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   Chapter 52 No.52

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 15673

Updated: 2018-05-28 11:27

TIFFANY FOUND THE NOTE and the key and immediately ripped the tags off a new string bikini her mother would never have allowed her to wear. Strutting about under the watchful eyes of every man on the dock, she cranked the engine, brought in the lines, shoved the magnificent sailboat off, and motored Steal Away out to the channel where she found a strong southerly breeze—perfect for a reach down the river.

Bringing the vessel about, she headed directly into the wind, set the brake on the wheel, and raised the mizzen to steady the boat. Electing to keep the mainsail furled, she climbed barefooted onto the roof of the cabin, sidled toward the bow, and—bending her knees as the vessel rose to meet each wave—reached to the low side and tugged the line to release the jib. As the massive sail unrolled like a window shade, its bitter end flapped loosely in the wind, snapping and popping against the mainmast, sending her heart to racing.

Releasing the brake, she steered the boat away from the wind letting the loose end of the jib flap out to the side as she expertly wrapped the sheet around a wench. Then, with the wind in her face and the sun on her back, she cranked the massive sail in. As it filled with air and caught the wind, the boat leaned and she felt a surge of power.

Back at the helm, she turned the switch and the putter of the engine died, replaced by the sound of water swishing along the side of the hull.

For Tiffany, this was heaven. There was nothing better than sailing and the best life she could imagine would be to sail about the world forever.

She'd admired the boat's sleek lines as it came together on its construction frame at her father's shipyard with its golden teak deck, lacquered black hull, and brass fittings—a beauty to behold. But it was on its maiden voyage that she'd really fallen in love with it. It was the majestic way that it sat in the water and the ease with which it handled that she loved. 'A pussy to sail' as the men in the yard would say. And she loved the name. "Steal Away, " she whispered into the wind.

It was a quick ten miles to the farm—too quick—and she had time to spare so she marked the location on the global positioning system and sailed on for another ten miles before coming about and returning to the farm.

After tying the boat off at the end of a twisted weather-grayed dock with boards missing here and there, Tiffany went for a quick swim, changed into Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt, and took the short walk up the dock. Keeping a sharp eye out for snakes, she followed a dirt path through long-shanked reeds to a hundred-year-old barn that had long ago given up holding back nature. Tallest at the center, it spread wide at the bottom including an open shed on each side. Its rusting tin roof lay folded back on one corner exposing a sagging, black skeleton of a roof underneath. The boards that made up its skin had over time been bleached gray and warped by the sun, a few breaking free and hanging by a single nail. The three openings on the back side—two ports near the top and a tall narrow rectangle at the bottom—were black in shadow and reminded Tiffany of the terrifying mask used in the "Scream" movies.

There was a pair of doors on the far right held shut with a padlock that opened with the key. Inside she discovered a cache of cardboard boxes and wooden crates, some closed and some open. There was food of all kinds, enough to last at least a month. There was water, wine, paper products, pots and pans, utensils and dishes. There were towels, pillows, life preservers, and a broom.

Starting with the heaviest boxes, she lifted a case of wine and stumbled out the door struggling to carry it. The bottles clinked against each other with each step and she had to stop twice to rest before getting it on deck and into the cockpit. The boxes of canned food seemed even heavier. She found a loose board in the reeds and dropped it across the span between the boat and the dock to use as a ramp, and pushed the seventh box—a wooden crate—across it to the boat. As she maneuvered the box toward the galley, it fell open exposing the butt of a pistol wrapped in newspaper.

Taking the gun in her hand, Tiffany raised it, looked down the sight, and aimed it at the barn.

"Bang. Bang, " she whispered.

Digging through the crate, she also found five boxes of bullets buried among a hammer and various tools. She took the pistol and the bullets down the ladder to the galley, dropped them in a black plastic garbage bag, and lifted the bilge hatch in the floor with the intention of placing it in the narrow space below the floor. But the space was filled with other plastic bags. Open

"Shhhhh." Her voice was like fingers sliding across satin. "Don't say that. It's not your fault."

"That…son-of-a-bitch!" I couldn't hold back the tears. "Oh, Babe, I'm so sorry."

Sydney squeezed her arms around me. "Shhhh."

"Damn it!" I rose from the table breaking her hold. "I can't let him get away with this!"

"Come on." Sydney took my hand and pulled. "Let's go get a shower."

Tears streamed down my face. "Oh, God!"

She pulled me stumbling into a nearby bedroom, shoved me onto my back, and took control of my mind and body. Falling on top me, she redirected the storm raging inside me re-channeling my pain and fury into passion and desire. Icy hatred melted into flaming love. For the next hour the fire and the cold swirled through me ripping me apart as she held me down, kissed me, and took me to a final release that shattered every obstacle I had left to becoming the man I was born to be.

As I lay spent listening to the quiet sounds of a radio I never knew was even playing, I realized I couldn't live without Sydney. I had to have her.

"I love you, Sydney."

"I love you, too, Richard." She laid her head against my chest. "I think I always have."

ASHLEIGH SLOWED HER CAR and peered up the dark driveway to the pool house in the backyard. Seeing no lights, no people, and especially no police, she eased down the street and pulled into the shadows of a huge live oak dripping with Spanish moss. Emerging from the car, she kept to the shadows running alongside a line of azaleas into a neighbor's backyard. Clutching her house key in her hand, she dashed across several backyards then cowered behind a row of bushes to avoid Mrs. Winslow's hawkish eyes.

With a sliver of moon twinkling off the lake, Ashleigh crawled through the shrubs and sank into the darkness at the side of her house. Seeing no one around, she moused across the porch, inserted the key, pushed the door back, and was immediately overcome by the foul odor of decaying blood. Bumbling back to the edge of the porch, she caught her breath, held it, and sprinted through to the bedroom where, even in the dim light, she could see the black stains on the walls, bed, and floor.

Working quickly, she swung the dressing stool into the closet, raked the boxes on the top shelf to one end, pressed a finger into a tiny indention in the sheetrock, and jiggled it back and forth. But the sheetrock didn't move. She jiggled harder and still the section of wall held tight. With her lungs bursting and perspiration dampening her skin, she retreated back to the front porch, and—checking to see if all was clear—leapt into the shadows around the side of the house.

Landing on her hands and knees, she gasped for air trying desperately not to throw up. When her wind returned and the shivering had diminished, she took a chunk of brick from the flowerbed, charged back into the house, stepped back up on the stool, and bashed a hole in the sheetrock.

Feeling around inside the cavity in the wall, she grasped the only thing she'd left behind—the one thing she figured she'd never need again—a loaded 25-caliber pistol.

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