long. You can’t go without me.”
“Let me do this for you, Kimber. My monsters are dead; I killed them, I’m clean, I can do this. I’ll find out the truth about Kyle and where he is and then I’ll call you. I know Borrasca has signal because Emma called the sheriff there.”
“Maybe he’ll go easy on you. Maybe his guard will be down since you’re his son. You’re the only son he has, and all.” I didn’t correct her.
“I doubt it. We did burn all of his daughter’s photos and pistol whip his wife.”
“Worth it,” Kimber said. “Ah, but what do you mean about Whitney’s photos?”
“Trust me, you’re better off not knowing.”
Kimber sighed. “One gun, one bullet, one vest. We need a motherfucker of a plan.”
“Yeah, we do.” I said.
“And I need to be a part of it.”
“Fuck no, Kimber. I’m not backing down from this.”
“Neither am I.”
“Look,” I sighed. “If I can come up with something that gives me a reasonable chance of not dying will you agree to assist from afar?”
“I’m listening. But you should expect me to argue.”
“Trust me, I do.” And argue is what we did, deep into the crisp morning hours. Before I was ready the clock showed 3:00am. I turned off the car and threw everything I could spare for the walk to Borrasca over Kimber’s sleeping form. The cold would wake her soon enough. I equipped myself with everything I needed, closed the door quietly behind me, and started off alone toward Borrasca.
There’s a lot to think about when you’re walking towards your end, but instead of the existential bullshit I expected my mind wandered in and out of the past. I reveled in memories I’d been unable to conjure for a decade, of my family as we were and my childhood friends. It was not something I wanted to forget again.
Finding the mine wasn’t hard, I simply followed the road we had turned onto the day before. I had to go off trail a few times but I knew the map well – recalling details came so easily to me now. Still, as much as I hated to admit it, I didn’t want to die sober. I wondered how much it would hurt. If he shot me in the head, not a lot I thought – at least that was something to hope for.
I was wearing six layers of clothing but frozen to the core by the time the sun turned the sky a murky gray. The cigarettes were gone and I had been jonesing for another for the past hour and a half. I needed more time but I knew I was almost there.
I left the trail I’d been on to make one more shortcut along the river and within twenty minutes I could see the edge of the mining camp. The sheriff must have been tracking me because he was already standing in the large clearing facing my direction, surrounded by nine of his men – and a smirking Jimmy Prescott. Jimmy was standing a few feet behind my father, smoking a cigarette and watching me as I approached. He winked.
Before I knew they were behind me, two deputies still in uniform grabbed my arms, pinned them to my sides, and dragged me the last few yards into camp. They dumped me at the sheriff’s feet and he looked down at me in disgust. Thirteen. Thirteen men. And one bullet. I couldn’t believe it all came down to the lies and whims of Jimmy-fucking-Prescott.
I stood up – noting all the guns suddenly drawn on me in response – and looked at the sheriff eye to eye. I was sickened to realize that we were almost identical in every way. His hair was the same dark brown color as mine, untouched by age. The skin on his face boasted only a few light creases and my terrible lifestyle and weathered features somehow matched his older age. I wondered how had Kimber stomached my face every day without turned away in disgust.
“Hello, Graham.” I said and spat into the snow between us. “You’re a goddamn disgrace.”
“Shut the fuck up.” The sheriff said. “Grigg, teach my son some respect.”
I didn’t bother to defend myself and I wouldn’t have had the time anyway – Grigg knocked me back into the snow before I could even blink. His fist split my cheek open under my left eye and I didn’t rush to get up from the cold, numbing snow that was now pressed against my face. It was in that moment that I felt Borrasca all around me again. It was as deafening as the last time.
I could sense it in the air: the fear, the suffering, and the pain. And I could almost hear them whispering through the walls like they had ten years before. Help me, please. Help me or kill me, but don’t leave me here. The building to the sheriff’s back was most surely the dorm. It was larger than the other one but radiated the same aura of agony and death.
“Now listen the fuck up, Samuel: this little charade of yours ends today. It appears you actually believe a woman and a drug addict could singlehandedly dismantle a business this size so you must be fucking stupid. And that makes me feel sorry for you. So why don’t you just hand over the gun and go back to the ghetto you crawled out of.”
I pushed myself to my knees. “No.”
“No? Are you dog-shit insane, son? You broke into my house, destroyed pictures of my daughter, and beat my wife. You’re lucky you’re still alive. I’ve killed children for less.”
And looking at him now, I didn’t doubt it. “You need to die.”
“Well then by all means, take your shot,” the sheriff swept out his arms mockingly. “We know you only have a round or two left because yesterday we heard your 15 shots into the fucking trees.” His deputies laughed but the sheriff remained sober. “Just remember, boy, your aim better be true, because when you come at the king you better not miss.”
I fell onto my arms as my lungs erupted into a sudden coughing fit. Even if I could escape after the sheriff was dead my lungs wouldn’t hold up. I was fucked. I knew it, the sheriff knew it, and his men knew it. And while the sheriff’s gun hadn’t left his holster, all but Jimmy Prescott had weapons trained on my chest and head. If I even reached into my jacket, I’d be shot.
“Or,” the sheriff continued. “You could use the sense you were born with and go home. Hell, I’ll even have Dretti drop off more heroin before you get there. You’ve run me up quite a tab with that boy over the years.”
My dad is my fucking supplier. How stupid was I? Fuck, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d paid for my drugs. He’d been keeping me harmless and docile for years and I’d let him do it. Who the fuck was this person that I had once loved most in my life?
“No. I have questions you have to answer.” I told him through the burning in my throat.
“Now, that’s where you’re wrong, Sammy. I don’t have to do anything, ever.”
“Why did you hurt Whitney?”
The sheriff yanked his gun out of his holster and then crossed his arms in front of him pointing it at the ground. “The only thing I did to Whitney was avenge her death.”
“No. You raped her.”
The sheriff stepped forward and cracked me across the face so hard with his pistol that I felt bones snap in my nose. I fell back into the snow and before my vision had even cleared, he snapped one of my ribs with the toe of his boot. I lay curled on my side for a few seconds while the pain radiated from my chest to my spine and scattered to every nerve in my body. I really wished I’d had some H. If I were high enough death would feel like a glorious footnote.
When the pain was verging on manageable I rolled over and got up on my hands and knees, spitting blood into the snow. I raised my head to look up at my father. He was still standing above me, fist clenching the butt of his gun and a red rage spread across his face.
“Bit of a sore spot?” I coughed.
“Don’t you ever say anything so filthy about your sister ever again or I will shove my gun up under that ballistic vest and shoot you in the fucking gut.”
I needed him angry, but not angry enough to kill me – not yet. “What happened to my mother.” I grimaced. Speaking hurt.
The sheriff stepped back and smiled – his composure regained. “What a woman she was. But I’m afraid she died in a freak accident some years ago.”
“I don’t believe you.” I said and sat back on knees, struggling to breathe. Slow breaths. Get the air in. Don’t pass out.
“I don’t give a shit if you believe me. This conversation is getting boring, this isn’t a fucking Q and A. You had your chance to leave and instead you decided to say disgusting things about your sister.”
“Was l wrong?”
“You were talking about things you know nothing about. I loved Whitney.”
“You’re a fucking monster.”
“Is that any way to talk to your father? You know, I think Grigg needs to teach you some more fucking respect.”
“Fuck you. I know what you did to Kimber.”
“Oh yeah? Would you rather it had been someone she didn’t know? Someone that disgusted her like that geriatric fuck Clery or Prescott over here?” He jabbed a thumb back at Jimmy.
“I would rather it have been no one!” I screamed at him, bloody spit flying across the space between and landing on his jacket. He backhanded me but this time I didn’t fall.
“You watch your tone with me, boy. It’s bad enough that my men are here to see what a fucking joke my own son has become. It’s fucking embarrassing.”
“Then send them inside. Let’s talk just you and me.”
“You think I’m scared of you, Sammy? I don’t even think you have two bullets. I think you’ve got one. And I think you want to use it on me. Well go ahead, son. Pull that gun on me so I can kill you nice and legal.”
“Not until I know why you did this. You were my dad, I loved you.”
He laughed. “You don’t look like any son of mine.”
“But more importantly you were a cop. You were supposed to protect people!”
“No, Sammy, I’m a businessman. Always have been, even back then. Why the fuck do you think we came to Drisking in the first place?”
I remembered. I hadn’t understood it at that young age but I knew now what the whispers had meant. “Because of those girls. And the things they said you did.”
“Exactly. I was making money. They were getting laid.”
“They were 14.” I growled.
“14 is older than you think, Sam. And it’s not like I touched them.”
“So this is what you wanted all along? A great, big rape empire?”
The sheriff shrugged. “If that’s what it takes. I’m only here for the power and the women. I’m an alpha, Sam, that’s why I can’t figure out what the fuck happened to you. You’ve got the blood of kings running through your veins and you fill them with tar. That shit is for the fucking women but I have to send it out to your handler every month. My only son is a white trash drug addict. How do you think that makes me feel? This should be your birthright and you’re too weak to take it.”
“Give me more credit. I’m stronger than you think.”
“Strong enough to take a bullet to the head and live through it?” He laughed.
The sheriff’s expression darkened. “Sam, you-“
“Oy boss! Look what I caught lurking around.” Fifteen. Fifteen men. Two men I hadn’t seen previously came around the side of the dorm pushing a woman in front of them.
“Kimber.” I breathed. But the sheriff knew who she was.
“I’m- I’m sorry, Sam. They- they-” She stammered.
“Well,” the sheriff drew out the word. “I heard you turned into a looker but I’d yet to confirm it for myself. Hello again, sweetheart.”
The sheriff walked over to Kimber and ran his fingers along the side of her face. She recoiled at his touch.
“Don’t you fucking touch her!” I screamed and scrambled to my feet. Grigg shoved the barrel of his gun into the back of my head.
“Sit the fuck down.” He warned.
“Watch your temper, Sammy,” the sheriff chided. “You fucking this wild filly? That’s my boy. At least I know you didn’t turn homo in prison.”
“Stay away from her, you fucking pervert!” Blood was rushing in my ears and the rage in me was deafening.
“Sam, stop!” Kimber screamed. “Just stop or he’ll kill you!”
The sheriff looked back to nod at Grigg, who cracked stars into the back of my head with his fist.
“Manners, Sam. That’s not how you talk in front of a lady, I’ve had enough goddamn disrespect from you. This is your last fucking warning.” The sheriff turned to Kimber and yanked her hair towards him so that their faces were almost touching. She writhed against the man behind her holding her arms. “Soon, princess. We’ll catch up soon.”
The sheriff let go of Kimber’s hair and walked back to stand in front of me. “Where were we?”
“Let Kimber go. Let her go and I’ll do anything you want.”
“Oh really, anything?”
“Yes, just let her go.”
“Would you leave here and never come back?”
“Would you stay and help me run my business?”
I wheezed through a deep breath. “Yes.”
“Would you go inside right now and fuck one of our girls?”
“Y-yes.” Please don’t call that fucking bluff.
“No, Sam!” Kimber yelled.
“Richards, would you shut her the fuck up?” The sheriff asked. I heard a sickening thud but couldn’t see through the blood running into my eyes from the split on my forehead. Kimber gasped.
“Now, then,” the sheriff continued. “How about Phoebe Dranger? If I recall she was a raging cunt to you in high school. Why don’t you go in there and take some vengeance for yourself? I’m sure she’d love it.”
“I don’t- I- she- she’s not really my type.”
“Oh? I guess Kimber Destaro is more your type, isn’t she?”
“No.” I said quickly. “No, somebody else. Anybody else.”
“What a fucking pussy.” Jimmy Prescott laughed. “Look, this family reunion had been real sweet and all but we’ve got investors coming into town today and a lot of fucking shit to do before they get here. Plus, it’s early as balls and I need more fucking coffee. Can we just kill this little prick and get on with our day?”
The sheriff shot Jimmy an annoyed look. “Do I look like I need to be fucking entertained right now? Did I tell my monkey to dance? No, I fucking didn’t so shut the fuck up, Monkey.”
Jimmy shrugged and took a sip of coffee.
“Actually, Jimmy, on second thought take the girl inside and find her a new home.” The sheriff said. “Make yourself fucking useful.”
“No-no-no-no-no…you-you can’t take her in there,” I begged. “Please, I’ll do anything, Dad, please, just don’t make her go in there.”
The sheriff turned around to give me a disgusted look and shook his head in disappointment. Then, without even turning to look at her, the sheriff shot Kimber in the chest where she stood and she fell over into the snow without making a sound.
“Oh, quit your yelling, I tried to warn you, Sammy.” The sheriff said through the echoes of the shot still resonating through the camp.
I dropped to my knees and screamed into the snow until I had burst every capillary in my face.
“Jesus Christ, son.” The sheriff said in disgust. “Enough theatrics, I didn’t even act like this when your mother died.”
“You killed her!” I screamed at him. “You murdered her!”
He shrugged. “I’ve killed a lot of people. Although, I must say, I do regret that I’m not gonna get a turn with her again. Usually I don’t like redheads, but there was something about her. Like father, like son I guess.” He laughed.
“I told her not to come, I told her not to come,” I mumbled, barely coherent. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut the fuck up!” I screamed at him. Grigg took a step toward me but my father stopped him with a hand.
“Let him throw his tantrum. He did the same thing when I took away his toys as a kid, this ain’t no different.”
Richards stepped over Kimber’s lifeless body and exchanged a few quiet words with the sheriff. I couldn’t hear them over the dry heaving of my stomach, which didn’t stop until my abdominal muscles ached from the force of them.
“Richards just had an interesting idea – you’re in for a real treat, Sam. Get him up,” the sheriff said to the men behind me. They hauled me to my feet and shoved me in the direction of my father. I stumbled but didn’t fall.
“We don’t use it too much anymore on account of the noise, but how about we throw your girlfriend’s body into the Shiny Gentleman and scatter her bone fragments all over the mountain?” He slapped me on the back. “That way she can be here at the mine for all eternity! I bet she’d like that.”
I was shaking so violently I could barely wipe the blood out of my eyes. “No.” I said and fell back down on my knees in the snow.
“No? Are you sure?” He asked. I could hear the smile in his voice.
“No. No, please.” My voice broke over my words.
The sheriff’s smile fell into a look of distaste. “Don’t beg,” he spat. “It makes you look weak. Get off your fucking knees.”
“Please don’t touch her.” I continued.
“You know what your problem is, Sam? You’re not man enough to take what you want. You’re not strong enough to say: fuck what’s polite, fuck the consequences, fuck the law.”
“You’re a fucking cop!” I choked.
“See? Now there’s a bit of spirit. Sometimes in life you just have to claim what should be yours. That’s what society is built on. Now our operation may not work within the laws of the land but we sure as hell work within the government.”
“But Whitney. Look what it did to her. This place- “
“I ain’t gonna warn you again, boy, keep my daughter’s name out of your mouth.”
“Which daughter?” I asked.
The sheriff sneered. “What can I say? Whitney is a beautiful name.”
“It’s sick. You’re sick. You need help.”
“I have help. Look around you, Sammy.” He gestured to the fourteen men standing in a half circle around me. “I am a sultan. These are my governors and that is my harem.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
He sighed. “I’m starting to think you’re not gonna come around, Sam.”
“I will never be a part of this. And I will never stop trying to kill you.”
“Well, I’m real sorry to hear that. That’s a pity. Looks like we’re gonna have to break you in like a horse. I kinda wish I’d left the Destaro girl alive, now.”
“Fuck you.” I spat into the snow.
“You say another fucking word like that to me and I’m going to execute you right here on your fucking knees.” The sheriff’s men seemed to lean in, smelling blood in the water. I knew this was it.
“If you wanted me dead you would have already shot me.”
“Are you sure about that?” The sheriff asked and leveled his gun at my forehead. “Why don’t you pull that gun on me and find out.”
“Oh, I’m sure about that. You need me. Through the sea of your bullshit, I see the truth: it’s a pride thing. You want your son taking over your business. You want another Walker in charge.”
The sheriff’s mouth spread into a wide smile but he didn’t lower his gun. “I can make another son.”
“You could, but you want me. You want to break me. You want to mold me into you. Because that way you win.”
“Oh, I’ve already won, Sam.”
“No. I have. You’re a slave to your own fucking hubris. I can say and do whatever I want and your pride won’t allow you to kill me.”
“Maybe not,” the sheriff shrugged and dropped the barrel of his gun to my chest. “But I can break your ribs with a fucking bullet.”
I heard the shot, but didn’t feel it enter my body. I instinctively put my hands over the entry wound on my chest – I didn’t have to feel it to know it was there.
Sound was pulsating in and out of my ears in time to my deceptively calm heartbeat. But through the waves of sound and silence I could hear them all laughing.
“Hurts like a fucking bitch, doesn’t it?” The sheriff laughed. “A shot to a ballistics vest hurts a hell of a lot more than a kick with a steel-toed boot. But of course, your ribs were already broken so that must really sting.”
I knew I was going into shock. I pulled my hands away from my jacket and saw that they were covered in thick, warm blood. The laughing died immediately and the sheriff took a step in my direction.
“What in the hell?” He asked.
“Fuck you.” I answered.
By the time he put it all together and looked over at her, Kimber was already standing where they’d left her discarded in the snow. She was staring at the sheriff down the sights of the Beretta and before anyone could react Kimber squeezed the trigger and killed her monster.
The bullet went through the sheriff’s eye and out the back of his head where it buried itself in the wood of the building behind him. Before his body even hit the ground, guns were pulled from every side and the men loyal to money had taken control of the men loyal to fear. Jimmy Prescott had somehow come through.
“Ho-ly fucking shit, kid! You did it!” Prescott said, taking a sip of coffee and stepping over my father’s body. “I mean, I think that wound is probably fatal but, you know, don’t let that take away from your accomplishment. Hell, I’ll even name a wing after you!” He gestured to the dorm behind him.
“Take the gun off of Kimber.” I demanded. I knew I didn’t have much time to play my trump card.
“Ortiz, what the fuck?” Jimmy said. “Quit pointing that shit at the hero of the day.”
The man closest to Kimber lowered his gun. She doubled over then, clearly in enough pain of her own. “Broken bones.” Jimmy nodded, reading the thoughts on my face. “Your daddy shot her with a .357, which – well you know, he shot you, too. It’s a pretty big bullet, she might actually be bleeding but she’ll be fine. You on the other hand…”
I strained against the darkness. I needed to tell Jimmy something. What was it? Oh, yes. My insurance policy to make sure Kimber left this place alive.
“So you talked all that shit and you weren’t even armed? You had nothing on you? You sure you don’t wanna come work for me?”
“I did,” I coughed. “I did have something on me.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“This.” I pulled out the small remote control and dropped it in the snow in front of me. Jimmy laughed.
“What the fuck is that?” He said.
“It’s a remote. For the video cameras.”
“What the fuck are you talking about, kid? What video cameras?” For the first time since I’d met him, Jimmy looked rattled.
“Those video cameras.” I pointed up into the trees where a dozen small cameras blended into the dark branches, their blinking red lights all but invisible.
“I need to stop the bleeding.” I wheezed.
“Are you fucking kidding me you shit-eating, donkey cunt? Are you fucking joking? You better be joking because I will put the bullet in your head that your daddy couldn’t.” He raised a gun to my face but seemed conflicted. If he believed me about the cameras, I knew he couldn’t shoot me. It all came down to my ability to bullshit.
“I’ll just take those cameras down and break them like they were never there.” He said and cocked the gun he was holding in my face.
“They’re on a live feed, asshole.” I said. Jimmy’s face twitched a few times before he lost it and hurled his coffee cup at the building behind him.
“Fuck!” Jimmy shouted. “Fuck you!”
“The video is streaming back to a laptop in Chicago. It’s over.”
Jimmy’s men looked uneasily at one another. “Fuck this.” Grigg said finally, and dropped the gun he was using to hold one of dad’s men hostage. They scattered like roaches to all sides of the camp, starting their trucks and speeding down off the mountain. Jimmy was already on the phone with someone as he dug into his pocket for his keys.
“Delete it, all of it. Get it off the DHS intranet and make sure it’s gone for-fucking-ever.” He paused. “I don’t give a shit where you are, we need the database gone NOW. Like it never fucking existed. No, fuck the fucking backups, delete it all.”
Jimmy threw his phone on the ground and shot it four times with his gun. He ran to a nearby trunk and ripped the door open.
Prescott,” I shouted hoarsely. Jimmy paused before he slammed the door and glared at me.
“Kyle. Kyle Landy. Was all of that bullshit?”
Jimmy’s glare contorted into a bitter smile.
“Where is he? Where’s Kyle?” I asked again.
“You fuckers will believe anything,” he sneered before he slammed his car door and sped off down the mountain.
The last of my energy expended I fell forward in the snow with my back to the sheriff’s body. I could see a mess of Kimber’s red curls over the top of my arm but she was so far away. “Kimber…” I gasped through the blood in my mouth but she didn’t stir. With my strength running out like sand in an hourglass I pulled my phone from my jacket and dialed Seth’s number.
He answered on the first ring. “Tell me.”
“It worked. She’s alive. I’m…alive. The high school. Those sick fuckers host all the records on the school’s server. Drisking High.”
“Drisking High, got it.”
“Can you get in?”
“I’m working on it. That database is going to be locked down secure as fuck but like I said the other day, I’m pretty good at what I do.”
“I don’t know what the file will be called.” I muttered and dropped the phone down next to me where it sunk into the snow. I faded in and out for a few minutes trying to hold on.
“I got it,” Seth said finally. “I just looked for the most buried shit on the server. They’re scrubbing it fast, man, but I got it. They definitely know I’m here, though.”
I felt myself pulling away from my body.
“Fuck me, there are some serious heavy hitters in here. I can’t believe they kept it on a school server, what fucking assholes.”
I could barely hear Seth anymore.
“Hey you okay, bro? Sam?”
And then I was alone.
The clock read 1:32am. I turned the car on again. Kimber muttered her approval and laid her face next to the heater. She gently banged her forehead against the dashboard. “We’re getting fucking nowhere.” She said. And she was right. We had been arguing for hours and still agreed on nothing. The mission was suicide no matter how we went about it so we were really just arguing how many of us should die and in what order.
“They’re going to kill you if they see you – period. Those guys have no reason to let you live.” I said.
“Yeah, I’m not arguing that. But how are you going to shoot anybody when you have one bullet and they know you’re coming anyway?”
“And they know about the bulletproof vest.” I added.
“And they know about the bulletproof vest!” She repeated. “Making it absolutely worthless.”
“Yep.” I leaned my head back against the headrest and closed my eyes. I just wanted to sleep.
“We need more time. At least another day.”
“If we don’t come to them in the morning, they’ll come to us.” I murmured.
“And kill us either way.”
“Right. We’re dead in every scenario.”
“Hmm.” Kimber suddenly sat up. “Unless…”
I turned my head to look at her through one eye. “Unless what?”
“Unless we do something stupid.”
“Oh, Kimber, that ship has fucking sailed.”
“No, listen, I’m serious. You wear the vest – and you give me the gun.”
“Split up the vest and the gun?”
“Yeah, they won’t expect that.”
“Yeah, because it’s fucking stupid. As soon as one of us pulls out the gun they’re going to get shot. So, if that’s the plan, I’d rather you wear the vest.”
“But I need the gun.” She countered.
“Then wear both.”
“No, that’s…that’s…” She was silent a moment. “Well actually, that’s pretty brilliant.” She finished.
I gave her a dubious look. “What are you thinking?”
“Hear me out. I’m going to get shot either way and that actually puts us at an advantage. Let him shoot me. And then once they’ve forgotten about me, and they’re not paying attention to me anymore, I’ll shoot him.”
“Well, you’re banking on the fact that they don’t search us when we get to Borrasca.”
“And that they won’t just shoot you in the head.”
“And also that they’ll shoot you at all, I mean they could just, you know, keep you there.”
“And finally that Jimmy will – or even can – take control of the situation like he promised.”
Kimber nodded. “Okay. All acceptable risks.” She smiled.
“You’re high, Kimber.”
“I’m fucking not, but are you? Because for this to work I’m going to need you to Streep the shit out of this.”
“I wish,” I scoffed.
Kimber raised an eyebrow.
“That package didn’t have drugs in it, you know.” I said.
“Sorry, but I couldn’t tell you at the time. You would have realized that I was going without you.”
“You are a dick, Sam Walker. So what did it have in it?”
I shrugged. “It was a care package from Seth. He sent me video cameras.”
“Why? For what?”
“Remember the night I disappeared with the car for several hours?”
Kimber’s eyes narrowed. “Yes.”
“I used the directions Jimmy Prescott gave me to find Borrasca 2.”
“Please don’t call it that. Also, please tell me you’re fucking joking.”
“Sorry. And no, I’m not. I couldn’t see much or hear anything but I was there. I know the way. It’s the reason we’re parked on this road right now.”
“I can’t believe you went to Borrasca. I can’t believe you, Sam. That’s madness.”
“Yeah, I realized that too late. And the whole thing took me longer than it should have because I had to be fucking stealthy – which, I don’t’ know if you’ve noticed but I’m not a graceful person – and I had to climb fucking trees to Velcro that shit down. Oh, and I had to fucking find the place.”
“So, holy shit, we’re going to have actual footage from the mine! It’s brilliant!”
“Not exactly. They’re…dummy cameras.”
What does that mean? They’re not real?”
“Yeah, they’re sold as like…deterrents.”
“But then…why would you risk that! Why even bother putting up deterrents?”
“To, you know, deter anyone from murdering me.”
“Oh. Goddamn it, I really wish they were real.”
“Yeah, me too. But there’s no way I could have installed something like that.”
“Fuck, if we had film we wouldn’t even need the Borrasca records.”
“Seth thinks that if we figure out where the files are he might be able to get in and download them.”
Kimber sighed. “So many ifs.”
“So you really want to get shot, huh?”
“I think it’s the best plan we’ve got. Maybe I’ll just stumble into camp later than you. You know, ‘get caught’. That way they’ll assume you have the gun and I was just being careless. Sam. Sam.”
She was shaking me. I had drifted off.
“Sam, wake up.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Walker. I’m sorry to wake you but the detectives have been asking to interview you since yesterday. I’m afraid they’re very insistent.”
I tried to focus on the woman standing next to me. Everything was very…white. “Where am I?”
“Drisking Regional. I’m Dr. Clava. And since you’re going to be speaking to two of the rudest men I’ve ever met I’m going to up your morphine a smidge.”
I blinked a few times against the bright lights that stung my eyes. “No. No, no morphine please. Take me off it.”
“Are you sure? You’ll be in a bit of pain if I do that.” She said as she walked over to the IV drip.
“Yeah, turn it off. Where’s Kimber? How is she doing? Also, how am I not dead?”
“I’m not Kimber’s doctor so I’m not sure who you’re talking about. As for your survival, you owe that to a rather skilled surgeon on staff here.”
I could already pain radiating from my chest below my heart. “Is there any way you could make it any darker in here?”
“Absolutely,” she replied as she walked to the door and turned down the lights. “Good luck. A nurse will be by later to check on you.”
I didn’t recognize the two men who pushed past Dr. Clava in the doorway. They were serious looking men with the dry air of immediacy about them.
“Sam Walker, my name is Agent Grant, this is Special Agent Trippine. We’re with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine.” My voice sounded strained and I tried to sit up. When it was clear I wasn’t going to make it, Agent Grant grabbed my arm to steady me and pointed to a remote control at the edge of the bed. I held the ‘RAISE’ button until the bed sat me up level with the two men.
“We’re here because you were found unconscious and near death at a crime scene, along with a 27-year-old woman and the corpse of the county sheriff.” Grant continued.
“Sounds about right.” I said and rubbed my face. I winced as I brushed my nose. They had set the bones but it was all still very tender. I didn’t even want to see my chest.
“Can you comment on the events that led you to that location?” Agent Grant asked. Trippine remained silent.
“Sure, I’d fucking love to. But first I really need to know where Kimber is.”
“She is in federal custody giving her own statement.”
“And what happened to all the women at the- er, at the mine? The people who were imprisoned there?”
“The victims have all been removed from the scene.”
“And why are you only talking to me now? I tried to contact the feds for years about Borrasca.”
“Is that the local name for this trafficking group?”
“Sort of.” I winced at a stab on pain the ricocheted from my spine to my ribs.
“We don’t have any record of you contacting the FBI at any time.”
“Yeah, well I did.”
“And that will be addressed. An internal investigation has been opened due to the, shall we say, sensitive information leaked by the press on Wednesday evening.”
“Oh yeah? Did they receive some sort of…press packet?”
“Do you know something about that?” Trippine finally spoke.
“I know nothing about that. But I do know a lot about everything else.” I wanted to laugh. This was ludicrous. I was alive. The sheriff was dead. Borrasca was gone. And everybody associated with it was going down. It was almost everything Kimber had wished for. It couldn’t be really happening.
The detectives pulled two chairs that were set back along the wall up to the bed. “Do you mind if we record you?”
“Fuck no, I want all of this on record.”
“Alright,” Grant started, setting a recorder onto the bed next my leg. “Tell us about your father.”
I stood outside of one the massive tents the feds had erected on the tarmac of Drisking’s small airport. It was old, crumbling, and abandoned – but they were sure as hell landing shit here now. Grant had promised Kimber to me within the hour and I nervously smoked a cigarette in the cold while waiting outside the giant tent. They told me they’d needed to hold her longer than me because Kimber had admitted to killing a Law Enforcement Officer. Grant said the prosecutor would almost certainly decline to press charges due to the circumstances rapidly coming to light. But still, it was early days and the waters were murky. We’d no longer be in custody but we weren’t allowed to leave town, either.
I pulled my jacket tighter as the wind cut down the thoroughfares and alleyways of the sprawling tent city or, as Grant referred to it, Central Ops. Special Agent Trippine had given me the thick, brown duster I was currently wearing since my own jacket had been taken in as evidence – which didn’t bother me because this coat was warmer, anyway.
“Sam!” I turned around just as Kimber jumped on me, wrapping her arms around my back and squeezing tightly. I buckled, grunting in pain and trying not to drop her. Kimber released me immediately. “I’m sorry! I forgot you got shot!”
“Well, you sure fucking reminded me,” I winced. Trippine walked up from behind Kimber and nodded at me. “You can go. There’s a Ford Explorer you can use parked off of Draper across from the Mobile Command Unit. Here are the keys. Don’t leave town and don’t talk to the media. Or the locals. In fact, don’t talk to anybody.”
We found the car right where’d he said and climbed in, slamming the doors on the biting wind. “You’re going to have to drive.” I said. “I don’t think I can manage it.”
“Don’t they have you on any painkillers?” Kimber asked.
“Oh my God, I want to cry for you. But still, good for you, Sam.” She smiled at me and pulled out onto the road. “Honestly I can’t believe they discharged you from the hospital after only a few days. You got shot in the chest.”
“I’m well aware,” I laughed. “But they had to – the hospitals are full. Every hospital within fifty miles and a mobile one for the least severe cases is what I was told.”
“Holy shit.” Kimber breathed. “How many women were there at Borrasca?”
“You don’t know?” I asked.
“No. They wouldn’t tell me anything. They even took the TV out of the hotel room they held me in.”
Kimber gasped. That had been my reaction, too. “But…there were never that many when I was there. Maybe 60 at most.”
“I guess he wasn’t lying; the sheriff really was a business man.” I said sarcastically. “Turn here.”
“Emphasis on the ‘was’.” Kimber smiled. I couldn’t fault her for being happy he was dead. And even though he was my father I was, too.
“So they didn’t tell you anything, huh?”
“The only thing they would tell me is that you were alive and that’s only because I started throwing cutlery at them.”
I laughed. “Well, I guess I’ll give you the news then. Every major news outlet got a copy of the Borrasca records on Friday. And the files were apparently very detailed. Open investigations were triggered across the map.”
“Fucking A.” Kimber said.
“And they caught everybody that was on payroll. Including James Prescott.”
“What? They caught him already?” She asked excitedly.
“Grant said he didn’t even last a day.”
“What an asshole.” She laughed.
“And, I’ve been really wanting to tell you…that was a beautiful shot you made.”
“Oh, I’ve made that shot a thousand times. This was the first time that my target was actually in the flesh, though. And hey, congrats on taking a bullet and living through it like a fuckin’ champ.”
“Turn right. Yeah, who knew I would excel at getting shot. I wonder what sort of career I could make out of that.”
Kimber shrugged. “Bullet tester?”
She was different now. Gone was the anxious, despondent version of her that I had come to know in the past weeks. This was Kimber as I remembered her before her mother died. Happy. Unburdened. Hopeful. I couldn’t believe that I was about to strip it all away from her. But she deserved to know.
“Take another right up here.”
“Where are we going?” She asked, finally.
Kimber’s smile wavered. “I’m not sure if I like that at all.”
“At the end of this street, we’re looking for house number 445.”
“There.” She said, and pulled into a spot at the front of a large, gothic-styled house. “This place is…off-putting. What is it?”
“It’s a group home.”
“A group home?” She laughed. “What for?”
I didn’t say anything but watched her carefully. Kimber sobered.
“I don’t… you mean…” Her hands, which were tucked back into her sleeves, suddenly covered her mouth as she realized why we were here. Kimber began to shake her head. “But Jimmy said- I heard him say- “
“Well, contrary to Jimmy Prescott’s last words to me, I don’t believe everything says.” I took a deep breath. “The Landy’s left town with just about everybody else two days ago. According to Grant they didn’t take their oldest son with them. Just Parker.”
Kimber continued to stare at the house with her hands over her mouth. She looked like she was about to cry.
“And…” I continued. “Grant ordered Kyle’s caretaker to stop giving him his daily meds until they could get ahold of his doctor – who skipped town with the rest of Drisking.”
“So…Kyle is inside.” Kimber breathed. “And he’s been off his medication for, for…”
“For days. Which means if he has been sedated for all this time, like Jimmy said, he…might not be anymore.”
Kimber coughed into her hands but it sounded more like a suppressed sob. I put my arm around her. “Are you okay?”
She pulled her hands away from her mouth and shook them loose of her sleeves, then reached for the key and turned the car off. “I’m fine. I’m ready.”
“Good. Let’s go get our fuckin’ boy.” I said.
We rang the bell on the palatial home and a young woman answered, looking frazzled and annoyed.
“Hi, we’re here to see Kyle Landy.” I told her.
“Landy? Are you family?” She asked, brushing unkempt brown hair back from her face.
“Yes, we’re family.” Kimber said.
The woman crossed her arms and leaned against the door jamb. “Kyle’s family hasn’t visited once in all the years he’s been here. Are you on his authorized visitation list?”
“I doubt it.” I laughed wryly.
“But we’re coming in anyway.” Kimber added, mimicking the woman’s defiant posture.
She sighed and dropped her arms. “Fine. I don’t care. I’m the only one here, everybody else has left town because of the scandal.”
She moved aside and we walked into the foyer. The woman closed the door behind us and gestured up the grand staircase. “He’s in his room. Second door on the left.”
We turned to go. “Oh, and please remember that he’s non-verbal, so don’t expect him to talk to you or move or anything. If you want to bring him downstairs let me know and I’ll get the key to the elevator.”
“Fine. Thanks.” Kimber said to the air behind her as she climbed the stairs. I followed behind more slowly, taking deep, measured breaths. Please, Kyle. Please. Please be real.
By the time I got to the top of the stairs Kimber was standing in the open doorway of Kyle’s room as if she couldn’t bear to go any further. She was crying softly into her hands and when she turned and saw me she began shaking her head. “I can’t. I just can’t, Sam.”
I walked over and gave Kimber a hug. “It’s okay. It’s gonna be fine.” I said into her hair. I took a few moments to mentally prepare before I finally turned around and glanced into the room.
Kyle was in his wheelchair, which was facing the bed, and he was staring straight ahead at the swirling oak of the wall in front of him. He didn’t react to our voices or move in the slightest; I couldn’t be sure he was even blinking. I released Kimber and walked slowly into the room. I sat down on the edge of the bed in front of Kyle to study him. His injuries had all healed, other than his nose which remained out of place and broken. He was wearing flannel pants and a non-descript white t-shirt and socks. His hair was long and a red beard covered the bottom half of his face. His eyes were fixed over my shoulder, lazily settled on the wall behind me.
“Kyle.” I said as I moved into his line of vision. “It’s Sam.”
He blinked. Kyle’s eyes seemed to try and focus on me but when I moved they didn’t follow. I could see there was no one behind them but I couldn’t accept it. Not after all we’d been through.
“Kyle, please fucking tell me you’re in there.” I begged. But there was nothing to show that he’d understood. His eyes glazed over and I knew that what remained of Kyle was only the barest of brain functions.
“Fuck!” I swore.
Kimber was now openly sobbing. “Stop.” She whispered. “Sam, stop.”
I worked to get ahold of myself. Over the last two days I had convinced myself that there was more to Kyle than I had been led to believe the last time I’d seen him. I’d needed him to be more than the soulless vegetable I’d left behind. But being confronted with the human shell in front of me made the truth hurt even more.
I stood up from the bed and walked over to the window to watch the snow fall outside: a new powder to cover this place. We had come so far, but not far enough. We’d won in almost every conceivable way on the barest of odds but it still wasn’t enough. I wanted Kyle back too. I wanted to be whole.
I heard Kimber leave the doorway and turned to watch her sit in front of Kyle. She took his limp hands into hers and held them while she softly told him that she had missed him and that she loved him. Then she laid her head on his lap and continued to whisper to Kyle through her tears. I turned back to watch the snowfall.
And then I heard a voice that hadn’t spoken since the day it had told Jimmy Prescott to go fuck himself ten years before on the now silent mountain.