Evil pursues Christine. This is the second book of the Finders Keepers series by Barbara Ann Derksen. On one hand Christine is an investigator looking for a missing child. on the other she is being hunter by the murderer of her parents because she had witnessed the crime as a small child.
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Her vision seeped through the louvers on the utility room door. The images seemed broken as in a jigsaw puzzle until she leaned forward and placed her forehead against the wood. Her insides tightened. Everyone was shouting. She willed her body to stop trembling but it seemed to have a will of its own. The gun that the stranger held, just like on TV but different, was pointed at her father. This was real. Daddy had hid her ... told me to stay where I am until ... She couldn't remember.
Daddy’s voice sounded like it did when he talked on the phone sometimes. “What do you want with us? You have no business being here. We said no contact."
She watched his face get redder than she'd ever seen it, even when he'd been out in the sun too long. Mommy was shaking her fist. She never did that. The stranger smiled, totally silent, not intimidated, it seemed to the five year old. A shiver walked its way up her spine. She’d seen guns like that in the cartoons she watched. This one was a little longer though. Only business, the man said. What business, she wondered.
The man straightened his arm, the one holding the gun. Her vision blurred for a second, horror filling the empty spaces in her brain. The explosion echoed in the foyer. The bullet seemed to travel in slow motion. Just like the cartoons, she thought. Her daddy’s body slammed into the banister of the staircase heading up to the bedroom area and the maid’s quarters. The railing shook. Her father’s body flopped forward. His head smacked the floor. He lay still then.
Blood covered the wall behind where her father had stood. Her mother screamed and then was silent. Before her father's body hit the tiled foyer, she watched the side of her mother’s head explode. Specks of blood and other gooey stuff splattered all over the walls, mixing with the blood from her father. Her stomach lurched. She wrapped a hand tightly across her mouth. A silent scream rattled around in her head seeking an escape. Get up, it said. Daddy. Mommy. Get up. Please. The scream evaporated, as if it had never been. They weren’t moving. In the cartoons, they always got back up. Why don’t they get up?
Tears filled her eyes, blurring her vision again. Daddy just lay there. Mommy lay beside him, covered in the blood that flowed from her body. Her sightless eye stared toward the girl, hidden. The girl felt as if she was going to throw up but she swallowed instead. She swiped at the tears that silently trickled down her pudgy cheeks. Her mother told her she had cute dimples, whatever that was. Her mother liked to touch her cheeks. Now...
She watched as the man, the monster, moved toward the entrance. Then he stopped. He looked up the stairs, then down the hall. He looked toward her hiding place, his eyes cold, calculating, wondering. Her stomach lurched, the fright almost real enough to touch. Could he see her? Her daddy had told her to hide here. He knew they were in danger. Why? Who was this man? How did daddy know him? Maybe it was mommy the man hated. Why? Footsteps interrupted her questions. The man was moving down the hall straight toward her.
She crept backwards, crawling on all fours as if she were a spider. Her gymnastics teacher had taught her that. I need to get out of here. He will kill me, too. She remembered her discovery when she’d hidden in here last week. Her cousins had come for a visit. They loved to play hide and seek in the large, multistoried mansion that was her home. She'd found a door leading to the garage where her daddy’s cars were kept under the chauffeur’s apartment. She’d sneak out that way.
Several hanging tools brushed her shoulders as she crept under them toward safety. They swung to and fro. It was as if they whispered, “She’s in here.” She twisted her head behind. She couldn't see through the slats in the door anymore but the heavy tread of footsteps grew louder, closer. She reached the hidden door. It creaked as she slipped through.
“Wait.” His voice echoed through the tiny room, resonating off the walls of the small space, the sound carried over the creak of the door as he pulled it open. The menace in his voice was gone, replaced by enticement.
She scurried into the large garage. Ignoring the man, she skirted the three cars stored there. Her heart pumped so loudly in her ears, the sound blocked out the rustle of the man's clothes as he squeezed through the same opening. She turned slightly and saw his shadow. Her short legs pumped toward the door leading to the stone walled courtyard and the gated entrance to the back yard. The wrought iron gate was open. Good.
Her feet flew over the paved driveway toward the gate. She turned once to see if the chauffeur was nearby. Benson played with her sometimes. He was nowhere to be seen. Then she remembered. Benson had asked for the day off to take Maria, the maid, to the beach. There’s no one to help. She streaked through the wrought iron gate.
The yard was tree filled, almost like a park. She ran like the wind, as if the devil himself was after her. He is. She reached the second gate in the high wrought iron fence that surrounded her parent's property. It was slightly ajar. Her parent's always kept this one locked but now... She almost forgot to breathe as she raced through it and into the street. The sidewalk led to town. Her legs pounded the pavement hard. “Wait.” The shout came from behind her. The man was following.
The sound of his footsteps bounced off cement walls and rock enclosures, the attempt of homeowners to protect what was theirs. Trees, thick for privacy, lined the street, hiding nearby houses from view. Traffic was non-existent along this street at this time of day. She ran. Her instincts told her that life, her life, depended on it. She rounded a corner but then peeked back. He was still coming, walking briskly in her direction. I need to hide.
She crawled under a nearby bush, its dense foliage the perfect cover, she thought. The picture of her mother’s head scattering debris all over the walls played like a ticker tape through her brain. Her stomach roiled again and she gagged. Mommy. Daddy. Please help me. Footsteps rounded the corner. The sound grew louder. He’ll find me. I have to leave.
She stood. He reached for her with one hand while the other, the one that had held the gun, was in his pocket. She ducked just out of his reach. She raced like the wind, staying off the sidewalk this time. She flew through the trees as if someone carried her, her feet barely touching the ground long enough to make an indent in the leaves. Her body slammed into low branches that scratched and tore at her clothing. She was shorter than the man so movement for her was easier here, she reasoned. The heavier footsteps had slowed, proving her right. She heard a twig snap. He was still coming. Maybe a policeman…
The girl ran. Her legs hurt. Muscles contracted painfully. Trickles of blood from scratches marred her perfect skin, skin that her mother would caress from time to time. Mommy. The thought hurt so much. Her daddy liked to swing her over his head. She almost smiled at the thought but then tears flowed again when she remembered. He’s back there. Lying on the floor. Blood oozed from his forehead. He never got back up.
The race continued. She rounded another corner. Her body slammed into legs encased in dark blue pants. Strong hands steadied her but she wriggled to be free. She looked over her shoulder, twisting this way and that. “Hey there. What’s the hurry?” The voice sounded kind, different than the one she ran from. She looked up.
“Melissa?” The man’s smile turned quickly to a frown, concern written all over his face. “What’s wrong?”
She pointed in the direction she’d come from. Her breaths were mere gasps, words impossible. Tears fell unhindered. She slipped behind the legs. Would the man shoot this person too? She pointed again as the man rounded the corner. She saw him stop before the policeman could look in the direction she pointed. The man ducked his head as his foot stepped backward. She watched him, silently and as quickly as he’d come, step behind the nearest tree, out of sight. Her heart felt as if it would leap out of her chest. Then she was sick. All over the shiny black shoes of the policeman she’d collided into.
“I don’t see what you’re trying to tell me, Melissa. Calm down. Just take a deep breath.” He saw her looking at the mess at his feet. “Don’t worry about that. I can clean them. But what’s got you in such a tizzy”
She swallowed, tears streaked down her cheeks as if they’d never stop. “He-he," She hiccoughed. She pointed in the direction she'd come from. "He shot mommy and daddy.” She gasped for another breath. Her finger shook as she continued to point toward the corner where the monster had disappeared. “He shot them.”
Christine sat up in bed, her back straight. She swiped at the streaks of perspiration on her face only to discover they were tears. Images of her parents disappeared like wisps of fog. She shuddered. The dream always felt so real, just like it happened yesterday. The face of that monster never fades. One day ... She swung her legs to the floor and hung her head. The loneliness was always overpowering after the dream left. She rose from the bed and looked at the twisted sheets. She sighed. Nights like this are never restful.
She stepped into her tiny bathroom, turned on the pewter coated hot water tap, and splashed her face. Images swam before her eyes. She shuddered. I hate that dream. She grabbed the lace edged towel that hung near her right hand and covered her face, escaping into its folds. A cold nose brushed her bare leg. “Chief.” She looked down at her large German shepherd. The dog wagged his tail in response and then cocked his head as if to ask if she was okay.
She patted his head. “I’ll bet you wanna go for a run, don’t you?” She ran her fingers behind his ears. Then she looked at the clock on her night stand. “Man, its only 7 a.m.” Christine groaned and then slipped through the door on her way back to bed. Chief blocked her progress. “Aw, come on. It’s too early.” He whined and then wagged his tail harder.
“Oh, all right. I guess an early start will do us both good.” She stepped toward the hook behind her bedroom door where she kept her running clothes.
She tossed the shorts and t-shirt she wore at night on her bed. Chief barked. "Sh-h-h. You'll wake the neighbors." She grinned at her pet/partner of three years and then pulled the sweatshirt she used for her early morning excursions over her head. She stepped into the matching pants. The gray fabric warmed the cold spots on her leg. I like wearing shorts to bed but some nights they’re slightly inadequate, she decided. Maybe it’s time for flannels. She turned toward the door to the hallway. Oh, right. Running. She slipped her sweatshirt off again and retrieved her sports bra from the chair beside her closet. I hate these things.
Finally ready, if a little groggy still, she looked at her patient animal. “Okay Chief. Let’s go.” Christine walked briskly down the hall, past the other two rooms that would one day be an office and another bedroom, and through the living room of her modest home. She opened the drawer in the coffee table and located her taser. With one hand, she pocketed her weapon and with the other, turned off her home alarm system. The front door was double bolted so she turned the bolts and then took the industrial strength chain off before stepping into the early morning air. The sun isn't even up yet. She groaned. Oh, well. “We won’t have any traffic to contend with at least.” She looked down at her companion and then locked the door behind her.
Christine had chosen this area to live in because dogs didn’t require leashes in the nearby park. She wanted Chief to be able to run free. She looked at her pet as he lifted his leg at the closest oak tree. Her heart filled with love. Even if he does push me out of the house before sunrise. Her stride increased as soon as Chief was able to keep up. They moved toward the walking path the city had devised for just this purpose through the park.
Christine made a point to never do things the same way or at the same time each day but she’d go for a run when she had the time. She felt it kept her agile. She chuckled. It also cut down on how stringent she needed to be with her diet. Can’t leave the junk food alone.
The morning air felt like an early fall was descending. She noticed the beginning of some red hues appearing within the green leafy trees that were in abundance along her street and into the park. She inhaled the crisp air, coughed as the cold air hit her lungs and then inhaled again enjoying the smell of smoke from nearby chimneys. I love that smell. But not the thought of winter coming. She smiled. The cobwebs of the dream were finally dissipating.
A bird, hidden among the leaves of a nearby tree, chirped it's greeting at them, as they made their way along the path. Christine kept a steady pace, running defensively, looking for shadows that moved. She kept her pace slow enough that she could enjoy the beauty around her, what she could see of it at this early hour. If it weren’t for Chief … The dog had no trouble keeping up. His muscles rippled beneath his sleek fur and his breathe gave off wisps of cloudy emissions. His training kept him alert.
Christine turned her head toward the east. The yellow gold rays of the sun could be seen through the branches of the trees in the distant landscape. As the duo made their way down the path that wound around the circumference of the park, more birds could be heard as the sky lightened. Christine began to relax a little, her vigilance not as worrisome. Then the sun slipped up over the horizon illuminating everything in its path.
Christine led the way past the walking bridge that led to a favorite ice cream stop for area residents. I love living on the edge of the park. It gives me a place to get away from the search. She grinned as she picked up the pace a little. I won't need to work out at the gym today, I think.
Large open areas of well-kept lawns filled the left side of the path, places where people often enjoyed picnics after a long day at the office. Now the area was empty. Christine enjoyed the serenity that surrounded her. Dew twinkled on the blades of grass as she sped quickly by. Instead of cavorting across the wet grass as dogs loved to do, Chief matched her pace right beside her.
Thirty minutes had passed, she guessed, when Chief whined and then stopped just off the path. She stopped as well but continued to pump her legs up and down to maintain her heart rate. She reached into her pocket, pulled an empty bag out of her pocket and turned it inside out. She slipped her hand inside and when Chief was finished, she bent forward to clean up after him. The nearest trash receptacle gained a deposit.
"Come on, Chief. Time to get home. I have a busy day today and so do you." She reversed direction and began the trek home. Chief fell into step beside her and then stretched out when she expended an added burst of energy. The run cleared her mind as it always did, and gave Chief his early morning exercise as well.
By the time she reached the yard of her little bungalow, Christine was panting almost as much as Chief. She bent forward resting her hands on her knees and then stretched her legs, one at a time, to cool down. Chief rolled around on the grass giving his back an extra work out on the prickly twigs hidden in the thatch. Christine laughed. "I guess that's your way to cool down, huh Chief?" She reached over to scratch him behind his ears when he walked beside her to their back door.
I feel so lucky to have this house, she thought, not for the first time. Once I get my agency up and running, I’ll be able to cover the costs from my salary but for now … Christine took long strides toward her back door, continuing to stretch her tired muscles. "Mr. Goodman did a good job finding this house for us, didn't he Chief?" The dog panted in response. If I can't have parents to advise me, then a lawyer is the next best thing, I guess. And it doesn't hurt to have a trust fund.
Christine unlocked her door, stepped inside and allowed her vision to sweep the premises for anything that might be out of place. She relocked the door as soon as Chief slipped through behind her. Her habits had been ingrained in her since childhood. She'd been taught to always be aware of her surroundings and to make sure her house was secure ... just in case.
Her thoughts heightened her insecurities, as always. She jumped when the phone rang as soon as she was inside the kitchen. She reached toward it. Wonder who could be calling so early. She popped it open. "Hello."
The voice on the other end was from a new friend at the local police detachment. "Oh. Hi, Charlie. What's up?" She listened as the man on the phone gave her some disappointing news. "But, can't you tell me anything else? I mean ... they're my parents." She listened as Charlie reiterated his reasons. "Yeah ... well ... I'm going to find him. I'll just ... Yeah, fine." She slammed the phone closed.
Christine banged her fist on the counter. "Darn regulations. Just because I’m family. They say I’m too close to the situation. Phewy." She scowled toward her dog whose ears were folded back on his head. Then she marched toward her bedroom. She punched the doorframe as an added inflection over her unsatisfactory phone call. "I'll just have to find another way, won't I boy?"
She straightened the crumpled sheets on her bed, threw the duvet over the cover and then straightened the pillows and the shams. I'll never be free if I don't get some answers. She grabbed a pair of jeans from the closet. Christine inspected the shirt she’d worn once before to make sure it was still suitable and deposited it on her bed post to keep it free of wrinkles. Now for a quick shower.
Before he finds me. The thought traveled across her brain as quickly as any she'd had that morning. She looked at her reflection in the mirror. The frown lines were back. She slipped out of her running clothes and tossed them in the hamper under the vanity. She reached past the shower curtain and twisted the knob in her shower stall. Hot water erupted from the rain shower head. She folded the plastic lined floral fabric back and then stepped inside.
That's why I cultivated my friendship with an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They're federal. I thought ... but it seems not. She soaped her hair and massaged her scalp. Her hair was a lot shorter than when she'd grown up but it still got greasy if she didn't wash it every day. As she ran fingers through her curls, she assessed her situation again. "I'll just have to get a little friendlier with Charlie. Get him on my side." She grinned.
The hot, gentle spray worked its magic on her senses, helping her relax for the first time all morning. She stood still, letting the overhead shower head pour water over her as if she were standing in a rain forest during the afternoon deluge. Her mind returned to the conversation with Charlie.
He said they never let family members know the details of an on-going investigation. They've had twenty years. She leaned her head back allowing the spray to rinse her hair really well. And they’re no closer to knowing the truth about my parents’ killer than they were the day it happened. Their regulations are ridiculous. Who else has a better right to know? I guess I'll just have to find out what I need to know a different way. Maybe the lawyer ...
Christine stepped out of the shower, grabbed a nearby towel, and began drying her slender body. Her muscles rippled. Maintaining a high degree of fitness was always of personal interest to her. She looked toward Chief. His body seemed relaxed as his head lay over his large paws but she knew he was watching her every move. "You ready for a busy day, boy?" The dog lifted his head and then opened his mouth, his tongue hanging out one side of his mouth, His intelligent eyes spoke volumes as if to say, "I'm ready. Let's go."
She chuckled. "You like the added training, don't you? One day, you'll be the one to solve one of those missing kid cases." She hoped so. Then it would all be worth it … the six months spent training hard every day in order to open her agency for finding missing children.
She and Chief had been trained to work as a team. The training was for finding any missing person, but she hoped it would help them specialize in children. That’s where her heart was. Since her move to this location, she’d found a private instructor. They could hone their skills and keep sharp. It did keep her out of her office part of the time. "And that's the problem, Chief. I can't find out what I need in my parents’ case if I'm not there."
Christine walked past her dog, dodging his sharp claws with her bare feet, and removed clean lingerie from her dresser drawer. While she dressed, she thought about her life until now. Born Melissa Ramport, she'd been raised by a distant cousin of her dad's after her parents were murdered. They had changed her name to Christine Finder ... to protect her, they said. I'm glad I kept my adopted name, though.
But the Finders had given her a good life. She thrived as a small town girl in Texas. She'd learned to shoot, ride a horse, and herd cattle right along with her guardian's ranch hands. She'd become a legal permanent resident of the United States as soon as she was old enough to understand but she'd retained her Canadian citizenship. The nightmare had ended ... almost ... a long time ago but the details of that night were as clear as if it had happened yesterday. Now that she was living near the city where it all began, the dreams had surfaced again.
"Chief, after we've spent some time at the office, we need to go see Mr. Goodman." She watched the dog's ears perk up as if he understood all she was saying. She buttoned the top button on her shirt, and then reached with her right hand to scratch the dog between his ears. "Maybe he will answer some of my questions since he's been looking after mom and dad's estate all these years. Surely he wants to see their killer caught just like I do." A tingle walked up her spine from her tailbone. She'd been warned, hadn't she?
Christine pulled on her comfortable shoes, grabbed her handbag from the dresser, and then walked briskly through the door of her bedroom, with Chief right on her heels. She wobbled in her haste and struck one of the photographs she'd mounted on the wall with her shoulder. It was the one of her mother and father on their last anniversary. They seemed so happy. She straightened it and then shook her head. Can't think about that now. Gotta get to work. "Come on, Chief. Let's get some breakfast and then hit the road."
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Also enter the Book launch competition for a chance to win prizes here