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   Chapter 17 No.17

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 14586

Updated: 2018-05-28 11:02

WHEN I CAME TO, the pain in my head was so intense I couldn't open my eyes. I lay on my back on the cold stone floor and tried to focus, but my brain wasn't ready to function. The side of my face rested in a gooey puddle and my shirt collar was wet and sticky. As I lifted my head, nausea settled over me. Holding my breath and waiting for it to pass, I remembered going to rehearsal, talking with Dad, and finding the reporters all gone when I got home. Had someone struck me as I came through the door?

The house was dark except for the silvery moonlight coming in the windows. The room spun around me as if I'd pulled a cheap drunk. I sat up drawing deep breaths to clear my head. My hair, shirt, and jacket were wet. I pressed a hand against the back of my head and found a lump at the base of my skull. The room seemed to wheel up on its side. I braced myself to keep from tipping over and vomited between my knees.

I was shaking, dizzy, and weak. I couldn't see. I had lost a lot of blood and I needed help. I dragged myself across the floor to the telephone and fumbled around the end table for it. It wasn't in the cradle and looking for it exhausted me. Falling back against the floor, I gasped for air.

"What did you do with the money?" a voice boomed out of the darkness.

I railed up onto my elbows. "Who's there?"

"You heard me." The voice had a thick New Jersey accent. "What did you do with the fuckin' money?"

My arms gave way and I sank back to the floor panting. My mind edged toward unconsciousness and my voice dropped to a whisper. "What money are you talking about?"

"The money you took from the girl you killed, asshole."

The room swirled and faded to gray. My head rocked from side to side. I tried to think. "I haven't killed anyone."

"The police think you did."

My pulse faded and my breathing slowed. I exhaled slowly. "The police are wrong."

Suddenly, I was floating a foot above the floor. I grabbed his wrists to steady myself and fought against the heightened urge to vomit again. His face came close to mine. He had a thick mustache, heavy eyebrows, and smelled of mineral spirits and bourbon.

"Don't…screw…with…me…man!" he shrieked, the knuckles of his fist bearing down into my chest. "The bitch stole one hundred fifty thousand dollars from me and I'm willing to bet you stole it from her. It's a lot of money, Baimbridge, but I don't think you want to die for it."

The room swirled as I dangled from his grip. "I have…no idea…what you're—" Vomit erupted from my throat interrupting my reply. He released me and as I slammed back against the stone floor, light flashed through my head and I sank into a pool of darkness.

I AWOKE TO A CONCERT of chickadees, robins, and a bright morning sun in my eyes. I tried to rise, but fell back when pain fired around my head. Memories of the previous night flooded through my mind like a dream.

I felt the sticky floor, rose to a sitting position, and discovered the blood and puke on the floor, and the open wound on the back of my head. The house had been ransacked. The nightmare had been real. I stripped out of my clothes, used them to clean up the floor, and left them in a pile. I fixed a pot of strong coffee and drank about half of it sitting naked and bloody by the windows. Mrs. Winslow pretended not to notice as she shook the dust out of her mop, but kept stealing glances in my direction.

After a hot shower, I got dressed, tossed the clothes in the laundry, and mopped the floor. By 8:30 a.m., my eyesight had pulled back together.

Picking up the phone, I got a dial tone, called the office, and told Lizzy I wouldn't be in until later. I took the bike to the emergency room at New Hanover Hospital where they put eleven stitches in my head and charged me nine hundred dollars.

I stopped on the way to work to see Scott McGillikin. We hadn't gotten off to a very good start and I thought things might be better in his office. I was led right in and waited for an invitation to sit, which didn't come. He looked rough, like he'd been up all night. I told him about my visitor, the money, and the stitches. "How do I stop him from coming back?"

He leaned back, looked over his nose at me, and acted as if even an idiot should know the answer to that question. "Give him the money."

I stepped forward, planted my hands on his desk,

ped up about how her parents died."

"What did it say?"

"Just that there had been an explosion on their yacht, that her mother and father had been killed, and that her brother had been severely burned."

"When was that?"

"About six years ago."

"So how can the brother help?"

"He might know who could have killed her."

"Don't you think the police would have looked into that?"

"If they can find him."

The waitress brought our sandwiches and by the time she stopped gabbing with Martha, I was nearly finished. Martha lifted her sandwich. "Thank you, Richie. I really needed this. It's great!"

I smiled, winked, and took a sip of her soda to wash down the last of my sandwich. "Any information on where David is now?"

"He was at the Burn Center back then, but I doubt he'd still be there. We might need to find someone that has stayed in touch with them. Like his doctor."

"Ashleigh used to take dance. I saw a photograph of her the other day at Sydney Deagan's studio."

"Oh, yes. You mentioned seeing her again. How'd that go?"

"It was interesting and—in a way—strange."

"Well, at least it's someplace to start."

"Start what?"

"Start looking for Ashleigh."

"Oh. Yes."

Martha visited with more of the staff while I paid the tab then, on the way home, asked me to take a detour by the abandoned warehouse. I pulled up near it, stopped, and turned the engine off.

"It looks pretty much the same, Babe."

She sat for a long time without saying anything. Finally, she took a deep breath and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "It's like there's something in there drawing me back, something I missed. And lately, it seems to be calling me all the time."

"There's nothing in there, Babe. I've looked. Nothing but a bunch of old railroad cars and scrap steel."

"I know that if I could go back in there, I'd find something the police overlooked. None of those cases have ever been solved, you know."

"I know."

"A few weeks ago, when I was feeling pretty good, I rolled down here and just sat and watched the place."

"Martha! Don't you ever do that again. You hear me?"

"Don't tell me what I can and can't do."

The last thing I wanted to do was to make her feel she couldn't do things on her own. "What the hell do you think you're going to see down here?"

"I'm hoping to see that light in the window again."

"Those guys are long gone, Babe. Too much attention has been focused on it."

"Not anymore. No one ever mentions it anymore."

"Well, if you feel like you have to come here, let me know. I'll come with you. It's just not safe to be down here alone. Especially at night." I started the car and pulled away.

She sighed. "I wish they'd bulldoze the place so I could get it out of my head."

I knew how she felt. I'd been thinking about getting another look inside Ashleigh's house. I dropped her off and headed home.

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