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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.
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Keeper of the Rituals - 19. Chapter 19

“It wasn’t his plan,” Danny says. “He just agreed to it.” Then he adds, reluctantly and more quietly, “I wasn’t supposed to know that. Nobody was. But he told me.” He seems perversely pleased with this breach of trust on his behalf, which is pathetic, but I’m too wrapped up in the newest twist to this dizzying mystery to call him on it.

Chase vibrates with tension. “If it wasn’t Sam’s, then whose was it?”

The renewed rain drives the crowd to converge on the doors and Danny and Billie are born away in a sea of bodies. Danny yells the answer as he and Billie disappear into the sea of bodies. “The wolf lady’s. Martina.”





I say the name over and over, and it still makes no sense. Frank, yes. Rory, yes. Danny, absolutely. Sam… still processing that one. But Martina?

“Breathe, Micco,” Chase says, maneuvering through the maze of obstacles that litter the road. Branches are the least of the problems. With no time to prepare, and less time to flee, many items that people would have normally stowed for safety were left to face the storm. Pool and patio furniture, bikes, toys, trashcans, and just about every other conceivable item that wasn’t nailed down are on the move, at the whim of the swirling winds.

I open my mouth to tell him I am breathing, but all I can do is gasp for air. The world spins dizzily.

“Hey!” Chase takes a hand off the wheel to smack my shoulder. “Breathe!”

He’s right. I need to focus before I lose it. Already I sense the edges of my vision narrowing, and I can’t allow that. One, I can’t let the shock get the better of me. Not when I was able to successfully conquer it earlier. But also, more importantly, I can’t be a liability to Chase, who needs me at the moment as much as I need him. I heave in another breath. “I’m okay,” I say. “I’m okay.”

“I doubt that.”

Me too, but I keep that to myself. Martina. What the hell happened to my calm, ordered, predictable world? Where my friends could be trusted, and my enemies were few or nonexistent. My predicament is an unsettling twin to the hurricane raging around us, unexpected and insidious.

“I don’t understand,” I say, rather stupidly.

“You don’t have to understand it.” Chase sweeps damp hair off his brow. His jaw works back and forth with so much force, I swear I hear his teeth grinding. “Understanding it isn’t important. Other people’s motives don’t mean shit.”

Not true, but since I think we’re examining the topic from two different perspectives, I hold my tongue. “Why would she go along with Sam’s plan?” I muse, the words quiet, but Chase hears them.

“It was her plan, Micco. You heard Danny.”

Since when is Danny’s word gospel? But I understand what Chase is implying. The kid hasn’t proven himself to be a criminal mastermind. Far from it. What he has demonstrated, just today, actually, is a sense of right and wrong, even if it seems slightly immature. I can’t figure what tossing a blatant lie into the mix would accomplish.

Therefore, l will assume it is the truth, as Danny understands it, which is the most emotional energy I can give that little factoid at the moment. Too many other things demand my focus.


I nod, then look over when Chase doesn’t continue. Gaze fixed on the road, he reaches out with one hand, and I take it in mine. “Yeah?” I whisper.

“I’ll do whatever you want when we get to the refuge. Just call out what you need. I’ll make it happen. But understand something right now. If I feel you’re putting yourself in any danger, your animals are on their own. Do you hear me?”

As if the Great Spirit is on Chase’s side, a rare bolt of lightning arcs out of the sky and touches down a few miles to the east of us. Lightning on an inner rain band is never a good sign. I swallow my objections. “Fine. I hear you.”


“I said fine. I’ll be careful.”

“Which used to mean absolutely nothing, and I’m betting it still does.” His grip tightens on mine. “But I’m not fucking kidding. Whatever we find there. Whatever is waiting for us today, or down the road… I will step in if you get reckless.”

Some things really never change. And it’s kind of what I’m counting on. “I’ll be careful,” I hedge.

“I’m not losing you again,” he says under his breath. I’m not even sure the words are meant for my ears, or said for my benefit, but I can’t ignore them.

“I promise,” I say.

It’s not what he wants to hear, but he lets the topic die and squeezes my fingers before releasing them.

We almost make it. In fact, I judge we’re less than a hundred yards from the parking lot of the refuge when Chase slams on the brakes and the car skids sideways. “Fuck,” he says, glaring at the huge oak tree that appears suddenly out of the rain and gloom. It’s uprooted at the base and stretched across the road.

I know this old sentinel well. It has stood guard here for two hundred years at least. Prone now, the uppermost branches are a tangle of limbs and leaves extending from the marsh into the rising waters of the canal on the other side. Already, the water is lapping at the very top of the embankment. The tree’s smaller branches dance wildly in the wind, dipping into the water and flinging it into the air to join the rain.

“Fuck!” Chase yells it this time.

Okay, raging at the situation isn’t going to help. I unbuckle and open my door, gasping when the wind rips it from my hand and slams it against the front quarter panel. With another muttered curse, Chase does the same. “Stay with me,” he yells as the storm’s noise penetrates the cab. I nod. We climb out, straining against the punishing wind as we struggle toward the front of the vehicle.

Chase takes my arm, points to a section of the tree trunk that’s splintered. “We’ll go over it there,” he yells.

I give him a thumbs-up rather than shout. He starts off, guiding me toward the break in the tree, when I feel a pull on my opposite arm. Shocked, I whip my head around, but nobody’s there.

“Micco, hurry!” Chase yells, urging me along.

The answering phantom yank on my left arm has me planting my feet. “Wait!” I turn back, squinting into the mess of broken limbs and churning water. I’ve felt these pushes and pulls before, though almost always in the grove, under the influence of Billie’s benevolent magic. We are nowhere near the grove, but the swell of emotion in my heart feels the same. This is no time for reflection. If a spirit is guiding me today, I must trust it.

“I think there’s something there,” I yell, pointing to the canal where the top of the oak tree has come to rest.

I sense Chase pull up beside me, and we both squint into the driving rain. “I see it.” Chase leans close to my ear to say this, and I nod. There is something there, incongruous with the vegetation and water. A glint of metal. And there, on the next flash of lightning, a bright flash of reflective glass. Together, we slog across the road to the edge of the swollen canal. There, the source of the metal and glass is clear, and I swallow a wave of dread.

I dash forward, sliding down the bank and into the churning canal before Chase can grab me. A moment later I feel his hand grip my arm as we both wade toward the partially submerged SUV. The familiar insignia—BIA—mocks me from just beneath the surface of the churning water.

“Matthew!” I yell as the current sucks me forward unexpectedly and slams me against the tailgate. Chase, who gets similar treatment, grunts as his shoulder slams into the window. He plants a palm against my chest when I struggle forward.

“Stay here!” He slides in front of me, inching toward where the driver’s side window has been punched in.

I don’t listen to him. Promises be damned. I’m right on his tail, desperate for a glimpse inside. We claw our way to the smashed window together, and I wait impatiently while Chase uses his elbow to break away the rest of the glass.

It’s dim inside the cab with the topmost branches of the oak acting like a thick blanket against the weak afternoon light. But what I can see has my heart leaping into my chest. Calhoun’s right arm seems wedged against his passenger side door, but his left is curled around an unconscious Burke, holding his head above the water that has flooded the car. Both airbags have deployed. Deflated now, the white fabric is a stark contrast to the trickle of blood I see running from a jagged cut across Burke’s upper arm.

I realize I’ve stopped to stare when Chase’s hand curls around my neck and squeezes. “It’s okay, Micco. The cut doesn’t look deep. Probably a branch from the tree.”

Calhoun’s eyes close in relief for a moment as we appear at the window. His hoarse voice barely carries over the windswept branches banging against the car. “Can’t work myself free,” he says.

I take in the situation, mind skittering over possible solutions. The mere task of keeping Burke afloat has to be exhausting, as small eddies of current weave in and out of the vehicle, pushing our bodies to-and-fro. That, and Calhoun looks to have hyperextended his trapped arm in order to do so. That my nemesis has saved my best friend’s life isn’t lost on me, but I push it aside for the more pressing matter of getting them both out before they drown.

I reach in through the window and plunge my hand into the muddy churning water as I search for the latch to Burke’s seatbelt. Calhoun nods weakly. “Couldn’t reach it.”

I do a moment later, but Burke’s bulk and weight don’t make the task easy. Grunting, I propel myself up and through the broken window. I feel Chase’s arm around my waist like an anchor. The buckle slips through my grip twice before I catch it and press the button with all my strength. The belt releases, slides back a few inches, then stops. Burke’s lifeless body drifts upward in the water and I grab for the front of his shirt, squeezing my fist around the material. “I got him,” I say to Calhoun. With a silent sigh, he nods and uncurls his arm from around Burke’s body. Wincing, he eases back against his door.

“How bad is it?” Chase calls to him as he and I try to maneuver Burke through the open window. He’s weightless in the rising water, which is a gift. No way we’d be able to manage it otherwise.

“I’m all right,” Calhoun answers, but I hear the shake in his voice.

Finally, Chase and I pull Burke free. He moans weakly as his shoulder bumps the window frame, and I want to weep with relief. I also want to help Chase drag him up the bank and out of danger, but Chase is more than capable of doing that on his own, and there’s still Calhoun to help.

“Go,” I shout, when Chase hesitates on the edge of the canal. “I’ll get him.” I jerk my chin back toward Burke’s twisted and flooded vehicle. That Chase doesn’t hesitate to believe me, to trust me with his friend—who’s been anything but a friend to me—sends a jolt of joy to my heart. He nods and hefts Burke’s weight into his arms, moving slowly out of the water and up onto the roadway.

I won’t be able to reach Calhoun from where I’ve anchored myself along the driver’s side. Still, I try, levering up once more to try to slither through the window. Lazily, the car shifts against the bank, and the ass-end begins to float towards the center of the canal, deeper into the rushing water. Cursing, I ease my weight back. “Hold on,” I say, then begin inching along the front quarter panel. A few seconds later, I slither onto the mostly submerged hood of the car.

I can tell by looking through the windshield, even through the debris, mud, and rain, that Calhoun doesn’t approve of my plan. “It’s the only way,” I shout, and it is. Fighting the current to the passenger side door is going to be difficult, maybe impossible, but I don’t see another option. With the rising water, the car is well on its way to floating away from where it originally settled, and I don’t want to give it a push.

Grimacing, muscles screaming, I clutch at the cowl panel and scuttle across the hood. From this angle, my plan looks even more dicey. I may have enough strength to yank Calhoun’s door open, but I won’t have the leverage to stop him from getting sucked away on the current along with it.

I peer through the windshield. Calhoun looks terrible. He’s always been pale, but his face is a pasty, mottled white, and despite the cool water, sweat drips from his brow. His eyes swim with pain, but they’re steady on me, and he nods, as though grasping and understanding my plan immediately. “Grab onto something,” I yell.

“Sound advice, Mr. Garrett,” Calhoun calls weakly, and I can’t help it, I roll my eyes. This guy just doesn’t have an off button. But to be fair, I don’t suppose I do either.

“I’ve got you,” I tell him, pouring conviction into my tone.

He nods. “I believe you.”

With a fortifying breath, I swing my left leg over the side mirror and plunge my hand into the water to close my fingers around the door handle. I shoot him one more look, he nods, and I yank.

The door pops open more easily than I expect. The current catches it immediately, tears it out of my grip and slams it fully open. That’s the moment I realize my oversight. Like a giant sail, the open door takes the full brunt of the raging water, pulling the car away from the bank and into the center of the canal. There’s no stopping it, so I don’t bother trying. In fact, I help it along by swinging around the door and reaching for Calhoun’s good hand. He strains, grasps it, and I pull. We spin in an arc around the door, then over the sinking hood of the car.

“She’s breaking away,” Calhoun shouts, as the car bobs once, twice, then begins to spin downstream.

And for a moment, I’m convinced we’re going with it. Then, Chase appears. He anchors one hand around a sturdy tree branch and stretches the other toward us. “Come on! You can do it, Micco!”

For him, I can. With Calhoun’s good arm wrapped around my neck, and mine around his waist, I push off the car toward Chase. With that final nudge, the SUV surges downstream. Chase’s fingers close over mine, and with a mighty yell, he hauls us forward until my feet gain purchase on the muddy edge of the canal.

“Well done, Mr. Garrett,” Calhoun wheezes in my ear as we crawl through the grass to the roadway.

I slap him on the back as soon as I feel blacktop under my palms. “Thanks, coach.”

And that is when, despite being injured, wet, and without shelter in a dangerous hurricane, Calhoun decides to find me funny. He laughs, and so does Chase. I feel the ridiculous urge myself. Clearly, we’re all crazy.

“Just happy to be alive,” Chase says in my ear, reading my thoughts with the same ease as when we were kids.

“We won’t be long if we don’t find some shelter,” I remind him, gaining my feet and stumbling toward Burke, who, thankfully, is sitting up, arms propped on bent knees, though his head is tilted forward out of the rain. I peel away a curtain of dripping hair to get a closer look at his face. “You okay?”

“I’m alive,” he replies.

I frown but concede his point. For now, we are all still alive, despite the storm’s efforts to the contrary. “We have to move,” I say, and he nods once in response. “It’s about seventy-five yards. Can you make it?” It’s a rhetorical question, honestly. I’ll carry him if I have to.

He nods again. “I can do it.”

Chase appears on Burke’s other side, and together we lift him to his feet. He’s shivering, and I notice Calhoun is as well. Shock, no doubt, yet neither man complains about their injuries or discomforts. We link arms, with Calhoun on Chase’s left, and trudge forward, heads bowed against the wind and rain.

I have questions, many questions, but it makes no sense to try to ask them now, though I do consider them while we walk. The most pressing, obviously, is: what the hell are they doing here? What exactly did Calhoun discover from that phone call that demanded such recklessness?

The journey has a nightmarish quality, as though no matter how long we walk, we draw no closer to our destination. I feel Burke flagging beside me, hear Chase say something in an encouraging tone, and sense my own exhaustion creeping in.

Blinded by the rain, I almost don’t notice when we reach the parking lot, but suddenly the museum building appears out of the curtain of rain. We’ve been lucky to avoid large flying debris until now, and I don’t feel like pressing our luck, so I urge everyone forward toward the door, digging in my pocket for the keys.

No one says anything until we’re inside, and the door closes securely behind us. Safe, for now. Chase leads Burke to a dark corner behind a line of display cabinets, far away from the plate glass windows that look into the refuge, and lowers him to the floor. Calhoun sinks down beside him. The sounds of the storm resonate through the room, though not nearly as deafening as they were outside. Wary, I glance upward at the ominous creek and screech of the metal roof. It sounds ready to peel away. “I don’t think we should stay here.”

Chase holds out his hand to me, and I join him behind the crude shelter of cabinets. “I know,” he says. “But we need to give Michael a minute. Get down here in case the glass goes.”

I glance back to the plate glass. So far, it’s held, but it’s rippling in the wind, and all it would take at this point is a branch, or any flying debris, really, to shatter it. With a nod, I lower myself to my knees and slick back my hair. “What the hell are you two doing here?”

It’s a fair question, because the agreement was that Chase and I would be the ones to take this insane risk, which I’m assuming Calhoun related to Burke.

“I tried calling you,” Calhoun says, eyeing Chase. “But service went out. Before that, though, I got a call from the office.” His gaze slides to me. “About Charlotte Kincaid’s will.”

“What about it?” Chase asks.

Calhoun shifts, pulls his injured arm against his chest, and draws one knee to his chest. “There was a contingency, exactly as Ms. Higgins described. Only, the beneficiary was not Samuel Kincaid.”

“It was Martina,” I say, knowing instinctively that I’m right. My voice sounds as hollow as my heart feels. Now the riddle makes sense. The puzzle is finally complete. I blow out a breath as I realize what was bothering me about Rory’s story before. “I didn’t think Charlotte would take any chance that that money would go to Sam. She left it to Martina.”

Calhoun nods. “She did. If the new refuge wasn’t built, the money belonged to Ms. Landis.”

Chase curls a palm around the back of my neck. He says nothing. He doesn’t have to. Simply feeling his skin on mine is all the comfort I need at the moment. I swipe a hand over my face and turn my gaze to Burke. There’s no surprise in his expression. “You knew?” I whisper.

“Of course not,” he answers. “But you and I both understand she hasn’t been the same since Jacob died.”

“‘Not the same’ and committing murder aren’t even in the same ballpark,” I reply, voice hoarse.

“They can be,” Calhoun unhelpfully supplies. “And I suspect, based on what we’ve learned so far, that your friend’s murder was not premeditated. I do not believe, as Ms. Higgins indicated, that the original plot involved anyone getting hurt.”

“Then why did Rory think it was Sam’s plan?” I ask, directing the question at everyone.

It’s Calhoun who answers. He shrugs with his good shoulder. “We won’t know until we ask Ms. Landis. But, perhaps, she didn’t want her involvement broadcasted to the other players, and Sam honored that request.”

Sadly, I’ve come to understand that if it meant a few million in his pocket, Sam would have agreed to just about anything.

“They were going to share the money,” I muse, shivering, even in the muggy, stale air of the museum.

“I suspect they agreed on something like that, yes.” Calhoun rolls his head toward Chase. “There was speculation Ms. Landis might be here, preparing for the storm. I couldn’t let you walk into possible danger without all the information. Officer Burke agreed. We knew the risks Your safety outweighed that.”

His gaze flicks between me and Chase as he speaks. Apparently, I’ve officially dropped off the suspect list.

A loud creaking sound above has us all turning our eyes to the ceiling above. “We need to make for the shelter,” I say.

And I had to get to the animals’ enclosures and open the gates. My mind tumbles with poisonous facts and thoughts, and when I add the storm’s chaos to that mess, it’s a wonder I can sense any of my four-legged friends. They are there, though. Scared, wary, but there. I center myself, do my best to flush the negativity, and let them know I’m coming. Their joy and relief at my message have me itching to get moving.

Chase helps Burke to his feet, slings an arm around his waist, and nods at Calhoun. “Stay close.”

I stand, waiting until the last second to speak, knowing Chase will fight me, but with Burke on one side and Calhoun on the other, he won’t be able to. I ask Burke, “You know the way?”

He gives me a thumbs up, frowning as he deciphers my intent to branch off on my own, but he doesn’t argue. Chase does, however.

“No. No. You come with us. Once we get Matthew and Jeff into the shelter, I’ll go with you to open the enclosures.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I say, leading the group toward the glass doors. “I can open nearly every gate on the way and probably beat you there, if you just let me go now.”

“And how exactly do you plan to safely transport these creatures to the shelter, Mr. Garrett?” Calhoun asks weakly, though his voice is steady. “They won’t just follow you like obedient children.”

To this declaration, Burke laughs.

“He’ll be fine,” Chase says to Calhoun. “They’ll follow him.”

Calhoun’s keen sense of intuition must be pinging, because while his eyes narrow with skepticism, he doesn’t comment further, except to say, “Very well.”

“I’m coming with you,” Chase tells me.

“No. I need you to stay with Burke.”

“I’ll be all right, Micco,” Burke says.

“No,” I say forcefully. “Please, Chase.”

Chase knows how I feel about the man. As well as my history of loss. But he’s not on board with my plan, not in the slightest. “What did I tell you earlier?” Chase growls.

Well, he told me lots of things, both out loud and silently, and I’ll be holding onto all of them as I navigate the next dangerous fifteen minutes of my life. I step close, Calhoun be damned, and press a quick, deep kiss to his lips. “Keep them safe.” Then I open the door and dash out before he can snag me back.

Copyright © 2023 Libby Drew; All Rights Reserved.
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I hope you enjoyed the chapter. 
Thanks for reading!
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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Chapter Comments

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16 minutes ago, Summerabbacat said:

Rory may have told her as Martina appears to keep her on a "short leash" by means of intimidation.

Remember cell service has crashed. 

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18 hours ago, drpaladin said:

Remember cell service has crashed. 

Delivered by carrier pigeon?

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6 minutes ago, Summerabbacat said:

Delivered by carrier pigeon?

Or telepathy.

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7 minutes ago, Summerabbacat said:

Or Elvis.

Elvis is stuck on the toilet. Too many banana and peanut butter sandwiches.

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Such a powerful chapter perfectly written and powerful description like wow so good!

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