Authors: Allison Brennan
Lucy rarely cried, which made the tears that burned behind her eyes that much more frustrating. Noah had clearly articulated each fear in her relationship with Sean and what it could potentially mean to her career.
“I understand. I
sorry, Noah. There’s no one I’d rather work with in the FBI than you. I don’t want to give you any reason not to trust me. I’ll get through to him.”
“If anyone can, it’s you.” Noah tried to smile, but it didn’t quite work. He shifted in his seat and turned the ignition. “Love doesn’t always work the way we want.”
He wasn’t looking at her, and Lucy had the distinct impression that he was thinking about a lost love of his own. She realized that Noah knew everything about her—her life was, unfortunately, an open book—but she knew next to nothing about Noah. There was much more to him than she had thought.
On the way back to the Hendricksons’, Sean and Patrick stopped at the Callahan ranch. There was no answer at the door, which made Sean both worried and suspicious. Emily Callahan hadn’t looked fit for travel, and after his argument with Henry, Sean hoped he hadn’t pushed the old man into doing something rash.
Or maybe he did the smart thing and got out of town with his ailing wife.
At the lodge, Sean was torn over whether to tell Tim and Adam about Paul Swain’s accusation that their father had been murdered. It came down to what Sean would want if he were in their shoes: the truth.
The four of them sat around the kitchen table and Sean filled them in on Weddle’s murder and the highlights of his conversation with Swain. Then he said, “Swain believes that Bobbie had your father killed because he either went to the authorities or planned to go to the authorities about whatever operation Bobbie and her people have going on here.”
“Dad was killed?” Adam stared in disbelief.
“There’s no proof, but we think Jon Callahan knows who killed your father. I know this is difficult, but we don’t have a lot of time. Patrick and I are going to find Callahan and stick to him like glue. He’s up to his neck in this mess, but has his own agenda. I need you to help find Ricky Benson. He was manipulated somehow into setting that fire, and now I fear for his life.”
“I can’t believe Ricky’s involved,” Adam said. “He used to come fishing with Dad and me. Why would he do this to us?”
“I don’t think there’s anyone innocent in this town,” Tim said.
“We need to get Ricky into protective custody,” Sean said. “Detective Dillard is going to take him to his brother-in-law in Philadelphia—a cop he trusts—as soon as we find him. On our way into town, I checked at his house—he hasn’t been back since he left me there yesterday. It’s going to be dark in less than two hours. I’d like to get him out of the area before nightfall. Do you have any idea where he might be hiding?”
Adam paced. “None. I haven’t seen him since I was seventeen and he was like eleven or twelve.”
“I’m not going to lie. This is an extremely dangerous situation. Bobbie Swain has manipulated a lot of people. She’s ruthless and vindictive. If she really ordered the murder of your father and the FBI agent we found in the mine, then she has been controlling this town for years.”
“You’re trusting the word of a convicted killer?” Tim said.
“I read between the lines.”
“It sounds like you admire him,” Tim said with disgust.
Sean forced himself to rein in his temper. “When lives are at stake, I’m not picky about who I deal with. The one thing I’m confident about is that Swain doesn’t want his son dead or in the drug business. I promised I’d find and protect him. Ricky made some bad choices, but I’m not giving up on the kid, and neither should you. And, by the way, your father met with Swain in prison as well.”
Sean hadn’t wanted to get angry, but they were running out of time.
“Look,” he said, “I had to understand how Paul Swain operated and how Bobbie Swain thinks so that I can stop that bitch. Trust me on this—she is far deadlier than either of her brothers.”
“Adam,” Patrick said, “put aside what Ricky did for now. Think hard. Where do you think he might possibly go to hide out?”
Adam asked, “Does he have a car?”
“Yes. It’s not at his house and I didn’t see it in town.”
“There are two places he might go, if he stays in the area. The main entrance of the mine—there are two abandoned buildings, and lots of places to explore. The mine itself is dangerous, but we all knew how far we could push it. It was where we went to play as kids, or to make out as teenagers.”
“Good. I need directions.”
“The other place is across the lake—there’s a rock grouping that looks like a family of bears. And when you get to the top, it’s an amazing view of the valleys and mountains to the west. But the mine is easier to access.”
Sean knew where he’d go if he were Ricky.
“I’ll head up to the mine,” Tim said.
“I’ll take Bear Rock,” Adam said. “I can get there on an ATV.”
“Where’s Annie?” Sean asked. “I don’t think she should be alone.”
“I sent her to stay with her sister in Massena,” Tim said. “Until this is over.”
“Be extremely cautious,” Sean said, glad he didn’t have to worry about another person. “Don’t trust anyone. When you find Ricky, text me. We’ll figure out if it would be safer to have Dillard come for him or you to take him out of town. Don’t bring him back here—they could be watching. In fact, take a roundabout way to the mine, Tim. Look for tails. We don’t want to alert anyone to our plans.”
The four split up, and Sean and Patrick headed back to town. “I hope Noah hasn’t taken off yet,” Sean said, punching in his number.
“Why? We need the backup.”
“I agree, but I have an idea to verify Swain’s statement and maybe give us a leg up on what the fuck Bobbie Swain is planning. Other than me, Noah’s probably the only one with the skill to pull it off.”
Ricky had to get out of the empty house.
He’d done exactly what Jon Callahan had told him—stayed in the house, no lights, no fire. If there hadn’t been plenty of blankets he’d have frozen his ass off. With his cell phone nearly dead, he decided to go to the car to charge it. He’d parked a quarter mile down an unmarked road from the Foster’s vacation house. There was another cabin down here, abandoned. While his phone charged, he wandered up to Bear Rock. Before his death, Joe had taken Ricky here fishing numerous mornings. They’d usually cook up what they caught for lunch at the base of the rock. They’d rarely talk, but Ricky hadn’t wanted to. It was great just hanging out with Joe, who never raised his voice, never lied to him, never brought up Ricky’s father, the good or the bad.
Ricky sometimes talked about his mom. He missed her a lot the year after she died. He had resented Uncle Jimmy and the restrictions placed on him and the low-lying sense of fear that permeated the house. With Joe, Ricky had never been afraid. He could push everything out of his mind and just
He realized last night as he lay awake until dawn that the reason he’d decided to help Reverend Browne with the vandalism was because he was angry at Joe for dying, angry at Adam for wanting to change the place, and he desperately wanted someone to talk to. Reverend Browne was a man of God! He had buried Ricky’s mother, and he’d been kind. And when Joe had died, he’d listened to Ricky.
But after what he’d seen at the church last night, Ricky knew that Reverend Browne wasn’t his friend. The so-called holy man had used Ricky, and worse, he was working with the monster.
Ricky hated Aunt Bobbie so deeply that it scared him. He didn’t like the rage and hatred buried deep inside. He’d had these disturbing feelings after his dad went to prison, after his mom died, after he found out Bobbie stole the money his dad had hidden away for his mom’s cancer treatments. Joe taught him to let it go. To use it productively. To study hard and get good grades. To run off the negative energy. Ricky skied in the winter and ran in the summer, because sometimes the only way he could sleep and not remember the pain was if he was exhausted.
When Joe died, Ricky got angry again. In the isolation at the cabin, he realized that the reverend had used his anger, turning it against Adam and Tim.
Ricky sat at the top of Bear Rock and stared at the sinking sun. It had been a warm day, but now the air turned chilly. He stuffed his hands into his pockets, his fingers brushing against the small gun that Jon Callahan had given him last night for protection, but Ricky had never shot anyone. Could he kill a human being? He didn’t know. Except, Aunt Bobbie wasn’t human. She was a monster, through and through.
The sky was so clear, he already saw a few of the brightest stars shining from the heavens. Guilt and grief overwhelmed him, and he prayed that Adam could forgive him. He hoped Joe was up there and understood that Ricky didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
A doe and her fawn walked by only twenty yards away, heading away from the clearing and toward the safety of the woods. Suddenly they froze, their ears at attention. Then Ricky heard what they did, a motor, far in the distance, but coming closer. The deer bolted into the trees, and Ricky almost followed, until he recognized the motor as belonging to an ATV.
He turned and saw the quad emerge from the woods and stop at the base of Bear Rock. Ricky remained alert, staying low on the rock, his hand wrapped around Jon’s pistol. The engine cut out and the rider took off his helmet. It was Adam Hendrickson. He waved. Ricky didn’t wave back.
He watched as Adam climbed Bear Rock. He slipped a few times, and Ricky scowled. They’d come here many times and Adam used to be so sure-footed. Now he was a soft city boy.
Ricky didn’t budge when Adam sat down next to him.
“Leave me alone,” Ricky said. He averted his face so Adam couldn’t see that he’d been crying.
“Sean Rogan seems to think you and I need to talk.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“Talking to you isn’t my idea of fun, either. Why did you do it? My dad
you. He took you fishing and horseback riding, even when I wasn’t around.”
Saying nothing. Ricky stared at the horizon and wished he could disappear as easily as the sun.
“Listen, Ricky, there’s a lot of stuff happening right now, and I’m willing to put this crap aside.”
“Why? Go ahead, call the cops, have them arrest me.”
“We’re not turning you in.”
“I wish you would.” He meant it.
“You want your life to be over? For me to just send you off to juvie and be done with you? Do you think that’s what my dad would have wanted me to do?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t—” He stopped. There was no excuse for what he’d done. He could have said no. He whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are. Dad liked fishing with you, even when I wasn’t here. I’m glad he had you around. I’m a little jealous that you knew him so well, and I only got him two months out of the year. But life isn’t fair. Frankly, it sucks sometimes.”
Ricky grinned, then masked it. Adam smiled. “It really does. But from now on, you’re part of my family. That’s what my dad would have wanted. And it’s what I want.” He paused. “I’m sorry about your uncle.”
Ricky coughed to hide his sudden emotion. “Thanks.”
“I need to call Sean and tell him I found you. Trust us, okay? Sean’s going to keep you safe, but you have to listen to him.”
“I didn’t know Aunt Bobbie was in town. My father always hated her, but I never knew why. When he went to jail she came to see my mother. She—” He stopped. He couldn’t do this. He didn’t want to think about it anymore.
“Sean went to visit your father today. And we found out that Bobbie Swain had my dad killed.”
Ricky shook his head. “It was a heart attack.”
“He was poisoned. There was no autopsy because Doc Griffin signed off that he had heart trouble. I didn’t know he
. I should have been here. I could have saved him. Or at least known about his medical condition so that I’d known enough to demand an autopsy.”
“Bobbie would have killed you, too, Adam,” Ricky said. He stared at the glowing horizon. “She knew my mom had cancer and was going through chemotherapy. But with dad in jail and everything we owned seized by the government, we had nothing. Dad never had insurance because he had plenty of money selling drugs to pay for Mom’s treatment. And she was getting better.
“Bobbie said she would pay for everything, Mom’s treatment, our house, anything we needed. I thought she was an angel. And Mom told her no, said she was a monster.”
Now the tears came and he couldn’t stop them.
“Bobbie was furious. I thought she was going to hit Mom, so I stood between them. I would have killed her if she’d touched my mom, and I wouldn’t have felt guilty.”
“I would have done the same thing.”
Emboldened, Ricky finished. “Bobbie said Mom would be dead within the year and I would be living with her in New York. Her exact words: ‘I’ll teach Rick the Swain family business like his father never had the balls to do.’ I didn’t realize until after she left that she’d stolen two hundred thousand dollars that my dad had hidden to take care of my mom.”
He turned his head, hating the tears of rage that ate him up inside. Against his father for sheltering him so much that he didn’t know what to do when threatened.
“How old were you?”
“Eleven. Mom died nearly a year later. We couldn’t afford anything. Even my mom’s inheritance from her parents—it wasn’t big, but it would have paid for another round of chemo—the fucking FBI took it. After my mom … died … and my uncle Jimmy was my guardian. And for a while, it was okay.
“But after Joe died,” he glanced at Adam, “Reverend Browne said I could hang out with him. I didn’t know what he had planned. He’s the one who wanted me to sabotage your place.”
“Why did you run from Sean yesterday?”
“I didn’t know why he would help me. Usually when someone offers to help you, they want to use you. But after I saw the reverend with Bobbie at the church, I was scared.”
“So you went into hiding.”
“I went to see Jon Callahan. My mom told me in an emergency I could go to Jon and he would help. But even Jon has changed.”