Authors: Brian Freeman
Tell me you made it to the basement, Purdue.
Tell me they didn’t find you.
Lisa didn’t bother hiding the Camaro this time. She parked at the curb and ran for the door. It was all darkness around her, no lights to be seen. She went inside the house, and she could smell the presence of strange men. The air was cold. Everything was still. Her eyes adjusted, and she could make out familiar shapes, things she’d known for decades. But nothing moved inside the house where she’d grown up. No one made a sound. No one was here. Even the ghosts of her family stayed away and left her alone.
“Purdue?” she called.
Her voice broke and grew plaintive. “Purdue, are you here?”
She knew where she had to go. The basement. If he was still here, that was where he would be. She didn’t even bother with the flashlight
on her phone as she made her way in the dark. The house guided her by feel, by years of experience. She found the old basement door that never quite closed right, and it squealed as she opened it. There was a light switch by the stairs, but she left it off. She didn’t want light; she didn’t want anything that was white. Darkness was fine. She took the stairs one at a time, descending underground, feeling the air grow even icier around her. Down here, there was no light at all. None. It was a black box, a coffin, a grave where you could be buried forever.
She inched toward the foundation wall.
As she did, echoes of her childhood caught up with her. She could hear the whisper of Noah’s voice as they played the game and the heavy footsteps of their brothers upstairs, hunting for them.
“Where are we going, Lis?”
“I found a hiding place. It’s the best hiding place ever. They’ll never find us here.”
“But where is it?”
“In the crawl space. Behind Mom’s boxes.”
“No! I don’t like it there. It’s too dark.”
“Big baby, there’s nothing to be scared of in the dark.”
That had been a long time ago. Lisa had learned since then that there were plenty of things to be scared of in the dark.
“Purdue,” she called. “It’s me. It’s Lisa. I’m here—it’s safe to come out.”
No one answered.
Please. Answer me, my sweet. Tell me you’re here.”
The basement was silent. As silent as a tomb. She had no choice now; she had to turn on the flashlight and fill the walls with a harsh white light. She lit up an old wooden chair. She lit up plastic bins stuffed with old clothes. She lit up children’s games and books and broken fans and the dull steel of the furnace, and finally, she lit up the dirty concrete blocks of the foundation and the dark gap below the floorboards. She saw the boxes where Madeleine had written
She walked right up to the boxes and shined her light into the blackness. “Purdue?”
He didn’t answer. He wasn’t there. She knew he wasn’t there, but she began to yank out the Christmas boxes anyway, ripping them from their places and dropping them on the floor, hearing the tinkle of glass as fragile ornaments broke. She was destroying her past, destroying what she had left of Madeleine, but she tore away every box until the crawl space was vacant. Until she could see the entire hiding place, where she’d huddled with Noah. The jutting nails in the floorboards that had ripped her clothes. The knots in the wood. The message scrawled in her childish hand on one of the boards in red marker:
Lisa and Noah were here
The crawl space was empty. They’d taken him.
Lisa sank down onto the cold floor. She turned off the flashlight and sat in the total darkness. She couldn’t see anything, and all she could hear was the sound of her hopeless sobbing. She cried and cried. She’d failed Purdue. She’d made this boy a promise, and she’d gone back on her word. She’d sworn to keep him safe, and now he was gone forever.
She had no idea how long she sat there. Her skin was frozen to the touch. She cried until she ran out of tears. She had thought the Dark Star that took away her family was the deepest, loneliest galaxy she would ever visit, but somehow, this was even worse. She felt in a trance. And she knew where she had to go, what she had to do. It was as if, for the past two years, there had been a sharpshooter poised near her, taking out the people in her life one by one.
Until there was only one target left.
One more bullet that needed to be fired.
Lisa got off the cold floor. She staggered back to the stairs, still in darkness, and made her way through the family house. First floor. Then the second floor. She was barely aware of what she was doing before she found herself in her parents’ bedroom, with the closet door
open. She stared at the metal rod stretching from wall to wall. She remembered opening the door that awful day, seeing her father hanging there, remembered screaming and screaming, unable to do anything but scream until Noah found her and dragged her away.
That old belt. That old brown belt he’d used. How many times had she seen him slip it through the loops in his corduroys? That old belt eventually became a killer.
Lisa had a belt, too.
She undid the buckle and took it off. It dangled from her hand, the hangman’s noose. She knew how to do it, but then, she was an expert, because the picture of her father’s face in the closet was burned into her memory. She could see exactly how the belt had been looped over the rod and tightened around his neck.
I failed you, my sweet.
She could feel them around her now. The ghosts. Gerald. Anton. Charles. Samuel. Madeleine. And Danny. There was room in the cemetery for another plot beside him. She took a confident step into the closet and swung her belt over the high rod. She needed a chair, and there was a makeup chair in the bedroom, so she dragged it into the closet with her.
Lisa climbed onto the chair and rested on her knees.
The belt was right there, waiting for her. All she had to do was tighten the loop around her throat and kick away the chair. Yes, she would struggle. People always did. It was an instinct. But that wouldn’t last long.
She felt strange. She’d expected the ghosts to be happy with her decision. She’d expected to see their arms wide open, welcoming her, smiling, laughing, everyone together again. A dance of the dead. Instead, all she could see were shadows where their faces should be and hear them calling like the whistle of the wind through the old windows.
That was what they said. That was what the wind said.
Lisa knelt on the chair for a long, long time, but eventually, she realized she couldn’t do it. She put the chair back. She retrieved her belt and strung it back around her waist. Then she sat on her parents’ bed and wondered what to do. Her whole soul was consumed by emptiness, and she needed to fill it somehow. She needed to do something.
She found herself saying aloud, “Noah, I need you.”
It took her by surprise. Then she said it one more time, and she realized she was crying again.
“Noah, I need help.”
But that was foolish. Her brother wasn’t here, and her brother wasn’t going to help her. She could only help herself. And the way to do that was to keep her promise. She had to find Purdue.
She had to rescue him, even if it meant giving up her own life in the process.
Lisa got off the bed and wiped the tears from her face. She went back downstairs, sure of herself, sure of what she needed to do. She grabbed Madeleine’s coat and went out of the house into the snow, not even bothering to close the door behind her. The Camaro waited for her, already shrouded by white again as the snow kept falling.
Tell me where you are, Purdue.
But she knew. A thriller writer always knew where the plot would take her next. If Garrett and Stoll had carried the boy out of her house, they wouldn’t have taken him back to the cemetery. That plan was dead. No, they had to come up with another plan, and that meant going to the man in charge.
They would take Purdue to Denis Farrell.
She’d find the boy there. At his house.
Lisa hiked through the snowy front yard to the car, but before she got inside, she went to the trunk of the Camaro and opened it up. What she needed was right there, a gift from Shyla.
A fully loaded Glock.
Lisa took the pistol and caressed it in her hands. Then she shoved it into her coat pocket and steeled herself for war.
Noah, I need help.
He heard those words in his head as clear as a church bell. His sister was reaching out to him. Part of him was glad, but another part of him feared that Lisa had to be in the darkest of holes to turn to him for support. He knew what that was like. He knew how far down a soul could go, and he hated to think of Lisa—who’d always been the stronger one between them—suffering what he’d been through.
Noah emptied every other thought from his mind until it was as wide open as the flat nighttime fields bordering the highway. Then he concentrated on sending his sister a message.
I’m coming to you, Lis.
He didn’t expect an answer.
The rural roads around him were deserted. The night was pure black, with only his headlights to illuminate the highway ahead of him. Snow chased from one side to the other like a ghost. Up here, Canada inhaled and then blew its icy breath across the northern plains. Noah pushed the accelerator down, driving faster. The car was silent. No radio. Nothing to distract him. He needed to hear, to listen, to let Lisa in.
Where was she? What was she going to do?
One thing he knew about his sister. She would always sacrifice herself for someone else, no matter the cost. Noah remembered the last drive he’d taken with Danny, when they drove five hours to the Minneapolis airport for his flight to California. He knew Lisa wanted Danny to stay, but he also knew she wouldn’t say a thing to change his mind. She had the power. She could have made him stay with two words, but she put his needs ahead of her own.
In the car, he’d asked Danny, “What if Lisa told you, ‘Don’t go’?”
Danny didn’t hesitate. “I’d stay.”
But Lisa didn’t ask. Noah could have made him stay, too. He could have turned the car around and taken Danny home, and everything would have been different. Later, he wished he had, but it wasn’t his place to say anything. Later, when they were crying together after the news came, he’d asked his sister, “Why didn’t you make him stay?”
She said, “Because he needed to go.”
That was what he felt from Lisa right now. She needed to go. Wherever she was heading, it was a dangerous place, and he was afraid that Lisa would end up just like Danny. Never coming home.
Ahead of him, Noah saw the next crossroad.
It was nothing special, two lonely roads meeting in a lonely place. He turned, feeling the tires skid. There was a road sign just ahead of him, counting off the distance to the next major town.
Thief River Falls.
Lisa stood near the riverbank behind Denis Farrell’s house.
From where she was, she saw no lights or movement inside, but she knew Purdue was here. It was like a mother’s sixth sense, part of the connection between them. She knew he was still alive. They hadn’t killed him yet. She could feel his presence in the air and feel his consciousness in her heart.
She reached out to him:
I’m here for you, my sweet. I’m going to rescue you
Lisa bent down and picked up a heavy rock from the garden. Cocking her arm, she hurled it into the very center of the floor-to-ceiling window that faced the water. The tall pane of glass shattered. She stepped forward and punched out the remaining shards until the hole was big enough for her to climb through. Inside, she stood in the center of the living room carpet, with the fire hissing as white snowflakes drifted through the broken window.
All these years, and the house had changed very little. She’d been here only the one time as a teenager, when she swore at Denis in his office. Denis had never invited her again, and she’d had no interest in going. This was the enemy camp.
The chambered walnut door to Denis’s office opened immediately. The man himself came through and closed the door behind him. The noise of the breaking glass had alerted him that she was here, but he
didn’t look alarmed. He said nothing to her as he came into the room, assisted by his cane. He was dressed in a suit and tie, as he always was, but he’d grown bent and old. She wasn’t sure he’d ever been young, but the ravages of his life wore badly on him, especially those half moons under his eyes. A map of wrinkles was carved into his face. His wavy, pushed-back hair had grayed and thinned. Only his blue eyes were as alert as ever. Danny’s eyes. That was the only thing the two of them had in common.
“Hello, Lisa,” Denis said. He surveyed the wreckage of his patio window with a sour frown. “You could have just knocked, you know.”
“Don’t be cute. You know why I’m here.”
“You’re right. Laurel—Dr. March—already called and told me you might come.”
Lisa shook her head. “Of course she did. You control her, too. Is there anyone other than me in this town that you don’t control? I trusted Laurel, but that was a mistake. I told her everything. I opened my whole heart to her. Has she fed you all of my secrets for the past two years?”