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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 - 16. Chapter 16

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming. I hope! I’ll admit, December is a blur, and shaking Covid has been difficult. Also, unhelpfully, my youngest waited until the final week of regular decision deadlines to get her last college applications buttoned up. Not that it affected me directly, but her angsty teenage life crisis didn’t help things.
Happy New Year to all! And please allow me to issue a blanket “Thank You!” to all who are still reading and offering thoughts and feedback.
Now, on with the show. There’s a hurricane a comin’...


“Good thing he knocked,” I stage-whisper.

“He’s not an idiot,” Chase mutters, squeezing my fingers one last time. Since our feelings for each other have been on blatant display, and Calhoun has demonstrated some tolerance of that, as well as some suspicion for how easily the evidence has unfolded against me, I agree. But I’m also assigning ‘possibly prejudiced’ and ‘probably non-objective’ to his personality profile, because up until now, the shoe fit. Sue me.

Chase opens the door and Calhoun steps through, long fingers banded around Rory’s upper arm. Her red, swollen eyes meet mine and fresh tears spring forth. “Michael—”

“Ms. Higgins, my apologies, but time is of the essence. Please allow me to recap our conversation for my associate, so that we may all be on our way to safety expediently.”

Calhoun really takes this suave politeness thing seriously. “I’m all for quick and dirty,” I contribute, ignoring Chase’s sharp look. At Calhoun’s insistence, we all take a seat, though even he perches on the edge of his chair, looking tense and ready to spring. The storm is throwing everyone off their groove.

Calhoun looks to Chase, then takes a deep breath and dives in. “Ms. Higgins has come forward today to confess to her collaboration in a plot to implicate Mr. Garrett in a crime.”

“Sam’s murder,” Chase clarifies, and Rory shakes her head violently.

“No! Not that! No, nobody was supposed to be killed! Nobody was supposed to be hurt at all!”

I’m confused, and so is Chase. I can tell. But he plays it off by nodding. “I see.”

“The endgame, it would seem, was to precipitate the closure of Brother Wolf Animal Sanctuary,” Calhoun says. “The plan, as I understand it, involved letting the animals loose.” His voice drops. “All of them.”

“What?” I shout, shifting my attention to Rory. “Loose, as in outside the perimeter fence?” Rory nods, and, stunned, I slouch back in my chair. “Do you have any idea how dangerous that would be? Putting aside the wolves’ safety, for the moment, which would be seriously compromised—” I gulp a breath. “These are wild animals, Rory. Not pets. People could have died.” Some would have, in all likelihood. “Why?” I croak.

“Money, Mr. Garrett,” Calhoun says. “Apparently, Charlotte Kincaid’s bequest to the tribe had a contingency. That in the event the council closed Brother Wolf, the funds would revert to the beneficiary named in her will.”

“And who was that?” I ask.

“Samuel Kincaid,” Calhoun confirms.

Rory nods. "That's what Sam told us."

“Sam.” I shake my head.

“You seem surprised,” Calhoun says.

“Well, I am. According to Sam, Charlotte was pretty clear that she’d cut him out of her will. So, I mean, yeah, contingency or not, I’m surprised.”

Chase leans forward. “This contingency. Why would Charlotte even consider the closure of Brother Wolf as a potential eventuality?”

Now, that I can speak about with some certainty. “Because,” I interject with a humorless laugh, “without such a contingency, the counsel could make use of the money however they wished.” I share a knowing look with Calhoun. In this, Chase is the naive one. “The tribe’s profit margins are in gambling. Casinos. That’s where it would have ended up. Guaranteed.” I feel a sad, cynical smile form on my face. “I bet Martina clued Charlotte in on how it could happen. She probably wouldn’t have thought to put the clause in otherwise.”

“I can’t believe the tribe would risk losing out on that much money,” Chase says.

“You may not believe this,” I answer, “but based on the scope of the Seminole Nation’s assets, eight million isn’t all that much. The last ten to fifteen years have brought a dramatic shift in their wealth.” I give a one-shouldered shrug. “It’s not as though the refuge makes them any money. They’d probably shut it down. Martina even admitted that to me a few days ago. And if all the animals escaped… I can’t even fathom the extent of the fallout. But I can pretty much guarantee they would have closed it in the wake of the negative press. Forever.”

“So,” Chase drawls, “With the refuge permanently closed, Sam inherits—would have inherited—the eight million.”

“It isn’t quite eight million anymore,” Calhoun says. “After all, there have been some expenses associated with the land lease and site planning, but…” He stopped to stroke his mustache. “I bet it’s damn close.”

The pieces fall into place as his voice fades. “Sam was broke,” I muse. “He wanted the refuge closed so he could have Charlotte’s money.” Nobody affirms my guess. Probably because it isn’t a guess, but a certainty. I’m simply the last to see the obvious. Yet, the idea that Charlotte would have given Sam anything is still difficult to swallow. I take a shaky breath, hurt and embarrassed that I misjudged my old lover so badly. “When we were together, Sam introduced me to Charlotte. He talked about her a lot, actually.”

“How did she die?” Chase asks.

“Breast cancer,” Calhoun interjects. “I checked.”

I roll my eyes. Of course he did.

“And you say Sam was aware of his grandmother’s intention to pass on her remaining assets to the tribe?” Calhoun asks me.

“He knew. She wasn’t shy about sharing her disappointment in his life choices. I think it broke her heart a little to see what he’d done with the money his parents had left him. That might have been what prompted her decision to give hers to someone else.”

“Not just someone else,” Calhoun says. “You.”

“Not to me.” I shake my head. “To be clear, the bequest was to the Seminole Nation, with, as Rory just said, conditions for its use. God, that really was sharp of Charlotte.”

Chase has his arms folded over his chest, looking disgusted, and I get it. Digging into this whole affair is unearthing nothing but sordid plots, greed and lies. “Would the council really have gone against her wishes?” Chase asks. “Used the money for a different purpose?”

“Yes.” It pains me to say it, but it’s refreshing to get some truth on the table. “It wouldn’t have been done maliciously, Chase. It’s a business decision, that’s all. Jacob, he was Martina’s husband,” I say for Calhoun and Chase’s benefit, “was a well-respected member of the tribe. I imagine there would have been a battle if he were still alive, but with him gone….” I sigh. “They have a good relationship with Martina, but she’s not Seminole.” I think that explains it well enough, at least for now.

Silence falls between us. Calhoun strokes his mustache and broods. I assume he’s turning the puzzle over in his mind, because Rory’s confession has done little to pull back the curtain on the real mystery: who killed Sam? Although her confession does provide him with a new and tidy suspect list, which, for once, includes more individuals than just me.

I brood along with him. As usual, I had let my nature—which is to trust that most people are good and honest—blind me. The sick feeling in my stomach, which had been on a low boil since that morning, ramps up. Sam betrayed me. And not just him. I lift my eyes to Rory, and though I hadn’t meant for my gaze to be menacing, she shrinks back.

“I’m sorry, Michael,” she says, voice tremulous.

I shake my head. “Why?”

“Sam said—” She sniffs, dabbing at her damp cheeks. “He was going to pay off my student loans. All of them.”

Money. Again. “Rory, come on.”

“It’s over eighty thousand dollars!” I open my mouth to reply, and she lashes out. Leans forward and stabs a finger in my face. “Oh stop, Michael. Just stop. You don’t get it. You get money dropped into your account every damn month that you don’t lift a finger for. You have no idea what it’s like to have the sort of debt I have.”

She’s right about the debt. And the deposits. Profits from the tribe’s casinos, and other lucrative business ventures, make many Seminole wealthy these days, especially as they begin receiving these funds from the day of their birth. The young people of the tribe have never known a different reality. Some, many, may never choose to hold a job, let alone need one to pay the bills. It’s not, in my opinion, a system designed for positive outcomes. I hold my tongue on all these thoughts, however. It’s not the time or place for this old debate.

“So what happened, Rory?” Chase asks. “What happened to Sam?”

“I don’t know.” She shrinks in on herself. Her hair, still damp from the rain, hangs in her face. “But it wasn’t Michael.”

“Ms. Higgins,” Calhoun says, “May I?”

She nods, swiping a hand under her nose, and Calhoun scoots even further forward in his chair. “Ms. Higgins confessed that she, Frank Dodds and Daniel Parks were conscripted into Samuel Kincaid’s plan. But the evening before this was supposed to happen, last Thursday night, Mr. Kincaid came to see her.” He looks pointedly at me. “He’d decided not to go through with it.”

“I was relieved,” Rory chimes in. “I didn’t realize I was going to feel that way, but I did. He was going to stop it, he said. But just in case, he wanted me to be at the refuge earlier than usual the next morning, just to make sure everything looked okay before you got to work, Michael. I did what he asked, and that’s when I saw—I found him in Kane’s enclosure.”

“How did you know it was Sam?” Chase asks. “It was dark, and the body was…” Mauled, he doesn’t say.

Rory pressed a hand over her mouth briefly. “I recognized his sweatshirt,” she says, voice hoarse. “The green one. He’d been wearing it the night before when he came to see me.”

“Go on,” Calhoun says, content to let her spill the details, it seems.

Rory nods tearfully. “I parked by the back gate. Sam had given me a key to use at the beginning of the… at the beginning. It was still dark, very dark, but I had a flashlight.” She stops, swallowing a sob. “But not my phone. I’d left it in the car. When I saw Sam, I ran back for it. I was calling 911 when I got back to Kane’s pen. That’s when I heard you, Michael. You were calling Kane’s name and unlocking the gate to get in.” She straightens her shoulders and pulls in an unsteady breath. “That’s how I know it wasn’t you who killed him.”

Well, it’s something. But I wouldn’t call it conclusive. Rory has no idea what happened, in reality, which Calhoun should realize. His laser-beam gaze, fixed on Rory, proves he does.

“When I found out you’d been arrested, Michael, I had to come forward,” Rory says. “I know it’s going to screw up everything I’ve worked for, but that doesn’t matter. Not to me. You don’t deserve this. You’ve been nothing but good to me since I started working at the refuge. I’m so sorry.”

“And Frank?” I ask quietly.

Rory scoffs. “He has some new rich girlfriend he’s trying to impress and needs money to do it. Sam was going to give him money too. I don’t know how much.”

I think back to Kris, her barely-there dress and her daddy’s Lexus, and conclude this one thing, if little else in this screwed up mystery, is probably accurate.

A massive gust of wind shakes the window, rattling it in its frame, causing a high-pitched whistle to fill the air. Calhoun sets his palms on the table and stands. “Time to leave. Ms. Higgins, I trust I don’t have to cuff you to keep you close?”

Head bowed, face covered by her hair, Rory shakes her head.

Chase disapproves. He may understand her motivations, or not, but he doesn’t appreciate her part in the plan to hurt me, which is a personal reaction and nothing else. Even I recognize that. “You’re not even going to detain her?” he asks, incredulous. “We still have no idea what really happened.”

“Understood,” Calhoun says. “But she came forward on her own. Has been interviewed on record. And where exactly is she going to go at the moment, may I ask?”

Cued, a gust of wind blasts the building. Chase’s jaw clenches, but he nods.

We file out together into the now empty front room of the station. Calhoun hands Chase the keys to their vehicle. “It’s the safest option, and you’re going the furthest.”

“We’ll need to stop by my house first,” I say. “All my keys for the refuge are there, but it’s on the way.”

“Very good,” Calhoun says, then turns to Rory. “Is there anyone you need to check on? Or collect and get to safety?”

“There’s no one,” Rory says. “It’s just me.” She relays this without any self-pity. All I hear in her voice is resignation. As I’ve been in that place most of my life, I recognize the sentiment. “I’ll do what I can to help you at the school,” she adds.

“That would be appreciated. We will shelter there until it’s safe. And then,” his gaze travels to each of us in turn, “We are going to sort out this godforsaken mess.” He reaches into his breast pocket for his cell phone, speed dials someone, and steps away into the corner, too close to the windows for my comfort, but he doesn’t seem bothered by how they are wavering in the wind.

Chase is, though. He gestures for Calhoun to step away from the glass. Calhoun waves him off. “I’ll put a BOLO on Frank Dodds, to be enforced as soon as the storm passes. But I want Danny Parks too. Call that rehab center again. I’m sure they’re sealed up tight in light of the storm, but you can assure them we will be there ASAP to collect the little cretin.”

Chase nods and pulls out his phone while I, against my will, smile at Calhoun’s uppity indignation. “Is that smart?” I ask him, then raise both hands defensively when Calhoun arches an eyebrow. “I mean, if Danny knows you’re coming, won’t he just run?”

“Daniel Parks is now a prime suspect in a homicide. I cannot, in good conscience, fail to pass on any alleged penchant for violence to the administrators there. No worries, Mr. Garrett. They won’t do anything but have security keep a discreet eye on him until we get there. He shouldn’t have any reason to run. And he wouldn’t get very far at the moment if he tried, would he?”

I suppose that’s true.

“Be careful,” Calhoun tells Chase. He reaches out, gives Chase’s bicep a brief squeeze, and I notice it for the first time—see it in Calhoun’s gesture and in Chase’s answering nod. These men respect each other. They might even be friends. “Stay in touch,” Calhoun says before turning to me. “Good luck.”

I nod. I have an unsettling certainty we’re going to need it.

Next Chapter: Danny arrives on the scene...
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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Did Sam have a will--even written by someone else or forged--that left his assets to a person who could be the killer ?

Or,Sam was in debt. Did he have to give a pledge of his assets to pay off the owner of his debts?

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Who needs enemies if you have “friends” like Rory. I almost felt a smidgen of sympathy for her until “It’s over eighty thousand dollars!” I open my mouth to reply, and she lashes out. Leans forward and stabs a finger in my face. “Oh stop, Michael. Just stop. You don’t get it. You get money dropped into your account every damn month that you don’t lift a finger for. You have no idea what it’s like to have the sort of debt I have.” Trees often get uprooted in hurricanes and become dangerous missiles, crushing people in their cars or their homes. Oh look out Rory there is a tree about to drop on your car or crash through your roof at home! Oh well, shit happens bitch and your dead. At least you won’t have to whine about your student loans now, will you princess.

It seems all my fellow readers have believed Rory’s disclosure to Calhoun. My initial thought was how do we know she is not lying again. She has lied before, so why not again. Has she come forth because she felt she had wronged Micco, or has she done so for her own advantage? Only Miss Libby knows and she it not telling (yet). 

It also seems all my fellow readers and up until now myself, have assumed Sam was murdered for the money or because of drugs. But what if neither of these scenarios was the motive for his murder. Perhaps there is an extreme homophobe amongst the likely suspects who delighted in killing Sam because he was gay, has attempted to frame Micco for the murder because he is gay, and believed Micco would be devastated because he was really in love with Sam.

I have not given up on the idea Martina is the killer, could she be a member of the Florida chapter of Moms For Liberty and thus a rampant homophobe? Or was her deceased husband somehow involved in the rape and murder of Micco’s mother and sister and Martina blames Micco for this? Or another scenario which occurred to me very early on in the story but which I dismissed because I did not want it to be so, what if Burke was the killer and has tried to frame Micco because he believes Micco should have done something to protect his mother (whom I believe Burke may have been in love with) and sister, even though he was only a child at the time.

@Libby Drew you have entertained, enraged (at times) and befuddled us all from the very beginning of this outstanding work. I don’t feel I am any closer to working out who the killer is and what his/her motive was. Whatever the motive, I agree with several others in that Sam may just have been collateral damage, the real purpose of the killer’s actions was to intimidate and institutionalise Micco. 

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Well, well it seems like it is less and less likely that Micco is guilty of the murder! With the confusion Rory gives sure is looking good for Micco woot. !


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