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   Chapter 23 No.23

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 10312

Updated: 2018-05-28 11:03


I PICKED UP A FEW THINGS I'd need for the outing: a laminated nautical chart of the waterways from Wilmington to Little River, fresh batteries for a radio, a waterproof flashlight, cans of food with pull-open tops, bottles of Pepsi and water, and a couple of cans of tuna. By the time I got back to the house, my left leg was twice as large as normal and the skin felt like it was splitting open. I pulled myself up the stairs, cleaned the wounds, applied an antibiotic ointment, and wrapped the leg again.

I looked up the phone number for Screen Gems' Wilmington studio and dialed it. The operator reeled off a list of movies in production or about to commence, but said she didn't know of any Brad Pitt movie scheduled for Wilmington. I thanked her, hung up, unfolded the nautical chart, and laid it out on the dining room table. The Cape Fear River actually runs south from Wilmington and empties into the Atlantic Ocean some thirty or forty miles downstream. But Wilmington is only a few miles west of Wrightsville Beach, which is also on the ocean. It's as if Wilmington sits atop an ice cream cone-shaped peninsula; the Cape Fear on the left side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the right. These waters meet each other about twenty-five miles to the south.

Ashleigh rented the boat at Bradley Creek which flows due east and dumps into the Intracoastal Waterway right behind the barrier island that is home to Wrightsville Beach. From there you could take the waterway north or south, or go into Wrightsville Beach. I didn't think she would have gone to Wrightsville Beach unless she had someone meeting her, and if someone was going to meet her, why not meet them somewhere she wouldn't need a boat? Besides, to leave Wrightsville Beach by car, she would have come right back through Wilmington. My guess was that Ashleigh was on her own and headed either north or south.

The phone rang and I picked it up without taking my eyes off the chart or considering who it might be. "Richard Baimbridge."

"Richard, this is Sydney Deagan." There was that voice again—musical and unique. I sat back and the tension inside me mellowed.

"Hi."

"Martha called me and asked if I knew where Ashleigh's brother was staying. So I checked with a few of the girls and found out that he's living with his aunt and uncle, Henry and Doris Jackson, on a farm about twenty miles from town."

"Do you know how to get there?"

"Well, that's why I called you instead of Martha. If you're thinking of going out there, it might be best if I go with you."

"And why is that?"

"I was told he won't talk to anyone. He may not talk to me either, but he might if he remembers me. Ashleigh used to bring David to the studio years ago and he'd hang out during her classes."

"Okay. When can we go?"

"I can go right now if you want."

"Which way do we head?"

"Toward Lake Waccamaw."

THIRTY MINUTES LATER, I was sitting at the new Wal-Mart watching for Sydney's van. Everywhere I looked there were couples walking hand-in-hand laughing and teasing, hugging and kissing—even folks that l

ppened?"

I spoke up from behind Sydney. "Mr. Jackson, we think there's a chance Ashleigh might still be alive."

He pushed the screen door open and squinted his eyes. "You the police?"

I climbed the steps and extended a hand to shake. "No, sir. I'm Richard Baimbridge. I live—"

"Baimbridge?" He retreated, closing the screen door. "Ain't you the one they say done it?"

I retracted my hand and stuffed it in my pocket. "I had nothing to do with it, Mr. Jackson. And that's why I need to find her."

"We don't know nothing but what the police tell us, " he said.

"When was the last time you saw Ashleigh?" I asked.

"You folks best be on your way. We got nothing to say."

"Please, I don't think anything has happened to Ashleigh. I think she planned this whole thing herself and made it appear there had been foul play. I was hoping—"

"Now why would she do something like that?"

"I'm not sure, Mr. Jackson. But I believe she got involved with some people she wanted to get away from."

"That girl was smart as a whip. She wouldn't get herself messed up in nothing that wasn't proper. Somebody done her in and that's the way it is."

I noticed a curtain slightly pulled back in a window at the other end of the porch and strode toward it. "David! Talk to us! We're trying to help Ashleigh!" The curtain dropped back into place. I banged on the window with the side of my fist. "David!"

The screen door sprang open and the old man stumbled out holding a double-barreled shotgun leveled at me. Sydney backed down the steps.

"Git on now 'fore I drop you dead." His eyes were clear and his hand steady. "Don't think I won't do it."

I raised my hands and moved slowly to the edge of the porch and stepped off into a long-abandoned flowerbed. "We're not trying to cause any trouble here, Mr. Jackson."

"If you know what's good for you, Mister, you'll stay away from here. I mean it. Now git!"

I backed toward the car, cupped my hands over my mouth, and shouted, "David! Call me! Richard Baim—"

The shotgun exploded.

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