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   Chapter 8 No.8

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 11326

Updated: 2018-05-28 10:57


I LED SAM AND THE POLICEMEN into the kitchen as Sam introduced the two with him—a skinny white man named Melrose with the wide lip-less mouth of a lizard, and Crabby Staten, an older black man with gray sideburns and a thick scar across his nose. The heavy-set one, Staten, stood next to me with his arms folded like a nightclub bouncer. Lizard Lips set a black satchel on the breakfast table and stepped closer. Jones fished a small writing pad and mechanical pencil from his shirt pocket.

"What's going on, Sam?" I asked. "Something happen to Ashleigh?"

"When did you see her last?" he asked, flipping through the pages of the notepad.

I felt as if all three of them were watching me a little too intensely. The muscles in my neck knotted as I considered the reaction I'd get from my answer. "Last night." That struck a chord and all three of them shifted in unison—like dancers in a Broadway production. Jones widened his stance as he made a note on his pad. Staten adjusted his thick leather belt and Melrose raised his foot onto the bottom rung of the barstool next to me.

"Last night?" Jones asked, his words dripping with insinuation.

"She came over during the storm. Her power was off and she thought I might be able to get it back on…and wanted to talk about some photography she said she needed. Why? Has something happened to Ashleigh?"

Jones made another note. "Photography?"

I sighed. "Yes. She is okay, isn't she, Sam?"

Staten arched his back and his leather equipment belt squeaked. "You the same Baimbridge with the place downtown?" he asked.

"Sam? What's going on?"

Sam hung his head. "Just answer the questions."

"Yes. The photography studio on Market, down near the river."

Jones's eyes studied me. "What time was she here, Richard?"

The room suddenly felt warm and my palms became slick. "Oh… seven-thirty or eight."

"How long did she stay?" Melrose asked in a thick Harkers' Island accent—a cross between the local dialect and 17th-century English. He kept flicking his tongue out the corner of his mouth like a kid at the carnival waiting in line for cotton candy.

"She was here…half an hour?"

Detective Jones rubbed a finger over his white patch. "Do you normally discuss business with customers in your home?"

"Well…no. Not normally."

"Did she seem upset in any way?" Staten asked, pressing his thumbs into his back and stretching up on his toes. The questions were coming faster now, as if they had a routine.

"Upset?" I thought back. She had seemed a little edgy. "No, not especially. She seemed to be afraid of the storm…and her power was off. Would you gentlemen like to sit down?"

Detective Jones continued without looking up from his pad. "Did she say anything that might lead you to believe that someone was threatening her?"

Threatening her? I dropped onto the barstool behind me. "What's going on here, Sam?"

He still looked down as if he wasn't prepared to look me in the eye. "Just answer the question, Richard."

"No, she didn't say anything about anybody threatening her or anything like that. She was—" The street was swarming with police cars. It was obvious something had happened. Something terrible. I stopped to think about what I was saying.

"Was what, Richard?"

"She acted a little nervous and kept looking out the window. I just thought she was afraid of the storm. Should I cal

raised his thick eyebrows as I dropped back onto the stool. "Jesus Christ!" I whispered. "You don't mean—?"

I felt sick in my stomach. What must they be thinking?

"Was there anyone else in the Matthews house when you were there?" Sam asked.

"No."

Lizard man stepped in front of me holding a long cotton swab. "Open your mouth."

I did and as he wiped the swab along the inside of my cheeks, Sam continued. "Did you see anyone else coming and going from there?" I rocked my head to indicate I hadn't. "How long have you lived here?"

The room felt small. My mouth tasted cottony. I needed air. "About three years."

I pictured Ashleigh on the love seat. So young. So hopeful. So alive.

My stomach turned sour and the blood drained from my face. Sweat dropped off my chin. I rested an elbow on the counter and laid my head in my arm. My skin turned ice cold.

Detective Jones dragged a stool out and sat in front of me. "You don't look too good, Richard. Are you all right?"

I drew in a slow, cleansing breath. "I'm sorry. I just need a minute." Sweat beaded on the end of my nose and hung there.

Staten stepped away. "You mind if we have a look around, Mr. Baimbridge?"

I raised my head and wiped the perspiration off my nose. "You know, I've got nothing to hide here, and I've answered every question as best I could, but I think I need to consult with an attorney before I let you go any further."

Sam folded his pad shut and jammed it back into his breast pocket. "All right, Richard."

Lizard Lips gathered his samples together and they showed themselves out leaving me feeling like a flat tire. I saw that nosy Mrs. Winslow scrutinizing the situation from her back deck and wanted to close the blinds, but just didn't have the strength.

I tried to reach my attorney, Joe Forrester, at his home and on his cell phone, but got no answer. I turned the lights off, spent a moment at the window watching the police at work, then collapsed onto the couch. My body trembled and I couldn't stop it. What in the hell could have happened at Ashleigh's last night after I passed out?

I don't know for whom I grieved the most—Ashleigh or myself. My emotions catapulted back and forth between being furious—and being terrified.

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