Carol Bronson sat ramrod straight on the sofa waiting for her husband. Soon as he opened the front door to their motor home, she stood, her eyes, tiny slits on her face.
Under normal circumstances, at this point, Carol would place her left hand on her hip, wiggle her extended right hand index finger, and scold him. But not today.
That, more than anything, forced a gasp to escape from Harry Bronson’s mouth. He took a small step forward. “Carol, sweetheart, what . . .”
“Have we ever kept any secrets from each other?”
A frown formed on Bronson’s forehead. “No, of course—”
“Think before you answer.”
When he worked for the Dallas Police Department, before he’d been forced to retire, he worked cases that placed him in mortal danger. He’d tell Carol not to worry, all was well. A small, white lie he knew she didn’t swallow.
Since then, almost two years later, he hadn’t kept anything from her. Unless . . . He reached in his pocket and felt the cell. Still there.
“I’m waiting,” Carol said. “Is there anything you want to tell me?”
Bronson crossed his arms. “No.”
“Then I’ll start. Your sister called.”
Carol spoke in a calm voice, but as far as Bronson was concerned, she might as well have shouted. He took a deep breath. “I don’t have a sister.” He swept past Carol, heading toward the bedroom. That was the main problem about traveling in a motor home. No space for privacy.
“Harry Bronson, you get back here.”
Bronson stopped but didn’t turn around.
“We’ve been married thirty-one years and in all that time, you never mentioned a sister.”
Bronson felt her arms wrap around him. He wanted to turn around, face her, tell her the ugly truth, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“Why didn’t you tell me about her?” She rested her forehead on the middle of his broad back.
Bronson squirmed, forcing Carol to release him. He turned to face her. “Last thing she told me was that she wanted nothin’ to do with me or Mom or Dad. She made that decision, she should stick to it.” He headed toward the door leading outside. “Now, if you excuse me, I’d like some time alone.” He gently opened the door and let himself out.
The sun began to set, blanketing the South Dakota woods with a rich, warm glow. Bronson sat outside his camper, staring at the sunset. He could hear the laughter of children coming from the neighboring camp spots. Somewhere in the distance, a bird chirped and an airplane roared by.
The sun descended behind the mountain and the wind blew, bringing a cool breeze that penetrated his light jacket. Still he sat, unmoving, like a statue. Slowly, one by one, the lights in the neighborhood campgrounds dimmed and faded. Quiet time had arrived.
Bronson could no longer see the trees as darkness concealed them. He thought he detected some movement to his right. A deer, perhaps. Carol would love to watch the animal. He made no attempt to call her. He sighed when he saw the light in their bedroom go off.
He waited ten minutes. Half-an-hour. An hour. When the chill penetrated his bones, he finally stood and headed inside. Carol had gone to bed, and he hoped, to sleep. He didn’t feel like talking.
He lay down next to her, listening to her steady breathing.
“Do you feel better?” Carol asked.
Not asleep. Damn. “Maybe, a little.”
“Sometime—not now—you’ll need to tell me about Lorraine.”
Lorraine. Hearing her name seemed surreal. He sat up.
“All those calls you’ve been receiving—the ones you told me came from telemarketers—that was Lorraine trying to reach you.”
Bronson nodded, and then realized in the darkness she might not see him. “Yes.”
“She’s in trouble, she said. She needs her big brother.”
Not even seven o’clock and Bronson’s cell buzzed. No need to look at the caller I.D. Every morning for the past eight days, a bit before 7:00, Lorraine called. Same as always, except that this time, he planned to answer.
He dug around for the phone and looked at his wife still sleeping. The cell in his hands stopped buzzing. He pressed one, got voice mail. He had eight messages. “Harry, hi. It’s me, Lorraine. Bet it’s a shock hearing from me after all these years. Call me. Please.”
Message two: “Hi. I’m getting desperate. You haven’t returned my call. I really need to talk to you.”
Message three: “Please don’t ignore my calls. I know I did lots of things wrong. But I’ve changed. Please call me. As soon as you can.”
Message four: “Big Bro? Pick up. Please, please pick up.” Bronson’s trained detective ear recognized the sense of urgency. He hesitated and then deleted the message.
Message five: “Why haven’t you called? I can’t go on like this, alone. I need you. I’m waiting by the phone.” Heart-wrenching sobs broke up the message.
Drama Queen. She’d always been a drama queen. He erased the other three messages, unheard. He sat at the edge of the bed, his hand playing with the cell, his mind bombarded by the memories he hoped he had forgotten.
Only fourteen and already a drunk.
High on pot and Lord knows what else.
Dad, with his weak heart, begging her to stop. Lorraine threw her head back, laughed, and blew smoke toward Dad’s face.
Bronson stood and headed for the living room area. He bit his tongue—a habit he had developed when he didn’t want to curse—and found his sister’s number on the missed calls function. He pressed the call key.
Lorraine immediately picked up. “Oh God, Big Bro, you called. I need you.”
“What do you want?”
A pause. “After all these years, those are your first words to me?”
“What do you want?” Bronson repeated. He tried to force the anger and the bitterness out, but like thick syrup, his resentment smothered his intentions.
“I want you to come.”
“Please. I got involved in—” Another pause. “Please, I’m afraid. They’re going to kill me. Please come.”
“Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Then I can’t help you.”
“You’ve got to. I’ll tell you when you get here. I don’t want to say anything over the phone. I’m afraid it’s bugged. You need to come.”
“Where are you?”
“Whittle City, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.”
Clear on the other side of the United States. “Not sure I can get over there.”
“I’m in South Dakota.”
“South Dakota? What are you doing there? Thought you were a detective for the Dallas Police Department.”
How the hell did she know that? Worse, how had she gotten hold of his and Carol’s cell numbers? “I’m retired. Carol, my wife—but I guess you know that since you talked to her. Anyway, we got a motor home.”
Did Bronson recognize a note of regret in his sister’s voice? “Yes, retired.”
“But you can still . . . You’ve got contacts, right?”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to come. Please. I don’t have anyone else to turn to.”
“You should have thought about that before you killed Dad and Mom.” He hung up.
end of chapter one