Evil pursues Christine, in this the second book of the Finders Keepers Mystery Series. Retreat is not an option but her move forward makes her vulnerable to the very evil that took her parents’ lives. Faced with yet another missing child, she embarks on a search that takes her out of her comfort zone to question her chosen career, her abilities, and her belief system as she helps stricken parents find closure. Christine finds herself confused about her growing interest in Jeremy but she is distracted by the essence of evil that surrounds her.
Christine Smith stretched her arms to touch her headboard, slowly opening her eyes to the bright sunlight streaming through the slats in her blinds. Her head sank further into the pillow as she arched her frame toward the warm, furry body at her side. A stroke to the soft coat of her dog elicited a grunt in response as she rolled to cuddle her best friend. “Come on, boy. Let’s go for a run.”
She gently shoved the large animal off the side of the bed. Chief, a search and rescue dog, landed with a thump, a whoosh of air indicating his lungs had connected with the floor. He continued to lay where he landed. “Good thing the distance is short. Come on, get up. Need to run.” Christine jogged in place by the dog’s side, reaching her hands toward the ceiling. “Do you know how long it’s been since the dream hasn’t interrupted my sleep? I feel as if I’ve slept for three days.” She peered out the window. “Such a beautiful day, too.”
Jogging clothes hung on the hook behind her bedroom door. Nightwear landed near the hamper as she tugged a sweatshirt over her head and stepped into fleece pants. “We’ll need to dress warm. There’s snow everywhere this morning.” Christine scrounged some extra heavy socks from her drawer. Chief, although on all fours, stretched his front legs by leaning as far backward as he could without losing his balance and then the dog performed a perfect lunge forward to stretch his back. “Looks like Yoga to me.”
She started to trot down the hall. “Maybe we need to pay a visit to Denny’s facility for a refresher today.” A cursory check at the peep hole in her front door indicated a clear path to the park … at least as far as I can tell. She moved toward a sofa table, popped the drawer open, and retrieved her spike, the weapon she used between her fingers … just in case. She never left home without it.
The code she pushed deactivated her alarm. Christine grabbed the remote to activate the yard system, and opened the door. She sucked in a deep breath of cold morning air as she quickly viewed her property and the street beyond. She grumbled, her voice low, to the animal as he nosed past her. “One day, I won’t need to be so careful.”
Two weeks had passed since she’d had a client. Not a concern, thanks to Mom and Dad’s legacy, I can be lazy once in a while. She started down the driveway. She jogged backwards a few feet and used the remote to activate the yard alarm. Just in case.
Turning forward again, she trotted after Chief who had already reached the park. He sniffed at everything above the ground, but his body language told her he knew exactly where she was at all times. He seems more protective now than when we began to search for Nathan Brent. I think he’s learned something.
Keeping a steady pace and her breathing deep, Christine continued to ponder the recent rescue of Nathan. A short visit yesterday confirmed that moving back with his mother … finally … had been positive.
A smile crinkled the corners of her mouth. I love it when a plan comes together. She jogged in place for a few seconds, waiting for Chief to complete his mark on a nearby tree. Who’d have thought that working with Jeremy would be a good thing? For both of us.
Chief completed his task and the two of them took off, racing as fast as the slick sidewalk allowed. Her muscles warmed up and became as lithe as they always did when she took the time for a work-out. The cold air whipped by her face.
The sky had turned a clear blue. Her frosty breathe hung in the air. The absence of a breeze made the morning run a pleasant experience. Christine and Chief covered their two mile course before turning around to head home. Halfway back, she heard the caterwaul in the distance. Wonder who forgot to turn their car alarm off. She slowed to a steady jog, cooling down in the process.
The closer she got to home, the louder the wail. Her pace accelerated. Chief began to grumble, low in his chest. Can’t be. I wasn’t expecting anyone. She ran faster. The alarm grew shriller, startling the few remaining birds in the area. A neighbor’s glare greeted her as she exited the park gates.
Who’d set off her warning system? With her parents’ killer on the loose, searching for her, the added security had become a necessary intrusion in her life. She inched toward the stone wall at the park entrance, all the while scanning the neighborhood for an unidentified visitor. No one. The only other person in sight was the not-too-friendly occupant of the house across the street. Standing on his front porch, he shook his fist at her. “Shut that thing off. I need my sleep,” he yelled … as if I intentionally set it off.
Not another soul graced the landscape in front of her house, but a large box the size of a small appliance stood inside her fence. Someone’s been here. She continued to gaze from yard to yard and down the pavement, looking for anything to indicate who’d left the package. She slipped her hand into her pocket for the remote to turn the discordant sound off. He must have wondered why an alarm went off.
Chief walked closer to the container. He sniffed. His sorrowful whine filled the air around her. “What’s wrong, boy?” She glanced at the man still standing in his pajamas on his front porch. The scowl, fixed on her actions increased a sense of rebellion. She pulled the spike from her pocket and proceeded to pry the lid off the box. He’d better understand I can protect myself. The first flap loosened as well as the other larger one.
An unpleasant odor emanated from inside, combating the fresh, crisp air. She flipped the flap open. An involuntary scream erupted from her throat. She screamed again. Her body slumped to the ground. Chief stood beside her, his stance in protective mode. He emitted a vicious snarl at the neighbor approaching from across the street. Her awareness of anything other than the smell dimmed as a black coffin closed over her consciousness.
The boy scrambled around the corner, grabbing for a handhold. The brick facade of the first building filled his fist. His feet tripped over themselves in his hurry to exit where nightmares were made. Damn. His mind uttered a few other expletives as he raced for a place to hide. His heart beat thundered in his chest preventing him from catching his breath. As terrifying as his life had been for the last ten years, the sight he ran from was his worst nightmare.
He rounded another corner, side-stepped a pedestrian, and slipped into the nearest shop. He looked behind before he closed the door. His eyes slowly scanned the street roaming over each pedestrian and parked car. He slipped toward the nearest corner letting the door swing shut. The boy struggled to take a deep breath. He kept his gaze casual, breathing slowly in and out. He pretended to look at some of the items on the shelves. With caution, he moved to one side of the entrance. His eyes slowly grew accustomed to the interior lighting as he glanced around. What is this place, anyway?
Shelves stocked with all sorts of books lined one wall. A couple of the designs displayed a cutout right in the center of the front cover. They were colored brightly, a few with fancy doodads and some with pictures. He noticed a rack nearby held packages with decorated sheets of paper and another shelf held pages of stickers. He was familiar with those since his “dad” bought some for him to keep him quiet.
Dad. Yeah, some father image. His chest tightened. I overheard “dad” tell someone over the phone that I’d been taken from my real home. A whole list of emotions traveled across his brain, fear being one of them. The idea that someone is watching me hasn’t left me alone since.
His “dad” had needed someone younger, and asked the person on the phone to arrange it. That meant he was no longer loved as the man had told him all those years. The adult had stopped coming to the child’s room at night weeks ago. At first he had been relieved. He began to miss the attention.
The boy glanced toward a woman as she walked through the door into the shop. The bell announcing her presence made him jump. The old lady zeroed in on what she wanted as she headed for the shelves of books. Her wrinkled hands grabbed one book and opened the cover. Blank. The pages have nothing on them. He shook his head and moved cautiously toward the window closest to him. This would be a good spot. The street is visible from both directions. If anyone saw me in that warehouse ….
His memory drifted to the deadbolt, the one that had locked him inside all those years. He remembered when he had reached a hand to grab the doorknob; his fear had forced him to pull his arm back as if something had bit him. The punishment for disobeying was always severe. Terrified eyes glanced left and right. He was alone. The man had gone out right after the phone call. He left instructions to clean the house. The boy had rushed through his chores. The plan to step through the door was in place.
The warehouse sat at the back of the yard. He decided that if he wasn’t allowed in that building … “dad” probably was hiding something. I was right … but nothing in his deepest imagination prepared him for the sight that filled his eyes. His trek into the freezer he’d found inside acted as a starting pistol for a race to safety.
He shuddered. The memory was indelibly etched on his brain. He shook his head. Do kids even talk like that? His “dad” insisted he read every book he brought home from the library. The boy never knew why.
His current surroundings came back into focus as the steady rhythm of foot traffic passed the little shop. I can’t stay here all day. A short, round lady approached.
“Can I help you?” she asked with a slight accent foreign to the boy. The boy peered at her from under lowered eyelids. I guess I don’t belong. Need to leave. “No. Thank you. I thought this was another store I’m looking for.” He moved toward the door. The woman smiled and returned to her place behind a counter. His heart picked up speed at the thought of being free to roam for the first time in his life, or at least, as far back as he remembered.
He stepped into the bright sunshine. I wonder where all those bodies came from? He shivered and then walked down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. Not going there again. Won’t be missed anyway. I’m in the way, he said. Maybe I’ll search for my real parents. Where do I start?
Bet the police will be interested in the warehouse. They’ll never believe me. “dad” always said the cops only did things if you paid them. I haven’t any money, but I should tell someone. Those were kids in there. Someone’s sons. At least the ones I noticed appeared to be boys. Ugh. He shuddered again. I won’t be able to sleep tonight. The one with the missing hand seemed to be only about five or six years old. Maybe his parents are looking for him. Obviously mine never did. Why?
A tall man in a dark blue uniform headed toward him down the sidewalk. His heart thundered inside his chest wall. Droplets of liquid fear popped out on his forehead. A cop. His legs wouldn’t move. Forcibly, he moved his body down the nearest alley and melted against the cold stone facade. Large orbs of terror perused the man as he walked slowly past the entrance to his hiding spot. A deep sigh and his body sagged in relief. Common sense told him his fear was exaggerated but “dad” had a friend who worked as a police officer. He liked to ‘love’ little boys, too.