Read If I Should Die Online

Authors: Allison Brennan

If I Should Die (7 page)

Lucy had been scared of losing him and she didn’t like being scared. She didn’t know how to interpret or respond to the complex emotions about their relationship. It was as if admitting she loved him would jinx it, or put one or both of them in physical jeopardy.

Sean understood all this about her, even though she had never voiced her fears. They lived dangerous lives, and that wouldn’t change. Sean would no more tell Lucy to dump the thought of becoming an FBI agent and take a nice, safe teaching job than she would demand he quit Rogan-Caruso-Kincaid and sell computers.

And even if they did take an easier road? Sean suspected trouble and danger would follow them—or they’d seek it out. Lucy could not turn away from someone in need, nor could Sean ignore someone being bullied.

Lucy’s deep compassion for others was one of the many reasons Sean had fallen in love with her.

Her breathing evened out as her body relaxed. “I love you, Luce,” he whispered and closed his eyes.

SIX

All the years I spent learning how to control my reactions, and in less than ten minutes Reverend Carl Browne had me enraged
.

“What the
fuck
were you thinking!” I shouted, my voice echoing in the large open space
.

We sat in a church pew in the chapel, just him and me, though now I rose in fury, standing in the aisle. If I didn’t get this anger out of my system, I’d kill him, and that would be disastrous
.

I simply couldn’t believe the pathetic reasons Carl gave for his decision to torch the Hendrickson place. It all boiled down to panic
.

“You were scared,” I continued. “You freaked out. If you were anyone else, you’d already be dead.”

He bristled. “Remember who you’re talking to, little girl.”

“Just because you were my father’s closest friend doesn’t give you a free pass to be an idiot,” I said
.

He reddened, his hair looking even whiter. Twelve years ago Carl might have been called distinguished; now he just looked old
.

This day had exhausted me. I’d spent twelve hours
checking and double-checking on every cog in my operation. Amazingly, everything was running perfectly smooth, except for the issue with the Hendricksons. But I had figured out how to handle that, and while it would be some time before I exacted my revenge on the family, I could wait
.

Business took precedence over revenge
.

“I have a plan,” I told Carl, “and for it to work, you need to call off your dogs. No more petty vandalism and definitely no more fires.”

“If the resort isn’t shut down by Sunday, we lose everything,” Carl said
.

I stared. Damn, I wanted to kill him. Just for stating the obvious, as if I were some kind of imbecile
.

“Thank you,” I said, looking down at him in the pew. “What would I do without you reminding me of my own business plan?”

He didn’t flinch, nor did he look scared as he stared up at me defiantly
.

I slapped him hard. Not expecting it, he almost fell out of the pew. A red mark darkened his skin. A spot of blood welled on his lower lip
.

“This is my town, Carl
. Mine.
Just because I left doesn’t mean I handed it over to you. Remember, Preacher, I know what you’ve done, so don’t think one second about going against me.”

If my first plan didn’t work, I had another. But I wasn’t about to strategize with Carl. He’d pissed me off. Instead I said, “The resort will be shut down before Sunday because the Hendricksons want to close it, or are forced to, but it will be done without the ridiculous shit you’re pulling.”

“You’ve been gone too long.”

“That sounds like a threat, Carl.”

He hesitated. Good. Maybe he had finally realized I was dead serious. Maybe he saw in my eyes that I wanted to gut him
.

My cell phone vibrated. It was my stupid brother
.

“What?”

“We have a problem,” he said with deep seriousness
.

“Oh for shitsake, don’t be so melodramatic! Spill it.”

“A woman’s body was found in the mine.”

I closed my eyes. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. “Don’t tell me it was the bitch.”

“I don’t see who else it could be.”

Was the universe conspiring against me? First Carl panics, and now my idiot brother calls me without even first verifying all the facts
.

“Find out if it’s her, then bring me the person responsible for fucking up a simple body dump!”

I threw the cell phone across the church. It hit the large wooden cross behind the altar and fell to the floor, shattering in three pieces. “God-fucking-dammit!”

Carl rose. “Watch your mouth in God’s house!”

I really wanted to kill this fool. First for being stupid, now for daring to correct me. Instead I laughed. “That’s rich, Carl. You’ve broken more of the Ten Commandments than I have.” Smirking, I walked to the back of the church. Without turning around, I said, “Find out everything about the body in the mine. Who found her, if they know who she is, anything else the cops might know. Before sunrise. My patience has left the building.”

SEVEN

Jimmy Benson sat on a bar stool at the Lock & Barrel, his draft halfway to his mouth.

I’m a dead man
.

He drained the rest of his beer and put down the mug. It hit the counter with a thud. He froze, eyes on the mirror behind the bar, searching for evidence that someone, anyone, was watching him.

The Lock & Barrel was the only business in Spruce Lake open past six p.m., the only place to get dinner and a drink and talk. Even on a Wednesday night in a town of 386, the place was nearly half filled with two dozen patrons.

It was soon to be a town of 385, Jimmy thought. Because he was getting out of Spruce Lake tonight one way or the other—on foot or six feet under.

Was everyone looking at him, or was it his overactive imagination?

Reggie, the Lock & Barrel’s longtime bartender, gestured toward his empty mug. After his shift, Jimmy usually had three beers, but he’d had only one since he arrived twenty minutes ago. He hadn’t even finished his shift; he’d left sick. After he’d gotten the call about the arson, he knew his nephew was in way over his head. He actually felt sick. But anyone who was watching would only notice he was nervous.

He nodded at the barkeep. “Thanks.” He put a small handful of nuts in his mouth, being as casual as possible as he eavesdropped on Doc Griffin’s conversation with the waitress and two regulars. Not that he had to concentrate; Woody Griffin wasn’t keeping his voice down.

Someone had found her body. Jimmy had heard it on the scanner this afternoon. He wished Woody knew more, because Jimmy had to know how this happened. But then Woody switched topics and talked about the fire and vandalism at the Hendricksons’ place. About how no one wanted outsiders here. The others nodded in agreement.

Jimmy knew the truth. They
all
knew the truth, but wouldn’t say it aloud. Easier to act like rednecks than criminals.

Jimmy picked up his fresh beer and sipped, leaned back, and saw Gary Clarke in the mirror. Standing across the room, staring directly at him.

Jimmy looked away, but he still felt Gary’s eyes on the back of his head.

The body had been found around noon, and Hendrickson would have immediately called the police. That meant the information had been out there nearly nine hours. Plenty of time for the wrong people to find out that Jimmy hadn’t followed orders. That had to be why Gary Clarke was here.

The creaky front door signaled a new patron. Jimmy glanced discreetly at the mirror to see who entered. His pulse raced.

Shit
.

Slipping off the bar stool, he casually walked toward the bathroom. But as soon as the swinging hall doors closed behind him he turned left, into the kitchen.

“What’s up, Jimmy?” Omar Jackson—the cook and only black man in Spruce Lake—smiled brightly.

“Not much.” Unable to fake a smile, he kept walking. He didn’t know if Omar knew what was what, or if he was as ignorant as he pretended. Maybe he feigned ignorance to stay alive.

Or maybe he was neck deep in the same shit Jimmy trudged through.

Avoiding conversation with the cook, Jimmy exited out the back door, then walked briskly around the corner to his truck.

As soon as he slid into the driver’s seat, the bar’s front door opened wide. Three men emerged and headed his way.

Jimmy floored it. No use pretending. They knew he hadn’t made the body disappear. There was no way they’d let him live. They didn’t know why he’d survived this long. It was as if he was made of Teflon; he’d been told that now and again.

He had known the risks when he put Victoria’s body in the mine. He was no saint, but he wasn’t a killer nor could he treat her body like garbage. So what if he’d disobeyed orders. He hadn’t believed she’d ever be found.

Going home would put his nephew at risk. The only way Jimmy could protect his nephew was to disappear.

He sped up, his old truck squealing in protest. He glanced in the rearview mirror.

Gary Clarke’s brand-new black F-250 was gaining on him.

Jimmy floored it. At first, his truck didn’t respond, then it lurched forward as he picked up speed with the decline in the road toward Colton.

He
might
make it to Colton, but then what? Go to the police? He would have laughed if he wasn’t so terrified. He wasn’t safe in prison or out.

He fumbled with his cell phone and dialed the only person who might be able to help. The only person he might be able to trust.

“Jimmy? You can’t call me. Not now.”

“Help me! Someone found her body! Now Gary and—”

“I can’t help you.”

“You have to! Dammit, you promised to protect me!”

But the line had gone dead.

He dropped his phone, sobs racking his body. His sister had asked him for one thing: to protect her son. The last five years he’d thought he was doing the right thing, keeping their enemies close, doing odd jobs, keeping the kid in school. The kid was going places.

But not if Jimmy couldn’t protect him. The one person who promised to be there wasn’t.

The Colton Reservoir was coming up. Behind him, Gary Clarke was still gaining. If they caught him, it would be a lot more painful than what he planned to do. Maybe he’d survive. Maybe he’d escape.

Speeding up just as he crossed the short bridge, he turned the wheel sharply to the right, using the lip of the walkway to jump the railing. The bottom of his truck scraped the metal, and for a moment he thought his wheels would catch, Gary and his pals would drag him out of the truck and do horrible things …

Then he was up and over, flying in the dark, falling down, hitting the water hard. His head banged against the steering wheel on impact, and the last thing he thought as he drifted into unconsciousness, the water rapidly rising around his legs, was:

I’m sorry, Abigail. I tried my best
.

EIGHT

Even though she didn’t believe he’d take her up on her suggestion, Lucy still tried to talk Sean out of going with her to the mine Thursday morning so he could rest. He drove her to the site in the rental SUV he’d picked up at the airport, parking behind three official vehicles.

“I suppose you won’t wait in the car,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Give it up, Luce.”

She grumbled, but opened the passenger door. Why was she surprised? None of her four brothers would have been waylaid by a two-story fall or a dozen stitches.

She walked—Sean limped—to where a sheriff’s deputy and rescue worker stood at the edge of the mine shaft watching their approach. Apprehension rose in her chest as they neared the open pit.

“Hello,” Sean called out, raising his hand in a friendly wave.

“Lost?” the deputy asked.

“Not at all,” Sean said. “I was the lucky guy to fall down there yesterday.”

The cop didn’t smile. “You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck.”

Lucy’s stomach flipped. Was her inability to rid her mind of Sean’s fall a sign of post-traumatic stress? She couldn’t control her body’s reactions, and that was unlike her.

“That’s what I said, I’m a lucky guy.” All humor was gone from his tone. “Sean Rogan. Lucy Kincaid. Lucy found the body.”

He didn’t say anything about their backgrounds. If people knew he was a P.I. and she was an FBI recruit, it would be harder to quietly gather information.

“Deputy Weddle. This is Al Getty, Fire and Rescue. You’re staying at the Hendrickson place?”

Sean nodded. “Is the coroner down there?”

“Just lowered their equipment.”

“I’d like to join them,” Lucy said. “I found the body and can show them where she is.”

At first Weddle looked as though he would argue. Then he said into his radio, “Ham, you there? Over.”

“What do you need? Over.”

“The little lady who found the body wants to join you. Over.”

There was a long pause. Weddle didn’t take his eyes off her. Was he laughing internally, or suspicious?

“Shaffer says send her down. Over.”

Weddle said to Lucy, “You heard him.”

“Are you sure you want to do this, Luce?” Sean quietly asked.

“She’s been on my mind—I want to make sure I saw what I did.”

“Excuse me?” Weddle said. “You want to make sure you saw
what
?”

“The way she was posed.”

“Posed,” he said flatly. When she’d first approached, Weddle’s casual posture had led her not to consider him much of a cop, but now his eyes assessed her with a suspicious glint.

“She was flat on her back, arms crossed over her chest. It didn’t seem …,” she searched for the words, “… a natural way to die.” She zipped up her jacket, remembering how cold it had been in the mine yesterday.

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