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   Chapter 53 No.53

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 13682

Updated: 2018-05-28 11:27

MARTHA HELD ME TOGETHER all through high school when my relationship with Dad had totally come apart. What a blessing that was. No person should have to live without a sibling. If I ever have children, there'll be at least two. But even with Martha there supporting me emotionally, I'd not been complete.

Until Sydney.

With Sydney, I felt I'd come full circle. As if she'd taken hold of my spine and given me some sort of adjustment. A spiritual realignment. My breathing slowed. My muscles relaxed. I felt a presence within me that had long been missing—a thousand voices singing.

Looking at her leaning against the carved headboard of her bed holding a sheet to her breasts, I felt I was looking more into her than at her. I wanted her heart more than I wanted air to breathe.

"Come home with me, " I said. "Have dinner with me. Have breakfast with me. Bring a plant if you like. I don't care, just—come home with me." I couldn't help myself. I needed her and I was afraid if I didn't say so then, I might not get another chance.

Thirty seconds is all it took. For thirty seconds, she thought it over. After thirty seconds, she flipped the sheet off, gathered the things she'd need, and packed an overnight bag.

As I slipped back into my clothes, those thousand voices rose in pitch and intensity—the voices of angels.

I took her hand on the drive back to my house and held it, afraid that if I let go, I'd turn and find her gone. As we slowed near my house, the headlights spotlighted a woman moving toward a parked car up the street.

Instead of turning into my drive, I continued forward. "That looks like…" As I approached her, the woman turned her back and as she struggled to get a key into a car door, I passed within a few feet of her.

"My God, " Sydney whispered. "Isn't that Ashleigh?"

I slammed on the brakes. "Yes. It is."

Sydney rolled her window down and leaned out. "Ash?"

The woman jerked her door open, dived in, started the engine, and backed the car away without even closing her door, then whipped the car around and headed up the road to her right.

I swerved into a driveway, turned that heavy wagon around, and floored the gas pedal. "Reach behind your seat and get that black bag. There's a camera in it, " I told Sydney.

Sydney grabbed my arm. "She has a gun. I saw it."

I handed her my cell phone. "Call Sam. The number's in the directory. Tell him who we've just seen and that we're following her."

I turned my lights off and rounded the corner after Ashleigh. Her car had a section of red lens broken out of the right-rear taillight that made it easy to follow from a distance. After a few turns, I switched my lights back on and stayed well back. She drove fast and erratically, but I managed to keep her in sight. Sam's voice-mail picked up and Sydney handed me the phone.

"Sam, Richard Baimbridge. Sydney Deagan and I have just seen Ashleigh Matthews. She was parked just up the street from her house and we're following her now. I'm hoping to get a few photos of her so I can prove she's alive. She knows we saw her and she's running pretty hard. I'll let you know how it turns out and where she goes…if I can keep up with her."

Ashleigh turned onto US 17 North and headed toward Jacksonville for about eight miles, then doubled back and meandered aimlessly about Wilmington for another half-hour. With that taillight out, I was able to keep a great distance between us and pick her back up if I lost her. Once when I did lose her, I looked to my left at a stoplight and realized we were sitting right next to her. She was engaged in a frantic telephone conversation and didn't notice us, but the light changed before I could get the camera ready.

Shortly afterward, she headed south on US 17, crossed the Cape Fear River, and turned southeast on NC 133 toward Southport. We kept our distance, following down the narrow two-lane road past intermittent patches of farms and forests until she slowed well below the speed limit and used her brakes often.

There was little traffic along the road and I feared that if

e for three seconds then, moving to my right, crossed the front of the barn to a shed at the other end where round wooden posts and rolls of fencing had been stacked.

Something heavy hit the ground inside the building. Stepping over coils of barbed wire and fence posts, I crept to the right rear corner of the barn to a stack of dried firewood split decades ago for a wintry night that never came.

There, a man, barely visible in the light from the doorway, was bent over one of the polyethylene drums struggling to roll it away from the barn. Beyond the man there was a wide gap in the trees and I could see the silhouette of a sailboat at the end of a tall pier with the lights of Wilmington twinkling behind it. To the right of the pier, a rectangular canal had been cut in from the river to within fifty feet of the barn with a short pier jutting out into it.

Laying against the tank, he pushed with his feet slowly rolling it through thick sand to the edge of the canal where he lifted it onto the short pier one end at a time, then maneuvered it down the dock, its contents thumping with each revolution. At the end, he shoved it with his foot and the drum splashed into the canal, bobbed, and floated with a third of it above water. Pulling a pistol from his belt, the man fired five rounds into the tank; two above the waterline and three below. As hot lead thumped holes into the hard plastic, the container began to sink.

When the man turned and started back toward the barn, I dropped behind the dried firewood and watched as he lumbered back toward the lighted door breathing heavily with gun in hand. I gently eased my foot to the left and had risen slightly to get a better look at his face when a terrified creature pierced the silence with a heart-stopping screech just above my head. Dropping to the ground behind the woodpile with my heart hammering in my chest, I looked up into the face of a long-eared owl bobbing on a low-hanging branch above me, its enormous yellow eyes blinking independently. In its talons it clutched a young rabbit screaming, fighting to get free, pumping its feet uselessly against the air beneath it.

The owl turned its head backward, leapt from the branch, spread its enormous wings, and carried its screeching prey off. A few seconds later the screeches ended in a shrill squeal, but the pounding in my chest remained. Shaking violently, I looked around the edge of the logs and saw the man's face more clearly now.

It was Scott McGillikin!

As he stared in the direction of the owl, more adrenalin flooded into my bloodstream. My muscles flexed. My heart raced. My mind became the puppeteer seeking to force my body to do its will.

Kill him! Kill the bastard!

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