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    Libby Drew
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Keeper of the Rituals - 14. Chapter 14

Chapter Warning: Violence

Of course, my view of Chase also fades as Jenette drives off. He becomes indistinct, though still an undisputable wall of dismay as he stares at the contents of my trunk. Just before Jenette makes the turn onto the road, I see two men join Calhoun and Chase at the rear bumper of my Neon. One holds a camera. The other, a plastic evidence bag...

 

 

I wait for the inevitable: the racing heart and the dizziness. The screams. The smoke. Mary crying. I give myself permission, for once, to float away on the terror and despair. But the anxiety, while thick, doesn’t manifest in a panic attack. I’m too scared by the present. Thoughts of prison paralyze me. Knowledge that I’ve somehow failed Chase rips straight to my core and turns my limbs watery. My wolves are unprotected from the storm, relying on me, but I’m going to fail them as surely as I failed my mom and Mary.

The memories arrive on schedule, but for the first time, my admittedly fucked up psyche replays them without the dreaded blackout.

***

The knocking went unanswered at first. I remember that.

Spring was turning over to summer, but the thunderstorms that had beat against our building since early April hadn’t waned. Mary pulled the white sheets serving as our living room curtains across the panes as the light faded. Below, streetlamps blinked on, casting weak, wavering shadows through the glass. All but one window in our apartment were painted shut, and the one that wasn’t only lifted a few inches. I’d opened it before dinner, letting in the fresh air, laughing when it rushed through the small crack to blow my school papers off the card table in the corner of our kitchen and lift the bed sheet curtains into the room like giant sails. The smell of the rain soothed me, even when the alley’s stench blended in, which it did on breezy days.

The knocking came again, louder this time. Insistent.

“Mary!” my mom called sleepily from the bedroom. “The door!”

I felt Mary sigh against the back of my neck. Perched between her legs on the couch, I strung another glass bead onto the piece of fishing line she was holding for me. A birthday present for my mother. Beads were an important part of her daily ritual. In our past, women would wear several pounds of beads, from shoulder to neck, tied together with bits of string. These days, comfort trumped vanity. Even the few strands my mother wore to work at the restaurant would leave the skin of her neck soft and puckered, like hands left too long in water. But she refused to give them up altogether.

The necklace I was making had a dozen different shades of blue. Blue was my mother’s favorite color, and I had been collecting the precious glass baubles for over a month. An eternity to a nine-year-old. Mary brushed my hair to one side and leaned over for a look. “That’s good. Very pretty. Hang on. Hold these. I have to get the door.” She leant forward and handed me the ends of the string. Biting my lip, I clenched each one between a thumb and forefinger.

“What if I drop it?”

“You won’t. Just squeeze your fingers. I’ll be right back. If mom gets up now, she’ll see what you’re making.”

I darted a glance over my shoulder. The curtain between the couch and the bedroom door swelled on a gust of wind as I pinched my fingers on the fishing line and prayed. Don’t come out. Please don’t come out. The overhead light flickered with a flash of lightning and the plastic card table trembled slightly on the thunder that followed, rattling our abandoned dinner dishes.

It was my final coherent memory, the last one not clouded with terror, grief and guilt: the white bed sheet, the whistle of wind, the smell of rain, and my sister saying, “Can I help you?”

I looked up as three men pushed inside the apartment. Mary jumped back with a gasp, lifting both hands in front of her. They took her first, cutting off her scream with a baseball bat to the side of her face. She toppled, limp before she hit the floor. I blinked, muscles locking up with a paralysis so complete that breathing became impossible. One man shut the door. Another moved to stand over my sister. He smacked the barrel of the bat against his palm. The third swung his gaze toward me and leered.

I dropped the fishing line. Beads scattered, most dropping to the scarred wood floor, some onto my lap. “Mary?” I whispered hoarsely. She remained a motionless heap on the floor, long black hair fanned around her head, blue-flowered nightgown twisted beneath her. I tried to scream. “Mommy!” A harsh wheeze emerged instead.

The night grew hazy after that. Time slowed, then sped up, slowed again. I went cold, felt my stomach heaving. Figures moved around me, then Mary’s voice cut through the fog. “Michael! Michael! Mom!” When she started screaming, I pressed my hands to my ears. The wailing cut off a few seconds later, and I sobbed once, clawing my way over the back of the lumpy sofa toward her voice.

I didn’t see Mary at first. Just some broken barbie doll, nightgown tangled around its neck, blood swirled around its head like one of my watercolor paintings. Then one leg twitched, and the doll became my sister again. A moan emerged from her mouth, riding a bubble of foamy blood that trickled down her cheek into the hollow of her neck.

I mouthed Mary’s name. She didn’t stir. I stared at her, willing her to sit up and tease me for being such a baby. Still, she didn’t move. I felt made of ice, so cold the tips of my fingers were numb, frozen in place until another clipped scream, from the bedroom this time, had me sliding back down against the cushion and peeking out through my tangled hair.

The curtain snapped and billowed as I clung to the couch pillow, keening low in my throat. My mother’s bedroom door stood wide open. Two figures writhed on the floor outside the threshold. I blinked, and the scene flickered, like channel five did when it rained and Mary wiggled the TV antenna. One moment, my mother was pure fury, a lioness, fighting and clawing her way free. Then she wasn’t moving. I squeezed my eyes shut, and that’s when it started. The dull thumping sound. Thick. Wet. Rhythmic. I peeked one eye open. Saw a flash of a raised knife. Heard a thump. Then, again, the knife. The thump. The white sheet reared up in front of me like a specter, dark with rain from the open window, spattered with red Rorschach polka dots.

I went to sleep.

I woke up coughing, pulling oxygen into my lungs, but the air burned my throat. My eyes stung. Intense heat and flickering flames surrounded me. I rolled off the couch onto the floor, sucking in cleaner air. All around me the fire raged, and Mary was screaming my name. “Here,” I tried to shout. “Here.” Disoriented, I crawled through blistering, smoky air toward her voice, face scraping the uneven wood planks. I reached out, clawed a few more inches, and slid into a puddle of cool water.

The coppery smell of the moisture registered the same moment the stickiness did. I jerked upward… into a wall of smoke. Choking, I fell back to the floor, splattering blood into my eyes and mouth.

I went to sleep again.

When I next woke, everything had changed. Forever.

***

For once, I surface from the memory alert and calm. The horror hasn’t lessened. It never will, I expect. No, it exists as it always does, but strangely dampened. I’m still terrified, but not of the past. For the first time since I was nine years old, a new fear has eclipsed the old. There’s little joy in the utter irony of my victory. All I’ve done is turn the page on my traumatic stress. Started a new chapter. The balm, the only comfort, is that I may still have the power to influence this outcome. I’m an adult now. Have an adult’s strength to draw on. And, if a future with Chase is one of the possible prizes, I have courage in spades.

I meet Jenette’s gaze in the rearview mirror. “You okay?” he asks.

I nod. I’ve made no promises to be honest with Jenette.

“Almost there. Heading to the BIA station because of the storm.”

I nod again. It makes sense and could work in my favor, especially if Burke is there. Wind whips the car as we pull into the parking area, making the coconut palms lining the road dance. I tilt my head against the glass as Jenette speaks low into the radio clipped to his shoulder. In the distance, I see the water tower. It's a sentinel, anchored and immovable against the approaching chaos. Concrete allegory. I nod again, to myself this time.

“Let’s go,” Jenette says. He extracts me carefully from the backseat and guides me toward the building.

The BIA office on the rez isn’t large, but the council has tried its best to lend an authoritative air to the place, with some success. A faux stone facade encases large windows, which are framed out in terra cotta brown. Two flags flank the door: the United States of America on the left, the black, red and yellow of the Seminole Nation on the right. Low, flowering azaleas sit in a bed of white lava rock to either side of the double glass doors. Already, I see the glass wavering in the wind gusts.

Jenette and I have to sidestep several times on our way inside as most foot traffic is headed out and away. Mandatory evacuation orders are normally taken with seriousness around here—a serious grain of salt. Our people have ridden out storms for over two hundred years. Yet, I notice an urgency to escape today I’ve rarely seen in the past. The sudden “unexplainable change in track,” no doubt. While most white folk wouldn’t blink at those words, members of my tribe recognize omens.

While we wait to enter, I stretch my senses. More pandemonium and confusion. The animals I can reach are agitated as they search for shelter. I think of my wolves and panthers and pray Martina has made them safe. Then add another prayer for her own safety.

Jenette leads me to what serves as the station’s interrogation room. As in Clewiston, it’s a fancy name for a bland, unassuming space. No two-way mirrors or flickering fluorescent fixtures, so while predictably bare, it’s not particularly intimidating. The sturdy metal table and four chairs in the middle of the space are new. I’ve been here before, though not for many years. Burke did like to drag me in on occasion and do his best impression of a cross, concerned adult. I won’t say it didn’t make an impression, just not enough of one. At least not in my late teens.

Back then, the table was wood. Scarred and chipped, with a wobble. The new one is screwed to the floor. I don’t dwell on the reasons why. I take a chair when Jenette gestures for me to sit. “Is it possible to have these cuffs removed?” I ask.

Jenette purses his lips and looks me up and down. I’m not a small man, but I’ve never been described, even in passing, as intimidating. Still, I slouch. Try to look non-threatening, like cooperating peacefully with law enforcement is my favorite pastime.

“I’ll pass the request on,” he says. “Special Agents Calhoun and Becker should be here shortly.”

Joy. I flash him a tight smile and get as comfortable as I can with my wrists twisted behind me. “Okay. Thanks.”

“Can I get you some water? Coffee?”

I have a perverse desire to ask for an orange Fanta. Then see if he’ll hold it for me while I slurp. Don’t be a jerk, Micco, teenage Chase says in my head.

Shut up. “No, thanks. I’m fine.”

Duty complete, Jenette leaves, locking the door behind him, and the silence and isolation is far worse than I expected it to be. The deep fear churning in my gut for Martina and the animals muddles with my other, more personal danger until throwing up becomes a serious possibility.

It’s memories of Chase that settle me, which is bizarre and not the least bit healthy. But it lets me work the problem with a modicum of rational thought. I didn’t kill Sam. I didn’t. I’d honestly been doubting myself, but, perversely, being able to stave off my panic attack in the cruiser solidifies my certainty. I’m innocent.

No, someone is out to get me. To blame me, at the very least. But who? And why? I have no idea, and no matter which way I spin the problem, the answer remains out of reach.

I’m only three minutes into this exercise when the noise outside swells, the lock on the door disengages, and Chase walks in.

Relief swamps me. I actually blink back tears. “Hey,” I say, voice tremulous.

He stumbles slightly, an aborted attempt to dart forward and comfort me, before straightening and stepping aside to let Calhoun enter. His body may be under control, but his eyes shine with a storm of agitation, guilt and pain. Mine are just as transparent. I don’t need a mirror to see it.

Neither does Calhoun. He studies each of us in turn before taking a seat across from me but says nothing. I sigh, in no mood for head-games. “Can you please take these handcuffs off?” Expecting a definitive no, I blink my surprise when he nods and gets up to release me.

What’s his play this time, I wonder? It can’t be the usual. Calhoun isn’t being aggressive or derogatory, or making blatant accusations. Maybe he’s “good cop” today. That’s a miscalculation on his part. Chase makes a crappy bad cop, at least with me. Which he proves a minute later.

“Jeff, Seminole law demands a tribal representative be present at any formal law enforcement interview,” Chase says in a flat voice.

I expect Calhoun to inflate like a turkey and ask Chase which fucking side he’s on. Instead, he nods slowly and strokes his mustache. “I understand. Did you, ah, have someone in mind, Mr. Garrett?”

Obviously. “BIA Officer Burke.”

“Officer Burke is assisting with evacuating the community to the shelter.”

I figured, but I have no one else. And I’m not sure where that leaves us.

“You can always waive your right to tribal representation,” Calhoun suggests.

“I’d advise against it,” Chase says diplomatically, using our bond to spear Don’t you dare straight into my brain.

“You are, of course, also entitled to have your attorney present during questioning, Mr. Garrett. Obviously, with the approaching storm, that’s not possible at the moment. If you prefer, this interview can wait until it is.”

He’d like that. I have a feeling Calhoun knows what being locked up might do to me. I swallow hard, considering. If it were strictly my welfare at risk, I’d wait. As there are others in danger, I don’t even take three seconds to consider. “May I ask something?” I address my question to “good cop” Calhoun.

He inclines his head. “Of course.”

“If I agree to the interview now, without my representative and my attorney, will you please go to the refuge and check to make sure the animals are safe?”

“I will agree to call Ms. Landis,” Calhoun counters.

I shake my head. “I tried. It went right to voicemail. I mean… it could be… I don’t know.” Calhoun opens his mouth to reply, but I interrupt. “Please. I know you probably feel I have no right to ask this, but those wolves—” I have to stop and swallow twice, “—and the panthers, they won’t have a chance if left in their usual habitats during the storm. And Martina…” I pinch the bridge of my nose. “I’m sure she’s trying to do this alone, and it’s not a job for one person. What if something happens to her?” I ponder the nebulous enemy at my back. “What if something already has?” I whisper.

Calhoun thinks about it, then extracts his cell phone from his lapel pocket. As much as I hope Martina answers his call, I know that if she does it will only prove she’s avoiding mine. Frankly, I’m at the point where I don’t care.

He keeps the call private, off speakerphone, but I can still hear it ringing in the quiet room. After four rings, Martina’s voicemail kicks in. Calhoun doesn’t leave a message.

“Please,” I say again.

“Very well.” He nods, hooded eyes locked on mine. “I’ll go personally. Make sure everything is okay. Help if I can.”

“Me too,” Chase chimes in.

The relief is as all-encompassing as it was when Chase entered the room earlier. “Thank you.”

“May we proceed, then?” Calhoun asks.

I can’t get on with it fast enough. “Yes.”

“You agree to waive your right to have your attorney and tribal representative present?”

Chase hates the idea. He grinds his jaw like he’s chewing on glass. I admit it’s not the best decision, and even though I made a promise—dozens, actually, over the course of my years alone—that I would never again rely on Chase Becker for anything, I put my faith in him now. This is simply a grown-up version of our childhood antics. I find the trouble. Chase gets me out of it. Of course, it’s different now. I’m “that age where you can be tried as an adult” as my uncle liked to call it. The stakes are higher. They stretch to the sky, as a matter of fact.

“I do,” I say.

Calhoun wastes no time. “Can you tell me your whereabouts this past Thursday night, June 15th?”

I close my eyes and gather my thoughts. The last thing I want to do is sound unsure. “I was at home.”

“All night?”

“Yes.”

“Alone?”

After a slow, deep inhale, I say, “Yes.”

“And if I told you we know you weren’t?”

Don’t fall for it. I know they can lie to me. That it’s perfectly acceptable for them to do so. Legal even.

“I was at home,” I repeat, “from around seven in the evening until five a.m. the next morning.”

Calhoun looks to Chase and seems satisfied that his partner is, at least for the moment, making like a good FBI agent. He drums his fingers on the table a few times before meeting my eyes. “We have a witness who claims they saw you threatening Sam Kincaid the night of his murder.”

I shake my head. Add, “That’s not true,” when Chase looks up from where his hands are clasped in his lap.

“And early this morning,” Calhoun adds, as though I hadn’t spoken, “We received a phone call about the possibility of certain evidence being hidden at your residence.”

Which they found, or I wouldn’t be here. Calhoun probably feels like he discovered gold at the end of a rainbow. If that rainbow ended in the trunk of my car. I speak before thinking, an impulse I never quite grew out of. “That feels neat and tidy, don’t you think? An eyewitness testimony, then a phone call giving you everything you need to put the blame squarely on me?”

Calhoun’s fingers continue to tap the table while we stare at each other. Finally, he sits back, crossing one leg over the other, and folds his hands together in his lap. “It’s very convenient.”

“Too convenient,” I spit, refusing to look at Chase. He’s probably tugged his earlobe so hard by now it hangs an inch lower than the other one.

Calhoun nods. “Yes. Far too convenient.”

My next veiled insult dies in my throat.

Calhoun lets the silence stretch for several seconds before speaking. “Mr. Garrett, regardless of your opinion of me, let me assure you that I am not out to ‘get you’. I’m only interested in two things: justice… and the truth.”

“Really?” I scoff.

“Really,” he says, ignoring my derision. “The truth, whether it’s obvious or not, simple or difficult to ascertain. The truth,” he holds up a finger, “is where I begin and where I end.”

I digest his words. They ring true, but getting past my first impression of the guy proves difficult. One of Billie’s favorite sayings pops into my head. “A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends,” I mutter.

“Accurate more often than not,” Calhoun agrees. “And let me assure you, Mr. Garrett," he says as he leans forward, "I am nobody’s fool.”

Copyright © 2023 Libby Drew; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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I do hope the jailhouse is safe when the storm hits!  How is Calhoun going to help as the weather intensifies?  Will Chase finally come to Micco's aid?  Lots of questions!  I, too, am looking forward to the next chapter.

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In addition to all the very valid observations above, I am curious if the murderers were ever caught.  I get the definite impression that they were not and they are still running loose.  The question is, indeed, ‘why?’.  Why did they focus on Micco’s family in particular?  If they set fire to the house to hide their crimes, did they take any valuables before setting it?  If so, what?  Why did they leave Micco alone to possibly escape and identify them?  Were they that incredibly inept or were they trying to make a point or set up a 9 year old child for something?  How early did Micco start demonstrating his talents with his animal friends and were those talents recognized and feared enough that someone tried to thwart him?  If I really let my mind run wild, I can come up with some incredible conspiracy theories that could include all the clues to come up with crazy reasons.

OK.  Get me out of the stratosphere, back down to solid ground.  Now that Calhoun got Micco to answer his questions, and all but admitted he believes Micco is actually innocent, but has to put on a ‘dog and pony show’ for the so-called eye witness in order to hopefully get them to come forward, it’s his turn to keep his promise.  He now needs to go and help Marina get the various animals into safety.  Hopefully, he will find that she’s simply been too busy to answer her phone for inconsequential chats, and not another unexplained mystery!

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Some very astute observations and interesting speculations espoused by my fellow "Drewophiles". 

I have long speculated the murder of Micco's mother and sister is somehow related to the murder of Sam @weinerdog. After "witnessing" Micco's partial recollection of the earlier event my belief they are somehow connected has grown stronger. 

I also have to wonder why Micco was seemingly left unscathed by his mother and sister's murderers or was he? To date we are relying solely on his recollection of the event. What if he has blocked out the part of the attack where he was subjected to harm, physical and/or mental. Perhaps the trauma suffered which affects him still was not confined to witnessing what happened to his mother and sister. Or perhaps their killers recognised or somehow knew of Micco's gift of communication and for that reason left him alone, fearing some kind of reprisal from "beyond the grave".

Like @Clancy59 I think Calhoun may in fact believe Micco is not the killer and is using him to draw out the real killer, the person who likely gave Calhoun the anonymous tipoff and who "planted" evidence in the trunk of Micco's motor vehicle.

And finally, my admiration for Micco strengthens with each chapter. Regardless of the threat to his own personal safety now and for the foreseeable future, he was equally or more concerned for the safety of the wolves and panthers, such that he was prepared to surrender his rights to have a tribal representative or attorney present at his interview. Perhaps foolhardy again @drsawzall, but I cannot help but admire his principles.

Splendid writing again @Libby Drew. We "Drewophiles" are once again most fortunate to enjoy the fruits of your literary labour, even if there were a few more of those red herrings which @drsawzall so loves, thrown in for good measure.

Edited by Summerabbacat
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Well with fingers crossed I am hoping that so how that the gods are looking out for Micco:yes:

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